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SM ROXONMARFLOORENDMarshall Gaddis and Roxanne Rogers in SLOW MOVES

Following a very nice screening of Last Chants for a Slow Dance at Light Industry (155 Freeman, Greenpoint, Brooklyn), to a sold out house and very nice response, this weekend we follow up with screenings of four different films at Spectacle, 124 S. 3rd St., (near Bedford), Brooklyn, NY.  See this:

bd-baseballMarshall Gaddis in Bell Diamond

Films showing will be Slow Moves, Bell Diamond, Parable, and The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima.   I’ll be there for all screenings (hope there’s a good wi-fi cafe and/or bar nearby!)

KATSU1_22smThe Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima

Stephen Taylor and Rachel LeValley in PARABLEParable

Yesterday I went to MoMA’s documentary series to see my friend Peter Snowdon’s film, The Uprising.  I’d seen it in a rough form 3 years ago, and at the time he was very discouraged and said he was ready to stop and give up on it.  I found what I saw very strong and encouraged him to carry on and figure it out and finish.  He says my little nudge helped, and after all this time he finished it.  The film is composed of YouTube and other internet uploads of materials shot by people in the ”Arab Spring,” often rough things shot with cell-phones, i-Pads, DSLRs or whatever people had that they could shoot with.  Peter amassed a huge amount of this, and after his editorial labors I think he’s come up with a really strong and amazingly good film – can I say a kind of “masterpiece”?


Eschewing voice-over and explicatory materials, the film dives directly into the visceral reality which shifted from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Yemen and Syria, as the populist demand for change, for an end to corruption and dictatorships, spread like wild-fire across the middle-east.  Seizing on this emotional roller-coaster, riding from the delirium of massive crowds to the grim deaths of unarmed civilians in the face of military power, The Uprising seems to me orchestrated as a symphony, using the shifting tonalities and qualities of the various images used – blurred, jagged shifts of light, sometimes shifting into solarized simplicity – and cuts them with an internal aesthetic which verges often towards abstraction, but without ever lapsing and losing the emotional intensity of the situation.  Indeed, I think it is just this abstract infrastructure which makes the film work so powerfully.  Equally, the sound is used in this abstract sense, building into musical crescendos, and then going silent, shifting in concert with the images to orchestrate exactly as do the abstract sounds of a symphony, coaxing, enticing, shifting one’s inner world through pure aesthetics, yet ones which touch deeply inside us.   I know it was a lot of work, but I am glad Peter stuck to it and found (one of) the films which was in his material.  Powerful stuff.

Here’s a listing of upcoming screenings:

- February 20, 2014 – 6pm : Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (NY), USA
not a screening, but a talk + Q&A with Peter Snowdon and Bruno Tracq

- February 23, 2014 – 5:30pm : Images Cinema, Williamstown (MA), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- February 26, 2014 – 7pm : Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, New Orleans (LA), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- March 3, 2014 – 5:30pm : University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (NC), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- March 7, 2014 – 7:30pm : The Center for Middle East Studies, New Brunswick (NJ), USA
followed by a Q&A with Peter Snowdon

- March 27, 2014 – 7:30pm : Université Populaire, Brussels
followed by a talk with Bruno Tracq

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LISBON4 WCCImagens de uma cidade perdida

The Cinemateca Portuguese will be mounting a partial retrospective of digital work only, this coming week, February 10 – 15, screening 9 films, including two screenings of Coming to Terms.  Other films showing will be as follows:

Nas correntes de luz da Ria Formosa

6 Easy Pieces


Imagens de uma cidade perdida


Over Here


Oui Non

Coming to Terms

For the program, dates and times, see:




I have been coming to the Rotterdam festival since 1978, within a few years of its founding.  Way back then it was a small, very filmmaker friendly matter, set in a small building, cozy and comfortable, and a good place to meet other filmmakers in a close way.  I think back then I was here with Angel City, though I am not sure.  The city then was a drab and slightly depressing place, with ugly 50’s and 60’s architecture done on the cheap after the place had been flattened during WW2.  The grim winter weather didn’t help the impression given of a desolate urban realm.

DSC01595 SMNew Rotterdam

After that, once the Berlin festival – where I had been a “regular” from the 1977 to 1993 –  declined, in the mid-90’s, to accept digital work on an equal basis with celluloid film, I shifted and came rather regularly to Rotterdam, which had accepted electronic work without hesitation.  I recall a visit back then, and on arrival looking in the catalog to see which department they’d put my film – a digital feature that had cost me a few hundred dollars.  Looking in the avant-garde and whatever sections I did not find it, but then discovered it in the main program, which on the next page had some million plus dollar film.  I liked that attitude.

Over the years I returned – I don’t know how many times, but many – and watched as it grew into a major festival, yearly showing 300+ films, with new cinemas blossoming to accommodate it, and I worried it would lose its friendly manner.  It didn’t.   And I prized it as a festival that actually had an audience, a local one, which would come to any kind of film and usually provided a good house for them.  My screenings were always 2/3rds or more full, Q&A sessions were lively and intelligent.  It made coming to the festival seemingly worthwhile, even if I knew my work was not “marketable,” a matter which seemed increasingly to come into play as the years went by: they established the Cinemart, for filmmakers to make contacts with producers and buyers; they set up the Hub Bals fund (named after the festival’s founder) to help 3rd world filmmakers get on their feet; and it did what it could for those entering the business.  It was one of the best festivals I had been to for independent filmmakers.

dorsky_RedCoatFrame from Dorsky film

Last time I was here, 3 years ago, I attended Nathaniel Dorsky’s retrospective and saw him sell out a 100 seat theater five nights in a row with different programs, and the festival scheduled some repeats.  We – Nick, Marcella and myself – had a great time.  And my own film, Imagens de uma cidade perdida, also drew good audiences and responses.   Three years ago.


This time around has been a completely other story:  while a touch late in the festival, it immediately seemed  to me that there were far fewer people here – the professional kind and spectator kind – than in the past.  Inquiries with some regulars confirmed my sense of this.  And when it came screening time, at 7pm – a good hour – in a good cinema (Cinerama) I secured an audience of around 30 people, mostly older (my age, more or less, and understandably so as it is a film about/for my generation).  During the screening a handful walked out, only 3, younger, stayed for the Q&A.  Well, yes, it was by then a bit late for oldies, but not that late.  I would have liked some to stay so I could get an inkling about what older people see/think about the film.  No dice though.  The second screening at 10 pm drew 15 people, of which 7 left.   3 again stayed for a Q&A.   And, last day of festival, at an 11 am screening there were 10 people.

JAMES BAG 2SMComing to Terms, coming to a terminus

What happened?  I accept I don’t make audience grabbers, or films that work commercially – I make no effort to do so, and accept my very much minority status.  And I know well the world of fashion and style is fickle and changing, and that by most measures I am now an ancient fart.     But…    I’d like to say it was towards the end of the festival, or have some simple explanation like that, but my off-the-cuff reading is something else.

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Entering the communal spaces of the festival I noted that nearly everyone younger was either working as staff for the festival or eager newer filmmakers.  Almost everyone else was older – the pro’s, the critics, and the audience.  Aside from a cohort of younger filmmakers, these festivals feel like geriatric conventions.  As my friend Mark Rappaport told me a few days ago, having come up a week before to install an exhibition of his film-based photo-collages, everyone of the old friends he met all said something that between-the-lines read, “Oh, you’re still alive!”   I think these festivals, along with the cinema in general, is in the midst of a profound social shift, expressed in myriad ways – from attention spans to hard fiscal matters to shifts in tastes and interests.  Younger people prefer video games, texting, whiling the time away on-line with one thing or another.  They seem hardly to notice the distortions of wrong screen ratios, or have a tolerance for slow pacing, or lack of plot-as-core function of a visual medium.  And, for the most part, whether with the specifics of film or art, or the broader matter of society and politics, most seem to have almost no grasp of history.  Of course there are exceptions – even a cluster of a seeming counter-movement of those who do acquaint themselves with history, see meditative work, whether Benning or Dorsky and others, as a palliative to the frenetic pace of the times (though I observe that some of those young friends of mine seem avid users of Facebook and other fragmenting social media.)


Over the decades I’ve noticed, as have others, that the cinema seems to go through local cultural waves – rising, collapsing, rotting inside in one place, while refreshed in another:  the focus of creative interesting work seemed to culturally shift like some kind of social Rorschach test.  Italy in the postwar period to the mid-60’s; France a touch later; then Germany and elsewhere, and in a spotty manner many other places in a handful of individual filmmakers.  These days in various Asian settings and South America.  (The same phenomenon could be seen in other arts, high and low – whether painting, music, theater.)  My impression is that the cinema is limping to a kind of death, its myriad avenues explored and exhausted, and then in the embrace of pure commerce, delivered a mode of a Mafia kiss.  To paraphrase Ingmar Bergman’s metaphor, it is like a snake-skin filled with maggots, producing movement giving the illusion of life in the throws of death.

Which, in some ways, is appropriate.  Though some few persist, for example, mosaics are not exactly the state-of-visual arts, nor in reality is oil painting.  Mediums technologically arise, are worked, and then are replaced by newer ones.   And both human and broader biological records show the same is true for any culture.

DSC09047 SM

My grimmer sense is that the cinema is a diversion from the rising avalanche of far more serious matters confronting our species, and in some highly oblique manner, the larger turning-away signals a kind of recognition, for better and worse.  The cultural reality of people buried in their electronic toys – texting, playing a video game, watching some lame TV or movie – which one can see on any subway from Seoul to New Delhi to Paris to New York, all betrays a profound disconnect, a desperate collective effort to be distracted from the obvious calamity we are already immersed in and which we do not want to see or acknowledge.  The old cinema, Hollywood’s dream factory, and all its off-shoots of “serious” work, still holds a mode of internal coherence which represents a negative challenge.  Better in these times, ironically, the short bursts of Twitter, of utterly fragmented habits, which render the world into a fractal and unreadable social cubism – seeing everything simultaneously from all possible angles which leads not to enlightenment, but total obfuscation.  The better to hide and evade the tsunami of the future, which is writing itself ever more clearly and requires ever more frenetic modes of avoidance.  And in which, in our desperate lunge to outrun it, we hasten its arrival with the very tools and toys we use.

The last time I was here in Rotterdam, I spotted Raul Ruiz wandering the area reserved for the professionals, his face betraying that death was nearing him.  He was alone, walking as if lost, among people who in the movie-biz manner all knew him, and he looked for all the world to me as if he was wondering what the hell he’d done with his life, making films, one after another, as if trying to outrun his own death.  He died a few months later, I suspect feeling empty as one of his convoluted films which tended to be formalist exercises absent any real content, much beloved by film critics if few others.

Perhaps it is a good thing that cinema is dying or dead.


On a more pragmatic level I did manage to see a few films:

Til Madness do us Part - a four hour documentary by Wang Bin, showing the daily life inside an insane asylum in a poorer area of China.   As the inmates are, the spectator is trapped in a closed courtyard, endlessly circling, entering barren and squalid rooms where 4 or more share the space and sometimes the same beds.  The doctors are harsh, delivering up the daily doses of drugs to pacify the inmates; there are those clearly off-the-beam, and others who seem not so crazed, though living in this setting would tax the most sane.  Never boring, the film catches the viewer in a cross-fire of thoughts: sometimes events seem almost orchestrated, sometimes the inmates seem wise to the game and appear to be “acting” for the camera.  One feels a voyeur, violating the space, complicit with the filmmaker.  At the conclusion some suspicions are obliquely answered as title cards indicate that those committed range from violent criminals who have murdered someone, some committed by family, some for “extreme religious belief” (it is the area of China adjacent muslim regions) or political problems.


Japon - apparently a re-cut of the Reygadas film of some years back.  I have never seen one of his films. I took an hour of this one and left both a bit bored; annoyed with the aesthetics (extreme wide-screen, scruffy DV or some other relatively low-res medium which seemed counter to the wide-screen and landscape images); and I figured where it was headed – sex and gore.  It didn’t warrant the hour I gave it, and certainly not another.

images japon

Bella Vista – shot in and around Missoula, Montana, a first film from Vera Brunner-sung.  An interesting and good, though flawed film, but worthy and good for taking a shot at skipping conventional modes and instead using a rich mosaic approach with the thinnest narrative thread.  Long shots, no explanations, but it held together well despite the minor problems.  Much more interesting  than the numerous American indies who imagine a “hip” sit-com in old-fashioned movie/tv cinematic syntax is worth doing.


And I think I saw another but it must have left no impression since I can’t recall just what.  Or did I even see another one?

video games

COMING TO TERMS BASIC EDIT_29SMRoxanne Rogers in Coming to Terms


Here’s the schedule for screenings of Coming to Terms in Rotterdam, commencing this Wednesday:




28-jan-2014     19:30     20:59     Cinerama 2    

29-jan-2014     22:15     23:44     LantarenVenster 2    

31-jan-2014     11:30     12:59     LantarenVenster 6




Roxanne Rogers, who was kind enough to do so, along with husband Alp, had me as their guest in Istanbul in Dec-Jan.  Great time for me.  She will also be in Rotterdam for the first two of the screenings and will take part in Q&A, interviews, etc.


Meantime Coming to Terms is now subtitled in Turkish and Spanish, thanx to some really tedious hours on my part, and translations on the part of others.  It will show in Madrid at the Spanish Filmoteca and in Lisbon at the Cinemateca Portuguese in February.  I am hoping I can round up some South American screenings thanks to the subtitles.


Anyone in Rotterdam – festival directors, filmmakers, or just plain old people, don’t hesitate to contact me at the festival.  I’ll be in the new CitizenM hotel.  I’ll be there Jan 28 – Feb 1.





Following the suggestion of friends, who’d been told it was good but hadn’t themselves gone to it, I visited Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art (MAMbo).  It had one exhibit of modest interest, gathered from the collection of UniCredit, one of their sponsors.  It was a grab-bag of things suggesting art is magic, and included clips of Lumiere and Melies, surrealists, photographic things and a hodge-podge of paintings and sculpture, all tucked under the title, La Grande Magia.  There were some interesting things among the mélange, though it seemed obvious it was a contrived way to haul UniCredit’s stuff out and show it, perhaps with the thought to pump up its alleged “value” for future sale.  Two cheers for capitalism….

arnulf rainer  SMArnulf Rainer’s “art”

That done, I went to the permanent collection, which was mostly Italian work of relatively recent vintage.  This comprised a lot of piss-poor copies of NYC of the 50’s, with fotos of the artists in trench-coats, hats, and smoking cigarettes as if posing as Camus in an “existentialist” play.  The paintings and their names were instantly forgettable, just as all too many American abstract expressionists and pop artists are.



Tucked into this were some other things, apparently commissioned by the museum.  One was an alleged “installation” piece by current hot London “artist” Tacita Dean.  In a walled off space, an old 16mm projector showed on a little screen hung from the ceiling in back projection some very pedestrian shots of the studio of Giorgio Morandi, beloved artist of modern Bologna.  Another video projector showed static shots of some “drawings” by Morandi.  In both projections there was zero creative anything going on with video, 16mm, or anything else.  This sizable display was accorded two (empty) seats, time and space, and was utterly utterly worthless.  What fame will do….  I print later on Ms. Dean’s words on Morandi, none of the seeming intelligence of which was evident in the installation.

DSC07738 SMDSC07739 SMTacita Dean installation1993

1994Giorgio Morandi drawings in Tacita Dean’s Still Life

As my brain ossified from this display of the art world’s total corruption – from the pale Italian modern art of the 50’s-70’s (including “art povera” and all the rest), to the pathetic display of “young London’s”  current sway in the arts world, I wandered on, ever more resentful, to a gallery of hot new Bologna very young artists, who like their predecessors of the 50’s and 60’s aped the current international styles, and filled their space with a litter of collected things put on the floor, scrawls on the walls, and absolutely nothing showing a milligram of originality, creative passion, technical talent, or anything else I would stick the word “art” on.   As in other exhibits I have seen it was all academic by-the-book current art world s-h-i-t accorded space in a museum, lathered with utterly inane explicatory texts, and as empty as outer-space is, though lacking in outer-space’s philosophical promptings.  Yes, another museum full of complete crap masquerading as “art.”


Joseph Beuys (F)

20081016161231_large  beuys-tafel-freier-dem-soz

beuys-rollJoseph Beuys

I could make a long list of famed so-called “artists” responsible for this: Beuys, Warhol, Twombly, and numerous others.  Certainly an academic scholar could make a case for the continuity from critical practice noting the differing “styles” of various artists of any period, flowering in our current era wherein one’s particular neuro-muscular twitching, attached to some graphic signature device (a pencil), begets “art.”  Tacita Dean could be an example, but there are literally hundreds of them who seem to imagine that if they call themselves “artists” and make a scrawl, it becomes “art.”  So much for the lessons of the present academy.




ntm5-1-21 Cy Twombly

And of our corrupted society which now accepts this, and lavishes money and space for its display.  I guess well-off kids who can’t hack university and get packed off to learn “art” instead need to have something to do and must be rewarded.  As in the case I just read of wherein the mysterious anonymous group Bruce sold a Warholian silk-screen for about $500,000 not long ago.  The question perhaps is whether in process “art” is debased or money?  Or both.

bruce_high_quality_foundation-hooverville~OMd87300~10000_20131113_n09037_2Bruce High Quality, Hooverville, sold for $450,000

On a practical level the museum was virtually empty except for the high number of guards, who admonished “no fotos” when I attempted to take one.  They appeared, justifiably, bored out of their minds as there were more of them, on a Saturday afternoon, than of museum visitors, and the “art” offered little in the way of reward for them to contemplate.  What they were guarding, at whatever the cost is for the people of the city of Bologna, was worthy of a hasty trip to the garbage dumpsters out on the streets.  Little wonder Italy, and other places, are undergoing the tortures of “austerity.”   The art in this place was, plain and simple, part and parcel of the vast fraud which 98% of contemporary (and recent “modern”) art represents.  Junk, cranked out by a corrupted system of schools which teach this crap, and a parasitic cluster of alleged “intellectuals” who parse the meaning of this now utterly decadent, empty, total s-h-i-t.  The kind of stuff which fills pavilions in Venice and Basel, where the utterly conformist art crowd disports itself in “hip” costumes and posturing, and fill the chic “art” hotels made by designer starchitects, (who to my direct observation are equally conformist, decked out in elegant silk black on black outfits).   Their tastes are measured in money, in hot names, and they flit from gallery to gallery like promiscuous bees, ever in search of the next hot vacuous thing with lots of $$$$-signs tacked to it:  Koons, Hirst, or other hyper-hot commodities, whose work is notable primarily for the price tags attached, which are proportionate to the “fame” attached to the “name.”

tumblr_mpbr6haTWH1r3pw6qo1_500More Bruce

[An aside: in my film Chameleon, about a “dealer” – drugs, art, scams – in LA in the late 70’s there’s a line said by a sleazoid dealer, that it’s “names that sell; I couldn’t get a dime for one of your things,” said as he twists an artist’s arm to come up with a fake of a “name” artist.  My very jaded and contemptuous view of the art-world is rather old.]



CHAMELEON12Chameleon, 1978


by Tacita Dean

At a certain point, standing in the tiny studio of Giorgio Morandi, re-installed recently in the old apartment in Bologna where he lived with his sisters for fifty years, I knew I had to make a decision. His objects were everywhere, grouped on the tables and under the chairs and gathered together on the floor. They were as recognisable to me as if they had belonged in the outhouses of my own family, and aged with us into comfortable familiarity: face powder boxes, conical flasks, vases of cotton flowers, gas lamps and oil cans, pots, jars and bottles, and containers whose function we no longer recognise. Were they of his time or had he scoured the flea markets himself looking for them? We have only ever known them with dust. Giorgio Morandi was the painter who could paint dust.

And then there were his interventions, like the cartons rewrapped in brown paper and the reflections whitewashed out on the bottles and the Erlenmeyer flasks, the artificial flower arrangements and the odd flourish to remake a dull vessel. It seems Morandi liked to paint what he saw. He did not choose, as I had always imagined, simply not to paint anything about an object that he did not deem necessary, but instead transformed them beforehand, making them the objects he wanted to see. It was not about denying detail because the detail he liked, he kept. The miraculous opacity of his painted objects is already there in the objects themselves. His was a double artifice. There, amongst the copper pans and the enameled jugs, I understood clearly what the Fluxus artist, Robert Filiou meant when he said, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.”

Giorgio Morandi’s compositions were far from arbitrary. The space between his objects was rigorously and mathematically worked out. Set squares, rulers and a knotted string hang on the studio wall. The table surface and the lining paper are covered with intricate markings and measurements, often initialed or marked with a letter when, you assume, a decision was finalised. They are like found drawings, unintentional but remarkable.

Only when the light was identical to how it had been the day he set up a composition, did Morandi allow himself to continue painting. On other days, he would sit on the corner of his monastic bed, where there is a pronounced dip, and etch. He would draw at night by electric light. His brushes, that lie tied up in bundles, have been worked down to tufts, and in one instance, to a single hair. Was it parsimony or did he require them bald? Was it because his stroke was a non-frontal gesture, which approached from the side? His room was set-up for a left-handed man but no one particularly remarked this about the painter.

Amidst his objects, which still held the aura of their depiction, I came at last to a decision as to how I could treat them. I filmed them singly, one by one, centred in my frame, and did as Morandi would never have done: made their composition random.

Temporarily housed in the MAMbo, there was a large collection of Morandi works.  I have been familiar with him for some decades, and never quite fathomed what the big deal was about him.  Several rooms and more of his work merely underlined for me my view that he is very much a very minor painter, though perhaps he highlights a certain phenomenon in the arts world which seems to be almost more prized than its results: doggedness, doing the same thing again and again and again, until your mark is firmly etched and, in a sense, you are a safe bet.  Like a trademark.  McDonald’s, Gucci – you are in for no surprises, you will get what you know you will get.  In Morandi’s case what you will get is modest – images of jars, bottles, in very muted non-color mostly, arrayed on a table.  The brushwork will be desultory, near “primitive.”  The result, like much of modern, is “nice” graphics, something comfortable and safe for a magazine illustration.  However, in the alchemic world of modernist art, if you do this long enough your work will turn into (marketable) art.  As with America’s beloved Norman Rockwell, and many others.




10.-Estorick-Morandi-Still-Life,-1960Giorgio Morandi, ad inf (almost)

I left the museum to walk through the arcaded streets of central Bologna, decked in Christmas finery and markets, and wandered back to my friend Pina’s cozy apartment.  Along the way some graffiti by someone named “Blu” marked my way.


DSC07715 SM

DSC07714 SM

There seems a developing fashion, certainly along the lines of PC-speak, that if you don’t have something “nice” to say about something – art, a movie, whatever – then it is better to stay silent.  I guess I’ll remain firmly out of fashion.

63 the-road-to-emmaus-duccio-di-buoninsegna

74 UCCELLO mazzocchio 1

DSC07056 sm

The following is the text of a talk given at a conference in Rome, Italy, on the topic “Cinema, Virtual Reality, and the Body.”  In the same context I screened the 2007 Italian language film La Lunga Ombra (The Long Shadow).

I would first like to caution that despite my present title as “Distinguished Professor (retired)” I am not at all an academic or scholar.  I am a self-taught artist and I suppose a contrarian “thinker.”   This is by way of telling you that while I have a vague recognition of current and past academic fashions in the area of cinema, media and the wider arts, I really do not know much of the language you use.   I hope you will forgive me that, but after more than 50 years of casual acquaintance with both the academic and arts world, I know fashions are transitory and quickly change.   Though I have friends deeply involved in these trends, I have not followed them at all.

Our topic, “Virtual Reality, Cinema and The Body” is, in my jaded eye, a typically obtuse academic one which luckily offers a loose frame to talk about almost anything. So from that standpoint I wish to offer up an eclectic selection of observations.

2 POZZO STANZAStanza di S. Ignazio

Here in Rome, we have a very appropriate setting for a discussion of “virtual reality” as there are many vivid historical examples of just that surrounding us:  not far from here, in the historical center, on Vittorio Emmanuel, beside the Chiesa del Gesu, is the Stanza of San Ignazio – a small hallway adjacent to the modest room in which the Jesuit leader lived in the 1550’s.  The hallway is a barren, barrel vaulted space.  But from one central viewpoint it appears to be a well-accoutered Baroque room, with a flat coffered ceiling, statuary, and paintings and a sense of 3-dimensionality which gives the impression one could slip a hand behind the coffering.  It is all a very convincing illusion:  it is all painted.  It was made in 1680. If you go to the end of the space, the rectangular coffers of the ceiling warp into a Baroque version of a Frank Stella painting of the 1980’s or 90’s.



6 STELLA 2Frank Stella

A walk of some blocks away from this room is his spectacular ceiling of the Chiesa di S. Ignazio,  which sits on a lovely small piazza designed by another Baroque artist, Fillipo Raguzzini.  Each artist, in vastly differing ways, was busy constructing a very effective “virtual reality” – in the case of Pozzo, illusionary spaces which, in a very real way, appear to exist but do not exist at all.  In the case of Raguzzini, the spaces are very real, but orchestrated to shift the sensibility of those within it.


8 POZZOFresco_with_Trompe_l'oeuil_-_Andrea_Pozzo_-Jesuit_Church_Vienna

9 POZZO DOME S IGCeiling of Chiesa di S. Ignazio, painted by Andrea Pozzos ignazio piazzaPiazza di S. Ignazio

[As an aside I’d like to note that Pozzo is largely disregarded as a “painter” owing to his trickery – I in fact find him a really excellent painter in his handling of color, paint and all the rest – his skill with perspective sadly worked against him.]

Rome is littered with similar examples – from Borromini’s compressed gallery in Palazzo Spada to Bernini’s colonnade at the piazza of St Peter’s , or in the layout of certain major streets intended to compress and unite the sense of space in the city as a whole.

15 SpadaBorommini’s Colonnade at Palazzo Spada18 roma_laquattrofontane_9872Via Quattro Fontane20 Via_del_Corso__Roma_in_M-20000000005851738-500x375Via del Corso

Each of these cases are instances of a conscious and deliberate making of a “virtual reality.”

SONY DSCS. Carlino at Quattro Fontane, by Borominni

The time was in the 1600-1700’s.  A long time ago.

21 piazza_delle_quattro_fontane_20 con_le_fontane_e_la_chiesa_di_s_carlo_acquaforte_di_g_vasi_1752_museo_di_roma_imggallery

It was a time when Europe began to throw off a millennium and more of another socially imposed “virtual reality,” that of the Christian religion and the dominant Church which forced its views upon the populace of much of Europe: the Catholic Church. The Church too was a “virtual reality,” constructed of a mythic fantasy carefully calculated to psychologically appeal to an oppressed people, for whom the offer of an “eternal life” was, of course, the ultimate “virtual reality.”

23 Grunewald Mathias - Crucifixion detail c

22 G_ChristGrunewald Crucifixtion24 z Coppo_di_Marcovaldo-The_Hell_detail
What can be more “virtual” than a proffered future life which does not exist?

This overturning was, I suppose ironically, visualized at the peak of the Church’s powers and celebrated in a circus of total corruption and decadence.

25 amor0

27 Santa_teresa_di_bernini_03

28 teresaBernini.close

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30 hermBernini sculptures

The eruption of the art of the Renaissance is the product of that corruption.   Just as in our own time we can watch the same, though sped up, in our official religion of Capitalism – a system which really began more or less at the same time when the Church started on its decline, way back in the 1600’s.  In the language of the church, it was merely a shift in who the money-changers were.

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Jeff Koons

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34 Jeff Koons, Bourgeois Bust - Jeff and Ilona.746x560Jeff Koons, whose balloon dog recently sold for 58 million dollars, a living “artist” record

The Greeks, as seen in their temples and surviving sculptures, had a very well developed sense of perspective to be seen in the subtle shaping of the columns of the Parthenon, in the layout of the same with their various buildings shifted to enhance the spatial sense of the site.


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43 Acropolis copyAcropolis and Parthenon, Athens

And in their sculpture where they played with proportion for dramatic effect. Little of their painting has survived though the glazes on their pottery give a hint of how they saw and depicted the world in two-dimensional form. Their surviving literature – in philosophy, in plays, in their mythic stories – fills out for us a sense of their way of being in the world. It is, we like to think, the foundation of “civilization.”

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALaocoon39 GREEK Nike_of_Samothrake_Louvre_Ma2369_n4

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Or at least “western” civilization. We tend to ignore that for some millennia before the flowering of Greek culture, the Chinese had already built a sophisticated and complex society, easily the equal of anything which flowered on the Mediterranean.


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The Romans largely adopted Greek culture, though turning it from the idealized “virtual” to the hard-core “realistic” and pragmatic – which we can see in Rome’s sculpture and architecture – in the adaptation of the arch and dome as primary architectural forms – whether at the Pantheon, the Colosseo, or the remnants of acquaducts tracing their way through the landscape.


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And, naturally, in their pragmatism, they developed an Empire which has left its mark throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia. And then a funny thing happened in one of its colonies in North Africa – and Roman society was up-ended, and incrementally a new religion crept through Rome’s holdings and beyond. That religion was Christianity, and once institutionalized it bent the cultures which it invaded and utterly changed them. One can see it in the art before and after:

In Pompei (where they clearly had a grasp of perspective, and they lived their lives with a certain sensual elan).

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And then the curtain of ash descended and the frolicking stopped. Just as it was shoved behind the curtain of Christianity, and Europe’s sense of itself withered behind a veil of ideological fear – while promising goodies in the never-to-be future, the Church wielded a fierce dominance over how to behave in the here and now. The medieval ages arrived. At pain of burning at the stake, as Giordano Bruno did in Campo di Fiori, and other such pleasantries, one toed the Church line or was dispatched to hell or limbo or heaven, depending on how many coins, paintings, chapels, or contributions to the construction of great churches one had given. Paranoia or justifiable fear dictated the building of towns and cities on inconvenient hill and mountain tops; it suggested walls and moats and many defensive postures, generated by the more or less constant warfare in the valleys.

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Of course today tourists wax romantically about the wonderful views as they zip up the winding roads in cars and are served sumptuous meals and wine in these redoubts of utter fear. They seem never to think of what a huge chore it was to take all of life to the top of a mountain without machines and cars. It is of course interesting that on the basis of fear such beautiful things are made. Like weapons.

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In the social construct of the “Dark Ages” Europe lost its sense of perspective, crushed under the sway of an all-powerful church. The earth no longer spun around the sun, which the Greeks understood . And innumerable other “virtual realities” were built and enforced. And then in the early 1000’s European culture began to slowly find its way towards what became the Renaissance. The tracings of this, and particularly in the making of what became the mathematical construction of classic visual perspective, produced a range of curious images. One of my favorite – both for its visual qualities and for its seeming philosophical contents – is Duccio’s Christ at Emmaus, a panel from his now dismembered “Maesta” altarpiece in Siena, circa 1310.

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There, perched on its graphically generic for the time mountain-top sits Emmaus, its gated entrance door opening to….  Well, not very clear. Which is why I like it so much.


Duccio Maestà back panels 1308-11.jpgLa Maesta, Siena

While grasping at a unified perspective, but fumbling into what is a kind of early cubism, Duccio and his contemporaries seemed to sense that the organization of space wasn’t as earlier work had it, but that there was some other way of showing “reality.”  Though one must wonder, as “seeing” is a highly culturized and trained phenomenon, whether in some sense Duccio actually “saw” in the manner shown in this and other works of his time.

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69  Masaccio Masalino Brancacci

Massaccio, a century and some later (circa 1425), hot on the footsteps of Lorenzetti’s Annuncio of 1344, and Brunelleschi’s scientific refinements of the early 1400’s, finally caught up with the Pompeians, with his Trinity in Florence.

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71 Massaccio1Massaccio, Trinity

In the same period Pier Paolo Uccello experimented deeply with perspective, with his Mazzocchi drawings,

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74 UCCELLO mazzocchio 1Uccello, Mazzochi

and the panels of The Battle of San Romano, the one in London’s National Gallery being one of my favorite paintings. I imagine I have stood before this work for 20 hours, each time learning new lessons. While the painting itself minimizes its perspective nature, at the same time it seems Uccello thumbs his nose at the spectator, with the fallen soldier to the foreground left side seemingly firmly place, laying solidly on the ground.  Except on a closer look he has reversed the perspective and the figure grows larger as it recedes – a trick I am certain Uccello did purposely. A little joke for the eye and brain.

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Another joke was that while The Battle of San Romano celebrates the Fiorentine victory over Siena, that isn’t quite how the Sienese or history saw it: it was more or less a draw. So the illusions were compounded with a bit of propaganda.

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From there on it was merely a hop, skip and a jump to the deliriums of Pozzo, and the spatial playfulness of the Baroque and Mannerist eras.

Since then, until the rupture of late 19th and early 20th century painting, the Western view hardly changed. And then, at least in painting, the unified field of traditional perspective was shattered with Cubism and related movements.

However, though painting remained culturally of interest, its public impact was overshadowed by a new medium: cinema. Here, suddenly, the old Renaissance perspective moved, and the spectator, later, with tracking shots, could move through it. Once the adjustment was made – the Lumiere’s original documentary image of a train arriving evidently scared spectators at first and they moved out of the way.

85 LUMIERE L'Arrivée_d'un_train_en_gare_de_La_CiotatLumiere brothers

Since that time, shackled to the optical nature of the camera lens which is an integral aspect of cinematic imagery, the cinema has spent well over 100 years elaborating stories (always the same stories), largely of filmed theater, and virtually always with the good old Renaissance perspective.

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In the last few decades though, digital technology has arrived at first in games with little 2D Pac-men,  and now in highly detailed action games in which one can kill innumerable people from the safety of your console,  all the while running through that good old 1600’s perspective.


From my viewpoint, what a fucking bore it all is –from Titanic to Avatar (same old story of the “gone native” white-guy rescuing the helpless natives) to this years’ greatly lauded film, Gravity.

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There, while making an interesting and intelligent use of a very sophisticated CGI technology, in which in the opening no-cuts 20 minute sequence, we float above the earth, gravity free, and the virtual camera manages to slip in and out of Point-of-View, magically sliding behind the visors of our heroes, we are still trapped in the good old Renaissance perspective, however dressed up in space. In Gravity, following its opening sequence, we are quickly hitched to the Hollywood imperatives of a really stupid story, and literally and figuratively, it is all down-hill from there and the simple-minded film crashes to earth. Though in Hollywood manner: with thrills and chills heightening into a crescendo of fear, wherein Sandra Bullock survives all obstacles and lands back on terra firma, safe and sound. Gravity requires, of course, that most essential ingredient, total suspension of disbelief. Gravity, despite the oohing and ahh’ing of most critics, should not be taken with much gravity. It is as old fashioned as any Hollywood pot-boiler, not only in its story but also in its technology of vision – yep, that tired old Renaissance perspective all decked out in outer-space. Yawn.

What would really be interesting for a shift of perspective, and is perfectly possible with the digital tools now present, would be to develop a totally new spatial sense, not based on the optics of camera lenses, nor the hide-bound rules of a 700 year old perspective system. But, alas, our directors and technicians are all totally locked into the “virtual reality” of their society, in which making things for money is the base-line value, and that requires relying on the stupidity of an audience which merely wants the same old thing again and again, albeit dressed up with new stars, slicker technology, the latest fashions – but not anything actually new that might challenge their sensibilities in a deep way. Alas.

[As an aside, I’d note that in a manner the “light artist” James Turrell is one of the artists who is actually doing interesting things not based on that old view.]



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Which brings me to Plato, who talked of all of this 2,500 years ago in his fable of the cave. I don’t think I need to reiterate that story. Today we live inside a vast cave, a multi-tiered virtual reality, with people – especially younger people – enmeshed in myriad digital shadows, completely distracted and unaware of “real” things. Like how food is made, or how the society they are living in is destroying the little planet on which they live with almost everything we do. Especially with the technology with which we are so enthralled. So entranced are we with these shadows that flicker before us that we will surely die from the consequences of this distraction.

I have for some decades felt that our species will arrive at some point, a collectively generated “Eureka,” when indeed, courtesy of our sciences, we will have totally figured out how the world and the universe works, from the smallest to the largest, and that this point will signal our end: the tools, the thinking, the processes by which we will arrive to that Eureka point will delete us from the universe. Of course there are many ancient fables and parables which say exactly that. Our distinction will be to actually do it. We will erase ourselves with an ancient – by our standards – Greek word: hubris.

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So enthralled are we with ourselves and our cleverness and intelligence, our capacity to manipulate the world to our own ends – like a video game – that we will fail to note we lack a singular and most important quality: wisdom. We are doing it now, lost in the maze of our technology, quickly doing, as many earthly “civilizations” have done before: ravaging our environment, destroying our world in our short-sighted pursuit of wealth and power. What is different now is that where once the effects were confined to local consequences, and when a Mayan or Anasazi culture collapsed, it touched only the nearby region, whereas now our pursuits and their consequences are global: the leveled forests of the Amazon, the damaged nuclear power station of Fukushima, the rapid economic and technological development of China and South East Asia and its concomitant consumption of energy and materials on a European and American “western” level, and myriad other effects of the political “globalization” of capitalism, all push us rapidly towards a global crisis which already threatens to wreak havoc on what we imagined “normal.” The full consequences are only hinted at with our concerns about “global warming” – rising sea levels, more severe weather and so on. When the real consequences unfold, the ancient fable of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will charge into our “virtual reality” with a force that will make the collapse of ancient civilizations seem puny.

After all, we have globalized everything, and there are 7 and soon to be 9 billion humans on our planet. The coming disaster, while in good measure being orchestrated by the bytes of our digitalized world, will not be so benign and illusionary as the fleeting pixels of some grim but utterly fictional video game. It will not be virtual, but will be real. Very real.

109 Albrecht-Dürer-The-Four-Horsemen-Apocalypse-probably-1497-98-painting-artwork-print-1024x684Albrecht Durer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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In a few months, come January 2014, I will finish 50 years of filmmaking, and trundle on, inshallah, to number 51.  Back in 1963, arriving with $50 to my name in Italy, and put up by a generous family, the Rebosio’s of Cassina Amata, Paderno Dugnano, in what is now the suburbs of Milano, I made my first film.  It was a portrait of their 12 year old daughter, Matilde.  Silent, 13 minutes, it has recently been restored by the Eye Film Institute of the Netherlands (their archival organization) and I will get to see it for the first time in some decades when it is shown at the St Louis Film Festival in November.

IMG_1419Matilde and her husband, 1012

I was 19 when I made it and had no thought or idea of a career, of making a living, or any such thing, nor did I know that I would become a filmmaker.  I was young and reckless and foolish and perhaps of a little minority of my era, diving into the “’60’s.”  In hindsight I think I was a bit crazy, and it seems by some measures I still am.  I vaguely knew I was some kind of artist, and I knew somewhat the price that would involve.  Fifty years on I’ve accrued a mixed reputation, as a person and as a filmmaker/artist.  That reputation wanders all over the map and for the most part was determined by people who never met me, and know very little of me.  According to some I’m chronically reported as the most unknown, under-appreciated, blah blah, filmmaker in America.  According to some I am a hot-headed homophobe, a loose-cannon, with a string of bad relationships in my wake.  According to some I am some kind of cinematic genius; others say my films are the most boring/worst ever.  Most of those with the loudest opinions know me little if at all, and those who speak well or ill of my films most likely have only seen a quarter of them, if that.

Pict0001DavidSecond from left, kinda young.

Most of this public reputation is, as usual, a tiny bit of truth and a large dollop of make-believe, all depending on whom, the ax they have to grind, and whether they know me beyond hi-bye at a festival, or whatever.  After some decades one learns that a public persona is not yours, but whatever others make up.  Something to ignore and perhaps to find amusing.  In my case it is of little consequence since I am of little consequence in that larger world – the little hot-house one of cinema and the arts.   For many reasons – experiential ones – I basically withdrew from that world several decades ago.   I’d had my look at it, and frankly wanted nothing of it.   The film world, whether that of Hollywood, or of the European artsy realm, or the avant garde academic one, is a place of angry (and often very insecure) egos, bombast, corruption, vanity, and all the same things that infect, say, big business or politics.  In Hollywood it is written big, and the tabloids show you the miserable result; further down the scale it’s smaller, but the psychological crap is pretty much the same.   Dog eat dog.  A mostly unpleasant world from which – with a few exceptions – I try to steer clear.  I hardly know anyone in the film or arts world, and those few I know are modest figures, if very serious and good in what they do.  And, most importantly to me, they are good people.  People with whom I like to share time because of who they are, not what they do – though it certainly doesn’t hurt when they make good art too.

jon and davidMy cousin David and me, on the left.

I suppose, in terms of the film-world, I hit my peak around 1993, at the age of 50 – I’d made a few 35mm films, one of which secured a modest theatrical release in the US, and others that were shown on European TV.  All the Vermeers in New York was the ice-breaker, though I’d done many features before and already had a little “reputation” in the narrow little world of avant garde “new narrative” cinema.  I was a festival regular in Berlin, Rotterdam and elsewhere.   Vermeers functioned that way because it was commercially shown, listed in Variety’s top 50 BO accounting (though if you are not in the top 5 it means you probably didn’t make a dime).  To this day if someone says they “heard of” me, and that perhaps they saw a film of mine, it was because of Vermeers – which frankly isn’t very representative of my over-all work.  I think among those in the film biz it meant that I was supposed to slip into the small realm of filmmakers who manage in the USA as sort of Euro-art house directors:  Jim Jarmusch, Alan Rudolph, or Terrence Malick, or even Gus van Sant.  And certainly I could have done that, if I were a different person and a different kind of artist.  But, alas, I could never have, as those I’ve listed have done:  cranking out more or less the same/similar films (narrative, actor driven, and – to my mind – rather conventional, and to me, boring films), and making a nice career of it.  My interests are much wider, and my artistic inclinations run all over the place, with equal weight.  And there are other mitigating things as well, having to do with money, the kinds of people often associated with money, and with politics and morals.  So instead of taking what likely would have been a comfortable safe living that way, I instead moved to Europe, had two unhappy experiences with filmbiz people in Italy and Austria, and as soon as DV materialized in 1996, junked any thoughts of making the kinds of films I’d (mostly) made before, and which the film world anticipated I would and should continue to make.

_L.Ehrlich2010_26711967, Chicago, foto by Linn Ehrlich, shooting LEAHjon-¬L.Ehrlich_2013_1In Chicago, 1971 or so, foto by Linn Ehrlich

Instead I began to do what I really wanted to do:  experiment and play with this new medium, DV, as well as take a serious shot at painting, pastels, and other arts.  For a handful of years following I was confronted with film-maker friends thinking I’d gone crazy, opting for this – as the critics repeatedly and ignorantly claimed – gritty, ugly, etc. medium.  Which it wasn’t, but instead could be incredibly beautiful, and artistically so much more elastic than film, though most using it were enamored of “the film look” and tried to shoe-horn it into looking like old fashioned film.  Few were interested in the new work I did:  the playful London Brief, the long and meditative Nas Correntes de Luz da Ria Formosa, or the essay film 6 Easy Pieces and the many which have followed them – easily as good as anything I did in celluloid.  These showed in a handful of festivals, and promptly dropped from sight – along with me.    In the same period the market-economy religion of America overwhelmed the rest of the world, and basically if it didn’t cost a lot of money or make a lot of money, a film was “worthless” and treated as such.    The once vivid interest in the cinematic arts evaporated into a few tiny academic redoubts, a few serious festivals, and an ever-shrinking little list of showplaces.  Meanwhile “indie” bloomed under various names, as it had since the 70’s – though it seemed mostly a matter of making rather conventional narrative films of kinds that had been made before (but much better) and imagining it was all new.  It wasn’t.  And then we all met the internet, and from Hollywood down to scruffy little artist sorts, we are still trying to figure it out and how it impacts us.  Computer games are now a much bigger business than Hollywood.

  games 4 CE

So, yep, times do change, and from the rear-view mirror seemingly a lot faster than when looking the other way.  So while in a creative sense I’ve been more productive and prolific than I was in celluloid, and certainly from an artistic viewpoint far more adventurous, and in my certainly biased view, making even better work than those films that got such notices as “masterpiece” etc. etc., those many years ago, essentially for the last decade and more I’ve been ignored by the very same critics who lauded me before.  You can look up who those are.  I think in large part this has to do with the relentless commercialization of everything which has resulted in the collapse of alternative press, major media (NY Times and TV) requiring that a work be commercially released before giving space for reviews and comment, and so on down the line.  The small breathing room that existed for people like me 30 years ago has been squeezed out by the glorious globalized Market Economy, though as things are now developing the same forces are deleting jobs left and right, turning tenure into adjunct, and otherwise whipping all but the 5% on top into serfdom.   Just that some of we more expendable sorts had to play canary in the mineshaft.  But worry not – you too are getting shafted!

Jost1 - need dateSMCirca 1981, shooting Slow Moves – foto by Patricia Kelley

Which brings me, round about, to the heading above:


While I have no thought of giving up what I like to do – make things, be it video or painting or photography or music or writing – I do intend to give up this social matter of playing the festival/gallery/press etc. etc., game.   I’ll go on doing what I do, but I won’t be filling out festival entry forms, WithoutABox, or other such things.  I’ll be posting an open letter to festival directors, exhibitors, and the rest, informing them I’ll be working on, as usual, but if anyone wants to show my work, they can check FaceBook or my blogs and see if I have new things and ask me, cover the postage, see it on Vimeo or whatever.  Or they can write me.  If in turn they are interested, and it suits my situation I might take a trip or might not.   I’ll soon sort out putting things on line for VoD so my work is available and accessible (for a price).  But for holding back for festival glorious global premieres and all that – enough.  In brutal terms it really all doesn’t mean a thing for the work I do – being at a festival won’t make a dime of difference in the money I won’t earn.  The probable effect will be not much different than were I to play the game.  But after 50 years I just don’t feel like jumping through these hoops, filling out forms and all the other stuff attached to it.  And I will want to be paid for screenings, in fests and elsewhere, as it happens festivals have become the default public exhibition system, and like our corporate masters they now seem to expect one to labor for free, or worse, cough up a vanity-press submission sum, pay for all costs attached, and all in exchange for maybe a hotel room a night or two, or in a few remaining cases, the airfare to where ever.  Just not worth the candle, especially in the face of a non-existent “market” and a public in thrall to stars and all the rest.   So time to fold the cards.

jon-jost-1Portland, 2012, foto by Mark Eifert thats-all-folks-crpd

My first feature, Speaking Directly, (1973, done after 10 years of making short films) ends with this line, taken from the old Looney Toons.  Well, indeed, it’s been looney, though I gotta confess, the world has been a lot more so.







jon with hat croppedMontana, 2013

In the coming year I hope to do a new blog, which will chronologically cover my erstwhile career, a kind of autobio-filmography with notes on the making of each film, thoughts, self-critiques, and what not.  It’s sort of the kind of thing someone might do were they to have done a book on me, but I never seem to have attracted such interest.  Too much, it seems, an outsider, for our academic friends.

[Another little note: November 22-25 I'll be at the St Louis Film Festival showing Coming to Terms, along with my first film, Portrait.  In addition I'll be with my friend Blake Eckard at his screening of The Ghosts of Empire Prairie, which I shot for him and played a role in.  And while there I'll be given a Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Oliver Stone - whose done a lot better financially than I managed....  And in Lincoln Nebraska, at the Ross Media Arts Center, there will be screenings of my work Nov 14-17 or so.]


A year ago, today, I received in the email – along with many others – a note from filmmaker Mark Rappaport, detailing the sad story of himself and Professor Ray Carney of Boston University.   I won’t repeat the story here, but refer you to the previous posts, Chained Relations, 1 through 10.    Here, a year later, I unhappily report that Ray Carney still holds Mark’s materials.  While he has never communicated with me – despite my emails to him – it seems clear that he is adamant on holding onto these items, come hell or high water.  I had, I guess foolishly, entertained a bit of optimism that he’d come to his senses and silently, or with an apology, return it all.  I asked a handful of some of his friends and supporters to talk with him about it, which they did, only to be rebuffed.   So, belatedly I must join Mark in resignedly accepting that Professor Carney is apparently intent on holding these materials of Mark’s, and no appeal to reason or passion is going to change that.  What Mr. Carney’s reasons are can be fathomed only, evidently, by himself.

Below is an “Open Letter” to Mr. Carney.  I toss in the towel in regards to trying to persuade the man to do the right thing and return Mark’s films, tapes, papers.  It is clear he is not going to do so, whatever it costs him.  A matter of warped pride?  I frankly have no idea.  In the coming months I will do what I can, and ask others to do with me, to try to find the funding to go back to the film originals – housed in a handful of archives (Eastman House, MoMA), and see if new prints or K2 copies can be made from these.  For an independent filmmaker like Mark, the cost of doing so is prohibitive and out or reach, though in the big “real” world of the film business it is actually rather marginal.   So if anyone reading this knows any major figures, it would help to contact them.  Meantime likely we’ll try a crowd-funding path.  I’m open to any suggestions and help.

September 6, 2013

Dear Ray,

I hesitate to use this greeting as it implies a certain familiarity, a level of “friendship” which never existed in our case, though in your public persona you sometimes referred to me as your “close friend,” something which you’ve done with a number of others.   I spent at most a few hours in your presence, usually occupied with others.  I think perhaps I spent perhaps 20-30 minutes actually talking with just you – not, in my view, the foundation of a close friendship. And in turn this makes your other assertions of “close” friendships with others seem suspect to me.   So I use the “dear” rather rhetorically, as occurs in business letters.

A year ago and some, I sent you numerous emails to inquire about what had happened after I printed, at your request, your long broadside against Boston University. You replied several times, and then, precipitously, at the end of March, your emails ceased, and I wondered about your health or worse and sent you a number of queries, to no response.  And then on Sept 6th, 2012, I received Mark Rappaport’s public notice that you’d in effect seized his work, with the legal shit hitting the fan more or less exactly when you dropped, evidently willfully, off my radar.  It all clicked together rather directly.

Having spun around the sun a good many times and learned a good many things for my bother, on reading Mark’s public notice, I surmised, on my own, that for Mark the result would be a few “oh, so sorry” notes, a good many silent kept-to-self sighs of people thinking what a nasty world this is, and then an ominous silence, and a week or two later it would all be forgotten, and Mark, exhausted, would toss in the towel and resign himself to an unwarranted fate.  In my life I have seen such things a good handful of times, and I have, in my turn, picked up whatever was needed and done what I could to correct the obvious abuses.  I did so long ago on the Board of Directors of Canyon Cinema; when the Independent Feature Project in 1979 gave birth to itself with a totally fraudulent and rigged gathering in NYC; when my own work was illegally copyrighted by my erstwhile “friend” and “producer” in 1994; and when my daughter was kidnapped by her mother in 2001. And of course I did so in 1964 when I refused to participate in America’s military.   In each case trivial and empty people castigated me – people who knew little or nothing of the circumstances of these matters – for daring to speak in public.  It left me what is called a “reputation”  –  one as a hot-head, a loose-cannon, and all the usual epithets for dissidents of all stripes.  I’m used to it and not bothered.  My real friends know otherwise, and I care not at all for the broad “public opinion” which seems to govern the behaviors of most people.  So when I took up Mark’s cause, it was 100% on my own initiative and fully knowing that once again, there would be those who would scoff, make shallow he-said-she-said false arguments, and all the rest.  He did not ask me to do it, as you’ve imagined in your public words;  rather I had to ask him if it was OK for me to do so.

You should know about this kind of thing, firstly because you too trail a “reputation” – of squabbles with BU, with Gena Rowlands, with claims of “gifts” unsubstantiated, and other things.  And now the matter of claiming ownership of Mark’s materials.  You also have a reputation among former students as an inspiring and influential teacher.  More or less like me, you have both your harsh critics and a cluster of strong supporters.   And you did exactly the same with me, as I’ve seen with Mark and others:  make a great statement of support, and then turn around and issue insult or worse.  Here I will quote from your own record, public and private:

Written to me in an email, 12/22/11, when we were conspiring to print your erstwhile letter, purportedly innocently sent to me, regarding BU:

“Keep fighting the good fight. And thanks, Jon! You’re a mench!! (sic)”


“Stay well. Keep going. And keep telling the truth, even if (and when) people may not recognize it, or want to hear it. We have to both keep giving our gifts, even if only a few people understand or want them.”

After that you wrote two further emails requesting I hold up publishing your BU piece so it would be up as students were signing up for courses.  And then, on March 27, your emails ceased, more or less at the time your situation with Mark Rappaport took a nasty turn.  You did not answer numerous emails inquiring what impact the item had had, and as your silence took on a vaguely ominous quality, I wrote with questions about how you were.  You never wrote or contacted me again  –  curious treatment of a person you’d publicly called “my good friend.”

Subsequently in your very long public piece of March 18 2013, you excoriated me in various ways – I link so readers can go check if they wish.

So while I was conspiring with you, and evidently before, I was in your eyes a heroic truth-teller, and like Mark, a major-if-little-known American filmmaker, battling those ever-present forces of evil.  But when I asked for some truth from you, I instantly became a demon.

For much of the time since Mark’s circumstance was made public, I held out with some optimism that at some point you’d come around, return his materials and perhaps issue some kind of apology.  It seemed the reasonable, honest, and wise thing to do.  I thought you’d do it.  At my request, three or four of your supporters – former students, some people in the small little non-commercial film world – talked to you about all this, but it seems you rebuffed them.  And in the interim a few people pointed out to me some things which suggest that my early hunch that you are simply around the bend is all too accurate.  So, sadly, I guess I join Mark in his resignation that you are simply not going to return his materials, for whatever mangled reasons you have.

In one of your notes about Mark’s film Casual Relations, you make the observation:

“We are all under somebody’s thumb–to quote the Jagger lyric Rappaport uses–if we’re not thumb-wrestling ourselves and pinning ourselves down.”

Perhaps you should glance in the mirror.

And likewise, at the conclusion of your very long March piece on BU, you end thusly:

“People are very loath to change their minds, once they have come to a conclusion, however misinformed, however mistaken. That is another lesson of these events. People cling to their simplistic understandings, their incorrect theories; they fight to defend their mistakes; they refuse to see the truth when it is pointed out to them.”

Again, as with many of the assertions you apparently make in your classes, and in your blog, one could readily nod in assent, but only if they seemed also to apply to you – things about honesty, integrity and so on.  But in light of what you have done with Mark’s things, and in other instances, these things all ring hollow – a great rhetorical fog which, like our classic American tale of Elmer Gantry, seems to serve to cover up unhappy truths and overt lies.  In light of your actions, your words appear to 100% pure hypocrisy.

I don’t happen to read books of the kind you write, so I don’t know if in your work on Cassavetes , or others, you quote him or others, but if you do, I imagine I would find myself taking any such with a rather large boulder of salt.  Just as I take your claims of friendship with him with skepticism.  [There are some in his retinue who apparently assert you were deemed a twerp and pest.]  Indeed while you are very loud about your academic record I find your behavior suggests instead someone who is very insecure, who must trumpet his place in the world in case someone just doesn’t get it.  Like your entire resume tacked on the end of each letter or email.

So, despite these things, and despite my pessimism that it will beget a positive response, I will, one last time, ask that you return Mark’s materials to him. It would be, even at this belated date, the best thing to do – for him and for you.   If you don’t, well, I guess you’ll figure you “won,” whatever that might mean to you.

And I will in turn try to help raise the funds for Mark’s work to be transferred to 2K digital form so it can be seen and appreciated as you claim it should be.

Sincerely not your friend,


dblcarneyProfessor Raymond Carney, Boston University

Anyone wishing to help in raising the funds required to transfer Mark Rappaport’s films to 2K, so they can be screened and streamed so that people might see them, please contact me at

Rappaport's materials in Carney's lawyer's office.

grant etc


barnet newman red lineBarnett Newman, Red Line

Having self-snookered himself into his own corner, our increasingly hapless President Obama, ham-strung with a recalcitrant House of alleged Representatives which seems intent on dragging the entire nation into some imaginary past – one in which a “Negro” would never be allowed to rise above a certain station in life (say, shoe-shine boy) – and abandoned by our “special-relationship” ally of the UK, and so forced into the arms of a French lover, is presently pondering an attack upon Syria for having crossed a certain “red-line” – to say having allegedly used chemical arms against his own population.  Claiming a highly dubious “moral high-ground,” the President asserts that Syria’s unsavory leader, Assad, must be punished for this transgression of supposed international “norms.”  Coming from the head of a country which not so long ago thought nothing of laying waste to Vietnam with chemical agents (Boehner Orange), or more recently winked and nodded when its then-erstwhile lackey, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, gassed Kurds and Iranians, this moral outrage takes on a tragically comic air.  America skates on ever thinner ice as it pontificates about ethics and morals, especially as it imprisons Chelsea/Bradley Manning for 35 years for revealing American war crimes, as according to the Nuremberg Convention he was duty-bound to do; or as it hounds Edward Snowden for revealing a vast conspiracy within the government to illegally violate the US Constitution.  On this day, as I write, tucked into the New York Times front page is the now every-day banner, “4 Killed in Pakistan Drone Attack.”   As was once said, Mr. Obama has a lot of “‘splainin'” on his hands.


While trotting out last week for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famed speech, and trying his very best to emulate the preacher cadence of same, Mr. Obama droned on double the length of King, and to 100th the effect:  smooth teleprompter reader that he is, despite his best efforts, Barack just can’t do it like the master did.  Perhaps because lurking behind the voice is a absence of passion and belief.   Not long before he was killed, Mr King said this:

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world : My own

Government, I can not be Silent.”


gty_martin_luther_king_jr_ll_130115_wmainMartin Luther King

I think there is little room to doubt whether Mr. King would be silent in the face of the ever burgeoning military-industrial-media-security state which the American system has become.  [Below I print in full King's address, where his analysis of where America was, and was heading, has proved to be tragically accurate.]

And so, to pile irony on bitter irony, sent out in Obama’s stead, is his current Secretary of State, John Kerry.  If you will recall Kerry ran for President and was defeated by AWOL draft-avoider, rich man’s son, George W. Bush, in a campaign which ridiculed Kerry’s service (during which time he received medals for this and that) and “Swift Boating” became a verb.  During the Vietnam war Kerry became a hero of the American left when he spoke out against the war while still in service.  He became an anti-war icon, testifying in Congress.


Today Kerry is the administration’s waterboy, its loudest and most aggressive voice calling for action – a military strike – against Assad’s Syria, while Obama, our Nobel “Peace Prize” laureate, stays relatively quiet in the background.   For America the middle-east’s oily tar-baby is proving Uncle Remus’ fable all too prescient.    The craggy faced New Englander has good reason for a few more worry-wrinkles.

ap_john_kerry_mi_130506_wgJohn Kerry

And as I write (noon August 31 2013), the NY Times headlines a sudden change in direction as Obama attempts to tip-toe out of his corner, and has now tossed the matter of attacking into the hands of what had been a largely silent Congress:  now they must decide, as some had demanded and requested, just what to do.  Somehow the chant “Bomb, bomb,  bomb Damascus” just doesn’t have the same jolly ring that old John McCain’s (chorused by Rush Limbaugh and others), “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” had.  And besides Congress isn’t back for another week and perhaps by then America will have forgotten about it all, we’ll have done a few more drone attacks in Yemen or elsewhere, and as school kicks in we can all discuss college football and basketball and then the pro games.

And this criminal, having lied to Congress, will slip away, perhaps retiring quietly from government service and back through the revolving door to head one of our NSA contract spy corporations.  Ah, America.

8302013black-blog480James Clapper, head of NSA, Congressional perjurer

Following is the full text of Martin Luther King’s address:

Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence

Delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, and some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I’m in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans.

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath –
America will be!

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 19541; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

And finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.


They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954 — in 1945 rather — after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China — for whom the Vietnamese have no great love — but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by United States’ influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers. What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing — in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon, the only solid — solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists”? What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the North” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered.

Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. They remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred — rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the — for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism (unquote).

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.

I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do [immediately] to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam. Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation. Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos. Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government. Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.

Part of our ongoing — Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary. Meanwhile — Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala — Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”2 We in the West must support these revolutions.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”3

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing — embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate — ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.”4 Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says:

Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word (unquote).

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message — of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”5


Dennis_2007REVDennis Grunes, 2007 on the Columbia River gorge

I met Dennis Grunes when I moved to Portland, I think around 2006.  It was at a screening, I don’t recall of what.  He’d already written a few things – nice things – about some of my work, and it was nice to meet the obscure (at least to me) critic who’d written the words.  He seemed a somewhat eccentric, perhaps cantankerous soul, at that point already being seriously afflicted by his medical difficulties.   In the period I was there I saw him perhaps two other times, once, if I remember right, in his disheveled apartment.  (I don’t know if there is something inherent in it, but most those I have met who are film critics or fanatics also seem to share the trait of a chaotic domestic setting.)  In the months before I was to depart for my first ever job – teaching at Yonsei University in Seoul – Dennis’ health took some serious drops, and as I left I asked my friend Jane Wilcox if she would sort of mind after Dennis a bit.  It was rather an excessive request as Dennis was hardly a friend of mine, and she didn’t know him at all.  As things evolved, though, she did so in spades, visiting him several times a week, taking him shopping or doing so for him, cooking dinners, for what turned out to be five years – all far beyond the call of any reasonable duty.  My deepest thanks to her for taking it on.

Two months ago, after a long period of very serious illnesses, Dennis died.  Here is an obituary written by one of his friends, Mindy Aloff.

Dennis Grunes, the literary critic, poet, and critic and historian of world cinema, died in Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, in Portland, Oregon, on June 15, 2013. According to his elder brother, Rodney, the cause was aspiration pneumonitis, owing to end-state renal disease.

Although Dr. Grunes [pronounced GREW-niss] was not famous as a mass-media critic, his literate, informed, and, often, deeply moving writings on film, especially, were avidly followed by working filmmakers, other critics and historians, and armchair cineastes throughout the U.S. and abroad. His film critic’s blog, on WordPress, contains thousands of critical entries—most of them precisely 300 words long but some essays on individual masterpieces much longer than that. He loved the pictures of 20th-century Russia and France, in particular; however, he made it his business to evaluate films as old as 19th-century Russian, French, and American silents and filmmakers as far-flung as those of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and he found masters and masterpieces to appreciate in every category. He was also a vigorous partisan of nonpareil independent filmmakers of the past quarter century—notably Chris Marker, Jon Jost, and Gus Van Sant.

Like many online critics, Dr. Grunes also amassed lists: the 100 Greatest Films of All Time (his pride and joy), the 25 Greatest Film Performances by Actresses, the 10 Greatest Films on the Holocaust, and so forth. These lists were never set in stone, however; and where Orson Welles might top a list one year he could be dethroned by Michelangelo Antonioni in another. Because the lists reflected Dr. Grunes’s tremendous erudition in film, one consulted them often to, so to speak, take the temperature of the critic’s enthusiasms, which encompassed every genre of filmmaking (the short and long feature, the documentary, the film essay) and every kind of tone or temperament (comic, tragic, dispassionate, engaged) and also represented his appetite and limitless capacity for revisiting individual films many, many times. And for finding humor in extremis: As one of his Portland friends, Paul Wotipka, wrote with affection: “Even at his darkest moments
he could roar with laughter.”

Dennis Scott Grunes was born on January 31, 1948, in Brooklyn, New York, to Ann and Casper Grunes. He earned his B.A., in English at the State University of New York at Binghamton, in 1969, and his Ph.D., in English with a minor in film, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, in 1974, where his mentor was Leslie Fiedler. His thesis, The Romantic Brother, a brilliant study of fraternal myth and motifs in Blake, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and others, was published in 1973 by SUNY/Buffalo. The 1970s and ‘80s were gruesome decades for English Ph.D.s who sought full-time teaching jobs; and, despite not only completing his doctoral thesis in three years but having it published, and publishing many essays and articles in such distinguished scholarly journals as Transcendental Quarterly, the Emily Dickinson Bulletin, Contemporary Poetry, and Studies in the Humanities, Dr. Grunes could not find a sustaining perch in academe. With the exception of one year as a public relations writer for the Bet On A Vet program in Buffalo, he never enjoyed a full-time job; instead, he patched together a living from adjunct teaching, business and governmental-report writing, and tutoring. In 1976, he was one of three featured young scholars in “A Generation of ‘Lost’ Scholars,” a cover story, by Darcy O’Brien, of The New York Times Magazine. Although the article attracted much attention, it didn’t help to bring Dr. Grunes secure work as a teacher.

In 1980, Dr. Grunes moved from Buffalo to Portland, Oregon, where friends were living, and he began to write for general audiences on various arts, publishing over 100 reviews and features in local magazines, and to teach literature and composition, again as an adjunct, at Portland State University and, by mail, for the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, for which he also wrote four independent student course guides. From the early 1980s, as well, Dr. Grunes assisted his friend Tony Bacon on editorial projects. When, in 1995, Mr. Bacon established The Daily Insider, an online community news periodical, published on weekdays for southwest Washington State, Dr. Grunes became the valued editor and continued, after Mr. Bacon’s death, at the behest of Mrs. Bacon, until shortly before Dr. Grunes’s death. Some of Dr. Grunes’s film writings were published there.

In 2007, thanks to numerous telephone tutorials with Chicagoan Denise Gaeta, Dr. Grunes established his blog on world film and contributed to it many times a week, up until a few weeks before his death. Its title was simply “Dennis Grunes.” Referring to some of the severe effects of his progressively worsening diabetes, Ms Gaeta wrote:

“The thing that most moved me about Dennis was his absolute dedication to his craft.  Every time I think of the horrors he was living through, while still religiously writing every single day, and sending his work out with notes of such vivacity and humor, it makes me cry.

“The world kneels before all the wrong kings.”

In 2010, Olivier Stockman, of the Sands Films Cinema Club, in London, England, published a compendium of Dr. Grunes’s film writings, A Short Chronology of World Cinema (still in print, in paperback), with the following foreword:

“In his book Histoire du Cinema Mondial, Georges Sadoul tried to put each film in its context; in an appendix, he added a chronology, giving for each year, from 1892 to 1966, a list of notable titles. Sadoul’s list became the main inspiration for Sands Films Cinema Club and programming films by year of production.

“The necessity of cinema clubs and film societies is demonstrated by the fact that many of Sadoul’s 5,000 listed titles have not been seen since their original release; and when a film is lost, forgotten, or locked in the vault of a remote cinematheque, it ceases to exist: a film exists only when it is screened to an audience.

“Searching for information about films I have not seen, I came across someone who seems to have seen everything. I then discovered that Dennis Grunes has written about almost each film he has seen during the last 40 years or so. This massive work cannot be improvised nor even commissioned: it is a lifetime commitment. Taken individually, each entry is, at the very least, an introduction to a film, but edited together and classified by year, these neat 300-word entries become a remarkable survey of the history of world cinema. Publishing this book became therefore the natural continuation of the club’s activity and purpose.

“Dennis Grunes is a sharp critic, opinionated and well informed, his passion and enthusiasm are contagious. Ironically, Dennis Grunes has never been to Sands Films Cinema Club, we have never met, we have never watched a film together and, perhaps, we never will: he lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Several thousand email messages exchanges supplied the material for this book, composed with care and discipline by an exacting writer.”

Another tribute from a reader who only knew Dr. Grunes online comes from the writer Tom Zaniello:

“Because I never met Dennis, I knew him through his reviews and his e-mails and was always pleased to read both. They were unfailingly fascinating; often the result was that I would rush off to locate the film he had written about so I could see it. Dennis was a virtual film school. He took time out not too long ago to send me a few critiques of sections of a Hitchcock book I am writing. Whence comes such another?! He will be very, very missed.”

Dr. Grunes never married, although he enjoyed long friendships with many individuals. He is survived by his brother; his sister-in-law, Judith; and his nephews Jeff and Eric and their families, including Jeff and Harsha’s new baby, Dennis’s great-nephew Avi Jacob.

In August of 2012, Dr. Grunes last updated his list of “50 Best Films of All Time.” The first five entries are, in order: L’eclisse by Antonioni, A Sixth of the World by Dziga Vertov, Ordet by Carl Dreyer, Earth by Aleksandr Dovzhenko, and Early Summer by Yasujiro Ozu. The entire list, as well as his other film writings and some of his poetry, are still available on his blog:

In his own foreword to A Short Chronology of World Cinema, Dr. Grunes wrote:

“I have tried to emphasize the expressive nature of films—those aspects that certify cinema as an art form rather than as a medium of diversion. Like most paintings, poems or whatever, most films aren’t especially expressive; they simply fail as art. They may take as their primary aim the filmmaker’s relationship with an audience, which the filmmaker tries to manipulate or entertain. A serious filmmaker places his or her primary interest elsewhere: in developing themes, which entails finding—by intellection or intuition, for different artists work very differently—the expressive means for doing this. Substantial films therefore require considerable focus for their creation, and they require, by us, scarcely less in their viewing and consideration. Diversions glide over us; art, on the other hand, makes demands on us—and rewards us generously when we meet those demands.”

Dr. Grunes was a devoted cat fancier, and he owned, one at a time, several beloved felines, including his last, the beauteous Shée. Contributions in his name may be made to The House of Dreams, a no-kill cat shelter, in Portland, Oregon. – Mindy Aloff

avery & jane 2Jane Wilcox and Avery – thanks on behalf of Dennis from me.  You’re an angel.Dennis.Shee_1Shee

Thank, Mindy, for letting me publish this.  And for those interested in a wide, global range of cinema, do read Dennis’ blog:


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