iW: Your attitude towards your characters is very interesting. From
what I’m getting from you is that your attitude shifts.
Barker: Totally. I think that what I really am is a portraitist.
Working on film. And all of the portraitists that I most admire from
August Sander, Diane Arbus, Judith Joy Ross, Thomas Ruff, in Germany,
for me, all memorable strong portraiture, is portraiture where the
voyeur walks a tightrope between a merciless detachment and a
simultaneous capacity for general empathy for the person he or she is
trying to capture on film or on celluloid. And what I try to do is
create portraits where the viewers are forced to make a judgment. I
apply similar quantities of irony on each character. And I apply that
irony in a very erratic way. So that one moment you feel the filmmaker
is actually being very sympathetic, the next moment you might think he’s
taking a few cheap shots, the next moment you might think he’s being
mercilessly austere. But I will never give the viewer a firm handle on
where I stand in relation to my characters. Because, in truth, my
feelings toward all the principle characters were a complicated mixture
of affection and at times, horror.
I am not, as a filmmaker, I am not an advocate. I am not a part of the
liberal, humanistic tradition of documentary filmmaking in which I
advance a point of view or attempt to educate or raise people’s
consciousness. That is a tradition that I have enormous respect for,
but I am an auteur director. So that’s not my bag. Instead, I try to
explore my own reactions to these characters. To present my portraits,
almost in the form of gossip. So, you gets these shards of information,
you get an abundance of emotional minutia, and then I rely on the
audience’s innate nosiness and emotional intelligent to piece it
together. And one of the by-products of this particular technique, is
that at each screening, the audience response will be radically
different depending on the age, the gender, marital status, general
psychological outlook of the different people watching the movie. People
argue vociferously, not only about what they think I was doing, but
about their own reactions to the same characters.
(…) But in all my films, what the characters say is not what
they do. So, obviously as a filmmaker, I play unashamedly on this gap
between self-image and external perception.
(…) So, I would always seduce you into believing here is a film about dating — well, it
is a film about dating — but it also has nothing to do with dating.
It’s a device to start a cinematic or photographic exploration of things
that interest me.