The Honesty Of Artists
Watercolor portrait by Henrietta Harris
During a catch up lunch with Anthony Chen (Ilo Ilo), he stared at me for a good ten seconds before saying,
“It’s about coming to a place where you feel bare-naked… it’s scary, you’re vulnerable now… but that’s how all good scripts happen, that nakedness you can offer.”
Honesty = Excellence Another word for this bare-nakedness is “Honesty”. I believe that there is truth to Anthony’s advice, considering that his first feature film was somewhat an honest reflection of his childhood. He even highlighted the economic crisis in 1997 and explored how families were affected by this, a painful truth that many Singaporeans have proclaimed they could identify with (“So real… that it’s actually the real deal…” my dad once quipped). Ilo Ilo of course went on to win the Camera d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and Anthony himself has been lauded on several occasions.
Andy Crouch, Author, also has this to offer,
“...the practice of any vocation at the highest level of excellence requires deep levels of honesty... and so artists are often uncomfortable with dishonesty in communities and they are the first to spot when people are not being honest... ”
Retrieved from this snippet:
So as a Christian and a Creative myself, I wonder – If I was stripped bare, would others find Jesus? If I was brutally honest in my work, would I also reveal that I am so imperfect that I need Jesus? More importantly, is my vulnerability in Christ?
I ask this because I have found myself trying to only portray 'happy endings' and 'perfect lives' in my works when the fact of the matter is that we're all imperfect and broken people.
And when it comes to filmmaking, as a Christian, there is a tendency to want to only make ‘Christian films’ that always seem to resolve narrative conflicts by merely applying the all so convenient and familiar plot device of the ‘Deus Ex Machina’*.
The other tendency is in having to include ‘Christianese’ in films and make a ‘preachy’ film for the sake of giving people ‘answers’. That’s a Preacher’s role at the pulpit, not a filmmaker’s. In fact, here’s something to think about - Ralph Winter, a prolific Hollywood Producer (X-Men, Planet of the Apes) once said to not “write stuff and produce stuff about answers—don’t do that… write stuff and produce stuff that will stir up cravings inside of us, because that’s the DNA that God’s put inside of us.”
Films reflect the human condition. It is an art form that questions our realities, beliefs, and puts who we really are under the microscope. That is and should be the basic function of the art that we create. So my personal musing is simply this – What will people see when I am placed under this metaphorical microscope? What would I see? What would God see? Does it even matter?
Excellence = Truth
A mentor once told me that Excellence = Truth. This is the theory that if you do something well enough, something so excellent, that people will develop a belief that what they see is the truth. This is also the same reason why artists have been prfoundly essential in shaping cultures.
I’d like to also offer that:
(based on what Anthony and Andy made me reflect upon)
Mull on this for a while, and be also reminded that Jesus himself was stripped bare-naked on the Cross so that we would be purified to a level of ‘Excellence’, a standard that is required to reconcile with an excellent and perfect God.
Some reference verses that I was meditating on:
“so that you may become blameless and pure, "children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation." Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky”
"When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom."
*Deus Ex Machina - The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.