The Sticking Place

Paul Cronin has made several films since 2001, including studies of Haskell Wexler‘s 1969 feature Medium Cool, historian and curator Amos Vogel, and filmmaker Peter Whitehead. All three projects and related materials can be viewed in their entirety via this website. Currently in production is A Time to Stir. Fragments from this piece of visual history about the Columbia University student protests of 1968 were screened at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008. For what it’s worth, the Village Voice and LA Weekly reviewer wrote that even in such an unfinished state this “major film about the American Left” was the “most vital movie I ended up seeing” at the festival that year. Four hundred and fifty interviews have been filmed and thirty thousand newly discovered photographs catalogued. A Time to Stir has a projected length of fifteen hours and will be completed in time for the fiftieth anniversary of 1968. It has become the third in an unplanned trilogy of documentaries about 1968. The first was about a film, the second an individual, and now an event.

I was a researcher and translator on Cassavetes on Cassavetes (2001), ghost-edited two volumes of interviews drawn from the archives of the American Film Institute and edited three collections for the University Press of Mississippi’s Conversations with Filmmakers series, co-edited the two-volume Things Fall Apart (2011), about the life and work of Peter Whitehead, and edited Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel (2014), a collection of writings by and about Amos Vogel. A list of books here.

Over the past fifteen years I have been working on a trilogy of books (also unplanned), that will likely take another ten to complete definitively: Werner Herzog – A Guide for the Perplexed (2014; a revised and expanded version of Herzog on Herzog, published in 2002) is an interview book with German director Werner Herzog. On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director (2004) is a collection of writings by British director Alexander Mackendrick, accompanied by an educational audio/visual project that can be found here. Lessons with Kiarostami (2014) is fashioned from notes made at a series of workshops led by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and conversations at his home in Tehran. 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 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 continues. 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 an ongoing Kiarostami project: translations of his books of published poetry. Five Mackendrick books are also near completion. Exasperation and Curiosity: Alexander Mackendrick at the California Institute of the Arts is a study of his teaching career, A General into Battle is a collection of interviews, Words on Pictures: The Writings of Alexander Mackendrick includes a further collection of handouts written for CalArts students (alongside essays, memos, lectures, articles and book reviews), 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 essay about the documentary’s production and an edited transcript of the film, an essay about post-1968 Columbia University, and a bibliographic survey. 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, and working with American playwright, author, essayist and director David Mamet on a book-length interview. 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. Self-importance is bad (play low-status) so stop talking about yourself. Keep your friends close and enemies closer (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 (before long, they will gravitate towards you). Nothing worth anything comes easy. “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” (the superficial is your enemy). Consider the long term (hard work doesn’t go unrewarded). Don’t fold when you can check (keep your options open) and stop talking about the weather. Reliability and consistency is invaluable – anything else is dishonourable. Politics is half the battle. Avoid institutions or face 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. Solitude. The tortoise sometimes wins the race (steady does it). The answer is often right under your nose. Please leave your sense of entitlement at the door. Focus on the essential. If not now, when? Decide which side you’re on: do it for them or do it for yourself (there’s 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 your 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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