Keith Bearden – The Raftman’s Razor
THE RAFTMAN’S RAZOR is a Zen/existentialist fable about two boys fascinated by a comic book hero with no superpowers. He only wakes, shaves, thinks a philosophical thought, and drifts alone at sea. We interviewed director Keith Bearden.
Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello lovely people. My name is Keith Bearden. I am a screenwriter and director in New York City.
Who is the Raftman?
The Raftsman is a combination of things. Mostly he is a metaphor for the disappointment of growing up and discovering that nothing is really as good as you thought or hoped it would be. Visually, he was based on people I worked with at the worst job I ever had, working at an insurance company that refused to use computers, and had a huge library of paper files. They were open 24 hours a day, and I worked there from midnight to 8 am in the morning. A lot of sad characters worked there.
The idea for the story came from your writing partner Joel Haskard and you rewrote the story in half an hour or so. What was it that drew you so vigorously to the Raftman?
I think I was drawn in by Joel’s brilliant writing and the simple absurd “hook” of the story (a superhero that does nothing), and it made me sad to read it, so I added the pathos, the emotion to it. Also, I think a comic character that does nothing is weirdly empowering. Superman and Batman make us feel weak and hopeless. The Raftman, who does nothing but shave, can make us all feel powerful and amazing.
“I think my work succeeds when it’s shamanic. When I don’t think about it, I don’t doubt it, and it just sort of vomits out of me.”
The Raftman’s Razor is often summarized as ‘Two young teens obsess about a comic superhero who does next to nothing.’ This is not a conventional superhero-identity. What makes the Raftman a superhero?
The medium of comics automatically makes a superhero. Like porn, you don’t have to be beautiful or sexy to be a porn star. Just be in it.
But really, just like film has it’s anti-heroes, comics, too should have their anti-superheroes. The Raftman is a symbol of super failure. He’s a middle aged man who has let everything fade away and succumbed to the sad order of rank and file society.
Ideally, with what kind of mindset would you encourage the viewer to watch the Raftman’s Razor?
I like whatever people bring to it. The film was shown at a Buddhist film festival, and neither Joel nor I know anything about Buddhism. Some people think it’s funny, some sad. Some “cute.” Just as long as the picture is big and the sound is clear, that’s what’s important in cinema.
In the film we follow two boys who are completely obsessed with the story of the Raftman and how they’re searching for meaning, narrative and (maybe most of all) closure. What is the Raftman going to do with the razor? Will he cut his throat? Will he let the boat sink? When these questions are being answered in the last issue of the comic, they feel cheated and fooled with. Their interpretation of the Raftman’s story had not been in line with the intended meaning of the writer. This is a generally recurring issue in the world of arts. Viewers often don’t know what the intended meaning of the author is. As a consequence, the viewer has ultimate interpretative freedom. How do you feel about this? Is it worth more to give the viewer interpretative freedom with the danger of ‘art’ becoming ungraspable or is it more important that the artist makes his/her vision explicit so the story is read ‘correctly’?
I think the worse thing an artist can do is tell a viewer what to think or feel. I hate when museums tell you the life story or “opinion” of the artist. My friend says when you only like a photo or painting by knowing the subject or condition it was made then it’s a failure. Audience über alles. Film is a mass audience art. Time gives all film its just rewards I believe. I am old enough to see boring popular and acclaimed films forgotten and brilliant obscure films now beloved. That is a lovely feeling.
I think The Raftman is told from the point of an older man remembering his childhood. And even though he felt cheated, he was also touched and changed. I think the film is about the power of art in some way. And even though the two boys were hurt by the ruse of the artist, it still lingered with them.
All love disappoints us in some way.
“Good things take time, and something good has a real power to last.”
In our magazine, we try to give our readers food for thought on how to shape their understanding of what art is. Of course, they have to shape this term themselves and me and you can help them a little. What is art to you and why do you think the Raftman’s Razor is generally regarded as such?
I think my work succeeds when it’s shamanic. When I don’t think about it, I don’t doubt it, and it just sort of vomits out of me. I think you have to loose self consciousness before art can happen. I think art has a worldview. And The Raftman has it—it feels like a transported or intentional reality. The best praise I ever got was someone in France who said my films take place on a planet very much like earth but not exactly.
I think cinema fails to be art when the person making it has no opinion and nothing to say and only technical skills to give. The Raftman has a lot of layers—a conflicted vision of being a young boy in America that other directors would not give to it. It’s all based on real things I’ve experienced or heard of. The sombrero stuff comes from Joel Haskard. He and his friends would ride bicycles in their small town while wearing sombreros they found at a used clothing store. (He might have been on LSD at the time. I forgot.)
But really, you know something is art when people regard it as such. It’s a mystery. Like “sexy.” When people say you’re sexy, that’s when you know it. Otherwise you never know.
What do you think is the specific power of film? Is it the same power that drew you to film?
My earliest memories of life are being two years old in the hospital (asthmatic shock) and my father renting me a television to pass the time. I saw the original 1933 King Kong on television and I was hypnotized and transported. I remember that and playing with a sick little girl who got better and went home.
I think film’s power is to created a shared immersive hyper-real experience that transcends time and place. Theatre is mercurial—it changes every time you preform it. Fine art is very intimate. Cinema is shared. I can meet someone who has seen one of my favorite films and it’s instant community. We’ve both shared this same 90 minutes even if we have never met or have nothing in common otherwise. I love that power to connect people.
Also, I like that film is finite. It lasts only a certain amount of time and then is over. Like a summer love, it’s sweeter because it didn’t last.
How do you come about creating a film? Where do you draw inspiration from and how does that inspiration evolve into a film script and eventually a movie?
My inspiration comes from real life, real people and things that bother me or I feel nobody is talking about. And then it becomes pieces, usually a start and an ending, and I fill in the rest.
In the Raftman’s Razor we see how time pressure works on the artist. Stuart and Jesse expect a new issue of the Raftman every third Friday, so the artist is stuck to a tight schedule. Can you share some thoughts about the concept “time”? – What are the influences of time on your creative processes?
Time is very difficult to find when filming—everything is too slow and complicated and the day goes flying away. This is why someone like Kubrick shot for a year sometimes. (Anyone can make a masterpiece if they have that much time). But time as a writer is yours to play with. My new feature film ANTARCTICA was brewing in my mind off and on for 10 years probably before I finally wrote it in 6 weeks. And then revisited and rewrote and kept thinking about it. All to prepare to film it in a very quick 19 days. So I guess preparation is crucial and focusing the time you do have.
In our ever-fast-moving-society, we feel that there is a high pressure on performance and gaining big successes (starting at a young age). What do you think about the countermovement of taking time instead of rushing your creative processes? In other words, what is the value of time in the process of creation?
Well, good things take time, and something good has a real power to last. I think the best thing to do with our overstuffed over-rushed culture is to detach yourself from it. Dominant culture is more often than not a bad influence.
On the other hand, you are what you do repeatedly, and there is a certain skill set you gain from doing things often and repeatedly.
There are many great writers or filmmakers whom made very few works. Nothing can take that away from them. My film career started at 37. I don’t think I was ready before then. Or maybe I was just scared.