looking at superheroes - myth, pop culture, ideology...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

notes on patrol

this post will discuss one of my recent productions, patrol. Talking about the intent, influences, what i wanted the film to do, etc. Its always fun to read more into something than was initially intended, and in a kind of superlative wank fashion, thats what i plan on doing.

It was conceived early this year as a kind of french new-wave approach to superheroes. The original script, about 10 pages long, followed two superheroes - the centaurian and hawkboy, walking around on their daily patrol. Hawkboy, an annoying chain smoker is pissed off because the Centaurian is running late for his shift. They have a conversation which descends into insults, lies, pop culture references and awkward silences. The film ends in an anti-climatic fashion, where Hawkboy discovers that his cat may or may not have died. He doesn't admit to it because, he's a man.

So with that simple premise - two superheroes on Patrol - one uptight, one laid back and professional - the movie got its grounding. The names of the heroes were 'temp' names. When the costumes were hired it became Amphibian Man (because of the aquatic themed costume) and Colossal (because its skin tight and he put socks in his unuderpants to highlight his genitals).

There were a number of episodes of Patrol shot over the four days we had the costumes. Firstly, there was a kind of 'test' version, where the actors (myself and Andrew Robards) tried to get a feel for the characters. It centered around an apartment complex, and was shot in a single take. Its easy to say it was done as an homage to Godard, Truffaut, but really its more about time and simplicity.

We shot a version in a car, at night. This became the completed Patrol, that you have probably seen. The car set up was inspired by Abbas Kiarostami's film 10 (ten). That was shot on digital video, pretty much one shot, set in a car. It has ten vignettes which focus on the female and her role in contemporary Iran. On the DVD of 10 Kiarostami, a true auteur, wanted to say with his film that any one could do it.

Fuck it then. I'll do it. I'm not Kiarostami, but why not. Just add superheroes and I'm there. We shot the film for about an hour, in character the whole time. That became Patrol. What is interesting is how you forget the presence of the camera when its just mounted on a dashboard, and how you completely inhibit a character.

Following on from this we did a version, which was closer to the original intent, where Amphibian Man and Colossal walk around the streets of Marrickville, talking. We also shot another version in the car, during the day, with another superhero to provoke Colossal (not that its particularly hard).

The version shot on the street was fine, but sound problems kind of hamper the dialogue. You would need to shoot with another camera to cover the spontenaeity of the dialogue, and the momentum of the characters. What suprised us was the way in which the location of the car altered the dynamic of the two flawed heroes.

In a car, you cannot escape a person. You can't shrug your shoulders and walk away. You're stuck with the other person. This forces you to talk. Having it set in a car also gives it a sense of realism, and works strongly with the ideas of the other superhero volumes - the peripheral events of these characters, highlighting their flawed nature.

I think of the film as a kind of cross between Kevin Smith conversational films, a buddy cop movie, a superhero comic with Batman and Robin and an alternative art film. Its funny, buts its not to everyones tastes. Nor would I expect it to be.

The length of Patrol is self-indulgent, but when you make these films for yourself and your academic cause, who else is there? I think the film gains a rhythm of its own, like you are observing a conversation in the front seat of the car while you sit quietly in the back.

Also, the presence of the filmmaker in the film, the documentarian in the backseat, highlights the constructed nature of the documentary form, and in turn, superhero characterisation. The fact that a guy with a camera is sitting in the back of the car, quietly filming, reminds that this is a film. This is make believe. There is no truth to any of this. This is interesting to me, because it is a self-reflexive device and because it is counter to the superhero genre. It wants you to believe that heroes exist. Patrol suggests that they exist, because you want them to exist. And they exist flawed because thats what they are. So its a bit of a fuck you to batman and robin.

I like dialogue in films. I can't particularly write it well, but once you've got the characters the rest of it is sweet. Hopefully the people who see Patrol enjoy it, maybe take a little bit of my argument home with them, and if not get a laugh out of it. Because its not serious - superheroes can't be taken seriously. You can pretend that its serious, but really, come on.

That was a bit of talk about Patrol, if you were interested in it. There would be a behind the scenes of it, but essentially the finished product is a behind the scenes of itself. When creation and deconstruction fuse in cinema. It exists at the same time it tears itself apart.

I enjoy it as a superhero volume, and its alot of fun. I think both Colossal and Amphibian Man are strong characters who work within a certain kind of genre but bring it down to earth with a painful shudder.

You should try making one some time. Just get a mask, a camera and a car and you can be the next Kiarostami. Thats what he says anyway.

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