The Discipline of D.E. (1982)
My first experience with Gus Van Sant was Elephant (2003) and while this is a vastly different experience, The Discipline of D.E. (1982) makes me consider this filmmaker’s work in a while new way. Offering a stark contrast to cinema verite, this film playfully attempts to remove the truth and imperfections from everyday routines. Where the cinema verite movement wanted the raw feeling of spontaneous human action, Van Sant is instructing viewers how to remove the spontaneity and clumsiness from their lives. It is a comment on the artificiality of filmmaking. In a movie, an actor never trips unless the narrative calls for it. If the actor does trip, the director calls for another take and the action must happen all over again. Why do we allow this to be the case if cinema is meant to capture real life? Maybe because human imperfections would distract viewers from a carefully-crafted message? How much do we need to refine that message in order to transmit to an audience? On his own blog, Jason Kohl says this of Van Sant’s work:
Van Sant understands that filmmaking is the ultimate expression of D.E—you have to keep doing things until you get them right. After Mala Noche (1986), his first feature, he made three more shorts before rejoining Burroughs with Drugstore Cowboy (1989). With films like Elephant (Palme D’or Winner), Milk (Oscar Winner) and Last Days (basically just awesome) he seems to be onto something.
So which is more important in filmmaking, capturing truth or making art? Surely, each filmmaker has a different goal. Another blogger, Patrick Zimmerman, discusses the film and its example of the charade that Van Sant seems to make of human emotion.
Doing Easy yields neither an easy nor relaxed life, but rather an obsessive-compulsive pathology, most clearly manifested in a socially deadly form of isolation of affect.
Both of these are valid analyses, and helped me to better understand the goals of anti-Hollywood short filmmakers.