The Sticking Place

The Sticking Place, a collaboration between Paul Cronin and Adam Meggido, was established in 2001. Twelve years later, the Sticking Place Theatre Company, run by Adam, was renamed Extempore Theatre to reflect its commitment to improvisation in performance. Paul plods on under the Sticking Place banner, a bit disappointed that there never was any formal collaboration with the theatre branch of the operation (he blames himself), and would not be unhappy if, upon his demise, his name is remembered only because of a brief footnote on page six mentioning that he introduced Adam to Ken Campbell.

That said, for nearly twenty years he has busied himself with two (unplanned) trilogies. The first is an investigation – via a film, an individual, and an event – into American politics and culture during the tumultuous year of 1968. Haskell Wexler’s 1969 feature film Medium Cool, filmed over the summer of 1968 in Chicago and elsewhere, is a fascinating fiction/non-fiction hybrid that can be used as a starting point to explore key themes and events of the late Sixties. Peter Whitehead, chronicler of the decade, was in New York in 1968, where he made his film The Fall (another vibrant hybrid), part of which was filmed at Columbia University during the student protests. The story of those protests, when for a week nearly a thousand people barricaded themselves inside five campus buildings, is told in A Time to Stir. Each of these three projects will eventually yield a collection of books and films.

The second trilogy is all about film craft. On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director
is a collection of pedagogic writings by British director Alexander Mackendrick and is accompanied by an educational audio/visual project (here) and several other books (in progress), including a study of Mackendrick’s teaching career at the California Institute of the Arts and a volume of his collected interviews. A Guide for the Perplexed is an interview book with German director Werner Herzog
which details each and every one of his films (beginning 1957, through to 2013), his handful of published works, and other adventures. Lessons with Kiarostami documents a series of workshops led by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and was published alongside several 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 idiosyncratic trio, what is always in evidence, is an implacable commitment to creative adventuring and belief in the primacy of the audience.

Other projects include research and translations for a book about one of the greatest of all filmmakers,
John Cassavetes (see Cassavetes on Cassavetes), ghost-editing two volumes (here and here) 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). Most of us need day jobs. Here is mine (always stimulating, gloriously flexible). The publishing venture here. Incomplete lists of books here and here.

Do nothing on anyone else’s terms (note Emerson). 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” (superficiality is dishonourable). Delay gratification. Hard work, the only substitute for intelligence, will not go unrewarded. Never fold when you can check (keep open your options). Reliability and consistency are crucial. Stay away from institutions or accept the inevitable. Maintain momentum. 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). 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. Every project has a natural life. Avoid safe. 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 the institutions or for yourself (there is 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). Walk the desert, wherever you are. Politics is half the battle (“Indicate you heard me”). Dignity matters. Go for the low-hanging fruit last (do something every day). All life is problem-solving (don’t make your problems other people’s problems). Stop talking and listen. Be especially respectful of gatekeepers. With scant concern can come liberation. Hold yourself to the highest of standards. Stay adventurous. 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. Frame adversity as a challenge. NO (“like”) HEDGING. Create your own rigorous learning environment. Enjoy the abyss. Get more exercise. Stop mumbling. Forgive all this self-aggrandizing. Don’t quit those piano lessons. And screw your courage to the sticking place.

paul.cronin@thestickingplace.com