November 27, 2008

This film is a poem of sorts about a pair of glasses that Mark Rudd, one of the former members of the Weather Underground and one of the main subjects of my film on the group, sent me out of the blue a few years ago. He had been wearing that specific pair of glasses when he turned himself in in 1977 and I recognized them from news footage and photos of the event. He sent me the glasses as a way to say thanks for making the film.

I loved the glasses. It was as if he had somehow read my mind, or my person, and figured out the gift that would thrill me almost more than anything else. I definitely find myself enthralled by certain objects.

I think that what I like so much about Mark Rudd’s glasses is the fact that these are the very same pair of glasses that I’d seen on the cover of the New York Times. This was the actual object. There was something magic about that. Just like the Claxton Mailbox. I couldn’t quite figure out how, or why this was the case.

Whatever it was, I felt like this fascination was somehow at the root of my documentary filmmaking—this obsession with realness and the real thing. I was drawn to Mark Rudd’s glasses in the same way that I was drawn to the Rainbow Man and his story, or Meredith Hunter’s unmarked grave, or the world’s largest shopping mall that is oddly enough a total failure, or a piece of footage that I used in The Weather Underground showing hippies burning dollar bills with looks of great ecstasy on their faces.

So with Clear Glasses I was trying to somehow get to the bottom of all of this—to create a serious meditation on the complex web of impulses that inspire my work. But when I showed the finished piece to my girlfriend for the first time, she laughed and said she thought it was a funny piece! I was completely surprised. I don’t make funny films! I got similar responses to Clear Glasses from other people, and over time, I chalked it up to one of the fascinating truths about filmmaking: that the meaning of a film is created for the most part by the audience and that a filmmaker can often be surprised by how his or her work is perceived. Oh well, so much for a serious meditation. But I was able to try out several new things with Clear Glasses, and so in many ways I see it as a warm-up exercise for the first-person essay film I made the next year, Utopia In Four Movements. —Sam Green