David Herrle SubtleTea Interview with Nick Zegarac
D: Rita Hayworth or Greta Garbo?
Nick: It's a non-issue, like comparing apples to guinea pigs. Rita was Columbia's top pin-up gal from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s. Garbo was MGM's most enigmatic elixir of the late silent and early talkies. By my thinking, the French have always been savvy when it comes to assessing and comparing acting talent. Simply because a woman possesses stunning physical beauty it does not preclude her from also being a very talented actress. I'm speaking of the golden age of stars (circa 1929-1959), NOT celebrities of the present day.
Just so that we're clear about the difference: A star is known primarily for their body of work on screen. The truth about their lives was often a fanciful concoction doled out by their respective studio's P.R. departments. Celebrities don't have the luxury of a body of work or a studio to coddle their insecurities. They make two to ten films and their career is over -- then they rely primarily on the spin of tabloids to splash gaudy specifics about their botched love lives, drug addictions, marriage-divorce-marriage-divorce; any and every scandal imaginable to keep their "reputation" -- even a spurious and disgusting one -- alive.
If anything Garbo and Hayworth have this much in common: they were magical, mysterious creatures who continue to materialize like goddesses on the screen. They perpetuated the myth of stardom that Rita said it best, "They went to bed with Gilda [her most iconic role] but woke up with me." That dichotomy between blithe phantom of the silver celluloid and flesh-and-blood woman with all too fallible flaws is what continues to captivate audiences and generates a whole new following for each great lady's body of work.
So Rita or Greta? My answer is "both" -- but for very different reasons.
D: Your favorite films and directors/books?
Nick: You've opened a can of worms with favorite films and directors. I like a lot of different styles and artists for a variety of reasons. But I am a classic film buff, so my tastes tend to lean toward an established style. I have a strong distaste for the current "inmates running the asylum" trend in Hollywood, where actors, pop stars, talk show hosts et al suddenly decide that they would like to add "film director" to their list of credentials.
I keep going to the movies hoping that something new will satisfy my artistic sensibilities instead of indoctrinating them through a barrage of computer generated special effects. Sadly the latter seems to be the rule of the day and, at least in my opinion, is ruining the longevity of film as art. I may be wrong in this assessment, but I don't think we'll be celebrating the 70th Anniversary of The Perfect Storm or The Day After Tomorrow with such esteemed reverence as we are preparing to do with Gone With The Wind (1939).
I have 10 simple rules for improving film content.
1) Make something that doesn't resemble a cheap Hallmark movie of the week or HBO special.
2) Something with real actors (not teens and twenty-somethings with firm bodies but precious little to offer in the way of solid acting). 3) Something that is not merely a glorified and/or expanded television or comic book serial translated into an expensive overblown and weak premised, effects laden mind-numbing bit of disposable and forgettable garbage.
4) Something morally uplifting and "feel good", instead of gutless and postmodernist-plagued depressing.
5) Something that has a subplot (today's movies are almost universally a one premise deal with few to nil secondary characters one can root for).
6) Something that IS NOT A REMAKE (simply because its cheaper to revisit an archive rather than invest in a writer and an idea that is both fresh and refreshing with a twist).
7) Something that IS NOT a reconstitution of reality (thanks...but if I want reality I can look out my windows for free).
8) Something that has a little style to it (aside: fast paced editing that makes everyone want to toss their cookies IS NOT style. [It's] merely a masking of the fact that as a cinematographer, director and editor you have NONE).
9) Something that is not based solely on market research (because, let's face it, since Variety's 2004-05 poll stated film grosses to be at their lowest on average since 1986, market research has not been helpful or equitable to profits of late).
10) And finally: something for which a fair price is charged (you know, where the average man can actually afford to take his wife, son, daughter, and his best friend and not have to work six hours at a minimum wage job simply to pay for the price of general admission --
to say nothing of popcorn, drinks et al).
Do all this and I might enjoy movies again.
I would further suggest that every new director, cinematographer, writer and actor today be forcefed a six week crash-viewing of 1930s and 1940s films to relearn their craft. My opinion has always been that classic cinema retains its popularity and perennial revival status quite simply because it avoids these aforementioned and rather obvious pitfalls that current film makers seem all too readily able and willing to fall into: camera first and begging the editor to salvage their mishmash later. I speak now more directly of Oliver Stone's umpteenth endeavor to re-cut the abysmal Alexander yet again for a new-newer-newest DVD release.
My pick for best film of this past year is a tie between The Prestige and Casino Royale. I'll give you my top ten films as follows:
Casablanca (Because as time goes by it only gets better.)
Gone With The Wind (Every generation finds something socially redeeming in the heartless Scarlett O'Hara.)
The Wizard of Oz (After 65 years there is still no fantasy film quite as tangibly emotionally satisfying as this.)
Singin' In The Rain (Because, at some level, we all wish that we could.)
Lawrence of Arabia (A thinking man's epic with the heart of a poet both in front of and behind the camera.)
Breakfast at Tiffany's (Everyone needs a little "Audrey-go-lightly".)
Ben-Hur (1959) (Sweeping epic with the spirit of humanity at its core.)
Cinema Paradiso (Enthralling and utterly enchanting, reminds us all why we go to the movies.)
Howards End (Superbly crafted. It is the Rolls Royce of literary adaptations.)
Gosford Park (We are invited to murder most foul, where the crime is not nearly as fascinating as the participants.)
DIRECTORS (top five only)
William Wyler (According his own likes, he directed at least one movie from every genre and quite a few that continue to endure the test of time. Required viewing: The Letter, Jezebel, The Little Foxes, Roman Holiday, The Big Country, How To Steal A Million, Mrs. Miniver, Wuthering Heights, Ben-Hur, The Heiress, Funny Girl.)
George Cukor (Awoman's director whose regard for his craft gave us something extraordinary to look at from the everyday. Required viewing: The Women, Camille, A Star is Born, The Philadelphia Story, Adam's Rib, Gaslight, Born Yesterday, My Fair Lady.)
Michael Curtiz (The Warner work horse whose inimitable styling elevated many a studio programmer to sublime art. Required viewing: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, This Is The Army, Passage to Marseille, Mildred Pierce, White Christmas.)
George Stevens (He had a light touch until the war intervened then brought social commentary to our cultural awareness with all the adeptness of a master showman, but in a way that never preached to us. Required viewing: Alice Adams, Gunga Din, Penny Serenade, Woman of the Year, The Talk of the Town, I Remember Mama, A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, The Diary of Anne Frank.)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz (The most literate of all directors who often also wrote the screenplays he turned into films, he imbued his product with a social commentary that teemed with the soft -- often ugly -- underbelly of despicable human character traits, made robust and fascinating under his expertise. Required viewing: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, A Letter to Three Wives, All About Eve, No Way Out, Julius Caesar, The Barefoot Contessa, Guys and Dolls, Suddenly Last Summer.)
BOOKS (top five only)
Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle (A mesmerizing contribution to our contemporary literary scene. Dark, brooding and utterly void of cliché.)
Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (Largely a critique of social caste and the rigidity of the English classes, it's Austen's quietly understated homage to love beyond that rather obvious and laughable refinement that continues to ring true.)
E.M Forrester's A Passage to India (An unabashedly critical critique of British colonization and its clash of wills that is more class-driven than cultural.)
Count Lev (Leo) Nikolayevich Tolstoy's War and Peace (So intricate and satisfying in its edification of pertinent characters that it staggers the mind and reason as to how any one author could keep the whole of the human condition so magnificently balanced.)
Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary (His heroine is a bitch, but one driven by the gaudy excesses of fashionable society. We are living today in a sea of Madame Bovary's, but Flaubert's is the textbook example of imperishable drive in absence of genuine substance.)
D: Nick, you're a film buff and critic, specializing in what is generally known as "classic" film. You've a specific consideration for what should be called noir, for instance. Your blog, The Hollywood Art, is an excellent resource for Hollywood's bygone age. I salute your esteem for John Wayne, a man misunderstood and scorned by intolerants who see jingoists under every bush and face anything positively American with, as Eric Hoffer put it, "an automatic sneer".
I'm curious about your thoughts on what I call the Mirrorness of film: How what we watch is more of a mirror screen than a "silver screen". The film viewing event itself is an encounter of the familiar in the other who is echo or potential of the viewer. Our selves are waiting to be recognized. Often this self-recognition is also Godlikeness, a slight touch or overwhelming embrace of the numinous at least and the Personal at most. Film is mythopoeiaic mirror, fantasy's reality and reality's fantasy.
Mirrorness abounds in Hitchcock's works, Brian DePalma's Femme Fatale, Kurosawa's work, etc. Characters serve as viewers' sin-eaters or scapegoats, mentors or would-bes; they suffer the insufferable, achieve what we only dream. Good films tend to be about this mirrorness, the very stories involving characters discovering themselves in each other, smiting themselves through outward aggression (in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker slays Vader in his hallucination and finds his own head behind the mask), clashing or melding, which deepens our mirror experience, making reflections of reflections that rebound and shoot back (laden with our personal recognition and interpretation) into the film. This is evident in familiar "love triangle" or triplet role situations (Hitch's Under Capricorn, Notorious, Vidor's Gilda, Nichol's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Kubrick's Lolita, etc.). We watch ourselves kill or be killed, love or be shunned. We take and eat in filmic communion, hardly a half-step away from Tragedian days.
Though Stanley Kubrick's films are carnal to the core and I can't say that he communicates Godly transcendence or even the numinous, his films are dear to me, if not just for their heavy symmetry, their doubling, their distilled honesty about human nature that grins and says, "Heeeeere's Johnny" - here's you and me - to all us viewing Johnnies in the safe and concealing theater dark. Kubrick shares with Kurosawa the starkest physical mirrorness and symmetry in their mise en scene on top of their character situations, Kubrick not only internally mirroring in each film but each film mirroring his other films to the point of archetypal redundancy. Especially in The Shining (to the point of the famous "redrum" scrawl), Eyes Wide Shut (too many to list), A Clockwork Orange (before and after and after after Alex, etc.), Lolita (Humbert Humbert's conflict with Quilty), and 2001 (H.A.L. mirroring human behavior, Dave facing H.A.L., Dave facing Dave).
Your thoughts on film's relation to viewers, Mirrorness/symmetry, Kubrick, Hitch, etc.? Are you a Kurosawa fan, by the way?
Nick: Film does not, and I am convinced should never, directly "mirror" the world around us! We have today, what I would coin, an embracement of motion pictures not as art but as "fact" turned on end, meaning that we are attempting to illustrate through fictional accounts something that we readily experience in life or, at the very least, have seen regurgitated on the late night news.
The death of Anna Nicole Smith comes immediately to mind. There are already talks in play for a biographical TV movie of the week and a major motion picture. Yet what is there to be learned from either? One might very well argue that biographically, film has a long history of fictionalizing the popular icons for its own entertainment purposes: The Great Ziegfeld, The Life of Emile Zola, I Want To Live, Love Me Or Leave Me, Amadeus, Gandhi, Immortal Beloved, A Beautiful Mind, et al. But I would argue that these titles are hardly about sensationalism or "mirrorness" in cinema. Some are not even about extolling truth from their subject matter. For example, Amadeus is about two people who never actually met in real life; A Beautiful Mind eschews the sordid aspects of John Nash's life to tell a poignant story of struggle and solidarity against seemingly insurmountable odds. Is it art or is it life? I would argue toward the former and all to the good.
The greatest of all cinematic achievements are morality plays about the unattainable: unrequited love (Now Voyager), broken romances (Casablanca), valiant, though utterly futile and often failed ventures (Lawrence of Arabia), lost opportunities (Schindler's List) and the triumph of the human spirit (Places in the Heart).
The Hollywood narrative is often referred to as the "invisible style" and for very good reason. As an audience, we are presented with what a director perceives as truth in his narrative and we also share in that clairvoyance by running slightly ahead of the characters own social development within the context of the narrative structure. We don't see what they see. We see much more and are therefore consciously assured of an omnipotent safety from our seats. The characters populating these stories have no such luxury.
What you have coined as "mirrorness" I would argue is very similar, if not in fact identical, to film voyeurism: the audience aligning themselves with a character's mindset and predicament and living that life as though it were their own, if only for a few hours. Again, the best of filmic experiences are able to generate that "through the looking glass" perspective in which, we quite easily leave ourselves behind in the dark to become one with the images on screen.
That is a very powerful and intoxicating hold on the reality that is everyday life. But it does occasionally leave the viewer feeling socially inadequate once the footlights have come up. The image may fade, but its message has been indelibly etched on our consciousness. With the advent of home video we can relive that other life whenever ours becomes too much to bear. Lifetime Network once referred to their Saturday film programming as "Cinema Therapy". Good choice of words there, because we frequently use filmed entertainment to medicate ourselves. We leave the theater, or our couch, not merely entertained, but a little bit better for the experience.
D: Racial pride is as evil as racial shame. Racism is tribal evil based on genetic trivia (save in pharmacogenomic matters) and dehumanizing social fiction. I view race as neither detriment nor asset.
Both racial pride and shame approach individuals as something more than or less than human or as a mere unit in a tribe: what David Littlejohn called "lumping dehumanization" and what Ayn Rand called "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism." Though I hesitate to cherry-pick Richard Dawkins, he worded racialism quite nicely: "an irrational generalization of a kin-selected tendency to identify with individuals physically resembling oneself, and to be nasty to individuals different in appearance."
What matters more are cultures and ethnicities. Cultural/ethnic norms perpetuated by endogamy are often mistaken for racial determinism. Cultures are, so to speak, humanity's social art. They are not equally good, healthy, life-affirmative, or stable. And though their participation is primarily inborn, cultures are ultimately voluntary by responsible, reasonable, self-reflective adults.
Nick: I believe in the goodness of all mankind regardless of its ethnocentricities that have often in past human endeavors tended to divide rather than unite us in one common goal. There is little to deny that varying factions of this human race view other factions of their brethren with alternating currents of disdain, hatred, moral ambiguity and nonchalant dissatisfaction.
[As for] the cliché of "pride" -- in any of its many forms -- 'coming before the fall' is perhaps best suited to the aforementioned argument, in that we often place weight or value on superficial accomplishments and ownership and therefore view other societies that lack in these two inconsequential tokens -- which we tend to view as basic fundamentals -- in direct counterbalance of this ascribed weight or value.
So, if we were dropped from an airplane by parachute into the tropical rainforest with our Gucci tote, aerosol can of High Hair, cell phone and MP3 player glued to our ears, and landed into the thick of a tribe where no running water or other amenities existed, we would immediately speculate with mistrust and more than a hint of moral superiority as to "how such a society could survive" while remaining completely oblivious to the fact that perhaps our newfound friends were speculating as much from our bizarre attire and circumstances of arrival.
The exclusivity applied to, and ascribed by, the value we apply to ourselves in North American society is both repugnant and disarming in its fragmentation of social conscience. Often the canvas of such a critique is marred by broad and incongruous comparisons, as in having been made to feel guilt for three square meals a day in this country while emaciated children in Africa continue to starve to death. Such is that skewed social consciousness applied to the rest of us by the supposedly morally high-minded superiors of the liberal left.
What is even more unsettling, however, is how many of these same liberals, living in their moneyed hunting grounds of politics and the media arts, do not view the ascription of those same values against their own often thoughtless existence, something I have labeled as "misguided philanthropy" or 'MP. As an open and willing audience to this daily MP from both our governments and entertainment/news venues, we are either delighted or repulsed by, say, Oprah Winfrey's construction of an entire village and school system to educate African children, even as many of the impoverished youth in Oprah's own south Chicago -- where her Harpo Studios continues to flourish and make her millions -- struggle for their own right to study in an environment free of drugs, violence, and with adequate schooling facilities and supplies in place.
I may seem to be getting off topic here, but really I'm very much on point with racial pride vs. racial shame. Pride is only toxic if and when it directly leads to an insular distaste for anything or anyone who falls outside that narrowly constructed sense of entitlement. To have pride in ones own culture is not directly akin to the mistrust or dislike of another's simply because it does not fall between those preconceived perimeters. However, today's North American culture has been made the repository of big-hearted, empty-headed MP.
Are we that gullible to believe that race and culture are things we discovered since the world became a microcosm of inner connectivity thanks to our sudden rise in prosperity, intercontinental travel, and (on an even more basic plain) via the internet? Or have we merely lost our heads to our hearts in some collective form of cultural amnesia that would prefer such disdainful historic embarrassments as colonization, the Spanish inquisition, the Nazi holocaust, segregation in the south, and more recently, 911 be made the scapegoats for what is, in fact, a constant mutation of human strife and struggle, only now played on a world rather than insular cultural canvas?
If culture is in fact "humanity's social art" we are a diverse cross-section of artists perhaps incapable of uniting in one artistic vision for the future under one umbrella that will cover and protect all. But it does seem to me that if we are to succeed and thrive as one populace of an ever shrinking planet, that somewhere along the way we shall have to set aside all that has gone before, or kill each other trying. My vote is for the former, but history suggests I am not on the winning side. These are my thoughts on this matter.
D: You pen a serial noir-style story, Eddie Mars: The Ongoing Saga of a Guy with Nothing To Lose. I must say it's damn good. For unfamiliar folks' benefit, I'll share some of my favorite clips from the last few installments:
She had fallen asleep on my shoulder shortly after pulling out of the station, probably dreaming that we'd never met or still had dibs on that New York penthouse she'd traded in for a life on the run. Like most impulsive gestures, what seemed like a good idea at the time had turned into an abysmal and misguided failure...
...It taunted me with the promise of a gaggle of bikini-clad fair young maidens perched on a berg, eating hot fudge sundaes that could never melt...
...This boy's no fool. He's the village idiot in a town that can't afford any more like him. In communist China they'd'a drowned him at birth. Hitler's Germany would have been more humane and just castrated the dumb son of a bitch...
Here's a slammer:
Odd, how out'a all the visits I've made to public restrooms in my lifetime I've never been consciously aware of the obtuse sounds another human being makes while forcing compacted excrement from his bowels. But now, so close to the source - I was acutely in touch with those less than flattering churns and the stench that life gives out to relieve itself. Clyde was laying some definitive cable on the other side.
Is the next clip indicative of your personal cynicism about life?
Funny thing about reality -- once the vapors from this ugly little world get inside your head, you stay touched. The lucky ones don't care.
Share all the expected bull about how Eddie's origin, your intentions for the story, etc., as well.
Nick: Well, glad to see you're an avid fan. Where to begin? Let's see. I fluctuate in my opinions about life, from brute cynicism to cockeyed optimism. In this, I don't feel there's anything new. You can't always be up, and I've had my share of down.
Up is best. Like, no kidding. But I suppose down is required to remind us of life's two-fold experience: (A) that no life is a garden without weeds, and (B) that no matter how good life treats us -- surprise, surprise -- we're never as perfect as we'd like to think we are!
I believe that a good writer can give you reflections about the world around him from either perspective. But it's generally the disillusioned dreamers that fascinate me; maybe because at varying intervals I've been -- and continue to be -- one.
I have to say that unemployment, although terrifying for the wallet, has been very good for my soul and my writing style. When I started penning Eddie Mars it was an extension of my days as a script reader and writer on spec for Ian Cameron & Associates. I had these big plans to revive the noir and get some big film company to finance either a major motion picture or a television series. (Aside: I lean towards films for their scope and expansive canvas on which to paint a broad visual presentation.)
A great writer gets Hollywood to cut him a check for the rights to the character and screenplay. I'm being glib here, but art and commerce are always intertwined, otherwise nothing would get published, read, or turned into a blockbuster. Money is always a concern. But I refuse to tip the scale in its favor. I think artistic achievement can share in at least fifty-percent of the glory. (Aside: since no studio has taken an interest in me as yet, I guess I'm not great! But in my powers of observation and ability to craft a narrative worthy of your interest, I have most definitely arrived!)
Inspiration varies in the creation of any fictional character. I think mine derived from frustration more than anything else. I created Mars to vent. But I've never been the unmitigated pure cynic that he is. If anything, chemically we're the antithesis of one another; master and man but with very broad creative differences.
The name, in case anyone is wondering, is a direct cheat from one of author Raymond Chandler's minor characters in The Big Sleep. I thought it had both the world-weary and sophisticated quality I was looking for. But that's the only similarity.
In Chandler's novel, Mars is a thug racketeer/gambler who meets with an untimely end. He's not likeable or tragic. My Mars is hopefully both. He's dirty but not by choice. The premise for the series is outlined in its title: a guy so scarred by life that he's virtually shut off from the world. That makes him an extreme cynic, but it also isolates and skews his perspective. He's good at his job because he doesn't really care about the consequences. But he is stuck in that life that he would rather not consider, except in reoccurring nightmares that will become more problematic for him as time and the series go on.
Original names I toyed with (in no particular order): Wayne Monroe, the ongoing saga of a guy with nothing to lose; Austin James, for real and out there; Freddie Smarts, the guy with all the answers to questions no one thinks to ask; and Julian Meadows, prying eyes.
For various reasons, all these initial concepts were abandoned along the creative route during development. Smarts and Meadows were frontrunners. In fact, right up until the day before my first post, I was certain it was going to be "Austin Eddy". Instead I decided to poll a very close and trusted friend, someone who knew absolutely nothing of Chandler's incarnation, with all my choices including Eddie Mars. I asked this person to read the first post in advanced copy and to pick the name of "a guy with nothing to los"'. They picked Eddie Mars, and so did I.
Now, before everyone gets their copyright panties in a ball, may I remind the reader of the following three fold set of circumstances basic in all human creative endeavors? (1) No one has exclusivity on a name unless of course the name itself is patented under U.S. law (like Barbie or Pepsi or Sears or Chips Ahoy! and so on). This (and a few very expensive lawsuits settled out of court) is primarily why all films carry the disclaimer that "any comparison between the fictional story and characters and actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental".
The Yellow Pages today contain two Edward Mars. I am fairly certain neither is a private eye, but if I checked the Yellow Pages circa 1940-1950, I could possibly find a half dozen Eddie Mars living in the United States and Canada. So did Chandler steal the name for his character from them? Probably not.
(2) My Eddie Mars is not homage to Chandler's, either in spirit or content, something the series will bear out in future installments. There are no references to Chandler or his more famous detective, Phillip Marlowe or even to any of the character traits or locations that Chandler vividly described in his novels from this vintage. Mine is not an attempt to recreate that era. I want my Eddie Mars to be an update and his own person, so to speak. He treads the familiar noir territory perhaps, but hopefully not with the same old noir familiarity. Also, I hope everyone will stop to consider that in the whole of human storytelling there are only five basic genres: the tragedy, the comedy, the romance, the drama and the adventure.
You can get more economy and mileage from each by mixing them up and together, say, the romantic comedy, the revenge tragedy, the comedy of errors, the screwball comedy, the melodrama, etc. I find it humbling and enlightening to know that basically what I am doing has already been done before and arguably by far more skilled hands and minds than mine. That understanding keeps me honest. It also helps keep me true to my own work. Anyone who advertises themselves as a total original at this late stage in the history of human bing-bang is either a liar or a fraud. We are, as Plato speculated so many centuries ago, a world full of copies. Hopefully mine resonates more than most, but that's entirely for others to say.
(3) One of the world's most famous fictional creations, James Bond, was a name author Ian Fleming lifted directly from a book on his coffee table that had been written by a real flesh and blood ornithologist specializing in West Indies birds. Inspiration, remember: it doesn't matter where you get your appetite as long as you eat at home! (Aside: after establishing the character for nearly eight months, I learned that there happens to be an adult film star who uses the name Eddie Mars also. My character is not a direct relation to this man, though perhaps he shares something in "adult Eddie's" prowess with the ladies.)
What is copy protected are the narrative ideas and development of a character's motivations. For example; you cannot simply take a novel -- any novel -- change only the names and claim it as your own. That's plagiarism!
This Eddie Mars, my Eddie Mars, shares nothing in common with Chandler's creation. I own the exclusive copyright to this particular ongoing saga. But if someone decides tomorrow to write the life story of Eddie Mars, a tap-dancing transvestite bartender from Queens, there's really not much I can say or do about it except to reaffirm to my readership that this Eddie Mars will not be sporting fishnets and lip rouge while serving Margueritas on the set of "Dancing with the Stars'" in the future!
As for the future of the series, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the direction I'm about to take. I generally like to be six to nine installments ahead of the current post so I have a solid handle on where things are going. Currently, I'm at least three installments behind on that aspiration. Without giving away the secrets that will keep you coming back for more -- my best advice to you is to "expect the unexpected." Oh gee, you're asking yourself right now, can he be any more vague? Actually, I can...but won't. All I can say is that after you read the pending March installment, the world may never be the same for Eddie Mars again. So stay tuned and enjoy.
D: What's worse, love lost or love never had?
Nick: In my not-so-humble opinion, love lost is infinitely worse. You cannot know the extent of something yet to happen to you, so "love never had" is a moot point. You may daydream about some burgeoning bliss with a woman you've yet to meet in a place yet to be visited, but in the end, that fantasy must yield to obvious realities...unless, of course, you're delusional. Then, all bets are off.
"Love lost" is a looming tragedy because it revisits our subconscious when we least expect. It's a flashback without the hallucinogenic compound to illicit the response, ergo, it's quite unpredictable and catches us off guard. Like a Jekyll and Hyde transformation from one conscious state to another, we relive the experience with almost filmic precision, watch ourselves go through the motions of heartache with the inevitable litany of regrets, rethought and replayed with mental scenarios to follow. Yet, it's all for naught, since time and space have removed us that moment where recovery and reinstatement of that "love lost" might have been possible. That second-guess momentum can stagger and drag the heart down until all one is able to do is look back, either in anger, sadness, or a combination of hurt and bent-out-of-shape emotions that can never be fully resolved.
I think emotionally, "love lost" serves a very valid purpose in moving forward because, in the final analysis, we play out the scenario we like best -- "the road not taken", if you will -- and decide for ourselves that if only we had made that alteration at a critical junction in the relationship (which, of course, removed from the immediacy of time and space, we now see quite clearly), then we could have been happy once and, perhaps, in a subsequent relationship yet to appear on the romantic horizon, may very well be happy again. We've learned from the mistake.
But if it's a choice between happiness and contentment, I choose contentment. Happiness is a very temporary solution to life which, after all, is an ongoing problem. Happiness is a burst of exhilaration. It comes readily during the courtship phase, less readily after the bans have been published, and even less so, once the children start to arrive. While one may argue that there are many reasons to remain in a state of conscious happiness, such is not the sustainability or feasibility of the human condition. Think about it. If you were happy all the time, how would you recognize that you were indeed happy right now? You would have nothing to compare it too.
Contentment is a much deeper and more constant bearing on our state of consciousness. When happiness escapes, we can rejoice that although we may not be ecstatic at this particular moment in time, we are nevertheless not too far off from regaining that center of balance that, as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz once accurately summarized, is "in my own backyard, ecause if it isn't there, I never really lost it in the first place". Therefore, contentment is a means to happiness. It is a reason to believe that "love lost" is not the end of the world, but a new beginning to something, perhaps better, perhaps not -- in any case, always moving quite rightly in a forward direction.
D: I think the transcendent, the Personal, Grace can reach or shine from the most unlikely sources. I call it Trickle-down Grace. In the wordless magic of music and the concretized metaphysics of visual art to humans' affection for pets and other animals, holding doors open for the elderly, even the act of donating blood, human grace radiates. We only know evil by Grace's light; we only measure mankind's depth of fallenness from sense of great heights.
I especially focus on art as celebration of Grace, of Beauty, of intended Humanity. Berdyaev wrote, "Creativeness is a fight against the object world, a fight against matter and necessity." We ourselves are artworks, ends rather than means, paintings rather than paint. Alberto Moravia insisted that "[M]an would have to posit as his end an image of himself against which he could measure his strength and suffer from falling short of it. It is the creation of that image that would finally free man from being a means..." (To hell with strict Naturalism, I say.)
Art is not mere entertainment or copy of nature and society; it is spiritual necessity, even if artists foolishly deny spirit. It is Personal lifeblood, water, air. Martin Buber: "Perception draws out of the being the world that we need; only vision and, in its wake, art transcends need and makes the superfluous into the necessary."
Going back to film's importance, Paul Schrader spoke of its inherently theological, transcendent expression; James Wall wrote that "God is active but often in disguise". J.R.R. Tolkien said, "In making a myth, in practicing 'mythopoeia,' and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a story-teller...is actually fulfilling God's purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light." Trickle-down Grace.
Your thoughts on this spiel?
Nick: Amen, to it all.
I have always felt that the true definition of any great society is left behind, not in its technological achievements (for these are transient and quite often passing fancies on route to the next best thing), but in its artistic endeavors, which are (at least one hopes) expositions in universal truths.
But I also feel that the underlying purpose of art has changed over time, and decidedly not for the better. Art should be decorous. That's not the same as to say it should be pretty. But in its inevitable ugliness, should the artist so chose to pursue this vein of expression, there must be purpose which elevates the spirit and transcends the time in which the art itself was made.
What I find quite repugnant today is the way artistic expression is being bastardized by pop culture to reflect some epic sort of societal deprivation of hope. "Creativeness" is no longer "a fight against the object world" but quite the opposite: a verisimilitude of that world made all the more obvious and stifling because it is mirrored in and through some form of discourse masquerading as "art."
Art in any form should signal toward or trigger escapism from within its beholder. Yet our current compost in popular entertainments does not fulfill this expectation. In terms of film culture, we increasingly have stories extolling the harshness of a reality we already know too well but without any dénouement that suggests there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I am not suggesting that every film should make you feel good but at the very least every film should make you stop and reconsider the possibilities for a resolution beyond the foot lamps.
Art should never depress; it should enlighten. Whether enlightenment comes through shock, dismay, disgust or the proverbial "feel good" it should ultimately come as a result of experiencing the art itself. Our current filmic culture does not sustain or in many cases even suggest that enlightenment through experience is possible. That's not postmodern reflection working overtime. It's a dizzying and arguably deliberate conglomeration of anti-art sentiments masquerading as cheap parody of a form that used to exemplify the very essence of modernity in 20th century pop culture: the movies.
I would go so far as to say that the movies are neither art nor entertainment these days. Instead, somewhere along the way, those making them decided that movies should transcend these minor "lofty" endeavors by adopting a patina of something more far gone and tragic; they should indoctrinate rather than educate; they must pulverize, instead of energizing hope and belief for the bettering of the human condition; they will illustrate the socially irredeemable and present them as, not only the "norm" but the expectation that we must all consciously try to live down to.
In Frank Capra's masterpiece, Lost Horizon (1936), Chang (H.B. Warner) suggests to a fallen woman, "Instead of looking at the bottom of a mountain, why don't you try looking up instead?" While some may argue that the quotation is schlock psycho-babble at best -- or worst -- films then used to direct our human aspirations toward something greater. Sadly, much of our present output -- not all, though largely -- points to a place where "only angels have wings" and even they have been pinned back for fear of exercise.
D: Nick, I respect your film expertise, your "tell it like it is" attitude, and your deep-felt and THOUGHT impressions and expressions on life. I wish you blessings on your path.
Any closing words for readers/fans?
Nick: Only one thought, actually, which, considering the length of some of my other responses, at this point in the interview is probably a blessing. Whatever your station, your goal, your aspiration and your outlook, never BUT NEVER give up on a dream.
All truly great days begin with a challenge!
If you surrender your dreams, the only thing that's left is drudgery. I can not imagine anything worse in life than giving up long before the last breath has been played. You have my sincere thanks, all of my respect, and reciprocated hearty blessings.
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