“Rogue” is a sociological term that describes the spirit of independence within a person. A rogue person is defiant, refusing to follow societal standards. It is this spirit that governs rogue filmmaking. The main goal of rogue cinema is to explore outside of human comfort zones.
Rogue cinema is many things, so it may be easier to explain what rogue filmmaking is not. Conventional filmmaking, the opposite of rogue, is comfortable. Conventional films use popular music to fill the background, plugging any uncomfortable holes of silence. Conventional films tell a normal, familiar story to which the viewer can easily relate. There is an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Conventional films have average, unsurprising characters to which the viewers can easily relate. There is a hero, a villain, and a love interest. Conventional directors envision a generalized audience, comprised of bored people who simply want to be entertained. Conventional directors do not take risks with their cinematography. They employ a balanced number of long shots and close ups to keep a steady structure. Overall, conventional films do not intend to offer more than simple entertainment. These films are not thought provoking. The tragedy, drama, or comedy of a conventional film does not offer much more than catharsis.
Rogue directors, however, challenge their audience. Rogue filmmakers present the viewer with questions that remain unanswered. This technique opens up a reflective dialogue between the viewer and the film. This drives the viewer to do more than passively absorb images; instead, the viewer is pushed to actively interpret what they see. The movie does not end in the theater; rather, the viewer takes their interpretation along with them, evolving it as they spend more time considering their perspective.
Rogue cinema uses sound very thoughtfully. In fact, many rogue films do not use much background noise. In Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, there is little background music. The silence makes the awkwardness between characters even more tangible. During the sex scenes, the strange grunts, bodily noises, and uncomfortable breathing is heard more acutely. The silence lends an authenticity to the film that would be cheapened if an artificial soundtrack continually played as the characters lived their life. Real life does not have the pleasant relief of a film score.
Rogue films usually tell an unpleasant or unfamiliar story. The Last Picture Show does not follow Gustav Freytag’s dramatic structure. The exposition is not thoroughly expanded- it abruptly places the viewer in medias res, stranding the viewer in a small, desolate town with characters who are strangers. There are many rising actions as the viewer sees several characters making poor, but relatable, decisions. These decisions backfire one by one, but it is not until (the high school aged main character) Sonny’s emotionally explosive response to his friend Billy’s death that the true climax is discerned. After the climax, the movie ends very quickly, without any resolution or any sign of happiness. There is no point throughout The Last Picture Show where Bogdanovich cared to uplift the viewer. This film was not made for superficial enjoyment.
The characters of The Last Picture Show embrace rogueness as well. These characters engage in premarital and adulterous sex countless times throughout the film. Despite the film being set during the fifties, Bogdanovich did not portray the social norms that many believed were followed during that era. Although conventional films, as well as other artistic forms, show women as chaste and men as lustful, this film does not. In The Last Picture Show, High school student Jacy presses Duane, another main character, to help her lose her virginity, and then sleeps with other men in the town. Jacy’s mother chooses to have extramarital affairs with at least two other characters of which the audience is aware. Ruth, a middle-aged wife, chooses to make an advance on Sonny and keep him close. Despite the unsavory nature of these choices, these are more accurate portrayals of women than the oversimplified caricatures of women in conventional films. In this film, there is no clear hero and no clear villain.
Bogdanovich chose to shoot The Last Picture Show in black and white. Rogue filmmakers use experimental frames and techniques to potentially distort the viewers’ perspective and create multiple meanings for a scene. Using black and white gives this film an even more bleak sensibility. It makes shadows deeper, which makes the setting more dynamic and enhances emotion on the actors’ faces. It also lends an authenticity to the setting of the film.
The combination of all these techniques is what creates a rogue film. It is the response of the viewer that determines whether these rogue techniques were successful or not. And what is success to a rogue filmmaker? Do the questions these films raise have clear answers? It’s not a simple concept one can neatly fit into a clean categorical box, but maybe that’s the point.