March 20, 2015: Welcome to the Whisper Rapture Blog
This mindful memoir will chart the evolution of my music and mental health documentary, Whisper Rapture: A Bonfire Madigan Suite. With heart in hand, I will guide you along my serpentine and mercurial path as I nurture this cinematic symphony to fruition. I will share my tribulations and triumphs, my cultivations and revelations, and my dances with divinity. I will also stitch, tangle, and unravel the intertwined threads of creativity and madness – a beautiful mess ripe with shadows and luminosity. To Oz!
How I Make Film
“Seeing is an act of creation.” – Thomas Walther, Photographer
I neither shoot nor record images. Shooting propels one’s intentions towards the subject, while recording wrests an image from its native place. What can the world present to me outside of a climate-controlled sound stage, unfettered by the dictates of a script, and uncluttered by expectations? Where will I harvest that dialogue? How does the sentient earth invite me to cultivate a dynamic exchange?
I seek a more participatory relationship with the animate landscapes and city surfaces within hiking and biking distance of my front door. A quivering tree branch beckons like a finger; a splash of light winks at me from a shimmering puddle; restless shadows on a building side are passageways for my curiosity. These configurations of textures and gestures distinguish themselves by virtue of their fundamentally ephemeral nature; they are borderless, mutable, shape shifting entities. Engaging them is a process of deep listening with my eyes. I hear them call me from within my field of vision, and I respond by tenderly pointing my attention in their direction.
Even though ‘image’ is at the root of imagination, I must hold lightly to any conceit that I am producing – or even finding – an image. Leaves and chain link fences rustle in anticipation of an indeterminate score as I raise my camera lens like a conductor’s wand. Then I roll the focus ring from side to side, and cast my curiosity back and forth through deep space until an image suddenly manifests quite literally from thin air. The images that enter my camera are offered to me. I often bow to my subject after I’ve received an image because making film this way is an act of gratitude. And a dance. Not forcing my ideas onto my subject keeps me from stepping on its toes. The world keeps spinning and light slips quickly! Each image is written on the wind and can evaporate as immediately as it appears. I am a kite, shifting and composing my self and my camera in relation to the animate mood of my subject.
The world and I play one another like instruments – a graceful, empathetic, and harmonious orchestration of light and sight. As image after image coalesces like notes in a musical passage, my muscles and bones begin to vibrate like cello strings. The edges of my flesh and the borders of my heart disappear. No longer a vessel for anger or a mechanism of madness, I am humbly suspended in Wonder, Contentment, and Compassion. I feel indefinably large and intimately woven into all matter – into the Divine. There is no self. There is no film. Only the pure, unfiltered, sustained breath of the ineffable.
What’s Up, Doc Opera?
Whisper Rapture is the echo of an enduring exchange that extends outwards like ripples from a stone tossed into a vast pond. Although my process of manifesting images is serendipitous, even magical, I have concrete plans for the film’s formal structure and how I hope to effect a palpable sense of bliss and illumination within the viewer.
My first step, after months of harvesting thousands of images as described above, is to arrange each and every one of them into carefully annotated subject categories. For example, a folder labeled, Trees, will contain sub-categories of tree iterations such as; Trees With Sun Balls, Tree Shadows, and Trees Surrounding Telephone Poles. After placing one of Madigan’s songs into my editing platform’s timeline, I’ll begin choosing images with visual pulses and vibrations that rhythmically compliment the music, rather than how specifically they illustrate a particular song lyric. I’m deliberately foregoing a Bonfire Madigan stage performance because her music is the featured character of the film. Embodying her songs instead of literally picturing her words allows the images to perform the songs and invites the viewer into a more emotionally immersive space in which to receive the music. For more detailed insights about how and why I construct alternate representations of talking heads in documentary film, please see my essay, Crooked Beauty and the Embodiment of Madness.
I’m thrilled to liberate myself from the conventions of continuity editing in favor of a more radical collision of images that do not specifically refer to one another in terms of content or where they were originally filmed. The picture flow will be entirely motivated by how sympathetically the visual tones, tempos and textures resonate with the music across the cut. In this way, rain puddles dancing on a skylight will cut to flickering shadows slinking across a washing machine followed by a tapestry of barbed wire and billowing weeds without feeling like a series of jump cuts. Whereas the images in my prior film, Crooked Beauty, existed as long takes over which we heard the featured character’s narration, the visuals in Whisper Rapture will function more like notes. They will appear onscreen only as long as the music can sustain them. Over the course of the film, the rhythmic intensity of the montage coupled with the intimate scoring of sight and sound will swell into an ecstatic collage of operatic proportions, thus re-imagining the traditional music documentary as a Doc Opera.
While Madigan’s avant-garde pop and punk-influenced chamber music is essentially the featured character in Whisper Rapture, her story of trauma and transformation must be heard. Her autobiographical testimony on madness, art, and mental health activism is the social justice core from which the songs will emerge and the narrative thread that stitches them together. We will hear Madigan’s voice-over narration between each song as we see her kinetic cello playing silently rendered in extreme slow motion in a darkened, starkly-lit space. The dramatic interplay between her expressive performance style and the shadows that slip through the folds of her undulating clothing will graphically embody the emotional fabric of her transcendent life story.
I’m making Whisper Rapture: A Bonfire Madigan Suite to cultivate beauty and help alleviate suffering in these chaotic times. This cinematic rhapsody will celebrate the enduring potential of our human spirit and help us feel that all things are delicately interconnected; that we don’t just exist in the world – we are of it.