Use every part of the buffalo
Not a film. Just a common phrase that Brad Bird posted on a marquee at Pixar Studios while making The Incredibles. It seems fitting.
Today, I’m making ramen. Since, that involves roasting and simmering leftover chicken bones (I don’t have any pork!) for at least five hours, I’ll be in the kitchen all day. Really wish I had some tenderloin. Instead, I’m using chuck tender roast for protein.
While I’m in the kitchen, I figured I’d return to short films. It’s less distracting than pausing a film every twenty minutes to check or skim the broth. Not sure why, but Vin Diesel’s 1995 short, Multi-Facial, came to my head this morning.
The history of multiracial people in America is so young. My parent’s marriage would have been illegal the year they were born. That’s crazy to think that I’m two degrees away from anti-miscegenation laws.
I love seeing someone as successful as Vin Diesel proud to be black and white while recognizing himself as not a black actor, but just an actor.
Multi-Facial isn’t just a careful look at race, but the account of a talented artist using all his worth to his full potential. Enough to earn him a part in Saving Private Ryan.
Seen v. Heard
There’s two gestures I can clearly identify in Multi-Facial. First, is the first the shot. We see Vin is talking to someone of screen, but the camera is placed in between the conversation. It’s not until the very end when the camera pans to reveal the casting directors that we realize Vin isn’t a “misogynist, homophobic guido.”
This is a clever use of form that complements the truth behind the message of the film. Often our eyes make judgements about other people. We’re willing to accept that Vin is this character he’s playing when only a few minutes later he voices his discomfort with the dialogue.
Second, and last, is the use of angles throughout the film. In every audition, the camera is from an observing point of view. That is, not from the perspective of a character. Film is always about perspectives. In a darkly lit audition room, Vin continues to perform another role based on his looks, but still, it’s not convincing. The in between scenes reveal his true self.
However, as soon as he begins the truest monologue, the camera is put in the perspective of the casting directors. And a matching reverse shot follows.
This sudden change in camera angle tells us that something has changed even before his monologue. Considering the angle, eye-level and POV, the film wants us to see that Vin has finally connected and his performance is finally true. Think about how different this scene would be if this angle never changed. Maybe the meaning would still come across, but it wouldn’t be a changing story, only the character at the very end would let us know that Vin’s monologue was compelling.
Good film form is simple. Just small decisions that involve what’s changing over time and how that can properly emulate the less tangible elements of the human condition.
Use Every Part of the Buffalo
Multi-Facial seems fitting with Brad Bird’s mantra. Diesel made the film after failing to find work as an actor, partly because of his complexion. Instead of waiting, Diesel did what any smart person would do; he wrote himself a part, gave himself his own opportunity…shades of La La Land. Diesel wrote, directed, produced, and scored this film. Pretty much every resource Diesel had was used to produce this film. Enough to earn him a spot at Cannes.
The Incredibles experienced a similar fate, though on a much larger scale, they used every second, every artist, every resource to its full potential. As a result, it’s Pixar’s best film. And I will always stand by that.
If there’s anything I’ve ever learned through my years, it’s how the use every part of the buffalo philosophy is one of the more valuable thought processes. Every minute, every hour, every day is resource and is equal in its worth.
Use every part of the buffalo. Simmer the chicken bones. Make ramen.
Tomorrow…Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale