A good film is tad hard to pull off. It’s because filmmakers believe they have something important to tell but they must do it in a way that won’t seem too important at all. That’s the major stroke.
Within that stroke there are a few smaller strokes having to do with how we see ourselves in the movie. This is the hard part and almost always done awkwardly. It’s because when you know what the general intention should be, it is easy to take shortcuts.
So in terms of intentions, there are a few soft spots that almost everyone gets. Here are two popular ones: the film provides small insights that the audience can later carry into their lives; or, at a superficial level, it provides at least one new idea that they can tinker with for a few days (a kind of cool concept they can share with friends).
That’s it. No frills. It’s often done and I celebrate it. That’s because the majority is not as dumb as we would believe. Oh sure, it is more often than not unoriginal, but whatever, you have to call a spade a spade.
But like in anything else, there are some exceptional beings. Individuals that are so intelligent they abstract things more rapidly, they can intuit the ineffable from the desire to make order in the disorderly of the world.
And they do all this like it’s not important.
Altman is one of those.
I consider “Nashville” the first film where he truly explored his wild and jazzy manner of telling a story. It is his purest of that kind because the script was written on the fly.
The method is to elicit a world larger than the narrative it contains. As it is, a conventional storyline is devised, but all the events that make it move forward are deliberately thrown away. What’s kept is the stuff that connects these events together, the life in-between. This life is theatrical, and staged as so, but displayed as if it was being discovered out of a simple exploration of space. It is like Malick’s curious camera that ventures into a new world, discovering it as incindentally as it discovers storyline.
I recently watched “Long Kiss” which I recommend strongly. It has no ensemble cast but the camera still dances. That’s because the world is set up as vast. Rooms are spacious with props purposely placed to oblige movement. Players move around tables, couches, lamps. They reach for things on walls, on desks, in their pockets. They go up and down stairways drive in and out of the same spaces. Matches are lit on all surfaces. And our camera dances along.
A storyless story implying a larger story, textured. People with narratives, also part of implied narratives. What brings them together, being apart from each other. A camera that stumbles upon this world and investigates with curiosity. This is important.