- Why did you choose the journal FILM CULTURE as the subject for an edited book? Isn’t that too avant-garde a publication for you, knowing what I know about your taste in films?
I do have a background in the avant-garde, you know—particularly avant-garde theater and drama. But yes, my taste in films runs toward the realistic or naturalistic. That said, FILM CULTURE was never limited strictly to coverage of the avant-garde. It’s great service was to call attention to avant-garde currents in the cinema and to explain their relationship to such currents in the other arts, as well as to mainstream currents themselves in film: popular Hollywood movies, European art films, new American cinema of the art-house variety.
- A publication like the magazine FILM CULTURE couldn’t survive today: that’s obvious; the readership isn’t there. Have you any comment on this matter, or on the art-house/avant-garde films that made a journal like FILM CULTURE possible?
It’s true that a publication like FILM CULTURE could not survive today—I’m talking about a print journal in addition to an Internet website. But neither could any other serious, start-up film journal, unless completely subsidized by a university or a foundation. Subsidies aside, the reader-interest isn’t there: the level of intellectual curiosity; the historical background; the knowledge of comparative arts, as well as of film as a total or Wagnerian art form. Why that is the case is the subject of a different discussion, connected to higher education in the West, in general, and in the United States, in particular.
- Are there any people like the Mekas brothers still around today—men who will engage in a labor for love, not for profit, for some 40 years, all for the sake “merely” of film art?
Yes, there are such people—but not many. I’m one of them, but I’m too old to start anything now. Anyone can start anything on the Internet, as you know, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s almost too easy. What’s not easy is to get the film education, background, and taste that would make a person a devoted as well as accomplished servant of film art, on a scholarly or a practical level. We’re talking here about a lifetime’s worth of work. The Mekas brothers did that work; they never really stopped doing it; and FILM CULTURE is the evidence.
- Some people, even film enthusiasts, have never heard of directors like Hans Richter or Richard Leacock, two of the interviewees. Does that present any problem for you, or, more important, for your readers?
No, not at all. Now that you’ve heard of Richter and Leacock, read about them, see their films, talk about their work. Do I really need to say this? Everybody has gaps; the point is to fill them. The reader has to trust his editor—in this case, me—assume that he has his reasons for including Richter and Leacock, then go about discovering what those reasons are.
- What do you think of the interview-format overall? Actually, the magazine FILM CULTURE didn’t run all that many interviews, unlike today’s CINEASTE, which tries to publish an interview in each issue.
I like the interview-format very much. In the hands of the right interviewer, the interview is the best kind of criticism. The secret is to balance the personal with the professional, the technical with the artistic, the objectively analytical with the subjectively appreciative. You also have to choose the right interviewee—not just someone whose work you admire, but also someone whom you can get to talk freely and at length, with full confidence that his words will not be misrepresented or distorted.
- Have you ever edited a journal (selected the contents in addition to copy-editing articles), or is your editing limited mainly to the copy kind?
No, I have never edited a journal, though I would have liked to. An opportunity just never presented itself. I’m mainly a copy editor, though, of course, I’ve had to be a “selective” editor in putting together Film Culture on Film Art: Interviews and Statements, 1955-1971. I’ve been such an editor on numerous other book-length projects, so you could say that I’m “experienced.”
- I was surprised to see Arthur Miller in a book that features a number of avant-garde film Miller, after all, is a playwright, and he represents, for the most part, the conventional or traditional in drama—the realistic-cum-naturalistic, as opposed to the avant-garde.
Well, Miller was a smart guy, in some ways a better “smart guy,” or public intellectual, than he was a great playwright. I happen to think that he wasn’t a great playwright, though he was more aesthetically adventurous than he gets credit for being—particularly in a play like After the Fall and even in his best known, otherwise most accessible work, Death of a Salesman. In any case, Miller is precisely the kind of outlying artist—full-time dramatist, some-time screenwriter, secular Jew—who can bring a fresh conception to the discussion of poetic vs. prosaic film, avant-garde vs. realistic cinema, visual imagery vs. verbal structure. That’s what he does in Film Culture on Film Art, and quite well, I must say.
- The introduction to your book contains a kind of mini-history of film directing. That is, you contextualize film directing and don’t assume that everybody knows its essence, its history, its internal divisions, external pressures, etc.
That’s what good introductions do, don’t they? (And here’s hoping that mine is such an introduction.) They introduce and contextualize, rather than simply recite or summarize. You want to prepare the reader for what he is about to experience, not just give it to him (again, as it were) in miniature. This is especially true in the case of something like film directing, since most people have never seen a film director at work and therefore don’t really know what such a director does, let alone what the history of his craft—or art—is.
- Apart from finances, aging editors, declining readership, etc., why do you think FILM CULTURE ceased publication as a journal in 1996?
One reason may be that 1996 was the year in which the first digitally filmed feature was made: Paul Wagner’s Windhorse, which was released in 1998. Bob Hoskins’ Rainbow, released in 1996, was the world’s first film utilizing extensive digital post-production techniques. Digital changes everything, as everyone knows, for better, for worse, or for in-between; and maybe the Mekas brothers thought that someone else, or some other journal, should deal with the discussion of such a momentous paradigm shift.
- FILM CULTURE was a great title for a magazine, and you have retained it in the title of your book.
Yes, there’s a play on words in the journal’s title, in the sense that making a film is indeed a cultural act; but film culture is a culture unto itself, or has become one, and perhaps the Mekas brothers saw this ultimately coming. There’s a good side to it, of course, but there’s a bad side, too. That is, if films are your only culture, your only cultural artifacts—which is true these days for more and more people, who do not read and cannot write and do not see in a critical or analytical way, or do not see films that merit critical analysis—then you’re in trouble. Big intellectual trouble, from which escape will be difficult if not impossible.