It is some decades later now as I write, almost 30 years. Needless to say my view now is mixed with the experiences of those many years. Speaking Directly was an expression, as I think it shows clearly, of a kind of desperation, a shrieking need to address the America of those days, an America which has of course drastically changed - though not in my view for the better; rather it has changed in ways I find lamentable, and which signal the near total defeat of those things which I and many others had hoped might happen way back when making Speaking Directly.

When I think of the background of this work - its miniscule budget ($2000) and it's large ambitions, the hard-scrabble realities in which it was made (literally while living in a one room cabin with no running water, no electricity, no money, edited with rewinds and a little battery-run Moviescope propped up two feet from a smoke and ash belching wood cookstove - until the battery gave out and I couldn't afford to replace it and did the last quarter of the film literally "by hand," pulling a few feet of film at a time in my fingers, eye-balling, and cutting without being able to see it any other way), I am struck with those things, and find it a kind of little miracle. Or maybe a modestly big one. That it managed to work its way out of a backwoods draw in northern Montana, and into the world of some festivals, broadcast in the UK, and some archives here and there still seems utterly amazing to me. For those things I have to thank Swain Wolfe, of Missoula, Montana who lent me his camera a few times and did many other helpful things, not least of which was just being a friend. And Elayne Ketchum with whom I lived those years. And a lot of other people who helped out in little ways. And then Peter Wollen who saw it in Canada, and suggested it to the Edinburgh festival, where Jonathan Rosenbaum saw it and wrote about it in Sight and Sound. Luck I suppose.

As my first long film, I would underline that Speaking Directly came after a decade of making short films, and embodies many of the things I had learned en route. I should maybe note a few things about that. It was quite deliberate to make a long film, in part because my shorter works were often in a way too dense, kind of like compressed features begging for more room; but also in part instigated by a cynical calculation - that a long, serious, and kind of willful tour-de-force might crack open a door which a handful of short films would not. Which, as it happened, it did - though ironically this film was also a kind of detox program for me, a critique of making films and the obsessive and self-absorptive nature of such work, and indeed on finishing it I did not make films for four years, deliberately and willfully.

As a work intended for serious thinking, Speaking Directly was constructed, quite intentionally, to play off "warm," just-folks, (almost home-movie like) sections against much more dense and coolly analytical sequences, kind of ping-ponging back and forth from one quality to the next, knowing that most people would find the "human interest" sections engaging and fun or titillating (like gossip) while resisting the sections about economics, politics, and how they engage the "personal." Back then this idea of the personal-as-the-political was more or less radical turf, especially in the arts world which for the most part disdained political things as coarse and dirty. Some years later of course the personal-as-political became not only fashionable, but PC, though ironically at the same time as did the concept of not being "judgmental" which in effect deletes politics, or renders politics into pure rhetoric. Speaking Directly unfortunately might be considered a precursor of much of "personal" filmmaking, though most such work these days declines to engage the personal place in the broader social and political world and distills down to navel-gazing.

Of course from this perspective this work has the smudges of time - the aura of history gone by, for better and worse, sits clearly on its sleeve, though it scarcely looks as silly as many films of the same days, and I suppose its sincerity and seriousness let it wear those marks with a bit of dignity. It makes me think of early photos by Matthew Brady, the bluntness of its honesty washing aside whatever errors of youthful thought and stylistic quirks of it's time it may carry, and still able to confront - speaking directly - the viewer with things which are never "old" or out of fashion.

Along with its mixture of honest and direct introspection and political analysis - something certainly in its own time a rarity and perhaps even more so today - Speaking Directly retains many instances of pure cinematic power which are to my eye and experience as vital today as they were 30 years ago. There are sequences and individual shots which even now seem as radical in terms of mixing style and content as they were then - I think particularly of the sequence "Her," and its mirroring counterpart "Me," each of which use filmic visual qualities to striking effect, the former more discreet than the latter, but both closely related in their methods and intentions. A handful of other sequences push the parameters of viewer tolerance willfully and purposefully, combining a radical (remember the real meaning of this word: to go back to the sources/roots of something) stance in terms of content with a parallel radical aesthetic: the sequence "There" with its loop of a handful of shots of the bombing of Vietnam, or the sequence "You" which gives the viewer a five minute blank screen (except for a stopwatch in the corner counting off five minutes) to fill for themselves.

That this film was made in circumstances of very real poverty (if only statistical - I was very poor but I did not feel such, rather I felt in many ways quite rich, in spirit, in learning, and even in the rough and tumble manner of it, in material senses) and extreme material deprivation makes it all the more striking, that so much could be done for so little. It remains I think a good object lesson for young would-be media makers as to how under the meanest of circumstances something can be done. Today, with DV, one could do something similar for even less. But, far more importantly, perhaps it serves as an object lesson in the compelling force of tackling serious social-political-personal concerns with the gravity which they deserve.

"The worlds worst film?...This film is best viewed with the sound turned down and without your glasses. If you don't wear glasses, try it with the sound turned down and wearing your mothers glasses. (That will also be a lot better for your mother and you do love your mother don't you?)"

- John O'Connor, review found on-line. Read the full review on John's personal Webpage.



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