Description of House Movie by Rick Hancox (1972)
House Movie will be a 14.5 minute 16mm colour film with a basically documentary subject and a musical form. In fact the entire soundtrack is music, the image cut to make a visual analogy with the structure and meaning of the music. The selection is the Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E.
The visual ‘documentary’ material in House Movie comprises essentially ‘home movie’ footage. While the great majority of this material was staged, re-enacted, or otherwise planned in advance, it is documentary inasmuch as the ‘actors’ play themselves and participate in familiar events in a familiar setting which does not represent, but is, their actuality. Taking into consideration the film’s musical form, it might be said that in terms of documentary, House Movie is an exaggeration of John Grierson’s definition.
The music in itself is as documentary as the images, in that the ‘actors’ listened to it long before the film was ever conceived. Further, as the music was frequently played over the two months the film was shot, we were, in effect, living with it.
Due to the film’s highly personal subject matter (I hope its effect will be universal) I felt I might lose some of the intimacy and spontaneity if I followed a strict shooting script. My procedure was to study the score and listen to the music carefully, making brief notes and sketches until I finally came up with a rough list of shots which might parallel the structure and meaning of the music as I interpreted it. I was also aware there would b e a good deal of shots created ‘on the spot’ as shooting progressed. For this reason it was necessary to employ a comfortable shooting ratio of four to one.
As a further measure to minimize shooting complications certain technical matters were simplified. Natural light was used whenever possible, and when artificial light had to be employed I used only one or two lights and ‘bounced’ them. Exposure was always sufficient by careful combination of emulsions, lenses and camera speeds, so that at no time was forced processing necessary. The camera used was a simple, light-weight Bolex non-reflex, most often handheld. This technical simplification meant the actors could also ‘crew’ (except in one shot). This privacy further facilitated an intimate and spontaneous approach.
Ninety percent of House Movie was shot with a wide-angle, 10mm lens. Its use was due to a technical-aesthetic necessity. Technically, the range of focus the lens offers makes for a great simplification of filming techniques. But the primary motive for its use has to do with point of view. There is a deliberate distancing: while I hoped for intimacy, what I really wanted from this approach was only the truth embodied in sincere events, a truth which might be more apparent by visual objectivity. By example, there are a number of shots of the ‘actors’ in intimate situations, such as going to bed, eating dinner together, etc., yet they are extreme long shots seen from a very high angle.
This visual distancing may sound paradoxical in such a ‘personal’ film, but it makes sense in terms of the point of view I was after. That is, I wanted the camera to take the point of view of the architecture: the three houses in which the film takes place. It is as though the environment were personified, experiencing the temporary inhabitants and their belongings-the things which happen to a house.
Most scenes were the architectural environment is the focus of attention are filmed with a hand-held camera; most scenes with actors must use a static camera, particularly when the cameraman appears in the frame. Thus the architectural scenes are subjective by comparison. Yet the camera travels in such a way that the viewer is not concerned with ‘who is seeing it’-indeed, it was not even possible for the cameraman to look through the viewfinder in many hand-held ‘architectural’ scenes. The subjectivity is not human: it remains that of architecture.
Thus the film is called House Movie and not ‘Home Movie.’ An ‘architectural’ point of view was necessary because was a ‘house is not a home’ more true; all we ever had was the house. The cold, inanimate point of view is a metaphor of the mundane, naturalistic forces which broke our home apart.
It is the subject matter of the film which is ‘personal’ moreso than the form. Also, the editing places the events in linear sequence, and such devices as ‘establishing’ shots are employed. My reasoning here is firstly, I wish to communicate a personal matter, and secondly, I wish to look at myself in an objective way. To accomplish this effectively the subject had to be not only personal, but sincere; the form had to be not only objective, but universal. The sincerity of subject was attempted by the spontaneous approach already discussed. Any success of communication owes a great deal to the universality of the music. The editing borrows its structure.
I am deeply committed to this project for many reasons, the most obvious being its relevance to my personal life. At the same time it represents a great creative challenge. For the past two years I have been developing in this direction, and a recent film which I can show you on request, Next to Me, is a painful, transitional testament of this particular challenge. In the past I have experienced tremendous personal conflict between living and creating. The direction in which I am now moving, and of which House Movie may represent the first real success, is to resolve life and art by marrying the two. I used to tell people, “film comes first.” Yet is sometimes appeared reality was my primary motivation. My present interest in film negates the dichotomy, and makes both absolutes irrelevant.