BL&F 23: ABSURD EXPECTATIONS BY JOHN LUKE GODDARD

THE COLLAPSE OF AUTEUR THEORY IN DJANGO AWAY!


Q: What is Film? What is a Movie? What is Cinema?

A: Film is film. A Movie is a movie. Cinema is cinema.

All are in the eye of the beholder. What are you beholding?

Q: It’s rude to answer a question with a question.

A: That’s not a question.

In the digital age where films are everywhere and film stock is in risk of becoming extinct, Daniel Hutchings has made a feature length film shot on video. (Defining Film now seems even more absurd!) Django Away! opens with a heroic theme that accompanies a montage of Hutchings finding his way around London. In amongst the hustle and bustle that Hutchings doesn’t really stand out from, statues of heroes from history look on. Chaplin looks into camera, at us, passing no judgement, but reminds us of the lofty achievements of cinema comedy at it’s greatest. Shakespeare points to his inscription reminding us that there is no darkness except ignorance, immediately suggesting a subplot of enlightenment. Even though he is long dead, his spectre still influences our expectations. History, written by the winners, gives us barometers to measure the present.

When the villain of Hutchings’ fantasies, Joe King, makes a joke, the butt of the joke dies. Having a secret shame or being sensitive about your appearance could be the death of you. But we also see that the Jokers are really just instigators. It’s the laughter that kills. The villains are defined by their audience’s reaction.

At the half way mark, Hutchings’ efforts have still not gotten him off the streets of London. As Nelson’s fixed stare keeps watch on the horizon as if the Armada is about to appear, Hutchings tries stopping passers by to tell them about his movie idea. Realising his efforts are getting as much attention as a scarecrow, Hutchings imagines one dressed in his double denim. To a delicate score, Django crosses his path, is brought to tears and swaps outfits with him. This is a beautiful moment but I’m at a loss to articulate why. I think that’s because I don’t really want to.

In one of Hutchings’ fantasies, we see Django’s full flashback. In it we see it was not Joe King who killed his Mentor, but Django himself. In a moment of youthful exuberance, Django surprises his Mentor which makes him jump. This inspires the laughter that causes the death of his mentor. Impulse can be a dangerous thing. The laughter comes from an audience of disembodied heads. Laughter is now an abstraction as it rings from the lips of these heads, cackling within memories and out of ideas. The heads feature the cast but they are dressed like their characters in the reality scenes. Are these heads remembered or are they the faces of Hutchings’ paranoia? After he’s killed his Mentor, Django trains in solitude to inspire “laughter that celebrates”. He has chosen not to be a Joker even though he has the “killer instinct”.

When Django finally meets Joke King, who is Hutchings in another guise, we see Hutchings facing himself with a mirror that is its own reflection within a made-up genre in the mind of his comedy character. The following Joke-off sees Hutchings’ subconscious play out the dual of gleeful impulse vs. compassion and reasoning, the result seeing Django win out over Joe, and thusly Hutchings’ comedic reasoning mastering his comedic impulses, by confronting Joe with the details of the consequences of his soulless jokes. Nothing kills a Joker quicker than not getting laughs.

As the end credits strike up, with his final line of the film still hanging in the air, we realise that Hutchings has purposely refused to undermine his comedy character’s aspirations and in doing so has sidestepped undermining the notion of the author aiming to artistically express something of the human condition. It is precisely this, as well as making a film with such a cinematic visual vocabulary without the practical structure and support of a budgeted film, that collapses the space between Auteur Theory and YouTube Home Movies. What remains is an individual and his storytelling in amongst statues and scarecrows, giving us a barometer to measure the past. In Hutchings' scarecrow analogy and his suggestions of the achievements and sacrifices of history with his images of statues, we can see he is conscious of how feeble he might appear but stands by his authorship with open arms. Is it an absurd expectation for Hutchings to think we would follow him through his zero budget looking glass and consider it valid entertainment? It’s not an expectation at all. The film tells us there needn’t be a comparison and asks us to wonder why there is. Culture is a spectrum, not a pyramid.

Q: But what is Film? What is a Movie? What is Cinema?

A: Django Away! tells us “I am Film. I am a Movie. I am Cinema”. Which is another way of saying “We are Film, We are Movies, We are Cinema!” Which is another way of saying the audience completes the work. Which reveals the burden of freedom as we realise we are the beholders. Do we know what we are beholding?

Q: It’s rude to answer a question with a question.

A: That’s not a question.

Q: I know. My name is Q! It doesn’t stand for Question, Mr A!

John Luke Goddard is an avant-garde filmmaker and theorist who was born in France to an obscure fictional New Wave couple played by Brigette Bardot and Alan Delon. The couple didn’t stay together after the end credits and young John Luke grew up on his own in the Parisian cinema in which he was born. At age 16, when he finally found the exit in the dark of the movies, he moved to Bolton and grew up missing the country he was born in. Since then he has made movies as an outsider of both the movie-making business and the society he observes.

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