The Essay Film A Manifesto by Mark Cousins
In the last two years I have made three essay films – What is This Film Called Love?, A Story of Children and Film, and Here be Dragons. In the next year, I will make two more – I am Belfast and Stockholm My Love.
In making these, and watching many more – by Anand Patwardhan and Agnes Varda, for example – and after reading Philip Lopate’s book on the essay, I started to make a mental list of the elements of, and the principles behind, essay films. This list is a kind of manifesto.
A fiction film is a bubble. An essay film bursts it.
An essay film takes an idea for a walk.
Essay films are visual thinking.
Essay films reverse film production: the images come first, the script, last.
Filming an essay is gathering, like a carpenter gathers wood.
A fiction film is a car, an essay film is a bike; it can nip up an alleyway, you can feel the wind in its hair.
A road movie has outer movement, an essay film has inner movement.
An essay film is the opposite of fly on the wall.
An essay film can go anywhere, and should.
Two essay films should be made every year. Why? Because, after F for Fake, Orson Welles said this to Henry Jaglom during lunch at Ma Maison: “I could have made an essay film – two of ‘em a year, you see. On different subjects. Various variations of that form.”
Commentary is to the essay film, what dance is to the musical.
All essay films would be improved by a clip of Dietrich (see Marcel Ophuls).
An essay film cannot create the atmosphere of Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard;
A fiction film cannot explain that atmosphere.
Even Hollywood makes essay films – look at DW Griffith’s Intolerance.
Essay films are what Astruc dreamt of.
Digital had made Astruc’s dream come true.