I was in the bathroom of a Los Angeles film production company, and as you do when in there, I picked up a copy of The Hollywood Reporter, opened it randomly to read the following quote by the notorious head master of script-writing Robert McKee:
“Autobiography is fantasy. Biography is fiction in the sense that you have to make choices. And out of the enormity of material, the sliver of choices that you make is an interpretation of what could be dozens of contradictory interpretations. And they are all more or less true.”
When he's right he's right. As an autobiographer I couldn’t agree more! My very personal film, is really just my dream of what happened, just my version (not my sisters, not my dad’s, not his friend’s versions), and Beginners is just one of many possible versions of my father coming out that I could have created.
The day to day lives we live and relationships we participate in are so multi-layered, ad-hoc, vague, filled with people and relationships that are so unfixed and simultaneous and paradoxical; we are angry and in love, or happy and stuck and changing and sad and free, and other impossible combinations at once, shifting in ways we can and can’t see and all distorted by the lens of our personal needs and traumas and hopes and angers. Films on the other hand, as much as they struggle not to be, are rather fixed and mono and singular. Like still photographs, they can point to a complicated event, but they are abstract fictions just by the amount of imagery and information they leave out of the frame. I worked a lot from memory in writing the script, things that happened with my dad, but when I really studied my memories I realized how abstract and unreliable they were – much more like dreams than like reporting – and strangely, the more you try to “look” at something that happened in the past the more it slips away, the quicker it fades to black before you got to see what you wanted to see. I was doing an interview yesterday and I noticed that the journalist was considering me to be an expert on my father, which makes sense right? But as intimate as my father and I became, there is so much about him that I don’t know or don’t get, so many decisions and positions he took that even after thinking about them long and hard - I really don’t have a very reliable or sturdy way to understand. As much as I’ve thought about him and tried to historically contextualize his choices and emotions, he remains pretty mysterious. So, autobiography is fantasy, memories are dreams, and dearly loved family members are also strangers.