Past Forward

by David O. Russell

Past Forward is a multi-platform short film collaboration between Miuccia Prada and American writer/director David O. Russell. Acclaimed for his films such as American HustleThe Fighter, and Silver Linings Playbook, Russell imagined Past Forward as a “cinema poem,” a surreal, futuristic silent dreamscape with multiple actors replaying scenes in shifting combinations.

The result is an unreliable story, a parallax view wherein the scenarios, characters, costumes, genres, and endings, repeat and morph, refusing the logic of conventional narrative. Russell creates characters as elements of a complex collage, the viewer is left to decode what is experience, what is memory, what is dream, and discern the overlap and differences between them.


A Note From David O. Russell

This cinematic experiment was born of a dinner conversation with Miuccia Prada many months ago. The conversation centered on an artist she was visiting in New York City. She related that he believed that in the future we will take a pill that would allow us to experience all media at exactly the same time, in one moment. I said that sounded either like a dream, or a seizure.

This, in turn, moved to a conversation about the nature of time, and how many selves or experiences one inhabits, and where beauty lives — in memories, sounds, fragments of old movies, paintings — layers of time, layers of identity, layers of memory, the future as imagined or lived in a movie or in life. This led to thinking about this project, and what could be created or expressed: a series of raw ideas. What cinema is, what memory is, what life is, what dreams are these are all related.

What is magical and strange about cinema is also magical and strange about life. Life can be ordinary day to day, go to work, come home, etcetera, and yet at the same time it can turn strange, unexpected, surprising, suspenseful. Enemies suddenly are allies, the location and reliability of love shifts, and this is like a thriller or an adventure movie, but it’s our day-to-day life. Emotions, histories, memories, the past living in the future, the future living in the past. Different selves, including the ones we identify with in cinema, all live in our imaginations and dreams, sometimes at the same time, sometimes taking turns.

Mrs. Prada offered me the chance to make a cinema piece, like a dream, fueled by strange mystery, suspense, fear, danger, beauty, conflict, romance, love, identity, and time.

Movies are emotion, images are emotion. For example, some images, frames, camera moves have been in my mind my whole life, some from recurring childhood dreams. For children, emotions are big and pure creatures that can be expressed without words in one image or association. One of my sons did a painting when he was 8 that he called “The black hole and the red rope that gets you out of it.” Another son described his grandparents as “older than a melted popsicle.”

Paintings, photographs, parts of movies have crystalized parts of life and emotion for me and so many of my friends and family. There have been long periods in my life where I lived in a movie in my mind, a movie that so saturated me I felt I was in it — and this became like a song that carried me through my days: a vessel through seemingly random or difficult moments of life. Because of the actress, the actor, the look and feel of the movie, it became a vessel to get through life.

Here was the opportunity to make a journey of cinema guided by layers of movie memories, life images and emotions, with no aim except to create art — as if it were a painting or a sculpture — free from normal narrative or audience expectations. The cast and I worked simply for the joy of making art.

Past Forward exists in multiple, interchangeable iterations as a visual and narrative experiment. Whose story is it? Is it the story a woman saw on the TV in her apartment, or is it her own memory, or is it her fantasy, or is it a dream, or is it possible for it to be all of these things?

Making this film re-inspired me. Inspirations from paintings and painters that I’ve loved for much of my life, and filmmakers going back to the ‘30s and before, spirits that live on in ghost images and feelings, like songs.