Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Dilemmas of Elimination and Unification

The process of deciding where to go and who to research will be as much a process of elimination as selection. Case in point: Sylvia Plath.

I'd like to visit Massachusetts -- Wellesley, Smith College, Boston -- and trace the footsteps of this famous woman. Yet, would a documentary intended to be more or less evenly about an array of American writers suffer at the inclusion of Plath and all the inevitable import her fame would bring to the film's tenor? On the flip side, can a documentary about American writers be considered comprehensive in any manner when it leaves out one of our most famous poets?

I'm also debating documentary vs. serial at this point. How could I possibly pare this down to a three-hour feature? I need to devise a narrow unifying thread. A common denominator. Even then it will be vast enough to taunt me.

The obvious choice being only those who wrote directly about the American landscape.

Or those who were extensive travelers themselves. Whitman, Kerouac. The vagabonds.

Those who died of suicide, alcoholism, or overdose. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Plath.

I could simply choose the movements that I find most compelling -- the Lost Generation, the original Confessional poets, and the Beats.

Funny how I deemed this project so important to undertake, ever since its conception almost exactly a year ago -- and now, after the span of one year, it strikes me as more immense than important. Rather lost. I'll find it though, I will.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This is not Abandonment. Haha!

So . . . I haven't updated this in ages. I still have every intention of pursuing this particular dream, but the earnest onset of my MFA studies combined with some unprecedented issues at work have left me a bit enervated . . . I'll restore my momentum for this project soon enough.

I want to share a clip from the film The Yellow Handkerchief, even though it isn't a documentary. It's about a trio of drifters, and I've been preoccupied with my road trip ambitions since I stumbled across it a few days ago.

"I don't know. I don't - I was really really, really - bored!"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hemingway. Of course.

Although darling Walt was the first man who came to mind for this project, instigated it, even . . . my heart belongs to Hemingway, as most of you would know.

I picked up A Moveable Feast again last night and now I am convinced, I must, I must incorporate something of his style and form in this project. A collection of anecdotes about people and places . . . I like the irony of taking notes from an expatriate while documenting the U.S.

On another note, I have realized that perhaps I should grapple with the overarching issue of perspective before I progress any further with details. A few options:

A) Should I have a narrator as a persona within the film itself, a la Ross McElwee in his personal project Bright Leaves?

Do I want to contextualize this whole journey within my own history and aspirations? This option would be the most cohesive with the Hemingway thread: a first-generation American appropriating a level of orientation from an expatriate. Again, I like irony.


B) Strive for a professional tone, and leave the film's drive entirely to the interviews of experts, a la Mondovino?


C) Create an engaging persona for narration, yet restrain it to a voice and a wit rather than a context? (Clearly I need to do more research on documentaries if I don't even have an example for this one.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Leave it to Dena . . .

Of course the darling woman comes up with the best ideas for mixing ambition with sheer pleasure.

She wrote with the suggestion, "If you end up in Missouri to look into Mark Twain et al, this place looks amazing. The oldest botanical garden in the United States and it seems like it would be lovely to walk through and picnic." Quite right.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Resuscitating the beginning . . .

An excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a close friend in August '08, when this all began:

So, I was looking up Walt Whitman's bio again and found out that he ended his days in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the house he lived in is almost two hours away from here, and I can't see it before I leave. [I was in Madison, NJ at the time.] But then I had this idea. At some point we need to go on a U.S.A. road trip and see the homes all of the great literary figures in whom we have particular interest. Just prior to having this idea, I'd read a review for the upcoming indie flick Last Stop for Paul, which is about a couple of guys who travel to Thailand on the cheap. It was filmed by two guys with one camera, no crew. We should do some kind of photo documentary with quick film clips . . . I can get Charles to teach me a few technical things.

I dunno, maybe this is something that should be done in stages. Like we do the East Coast next summer or even spring break, then spread out from Colorado and into the bread basket the following winter, etc. With a cooler for groceries instead of restaurants at every meal, plus a tent to pitch instead of a motel whenever available, we could do it at negligible cost. Well, if gas doesn't skyrocket anymore . . .

It would just take an ungodly amount of planning. And yes, it's a lot of domestic travel, but I think it would prove worthwhile. Or maybe it's just a whim, but I think you might still be interested . . . Old people with nothing better to do hop in RV's and wander around like this all the time. And young people go on road trips to party or see monuments or nature. So essentially we combine the two and pour all our youthful energy and inquisitiveness into a charming and earnest quest narrative.

Or have I just lost my mind?

All the dear friends who read my other blog and then call or message with comments later on, PLEASE POST COMMENTS HERE. I want as much outside input as possible. And I won't be able to complete this project alone, so other admins / co-conspirators will be added to this site as I find them; they'll also need immediate access to your ideas.

Oh. So. What IS this, exactly? I should explain that here instead of just linking to another site. I'm plotting a roadtrip. I'm not sure yet whether it will be completed in stages or all at once. I'm only sure of the subject, as the roadtrip is not merely to satisfy my wanderlust, but to complete a literary project: a documentary about places that were significant in the lives and deaths of great American writers.

Thematically, I've not quite determined this project's direction. Tentatively, I'd like to focus on simplicity and escape. Many of the writers who enjoyed the most personal fulfillment lived the simplest yet most unusual lives. They didn't pursue society's common values; instead, they evaluated and determined what would be singularly good for themselves as unique individuals. Of course I'm not going to merely plot out on a map the pleasant homes of happy people. Zelda Sayre Fitzerald's death in asylum fire, for one, will be included. I want to include everything, with the possible aim of discovering insights on the departure points between fulfilled dreams and dead-end dreams.

In part so it doesn't become unwieldy, I'll keep this project domestic. And though it will break my heart not to follow the expatriots to the Riveria, I want to create something truly American. Yes, this is coming from the girl whose two favorite writers are both dead Englishmen, and who would rather not exercise her right to vote (not even registered) than compromise between the lesser of two evils or weaknesses.

More on that later. For now I've got to brainstorm!