Movies and Madness
By Geoff Pevere, Teacher, Critic, Broadcaster, Author, and Program Director of the 2015 Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival
To be perfectly honest, connecting movies and madness has never been much of a stretch for me. Judging by an oft-repeated anecdote wherein I, barely aged five, shifted seats several times in order to confront the spectacle from every possible angle, I went crazy for the medium almost from the first moment my father took me to see 101 Dalmations in 1962.
In that sense, the opportunity handed me this year to act as Program Director of the 23rd annual Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival is an organic (and very lucky) extension of my own issues: I’ve never approached the movies with anything less than an all-consuming personal obsession, and the particular allure movies about unhinging minds have held for me now makes perfect sense. I think madness is at the core of what movies do best, and it was only a matter of time before they got their due for doing something the world has only recently begun to catch up with: looking into the mirror of our own mental health experiences and confronting the distortions of our own perceptions.
These distortions are natural and inevitable. No one views or experiences the world with absolutely clarity or objectivity. Every perception of every moment we experience is filtered through the elaborate scrims of our own experiences, history, temperament, fears and desires, and if there’s a perennial element to the movie-going experience that accounts for the medium’s otherwise rather surprising domination of our pop cultural landscape for well over a century now, that’s it: nothing replicates the process of not just seeing the world but interpreting it quite as powerfully, immediately and deeply as a movie. Movies do what our brains do – process experience according to particular needs and inclinations – and so we can’t help but plunge when the right reflection comes along. Some have called it immersion, others escape, and others obsession. But what it amounts to is the same thing: film is the ultimate seducer of the imagination because it speaks the same language as the mind. Or if not, nothing – that I know of anyway – comes even close.
In plunging into the 200 or so submissions from around the world that were submitted for consideration to Rendezvous this year, I was reminded constantly not only that madness is what movies do so much better than any other medium – although yes, fiction, poetry, painting, dance, music and other forms have their own sublime attractions – but how the entire history of the medium seems to have been driven forward by a need to get the subjective experience of the disordered mind into some kind of objective expressive shape or order. From Caligari to Kubrick, The Passion of Joan of Arc to Persona, Alfred Hitchcock to Werner Herzog, and Kurosawa to Cronenberg, the through line is as clear as a deep focus shot from a movie by Orson Welles – another madman with a camera and a vision. Movies are the mind’s eye projected.
If I consider my own history of intemperate movie enthusiasms, I can’t avoid the fact that so many of the movies that proved seminal to sustaining my addiction – let’s say, for starters anyway, Vertigo, Taxi Driver, Last Tango in Paris, Rosemary’s Baby, Persona, Solaris, Videodrome, The Searchers, The Magnificent Ambersons, and a few hundred others – were not only about the gathering experience of madness but made by people who might well qualify as more than a little mad themselves. For that’s the other thing about movies: to endure in a medium where the compromise of personal vision is almost endemic to the process, it helps if you yourself are a little nuts. Ergo, a great many of the movies’ greatest artists are talking the same language as the voices in some of our heads.
If the festival this year has more than its fair share of innovative, uncompromising and inspired visions of disordered internal experience – including addiction (The Mighty Angel), obsessive compulsive disorder (Eight), borderline personality disorder (An Autobiography of Michelle Maren), bipolar disorder (Paul Sharits, A Light Beneath Their Feet, Juanicas), eating disorders (My Skinny Sister, Flush), PTSD (Swift Current, Of Men and War), depression (Hedi Scheider is Stuck), anxiety (Homesick) – they represent the latest expressions of an enduring and defining characteristic of the movies, and why we need them.
Since so much of what tends to trouble our minds is internal, governed by both fear of external judgement, and consequently, a terrible, paralyzing sense of isolation, the sheer cathartic power of film is incalculable. It can externalize and make what is otherwise felt only internally and in private, and it is this illuminating power, more than anything else, that can drive the very thing that has always been the most potent form of combat against the various forms of stigma that are the true enemy of enlightenment and recovery.
Here is how it works, and the simple principle on which The Rendezvous With Madness festival functions: we watch, we see ourselves, we talk and we share. When it comes to facing crazy, I can’t think of anything that makes more sense.
The Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival runs from November 6-15, 2015. Find out more information and purchase tickets at www.rendezvouswithmadness.com
Geoff Pevere is the Program Director of the 2015 Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival. He is also a teacher, critic, broadcaster and author. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.