Discovering Chris Deleo and Mnemonica
by Courtney McNamara
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Does what the average viewer see, and what the creative force behind the project intend the viewer to see, match? This is what I hoped to learn through questions and answers with Chris Deleo, writer, producer and director of Mnemonica.
CD: I needed a creative outlet, so I created one. I had already produced two documentaries, Why Neal and Billy’s Girls. I was very proud of these films and I started thinking how interesting my daily life was when I was involved in these big projects. There was something to do every day.
I always wanted to take a shot at a narrative feature. There is so much in documentary filmmaking that is beyond one’s control in terms of expression. Beyond selecting the subject matter which interests me and the editing process which molds and shapes the story structure, filming a documentary means turning on the camera, making sure the frame is well composed, and allowing life to unfold naturally with little to no interference on my end. I wanted to experience full control of design and emotional content and direction of characters and setting and mood and lighting and multiple takes. I wanted to work with actors and on characters that I developed from my own twisted imagination. Basically I wanted to play God. I wanted that experience of total control and I wanted to take full responsibility for its artistic merits. As a writer/director/editor and cinematographer I put myself in the hot seat. And being in the hot seat inspires me
I had a few preliminary ideas for a storyline about a young girl in trouble and her emotionally disturbed friend who lived next door. He was very much obsessed with the girl and built shrines for her and watched her through openings in her window shades. She went out every night and partied and came home banged up and bruised and she would sit with this emotionally disturbed friend who lived next door and she would confess all her sordid adventures with drugs and sex and alcohol abuse. Eventually the young man must intervene and take action to help save his friend when she ends up in over head with drug dealers.
This was the basic story, but it quickly evolved and became something more abstract and poetic. Mnemonica is a visual poem. If one expects something literal where every detail is explained, they will be very disappointed. I made the film hoping people might want to go back to it over and over to discover things they missed the first time around. I love vagaries. I love it when a film forces me to use my own imagination to fill in the gaps. I can bring so much more to a story simply by using my imagination than say, having the information fed to me with a spoon like a baby. I love abstraction and I love vagary. They get my juices flowing. I honestly don’t care if pieces of story are missing and in fact prefer this type of storytelling to those that are spelled out for me. David Lynch comes to mind. He leaves out more than he includes and the result is a dream-like experience for the viewer and an opportunity to bring additional meaning to what was originally intended so that my experience of “Lost Highway” will be a very different from your experience of “Lost Highway” because the film is structured with enough space and openness for me to add all my own quirks and points of view. This shows great respect for an audience and in essence suggests to people that they are just as important to the creative process as the artist is.
CM: Do you see yourself reflected in any of the characters?
CD: Not really, but if I had to pick a favorite character it would be Scooch. I love his creative madness. He seems to be directly in touch with how he feels at all times and has no trouble expressing it. He’s someone worth emulating. I would have liked to explore this character more closely in the film but time and money did not permit it. I am using the Mnemonica Blog –see below- to expand the world of Scooch and several other characters in the film.
CD: Bucky is completely unconnected with his inner life and the Black Box eases his transition from exterior world to interior world. Its only function is to introduce Bucky to his interior life. How this is accomplished is a creative leap of faith I ask the audience to take with me. My best guess how the box works is through some sort of metaphysical or telepathic byplay.
CM: I found that one of the overall themes in the film was the coming of age, from the arc of the characters (most particularly noted in Alice and Bucky) as well as the development of the storyline and the threading together of time from past to present. I also noticed nuances of questioning/discovering ones sexuality. Was this intentional?
CD: The question of Bucky’s sexuality or sexual preference became important as we were filming. Bucky lives in a relatively blue collar, meat and potato’s kind of world. He’s a loner who is never seen with women. The average citizen might mistake this as an aversion toward women. When the little girl downstairs asks Bucky if he’s a “gay man”, one gets the sense that Bucky has been asked this question many times throughout his adult life.
The shifting around from past to present was always part of the plan. I wanted the viewer to get disoriented when the story begins to rock back and forth from Bucky’s memory to the present. Alice becomes the anchor for the present. When we see Alice, we know we are in the present. Alice is the films emotional core. Where others in the film are misguided and sometimes even depraved, Alice is wholesome. She represents hope for Bucky.
CD: The experience of love and the experience of rejection were the same for people who lived a thousand years ago as it is for people today.
CD: Thank you. Some of this was intentional but mostly these moods and ideas for structure came out of experimenting in long editing sessions. I tossed around the idea of the whole film being black and white with maybe a little color here and there. There is something mysterious and otherworldly about black and white. In the end I settled for both.
The music was written afterwards. I used a digital recorder and an old nylon string guitar. The nylon string really captured some old fashioned quality about the film. There are no computers or hand held devices in the Mnemonica world. There is only one very brief scene with a cell phone and the phone is entirely incidental. This of course was intentional. I wanted the world of Mnemonica to be completely free of modern technology.
CM: What is the symbolism of the color Red which is used strategically throughout the film?
CD: There’s an unpredictable quality in the color red and a sense of danger as we associate it with trouble or excitement or bad things. Red reminds us that life can be wild and scary and that if we’re not careful we may end up over our heads. It’s a color that is not easily forgotten. It’s a warning.
CM: What is the symbolism of the frogs in the film?
CD: In fairytales the evil witch puts a spell on the prince and turns him into an ugly frog. Alice perceives Bucky to be under the spell of Meghan. She must kiss him to break the spell and turn him back into a prince.
CM: If the story were to continue in a sequel, what would we see? Where would Bucky and Alice be now?
CD: At http://mnemonicafilm.blogspot.com/ I am writing alternate realities for Mnemonica. It’s a place where I can stretch and add to the original story in a surreal kind of way. If I were to film a sequel we would see Bucky and Alice broken up. Alice dates a large intimidating man and Bucky does everything in his power to undermine the relationship and win Alice back. He would probably recruit Scooch to help him with the job.
Thanks for doing this interview with me. It means a lot. I just want to add that I could not have made this film without my girlfriend, Kimmie Naughton. She motivated me at every turn and kept the whole project together during the two years of filming.
Courtney McNamara is a traveller, writer, blogger and avid film buff currently residing in Toronto, Canada. www.courtneymcnamara.blogspot.com.
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