A M. Diop, más querida #3
by S. David 

Dear Mati—

Somewhat embarrassingly, I have always aspired to the screen. Prior to my coming of age and my political education, though, I don't think I saw cinema as any kind of social institution. I think I saw the filmmaking process in almost opposite terms, actually: as the act of revealing one's “story” or inner conflict to oneself and to one's audience, authorially.

Which is not to say that this revealing can't, in its own way, be radical or generative or literary. But it precludes what makes filmmaking, in so many ways, unique among the arts: it is a moving image of history. It's not that I had never considered that telling stories could do something other than affirm things for what they are; I think I simply subscribed to a lazy kind of social “realism,” one only made real by soft cynicism and a dearth of experience.

To put it simply, I was a boring formalist, and a misinformed one at that. I felt entirely justified in leaving screen theory to the self-styled X-perts, while taking no interest in the higher function of mise-en-scène or language. I don't think I really embraced cinema's potential in THE ABOVE—its most historical property—but simply saw it as a means of creating an extension of myself, another mirrored installation, a “legacy marker.” I have stupid memories.

You would know something about this, as you grew up on film, and likewise on film. And so your scripts—like Snow Canon—circuit around character and intimacy, but without the simplistic rhetoric of chance. They dwell on desire—a prime mover of history—without pitching a broad humanist tent. They likewise do not feel like glib narrow-casts. You consider every shot, but every shot is not beyond consideration for the participant. When I write to you, it feels like hagiography, but trust that you’re the only artist who could end up on a Barack O list whom I could even think to call an influence.

Regardless, it goes without saying that, as a young adult, I couldn't conceive of a capital-M “Marxist cinema,” because I wasn't an X-pert. This is partly because there is no X-pertise—only struggle and positive tension. There is no individual, and yet I still love Network. Previously I saw things in a more unilateral way—as a film revealing its mysteries to viewers—instead of the viewer being a participant in a filmic process to which they inevitably bring their own subjectivities.

Films are primarily concerned with language, but language is never at the center of a film's meaning. It's possible that miscommunication is at the heart of cinema's endeavor. I hope you find this letter in the same spirit.


S. D.

S. David is a writer and amateur artist who only half-hails from the US capital metro area.
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