This was supposed to be the first post in a series, covering in english the first year of monthly assignements for BombaCarta. Unfortunately, I was devoured by a number of issues and time constraints, so I couldn’t keep up. If you can speak italian, many reports about the year 2016-17 (including assignements and workshops) are on BombaCarta‘s website. This assignment was given on November 2016 and terminated on December 2016.
Choose your medium
Choose your medium carefully: you will stick to it for the whole year. For writing and photography a clear path will be provided but you are encouraged to experiment with any other form of art as long as you accept the duty to “translate” the assignment accordingly. Some forms of art work better in a group: if you have one, you could consider cinematography or dance for example. This is less obvious and more challenging as it may seem: if you do it, I’d love to know how it goes.
Writing: Write the beginning of a story in four sentences. Not one more, not one less: they must be four. Don’t think about what would happen next. Don’t try too hard, don’t think too hard: you have a month. Let something come to the surface and take notes or just start writing. When the beginning is taking shape in your head, work on synthesis: you must paint with just four strokes.
Photography: Take one picture. Choose your subject carefully and focus on composition. No filters or post-processing allowed. The point here is starting your journey and – as such – the choice of your subject is crucial. Choose something you like or you care about, something that has a value for you and, most importantly, something that will stick around because you will need it again later on. The approach should be simple, naturalistic, focused more on the subject (and your choices about the frame, the angle, the light) and less on the processing. Since this is less challenging than its writing counterpart, if you finish early you can spend the rest of the month shooting pictures with the theme “Beginnings”.
Other media, suggestions: paint/draw with just four strokes; shoot the opening scene of a short movie (no dialogue); interpret the theme “beginning” with a dance movement; play the intro of a song using only one instrument.
At the end of your assignment, collect your favourite beginnings: novels, poetry, movies, tv shows, ballet, music… Why do you like the ones you chose? Do they have something in common? Do you feel something about them? Now get back to your assignment: has it anything to do with what you collected? Why? Why not?
Take some time to think about the “beginning”: what is it exactly? When does it happen? What are its characteristics? Is there anything before?
In this video, Sean Tucker compares the beginning with Winter, a time of apparent emptiness and cold which is also a way to make room for something new. When we start reading a novel, we can easily think that we are already “somewhere” in the novel: “page one”, for example, or “the first part of a story”; but actually our situation has more to do with what is not there yet, with the place we haven’t yet reached. Moving along, we will actually find ourselves somewhere, but now we are just experimenting a promise: we just trust the story.
Literature provides an incredible list of famous beginnings, but I will use cinema for my considerations.
The beginning is a very peculiar moment: we choose to suspend our disbelief and accept what the author is giving us as it was true. But sometimes the author pushes the boundaries of its own medium to create a story in the story (or an experience in the experience). Consider this opening scene:
The Darjeeling Limited begins with a man who is trying to catch his train. We feel his anxiety, we run with him, we even miss our train with him: but the movie is not his movie, the story is not his story and he will disapper right after.
Jarmush starts his “Only lovers left alive” with an hypnotic scene made of music and rotatory motion; images overlap and dissolve, there’s no dialogue. A whole movie made this way would be absurd, but we accept it as an opening scene without batting an eye.
In both these examples, the movie has already began but is also waiting to begin: it’s an extraterritorial space where the author can play with style, escape rules, tell us something he can’t express otherwise. He is promising something and at the same time he says: “It’s not this”. The tension is so high (and we are so willing to suspend any expectation) that violations are temporarily allowed.
The beginning as a space for experimentation and freedom from the rules that will unescapably apply shortly after is perfectly represented by the opening titles of many recent TV shows. In some cases they rise as forms of art by themselves: Game of Thrones, Daredevil, Westworld… Sometimes they borrow from other arts (True Detective with double exposure – check for example the work of Aneta Ivanova).
And some of them become iconic, like Mad Men…
…which is parodied by the Simpsons:
…and cited in a famous promo for the Sunday Times:
The Great Buck Howard (unavailable on YouTube, sorry) is another example of how a movie can play with styles and techniques at its beginning – but it also shows a specific approach. The main character bares it all: he tells us who he is, what are his expectations, what his failures, at what point in his life he is when the movie starts. We are informed – with a detailed summary. We are right in the middle of the story, ready to start.
Not so with the first scene of the first episode of In Treatment (US version): a young woman is crying, a man gives her a tissue, not a word is spoken and in this case we are totally kept in the dark. It’s the exact opposite approach, yet we are given information as well – just in a very different way.
I will finish this post with a comedy, also a way to remember Gene Wilder who recently passed away. The Frisco Kid begins with a rabbi who wants one thing most of all and finally manages to have it: move to America. As soon as he arrives though, he is robbed of all of his belongings.
The adventure sometimes starts when ends the one we thought we were beginning.