Archive for March, 2008
“Art for the average spectator need not be shallow. Of course, he has no objection to the trite- but it is also true that he would accept true art if it were simple enough. I thoroughly agree that there must be an understanding between the artist and the people. In the best ages of art that has always been the case. Genius can probably run on ahead and seek out new ways. But the good artists who follow after genius- and I count myself among these- have to restore the lost connection once more. A pure studio art is unfruitful and frail, for anything that does not form living roots- why should it exist at all?”
-Kathe Kollwitz, 1916
I have been struggling five days now to write the first line of my paper on Kollwitz for my printmaking/history of print class. I admire her work and her approach to graphic art, but I’ve never written an art history paper before and I can’t begin to frame a cogent enquiry which can be completed in a day. Or two.
That’s the downfall of being a perfectionist. If I can’t do it well, I’m not going to begin. Which really is a rather silly way to live. (And explains why I’m such a lousy communicator- I don’t want to write email replies until I have the time to write a nice one. Which never happens).
Better to swallow my pride and write an analysis of Kollwitz’s work as an “average spectator” than to have a non-existent paper while I maintain the fragile illusion that I’m incapable of writing (and too poncy to write) dross.
We have been studying the Gospel of Mark in my small group since October ‘07 and hope to finish by the end of May. It has been an incredibly rewarding pursuit and I may speak more to this in the future. All that needs to be told now is that I decided not to go on a ski trip this weekend because I have a 8-page paper on printmaker Kathe Kollwitz due Monday, and a production journal and paper edit to turn in to my professor Jamie Meltzer which is late beyond measure (which in my mind constitutes an indefinite deadline). The gameplan was to be a good student and finish the work, and also read the last one-third of Mark since it was the Easter weekend.
Suffice to say that the work has not commenced. It was a gorgeous day Saturday and I spent the latter part of the afternoon sitting in the Main Quad outside Building 120 enjoying some tea (PG Tips: the best plebian black tea on earth with the possible exception of Dilmah) and chocolates (Ritter Sport Rum, Raisin & Hazelnuts: slightly more indulgent). We had left off the Mark study just after Jesus had entered Jerusalem: chronologically this marked the start of the last week of his life. As I was reading, I was trying to find a cohesive theme with which to understand this culminating section of Mark.
There were the arguments that Jesus was having with the religious/intellectual leaders, the Passover meal where a woman annointed his head with a jar of perfume worth a whole year’s wages, Judas’s decision to betray Jesus for just 30 silver coins, Jesus’s observation that the poor widow who put in two copper coins into the treasury had given more than the rich who had put in more money (in absolute terms), and then the Garden of Gethsemene , the trial and the crucifixion.
In the first two-thirds of Mark, I’d noticed that the themes had progressed from:
- being called to follow
- listening and asking
- having faith
- what it means to be great (to be the last and servant of all)
What’s struck me with this last section of Mark (with the ringing clarity of a bludgeoning hammer) is the theme of giving to God. Some bible commentaries say the woman with the perfume had probably bought it using her dowry. To the poor widow, the two copper coins were all she had to live on. In neither case do we see their giving as compulsion or obligation; they were wholehearted and in the case of the woman with the perfume, even joyful. Crucially, their giving was one that required dependence and trust in God to provide for the next step.
I don’t give that way.
During summer ‘07, I learnt intellectually that the surest expression of faith is to obey, and to give/tithe. And I was convinced. Convicted. But continued grasping tight to the monetary provision that God had granted through my Harvey Fellows scholarship, the course assistantship at Stanford, and the prize money from Bullet Proof Vest’s screening on POV and Independent Lens Online Fest. Because giving away means I have to wait and trust that God will provide again. The far more palatable option is to not give, and be (for the most part) self-sufficient (of course only possible if one conveniently forgets the source of said original provision).
Even if I can (obstinately) argue my way out of giving financially because I am a starving student, I can’t reason my way out of giving of my time (for instance when I oversleep church on Sundays because a 20 minute bike ride is too much effort to crawl out of bed for).
I believe that God has a good plan for my work- in this case, my thesis project. And the execution of this good plan means that He will be glorified regardless of whether the film itself is critically acclaimed, universally panned, or even worse fades into the wallpaper of mediocity. Because so long as I am obedient day-to-day, the process of trusting and relying on Him will slowly change me more into His likeness. And that is good. I believe this yet I struggle with wanting the critical acclaim. And I wonder how real my words are if I still cannot give, enough.
I sometimes wonder whether I could have made this work. This thought comes after the fact. I must have spent at least 70 hours in laundromats from October through end November.
From the journal:
- new owner (of Little Hollywood Laundrette) and attendants (from Honduras, Philippines)
- customers across 4 neighbourhoods (Duboce Triangle, Mission, Castro, Market)
- scope: stay in laundromat (more elegant) or follow customers to homes?
- synch interviews or voice-over only?
- black & white film or High Definition video?
- possible to abstract?
- play on dirty laundry concept?
Spent day trekking over and across San Francisco by foot and MUNI looking for a coin laundry. I Yelped at home before heading out. Tons of Bubbles and Get the Funk Out in Western Addition/NOPA, Little Hollywood on Market and Octavia, Fiesta and The Wash Quarters in the Mission, Star Wash in the Castro… The irony was that I had decided to make a film… about laundromats.
I wanted to hit Parkside and Potrero Hill as well because I’d been told that these two neighbourhoods were more ethnically and socio-economically diverse, but without a car I had to start at the more central areas.
Get the Funk Out! had the better sofa, keyboard and Dr Seuss children’s area. Little Hollywood Laundrette had an Art Deco entrance and a wrap-around floor-to ceiling “Golden Age of Cinema”-themed mural. Guess which one I picked?
The entries in this series are either taken verbatim or reconstructed from vague scribbles in the journals (three actually) that I’ve blitzed through since October working on my thesis film. Some are more personal than others. Some refer to thoughts refracted from production/theory/design/art history classes. Some are reflections on my faith and its intersection with my work. I am not a particularly public person but this exercise serves a few functions:
1. reclaims my journal entries from the quicksand of illegible handwriting and a porous memory.
2. constitues a “better late than never” gesture to friends who have heard little from me since September.
3. provides some circular answers to questions of process in making documentary films.
4. forces me to write- one can only hope that this is habit-forming.
You can watch my short film Bullet Proof Vest on the Independent Lens Online Festival website until December 2008.
New Yorkers can catch it at the IFC Center for two weeks from April 18 as part of the IFC Doxita Short Attention Span Cinema. Shorts in this program screen before a feature during those two weeks.
If you are really interested, the P.O.V. website has a background interview on the film. There is a link there to the background interview for Keeping House which screened together with Bullet.
A cheap thrill, but still rather cool to see my name in a Variety magazine spread on the Angelus Student Film Festival, albeit in small print.
I apologise for the dearth of posts on this blog. Good intentions took a bleary-eyed peek at the sun streaming into the windows and decided to go back to bed. I am now entering the final term of my two-year graduate program in doc film + video at stanford and it is incredible that I have been as busy in the last 6 months putting together a 20 minute doc short which is now about half-way done, as I was while working in a TV station producing one half hour show every three and a half weeks. Am now eating humble pie. In any case, I have to turn in a production journal for my professor which was due last week. The next few posts will be retrospective journal entries, which may make for interesting reading. I promise that good intentions will at the very least, see this though before retiring!