“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.” —Henry David Thoreau
This notion applies, of course, to all works of art.
“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.” —Henry David Thoreau
This notion applies, of course, to all works of art.
“For an adult, the world is constantly trying to clamp down on itself. Routine, responsibility, decay of institutions, corruption: this is all the world closing in. Music, when it’s really great, pries that shit back open and lets people back in, it lets light in, and air in, and energy in, and sends people home with that and sends me back to the hotel with it. People carry that with them sometimes for a very long period of time.”
–Bruce Springsteen, The New Yorker, We Are Alive: Bruce Springsteen at sixty-two by David Remnick, July 30, 2012.
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” –Blaise Pascal.
It seems almost daily that I read another comment or another statement steeped in fear and hatred uttered from the lips of Rick Santorum, self-proclaimed Christian and American moralist. I do, thankfully, realize that Santorum does not represent all of Christianity and its followers, but he does represent a portion of them. Keep in mind, though he is currently at the bottom of the heap, he is still, as of this writing, a GOP presidential candidate in a playing field whittled down to four contenders. This means there is a large enough portion of Americans who share his views, his intolerances, his fears, misunderstandings and judgements of things that, well, any good Christian would normally leave up to God and not assume upon themselves.
Sadly, as Mr. Pascal once pointed out in the above quote, religion has spurned some of the most vile hatred and suffering known to man. And I think it’s rather easy to assess by the goings-on in the world today, that some things have not changed. Unfortunately for any forward-thinking individuals, men like Rick Santorum represent a part of society terrified of change. And, one could easily come to such a conclusion, of themselves.
Part of me feels sorry for men and women such as these since their lives appear to be made up largely of running away and holding on to the past with such desperation as to exhaust themselves of all humanity. Ironic, given that they claim to represent the most compassionate and forgiving of all beings. But this is in words only. Actions tell a very different story. The pain and suffering brought on by men like Rick Santorum is immeasurable, and it is considerable. Make no mistake, lives will be lost while others trampled. All in the name of one who is no longer here to protect his good name and teachings.
The bright side to all of this is that at least Santorum’s particular brand of bigotry is now out there for all to see. And those easily swayed toward his proclaimed “solutions” are no longer hidden from public view to boil and swell beneath the surface. They are out there where we can confront them, and ourselves, in the bright light of day. Good things will come from this in the bigger picture. It’s a step forward. Like a detoxing of the American psyche. We may feel a bit ill while we’re going through it, but hopefully we will come out the other side healthier and happier. If we choose to tackle it.
As for how we got where we are in the first place, well, history is full of men like Santorum. Perhaps the recent study published in the latest issue of Psychological Science explains part of it.
“Despite their important implications for interpersonal behaviors and relations, cognitive abilities have been largely ignored as explanations of prejudice. We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups. In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact. All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status. Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice. Consequently, we recommend a heightened focus on cognitive ability in research on prejudice and a better integration of cognitive ability into prejudice models.”
As one who does not believe in God in a traditional sense (therefore a heathen and going to hell in the minds of many), I have always assumed that it took a level of non-thinking to allow oneself to so completely abandon reason and take the words and teachings of the bible and, not only accept them as literal, but to allow oneself to become swayed by the interpretations of such texts by those with ulterior motives. However, I do not believe all who believe in God to be less educated or less intelligent than those who do not. But there is a certain ilk that have always been ready to take to the streets to express their intolerance of others; those who would kill, maim and damage their fellow man in the name of their God. A God of love? A God of vengeance? Which is it, then?
What are we supposed to think when Rick Santorum tells you that contraception is “not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”?
How things are supposed to be. If Mr. Santorum believes this, then he is free to refrain from the use of such tools and activities. But when he believes his beliefs should be law… This should be of great concern. Santorum warns of fascism and socialism and why you should be afraid… But nothing endangers freedom more than men and women who think like Rick Santorum. His beliefs suggest the ultimate form of fascism.
When Rick Santorum tells you what marriage is, he presents it as fact, as indisputable evidence.
“Marriage is what marriage is. Marriage was around before government said what it was. It’s like going out and saying, ‘That tree is a car.’ Well, the tree’s not a car. A tree’s a tree. Marriage is marriage.”
“It’s like handing up this and saying this glass of water is a glass of beer. Well you can call it a glass of beer, it’s not a glass of beer, it’s a glass of water. And water is what water is. Marriage is what marriage is.”
“I can call this napkin a paper towel, but it is a napkin. Why? Because it is, what it is.”
But what Santorum is really saying is that this is what marriage is for Rick Santorum. And therefore it should be for all others. By law. Like it or not, there are those who do not share and were not raised with Mr. Santorum’s limited definition. And we are Americans, no more or less so than he is. Just as Santorum’s God is not everybody’s God, Rick Satorum’s definitions and interpretations are not everyone’s. Nor should they be. That would be similar to asking a nation to publicly mourn the death of their beloved leader, Kim Jong Il, even if they did not, in fact, love him or mourn his loss. And then imprison those who did not either mourn publicly or mourn sincerely. Is that the America Santorum’s followers envision? Because if it’s not, then they best rethink their stance and support of such an individual. Or is that low IQ getting in the way of reasoned thought again?
“[Marriage] is an intrinsic good … we extend certain privileges to people who do that because we want to encourage that behavior. Two people who may like each other or may love each other who are same-sex, is that a special relationship? Yes it is, but it is not the same relationship that benefits society like a marriage between a man and a woman.”
What he means is that such a relationship does not benefit Rick Santorum. I’ll tell you right now that he does not speak for me. Same sex marriages have benefitted me in my life and my world, the kind of society I want to live in. And it damn well benefits same-sex couples who are (guess what?) members of this society. Again, what doesn’t benefit Rick should not benefit anyone in Santorum’s world view.
“Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, whether it’s sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”
Once again, these may be things that Rick Santorum chooses not to engage in, but he is not in a position (no pun intended) –and it is the point of this write-up that he should not be– to tell others what sexual activities they should or should not be doing where two consenting adults are concerned. But Santorum’s answer to that would be:
“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”
The truth is that consensual sex in the home does NOT make polygamy or bigamy or incest legal. It DOES, however, allow one (or two or three or four…) to engage in certain sexual activities that some other folks may find startling, offensive and even a little off-putting. It seems, however, that even a healthy and imaginative sex life is off-putting to Mr. Santorum. When you allow a man like this to tell you what you can and can’t do in bed… But Mr. Santorum disagrees:
“The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions — I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we’re seeing it in our society.”
The world Rick Santorum envisions has more in common with the Crusades than it does with the teachings of Christ. And like many other religious zealots before him, Santorum will fight to ensure HIS way of life at the exclusion of all others:
“The battle we’re engaged in right now on same-sex marriage, ultimately that is the very foundation of our country, the family, what the family structure is going to look like. I’ll die on that hill fighting.”
Rick Santorum is too mired in his own fears, fear of change, fear of reality, fear of difference, fear of things he wasn’t taught, fear of things he doesn’t understand, fear of the dark and the unknown. And it has turned him into a man mired in hatred and intolerance.
“You can say I’m a hater. But I would argue I’m a lover. I’m a lover of traditional families and of the right of children to have a mother and father. … Isn’t that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?”
Marriage, he fails to point out, as Rick Santorum sees it. And Santorum’s “logic” is no better than claiming the KKK doesn’t hate blacks, they simply love white supremacy. No, even science, the ground beneath his own two feet, the air he breathes, and the very planet he lives on is not enough to convince Mr. Santorum that the world may not always be the way he wants it to be. The way he so clearly needs it to be.
“I’ve never supported even the hoax of global warming.”
In Rick Santorum’s world, there are no other valid points of view, no other opinions of note, no other interpretations than his own. Rick Santorum would fight to make his beliefs your beliefs. All the while pointing out the dangers of others. And if he gets his way, when the time comes and he has passed from this world, you will mourn his death. Whether you want to or not.
Back in 2001, then first-time feature film director David Gordon Green made a comment about fellow filmmaker Kevin Smith:
“He kind of created a Special Olympics for film. They just kind of lowered the standard. I’m sure their parents are proud; it’s just nothing I care to buy a ticket for.”
I have to admit, the quote made me laugh. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love the fact that Kevin Smith opened the door for young filmmakers to pick up a camera and tell a story they felt represented them with virtually no money with which to do it. And clearly Smith has proven that his films have an audience. A pretty rabid one at that! I, myself, have never been a fan. The films don’t speak to me. And what’s more, I don’t think Smith has much of an understanding of the language of film. And he’s been quoted as saying that he doesn’t need to study film or watch the old “masters” to know how to make a movie. Well, let’s just say I think perhaps Smith’s films may have benefited in some artistic way from a basic sensibility of filmmaking that goes beyond point and shoot. If anything, I’ve always felt Smith’s scripts were undermined by his own direction (or lack thereof).
But either way, his films say something to a group of people and I wouldn’t dare attempt to deny its value to those who get something out of it. But while I love that he has found a form of expression in cinema, he has also created a monster of sorts in that there is a whole slew of young filmmakers who have absolutely no skills in (or sensibility for) visual storytelling whatsoever. They appear, at times, like people who may have something to say, but don’t know how to use their tongues yet, haven’t bothered to learn sign language, and so thus attempt to communicate through a series of grunts and groans that only occasionally resemble language.
Then, of course, there are those artists who appear to have a built-in sense of cinema; not something learned in a classroom nor via the viewing of other films, but something innate. And though Kevin Smith himself has referenced some of these filmmakers –like Jim Jarmusch– as excuses why he need not bother to actually study the craft in which he makes his living, he, himself, has not yet displayed any such natural disposition toward visual storytelling. Perhaps this is why I found David Gordon Green’s comment to be rather amusing and not without merit. At least for me.
Perhaps Smith will grow into being a filmmaker with a basic grasp of the medium. I look forward to that happening. In the meantime, he shows a bit more talent as a writer than as a director (though I must confess only a vague, passing amusement with certain passages in his scripts. I cannot claim fandom). But I would never deny Smith his right to make films. Or his fans their right to adore them. And while David Gordon Green has not proven himself to be a “master” director himself (particularly with his current foray into stoner-comedies which, ironically, compete for attention with Kevin Smith’s films), you have to admit, the Special Olympics for Film? That’s funny…
As always, I’m on the lookout for comments, articles, interviews by writers, filmmakers, artists of all shapes and sizes, that inspire me, guide me, or simply make me think. I have endless respect and admiration for writer/director Francis Ford Coppola. Sure, there have been a few films over his long career that didn’t seem on par with his greatest work, but it’s become common knowledge that Coppola allowed himself to become a hired hand in order to pay off a massive debt.
Now that the debt is history, thanks to many films and a successful wine-making business, Francis Coppola is back in the writer/director seat once again and this time with a vengeance! For the commercially-minded Hollywood, this may be a mildly discomforting annoyance, but for those of us genuinely interested in filmmaking as passion, as art, as a language of expression and a life-journey, this is great news indeed.
Segments of an interview/lecture with Coppola were recently posted at the99percent.com and I wanted to share that article here. I found it to be immensely inspiring. It is one that I will keep and go back to for years. It is a great filmmaker pointing a light forward and letting us know that this, too, is a path that can be traversed and explored, despite the many in Hollywood standing just outside the entrance with signs which read “DO NOT PASS,” or “NO ENTRY,” or “ROAD CLOSED.”
My suggestion? Just step on the gas and go. They’ll move out of your way.
Here are some highlights:
“Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money. Because there are ways around it… I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.”
“Always make your work be personal. And, you never have to lie… There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.”
“I just finished a film a few days ago, and I came home and said I learned so much today. So if I can come home from working on a little film after doing it for 45 years and say, “I learned so much today,” that shows something about the cinema. Because the cinema is very young. It’s only 100 years old.”
“An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.”
Read the full article: Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration.
In my constant reading of the writings and musings of my favorite directors, filmmakers, etc., I sometimes stumble upon a paragraph (or in this case an entire essay) that articulates my own feelings on filmmaking better than I myself have been able to express or, oftentimes, understand. In my ongoing exploration of the film and work of Ingmar Bergman, I stumbled on this essay written by the man in 1959. The following is shorter than the one that initially captured my attention in the Taschen INGMAR BERGMAN ARCHIVES, but it covers the basics of what Mr. Bergman expressed (for the more detailed version, you’ll just have to get the Taschen book!). Suffice it to say, when I read something so well articulated and so close to my heart, I feel an urge to share it with anyone who may also find it of interest. I am borrowing the following text from www.ingmarbergman.se. The essay is titled “Each Film Is My Last” and is broken up into three sections:
I. The script
Often it begins with something very hazy and indefinite – a chance remark or a quick change of phrase, a dim but pleasant event yet one which is not specifically related to the actual situation. It can be a few bars of music, a shaft of light across the street. It has happened in my theatrical work that I have seen performers in fresh make-up in yet unplayable roles.
All in all they seem to be split-second impressions that disappear as quickly as they come, yet nevertheless leave an impression behind just like a pleasant dream.
Most of all they are a brightly coloured thread sticking out of the dark sack of unconscious. If I Begin to wind up this thread and do it carefully a complete film will emerge.
I would like to say that this is not the case of Pallas Athene in the mind of Zeus, but an unconnected phenomenon, more a mental state than an actual story, but for all that abounding with fertile associations and images.
All this is brought out with pulse-beats and rhythms which are very special and characteristic of the different films. Through these rhythms the picture sequences take a separate pattern according to the way they were born and mastered by the motive.
This primitive life-cell strives from the beginning to achieve form, but its movements may be lazy and perhaps even a little drowsy. If in this primitive state it shows itself to have enough strength to transform itself into a film I decide to give it life and begin work on the script.
The feeling of failure occurs mostly before the writing begins. The dreams become merely cobwebs, the visions fade and become grey and insignificant, the pulse-beat is silent, everything becomes small, tired fancies without strength and reality.
I have thus decided to make a certain film and now begins the complicated and difficulty mastered work. To transfer rhythms, moods, atmosphere, tensions, sequences, tones and scents into words and sentences in a readable or at least understandable script.
This is difficult but not impossible.
Thus let us state once and for all that the film-script is a very imperfect technical basis for a film.
In this connection I should draw attention to another fact which is often overlooked. Film is not the same thing as literature. As often as not the character and substance of the two art forms are in conflict. What it really depends on is hard to define, but probably has to do with the self-responsive process. The written word is read and assimilated by a conscious act and in connection with the intellect and little by little it plays on the imagination or feelings. It is completely different with the motion picture. When we see a film in a cinema we are conscious that an illusion has been prepared for us and we relax and accept it with our will and intellect. We prepare the way into our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings without touching the mind. There are many reasons why we ought to avoid filming existing literature, but the most important is that the irrational dimension, which is the heart of a literary work, is often untranslatable and that in its turn kills the special dimensions of the film. If despite this we wish to translate something literary into filmic terms, we are obliged to make an infinite number of complicated transformations which most often give limited or no result in relation to the efforts expended.
I know what I am talking about because I have been subjected to so-styled literary judgement. This is about as intelligent as letting a music critic judge an exhibition of paintings or a football reporter criticise a new play.
The only reason for any and everyone believing himself capable of pronouncing a valid judgement on motion pictures is the inability of the film to assert itself as an art form, its need of a definite artistic vocabulary, its extreme youth in relation to other arts, its obvious ties with economic realities, its direct appeal to feelings. All this causes the motion picture to be regarded with disdain, the directness of expression of the motion picture makes it suspect in certain eyes, and as a result any and everyone thinks himself competent to say anything he likes in whatever way he likes on film art.
I myself have never had ambitions to be an author. I do not wish to write novels, short stories, essays, biographies or treatises on special subjects. I certainly do not want to write pieces for the theatre. Film-making is what interests me. I want to make films about conditions, tensions, pictures, rhythms and characters within me and which in one way or another interest me. I am filmmaker not an author, the motion picture is my medium of expression not the written word. The motion picture and its complicated process of birth are my methods of saying what I want to my fellow men. I find it humiliating for my work to be judged as a book when it is a film. Such is to call a bird a fish, and fire, water.
For a very long time I have wanted to use the film medium for story-telling. This does not mean that I find the narrative form itself faulty, but that I consider that the motion picture is ideally suited to the epic and the dramatic.
I know, of course, that by using film we can bring in other previously unknown worlds, realities beyond reality.
II. The Studio
It happens when I stand there in the half-light of the film studio with its noise and throng, the dirt and wretched atmosphere, I seriously wonder why I am engaged in this most difficult form of artistic creation.
The rules are many and burdensome. I must have three minutes of useable film “in the can” every day. I must kept to the shooting schedule, which is so tight that it excludes almost everything but essentials. I am surrounded by technical equipment which with fiendish cunning tries to sabotage my best intentions. Constantly I am on edge, I am compelled to live the collective life of the studio. Admist all this must take place a process which is sensitive and which really demands quietness, concentration and confidence.
I mean working with actors and actresses.
There are many directors who forget that our work in film begins with the human face. We can certainly become completely absorbed in the esthetics of montage, we can bring together objects and still life into a wonderful rhythm, we can make nature studies of astounding beauty, but the approach to the human face is without doubt the hall-mark and the distinguishing quality of the film. From this we might conclude that the film star is our most expensive instrument and that the camera only registers the reactions of this instrument. In any cases the opposite can be seen: the position and movement of the camera is considered more important than the player, and the picture becomes an end in itself-this can never do anything but destroy illusions and be artistically devastating.
In order to give the greatest possible strength to the actor’s expression the camera movement must be simple, free and completely synchronised with the action. The camera must be a completely objective observer and may only on rare occasions participate in the action.
We should realise that the best means of expression the actor has at his command is his look. The close-up, if objectively composed, perfectly directed and played, is the most forcible means at the disposal of the film director, while at the same time being the most certain proof of his competence or incompetence. The lack of abundance of close-ups shows in an uncompromising way the nature of the film director and the extent of his interest in people.
The director should not deluge the actor with instruction like autumn rain, but rather should make his points at the right moments. His words ought rather to be too few than too many. For his performance the actor is little helped by intellectual analyses. What he wants are exact instructions at the moment and certain technical corrections without embellishments and digressions. I know that an intonation, a look or a smile can often do far more good to the actor than the most penetrating analysis. This mode of action sounds like witchcraft, but it is nothing of the sort; it is only a quiet and effective method of control over the actor by his director. Indeed the fewer the discussions, talks, explanations, the more the affinity, silence, mutual understanding, natural loyalty and confidence.
III. Professional ethics
Many imagine that a commercial film industry lacks morality or that its morals are so definitely based on immorality that an artistically ethical standpoint cannot be maintained on anything so lacking. Our work is assigned to businessmen, who at times regard it with apprehension as motion pictures have to do with something as unreliable as art.
If many regard our activity as dubious, I must emphasise that its morality is as good as any and so absolute that it could almost cause us embarrassment. However, I have found that I am like the Englishman in the tropics, who shaves and dresses for dinner every day. He does not do this to please the wild animals but for his own sake. If he gives up his discipline then the jungle has beaten him.
I know that I shall have lost to the jungle if I take a weak moral standpoint or relax my mental punctiliousness. I have therefore come to a certain belief which is based on three powerful effective commandments. Briefly I shall give their wording and their meaning. These have become the very fundaments of my activity in the film world. The first may sound indecent but really is highly moral. It runs:
THOU SHALT BE ENTERTAINING AT ALL TIMES.
This means that the public who sees my films and thus provides my bread and butter has the right to expect entertainment, a thrill, a joy, a spirited experience. I am responsible for providing that experience. That is the only justification for my activity.
However, this does not mean that I must prostitute my talents, at least not in any and every way, because then I would break the second commandment which runs:
THOU SHALT OBEY THY ARTISTIC CONSCIENCE AT ALL TIMES.
This is a very tricky commandment because it obviously forbids me to steal, lie, prostitute my talents, kill or falsify. However, I will say that I am allowed to falsify if it is artistically justified, I may also lie if it is a beautiful lie, I could also kill my friends or anyone else if it would help my art, it may also be permissible to prostitute my talents if it will further my cause, and I should indeed steal if there were no other way out.
If one obeyed one’s artistic conscience to the full in every respect then one would find oneself doing a balancing act on a tight-rope and one would become so dizzy that at any moment one could fall down and break one’s neck. Then all the prudent and moral bystanders would say, “Look, there lies the thief, the murderer, the lecher, the liar. Serves him right”. Not a thought that the joy of creation, which is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever, is bound up with the necessary fear of creation. One can incant as often as one desires, magnify one’s humility and diminish one´s pride to one’s heart’s content, but the fact still remains that to follow one’s artistic conscience is a perversity of the flesh as a result of years and years of mortification and radiant moments of clear asceticism and resistance. In the long run it is the same however we reckon. First on the point of fusion comes the area between relief and submission, which can be called the artistic obvious. I wish to assert at this point that this is by no means my goal, but merely that I try to keep to the compass as well as I can.
In order to strengthen my will so that I do not slip off the narrow path into the ditch, I have a third good and juicy commandment, which runs:
THOU SHALT MAKE EACH FILM AS IF IT WERE THY LAST.
Some may imagine that this commandment is an amusing twist of phrase or a pointless aphorism or perhaps simply a beautiful phrase about the complete vanity of everything. However, that is not he case.
It is reality.
In Sweden film production was interrupted for a whole year some years ago. During my enforced inactivity I learned that because of commercial complications and through no fault of my own I could be out on the street before I knew it.
I do not complain about it, neither am I afraid or bitter, I have only drawn a logical and highly moral conclusion from the situation that each film is my last.
For me there is only one loyalty. That is loyalty to the film on which I am working. What comes (or fails to come) after is insignificant and causes neither anxiety nor longing. This gives me assurance and artistic confidence. The material assurance is apparently limited but I find the artistic integrity is infinitely more important and therefore I follow the principle that each film is my last.
This gives me strength in another way. I have seen all too many film workers burdened down with anxiety, yet carrying out to the full their necessary duties. Worn out, bored to death and without pleasure they have fulfilled their work. They have suffered humiliation and affronts from producers, the critics and the public without flinching, without giving up, without leaving the profession. With a tired shrug of the shoulders they have made their artistic contributions until they went down or were thrown out.
I do not know but perhaps the day will come when I shall be received differently by the public, perhaps together with a feeling of disgust in myself. Tiredness and emptiness will descend upon me like a dirty grey sack and fear will stifle everything. Emptiness will stare me in the face.
When this happens I shall put down my tolls and leave the scene, of my own free will, without bitterness and without brooding whether or not the work has been useful and truthful from the viewpoint of eternity.
Wise and far-sighted men in the Middle Ages used to spend nights in their coffins in order never to forget the tremendous importance of every moment and their transient nature of life itself.
Without taking such drastic and uncomfortable measures I harden myself to the seeming futility and the fickle cruelty of film-making with the earnest conviction that each film is my last.
(Translated from the Swedish by P.E. Burke and Lennart Swahn.)
After a lifetime of waiting, I was finally able to catch up with a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s infamous first narrative feature film FEAR AND DESIRE. Made at the youthful age of 23, after having shot and directed a few short documentaries and having been a photographer for LOOK magazine for a number of years, Stanley Kubrick embarked on what would turn out to be the beginning of a lifelong passion. Today, FEAR AND DESIRE is best known as the film Stanley Kubrick didn’t want anyone to see.
Rumors persist that Kubrick tracked down prints, as well as the negative, and had them burned. Not true. Or so says Eastman House Motion Picture Curator Caroline Frick Page. Turns out Kubrick never owned the rights to the film, but did request on numerous occasions –and quite adamantly– that Eastman House not show the print of the film residing in their permanent collection. But now that Kubrick has passed on to the world beyond (the infinite?), Eastman House seems to be a bit more open to screening their print. Though don’t expect to see much of it as this is, apparently, the only known surviving 35mm print in the world. Some (though not all) of the negative has been found and, according once again to the very gracious and articulate Caroline Frick Page, a collaboration may soon be undertaken to restore FEAR AND DESIRE for wider public consumption, though nothing official is as yet in the works.
What to say about the film itself… Well, it’s easy to understand why Kubrick felt this production to be amateurish and why he was embarrassed by it. At least when viewed beside his other works. However… while it is true that the acting is at times quite bad (and at other times quite passable or, at least, fascinating), and the script rather portentous and amateur, the visuals are nothing shy of a feast. Shot by Kubrick himself, the black and white photography is stunning and the compositions exceptionally potent. The editing isn’t always as strong as it could be, but there are times when it is oddly effective and certainly the inception of concepts to come. But it’s the imagery that is without question the film’s strongest element and more than enough of an excuse for seeing this first narrative work by one of the world’s master filmmakers.
And while there’s no fixing the script, the themes and concepts explored are ones that Kubrick would return to repeatedly in his later work. This is, as well as the visuals, another strong argument for the film being seen. Add to this actor/director Paul Mazursky’s acting debut (a very strange and disturbing performance) and I truly think the argument to show the film outweighs Kubrick’s desire to have it hidden. At the same time, part of me wants to honor Kubrick’s wishes, while the other part of me is just thrilled beyond measure that Eastman House chose to screen this print. As a filmmaker and film-lover, seeing FEAR AND DESIRE was and is a rather big moment in my ongoing experience of cinema. It is also a fantastic insight into the early creative mind of a filmmaker who helped sculpt how I see cinema and opened artistic doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. And despite its many flaws and imperfections, FEAR AND DESIRE is a film worth seeing. And one that sticks with you (at least it did me). Kubrick once said that film should be more like music than like fiction. Well, FEAR AND DESIRE may not be Kubrick’s master composition, but it certainly shows an artist who had already formed that notion very early on, regardless of whether or not he was aware of it at the time.
The screening at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood was followed by a Q&A with Paul Mazursky and Eastman House’s Caroline Frick Page. Below you will find audio for that Q&A (not professionally recorded, but quite listenable nonetheless). Please note that several Melies shorts were shown before FEAR AND DESIRE and are referenced in the Q&A. The Q&A is presented in three parts:
Below is an audio segment from an interview with Stanley Kubrick done in 1966. In this segment, Kubrick discusses the making of FEAR AND DESIRE and his feelings about the film: