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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Rhenals

Blog Post #165: About Inspiration and Homage!

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

A few days ago, I published a series of image juxtapositions on social media and on this blog (Blog Post #164 here). Earlier this year in April, I did the same (Blog Post #144 here). The set of images in April included select shots from my latter short films (i.e., from 2008 to 2016) placed next to images from major studio (mainly Hollywood) films. The latter set followed suit but with shots from my earlier short films (i.e., from 2003 to 2007). The April posting was accompanied by a quote from Isaac Newton while the most recent posting featured a quote from Pablo Picasso.

Given to a certain introspective disposition lately, I began thinking about my invocation of the somewhat infamous Pablo Picasso quote: "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." I chose the quote primarily because it suggested the voracious temperament of a consummate artist over a polite, anodyne one. But I fear it may have inadvertently suggested that my comparison of images, intended to illustrate sources of inspiration, was proof of theft. If that is the case and I am thieving, am I less original, less creative or less capable as a filmmaker? Should I have simply kept these visual diagrams to myself and fed an assumption that my short films are completely free from the work of other filmmakers?

I believe there is a significant difference between respectful re-creation and outright theft in artistic production. The former involves a considerable investment of time, effort, thought, awareness and goodwill while the latter signifies an abandonment of these key, constituent elements. My re-creation of similar shot framings or compositions, in some cases within a similar dramatic context, work in concert with a particular and highly deliberate narrative or cinematic goal. Thieving would be simply lifting a given image with limited regard for such strategic designs. Moreover, the shots I sample from favorite films belie the sheer amount of forethought, planning and elaborate execution involved in even the shortest of my short films.

Any filmmaker or image maker expected to craft an elaborate mosaic of images with a salient pictorial or aesthetic emphasis will no doubt collide with the possibility of sampling from what already exists. This can be done directly in an ethically dubious fashion by literally duplicating a given digital or analog artifact, in part or in whole. Or it can be carried out indirectly and in the spirit of inspiration and homage for the purposes of furnishing an otherwise original creation. With an environment or mediascape as saturated with manufactured imagery as ours is, it is an inevitable prospect. Our own deep nostalgia and affinity for particular images are also a significant factor in determining the course one takes with traces of the work of others in their own.

Although I can't find the exact quote from director Martin Scorsese in which he eloquently describes a compulsive hunger for imagery and its sating by catching a certain moment or shot from a particular film on television or home video, I simply want to personally attest to an alike obsession with imagery. Filmmakers or artists of any kind, long in their affliction, tend to preside over a boiling cauldron of creativity. Nothing feels off-limits! To me, if a treasured shot or editing choice from a film I love rhymes with or matches what I'm presently working on, I'll readily evaluate the appropriateness of some form of inclusion. And sometimes these adaptations occur automatically or beyond conscious choice. But such a tendency only springs from a generous and positive regard for the forebearers of a medium I have latched my anchor to since I was a boy.

In closing, any living artist belongs to a long and storied tradition that they did not begin and will not provide the final word on. The pantheonic halls of any artform will always be staggering and ineffable to the individual artist keen on establishing themselves. It is out of this honor and privilege to share in the work of past masters and carry out the mandate of a mysterious, shared, inner and ever-urgent calling that informs this rapacious activity of taking from others, silently or not. The Isaac Newton quote that I coupled with that earlier posting is apt to repeat: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." We shouldn't be afraid to share that vantage point sometimes.

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