For my introductory piece, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the title of this blog. On one level, it’s a quote from Ed Wood, one of my favorite movies and one that was extremely instrumental in sparking both my love of cinema and my serious interest in filmmaking. In its most improbably inspiring scene, a frustrated Wood has rushed off the set of Plan 9 From Outer Space where he has been haggled, pressured, criticized, and creatively compromised by his producers. In a nearby bar, he catches sight of none other than Orson Welles. Starstruck, he approaches him, and they commiserate over the obstacles they face as filmmakers. Welles leaves him with a sage piece of advice. “Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?”
This little encounter is all our fantasies about meeting and connecting with our heroes, idealized. The line is an almost naïvely inclusive celebration of artistic integrity. But taken out of context, these three words take on a different and even more significant meaning for me.
Movies are dreams. The comparison of the two is one of the most persistent and abiding art metaphors, and for good reason. Film’s harmonious progression of images, sound, and motion, together with the meanings it creates and the emotions it stirs, comes closer to capturing and evoking how we experience our world – or rather, how we imagine experience in our world – than any other art form in its isolated state. Movies, like dreams, are sensory and chronological experiences. Movies take what in our subconscious and our waking imagination tends to be vague and immaterial and make it present and nearly tangible – they give visions life and the glorious illusion of reality.
Oneiric film theory (as wikipedia informs me the idea is called!) has existed since practically the beginning of the medium. The frequency with which the greatest storytellers and visionaries in the history of the movies have employed this metaphor is impressive. The real Orson Welles once said that “A film is a ribbon of dreams.” Federico Fellini called a film “a dream we dreamt with our eyes open”. Ingmar Bergman wrote about the medium: “Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” David Lynch, whose movies are as deliberately hallucinatory and literally nightmarish as any I’ve ever seen, said that “film to me is a magical medium that makes you dream…allows you to dream in the dark.”
This idea of movies as dreams is one that Martin Scorsese also believes deeply, and it recurs frequently in Hugo, his charming, moving ode to the earliest age of filmmaking. Early in the film, Hugo tells Isabelle that his father used to compare the joyful escapism of their cinema visits to “seeing his dreams in midday”. During a flashback to his glory days as a director, George Meliés tells a young visitor to his set to look around and see where his dreams are made.
And finally, at the film’s triumphant conclusion, when Meliés is about to present his recovered and restored films to his enthusiastic audience, he extends to them a beautiful and apt invitation: “My friends, I address you all tonight as you truly are; wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, magicians… Come and dream with me.”
It is this invitation, stated directly in Hugo but implied by every film’s existence, that makes this idea of movies as dreams so exciting and so beautiful. The three-word phrase that I’ve used to title this little site is a brief summation of what cinema is for me on a certain fundamental level. And the first two words are key – the dreams we can see, day or night on the proverbial silver screen, are the dreams of someone else. The traditional film-viewing experience is communal, but in every context, watching a movie is always an interpersonal experience in a different way. The films are shared with all of us by the men and women who dream them and create them. The images and stories of movies are all shown to us through the filter and precise framing of other people’s perspective and consciousness. Every composition and cut, every visual, aural, narrative or emotional choice is representative of someone else’s imaginative conception of life, and we are invited to immerse ourselves in it.
When we go to the cinema, we’re not just seeing moving light on a white surface, a piece of sensory entertainment or escapism, a technical achievement, or a story told through visual and aural means. All of those things are true, of course. But when I think about movies and the idea that these three words suggest, I’m reminded of some my favorite lyrics by Bob Dylan: I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours. It’s a beautiful statement. When we enter the world of a film, a group of people have invited you into their imagination in a very real sense. Movies have always been referred to as magical on a technical and experiential level. But for me, this sharing of self, this gift from the dreamers to the rest of the world – that is a kind of magic, and should never be taken for granted.