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INDEPENDENT INFLUENCES: the films of Tom Noonan and Caveh Zahedi

 

THE OTHER AMERICAN CINEMA

American influence in Irish cinema has often been berated as a negative thing. Attempts to mimic staple Hollywood genre and styles have led more than one commentator to suggest that if Irish cinema is to mean anything at all, it will have to do something other than the things Hollywood already does perfectly well. As a screenwriting teacher of mine once put it, “The big guys already have their pap artists—they don’t need us.”

True as this is, it’s obvious that the problems of Irish cinema go much deeper than this, and perversely enough, some alternative American influence might help to improve the situation. While American cinema’s worldwide hegemony may be hindering the development of many smaller national cinemas, it shouldn’t be forgotten that, despite Hollywood, America does have one of the richest film cultures in the world, and that American filmmakers are often even more a victim of Hollywood dominance than ourselves.

When we talk about independent cinema, we sometimes forget that any film lucky enough to be seen theatrically has at the very least been dependent on the support of multinational distribution companies to get this far. While some fine films (independent at least in terms of their vision) do make it to our screens this way, the fact is many more do not, and even a cursory investigation of some of these unfortunates makes it clear that it certainly wasn’t lack of quality that held them back. (1)

Some of the greatest films in recent American cinema have never been released in Europe, or even picked up for distribution within their own country. Names such as Rob Nilsson, Jon Jost, Andrew Bujalski and Frank V Ross may not ring a bell, but any discussion of American independent cinema is seriously incomplete without them. It’s unfortunate that these names are unknown simply because of the whims of distributors, but our own film culture (both in print and in person) is equally to blame in obediently limiting discussion to the films that distributors have chosen to let us see. In popular discourse, if a film isn’t distributed, it doesn’t exist.

Over the next few pages, I’m going to attempt to give an overview of two such “non-existent” filmmakers: Tom Noonan and Caveh Zahedi. Working in a business-dominated society with practically no state support for the arts, these independents (in every sense of the word) have miraculously managed to build up fascinating bodies of work. Their ingenuity in making the most out of limited resources, and the perseverance and passion that drove them to do so, are things Irish filmmakers should pay heed to.

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CINEMA OF SMALL THINGS

Tom Noonan may not be a household name, but you might recognise his face. Working as a character actor since the early ‘80s, Noonan has appeared in a host of well-known films such as Manhunter (1986), Last Action Hero (1993), Robocop 2 (1990)and The Monster Squad (1987). Typically cast as disturbed villains because of his looming height and awkward features, Noonan’s roles were rarely rewarding creatively, and since the early ‘90s he has been using his acting career to subsidise a series of low-budget films which he has written, directed and starred in: What Happened Was (1992), The Wife (1994), and Wang Dang (1999).

Noonan’s films have so far worked within certain self-imposed restrictions. Each takes place in real time, in a single location and with very few actors. Most unusually, each film is first put on as a play in Noonan’s own theatre. This process effectively serves as an extended rehearsal process, giving his actors time to develop their performances and giving him time to refine the script, with the added bonus of a live audience to play off of. According to Noonan, one of the other advantages is that his production crew effectively get to see the whole story before they film it. As a result:

They understood the story and the dynamics of the drama. When it came to shooting, everyone knew what each of the scenes was about - everyone was on the same page, emotionally and psychologically. (2)

The downside of this approach, you might assume, would be that the end result inevitably amounts to nothing more than a filmed play. But, surprisingly, Noonan achieves something distinctly cinematic. It no doubt helps that even in play form his work, with its conversational dialogue and detailed sets, is consistently naturalistic (so much so that one spectator described one of his plays as like “seeing a movie live”); and that he puts almost as much time and effort into previsualisation (production design, colour schemes, storyboarding, etc) as he does rehearsal. But the fundamental reason seems to be that this kind of real-time, single-location character drama simply works very well on film, creating a sense of intimacy and intensity that is distinct from but just as valuable as that of theatre.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Noonan’s first film, What Happened Was… (1994), in which Jackie (Karen Sillas), a secretary at a New York law firm, invites her co-worker Michael (played by Noonan) over for dinner. Taking place entirely in Jackie’s studio apartment, the film details their whole evening—from Jackie’s nervous preparations prior to Michael’s arrival, through their awkward conversation over dinner and afterwards, up until Michael’s eventual departure. Although friendly at work, the two have never been in each other’s company outside of the office, and the tension of this new scenario is palpable.

Jackie clearly likes Michael, but his feelings are more ambivalent—seeming at times oblivious to her advances, at other times cautiously resistant, at other times timidly interested. Whatever his underlying motives, Michael’s anxiety leads him to build up an aggrandised image of himself throughout their conversation. He boasts his knowledge and intelligence, talks passionately about his moral outrage at society, and describes a book he’s working on which will expose the shady dealings of the law firm they work for. Though many of the ideals he articulates are admirable, it becomes clear that Michael’s morality is decidedly more theory than practice (his book has been “in progress” for thirteen years). Rather, Michael uses this talk as a form of protection, both to impress his date and to mask deeper insecurities.

Eager for the evening to go well, Jackie for the most part tolerates and even encourages Michael’s act, although behaving much more openly and sensitively herself. She’s equally anxious, but her anxiety is less about protecting herself than about trying to break out of her evident loneliness. Perhaps the central plot of the film could be described as the inevitable conflict between these two patterns of behaviour. Gradually Michael’s posturing comes under threat from Jackie’s earnest moves towards intimacy, eventually bringing to the fore the problems and insecurities which both have been talking around the whole evening.

The nature of the above synopsis should indicate that the film’s narrative is largely in the hands of the actors, and Noonan is careful not to overshadow the performances with anything purely “cinematic”. But his filming of the scenario enhances it in several ways. The restrictions of the story naturally limit the film’s visuals, and rather than over-compensating for this with elaborate camerawork, Noonan maximises the power of at times very basic shot arrangements.

One of the obvious benefits of filmed drama is the possibility of close-ups, creating an intimacy rarely achievable in theatre—but Noonan shows how valuable the master shot can be as well. His choice to hold on the master for considerable portions of the character’s dialogue lends tighter shots, when they eventually come, a greater weight and significance (usually indicating a particular shift or twist in the conversation) than they would otherwise have. The sequence of the two characters eating dinner is the most impressive example of this. For a full twenty minutes the characters simply sit, talk and eat while the camera strategically moves between wide, mid-shots and closeups.

The intricacy of Noonan’s production design should also be noted: in What Happened Was, the colour of the apartment’s walls and the dress Jackie wears are gradually altered throughout the film, creating a just-about perceptible shift in atmosphere. The sound design aims for a similar subliminal effect, with an array of carefully chosen street sounds underlying most of the film.

One of the things that this stylistic discretion achieves is it forces us to watch everything, most of all the actors, very closely. The restrictions Noonan sets himself brings the minutiae of cinematic representation to the fore. Eschewing the broad strokes of what could be called the expansive tradition in cinema (narratives spanning many years, great distances and an array of characters—argued by some as cinema’s natural inclination)—Noonan narrows his focus to practically the tiniest human scenario imaginable: two people having dinner. (3)

When the narrative is this small, details become paramount. How someone stands, a momentary glance or shift in expression, an offhand remark—all these things no longer serve as decoration to a grander design; rather they become the narrative itself. Noonan’s restraint shows his faith in this subtle storytelling, and leaves us two options: either we pay attention to these nuances, or we get bored. If you don’t look close enough, you could be forgiven for thinking nothing was happening at all.

Apart from being a very potent, economic and, in cinema, all too rarely tapped source of drama (as Noonan once said, sometimes just the way you say hello to a friend or shake someone’s hand can be enough to build a scene around), this approach is relevant first and foremost because these details really matter in our day to day lives. How a person behaves, interacts and expresses themselves—these are some of the most important and tricky activities we undertake in life, and seeing them presented and dissected is of inestimable value. One could argue one of Michael’s problems in the film is that he’s failed to recognise this. While clearly idealistic, thoughtful and well-read, Noonan’s character is for the most part bumbling, patronising and inconsiderate in social terms. Only belatedly does he realise that this human dialogue not only matters—it’s serious stuff; especially when the other person’s feelings and hopes are at stake.

Which all goes to say that limitations—whether pragmatic or aesthetic—are just about the most useful thing a filmmaker has to work with. Not only do they not interfere with the exploration of big themes or problems—they can focus one’s efforts more clearly on them, to the extent where every moment questions, suggests or illustrates something about the problem. His conversational writing style may disguise it, but Noonan’s work is rigourous in this respect.

As an illustration, one moment in particular is worth mentioning. As Jackie prepares the dinner, she makes a statement which at first sounds like nothing more than conversation filler, but seems to almost unintentionally (on the character’s part) become something much more revealing.

JACKIE: It's weird... sometimes when I'm on the subway and people are whirring by me - lots of them - or on a bus looking out at the crowded sidewalks - it's hard to believe that I have a life like all those people - that I am going through all this stuff you know - that we're all just not like extras...

MICHAEL: You mean like on a movie?

JACKIE: Yeah, it's like we're not really here - we don't really have lives.

MICHAEL: I would have thought that you’d feel real and that everyone else was an extra.

JACKIE: Yeah, I guess, but not really… (4)

Her line works on several levels: from Jackie’s point of view, it’s probably just something to say, casually making conversation. But heard closely, it clearly suggests something of her own psychology, a feeling of dispossession or unimportance. It also suggests something of the film’s wider concerns.

Although set indoors for virtually the entire running time, the expanse of the city, its abundance of people yet dearth of intimacy, underlies the whole of What Happened Was… We glimpse it out the window and hear it in the background, but above all this expanse predates and antedates the characters’ encounter. It is what they came from and what they will have to go back out into, alone. In focusing on the frayed, fumbling and temporary connection between these two lonely people, the film is both a stab against the impersonal expanses of modern society and of modern filmmaking. The fact that this anti-expansive approach may seem aggressively contrary or perverse to those used to the other kind of cinema, is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

CINEMA OF REAL THINGS

If Noonan is the unknown master of American cinema, Caveh Zahedi is its ignored wild man. Zahedi, a 45 year old of Iranian descent, has been making films for 16 years and, like Noonan, has directed himself in all of them. Unlike Noonan, he has not had a professional acting career to fall back on—though you may remember him from Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001), in which he had a brief but memorable appearance discussing Bazin’s theories of cinema and the potential in life for “holy moments”.

What Zahedi talked about in that scene, although ostensibly an explication of Bazin’s ideas, serves as quite a good primer for the assumptions underlying his own work. He argued that “cinema, in its essence…is about the reproduction of reality” and consequently isn’t suited to storytelling in the way that literature is. Unlike books, where so much of the detail is imagined by the reader, film is tied down to the specific, to “that guy at that moment in that space”. For Zahedi, this is not a limitation of cinema but its greatest attribute, because this specific reality is also spiritual—in fact Zahedi, a firm believer in God, equates this reality with divinity: “What film is actually capturing is God incarnate, creating. In this very moment… God is manifesting as this… God at this table, God as you, God as me.” Of course all reality can be “divine”  in this sense, but film has the capacity to focus it and bring our attention to it. In Zahedi’s words:

… Reality tends to be overwhelming, and I think by framing reality and reducing it, it enables one to see. … Film allows us too see it, by putting us in a position where we’re not implicated, where we’re not seen and we can just be open and vulnerable in a way that we usually can’t be when we are in the world…. Film helps bring down our defenses. (5)

This power of cinema works not just on a spiritual level—helping us to see the world anew, to perceive the profundity of everyday experience—but on the level of human behaviour as well. It can help us see the holiness of things, but it can also simply help us to see us. This has been in a way Zahedi’s central project and although he has approached it in several ways, the subject has always been the same: himself. Through methods ranging from re-enactment to cinema verite to video diary, Zahedi has consistently focused directly on his own experiences, doubts, anxieties, relationships and invariably, since he is always the star, his own presence.

A Little Stiff (1991) is, bizarrely enough, probably Zahedi’s most conventional film. It charts the rise and fall of a crush he had on a fellow student in college, with all the key participants—the girl, her boyfriend, Zahedi’s best friend, and of course Caveh—playing themselves. The film, with its amateur cast, rigorously minimal plot and austere, black and white photography (almost every scene is a single static take) is a stellar example of what can be achieved on a low budget. In fact, Zahedi admitted that the film (shot for 20,000 dollars in and around the college Zahedi was still a student at), was in many ways tailored to fit its budget:

One way to deal with the fact that you don't have dollies and therefore can't move the camera very smoothly is to not move it at all. You just set it down somewhere and let the actors move. And it works - as long as you make that your style. It comes out of poverty, but it works. Then you also avoid continuity issues and sound editing issues. …. So there are things you can do to really minimize the downside of not having much money or experience. (6)

The film’s real accomplishment, however, is narrative rather than economic. This may seem strange given Zahedi’s aforementioned refutation of cinema as storytelling, but it’s perhaps this unease with traditional narrative that so energises the work. Like Noonan, Zahedi maximises the potential of the minute—gestures and tones of voice become as narratively significant as the attacks and counter-attacks of a war movie, and the minimalist camerawork becomes a subtly suggestive participant, with the varying emphases and distance of the static camera being used to great effect.

But rather than a single evening, A Little Stiff spans several months—from the first time he sees the girl, through his several attempts to get to know her, up until his final, direct rejection—and, in this sense, the film feels more like a “tale” than Noonan’s work; an edited account of something over a period time rather than an isolated event. This sense of story is utilised almost perversely, however, because what it is an account of is so minuscule: one guy’s unrequited crush on a girl. Likewise, while the film is driven by a clear goal—to get the girl—it is of course unfulfilled, and the film ends with Zahedi recognising his infatuation—in other words, the whole narrative—as folly, and trying instead to accept things as they are and just “be”.

Zahedi described the film as an attempt “to stay on that line between  narrative and non-narrative,” but insists “the narrative was not central. It was really just trying to find all those moments and string them together.” (7) So in A Little Stiff, story is ostensibly used as a kind of pretext, a clothes-line to peg “holy moments” on. Yet this dialectic between the narrative and the momentary—between being in the here-and-now and wanting to see what happens next—becomes central to the film both thematically and stylistically.

For Zahedi, the concept of both storytelling and scriptwriting is always somewhat at odds with the nature of cinema, and while A Little Stiff develops a fascinating dialectic around this, for his second (and strangest) film, I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore (1994), Zahedi abandons any sort of design or premeditation whatsover. The premise is simple: Zahedi goes on a road trip to Las Vegas (for Christmas) with his father and half-brother, and brings along a film crew to document it. The catch is, in an attempt to prove that the apparent randomness of life is both meaningful and edifying—and, not unambitiously, to prove the existence of God as the controlling force of all this—Zahedi essentially decides to let the film direct itself. The result, is against all odds, a resounding success: both an insightful treatise on the nature and limitations of cinematic “reality” and simply very funny.

While abstaining from directorial control may seem like a recipe for boredom, what energises I Don’t Hate Las Vegas is the conflict between this stated intention and the extent to which Zahedi is unable to let go of the “director” inside himself. He repeatedly coerces his father and brother, or at least attempts to—most dubiously, but hilariously, when he tries to convince them to take ecstasy with him. He argues it will bring them closer together, but one senses his motivation is as much about livening up his film as creating familial harmony.

However, even as he tries to break his own premise, the situation he has set up for himself consistently eludes control—partly because of his family’s reluctance and disinterest (Zahedi’s brother insists no-one’s going to want to see the film while his father just hopes it will make a lot of money ) but, most illuminatingly, because of the litany of the technical problems that beset the shoot. These errors, ranging from forgetting to turn on the sound to accidentally loading the same roll of film twice, serve to remind us of the fragmentary and partial nature of what we’re seeing. And because of the very open part the film crew play on camera (mostly discussing Zahedi’s doubts about the progress of the film), these mistakes become part of the film’s narrative as well as the style. The film becomes as much about its own struggle to exist as the road trip it supposedly exists to document. (8)

For some people, Zahedi’s idea that cinema captures reality, even disregarding his contention that this reality is also God, is simply naïve. Film schools in particular love to assert that film is essentially a manipulation, an elaborate construction made out of some arguably real elements, but ultimately creating something that never really existed. As a teacher of mine once said, “When you are making a film, you are always lying.” Yet this argument is too often used as a justification for irrelevant fantasy, and it ignores the fact that the reality we see with our own eyes can be just as selective and biased as that of a film. The difference with a film (the good ones, at least) is that it’s not our reality, but someone else’s; to engage with it we have to, at least partly, leave our own limited perspective behind. In forcing us out of our own little box, this sort of experience can be one of the most valuable kinds of reality available to us. (9)

What Zahedi has achieved is to reclaim this notion of cinema as reality by, paradoxically, revealing it at the same time to be “just” a film. The effect of the camera on people’s behaviour has long been identified as one of the key obstacles in filming any kind of authentic reality. In A Little Stiff minimises this problem is minimised by having the camera as unobtrusive as possible. But from Las Vegas onwards, Zahedi confronts the problem directly, revealing the camera as an unashamed factor in the events portrayed—and effectively reveals it not to be a problem at all. Like the realistic nature of cinema itself, the camera’s presence can be a gift rather than a hindrance. In Las Vegas, Zahedi’s family’s behaviour is obviously effected—at times quite negatively—by the presence of the camera, but their behaviour is probably more revealing than it would have been otherwise. Filming reality transforms it, but why is that transformation any less real or true?

This openness about the nature and limits of his films naturally extends to an openness about Zahedi’s personal limitations—and his honesty in this regard is the most consistent and admirable quality of his work. From his awkward delusional infatuation in A Little Stiff to his dubious treatment of his family in Las Vegas and the litany of doubts, insecurities and depressions that make up his fascinating third film, In the Bathtub of the World (2000) (a video diary of a year in his life)—he has never been afraid of showing himself in a negative light. Zahedi frequently comes up against charges of egotism for the autobiographical focus of his work, but his work (again, paradoxically) both validates these charges—since such qualities are frequently evident in Zahedi’s onscreen behaviour—and negates them, since the very fact that these qualities are presented so honestly onscreen shows a profound bravery and humility on the part of Zahedi the editor-director that is if anything self-effacing.

Another way of putting it: Zahedi may be vain, but his films aren’t. The result is a work that is in a way (and with all due respect to Mr. Zahedi) better than its own creator—and there is perhaps no greater compliment.

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INDEPENDENT AND BUST

Although Zahedi and Noonan share a focus on behavioural specifics, one of the differences between them is the methods they use to this end. Noonan, coming from a theatrical background, approaches his entire mise-en-scene meticulously, right down to the colour of the wallpaper. His characters are likewise constructed and rehearsed to perfection. Zahedi’s belief in the innate realism of cinema, on the other hand, aligns him more with cinema verite traditions, and so his mise-en-scene is invariably less controlled. Even in A Little Stiff, his most formalist film, Zahedi’s use of natural locations, lighting and mostly wide framings leave a lot of room for the unplanned and accidental. This difference is most evident—yet most mysterious—in the kind of acting they employ. Which is stronger or more believable—Noonan’s painstakingly constructed naturalism, or Zahedi’s loose, possibly improvised and most likely unrehearsed alternative? The difference between Noonan’s “designed” realism and the “found” realism of Zahedi is palpable, yet hard to define.

It could be argued that Zahedi’s style is the easier route, his emphasis on the present moment conveniently negating the importance of preparation. (He did admit having people play themselves helped “avoid certain kinds of ‘acting issues’ where you have people not playing the character properly.”) (10)  Yet each method opens up different areas of exploration; it’s hard to imagine Zahedi being able to design a whole evening as subtly and delicately as Noonan manages to; but then again, seeing some of the unconscious and distinctive performances Zahedi illicits (the girl in A Little Stiff exudes a kind of awkward, unfussy femininity that is rarely seen onscreen), one wonders what would be the point of getting a professional actor to impersonate someone who is already perfectly capable of playing herself?

What both filmmakers unfortunately have in common is the consistent lack of success their endeavours have had, despite (or perhaps because of) their ingenuity.

Noonan’s films have largely been financed by his acting career (Last Action Hero, proving itself not entirely useless, paid for the post-production of What Happened Was…) and he’s maintained a policy of setting the opening dates for the play and film and sticking to those dates regardless of how much money he’s able to raise. The films’ budgets have been exceedingly tight in each case, yet miraculously, these limitations are hardly evident on screen. Both What Happened Was and The Wife were shot on 35mm, with carefully designed camerawork, lighting and production design—and each for a paltry $300,000 (Noonan claims the shoot of What Happened Was itself cost a mere $50,000.) How he manages this, apart from perhaps sheer determination, is beyond me—but, cheap as it may be in filmmaking terms, the results have not been economic. He has yet to make any money back from these films and though both What Happened Was and The Wife received limited theatrical and video releases, the marketing for each was lacklustre and neither really managed to find an audience. Noonan’s third film, Wang Dang, has to my knowledge never found a release in any capacity. (11)

Zahedi, for the most part, has had even less luck. A Little Stiff scraped by on a student loan of $10,000. I Don’t Hate Las Vegas (orginally intended to be scripted, and budgeted at $300,000) owes its existence to a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment to the Arts (Zahedi admitted, “My budget defined the film. It was made because I had $20,000, and I had to think of a $20,000 film.”) (12) In the Bathtub of the World was shot on a Hi8 camera, so its cost was negligible. However, each failed to find a distributor and none of them were really cheap enough to make a profit. They are available now primarily from Zahedi’s own website. (13)

Things look like they’re beginning to change for Zahedi, however; his latest film, I Am a Sex Addict, which he has been trying to make for over ten years, was recently picked up for distribution by IFC  Films and is currently enjoying a limited theatrical release across the States. The film, detailing his own long battle with sex addiction, combines re-enactments, documentary footage and the self-reflexive incorporation of the filming process that I Don’t Hate Las Vegas pioneered so successfully. Whether Sex Addict will prove to be a climactic synthesis of all these elements or a crowdpleasing dilution of them remains to be seen.

Apart from an obvious passion for and affinity with the medium, and Zahedi’s recent success notwithstanding, it seems that what has driven both to persevere under these conditions for so long—and what other filmmakers could do well to consider—is a deep belief in the functionality of cinema: film as a way of dealing with life, of exploring, challenging and expanding our own understandings of things. Zahedi sums up the concept well:

I'm always trying to make films that, in the making of the film itself, somehow improve my life or relationships. In that sense, I'm always putting myself on the line. I'm not interested in a prefab kind of experience. It's always about testing and challenging and growing and seeing where something will take one. And the films all have that element, and when they don't, I just get bored. (14)

This activity may seem quite apparent in Zahedi’s work, where each project overtly sets out to confront his own problems and weaknesses, but it’s equally true of the more traditionally “fictional” work of Noonan. The Wife is the clearest example of this. The film figures a slight expansion in Noonan’s style: this time setting the story in and around a country house, and featuring four characters instead of two.  But the most interesting evolution is in his chosen subject, moving from the questions of loneliness and reaching out posed by What Happened Was… to the more complex and difficult question of marriage. Noonan attributes the shift to his being “in great turmoil about this question of being married.” For him, making the film was a way of tackling it. In his own words: “I wanted to write about something that I didn't understand - something that I had no answers about.”  (15)

This approach may sound very engaging and therapeutic for the filmmaker, but one could argue that it’s irrelevant to the film’s worth. Of course the whole notion is redundant if the person in question is talentless to begin with—but it seems commonsensical that people are invariably more interesting when they’re discussing something that really matters to them, and that people who think they know everything are invariably less interesting than those that ask a lot of questions. Only art that comes out of investigation tends to have the force of truth—as Robert Frost once said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” (16)

When film does become something essential and exploratory in this way—when it becomes a way of living and a way of learning to live better—the idea of adopting traditional cinematic forms appears more and more pointless. Why not invent your own?

Zahedi deserves the last word here:

What we don’t need in the world are more stories … What we need are new perspectives, new ways of thinking and seeing…. (17)

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NOTES

  1. This is not to demonise distributors, who can only distribute a limited number of films and necessarily have to choose those they expect to make the most money. But it’s regrettable that their bottom-line choices should come to dictate the boundaries of film discourse. This is particularly frustrating when one hears laments about the dire nature of modern cinematic output. The problem is almost always not that great films aren’t being made (nor that they’re in the minority, which will always be the case) but simply that they aren’t being seen. What we need is a culture that’s more proactive in its search for them.

  2. Tom Noonan, “How the Movies are Rehearsed”, http://www.tomnoonan.com/how4.html

  3. Some would argue that cinema is much more naturally suited to the expansive tradition and that to shoot a film in a single room is simply a perverse waste of the medium’s potential. But it’s not that simple. Of course expansive cinema has its place, and directors such as Malick and Visconti have proven its importance. But theatre has just as strong an inclination towards the expansive as cinema (Shakespeare is the most obvious example), and in some ways, cinema is more suited towards capturing this small, intimate material. Certainly, when it comes to performance, there is more room for natural, nuanced acting on screen then there is on stage.

  4. Quoted from the screenplay, the first part of which is available at http://www.tomnoonan.com/whwtext.html

  5. Zahedi interviewed by Chris Chase, “Shaman of the New American Cinema”, http://www.cavehzahedi.com/chase.html

  6. Zahedi interviewed by Craig Phillips, “Tripping With Caveh”, http://www.cavehzahedi.com/greencine2.html

  7. Zahedi interviewed by Lisanne Skyler, “Gambling with Movie Making”, http://www.cavehzahedi.com/skyler.html

  8. As such, the two most common anti-realist arguments—1) “it’s not possible” and 2) “why bother, reality’s all around us”—are equally false. Technically speaking (notwithstanding CGI), cinema does record real things—but as Zahedi notes, “it creates a totally different relationship … than one has to unrecorded moments."

  9. This anarchic approach may seem like something “anyone could do”, but there is a surprising, and at times almost suspect, level of precision involved. First of all, directorial control is very much being exercised through the editing process—but it’s also ambivalent to what degree Zahedi might be performing for the camera, or orchestrating the events we see on screen. This ambivalence is, again, part of the film’s tension. But the fact that it is foregrounded, rather than pushed under the carpet as in traditional documentaries (a most inaccurate name for a genre where things are almost never simply “documented”), lends the film a greater feeling of authenticity.

  10. Zahedi interviewed by Craig Phillips, “Tripping With Caveh”, http://www.cavehzahedi.com/greencine2.html

  11. Tom Noonan, “How the Movies Get Financed”, http://www.tomnoonan.com/how7.html

  12. Zahedi interviewed by Lisanne Skyler, “Gambling with Movie Making”, http://www.cavehzahedi.com/skyler.html

  13. Zahedi has said (before his new film got distributed, of course) that he sees no hope in traditional distribution:
  14. Movie theaters require a certain number of people per night to make a film viable, so it requires a certain critical mass than, say, making a record album. Movie theaters just sort of cater to the lowest common denominator because they require a lot of people. It seems to me that as long as that's the case, people who watch movies in theaters won't see anything too fantastic, because the system will be against really great, innovative work. It happens occasionally, but it's a real uphill battle.

  15. Zahedi interviewed by Chris Chase, “Shaman of the New American Cinema”, http://www.cavehzahedi.com/chase.html

  16. Tom Noonan, “How the Movies are Conceived”, http://www.tomnoonan.com/how1.html

  17. Robert Frost, “The Figure a Poem Makes” in John G. Fahy (ed.), New Explorations Critical Notes (Gill & MacMillan, 2001). It’s telling that, to this end, both Noonan and Zahedi consistently cast themselves in unflattering roles.

  18. Zahedi interviewed by ‘BRAINTRUSTdv’, “Metaphysician, Heal Thyself”, http://www.cavehzahedi.com/metaphysician.html

 

 

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