Writing Right with Dmitri: Inspiration all over the Place

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Words, words, words. That's what we're made of. Herewith some of my thoughts on what we're doing with them.

Writing Right with Dmitri: Inspiration All Over the Place

A man in green with a feather in one hand and drawing a theatre curtain with the other

Where do our ideas come from? From the world we're living in, of course. Idea-making is part of our dialogue with what we see, hear, read, experience. What we do with those ideas is what makes our work unique. Take the collection of ideas I've run across this past week as an example.

Our own Create offers lots of suggestions, prompts, and challenges to get us through the dry spells. This past month (January), Create was all about science and science fiction. The results of some of the creativity that got unleashed show up in this week's issue of the Post. One challenge in particular used pictures to encourage us to write a science fiction tale. Several writers took this on, with quite different (and entertaining) results. Minorvogonpoet painted a broad canvas and thought about humans and economic exploitation. Bel took us on a fantasy ride. My own version of the space shuttle/kitchen/universe/Neanderthal/landscape with rainbow sequence was influenced by a number of ideas – my association of the Neander Valley with life in Germany, the fact that I think microwave ovens are high-tech popcorn poppers, etc.

One source of inspiration for my little story, though, came from other h2g2ers. Our Awix is a big ukulele enthusiast. Recumbentman knows tons about the instrument, too. So by the time I got to a picture with a rainbow in, I was thinking about Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. So there you have it.

Now, I know my brain is peculiar (quiet in the back), but this happens to just about everybody. And the more it happens, the better off we all are. Here in the US, we have the Oscars coming up – you know, that big company awards dinner the industry actually expects outsiders to watch on television   – which means, for me, that I get to read a lot of interviews with filmmakers and find out the story behind the story of their possibly award-winning films. Also, they finally take notice of the 'foreign' films, by which they mean 'films not in English'. So we find out what we're going to want to see. This week's crop of trailers and interviews turned up some remarkable examples of idea interaction.

A major contender for Best Foreign Film is Agnieszka Holland's In Darkness, the harrowing story of some people who survived the Holocaust in Lvov, Poland, by hiding in a sewer. The film sounds like a must-see, especially as the filmmaker has insisted that everybody in the story speak the appropriate language, even if that makes the film less commercial. She wanted people to understand what Lvov was like – a polyglot's paradise. At first, Holland, the director of Europa, Europa, was reluctant to make another film about the Holocaust, but when she'd agreed to do it, she ended up in contact with an eyewitness to the events she was filming, who helped her make sure she got it right. You can read about Holland's reaction, and the impressions of a survivor, in this article from the Wall Street Journal.

I wondered what kind of competition In Darkness might have for the US award (it's already won plenty elsewhere), so I started googling. On the shortlist, I spotted the name of another heavy hitter in the prestigious film department – Wim Wenders. Wenders is always doing something splendid, so I checked him out. It turns out he's made a dance movie. In 3D, no less. It's called Pina, and it's billed as a documentary. This seems a bit unusual, as the film mostly consists of dance sequences filmed in scenic Wuppertal. That's interesting, but why am I talking about it here?

If you read an interview with Wim Wenders, as I did, you'll notice that Wenders was inspired by the work of choreographer Pina Bausch. He even says that some of his work in Wings of Desire was influenced by her approach to dance – an art form he wasn't particularly interested in until his girlfriend dragged him to a Bausch performance. Wenders tell us that he had planned for 20 years to make a film with Pina Bausch, but was unable to find the right approach until he discovered the use of 3D. Then, alas, Bausch died suddenly. Wenders was about to abandon the project. The dancers who had worked with the choreographer refused to give up, however. Their persistence led Wenders to revisit his idea and produce another award-winning film. Also to share with us the legacy of a phenomenal artist's transformation of a city into the backdrop for a visionary creation.

Do we sense a theme here? Okay, a final example from the film world. Unlike the first two examples, this film is going to be completely unfamiliar (unless you've been talking to me recently). It's called Strigoi, and it was made in Romania, in English, with Romanian actors and a British director, Faye Jackson. She's won a few awards with this one, as well.

Some people on Netflix were annoyed by this film, because 'strigoi' is a Romanian word for 'undead'. They expected a horror film, and this film is a drily funny social commentary on post-Communist Romanian life. I recommend this film if you're European and interested in your neighbours, if you are interested in folklore, or if you just like a good laugh. I really recommend you read this interview with the filmmaker if you want to know what factors influenced the making of the film – and what her husband's relatives had to do with it. Jackson describes strigoi as 'the people you can't get rid of, even after they're dead', which is a pretty good way to be talking about dealing with the past.

So what am I saying? Watch more movies? Perhaps. More like, watch more movies, listen to more songs, read more books and Guide Entries. But – and here's the important part – interact with what you find. Talk to each other, bounce ideas off each other. When you see something you like, ask questions about it. Read the interviews to get behind the story. Something you learn there may start you off in a brand new direction. And next week, or next year, we may all be asking you, 'Where in the world did you get that idea from?'

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

06.02.12 Front Page

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