An Organisation of Dreams

By Ken McMullen

an-organisation-of-dreams-ken-mcmullen.jpgAn Organisation of Dreams, 2009

After the London Film Festival screening of his latest film, a Godardian deconstruction of his own working practice punctuated by fragments of another unfinished film and ghostly references to his previous texts, director Ken McMullen discusses with the audience the organic nature of his process, and the gestation period of post production.

The origin of this picture was this - another script, entirely different, called Guns and Poetry, a political thriller set in the Mediterranean in the 1930s, the producer and I were trying to do. It looked very optimistic that we could do this, quite an expensive picture. Nevertheless, Before that I was talking with Mark Westaway, the producer, and we were discussing the possibility of incorporating a scene with Bernard Stiegler, who discusses with the actors, particularly the lead actor, the danger of cinema, chiefly because this film Guns and Poetry was dealing with the issue of secularisation, highly politically relevant issues of the day, and it was an idea to have a kind of deconstructive aspect to the film that would move occasionally to the contemporary from the historical. Well we shot the contemporary, and a lot of other scenes around it which grew and developed etc, but we didn’t shoot the other material. We had the contemporary, but we didn’t have the feature film. So, we were surprised at the amount of material – the Paris material was shot in five days, very intense, very fast, many improvisational aspects. When we got back to London there was more material than expected, so we decided to build on that, so we then effectively brought in the Portuguese side of the picture, and we went off to shoot for two days, with the monastery and the poem, and then we decided to go one step further and incorporate the London aspect of the story – all the time the story was developing, emerging, as Stiegler talks about unconscious processes, and we went with the flow of that and gradually allowed the narrative to emerge. The different formats, of course, interrogate cinema itself, there’s 35mm, there’s material shot on a mobile phone, material shot on HD... So we built this film, we didn’t pre judge it, or pre-conceive it. We built it as an artwork, a tradition which I come from.

an-organisation-of-dreams-ken-mcmullen-2.jpgAn Organisation of Dreams, 2009

One of the issues in editing it, although I wanted the juxtaposition of different types of material, it is necessary to bring it into a whole as a work. And so its absolutely true that there was an intensity in the post production, quite a long period really, to try and find the material, its associations, and draw on that. So the post production period was very intense. And of course Michael Nyman, who wrote the score. Michael came in and out of the edit suite, often seeing the same scene, and so the music developed in that same organic fashion. The locations are a text, and they are thought through as a text. These locations I know very substantially. So the Arènes, the Roman amphitheatre in Paris, people may know that, but not many seem to know it… And that is a location that I have wanted to use for a very long time. As Freud, Anna Freud points out, writes extensively about it, the stratification of a psyche is very much like a Roman amphitheatre. And there you have the scene of action. The next level up you have the audience observation, then higher up you have a higher level of audience... So that location is absolutely text, not background. Obviously the Cafe Flore is well known, almost corny in some respects, but its an amazing place, and when you think of Sartre and De Beauvoir sat there and wrote these things on these very tables, that is the text, for those who wish to know it. So the architecture of the film is textural, and is thought out on that level. The interesting thing about these locations, these buildings, is that one takes in more than one knows. And so my view of this was that if we construct these sequences of locations in a certain way, the text is there, is present, if not manifest. I hope there are different texts. The music is a text, the locations, the actors are struggling with the text, in a strange way. Jack Garfein, who is a great drama coach – he ran the actors studio in New York, he found James Dean and all these others, and now is in semi-exile and works in Paris, runs his studio there. And his approach to the nature of drama is a text as well, and we see glimpses of that.

I worked closely with Derrida at a certain time, and over a long period of time, sporadically, and he was extremely generous as far as I was concerned. We had very good exchanges, long exchanges, and we travelled, if you like. For example, when The Specters of Marx came out, he gave me the book on it, saying it had come out of Ghost Dance. The film begins with the voice of Derrida, talking in an interview I did with him in 1993, about psychoanalysis and cinema. For me, and maybe totally objectively, the phantom of the picture is Jacques Derrida. He is the present/unpresent figure. And he returns at that moment to tell us, indirectly, that improvisation is an impossibility, because of the prescriptions we carry in our psychiatric apparatus. It felt to me so important that I should let Jacques re-emerge through the textural exchanges. I would also dedicate part of the picture to Jacques Derrida.