The Search For Emotional Truth: SW30

a guest post from filmmaker Stephen Kijak:

So Ted posed a questions to me for this blog and asked me to relate it to my recent doc, "Scott Walker – 30 Century Man". "How did I find my subject's emotional truth in the documentary form?" Well, being a firm believer in the form/content relationship, I was surprised how much I fought the form on the way to finding it, and thus the emotional truth it unlocked. I had set out to make a more elliptical, formally challenging film about this musician, Scott Walker – himself known to be something of an enigma. It wasn't going to be a doc at all at first – I had conceived of a screenplay structured around a suite of Walker's swirling wide-screen 60's "tenement dramas"…(bad idea).

When I heard that the J.D. Salinger of rock was about to make his first album in a decade, it seemed the best opportunity to make a film, and of course, it had to be a doc. With a figure who had slipped into the unknown like this, what better than the truth of the documentary to shine a light? But then as the limits of access to this reclusive mystery-man became more and more of a problem (I wanted two weeks in the studio, they said, maybe a day! In the end I got two, plus a day of still photography.) And probably only one hour-long interview (never enough!)

But that, I discovered, was actually the key. And absence is still a presence in some ways. And the delayed contact – the interview was the very last thing I shot – proved to be a blessing. As I gathered material - lots of interviews at first which made me nervous because it started looking like an extended, artier Behind-the-Music (but without the sex, drugs, and rock and roll!) - I could barely sense the actual narrative. And we found that he had done such a good job of keeping to himself over the years, that half our interview subjects would ask ME for information about him…"Is he still cute?" asks a once-smitten Lulu, "Well, I must confess. I don't know anything." said Bowie at the start of our interview, "Who knows anything about Scott Walker?" Great. Where is my film?

But as we built the film around the empty space that should have been occupied by its subject, it made the actual needs of the narrative so much more evident. And eventually, with the accumulation of interview and archive material, a sense of intimacy with him developed in my mind – I felt like he really was taking on a life inside the film.

So when we did sit down to do the interview, and eventually got it back to the edit – the form emerged, almost imposed itself on the film. To slip him into his own narrative, we started at the beginning, and the rest fell in line in a very linear pattern. Enigmatic ellipses went out the window. A man and his work are revealed and the mystery, built up, examined, and contradicted over the course of a life, remains at the center of the film, made stronger by the simplicity with which it was eventually, formally, put together. I end the film with a slightly enigmatic sequence that starts with the camera zooming slowly into a key-hole…lock picture, unlock film, and hopefully, leave the viewer with their own keys to understanding the messages and lessons in the life and work of Scott Walker.

("Scott Walker – 30 Century Man" opens on Wednesday December 17th for one week only at the IFC Center.

The Old Man's Back Again! Scott Walker Comes Home...

A guest post today from filmmaker Stephen Kijak:

As Ted's mind was blown by Captain Beefheart (see previous post), I had a similar mind-melt one day in 1990 in SF when someone played me a song called "The Old Man's Back Again" by a fellow named Scott Walker. ( I discovered Ted is also a Scott fan - so thanks for sharing this space with me.)

The Walker Brothers: "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore":

Inspiration is the thing, isn't it? The older we get it seems it is harder to be truly blown apart and transformed by music. Those sorts of transformative spells seem easier to fall under in our youth. But no. Time and time again, I have found that Scott Walker will really mess with someone's head, with their whole life, as it did with mine. So much so that I went and made a film about him. "Scott Walker – 30 Century Man" is my cinematic mix-tape designed to convert you, to shake you up, and to put the fear of Punched Meat in you (you'll have to see the film…).

The core thesis was "inspiration". That first song, recorded (I soon discovered) in 1969, seemed to contain in it the seeds of everything that I loved in music; all that dark, cinematic bliss and mystery – where did he get it and how did Bowie, Ferry, Eno, Marc Almond, Tindersticks, The Smiths, Pulp, Divine Comedy, Radiohead, Goldfrapp and countless others get their hands on it and how has it moved through their lives, their music? But as Scott moved from 60's orch-crooner to contemporary avant-gardist (this is where the meat punching comes in) the inspirational power he transmits is not just about what singer is copping his croon, but about a very intense and focused dedication to craft, pure and simple.

Scott today: "Jesse" a video created by Graham Wood for the film: 

Here is a man who moved through fame and into his ART and has never, ever looked back. That this man found fame and than infamy in the UK while his home-country has all but ignored him (he was born in Hamilton, OH and cut his teeth on the Sunset Strip in the early 60's) has inspired me to do my damnedest to bring him home, to get America to wake up and take note of one of our great, great musicians, composers, and poets.
Trailer for the film:

(Film starts a limited theatrical on Dec 17th at IFC Center in NYC before moving on to SF and LA and beyond.)