February 17, 2008
It’s next time again.
I have to say the Blog has been an unmitigated success. The contact with so many people from all over the world has been fantastic and, let’s talk about the quality of the ideas which were generated! Superb! Thank you for writing to me and thank you for reading and especially thank you for participating.
There is, however, one problem and I fear there is no solution to this one. The problem is TIME. For every person who posted a comment, I enjoyed two letters from enthusiastic people who wanted to but did not have the time. We are all so busy I completely understand. So, not being one to shy away from the challenge, I am choosing “Time and the lack thereof” as this month’s post.
I have become enthralled with this topic, and thanks to two of the smartest readers and posters here (one is an attorney and the other is a poet) I have the perfect setup for the debate; two provocative books and authors, Malcolm Gladwell’s BLINK and Milan Kundera’s SLOWNESS. Both are fascinating reads and frame the discussion perfectly.
BLINK has a premise so brilliant no one has actually taken the time to read the book. The idea is that you make up your mind about lots of things in the first two seconds and often you are exactly correct. So, with that great idea as the thesis – why bother to read the book? You don’t have the time so let me help. Here’s a good and indicative sample:
“How long did it take you, when you were in college to decide how good a teacher your professor was? A class? Two classes? A semester? A psychologist, Nalini Ambady, once gave students [for evaluation purposes] three ten-second videotapes of a teacher – with the sound turned off. The [ratings] were remarkably the same even when she showed the students just two seconds of videotape. A person watching a silent two-second video clip of a teacher he or she has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the the teacher’s class for and entire semester. That’s the power of our adaptive unconscious.”
SLOWNESS, on the other hand is a genuine indulgence. Pay attention now. This is from the guy (Milan Kundera) who wrote the Unbearable Lightness of Being. His idea is really sexy. It is, of course, stated much more profoundly in the strange little book, but essentially the idea is that you ought to take your time when eating a hot fudge sundae or when savoring a Barbaresco, or for god’s sake when having sex. What a deliciously provocative concept. He says it a lot better than I ever could as he describes a sort of “dangerous liaison” of the eighteenth century:
“By slowing the course of their night by dividing it into different stages, each separate from the next, Madame de T. has succeeded in giving the small span of time accorded them the semblance of a marvelous little architecture, of a form. Imposing form on a period of time is what beauty demands, but so does memory. . . . There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.”
Inspired by this book, I realize that filming is an act of slowness, of appreciation, of the capture and replay of time. It is a technological vehicle for selective memory.
Well, it seems to me, many issues in my work are summed up in the dynamic tension between these two profound ideas. I use the power of BLINK every day. Film is all about artifice, it is not reality, even non-fiction television and documentary is not about reality. It is an edited presentation of time and ideas. We create impressions through a visual language and seduce you into spending your time with a gorgeous soundtrack. Without a point of view, telegraphed by symbolic imagery, all of this meaningless. The power of BLINK is in every shot. If I show you a picture of Monica Vitti shot by Antonioni, you so easily see my point.
This movie still is a 1/24th of a second moment from a two-hour movie. Talk about BLINK! And, if you look at that picture you can sort of figure out what the film could be about and write your own movie in your head. One of the great pieces of art criticism I read about a favorite contemporary photographer, Nic Nicosia, said that his work is like a still from a movie. What is the back story? What is going to happen? Here is a shot of Nic’s work. Go ahead and knock yourself out with this mental movie:
You can look at a lot of art in this manner. I hope to do a program someday about how to better enjoy art with ideas like this. Paintings usually have a hidden narrative and great works (often quite quickly) inspire fascinating narratives and complex feelings. Another great example of Blink is the art of the movie trailer. (I know you don’t have time to actually go to the movie.) It is it’s own art form and the bottom line is, if you don’t like the trailer, you are never really going to like the movie. (Or are you? Please see the entire discussion framed in last month’s Blog.) The other really fun thing to do, if you don’t have time to watch the trailer, is to look at the movie poster. I love to do this – it is a total blast! The poster – if it is good – telegraphs everything you need to know. Lots of really smart people agonized for days to make that poster and to entice you to watch the film. Looking at all those decisions designed to make a split second impression which gives you a BLINK experience of the movie is a wonderful pastime, but it is arrogant to say you saw the movie if you really only glimpsed the poster. But, you are in a hurry, so let me quickly switch gears before I lose you.
Put in the clutch. Take a deep breath.
What about SLOWNESS? Ohhh my goddd what a great and profound idea is this! Ask Verdi about slowness. Ask your lover about slowness. What does it have to do with Film? Only everything. Where do I begin? I fight this all the time. I try to turn ideas into sound bites and have them retain some of their integrity and power in the process. In so many ways my films, and any film, are really concentrated distillations of time. They capture slowness and preserve it and present it at the speed of light. If you have ever been on a movie set you know it is all about “hurry up and wait.” The process takes forever. Somehow all that compressed time and work ends up on the screen. What I’m really trying to do now both in my professional and personal life is to slow down and savor the process as much as the finished product. This also applies to the very editing pace of a film. I’m working on a new program about the artist Christopher Pekoc with a brilliant art historian, Henry Adams. Henry helped Ken Burns make a film about the great painter Thomas Benson and Henry explained that “Ken Burns realized he could just hang on a still picture, providing he could infuse that picture with meaning.” How elegantly stated is that!
Let’s face it the speed of modern life is exhilarating. Kundera says “Our period is obsessed by the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed.” It is exciting, however tragic, to live our lives so fast we don’t have any time left to just take a breath and see that sometimes what we care about the most is just zipping past, what my new friend the poet calls, “speeding windows.” But, SLOWNESS, dear reader, is where you can really amp up the quality of life. Any good lover knows that slow-fast-slow is sexy stuff. I think part of our capacity for happiness, is knowing how to put some adagio into an otherwise frenetic existence.
Given that I’ve run out of time with you here, what shall we do to solve this fundamental flaw with our Blog? Give me some examples of your favorite methods of capturing real enjoyment from your life with Slowness. Share your mental health secrets with the (virtual) room. Apply it to art or film or music. Your cogent, sincere and mind expanding insight on this topic is respectfully requested and deeply appreciated.
Until next time, I remain your,