Monday, July 07, 2008

"Where does art come from? -- Real art I mean, not sentimental bosh"

Oh how I love it when someone says something stupid that reflects an unthinking, pre-formed view of things, and another person lets them have it...

COMMENT: I purchased your book (Cassavetes on Cassavetes) and made it up to page 257 where I stopped, put it down and never have any intention of continuing it again, now, or in the future... I was hoping not to determine, in my opinion, that John Cassavetes was full of himself, but, alas, that was the ONLY conclusion I could possibly reach. I reached the same conclusion about 3/4 of the way through reading Tarkovskys Sculpting In Time...

Let me say, that I have the Criterion Collection of his works and thoroughly enjoy Shadows, Faces (less so, because it is meaner), Killing of a Chinese Bookie (the edited version), A Woman Under the Influence (his masterpiece - mainly because he allowed some hope in this film) and Opening Night yet, all that aside I will only say that I would never, EVER have let him treat me the way he treated others (ESPECIALLY his friends). I would have smashed his face in (at LEAST). (etc)

RESPONSE: You are free to do whatever you want with my book. Shred it, burn it, hate it. That's fine with me.

But you have to open your mind about art and artists. They are not all gentle, sweet souls. They are not necessarily kind, generous friends. They can be sons of bitches. They can be monomaniacal. They can be egotistical. They can be demon-driven. And they generally are.

In other words, when you come to the same conclusion about Tarkovsky and Cassavetes, it should give you pause to think that maybe YOUR HOMESPUN, MIDDLE-AMERICA CATEGORIES, YOUR BOURGEOIS MORALITY, YOUR NEED TO FIND SOMEONE TO LOVE is the problem. Not their art. Tarkovsky and Cassavetes are two of the greatest artists of the post-war era. That's a fact, Jack. And neither had a fuzzy-wuzzy, Teddy-Bear-snuggly personality. So deal with it. Don't reject it. Don't deny it. Don't run the other way from the truth. Cope, man, cope. Or you're going to have to burn a lot of books. Shred a lot of interviews. Hate a lot of great great artists.

And while you're learning to come to grips with those two filmmakers, better start working on Beethoven and Picasso and Blake and Lawrence and Faulkner and Cheever too. You just won't find many "nice guys" as artists. In fact, I tell my students that if they are too happy, too well-adjusted, too satisfied with their lives and loves and families and friends, they can almost certainly never become great artists. Oh, there are a few exceptions, but they are the exceptions. Art comes out of pain. It comes out of dissatisfaction. It comes out of failure. It comes out of not fitting in. It comes out of seeing how much greater the world and everything in it could be, if only the systems and many of the people weren't so messed up. It comes out of being demon-ridden and angel-possessed. Cassavetes felt that way. Tarkovsky felt that way. Beethoven felt that way. And the less accommodating they became (as each of them aged), the greater their work became.

Sincere best wishes. Think about some of this. I offer it in all humility.

PS: ...If he had been these things, he would not have been the artist he was. He would have been Ron Howard or some other schlock-meister. Cassavetes was unappeasable and maddening -- like his works...

PPS: ...everybody who knew [Cassavetes] is devoted to getting good PR for him and themselves, which is why they deny [these things]. That's the culture we live in; where getting positive PR replaces telling the truth. If you have any doubts about that, look at the ridiculous coverage of Tim Russert's death recently. He was a bobble-head as a newsman; a water-carrier for the Bush administration and anyone else in a position of authority above him; a servant to the interests of the rich and powerful. And he wasn't really even a journalist; he was just a TV personality like a thousand others. But did anyone, and I mean anyone, dare to say any of that? Of course not. The Russert hagiography is testimony to how morally and intellectually bankrupt American journalism is -- and American journalists are. Being a happy face is all that anyone wants out of a journalist apparently. I think of something Cassavetes once said about how all those rich Hollywood directors and producers and agents are always doing things for charities and hospitals and cancer patients, but lose their courage and convictions and principles when they show up for work, and fund another immoral, exploitative, fear-mongering movie. They saved their morality for their free-time, when they weren't working. Well, Russert (and most of American culture) has the same conveniently divided set of allegiances: Private morality and public sycophancy and love of money and power and status. It's true in academia, too. We want our professors to do good things in their private lives, in their free time, but if they seriously critique and try to change something in the university, that's a no-no. That's too controversial. That gets you a low evaluation for being "non-collegial."

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Yes, Ray Carney's mailbag is BACK!

Even if (and especially) you don't agree with Carney's outlook, the mailbag is an insightful, informative and inspirational place to spend time. You can learn just as much from the contributors as you can from Carney's responses, and you don't have to care about film to find worthwhile content. (Note: You can skip around randomly if you wish; most of the letters that refer to previous conversations contain the appropriate links.)

The whole website is a goldmine for rare points of view.

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