She came and looked at camera rolls every Friday when I'd get them back from the camera store. There was that atmosphere going on of being with someone so close who was also involved in a terminal illness. But also you might say that with Threnody the camera was placed somewhere back around the ears looking out of your head. In Song and Solitude I actually placed the camera in a sense behind my own head — for a feeling like looking through your own head out [at the world].
Most of my films are more about seeing or about using seeing as a way to express being. [Song and Solitude] is more about being, where seeing is an aspect of the being. The world is seen through the whole fabric of your own psyche as a foreground. Through that foreground exists the visual world, almost as a background.
I also wanted to see if I could photograph things which you'd traditionally call nature and things you'd call human nature with the same primordial sense, to see the slight rub of what human nature is and what nature is, where they are similar and where they feel different. How is muscular movement different from wind? I wanted the film to rest in a very primordial place in its visual essence.
SFBG One time I was questioning you about why we torment ourselves making films, and you said, "It's to attract a mate." Could you elaborate on that?
ND I myself met my friend Jerome, who I still live with, on the night that I premiered my first film, when I was 20. So in a way it happened right away for me. But I've worked for many people in the film industry as an editor, especially in the area of documentary, and at least three or four times I've worked for someone who was looking for a mate.
Once, a friend, Richard Lerner, was producing and directing a film on Jack Kerouac called What Happened to Kerouac?, which I edited. It came time to write out an enormous check to make a 35mm print from the video material. He was really hesitant, and he was single at the time. I said, "Don't worry. There is no way you won't get a permanent relationship from this film." He got irritated, because it was something like the third time I'd said that to him. But a woman approached him after the film premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and they've been married ever since.
That has happened with at least four other filmmakers. I worked with Kelly Duane, who made a wonderful film [Monumental] about David Brower, the guy who radicalized the Sierra Club. She was single. She met someone when she showed the film in LA at an environmental film festival, and now she's married and has a child.
SFBG Is that why you've earned the reputation of being the editing doctor of San Francisco?
ND Yes. I work for a lot of single women.
But to answer your question in a more simple way: birds sing, and every February or March a mockingbird always appears in my backyard and sings all night. If it's a bad singer, there can be trouble. One bird three years ago was not a good singer. It sang from February until the first week of July before another bird sang along with it — then it disappeared. But sometimes they sing for four nights, and it's over. They've gotten someone, because they're really good singers.
SFBG I'd never thought of filmmaking as a mating call, but you're right.
ND Many people don't understand that, and they try to win their mate by making horrible and aggressive conceptually based films. No one is drawn to them, and then they get even more conceptual and aggressive. It can be a downward spiral.
It's difficult, because you'd think anyone who'd want to make a so-called handmade film would do so to have complete control of the situation. It's also a chance to make a film that isn't based on socialized needs. When you make your own individual film, it's generally an opportunity to be completely who you are and share the intimacy with someone else. In my experience, the more purely individual a film is, the more universal it is.