"Before we start you out on this multi-million dollar production, Mr. Rawlings, we would like to learn more about this film you are going to make. Can you tell us all about it?"
Of course! I have long dreamed about this opportunity, my superfilm.
OK, we open up on a foggy and battle-scarred landscape. Shell holes and bits of debris are visible as far into the mist as you can see. A town. Shots of exploded buildings. Artillery sits unmanned. Everything is quiet.
Oh, and this film is all in black and white; real high contrast black and white, and it won't be very wide--maybe something like 1.75, I am thinking, but not wider. I want to be able to use widescreen shots when they work and tighter shots for close-ups and such; morph the screen to my needs, the way Eisenstein wrote about it in "The Dinamic Square."
And then a line of feet walking through the mud. The bottoms of dresses cling to the feet, muddy and wet. The camera rises and we see the faces of women--some are old, some are young, but all of them are very tired-looking, with wrinkles and dirt covering their faces--everything has to be dirty--and they look frightened. Escorting them, only barely visible in the fog, are soldiers. The camera roams and looks at some of the faces. And then it focuses on one face, the face of a middle-aged woman, and then zooms in on her eye, into her pupil, exactly the way Unfaithfully Yours (1948) does it to introduce the separate fantasies.
And then we are looking at the face of a child. The woman as a young girl. A voice calls from somewhere off-screen. The girl hollers back. It's a call-response game, and the editing will be very playful, quick cuts that counter-point extreme visuals--I am imagining here a visual tone in the vein of A Summer to Remember (1960). In fact, I am ripping much of that film off for this section. The other voice is that of a young boy. These two are outside, in some woods, on a summer evening.
The kids decide to go exploring and play somewhere else. They wander around through the woods. This whole section of the film will be very quiet, with very little dialog, and when the kids do speak they say things that only they understand, which is very much what childhood is like anyway. They come to a clearing and a knoll and run around it a bit. Then they are tired and lie down next to one another on the crest of the knoll and they begin to listen. A shot of their ears--the sounds around them erupt. Shots of the grass swaying. Shots of birds playing. Shots of bugs chirping. Shots of trees. Shots of sky. A long shot shows them in the foreground and their city in the background (I have a clear image here of Canterbury in the distance in A Canterbury Tale (1944)). Suddenly the sounds of music are heard, very far in the distance. The boy rises and helps the girl up, and then they run off back into the woods towards home (the town).
From here until the end of this section, I am stealing from Marie, a Hungarian Legend (1932). The two kids are walking with adults (we don't see the faces of the adults)--night has begun to settle in. The kids have changed into nicer clothes (very adult-like). They are fussing and playing with each other. The boy will be doing something boyish--maybe he's playing with rocks. The music we heard cutting from the last sequence is much louder, and as we follow the kids we see that they are attending a local dance. It's outdoors with streamers and a small band and lots of people and tables--but of those people and tables, all we ever see are the legs. The camera does some more visual playing as the kids chase each other around--they have become bored with dancing, which they tried at the behest of their chaperons. The boy finally steals some candy, and the two end up on the road adjacent to the dance, eating.
The boy has walked the girl home (presumably just a few houses away, as the music can still be clearly heard). She walks into the yard and stands behind the fence. The girl asks for candy. The boy begins to foolishly play around--all of this is exactly like in Marie, except without the rape. After this mime-playing, the girl mimes that she wants to be kissed on the cheek. The boy looks disgusted. She mimes it again, more forcefully. The boy turns away indignant, almost haughty (should look hilarious in his mock-formal clothing), and then stomps off in the direction of his house. The girl looks after him, an odd mix of pouting and longing. The camera zooms back into her pupil.
We are now looking again on the woman. She is digging. The camera tracks back and then pans to reveal that all the women are digging. It's a trench of some sort. Or is it? As the camera pans across the women, a soldier crosses in the foreground. Another is patrolling the background, the shadow of his gun ominous in the fog. The camera stops and focuses in on another woman, quite a bit older than the last. Pupil zoom.
Now a girl of about 20 is before us. She puts on a hat and dives into Paris. This section is going to be a city film, something rather like Nogent (1929) and In Spring (1929) and A propos de Nice (1930) and the like; we follow the girl around on the day she spent living it up in Paris and diverge into free-form documentary. Shots of the Champs-Elysees. Shots of various people along the boulevard. Portraits of neighborhoods--everybody will be clamoring to see Montmarte. Oh, and this section will be shot as a silent, so it will have the only score of the entire film... I am thinking a playful concertina, something lively and truly Parisian. And the setting is spring, so there has to be some shots of blossoming flowers and blossoming love.
Night comes. Shots of city lights. Things become more exciting. Pace gets quicker. We see Parisian night-life. Cabarets. Champagne. Everywhere flesh and decadence. One automatically thinks of the club sequence in So This is Paris (1926). Indeed, this IS Paris. The rhythm steadily quickens. It will be modeled after the rhythm of The Man with a Movie Camera (1929), become more alive and more dense until things feel like they will explode. Champagne. Laughter. Legs. Then suddenly a shot of dawn over the city. Things are all at once slow. The night revellers are returning home. The morning life is awakening. We watch the woman as she stumbles jubilantly home. She collapses into bad, fully dressed. She stares up at the ceiling, euphoric (drunk). Pupil zoom.
Back to the woman shovelling. The soldiers order the group to line up in front of the hole they have dug. The soldiers are still (always) shadows in the foreground and mist. The women begin climbing out of the dirt, muddy as ever. Some have trouble. The camera pans across as they climb. It focuses on one particularly young girl as she uses her shovel as a crutch. Perhaps she is very beautiful, but it's hard to tell under the dirt. Pupil zoom.
Now we are looking at the same girl, clean and all made up, laughing, looking her youthful age, and very, very pretty. She is with her beau, a strapping young lad who I imagine to be something like Douglass Montgomery. The two are in a city park, merrily whispering love promises to one another as they stroll. It is winter and thick, romantic snow is falling. This is going to be an Impressionistic Romantic Comedy--imagine a fluffy, light-hearted Menilmontant (1926). And with sound. There is going to be a lot of visual and audio disjunction; Woody Allen dialogue over a camera roaming in search of psychological externalities; also lots of philosophical non-sequiters ala Godard.
But back to the plot: the couple's happiness is destroyed when they learn that war has been declared (perhaps through a nice "It's War!" sign in the snowy city). The boy is determined to enlist, but the girl decides to do all she can to keep him from going. She hatches frivolous schemes to keep him from enlisting; perhaps a kidnapping plot, and maybe a plot that will land him in jail and make him unqualified, and she might even desperately try to break his kneecaps, arguing to him all the while why it is better for him to stay. Finally she threatens to drown herself if he enlists. The boy finally relents and promises to stay. The two embrace. Air raid sirens blare, and within moments explosions are licking the air on the horizon. The two faces stare in horror, their features highlighted by the light of the nearing blasts, the increasing brightness and sound indicating their proximity. The boy breaks the embrace and tries to get the girl to run with him, but she is frozen. She can't look away. Pupil zoom.
Back to the girl, considerably more tired and dirty, watching the women struggle out of the hole. The soldiers yell and get them to line up. The sobbing of several women, quiet through the beginning, becomes noticeable. The camera pans across the faces of the now-aligned women, their backs to the trench. A few of them can barely stand. We stop on a middle-aged woman, looking stout and proud. Pupil zoom.
It is the same woman, wearing an army nurse's outfit. She is staring out on the horizon where a large group of soldiers is marching towards the town. The troops arrive; she asks about a particular soldier. She searches the town for him and finally finds him. He his her husband. The two have a brief night to catch up in the midst of duties before an attack breaks out in the early morning hours. The rest of the sequence follows their course in the battle, the man desperately fighting and the woman desperately healing.
It is easiest to think of a Band of Brothers (2001) episode, but I would like it to be much more Russian-rooted. I am thinking very bold visual flourishes in the vein of Kalatozov; The Cranes are Flying (1957) is my primary model, but certainly there are many instances from The Unmailed Letter (1959) and Nail in the Boot (1931) that I can steal. Commissar (1967) was the whole inspiration for this segment, so expect some of the visual flairs found there. Ah, and I would be insane not to be influenced by Welles for this bit; imagine what he might have done with a modern war scene! That battle in Chimes at Midnight (1967) is modern enough and quite an interesting model. Come to that, Shakespeare is not a bad influence either. I might drench the segment with Shakespearean dialogue. Haha, I will even have one of the husband's dying comrades jokingly exclaim to him, "O Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth!" (Eh, but Godard has already done this.) Oh, but I am getting too excited. It's just that this is the centerpiece of the film, and in it I will pour all my greatest cinematic influences: Welles and Kalatozov, older Soviet formalists like Dovzhenko and Pudovkin, with bits of Powell and Pressburger to slow the narrative and give the acting a spiritual physicality, and maybe even humble, light, and comic moments in the spirit of Borzage--all updated to my own modern sensibilities, of course. This is meant to be a reinvention of the older forms I love.
And then the battle is over. The town is destroyed. The wounded are dying, the dead are rotting. The landscape is bleak; the end of autumn, bare and war-scarred. The husband and wife have survived. The man's troops assemble and are to go off again. The sounds of war reach them from distant places. The couple parts; he assembles in his troop; the troop marches off towards the distant thunder; as they march, they begin to sing an old, native (anti-)war song (think of Ford's cavalry singing as they ride (except the song will be Russian)). Shot of the woman as she watches her man go, his song echoing in her ears. Pupil zoom.
As we ease out from her eye, we hear her burst out into the song her husband's troops were singing. The reflection of a gun is briefly visible in her eye. The camera eases back to a normal close up and then slowly pans down the line, across the faces of the other women. Others have begun to sing, the sobbing has begun to stop. The farther we pan, the louder the song becomes. The camera stops on an older woman who was crying but is now trying to sing. She is still tearful. We begin the pupil zoom, but as we near her we see her eye juxtaposed with the barrel of a rifle, exactly as Vorkapich does it in his montage for Crime Without Passion (1934). The voices swell and reach a high note; the barrel explodes.
Lights come up. The end.
"What a film! As your imaginary producers, we would like to tell you that this is the greatest motion picture we have ever produced. Oh boy!"
*handshakes all around*