Over the past fifteen years, we at The Sticking Place have busied ourselves with long-term research projects followed by the piecing together of intricate puzzles and construction of expansive narratives. Some of our undertakings – which include Abbas Kiarostami, Alexander Mackendrick, Werner Herzog,
Chris Newman, 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 is currently A Time to Stir, the story of the Columbia University student protests of 1968, an eighteen-hour film which will be accompanied by a number of publications. It has become the third in a trilogy of projects centered on 1968. The first was about a film, the second an individual, now an event.
Since 2000 we have been working on another trilogy of projects loosely about filmmaking that will likely take another ten years to complete definitively. A Guide for the Perplexed is an interview book with Werner Herzog, 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), and Lessons with Kiarostami documents a series of workshops led by
Abbas Kiarostami and was published alongside eleven translated volumes of his original and adapted poetry.
While 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 filmmaker and 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. Work on the trilogy – collectively a manifesto of sorts, some kind of stimulant – progresses. Herzog’s bountiful disposition means that a fresh and updated edition of A Guide for the Perplexed is always required, five new Mackendrick books are near completion, and work continues on translations of Kiarostami’s poetry.
Other projects over the years 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, helping to produce the 2005 reprint (and, more recently, various foreign editions) of Vogel’s 1974 classic Film as a Subversive Art, an unfinished interview with Errol Morris (in this book, and also here), an essay about Blueprint for Counter Education, and a filmed interview with LBJ White House cameraman William Fisher. The day job here. Our publishing wing here. An incomplete list of books here.
Don’t believe anyone when they insist you can’t do something a certain way, and ignore them when they say you have to do things their 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. Ask: where can I make a useful contribution? Wait for no one. Remember what Werner Herzog said about money: it’s cowardly and stupid, slow and unimaginative. Free yourself from the control of others and chase what you want (before long, the crowds will gravitate toward you). 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 (birdstone). Know your tools. Autodidactism is good and never-ending (learn to do it all yourself). Our most valuable commodity is time. “Only the exhaustive is truly interesting”
(shun superficiality). Consider the long term (hard work, which is the only useful substitute for intelligence, never goes unrewarded). Don’t fold when you can check (keep your options open). Reliability and consistency are invaluable – anything else is dishonourable. Do nothing on anyone else’s terms.
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. Don’t let go of worthwhile collaborators. The answer is often right under your nose. Those claiming to instruct might be wrong about everything. Leave your sense of entitlement at the door (play low-status and stop talking about yourself). Focus only on those things that others cannot do better. If not now, when? Decide which side you’re on: do it for them or do it for yourself (there is 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.
“Credit you give yourself is not worth having.” Leave the ignorant to themselves. If you give,
give unconditionally. Politics is half the battle (“Indicate you heard me”). Dignity matters. Fail better.
All life is problem solving. With a lack of concern comes great freedom. 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. Build a community around yourself and your work. Try not to die like a dog.
Live up to your myth. Stop complaining. Create your own rigorous learning environment.
Enjoy the abyss. And don’t quit those piano lessons.
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