Storytelling and Self

Claude Lanzmann in his biography “The Patagonian Hare” includes his thoughts about film-making. Two of his quotes (my translation and emphasis) coincide with my current “editing mode”:

“I worked on (...) newspaper articles the same way,
I work now on my films.
I wanted thoroughly examine the issue,
take myself out of the picture,
enter into the reasons and impulses,
lies and silences of those
whom I want to present or whom I ask questions.
All needed for reaching
a state of hallucinatory
and precise hypersensitivity,
which for me is a model for the imagination.
Only such approach allows me to uncover, reveal the truth
and, if needed, make those I speak about alive and present.
Anyway, this is the law I obey.
I consider myself a seer
and strongly advocate to all
who write about cinema
that they include the term “seer”
into their writing techniques.”

- Claude Lanzmann

To take oneself out of the process so that the subject or the theme comes through is a noble but a very tough order. I keep struggling with my own off screen knowledge, biases, over or under sensitivity. My brilliant editor keeps saying “let the material speak by itself, don’t let your ideas mess it up, allow it reveal itself in its own way.” Sounds great but how to really see and hear without influencing with our own apparatus of perception that which is being perceived? How to represent reality in such a way that it won’t end up being a series of subjective perceptions? Is it possible? Of course the concept of “storytelling” implies “a storyteller”, hence subjectivity is at the very core of the process. A story won’t happen by itself. And yet more often than not the less of a storyteller the better.

“Editing is a long, serious, delicate and subtle operation.
Many a time I felt totally blocked,
as one is during a mountain climbing
during which one can’t find a proper passage
that would allow to climb higher.
Usually one such passage exists.
Not two but only one that is any good.”
- Claude Lanzmann

That’s also true, and yet it brings about the same tension between “the storytelling self” and “the reality being told”. In order to move through the story there has to be an entity to make necessary steps. Yet, the moment a proper step has been made the self should forget itself in order to be open, pure, receptive, hearing and listening to that which is outside (of the perceiving self.)

Otherwise, there is only deaf ears madness.

On the other hand “Shoah” is so effective because it is emotionally lived through, because we feel the emotions of the storyteller, because one person took the challenge to take himself out of the (normal to that point) way of relating to the subject. So perhaps the real compromise in this dilemma of how much of a storyteller should be in a story (aside of course from a first person narrative) is not how to balance the presence of a storytelling self and the events/things/people/themes described but the quality of that self who should not be present in the story. Another words in “who is telling the story” the crucial is not “who” but “who is not”.

And so in this bizarre conclusion it turns out that the quality of the storytelling self relies on the ability of the self to be not! Only a few are talented enough to do so. Strangely, since their work is the most effective, they are the most recognized.

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