I bumped into Joshua Marks the other day as he was dashing out, clutching his cameras to attend a shoot. Before he whizzed off, he gave me a copy of one of his documentaries called, ‘My Grandparents’. It’s the culmination of two years of filming, pruned into 26 minutes. Some of the funniest lines didn’t come from the 80-year-olds, but from young Joshua who tickled by funny-bone with his take on life and death. Joshua had concluded that his grandparents were going to die, so he set out to spend time with them, perchance to learn something.
David Attenborough would have been proud of Joshua’s observations about how humans behave as ‘old’ people, as grandparents, as spouses for 59 years, as lonely old-timers waiting for God to call. It’s the kind of documentary that every family would appreciate: shadowing Grandma, Nana, and Poppa and keeping the camera running long enough to watch their guards drop (just a tad) to get inside a forgetful mind that rules a weary body.
Joshua takes to his camera with ease. He is a filmmaker who is comfortable with his gear. He carries his equipment like others attend to their pets. What’s impressive about this young man is that he is primarily an artist who happens to own a (very good) professional camera (and he knows how to use it). He knows how to create ideas, write scripts, shoot, illuminate, stage, edit, and publish. The future belongs to independent artists (meaning those who can do it all, front and back) who are as comfortable in the edit-suite as they are on location. Multi-talented artists are breaking the roadblocks that had tormented the older generation of specialists whose skills were vertical/narrow. Joshua Marks has displayed a love for his work by making it his business to learn about everything associated with his craft, so that he can ‘think then do’ — which is a more liberating lifestyle for an artist than yesteryears’ hopefuls who could not think/create, and who waited for others to tell them what to do.
Having grown-up around comedy (with Father Rodney Marks and brother Benjamin, the comedy writer) I have a feeling that Joshua could not have escaped the dry humour, which was evident to me in his documentary, ‘My Grandparents’. The DVD made me laugh during all the sad bits.
For me, the clever aspect about this documentary was the subtlety. Joshua always cut away a few seconds earlier than most editors would have dared. He allowed us to imagine the next sentence. It was all teased out of our imagination, rather than from the characters (subjects). Each scene left me wanting to know more. Indeed, there was plenty more. Fifty hours of footage was abandoned on the cutting-room floor. It would have been tempting to sneak heaps more into this professionally-produced and superbly packaged documentary. The DVD could have fit 70 minutes, so why did Joshua stop at 26 minutes? I think that he knew, instinctively, that his professionalism hinged on the overall balance. That’s how you know an artist when you meet one: they are willing to destroy their labour-of-love in obedience to the art of pruning. The ‘whole’ is more important than the chapters. Polish. Polish. Cut, edit, remove, and polish some more.