Motorbike 5

Adrian Goodman — Seeking the Hidden

Posted on February 11, 2015

Adrian Goodman on the bare bones of filmmaking.

I once accidentally sliced the outer side of my forearm wide open on the edge of a sheet of metal. The flesh peeled back, revealing the bone. Its radiance was alarming. Stunning. I stood and stared at it, mesmerised by a beauty at once so foreign, so other, yet so intimate and true. Time stopped around me. There was no blood yet — it was just me and my fluorescent bone, facing one another, sharing a
new nakedness.

That is what my movies aspire to be: that sharp edge of metal. The viewer is invited to relate to whatever emerges, as they can. I make my films with myself as the audience, in the belief that our bones all look quite similar, even if some can’t bear to look when they are exposed. We can have films as mere distraction, as confection, which of course I can enjoy sometimes too. But I have little interest in making those films. To me, it’s about making films that engage with the complexities of our inner worlds: truths that we may be hiding, even from ourselves.

The construction of my films can be viewed along the same lines. My work grows around the skeleton — my unconscious mind. As I play in the writing phase, the skeleton is revealed to me symbolically, cryptically. The story that emerges is not my own in a literal narrative sense, but it is very much mine in its emotional landscapes. At this stage, the skeleton is not fully understood, even by myself. It is separate from me by virtue of it being so close. It is the essence: still whole, and yet to be analysed. We must cut deep to see our own bones.

While directing, I analyse that skeleton, trying to understand it: how what I’ve written expresses certain preoccupations and ideas. It’s this kind of self-analysis that informs how the flesh and ultimately the skin must look. I follow those discoveries as boldly as I can and eventually discover what this new creature — this film — will look and sound like.

What I end up with are my deepest preoccupations, formed from my life experiences, represented symbolically in a story that takes them into extreme dimensions. My films tend to involve characters in extremis, beyond the realm of morality, and have explored themes of obsession, desire, and the ecstasy and tragedy of romantic love. They delve into questions of identity and the possibility of true freedom. I expose myself to potential ridicule in search of greater truths, and I believe that that kind of freedom is important for an artist. I’m braver when making my films than I am in life.

The drive to destruction can be the greatest creative impulse: it’s the power to overthrow the banal, the bigoted consensus, the sensible moderation, the suspended satisfaction. It’s taking back the moment and fighting to feel alive, like we’re not just puppets shuffling around till we drop dead all old and sick, and wondering if this is all there ever was.

The artform that most urgently harnesses that spirit, and that I draw on most for inspiration, is music. Rock n’ roll, punk, and styles that don’t yet have a name. Anything wild and brave. The Birthday Party, The Stooges, Jay Reatard, as well as friends Simon Eddy, and the guys at Fabric Astronaut Records, among others.

It first took hold of me in school. I was one of those kids who was pretty restless. I got up to mischief because I think I just hated being bored. When I formed a rock band at 15 with my closest friend Nathan and other schoolmates — just weeks after having first picked up the bass — I was hooked.

As we went on, our music was increasingly about experimentation. Doing whatever we felt, and resisting any limitations or categorisations. We were kicking against the banality and pressures of teenage life. What we played wasn’t exactly punk, but our ethos was. We chased our own inspiration, and we felt free. I found myself scribbling short stories, studying philosophy, and writing and directing a little bit of theatre. My approach to each drew on the same kind of attitude. It was curiosity but also rebellion, an unwillingness to follow any rule that didn’t resonate deeply within me. Meanwhile, the band’s music turned increasingly avant-garde and psychedelic. Then and now, the fearlessly creative and monumentally talented Nathan has stood as my greatest inspiration in both life and art.

It wasn’t until 2011 that I saw a movie that truly changed my life — a documentary about a punk rocker named Better Than Something: Jay Reatard. At that time I was being chewed up, destroyed, by Nathan’s suicide. The way I was, I knew I couldn’t go on living. I was neither dead nor alive, and I was hurting those I loved. Joining him in death felt like the sweetest refuge. In the cinema, watching that film about a man we’d both admired, I was struck with what I needed to rediscover: that attitude. That spirit of rock n’ roll that I so admired in Nathan and that he always sparked in me. I would make my movie as wild and free as I wanted to, and I would do it for us. Making my first feature film, Wakey Wakey, was the most arduous but most rewarding act of my life, and it was my love for my friend, and my determination to honour him, that got me through it. Punk rock, Better Than Something, and ultimately Wakey Wakey — they saved my life.

If I think about it, it’s that punk attitude that led me to be a filmmaker in the first place. To that you could add stubbornness, sensitivity, luck, love, loss, and a whole lot of suffering.

I say stubbornness first because I think that’s what it takes to resist the world’s push towards conformity and boredom, and to retain a kind of childlike playfulness. A child takes play very seriously, and so does an artist. Whether it’s expressed through film, music, or anything else, my creative drive has always come from a hunger to explore and feel free. I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to maintain that in more than a superficial way. Many don’t get that chance. It’s led me to continually discover and rediscover whatever path feels right, and to follow what I love. It wasn’t always filmmaking.

Firstly, I was interested in writing. I remember the moment as a small child when I realised that each book in the library was written by an actual person, and that person was called an author. That blew my mind. There was magic connected to the idea that someone had created something like that from nothing.

During my Bachelor of Arts I wrote and directed a stage play, which played at Melbourne University’s Mudfest, and later I began to adapt it into a longer version. The project started to shift into a screenplay, but still, I was keen to be the one to realise it. My mission became clear: I would need to learn how to direct films.

Soon after, our band broke up and my first great romantic love was on the rocks. All was chaos. I wrote my script frenetically, checked myself into film school (first AFTRS and then the VCA), and I’ve been making movies ever since, with a little music on the side.

I mentioned suffering, and of course, pain comes in many forms, both emotional and physical. Emotional pain has been the biggest driver of my work: the need to honour the person, the experience; to express it, and to transform it into art. I’ve also had a headache that has lasted for over a decade, and I’d say that all of my work draws on this experience in some way — none more directly than in my short film Migraine and Michael: A Love Story. It’s a catharsis, but also an affirmation of the experience of life through art, a kind of transcendence through sublimation.

I’ve found that pain can encumber a person but can also embolden. It gives you the fuel of anger to draw on, and tunes you into the absurdity of the world. Pain makes you desperate for release, which transforms into hunger for an extreme truth. It makes you an outsider to the world, and even to your own body. But it also makes you an insider to the pain that reverberates around the world.

Adrian Goodman studied at the Victorian College of the Arts.

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