Friday, July 20, 2007

Abbas Kiarostami, "The Job Of A Filmmaker"

I don’t believe the job of a filmmaker is to excite or move the viewer merely through creating special moments. By simply showing the reality, one can make people think about their own and other people’s acts or behaviour, and see and accept reality as it is. It’s from this point that the viewer’s duty to complete a work or a film begins. The viewer must be enticed into reflection on himself and the surrounding world. The combination of the filmmaker’s and viewer’s mind creates a film which will be more durable, original and fruitful than a film which merely aims at telling a story and impressing the viewer.

This is the most essential difference between this kind of cinema and that of Hollywood. In this kind of cinema, the most important subject matter is human beings and their souls. In this kind of cinema, man and his complex inner problems comprise the most important material, whereas in presently fashionable cinema, technique, special effects and exciting stories are considered more important.


In many films, music aims at giving viewers guidance or imposing something on them. Be happy here. Be sad here, scared here, moved there. It’s as if the director is standing by the screen like a conductor, calling on the audience to show their feelings. And the more worked up the audience gets, the more the director gets excited. “I can keep the viewers on the edge of their seats!” But I don’t know how necessary it is to take the viewers hostage. These days technology also helps such hostage-taking with Dolby surround sound systems and other new things. I don’t know how far this game of intimidating poor viewers will go.

Cinema is really a wonderful thing. Any viewer sitting in a seat in a dark movie theatre is turned into an innocent child. And there’s nothing quite as magical as light and darkness. It can send viewers into raptures. Under the circumstances, I suppose this is akin to picking pockets in the dark. By captivating the viewer, we rob him of his reason, which is even worse than emptying his pocket.

What I’m saying is not against music, nor am I against the appropriate use of music in cinema. I’m talking about abusing music.


I don’t believe a film is to be understood. Do we understand a piece of music? Do we understand a painting, or the exact meaning of a poem? It is ambiguity that attracts us to a work, not understanding the subject or story. However, human beings are standing between heaven and hell because of their existential ambiguity, and art displays this ambiguity. Pascal, a French philosopher, said that you cannot show a single event in somebody’s life and claim to have said everything about him. The secret department of the soul prevents this, and this is what becomes the plinth, the basis of the art of cinema.

I believe we can make the viewer experience mental effort by using omission. He can become involved in the making of the film through his imagination. For the creative viewer, this involvement is more involving than false climaxes or the playing of ridiculous guessing games. Once again I would like to quote Bresson, who said “We create not by adding but by subtracting.” This is exactly the opposite of resorting to symbols, allegories and signs.

Abbas Kiarostami, "10 On Ten"

"Soul Food Movies" cover

They say you can't judge a book by its cover but, alas, many people do. So I've decided to start working on mine. You don't want to leave these things until the last minute.

Of course I'll need a really cool graphic for the front, but I don't feel like starting on that right now. Also a good blurb describing the contents. And I'll have to make up a bunch of stuff about the author, so I'll need to get started on that as well (I think a career behind the camera would be a good starting place. Okay, there's the fact that I'm married to Carol Reed! That's for starters. And then I can figure out how to graft Uncle Rex onto the family tree. Hey, this isn't as hard as I expected.)

But where I want to start is with those all-important quotes. I've got a real good one for starters, from the New York Times Book Review! And it's by one of the Kennedys, so that should count for something.

This is fun! And I'll keep adding more as I find them. Make the publisher's job a lot easier...;


"The first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race."
- William Kennedy, New York Times Book Review


A reader of this blog has submitted another suggestion;

"Ron is so kind and funny! I laughed until I wet my pants! No book has given me a warmer feeling..."
- T. Anderson, Kultur Svenska Kanadiana, Summer 07

Thank you, T. While your contribution is appreciated, I'm not entirely sure it is what we are looking for. I don't think you are famous enough.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thoughts on criticism from Past The Popcorn

A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything. So we find that when real forces, good or bad, like Kipling and [Shaw], enter our arena, they bring with them not only startling and arresting art, but very startling and arresting dogmas. And they care even more, and desire us to care even more, about their startling and arresting dogmas than about their startling and arresting art. —G. K. Chesterton

It is dangerous for an individual to assume that any attempted work of art actually is what it appears to himself. I have known a child to assume that his grandfather, kneeling for prayers, was a horse to be mounted and ridden. —Booth Tarkington

People ask me all the time, “What does that song mean?” Well, if I could say it in other words than are in the song, I would have written another song, wouldn’t I? —Elvis Costello

The best audience is one that will be fair enough to suspend judgment until it has first found out what [the artist] is trying to do; then is competent enough to discover how well he does it; and finally is so all-wise as to know whether or not it’s worth doing. —Booth Tarkington

The aim of the critic, as Chesterton once remarked, is to show what the artist did, whether the artist meant to do it or not. —Robert J. Reilly

Egoistic instinct is subtle and glamorous. It can even mistake itself for authoritative judgment upon works of art; but if we avoid being carried away by its eloquence we needn’t share in its error. That is, by making ourselves a little hard-headed we can escape the confusion of mind that damns an ostrich for not being a giraffe. —Booth Tarkington

I have investigated the dust-heaps of humanity, and found a treasure in all of them. I have found that humanity is not incidentally engaged, but eternally and systematically engaged, in throwing gold into the gutter and diamonds into the sea. —G. K. Chesterton

These quotes are shamelessly lifted from the Past The Popcorn film review website

Friday, July 13, 2007

Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces" and "About Schmidt"

I'd like a plain omelet. No potatoes. Tomatoes instead. A cup of coffee and wheat toast.
No substitutions.
What do you mean? You don't have any tomatoes?
Only what's on the menu. You can have number two, a plain omelet. It comes with fries and rolls.
I know, but it's not what I want.
Make up your mind.
I have made up my mind. I'd like a plain omelet. No potatoes on the plate. A cup of coffee and a side order of wheat toast.
I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of toast. I'll give you an English muffin or a coffee roll.
No side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?
Would you like to talk to the manager?
You've got bread and a toaster of some kind?
I don't make the rules.
I'll make it as easy for you as I can. I'd like a plain omelet and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast. No mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce, and a cup of coffee.
A number two. A chicken sal san.
Hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayonnaise. And a cup of coffee.
Anything else?
Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for a chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.
You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
I want you to hold it between your knees.
You see that sign, sir? You'll all have to leave, I'm not taking any more of your smartness and your sarcasm!
You see this sign? He reaches his arm out and "clears" the table for her, sending dishes, menus, cutlery crashing to the floor.

I awoke from my night in the wilderness completely transformed. I'm like a new man. For the first time in years, I feel clear. I know what I want, I know what I've got to do, and nothing's going to stop me ever again.
Can I take your order?
Um, I'd like a plain omlette, no potatoes, tomatoes instead, cup of coffee and wheat toast.
No substitutions.
Oh. Fine. I'll just have the potatoes.

W.H. Auden, "The Unknown Citizen"

(To JS/07/M/378/ This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Anton Chekhov bits

From one of Chekhov's letters;
"I only wished to tell people honestly: Look at yourselves, see how badly and boringly you live! The main thing is that people should understand this and when they do, they will surely create for themselves another and a better life."

Tolstoy to Chekhov;
"I cannot abide Shakespeare, but your plays are even worse."

Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord"

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

John Jeremiah Sullivan, "Upon This Rock"

Another link for you to check out. John Jeremiah Sullivan had a Christian conversion in his teens, but moved on. A GQ assignment to cover Christian rock festivals prompts a re-examination. Funny, insightful, frank, exceptionally well written.

First appeared in Gentleman's Quarterly, February 2005. The piece was selected for inclusion in The Best American Magazine Writing 2006.

Christian Wiman, "Gazing Into The Abyss"

"The sudden appearance of love and the galvanizing prospect of death lead a young poet back to poetry and a hope toward God.”

I've requested permission to post Christian Wiman's essay "Gazing into the Abyss." For now, I encourage you to go to The American Scholar and have a read.

Wiman is the editor of the acclaimed literary journal "Poetry."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

David Ball, "What Comes Next"

Some well-meaning teachers do their pupils grave disservice by making them read a play when the students are about to see it in a theater. Do such teachers think plays on stage are better if you already know them? How contrary to a playwright's intentions! Or do such teachers believe students can't comprehend words spoien out loud, and might be confused with all that color and movement? Alas, poor student!

Don't deprive students (or anyone else) of theater's greatest pleasure: the delicious, often suspenseful thirst to know what comes next. Imagine seeing "The Merchant of Venice" not knowing in advance if Shylock will win or lose. And imagine a teacher (or textbook) undoing that pleasure. In our not knowing lies the play's adventure.

David Ball, "Backwards & Forwards" (page 33)