|Terri Herlings, Thursday’s Fictions|
photo Mathew Aberline
The makers of Thursday’s Fictions are husband and wife team Richard James Allen (director, writer, choreographer and performer—he plays Wednesday) and Karen Pearlman (producer, co-writer and editor) under the banner of their company, Physical TV. After making a string of short dance films since 1997 they decided it was time to extend their range.
Pearlman always thought that Thursday’s Fictions should be a film, but after realising it as a full-scale stage production for Tasdance (1995) and as a book (1999), Allen was insistent: “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being associated with Thursday’s Fictions.” Little did he know. Not only have the couple and their collaborators spent several years making the film, broadcast on ABC TV on July 29, but now it has another life, in fact a Second Life manifestation launched on the same day through the AFTRS LAMP (Australian Film Television & Radio School’s Laboratory of Advanced Media Production) program.
Allen was persuaded to go ahead with the film after reflecting on the materials the book offered for film and through dance film in particular and with the greater knowledge of both which the makers had accrued across the years. There was also a desire, after making short works, to move on to feature film: “Thursday’s Fictions is the stepping stone between the short and the feature”, says Allen. In the meantime a “television hour” work offered, in Pearlman’s words, “scope and a sense of excitement and scale and trying to go beyond a single thought or a verse. The short film is characterised by its conciseness, which is a virtue but it has a closedness as well, like a short story...” “Or a poem”, adds Allen. “There’s scope for texture and change and rise and fall of energy.”
For a film that’s come from a long poem, there are not many words. Allen admits that “when we did the live production I was very attached to the words—too stuck on them, though I was happy with the production. But here I said. ‘I’m not going to be attached to a single word. If there are no words, that’s fine with me.’ This was a fundamental shift.”
For Pearlman what’s interesting and paradoxical about the film is that “while it looks very stable and finished with a high polish, it’s a very unstable text with a testy relationship between story and dance.” She could imagine making it again with a different dynamic.
As for the scripting of the film, Pearlman says, “Script writing is the hardest part of filmmaking and continues to evolve in filming, but what we were searching for was structure—organising it and looking for the thematic concerns at any given point. It’s a very unusual structure. A woman bursts in, she dies and there are different characters in each scene. Who do I attach myself to? The viewer engages and detaches but within the structure there’s a lot of room for narrative conceits. The words though were the last consideration.”
Allen recalls, “We completely let the stage production go. We adapted the story and used the text that was appropriate. This was around the time of Memento and other feature films with experimental structures.” Pearlman sees Thursday’s Fictions as being like an opera: “the story in opera is a vehicle for moments”, and each of these in Thursday’s Fictions “has an underlying choreographic sensibility.”
Richard Allen explains that the choreography for the film was entirely new but that “writing the script and creating the choreography moved in tandem. There was a semi-conscious dialogue between them. I had great dancers and one in particular, Amitie Skye Merrey, was my capturer of movement. I made something like 58 dance phrases—like a dance script but it came in out of order. When I stopped, I made a pattern on a piece of paper: this fits here, this fits there. It was like making a script. I just knew when it was there.”
Early in the film and in the final scene there are sustained dance pieces. Pearlman comments that “often in dance film you’re creating things that couldn’t be performed live, but these scenes could be.” Even so they attain a heightened, immersive fluidity from Pearlman’s editing which Allen sees as reinterpreting and integrating the many layers of material from three dimensions onto the flat screen. Pearlman argues that that “although everyone says the last draft of the script is the editing, well the last draft of the choreography is the editing. The choreography in dance film is not finished until it is edited. The editor’s role is not to show you the live dance but the feeling of it...the editing becomes part of the choreography. The dynamic range between a smooth elision and a harsh collision is part of my toolkit in the editing suite and so every cut is part of the choreography.”
Although it’s not always possible, especially when she’s doubling as producer, Pearlman prefers not to see the dance being filmed: “I bring a certain objectivity to not what the director hopes to capture but what he actually does. I look at the rushes. There were 12 hours of raw material for the 12 minute final dance—a large ratio, if not unheard of. My response is very intuitive. Richard says how about that shot and I’ll say, “...uh mmm. I’ll tell you when it’s good. I’ll see it when I see it.”
With funds cobbled together from many sources and without a major backer, the making of Thursday’s Fictions was often a labour of love. The film’s high production values give a big budget impression. Allen reports that “It’s nice when people say it’s amazing for a low budget film. What was it, one, two, three million?” The pair laugh. They don’t talk budget. Pearlman’s retort is, “Our budget was 20 years, 10 each off the end of our lives.”
Much of Allen’s pleasure in making the film, he says, was spiritual. Not only did the script and choreography emerge in semi-conscious tandem, but “people found us” who wanted to work on the film. “There are a lot of spiritual things in the film, a lot of serendipity in its making. It evolved in a yogic way.” (Allen is a long-time yoga practitioner and teacher.)
Allen puts the film’s narrative into spiritual perspective: “Thursday was searching for eternal life through her dances, through personal immortality, a western version of the eastern notion of reincarnation. Wednesday is offered immortality by Saturday as a Faustian bargain: ‘I’ll give you the dances and what your mother wanted.’ But Wednesday says, ‘No, I’m just going to be in the moment with the dances and preserve them but I don’t need to go on. Wednesday can let go, and he can die.”
What strengthens the impression of a very personal vision is that Allen plays Wednesday. But, two days before the 2003 18-day shoot (spread over a month), the dancer cast in the role was injured. Pearlman laughs, “I almost became Wednesday!” As Allen tells it, “There I was in the middle of directing and everyone said, ‘You know all the phrases.’ I did, but now I had to learn them overnight. It was very stressful.”
The spiritual dimension of Thursday’s Fictions, say its makers, is central to its Second Life incarnation: “The whole version is being scripted and designed around reincarnation, purgatory and how karma creates the life you move into.” The pair have enjoyed the making of this version with LAMP enormously: “It’s astounding after the ponderous film process—every hour your project moves forward. Gary Hayes, the director of LAMP, is a world expert in building in Second Life and he’s designing for us.”
This little Second Life prototype is being funded by the Literature Board of the Australia Council which is encouraging writers to tackle different media platforms. For Allen, Second Life is also providing a different writing experience, building what he calls a “script map: a script that fits into the architecture of Second life rather than in a story, creating points of multiple opportunities.” Pearlman emphasises that Thursday’s Fictions in Second Life is not the film reproduced online but is about the choices the work offers the visitor, for example a visit to an apothecary’s shop” where you choose what qualities you might want in your next life.” Allen sees the venture “as creating beyond the film. It’s actually a prequel within a larger landscape and connects with the book along with new things that didn’t exist before.”
Whereas once he doubted the work’s future, Allen now admits, “It’s starting to feel like Thursday’s Fictions has an identity beyond any single manifestation of it. And I’m its servant.”
Thursday’s Fictions will be released on DVD by Marcom Projects; www.thursdaysfictions.com
RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 48
© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com