Stuff less bad? (Day 362/365)

So, I thought, what if I put the first part of the chorus (and all of the verses) in the minor, and then switch to major with the end part? This is what that sounds like (along with the inevitable ritard at the -ex rhyme.)

In other news, last night I watched The Five Obstructions. In it, two Danish filmmakers play. Jørgen Leth, the elder, agrees to remake portions of one of his first films, The Perfect Human, under amazingly restrictive obstructions set by the younger, Lars von Trier. For example, the first little movie must be made 1) with no edit longer than 12 frames (about half a second!); 2) in Cuba, where Leth has never been; 3) without building a set; and 4) answering the elliptical questions in the original narration (Why does he move that way? How does he move that way?)

The frame movie is a documentary of the two men as they move through this process, which takes a couple of years. I’m not sure what von Trier is up to, he seems awfully abusive in his intent, and Leth seems quite sanguine about it, but it’s a fascinating study in creativity. Leth is apparently incapable of making crap, which is von Trier’s stated goal. No matter what the obstruction, Leth turns in a gem. This seems to irritate von Trier, until he finally makes the fourth obstruction one so hideous that both men blanch: it must be a cartoon.

Needless to say, the cartoon that Leth turns in is a masterpiece. So the fifth obstruction is even nastier: von Trier will direct it, Leth will be credited as director. Leth also has to narrate it, reading a letter to von Trier from him that von Trier has written.

Finally von Trier gets his wish: it’s crap. The narrative letter is opaque in a way that only Marc can explain for us, but it’s essentially a nannie-nannie-boo-boo that von Trier has written to himself about his failure to bring Leth down. The visual accompaniment, made up of black and white shots of the two men culled from the footage, is pedestrian, and that’s being kind.

What’s fascinating about the whole venture is the way that Leth scribbles down all the instructions, the obstructions, furrows his brow, goes away very depressed, and then sets about remaking his 1967 movie, itself a perfect gem and included on the DVD, using the obstructions as tools. He expresses this directly after the first one: the 12-second edit was like “a gift.”

And von Trier recognizes his error right away. He switches from technical limitations to personal issues, but nothing slows Leth down. It’s a truism, but it’s fun to watch two geniuses confirm it: limits are a spur to creativity, not a hindrance. One of my most creative productions ever was the 1997 Midsummer Night’s Dream, when NCTC had $200 in our checking account. (It was one of those years when I relinquished the treasurer’s duties to someone else.) We could buy practically nothing, and so everything we did had to be made from what was on hand. It absolutely worked.

Of course, that was luck, having on hand materials that lent themselves to that particular creative solution. And I would certainly not want to tackle a fullscale William Blake’s Inn with no money, in fact, I am in the process of not doing that even as we breathe, but limitations are certainly one way to get yourself moving if you cannot decide how to “be creative” next.

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