The Sticking Place

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

First: an investigation – via a film, an individual, and an event – into American politics and culture during tumultuous 1968. Medium Cool, Haskell Wexler’s fiction/non-fiction hybrid, shot over the summer of 1968 in Chicago and elsewhere. Peter Whitehead, in New York in 1968 to make his film The Fall, part of which was shot at Columbia University during student protests. See A Time to Stir for the story of those events, when for a week nearly one thousand people barricaded themselves inside 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,” 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 just nuts and bolts. 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, 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: research and translations for 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 audio/visual project about production sound mixer Chris Newman, a book and audio/visual project about historian and curator Amos Vogel (also assisting with the 2005 and 2018 reissues of his 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). This is my stimulating sinecure for a few weeks every year. The publishing venture. Lists of books here and here.

Do nothing on anyone else’s terms (“Act first to desire your own good opinion” – so said the Stoics).
Note Emerson. Believe no one who insists something cannot 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 (stillness, 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, and instead listen). 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 moaner. 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 about it every day). All life is problem-solving (don’t make your problems other people’s problems). Be 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). Come to terms with the truth. 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.