29 May 2016
Recollections of the Yellow House
‘Rashidi-Devereaux Cinema’ was a collaborative project by myself and actor James Devereaux, which ran between 2010 and 2014. Together we made seven feature-length films, and eight short instalments as part of my Homo Sapiens Project. I always admired actors and I have developed a fascination with certain actors relationships from cinema history, in particular when a director and an actor develop a close bond and work together across several films. As that trust and bond develops further over multiple films it results in the pair growing together continuously and the creative process merges into the unconscious. The further they move forward together the stranger the films become. I had always wanted to do this, and I had previously attempted such a process with performer and friend Ehsan Safarpour, through a series of short films and two zero-budget features (Light & Quiet, Theory). Later, in 2010 I discovered James and we embarked on a series of films together.
I wanted to push certain normal elements of an actor/director relationship to their most extreme limits by eschewing any sort of text-based approach and completely removing any phase of pre-planning; I wanted to leave the actors to their own devices, giving them complete creative freedom and encapsulate them within an utterly austere, rigid and claustrophobic state of filmmaking. In the end, several years passed before we truly realised what we had done and it was not a simple improvisation. In order to initiate our collaboration we spoke and exchanged information for around one year. Over this period we spoke candidly about what we wanted to achieve, discussed ideas around this and exchanged many films, this was our only preparatory labour before our first collaboration Closure of Catharsis (2011).
We met in person for the very first time only one day before the shoot, but over the course of our long exchanges and discussions we had built a great deal of trust and understanding. So when the day arrived the stage was set and we were ready for pure action. Essentially the formula we used was this: juxtaposition of the actor in a very carefully confined space, crafting rigid frames with an extreme minimilisation of props, leaving the actor with full control and responsibility over his own body, facial expression and language.
If we consider the films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet where actors flatly recite texts with Brechtian distinction and incongruous accents perhaps it could be said that this gives them a ‘medium’ quality towards one side of the spectrum. With James I wanted to try and push this formula to the opposite end of the spectrum, towards somewhere else entirely. A situation where language, expression and body movement come to life immediately, impulsively and perhaps even urgently. What always struck me most, and even deeply moved me, about the films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet is that through the ‘fakeness’, flatness, and sheer intimacy of the actors/actresses you can almost see the pages of the script turning. Through inverting this technique and maybe abusing it I wanted to see that the words spoken were completely ‘live’ or ‘on-the-spot’ in the other end of this so-called spectrum, their rawness is so far out there that the presentation of them is more like a complete fabrication, a lie, a full deception, but really is it? I am not even sure myself! With this method we made three feature films Closure of Catharsis, Boredom of the Disgust and Monotony of the Tediousness (2012) and He (2012). He was the culmination of this approach and perhaps it stands as the most advanced point in our collaboration as we had reached the maximum limit of what we could achieve with this type of filmmaking.
After He was completed I began to draw up plans for a film called There Is No Escape From The Terrors Of The Mind (2013), it was to be another collaboration with James. With ‘Terrors’ I truly pushed James outside and beyond his comfort-zone and beyond the routine and working-system of our previous collaborations. It was to be a truly insane and formula-less film. During the production James said that he felt very lost and finally admitted that he had nothing left to offer me as any actor could perform what I asked of him. After a few shooting sessions in principle photography, I decided to finish the film in a different fashion.
Once ‘Terrors’ was complete we still endeavoured to make another feature film together and so Mutual Admiration Society (2014) was born. We made this film remotely as James explained in a text on film’s blog: “It came about because Rouzbeh Rashidi and I decided to make a feature film in seven days. There was no script, no planning, we didn’t even have any ideas, we simply allowed the weirdness from our subconscious to burble to the surface of our minds, and acted on the messages it sent to us. At the start of production, all we knew was the film’s title and that it was going to be in black and white. And then we worked round the clock to make it happen. I would shoot improvised scenes in London by day, and send the material, via the internet, to Rouzbeh, who, by night, would take it through his post-production process, giving it a form and refining the aesthetic.”
Mutual Admiration Society though a very beautiful and eye-opening process for me was an incredibly sad experience. Later on that year I recycled some of the feature films that we had made together and I recut and rearranged them as an homage to James. The film is called Conditions (2014). James still remains one of my most favourite actors and one of the most creative individuals I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with.
Further Reading: Acting in Experimental Film By James Devereaux
Watch the feature films on EFS VOD here:
2011 – Closure of Catharsis
2012 – HE
2014 – Conditions