MEN AT WORK
This film is an ode to the commonplace. Its four segments or chapters are slighter narratives that the commonplace, everyday situations, yield and with interest; all was needed was a steady gaze of interest to discover these. The film is an observational (in the filming) and a just a positioning (in the construction) of four very different, at times binary, work settings, a boy domestic worker and his life on the observed terrace doing his chores, men in a motor garage fixing things and beating new refurbishment into old cars, young boys at a boarding school chanting and doing yoga to become Hindu priests, and six-pack youth vying for a place in the British army’s Brigade of Gurkhas. The combination of the sequencing and the intimate gaze results in a film whole that is greater than its parts and an intimate transformation of the commonplace.
When we were beginning the first Let’s Talk Men films 14 years ago, for which I did the Nepali part with Tsering Rhitar, we were nonplussed as to how to or what kind of a film to make on the subject of masculinities. In the unique arrangement filmmakers and advisers we were besotted in, we created a space to explore our personal experience on having been boys and being men. We shared scripts and rough cuts, we did our films. But I always wondered if I ever really delivered something that came out of the enhanced understanding of masculinities that we’d slowly inducted. Either it wasn’t complex and I got it but didn’t know I got it, or I didn’t get it.
In retrospect, it was understandable. It’s hard to know what kind of film you can let emerge when you bring a deeper reflection to a subject, then set out to make a film; to know how theory shapes practice and results in a film that is interestingly informed and insightful. Back then, we did a fiction piece about and for adolescents, a story about a boy who was different, his realization that he had to find the solution to the obstacles in his life within himself. Many boys could identify with the boy in our film, and the film seemed to work as a story, without a prescriptive written all over it.
Flash forward to the present, to Let’s Talk Men III, and meeting up with fellow filmmakers and friends a little greyer, I found myself no wiser, even with some years of film making under my belt since that first project.It was a thrill and a privilege to be working together, to talk film and have provocative advisers, but was I wiser about the subject and about the amalgam of reflection (theory) and the film (praxis)?
In the pedestrian vein I am thinking this through, I thought, if gender and maleness is pervasive in our being, then maleness should be discernible in every situation, perhaps as an undercurrent, and it would not be necessary for the masculinities element to manifest in any exaggerated manner.
I was aware I was taking a low-brow stasis, intellectually. When the discussion turned to ‘and so what kind of film we could make’, the common response was: “It can be about anything.” ANYTHING? Well, if it could be about ANYTHING, then any film we made would qualify as having elements about gender, the narrative would have masculinities embedded in it.
But this somewhat wooden premise turned out to be useful. If gender, ie masculinities, pervades the condition of being male, no matter who we are and what our situation, I would simply take a few situations and settings that are men-ly, that have the ‘smell of men’ was the phrase that came off my typing fingers, and whatever meaning of masculinities these might offer would be there for all to see.
After playful mulling and choosing and eliminating, as one might do when searching for a film or article title, I identified my men-ly settings: the rotary club, about white-collar professional men, typically successful businessmen and entrepreneurs; men in a motor garage that fixed engines and refurbished car bodies; boys of the upper caste Hindus who lived and studied at a boarding school training to become Hindu priests; and young Nepali men who vie for the few places to join the vaunted British Gurkhas, after months or even years of preparing and trying out. These were the settings with the ‘smell of men’.
Unfortunately, the rotary club didn’t work out, regrettably, as it was the missing needed segment, being a depiction of upper middle class can-do men. In its place in the final film is a segment about a domestic boy worker I’d filmed on the terrace across my apartment window; a boy who does his many chores, such as sweep, water plants, was clothes, feed the birds in the morning and so on. In the midst of his chores, he would walk over to the edge of the terrace overlooking a field and watch boys play football or karate.
I thought the segments would work better if filmed observationally, thus allowing action to speak, and that the segments and their sequencing gain something that is much greater than as individual and separate entities.