Paul Cronin has made several films, including studies of Haskell Wexler’s 1969 feature Medium Cool (2001, re-edited 2014), historian and curator Amos Vogel (2003) and filmmaker Peter Whitehead (2006). All three projects and related material can be viewed via this website. In production is A Time to Stir, which tells the story of the Columbia University student protests of 1968 and has become the third in an unplanned trilogy of documentaries about that year. The first was about a film, the second an individual, now an event.
Written projects include work as a researcher and translator on Cassavetes on Cassavetes (2001), “ghost-editor” of two volumes of interviews drawn from the archives of the American Film Institute and editor of three collections for the University Press of Mississippi’s Conversations with Filmmakers series, co-editor of the two-volume study of Peter Whitehead Things Fall Apart (2011) and editor of Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel (2014). I also helped produce the 2005 reprint of Vogel’s 1974 classic Film as a Subversive Art. A list of books here.
Over the past fifteen years I have been working on a trilogy of books about filmmaking (also unplanned), that will likely take another ten to complete definitively: an interview book with Werner Herzog entitled
A Guide for the Perplexed (2014; a revised and expanded version of Herzog on Herzog, published in 2002), On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2004), a collection of pedagogic writings by Alexander Mackendrick (accompanied by an educational audio/visual project that can be found here), and Lessons with Kiarostami (2014), fashioned from notes made over the years at a series of workshops led by Abbas Kiarostami and conversations at his home in Tehran, designed to be read alongside AK’s poetry (thus far three volumes have been completed). 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. These three books, it is hoped, go beyond film. They are manifestos of a sort. Some kind of stimulant.
Work on the trilogy progresses. Herzog’s bountiful disposition means that a fresh and updated edition of A Guide for the Perplexed is already required, a task being undertaken alongside the ongoing project of translating Kiarostami’s published poetry and the continued attendance at his workshops. Five Mackendrick books are also near completion. Exasperation and Curiosity is a study of his teaching career, A General into Battle is a collection of interviews, Words on Pictures includes uncollected writings (essays, memos, lectures, articles, book reviews) and a further selection of handouts written for his students at the California Institute of the Arts, Screenplays and Treatments is an assembly of scripts of produced and never-realised films, and Italian Journal 1944 – 45 is an annotated version of Mackendrick’s essay written about his wartime experiences. In addition, three books are being prepared to accompany the completion of A Time to Stir. One includes an edited transcript of the film, a bibliographic survey, and essays about (i) the documentary’s production, (ii) media representation of the 1968 campus events, (iii) the group Columbia Concerned Parents, and (iv) post-1968 Columbia University. Another is a book of photographs, the third a history of the events told through primary documents. I am also pulling together a decade of research on Medium Cool for a book (as well as steadily filming more interviews for the documentary), editing a collection of long-form interviews/oral histories for a book, formulating ideas for a third film about Peter Whitehead, and working with American playwright, author, essayist and director David Mamet on a book-length interview. A book and accompanying film about triple Academy Award-winner Chris Newman are nearly ready. The day job 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. Don’t take the bait. Remember what Werner Herzog says about money: it’s cowardly and stupid, slow and unimaginative. Wait for no one. Free yourself from the control of others and chase what you want (they will, before long, 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 never goes unrewarded). Don’t fold when you can check (keep your options open) and stop talking about the weather. Reliability and consistency are invaluable – anything else is dishonourable. Politics is half the battle. Do nothing on anyone else’s terms. Avoid institutions or accept the inevitable. Maintain momentum. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Stop mumbling. Earn the respect of those you respect. Common courtesy goes a long way. Learn it all on the job. Solitude. The tortoise sometimes wins the race (steady does it). Don’t let go of worthwhile collaborators. The answer is often right under your nose. Those who claim to be your teachers might be wrong about everything. Leave your sense of entitlement at the door (play low-status and stop talking about yourself). Focus on the essential. 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. Leave the ignorant to themselves. If you give, give unconditionally. Dignity matters. Success is the ability to move from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm. All life is problem solving. 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. Enjoy the abyss. Create your own rigorous learning environment. And don’t quit those piano lessons.
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