Over the past fifteen years, The Sticking Place has busied itself with a series of long-term research projects. Several of our undertakings – which include Alexander Mackendrick, Werner Herzog, Abbas Kiarostami, Peter Whitehead and Haskell Wexler’s 1969 feature Medium Cool as subject matter – have resulted in both written and audio/visual elements.
Our primary focus, in between long walks in the desert, is currently A Time to Stir, a ten part,
twenty-hour documentary film about the Columbia University student protests of 1968. The project has become the third in a trilogy centered on that year. The first was about a film, the second an individual, now an event. To delve into the events of 1968 means to explore a host of ideas, ideologies, conflicts, groups and individuals, and so let loose themes which are unmistakably as relevant and worthy of investigation today as they were five decades ago, which vibrantly fuse the happenings of 1968 to 2018,
and most probably long into the future. Another few years of unravelling, of locating the pieces of the puzzle, of constructing the history, and the 1968 project should be finished. Only the complete story will do (anything else is dishonourable). A Time to Stir – designed to be seen in full, over a period of days, within the framework of a “teach-in” and with a multitude of invited guests on hand to clarify and elucidate – will be accompanied by a number of publications, including an illustrated book containing fifty newly written testimonials from a range of participants, a documentary history of the student uprising,
a collection of new essays, and a transcript of the complete film.
Since 2000, The Sticking Place has been working on another trilogy, loosely about filmmaking, that will likely take another ten years to complete. On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director
is a collection of pedagogic writings by Alexander Mackendrick and is accompanied by an educational audio/visual project (that can be found here), A Guide for the Perplexed is an interview book with
Werner Herzog, and Lessons with Kiarostami documents a series of workshops led by Abbas Kiarostami and was published alongside sixteen translated volumes of his original and selected/adapted poetry. Mackendrick’s writings tackle craft, structure and precision, Herzog aims his attention at the value of perseverance and what he calls “agitation of the mind,” while Kiarostami focuses on the expression of poetry, 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 filmmaker and storyteller. Without precision, formlessness ensues. Without perseverance, little is accomplished. Without poetry, craft is mere mechanics. Think carefully before you speak, be forceful enough so people hear what you have to say, and express only those ideas most meaningful to you. The challenges can be invigorating. If Herzog is a self-proclaimed soldier of cinema, perhaps Mackendrick is a mechanic and Kiarostami a monk. Different approaches to the world and to filmmaking, different traits at play, but those that may profitably be drawn together, resulting in things new and worthwhile. What binds this trio, what always is in evidence, is an implacable commitment to creative adventuring and belief in the primacy of the audience. Work on the trilogy – collectively a manifesto of sorts, hopefully some kind of stimulant and provocation – will progress for as long it seems a constructive diversion and use of everyone’s time. (Herzog’s bountiful disposition means that only a few months after publication, a fresh and updated edition of A Guide for the Perplexed was already required, while five new Mackendrick books are near completion.)
Side projects include research and translations for Cassavetes on Cassavetes, ghost-editing two volumes of interviews drawn from the archives of the American Film Institute, editing three collections for the University Press of Mississippi’s Conversations with Filmmakers series, a book and film about production sound mixer Chris Newman, a book and film about historian and curator Amos Vogel (also assisting with the creation in 2005 of the reprint of Vogel’s 1974 classic Film as a Subversive Art), an unfinished interview with Errol Morris (in this book), and an essay about Maurice Stein and Larry Miller’s 1970 publication Blueprint for Counter Education (details here). The day job here. Our publishing wing here. An incomplete list of books here.
Do nothing on anyone else’s terms. Believe no one who insists something can’t be done a certain way.
Be fearful of nothing, don’t take criticism of your work personally, and don’t doubt your abilities (plenty of people will do that for you). Be invaluable to those around you. Play to your strengths (where can a useful contribution be made?). Remember what Werner Herzog said about money: it’s cowardly and stupid,
slow and unimaginative. Free yourself from the control of others (wait for no one) and chase what you want. Nothing worth anything comes easy. Don’t spread yourself too thin. “Live to the point of tears”
(turn away from anything not challenging and exciting). Let he who has never sinned… Guard against “experts.” Reuse your work (birdstone) and know your tools. Autodidactism is good and never-ending (learn to do it all yourself). Our most valuable commodity is time (cherish convenience). “Only the exhaustive is truly interesting” (shun superficiality). Delay gratification. Hard work, the only substitute for intelligence, does not go unrewarded. Never fold when you can check (keep open your options). Reliability and consistency are invaluable. Avoid institutions or accept the inevitable. Maintain momentum. Stop mumbling. Earn the respect of those you respect. Common courtesy goes a long way. Learn it all on the job. Bluster is rarely good – remain undercover (solitude). Steady does it: the tortoise sometimes wins the race. Search for fierce creativity, for those able to switch you on, and hold them close – never let go of worthwhile collaborators. The answer is often right under your nose. Relieve the burden by doing something every day. Tackle the heaviest first. Leave your sense of entitlement at the door (play low-status, stop talking about yourself). If not now, when? Decide which side you’re on: do it for them or do it for yourself (there can be no middle ground). “Schlafen kannst Du, wenn Du tot bist.” Swallow your pride.
No one likes a whiner. Invest in the open-ended. 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. Process not product.
Leave the ignorant to themselves. There is very often not better, only different. If you give, give unconditionally. “Credit you give yourself is not worth having” (beware the culture of narcissism).
Politics is half the battle (“Indicate you heard me”). Dignity matters. Fail better. Go for the low-hanging fruit last. All life is problem-solving. Stop talking and listen. Be especially respectful of gatekeepers.
With scant concern can come liberation. Hold yourself to the highest of standards. Get more exercise. Know thy 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. Stop complaining. NO (“like”) HEDGING. Create your own rigorous learning environment. Enjoy the abyss. Don’t quit those piano lessons. And screw your courage
to the sticking place.