When The Thin Blue Line was not nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 1989, supporters of the film were outraged. The Academy’s reasoning, reportedly, was that the extensive use of re-enacted scenes made the film something other than a documentary. Rather than getting bogged down in a sophistic discussion of the semantic shortcomings of that particular word, I’d like simply to make the point that our definition of the term has shifted in the last twenty-two years–thanks partly to (or perhaps partly because of) none other than Errol Morris, the director of The Thin Blue Line.
I want to shake up my entire process when the time comes to produce my third narrative feature: I want a (slightly) bigger crew, and I want a (slightly) less frenetic style. I want to maintain some of the comic (?) voice I’ve developed over the last two films, but I want to tone down the pitch of the laughter as much as possible while still claiming to have made a comedy. Laughter is most commonly an incredibly sick pleasure, and the cliché regarding the efficacy of its service as medicine demonstrates the probable certainty of schadenfreude‘s primacy within the nexus of my (and your) instinctive “lizard” brain. A filmmaker ought to be a kind of cultural doctor, constantly experimenting with diverse procedures, with the goal of easing the disgusting pain of our general existence. The inducement of laughter (even if of the uneasy sort) might be one way in which to do that. And if the preceding remarks sound like a clinical and/or scientific distillation of the ultimate sentiment found in Sullivan’s Travels, then I have explained myself well, and can only hope that my films will read as the kind of thing that a student of Cautious Optimism might request on Interlibrary Loan from some more pragmatically oriented, fictional Earth.
If my driving instinct in filmmaking is to start with comedy and then to turn as many points-of-chuckle as possible into points-of-empathy, and if I have already assembled thirty-seven minutes of documentary footage in which empathy is instant for anyone still capable of self-questioning, why not flesh out those 37 minutes? If I frame my project as a thing analogous to the project of a doctor, isn’t there a bitingly obvious confluence if I treat, filmically, a medical subject?
I’ve made two short documentaries about breast cancer–more specifically, about the desire to refrain, after mastectomy, from having fake goo attached to one’s body. Maybe I ought to combine those two shorts, and add more material. While I write a third narrative.