1980's, Taoism and Mu (Emptiness)

I wake with the sun again. It rained last night, which was a pleasant contrast to the fine weather thus far. My calm mood stays with me so today I decide to do some writing and editing of images. This takes most of the morning, the rain has stopped but it is overcast most of the day.

After lunch I drive into Burnie and meet with Joanna from the Cradle Coast Campus at UTAS, my first point of call for the residency. I have known Joanna for some time as she once worked for Arts Tasmania with me. We talk for about an hour or so when Clayton arrives and I have chat with him for about another half an hour so. I have known Clayton for many years also and I always enjoy a good conversation with him.

I then head into Makers Workshop and post my blog stories for the past few days. It takes sometime before I’m out of there and back on the road for the 40 minute drive back to Rocky Cape as the last of the suns rays set.

Rocky Cape Rocky Cape Rocky Cape Rocky Cape

Dinner is cooked and I settle down to watch episode 12 of the Story of Film titled ‘Moviemaking and Protest Around the World, The 1980’s’. It’s an excellent episode with the first film discussed ‘Yellow Earth’ by Chinese director Kaige Chen in 1985. I really must see this film because the narrator talks about the directors framing being akin to that of Chinese paintings, whereby the horizon of a landscape is seen either towards the top or bottom of the composition, rarely centred as is generally the norm in filmmaking. He says of this film’s remarkably framed landscapes that the director 'uses emptiness in the frame as a compositional element’. I love this, and then his final comment about the film is that its ideas are associated with that of Taoism. I love this even more.

Two other aspects of this episode I make note of, firstly, to not forget the power of metaphor. I have been thinking about light and dark in the landscape, so how might I represent this in my own work, or of melancholia, or any other aspect of the words that I have written over the past 12 days. And finally, he discusses otherworldliness and imbalance when used by the camera to frame the action at an angle, such as in Spike Lee’s classic film ‘Do the Right Thing’ which the narrator says was heavily influenced by the classic film ‘The Third Man’. I am very taken with both of these ideas. Tomorrow I will make some more detailed notes for myself about all of these compositional film techniques and think through how they may influence my drawings on this residency.

A few nights ago I watched a Yasujiro Ozu film titled ‘Tokyo Story’ from 1953. It was such a beautiful film and has lingered in my thoughts ever since. This is only the second of his films that I have seen and like the first I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s a beautifully slow paced film about age and death, selfishness and tenderness, as well as family, space and time. Visually superb, Ozu has a way of setting up shots and filming action from just off the ground, meaning the compositions are mostly looking upwards rather than at eye height with very little view of the floor. People are seen lower down than normal, but it doesn’t give them a sense of grandeur or gigantic scale that one might expect from this. Compositions also, are squared and symmetrical and so beautifully and purposefully organised to highlight the ordinary in life such as teapot or desk, with a rhythmical balance of tonal value, making it truly a visual splendour on the eyes.

Rarely is there a movement of the camera - no pans or tilts or zooms – I think I counted one throughout the whole film - rather there are long shots of nothingness or emptiness before action takes place. There are also many shots that seem to have no relation to the narrative, which draws out the movie at a beautiful poetic pace and makes the mind serenely wander throughout certain scenes. The characters are drawn out, they are most often seen wading through everyday life occurrences rather than accomplishing feats of extraordinariness, and quite often the major points in the narrative are not even seen, for example, towards the end of the film the main character gets suddenly and gravely ill, we never see the death rather we see one scene with the family around her, cutting to the next sometime later after she has gone. It makes me feel very melancholy after watching it and I think about what sort of storyteller I am.

The rain begins to fall outside and it sounds heavy like my eyes so it’s off to bed for me.