The Sticking Place

Since the year 2000, work on two (unplanned) trilogies.

First: an investigation – via a film, an individual, an event – into American politics and culture during tumultuous 1968. Medium Cool, Haskell Wexler’s fiction/non-fiction hybrid, was shot in Chicago that summer, shortly after Peter Whitehead was at Columbia University during the student protests, when for a week a thousand people occupied five campus buildings. Each of these three will eventually yield both written and audio/visual components.

Second: film craft. On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director, a collection of pedagogic writings by Alexander Mackendrick, 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. A Guide for the Perplexed, an interview book with Werner Herzog detailing 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 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,” 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 just nuts and bolts. Think carefully before you speak, be forceful enough so people hear what you have to say, express only those ideas most meaningful to you. If Herzog is a self-proclaimed soldier of cinema, Mackendrick is a mechanic, 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 connects this idiosyncratic trio, what is always in evidence, next to forthright obsession and discipline, is an implacable commitment to creative adventuring and belief in the primacy of the audience.

Other projects: research and translations for Cassavetes on Cassavetes, assisting George Stevens Jr. on two volumes of interviews drawn from the archives of the American Film Institute (here and here), editing three collections for the University Press of Mississippi’s Conversations with Filmmakers series, work on three other interview collections (Stephen Frears, Abbas Kiarostami and Sydney Pollack), edited by Presley Parks for Expressive Texts, a book and audio/visual project about historian and curator Amos Vogel (also assisting with the 2005 and 2021 reissues of his 1974 classic Film as a Subversive Art), a three-volume collection of writings by, interviews with and commentary on Michael Balcon, an unfinished interview with Errol Morris (in this book), and an essay (containing early research and thoughts about the California Institute of the Arts) about Maurice Stein and Larry Miller’s 1970 publication Blueprint for Counter Education. There are also various interview films in progress, an ongoing attempt to document interesting lives. The always stimulating day job – one that permits such opportunity, that feeds a constant learning curve, that means I am beholden to so few – is here. The publishing venture. Books here and here.

pDo nothing on anyone else’s terms (“Act first to desire your own good opinion” – so said the Stoics). Note Emerson. Turn your back on anyone who insists “It can’t be done that way.” Be fearful of nothing, don’t take criticism of your work personally, and never doubt your abilities (plenty of people will do that for you). Self-pity is bad (victimhood is corrosive). Gossip is a waste of energy. Be invaluable to those around you. Live up to your myth and play to your strengths (where can a useful contribution be made?). Be reconciled to you limitations (know when to disengage). 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 (that door – never knock just once). Nothing worth anything comes easy. “Live to the point of tears” (turn away from anything not sufficiently challenging). Let he who has never sinned… Reuse your work (birdstone). Know your tools. Take on more than you can handle – say yes to everything. (Just how badly do you want it?) Go for low-hanging fruit last.Push it forward every day and watch the momentum build. Autodidactism is good and never-ending (create your own rigorous learning environment). Our most valuable commodity is time. “Only the exhaustive is truly interesting” (superficiality is dishonourable). Delay gratification. Hard work, the only substitute for intelligence, never goes unrewarded. Never fold when you can check (keep your options open). Reliability and consistency. Politics is half the battle (“Indicate you heard me”). Be respectful of gatekeepers. Stay clear from institutions or accept the inevitable (decide which side you’re on – does public life require a distortion of the self?). Earn the respect of those you respect. Common courtesy please. Bluster is rarely good (remain undercover: stillness, solitude). Search for collaborators able to switch you on – and hold them close. The answer is often right under your nose. Every project has a natural lifespan. Leave your sense of entitlement at the door (play low status, stop talking about yourself – listen instead). If not now, when? “Schlafen kannst du, wenn du tot bist.” Swallow your pride. Invest in the open-ended. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. If you give, give unconditionally. “Independence” is a state of mind. Process not product. Leave the ignorant to themselves. There is often not better, only different. “Credit you give yourself is not worth having.” Walk the desert, wherever you are. Dignity matters. All life is problem-solving (and don’t make your problems other people’s). With scant concern can come liberation. Don’t believe the hype. Hold yourself to the highest of standards. Come to terms with the truth. Don’t use “myself” when “me” will do just fine. Most people want to be talked down from the ledge. Don’t say it if it will be misunderstood or misrepresented. Never go ad hominem. Hanlon’s Razor. No “like” hedging. Stop mumbling. Buy fewer books. Pay good attention. Complain in silence (don’t lose your temper). Be not so easily pleased. Enjoy the abyss. Travel narrows the mind. Get more exercise (posture). Try not to die like a dog. Don’t quit those piano lessons. Screw your courage to the sticking place.