No film really has a right to exist, contemplates Gabe Klinger. A film must carve out its own existence, and today the only way to do that is to create a strong authorial voice through image.
Jim Jarmusch told me, when signing up to help produce my new film: “Fuck the auteur theory.” Likely Jean-Luc Godard would wince at such a statement. I remain ambivalent about the question of artistic ownership, after directing two movies and starting a third. It’s a question I tackled implicitly in the documentary I directed in 2013, Double Play, about two artists who are opposed and alike: the individualist James Benning, who has always chosen to work alone, and the collectivist Richard Linklater, who not only works with big teams but frequently reemploys many of the same cast and crew. In my case, and put quite reductively, I am not talented enough to “own” my frame entirely. My work has always improved exponentially when I’ve brought in others to give in the process of image creation. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that my films, at their very core – and I think Jarmusch knows this about his own work –, all have a deeply inscribed signature, and as I begin to produce more and more, that signature begins to rise to the surface unmistakably. Looking back, creation always seems to happen from scratch, and arises from the necessity to say something. “Otherwise we wouldn’t bother”, my friend Mati Diop recently said to me, “because it’s too fucking hard.” Even satisfying entertainments like The Martian, from an ultimate journeyman like Ridley Scott, probably can be parsed to reveal certain visual signatures (I haven’t seen enough of Scott’s films to know for sure, so perhaps I can be proven wrong here).
At the risk of sounding convoluted, I’d like to say no film really has a right to exist, or no film really should exist, at least not more than the next film. No filmmaker should feel entitled to accolades, festival slots, or good reviews just because she has put herself through the incredibly difficult process of making a film. A film must carve out its own existence, and today the only way to do that is to create a strong authorial voice through images, to know what you’re talking about when you’re creating those images. This is why I do not understand producer meddling or any type of process that likens films to products. When dealing with art house films, the only thing that counts is the integrity of the director’s voice, and the most important place for this is on a set. There were two films from the last year in which the directors’ autonomy and authorial visions amazed me in both positive and negative ways: Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights in the former way and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in the latter way. With the Gomes, there is an argument for complete authorial independence, because it’s generous and searching and is frequently smart enough to know when it doesn’t know what it’s trying to say. In the Tarantino, there is a bad script and no one brave enough to say anything, and so the images suffer. At the end of the day, freedom is not always an asset. But a free image, a frame that is liberated, is always thrilling, no matter.
Gabe Klinger is a filmmaker, writer, teacher, and programmer living between France and the U.S.