The Sticking Place


Paul Cronin has made several films since 2001, including studies of Haskell Wexler‘s 1969 feature Medium Cool, historian and curator Amos Vogel, and filmmaker Peter Whitehead. All three projects can be found in their entirety on this website, alongside related written material. Currently in production is A Time to Stir. Fragments from this piece of visual history about the Columbia University student protests of 1968 were screened at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. For what it’s worth, the Village Voice and LA Weekly reviewer wrote that even in such an unfinished state this “major film about the American Left” was the “most vital movie I ended up seeing” at the festival that year. Four hundred and fifty interviews have been filmed and thirty thousand newly discovered photographs catalogued. A Time to Stir has a projected length of fifteen hours and will be ready for the fiftieth anniversary of 1968. It has become the third in an unplanned trilogy of documentaries about 1968. The first was about a film, the second an individual, and now an event. Here for an interview about the project and other things.

I worked as a researcher and translator on Cassavetes on Cassavetes (2001), edited two volumes of interviews drawn from the archives of the American Film Institute and three collections for the University Press of Mississippi’s Conversations with Filmmakers series, co-edited Things Fall Apart (2011), about the life and work of Peter Whitehead, and edited Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel (2014), a collection of writings by and about Amos Vogel. Over a ten year period I completed a trilogy of books (also unplanned): Herzog on Herzog (2002, second edition 2014), an interview book with German director Werner Herzog, On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2004), a collection of writings by British director Alexander Mackendrick, and Lessons with Kiarostami (2014), based on notes made at a series of workshops led by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and conversations at his home in Tehran. There are, for me, connections between these three individuals in their approach to cinema. All have consistently exercised great creative ingenuity over a period of several decades. All have gone out of their way to impart knowledge to others (yet resist being described as “artist” or “teacher”). All three fiercely resist “interpretation.” Importantly, whereas Herzog aims his attention at the value of perseverance and what he calls “agitation of the mind,” Mackendrick’s writings tackle craft, structure and precision, while Kiarostami’s approach focuses on the expression of poetry in cinema, on the potency of reading between the lines, on the search for the enigmatic. An appreciation of all three is a requirement of the competent storyteller. Without perseverance, little is accomplished. Without precision, formlessness ensues. Without poetry, craft is mere mechanics. Be forceful enough so people hear what you have to say, think carefully before you speak, and express the ideas most meaningful to you. The challenges involved can be invigorating. If Herzog is a self-proclaimed soldier of cinema, perhaps Mackendrick is a mechanic and Kiarostami a monk.

Five new Mackendrick books are currently being worked on: a study of his time as an instructor at the California Institute of the Arts, alongside four edited volumes of source material (a further selection of his writings, a collection of interviews, an annotated version of his journal about time spent in Italy during the Second World War, a book of scripts and treatments of produced and unrealised films). Naked Under a Waterfall, a book with triple Oscar-winning production sound mixer Chris Newman – my attempt to honour the craftsmen of the industry, those people who know more about film than anyone I have ever met – will be published in 2015. An accompanying film (featuring interviews and footage of classroom work) is in production and will end up on this website. Three books are being prepared to accompany the completion of A Time to Stir. One will include an essay about the documentary’s production and an edited transcript of the film, an essay about post-1968 changes at Columbia University, and a bibliographic essay. Another is a book of photographs, the third a history of the events told through primary documents. I’m also working on a book about Medium Cool and a project with American playwright, author, essayist and director David Mamet.

So anyway. Don’t believe anyone when they insist you can’t do something a certain way and ignore when they say you have to do it their way. Be fearful of nothing, don’t take criticism of your work personally and don’t doubt your abilities (plenty of other people are going to do that for you). Be invaluable to those around you. Keep your friends close and enemies closer. Remember what Werner Herzog said about money: it’s cowardly and stupid, slow and unimaginative. Chase what you want and wait for no one. Nothing worth anything comes easy. Don’t spread yourself too thin. “Live to the point of tears.” Let he who has never sinned… Beware of experts. Reuse your work. Know your tools. Self-importance is bad (play low-status). Autodidactism is good and never-ending. Our most valuable commodity is time. “Only the exhaustive is truly interesting.” Consider the long term (hard work doesn’t go unrewarded). Don’t fold when you can check (keep your options open). Maintain momentum (if you can’t, walk away). Never take the bait. Stop mumbling. Earn the respect of those you respect. Common courtesy goes a long way. Learn it all on the job. Solitude. The tortoise sometimes wins the race. The answer is often right under your nose. Focus on the essential. If not now, when? Always birdstone. Decide which side you’re on: do it for them or do it for yourself (there’s no middle ground). “Schlafen kannst Du, wenn Du tot bist.” Play to your strengths. Swallow your pride. Shut up and listen. It’s OK to be bored so long as there’s something new to seize upon. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. “Independence” is a state of mind. Leave the ignorant to themselves. If you give, give unconditionally. Dignity matters. Success is the ability to move from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm. All life is problem solving. Hold yourself to the highest of standards. Get more exercise. Know your limitations (and when to disengage). Don’t use “myself” when “me” will do just fine. “Try not to die like a dog.” Live up to your myth. Breathe deep. Stop complaining and learn to enjoy the abyss below as you hang on with fingernails only. Create your own rigorous learning environment. And don’t quit those piano lessons.

I am here: