George Lucas holding his Eclair 16mm movie camera in 1968 while shooting his visually dynamic cinematic documentary "filmmaker, a diary"
One of my favorite abstract filmmakers is actually George Lucas. I love a bunch of his obscure pure cinema 16mm films from the 1960s - back when he was working with the form i truly love: photo-chemical film!
He did a bunch of great abstract visual films and very cinematic "cinema verite" pieces such as Look At Life, Herbie, 1:42.08, The Emperor, Anyone Lived in a Pretty (how) Town, "filmmaker", THX 1138:4EB and 6-18-67.
Especially when he was working with celluloid (I wish he still were!) he was such a naturally talented editor and cameraman and most of his films made great use of the soundtrack as well.
In his late teens, he started to drive to Canyon Cinema (http://www.canyoncinema.com) screenings in San Francisco to see 16mm abstract and avant-garde films projected in coffee houses, backyards, small screening rooms and other undergound venues. Cutting edge visual, abstract and poetic movies by filmmakers like Jordan Belson, Bruce Conner, Bruce Baillie, Stan Brakhage, Ed Emshwiller and Scott Bartlett. He then enrolled in USC's film school and was exposed to more amazing visual non-story non-character driven cinema, especially the cinematic shorts from The National Film Board of Canada. He loved Arthur Lipsett's 21-87, Jean -Claude Labrecque's 60 Cycles, Claude Jutra's visual "cinema verite" shorts, and Norman McLaren's abstract and experimental movies.
Lucas fell madly in love with making pure cinema, he hated storytelling and character and plot, and he was incredibley prolific and resourceful at using what little he had in order to make some knockout films with virtuoso editing and camerawork and graphics. He even applied his abstract aesthetic and style to his features, not just his first one, the abstract non-narrative feature film "THX 1138", but also his more commercial pics, American Graffitti and the star wars series.
I saw all of his early abstract and "cinema verite" 16mm shorts when i visited the USC moving image archive, back when I was living in los angeles, and I was blown away! It was one of the most powerful experiences in my life. His amazing montage and camera shots and sound designs are so exciting and inspirational. Exactly the kind of Pure Cinema that I love.
I have a personal dream that he had never continued to make features after American Graffitti had become a big hit, giving him financial independence, and that instead he had just continued to make his true love: 16mm visual tone poems and visual cinema verite documentaries. Personal independent films that he shoots and cuts by himself just for his own exploration, to see if he could combine images in a certain way. That would have been so awesome!
George Lucas shooting his abstract 16mm student short "THX 1138:4EB"
Here's a list of quotes by Mr. Lucas on his first love: visual nonstory pure cinema and experimental filmmaking. In the 1960s he was working with photo-chemical film, mostly 16mm film, and he shot and edited some exhilirating abstract nonstory noncharacter visual tone poems and cinema verite shorts like "Look at Life", "Herbie", "1:42.08", "The Emperor", "6-18-67", "THX 1138:4EB", "Anyone Lived in a pretty how Town", and "filmmaker". I love his awesome sense of filmic construction and graphic style. He's great with editing and he has a really exciting way of moving the camera.
"I came out of film school, what I refer to as pure cinema, non-story, non-character driven cinema, which is much more kinetic and of the silent era."
"That was my philosophy, that nothing was going to stop me. My goals were different then than they ended up. My goals were to make bizarre abstract movies, and I expected to end up a documentary filmmaker and work for a television station or something."
"I have alot of ideas for movies-personal things. If you take THX 1138 as the pivotal point-you go way off in this direction to Star Wars, which is abourt as conventional as I can get-but I want to go in the other direction, which is into a more abstract kind of movie, without characters and without plots."
"Yes. That's still where my heart is, and I can't get away from it. Even Star Wars and American Graffitti got a lot of criticism for the fact that they were so abstract-not made the way a normal movie is made. And they aren't. "Empire" goes in even further than Star Wars in terms of moving through an idea as quickly as one can possibly deal with it."
"I wanted to make abstract films that are emotional and I still do."
"I don't want to be a businessman. My ambition is to make movies, but all by myself, to shoot them, cut them, make stuff I want to, just for my own exploration, to see if I can combine images in a certain way."
"My only interest in life is to make films, explore films and grow as a person."
In 1977: "I figured the merchandising along with the sequels would give me enough income over a period of time so that I could retire from professional filmmaking and go into making my own kind of movies, my own sort of abstract, weird, experimental stuff.
"I've made what I consider the most conventional kind of movie[Star Wars] I can possibly make. I've learned my craft in the classic entertainment sense as well as I think I can learn it. What I want to do now is take my craft in the other direction, which is [. . .] creating emotions without understanding what is going on in terms of purely visual and sound relationships. I think there is a whole world of film there that has never been explored. People have gotten so locked into the story film -- the novel and the play have such a strong influence over film that it has sort of become the weak sister. And if the films work, I will try to get them out and get them distributed by whoever would be daring enough to pick them up. Maybe they will be entertaining, it's hard to know at this point. It is in an area that I have absolutely no way of knowing what would happen and that is what excites me. And I have reached the point now that I can say, well, I am retiring. Because I can really retire now."
"It's something that I've wanted to do ever since I was in film school. My friends who are making those kinds of movies struggle along on grants, and it's very difficult because they have very limited resources. You cant' make a living that way and I realized that years ago, so I went into "regular filmmaking." I happened to fall into it with Francis. If I hadn't met him and he hadn't sent me down that line, I would have moved to San Francisco from SC, and I would have been up here doing films like that-but struggling with them."
If "Empire Strikes Back" isn't a hit? : "Well, if it doesn't happen with this one and the next one, then that's the end. I'm not going to spend the next 15 years of my life trying to make hit movies to get the ranch. If it doesn't, I'll fold up shop. I tried, I failed, and I'll just make 16-mm movies and live the way I've been living."
"I'm a visual filmmaker. I do films that are kinetic and I tend to focus on character as it is created through editing and light, not stories. I started out as a harsh critic of story and character.
"I was always coming from pure cinema - I was using the grammar of film to create content. I think graphically, not linearly."
"I hated scripting writing. I hated stories, and I hated plot, and I wanted to make visual films that had nothing to do with telling a story. I didn't want to know about stories and plot and characters and all that sort of stuff. And that's what I did. My first films were very abstract - tone poems, visual."
“I made more non-story-type films. I was interested in abstract, purely visual films and cinema-verite documentaries."
"It's like comparing novels and sonnets, and saying a sonnet's no good because it doesn't have the heft of a novel. It's not a valid criticism. After I did 'Graffiti,' my friends said, 'George, you should make more of an artistic statement,' but I feel 'Star Wars' did make a statement--in a more visual, less literary way. People said I should have made 'Apocalypse Now' after 'Graffiti,' and not 'Star Wars.' They said I should be doing movies like 'Taxi Driver.' I said, 'Well, "Star Wars" is a kids' movie, but I think it's just as valid an art film as "Taxi Driver." ' Besides, I couldn't ever do 'Taxi Driver.' I don't have it in me. I could do 'Koyaanisqatsi,' but not 'Taxi Driver.' But of course if the movie doesn't fit what they think movies should be, it shouldn't be allowed to exist. I think that's narrow-minded. I've been trying to rethink the art of movies--it's not a play, not a book, not music or dance. People were aware of that in the silent era, but when the talkies started they lost track of it. Film basically became a recording medium."
"I come out of a nonstory, noncharacter type of pure cinema. For me, the idea of heavily plotted or heavily character driven drama is not where I started."
On the 60s experimental film scene and Canyon Cinema (http://www.canyoncinema.com) : "I came from a very avant garde documentary kind of film making world. I like cinema verité, documentaries. I liked nonstory, noncharacter tone poems that were being done in San Francisco at that time."
On THX 1138: "I wanted it to look like a very slick, studied documentary in terms of technique. I come from a background of graphics, photography, art and painting-and I'm very graphics-conscious."
"I'm a craftsman. I make my living making things."
"As a film student I was all technical. I will always be concerned about the camera, but-as opposed to THX, which was designed in the camera... On THX some of the dramatic was sacrificed in favor of the camera."
"I want to shoot some films of my own that will be experimental instead of commercial. I want to try to do some films that no one has ever done, [regardless] whether they're watched, whether they're successful."
""I prefer playing with camera film over becoming the entepreneur behind a gigantic operation. I accept the power to do whatever I like with my camera. I like to be a cameraman, look through the lens, play with the lighting. I'm more of a technician or "artisan-cameraman" or editor, than a producer-director. I have more desire to use a film editing machine than my power. Making movies-that's really fun."
"I'm fascinated with visual film, the sort of thing the French unit of the National Film Board of Canada was producing."
Makiing his visual feature THX 1138