Paul Cronin has made six films since 2001, including studies of Haskell Wexler‘s Medium Cool, historian and curator Amos Vogel, filmmaker Peter Whitehead, and the teachings of British film director Alexander Mackendrick. Most of these projects can be found in their entirety on this website. 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. So far four hundred interviews have been filmed and more than thirty thousand newly discovered photographs assembled. A Time to Stir has a projected length of twelve 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 Ray Carney‘s Cassavetes on Cassavetes (2001) before editing Herzog on Herzog (2002, second edition 2014), an interview book with German director Werner Herzog, and On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2004), a collection of writings by Alexander Mackendrick. I also edited two volumes of interviews drawn from the archives of the American Film Institute for George Stevens Jr. and three collections for the University Press of Mississippi’s “Conversations with Filmmakers” series. Things Fall Apart, my two-volume co-edited issue of Framework, about the life and work of Peter Whitehead, was published in 2011.
Current written projects include Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel, a collection of writings by and about Amos Vogel, to be published in 2014 by the Austrian Film Museum. Also in preparation are four Mackendrick books: a study of his time as a teacher at the California Institute of the Arts, alongside three edited volumes of source material (a collection of interviews, a further selection of his writings for students alongside his journal about time spent in Italy during the Second World War, and 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’ve ever met – will be published in 2014. 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, an interview book with American playwright, author, essayist and director David Mamet, and Lessons with Kiarostami, a book based on interviews with Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami at his home in Tehran and notes made at a series of his workshops. It’s the third in a trilogy (also unplanned). Mackendrick’s On Film-Making deals with craft, structure and precision, Herzog on Herzog with “agitation of the mind” and perseverance, while the Kiarostami volume focuses on the expression of deeply felt sensibilities, on the potency of open-ended stories, on the search for poetry in the everyday. An appreciation of all three – represented by each filmmaker in his own particular, vibrant way – is a requirement of the competent storyteller. Without discipline, craft dissipates. Without craft, poetry is formless. Without poetry, craft is mere mechanics. Know exactly what you want to say, be forceful enough so people hear it, and make sure it’s exceptional in its execution.
So: don’t listen to anyone when they insist you can’t do something a certain way, and listen to them only half the time 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. Always 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.” Always consider the long term (hard work pays off). Don’t fold when you can check (keep your options open). Maintain momentum (if you can’t, walk away). Never take the bait. Make friends. Stop mumbling. Don’t be shy. Earn the respect of those you respect. Is ignorance truly bliss? Common courtesy goes a long way. Learn it all on the job. Solitude. The tortoise sometimes wins the race. 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.” 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. Breathe deep. Stop complaining (enjoy the abyss). 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. 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. Create your own rigorous learning environment. And don’t quit those piano lessons.
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