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.