Cinema Verite and Direct Cinema: Thesis
Excerpt from Thesis :
The outcome of all of this was a rock concert which -- aside from the actual happenstance of performances -- was heavily controlled by the interest of the filmmaker. Though various aspects of the concert-attendance experience indicate that great care was paid to the appeal of the event itself, there is an explicit self-consciousness on the part of the subject as to the grander intention of the captured film to eulogize the touring band.
And with that purposeful modus operandi in mind, we may take note that the apparent distance between Direct Cinema and Cinema Verite really only serves academic purposes. From the perspective of the filmmaker or the documentarian, there is room both for a realistic portrayal of its subject and for the selection of an angle or impression. Given that the subject is a single concert event, wherein which the musical performances are the purpose of the document, the opportunity for subjective distortion is more limited than might be available in Cinema Verite. Still, the precision and control that Scorsese applies denotes a clear agenda tied closely to the filmmaker's prejudicial interest in the band and, further, the expectation that the film would gain a mass audience.
This latter consideration seems to guide some decisions that are notably inconsistent with the premise of Direct Cinema. Particularly, the intended honesty and the straightforward presentation are underscored by some convenient omission. According to a more current critical evaluation, "a gauzy haze of cocaine lies over the movie. Never mind the reports that close-ups of Neil Young had to be doctored in post- production to remove incriminating evidence from his nostrils; his jaw- grinding intensity stands in stark contrast to the regal bearing of Muddy Waters." (Selvin, 1) This suggests the internal contradiction of purposeful subject orientation and unbiased documentation. Indeed, there is little that can be hidden of the druggy vibe and the dynamics which spontaneously emerge betwixt musicians. But the decision to censor what most firsthand accounts characterize as a huge glob of cocaine on Young's face indicates that there were intentions and priorities which stood above realism or accuracy.
And perhaps, as some critics have been known to remark in their dismissive attendance of the notion of Direct Cinema, there is a degree of disingenuousness in this idea at its core. For while of our subjects, Scorsese's work most identifies with this intent, it does still provide ample evidence of a style and perspective uniquely of the author. This argument is captured well in an article by Garbowski (2001), which comments on the clear correlation between the filmmaker's Catholic upbringing and the focus on family, community and the relationships there within which are recurrent thematic element's of his work. This is not the primary focus of Garbowski's assessment of the Last Waltz, which instead dominates the articles discussion with reference to the ideas of ethicality and a define value system. As the article denotes, "the Catholic imagination focus of close-knit community interacts with what Charles Taylor calls the ethics of authenticity. Taylor holds this to be the predominant ethic in contemporary culture: a largely unarticulated ethic of an individualistic society. Taylor is careful to distinguish between various individualisms, claiming that modes of self-fulfillment that 'are in opposition to the demands of society, or nature, which shut out history and the bonds of solidarity' (40) are ultimately self-defeating. In contrast, authenticity might be seen as individualism's ethical ideal, 'but one that doesn't itself license its self-centered modes'(55)" (Garbowski, 1) as the author applies this idea to the Last Waltz, we begin to see that indeed, Scorsese's vision was deeply driven by a desire to suggest this value system.
The organization of the diverse array of figures reflecting a 'Golden Age' of rock music in a showcase centered around an established historical narrative does drive Scorsese's lens. And given some of the back-stories on the interaction of the iconoclastic array of figures, the intended impression that the Band's diverse and dignified career could be used as a framework for demonstrating the seamless integrative utopianism of rock music may be a matter of selective memory. Last minute contract negotiations with Bob Dylan and the collective disregard of many of the hipper icons on the lineup for the presence of
gravel-voiced crooner Neil Diamond indicate that the authenticity and glorification of dynamic sought by Scorsese existed only on stage.
Many of the egos and excesses of the era had come to define the 'individualism' spoken of by Garbowski and intended by Scorsese.
And truly, this mode would provide for one of the more uncomfortable moments of the film. Upon trading axe licks with Robbie Robertson on his own recently recorded take of "Further on Up the Road," the notoriously chemically-dependent Eric Clapton was visibly trumped. This was true to the extent that the flashy British guitar god becomes somewhat flummoxed at one moment as his guitar strap breaks. As Clapton attempts to regain his bearing, Robertson has already picked up Clapton's fill and reduced it to its rawest effect. In Clapton's defeat and the relative flop of Neil Diamond, there are a few examples that either suggest that Scorsese's glorification did not fully succeed or that, contrarily, the filmmaker was truly not afraid to allow the negative impression seep through to print where present.
As an interesting side note though, if we are to consider other aspects of Scorsese's film career in the same mode, there is an evident maturation in the control rendered over the subject. Indeed, the filmmaker's deep and explicit affection for rock music and rock stars plays into a bias in his later work as well. The 2007 release of Shine a Light, which documents a Rolling Stones concert formatted for the mega-screen experience know as IMAX, presents the Stones in all their elderly glory. The creases in Jagger's face and the weathering of Charlie Watts are distinctly in evidence in this straightforward presentation of a single performance with an array of special guest stars such as Jack White and Christina Aguilera. Here, perhaps with less internal tension, Scorsese offers a favorable presentation of the Rolling Stones as a vital musical act with links to past, present and future. And yet, the work is more accurately described as Direct Cinema. Though the presentation is glossy and extremely well-funded, so too are the Rolling Stones today. The act is at once made gritty by their age and slick by their massive touring facade. Scorsese places the Stones under a microscope and in their mid and late 60s, they would large hold up under the scrutiny. Here, the agreement between subject and filmmaker appears to have been well honored.
In fact, there is even what one might call an innocence to the approach taken to the subject by Scorsese. Indeed, this is how one critic portrayed it in 1979; "On the basis of the Last Waltz, as well as his earlier films, it doesn't seem to me that Martin Scorsese knows much about, despite his obvious interest in, rock music.
But perhaps that is part of the reason why he has fashioned one of the best rock films made thus far in his fledgling genre." (Bartholomew, 56) the critic has postured the argument that this innocence allows the mix of tension and utopian ambition to actually resonate as authentic, provided we understand this as a the view from fandom. The relationships which are evident between the musicians seem secondary to the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject, with the former providing an adoring and unconditionally loving eye for his subjects. Perhaps at times unforgiving, the lens may be only incidentally such. The documentary does suggest that Scorsese accomplished that which he set out to. The concert is portrayed with a light that though deferent to the subject is not dishonest. The tension between that which is intended and that which is accomplished by the concert and by the film provide a tension that succeeds at conveying the rock era narrative. Indeed, reflection will show that the nearly two decades of participation there within for the parties present at the performance were filled with dark tension and transcendent artistic accomplished in simultaneity.
So too would filmmaking bear these complexes, with Scorsese functioning as the most relatable of figures from this class of auteurs. And his identification with the fan makes the dream team ambition of the Last Waltz a collective and ultimately flooring success. Performance such as Van Morrison's 'Caravan,' Neil Young's 'Helpless' and Bob Dylan's 'Forever Young' are captivating and brilliant, as any fan would wish them to be. The outcome of this work is something which genuinely does not hide the truth from the lens. Instead, Scorsese takes the distant view of the fan, who blissfully recognizes only that which is reflected on stage. The nuances and implications of the business…
Sources Used in Documents:
Aiex, N.K. (1984). 'The Last Waltz': Variations on a Theme. Toronto, Canada: Annual Meeting of the American Culture Association, 6.
Bartholomew, D. (1979). 'The Last Waltz': Review. Film Quarterly, 56.
Bouqueral, L. (2007). Bob Dylan, the Ordinary Star. Oral Tradition, 22(1), 151-161.
Garbowski, C. (2001). The Catholic Imagination in Martin Scorsese's the Last Waltz. Journal of Religion and Film, 5(2).
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