A year ago I asked Emma Arrick if she’d like to star in a short film about Peter Pan, and the first Zimbo Film began. Revisiting The Little White Bird now seems strange. I have noticed a lot of things about it that I just couldn’t realize when I began writing it.
During the summer and autumn of 2011 I made eight short films (The Riots Of Spring, In The Wake Of Death, There’s Nothing Wrong With My Brother John, The Dominus Of Alognia, They Call Me Koko, The Sweeter Dreams Of An Itinerant Woman, The Old Bull Of The Woods and Early One Morning). Half of those films starred Emma Arrick. The reasons for this collaboration are still unclear to me, but for whatever reason, she became the mouthpiece through which I could express myself in my films. The Little White Bird is the culmination or climax of that relationship. It’s also the film that concludes a number of themes and styles I had been experimenting with throughout 2011.
The narrative arch of The Little White Bird follows a kind of journey that the lead character makes. Emma’s character has to go looking for other people, and sometimes drugs to illuminate the cause of her difficulties. This kind of narrative, where the character physically sets out to find some abstract meaning, had been something I had been working with a good deal in the summer of 2011. All of my narrative films conform to this design, particularly In The Wake Of Death, There’s Nothing Wrong With My Brother John and The Sweeter Dreams Of An Itinerant Woman. The Sweeter Dreams Of An Itinerant Woman took this design to an extreme, the entire film charts the main character’s (played by Emma Arrick) journey from one place and person to another. What fascinated me about this kind of journey is that it’s impossible to determine an abstract sensation from a physical experience, that the journey should be an internal one. The characters in all of these films, including The Little White Bird, are in search of something vital but going about it in completely the wrong way. Until The Little White Bird, none of these characters ever found what they were looking for, never resolved anything, they just simply surrendered to their conditions entirely. In The Little White Bird, the main character finds meaning and comfort when she has given up, in the arms of her lover. Unlike my previous films, this is a highly optimistic resolution, and a definite one. Since The Little White Bird, I have yet to invent a story where any of the characters find such happiness. The darkness of my films, the lack of hope within them, is closer to the reality I know, and a reflection of that reality, an attempt to articulate the conditions of real life is, for me, the very purpose of making my films.
The literary quality of The Little White Bird, its Brechtian use of title cards is an obvious refining of the voice over I wrote for The Man Who Loves Less Has More Power (2010). This relationship to literature has been further refined even more recently with my latest film Two Days In The Unremarkable Life Of Parker Rappaport. In this new film, I have done away with the chapter marks and title cards of The Little White Bird, favoring a series of long fades to black. I find these devices essential to translating the experience of reality. Significant moments are just that, what occurs in between is insignificant and therefore discarded. These discarded moments occur in my films during these fades and title cards. It also helps to maintain what I consider a healthy sensation of voyeurism for the audience. The audience is constantly aware that they are glimpsing only the most vital and intimate moments of these character’s lives, producing a sense of urgency one more closely associates with the theatre.
The use of long wide shots in The Little White Bird reinforces the theatricality of the Brechtian influence on the film. This style of shooting is in direct opposition of the cinematography myself and Steven Schneider had been utilizing on the films of 2011. Comparing The Little White Bird to The Riots Of Spring and In The Wake Of Death, I am struck by how kinetic the camera is in those films, and how tight the close ups are. Shooting all the exterior wide shots for The Sweeter Dreams Of An Itinerant Woman prompted an interest in the environment of the characters, which became the overriding style of The Little White Bird. The camera in The Little White Bird functions as an objective witness, as fascinated with the action of the characters as it is with their surroundings.
The Brechtian and the “realist” approaches that occur simultaneously in The Little White Bird are indicative of two very different cinematic styles working congruently to add depth and meaning to the piece. The Little White Bird is my second film like this, the first being Happy Birthday Erik Lemprecht. What I didn’t fully acknowledge until now is that the congruent relationship of cinematic styles has become a motif in all of my films since The Little White Bird. As I continued to make films under the Zimbo banner, the pursuit of contrasting styles became more heavily oriented to illuminate the devices of these different styles and their inherent ramifications. How Is One To Live? and the unreleased musical Michael’s Match each demonstrate a divergence of style between the direction of the actors (naturalism) and that of the cinematography (expressionism). In retrospect, The Little White Bird is the first film in which this tactic begins to succeed.
I feel like I should talk about the cast of the film. I haven’t been able to direct Annie R. Such since The Little White Bird, and this saddens me. I have made over half a dozen films with Annie, and she’s remarkable. If you watch any film I made with her, For The Love Of Marty (2009) or Scenes From An American Dream (2011), I guarantee that it will quickly become obvious that it is her performance that imbues the scenes with a tenderly intimate quality. I cannot adequately explain this, but watching Annie in any film is like entering the private little world of her character, that’s her uncanny ability. With regards to Emma Arrick, I have already said plenty (and if that’s not enough, watch the pseudo love letter to her talents that is the film The Sweeter Dreams Of An Itinerant Woman). But it is important to note that I have worked with her in some capacity on all my films but one since The Little White Bird.
The most rewarding part about looking back at The Little White Bird a year after its first conception is that all of the contributors to this film have continued to work with myself and Zimbo Films. From my brother Hank, Emily Pfahl, Josh Stoner, and Traffic Nightmare to Doug Neder, Caroline Boyd and Rachel Dowdell, the artists and friends who have contributed to The Little White Bird are all amazing individuals. It’s such an incredibly rare thing, and I feel incredibly lucky that this team of talented people has been willing to work with me for what is, in some cases, going on half a decade now. This brings me to Marissa Harven. Marissa is not an actress in the classic sense, but has always managed to be real on screen and to commit to a project no matter how bizarre. Marissa is my longest lasting collaborator, she has been appearing in my films since I shot Dancer in late 2008. Her work and her friendship have been vital to the process of so many of my films.