Koja kombinacija - dokumentarac nadahnut Sebaldovim romanom a glazbu za film napravio jedan od mojih svevremenskih favorita, Leyland Kirby (aka The Caretaker). Brrrrrrrrrrrr.
"When quizzed about which sub-section of a book shop he would be keen for his works to appear, the late, German-born author WG Sebald responded: all of them. Almost in silent tribute to the sui generis nature of Sebald’s formidable literary offerings, Grant Gee’s superlative and singular film, Patience (After Sebald), remains equally resistant to pigeonholing.
Is it documentary? Art film? Biography? Travelogue? Philosophical diatribe? Psychogeographic essay? Or is it a simple celebration of the intellectual wanderlust possessed by this enquiring and deeply melancholic literary sage? In spirit, it feels like one of Patrick Keiller’s Robinson movies.
The focus here is specifically on Sebald’s celebrated 1995 quasi-memoir, ‘The Rings of Saturn’, in which he documents his on-foot peregrinations around the Suffolk and East Anglia coastal region. Gee uses the timeline of the book as a narrative backbone for his film, but also invites a diverse range of Sebaldian experts and superfans to try to prise meanings and allusions from the text.
Occasionally there are those who will search for literal connotations and attempt to locate patterns and systems from within the pages. Others, such as artist Tacita Dean and the writer Iain Sinclair, expound more freely on how Sebald’s work inspired their own ways of thinking.
Vivid speculations on the grim beauty of the landscape (suitably captured in abrasive monochrome by Gee’s camera) are coupled with bigger questions such as how do we mentally process objects and buildings? Does our mood effect the way we view the world and the way we interact with out own imagination? Where do we look to find inspiration in the landscape? When visiting a location, must we always be wary of both past and present? More than being specifically about Sebald, this is a film about the art of thinking.
If all that sounds rather heavy, it’s really not. The interviews are edited in such a way that they’re more breezily anecdotal than soapboxy. And the quixotic, collage-like approach to the imagery meshes perfectly with the passages from the book, atmospherically narrated by Jonathan Pryce. Also, those not particularly au fait with Sebald’s musings are given a helpful leg-up by Gee’s auspicious arranging of the material, as he makes sure that there’s ample personal biography and context mixed in with the more in-depth readings.
Alongside films like John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses and Patricio Guzmán’s forthcoming Nostalgia for the Light, Patience (After Sebald) already heralds 2012 as a vintage year for the biography/essay/philosophical art documentary." - David Jenkins
The Caretaker's album Patience (After Sebald):
“He takes you down these poetic cul-de-sacs. And you don’t care that you’re being led nowhere, of course, because you learn so much on the way.”
—Tacita Dean, artist, on writer W.G. Sebald in Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald).
I had the pleasure of meeting filmmaker Grant Gee at DokuFest in Prizren, Kosovo this summer. As part of a special music documentary program, we showed Gee’s film from 1998, Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy (a personal favorite of the festival’s artistic director, Veton Nurkollari), a profile of the band’s vertiginous rise to fame and its surreal aftermath after releasing their OK Computer album.
We also took the opportunity to program Gee’s latest film about the late W.G. Sebald’s novel The Rings of Saturn. Gee’s film, called Patience (After Sebald), takes the viewer on a walk with the filmmaker in the German-born Sebald’s footsteps. Imitating Sebald’s book in its structure, themes, and contemplative tone, Gee’s wondrously poignant and haunting film gathers a constellation (to use his word) of poets, writers, publishers, thinkers and artists to talk about their love for Sebald, his meandering, profound mind, and its effect on their own lives and work. The voices collectively discuss a curious and wide-ranging mix of fact and recollection, accompanied by a series of glorious black and white images that reflect the interior of a deep thinker and a melancholy spirit. As we’re told in the film, these qualities often go hand in hand.
Born in Plymouth, UK, Gee is currently a Brighton resident and works pretty much solo and close to the bone. Over the years—in his commercial, music video, multi-media, and film work—Gee has created his own inimitable style of storytelling. Like artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers, whose Two Years at Sea Gee admires, Gee approaches filmmaking as a craft. With basic tools in a rucksack and his own two legs to carry him, he set out to re-discover the forking paths of thought laid out in Sebald’s books.
A couple of months after we met in Prizren, Gee and I reconvened for a Skype chat to catch up and have a more substantive conversation than was possible at the time. A gentleman’s gentleman, Gee is forthright, friendly, and humorous and exceedingly generous when it comes to sharing his thoughts and feelings about the work that brings him much joy. There’s a bit of torture thrown in, to be sure—but mostly joy.
Pamela Cohn How’s your summer been?
Grant Gee Holiday was good. The weather in England was crappy. The whole country was completely possessed by the Olympics but, thankfully, I missed it all. I came back and it really was like everyone had been mind-controlled for two weeks. They were all gaga about Britishness and Englishness. Very odd, very odd. So summer’s fine and just started working on this rather odd theatre production. It’s very intense; I’m not sure I’m enjoying it yet.
PC This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve worked on something odd or complex. You’ve worked on some quite far out projects. One could say it’s your natural forté, perhaps, I don’t know.
GG That’s interesting. I forget the stuff I’ve done as soon as I’ve done it. What’s far out about this? Katie, the director, is such a unique individual, super-intense. She’s been directing at the very highest level probably for more than twenty years. This is Katie Mitchell.
PC She appears in the Sebald film.
GG That’s how I got to know her. She directs operas and does stage plays but this piece is this sort of multimedia thing where she’s very interested in foregrounding the process through which the performance is happening. The process, in this case, is making a live movie of a stage event but the movie looks like a stage event. So we have five cameras and five camera operators on the set, all constantly in motion. The cameras are cutting about every seven seconds, lighting is going on as if for a movie. So basically you’ve got a movie being projected in real-time above the stage at the same time as it’s being acted out below. Logistically, it’s a nightmare. What’s difficult is the machinery of it; the techniques are very, very cumbersome. One, two, three, cue. It’s very difficult for me to get my head around. It reminds me of the way you see dances being counted—two, three, move, two, three, move, two, three, move . . .
PC Super precise.
GG Absolutely. And it kills the sense of freedom of expression in a way. It’s all to a metronome beat. It’s difficult for me to get my head around after going for a walk with a camera and a backpack just going where my fancy takes me.
PC Well, in preparation for our talk, in the last couple of days, I re-watched both the Sebald film and the Joy Division documentary. In watching them and really paying attention to how you’re playing with time and image and sound, I started to think about the ways in which our minds are set in this particular editorial mode when we watch something in which sight and sound are competing with one another for dominance. Even though it may initially seem daunting, once you get into the rhythm of someone’s pace, how they’re speaking to you through their choice of cuts, for me there’s something quite comforting in it, this strictly choreographed way of presenting material that, at first glance, is so hard to organize. You present this wide-ranging intellectual banquet but it’s very deliberately directed. I think this is really your strength as a cinematic storyteller. You leave a very distinctive imprint of the person, or people, you’re portraying. It’s almost as if you’re following a script, but instead of using words, you’re using images and sound. Do you think about directing something where you start out with a script—a narrative story, perhaps?
GG I think what I’m coming to understand is that the framework within which a film happens—I never used to think this, but I’m realizing this in part from talking about the Sebald film so much—is that I tend to think of the “script” as nothing more than the line of the journey. I could imagine doing a strictly scripted project now more than I ever could for that reason, something with a tight script. Strangely, over the past year or so, talking about the Sebald film so much and thinking about what it is that I do, and weirdly, coming out of a thing that has nothing to do with narrative drama, I think I’ve come to understand or can be much more sympathetic or interested in narrative drama than I was even a year ago.
I started to realize that a script is something like an itinerary of a film rather than the content of a film. Also because of these couple of jobs I’ve done with Katie, I’ve been able to be very proximate to actors that I don’t have responsibility for. I can observe them. They’re really good actors and I’m getting to watch them work close up, and realizing that they, too, treat scripts as signposts, guides rather than controlling forces. I always used to think the script just pushes everything along, but in fact, if you’re good then it doesn’t push you along; it simply provides the framework within which you’re operating. That’s very obvious to someone who’s worked in this area at all but it wasn’t obvious to me until quite recently. So I would be very interested now to try to direct something scripted. In fact, there are a couple of projects that I’m trying to get going which need to be scripted. They’re both still journey films in a way.
PC I’m extremely captivated by this idea of visually presenting a palimpsest, a work where you see the layers; they bleed through one another to create a very specific vision. You and I talked about this before. It’s a strange word, palimpsest, but I love this idea. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn is a naturally palimpsestic work and you mimic this in your film in such a beautiful way. I mean, even your Joy Division documentary—I really didn’t recall how absolutely beautiful that film was in its layers upon layers. Is this intuitive for you, do you think? I think it must be.
GG It’s intuitive, yes that’s right. There is an analytical approach to it, which I’ve found much later. But really, I think what it is, is probably being a frustrated musician. I conceive of various elements of documentary, or film, as separate instruments, which then play at the same time—the voiceover, the soundtrack, the wild track from a piece of archive film, and treating it as a multi-layered thing. It’s a dubious thing, in a way, because it’s treating information aesthetically, which I think is probably at the heart of it. I remember hearing that politically that can become a very dubious thing when information and facts are being treated aesthetically. But, essentially what I’m saying is that there can be a very solid intellectual content running through it, but that intellectual content is treated creatively in the same way as music. It’s something like that. I think of the various strands as faders on a mixing board, whether it’s the visuals or the various strands of audio. They’re constantly there and you’re mixing them. Sometimes you have three elements mixing together; sometimes you’ve got one element clean. But it’s very similar to the way a piece of music gets mixed, I think. It might be because, apart from very few projects, I’ve worked with the same editor, Jerry Chater, since 1995. And he’s a musician.
PC Are you usually in the editing sessions together or do you let him go off and do his thing and come back and show you cuts?
GG It depends. We do commercials and commercial projects together and for those I let him alone mostly. On the films, what it tends to be like these days is that I’ll block things out doing half the edit on my own to get the basic structure and then we work together on the fine cut. But I think by now I’ve sort of inherited his musical sense, the way you can mix. It’s a mix rather than a montage.
PC The word “montage” in film has morphed and changed over the years quite radically, I think, just in the way in which we also, as consumers, take in media. Maybe our channels are open a bit wider. They have to be, given the massive amounts of media we take in compared to, say, even five years ago.
What is also fascinating about your work, not only as a filmmaker, but as a person, is the subjects you decide to cover. In almost every instance, your subject demands that you move into an interior emotional landscape. In the Patience film, someone says Sebald’s work consists of a “made-up cosmology,” a cosmology made up of completely internalized, very personal processes, that you then try and cinematize. That’s a challenge and a half.
GG What you’re saying is very accurate. I don’t really know how to talk about it because I don’t talk about it that much, but it’s something to do with the word “constellation.” That’s quite important, that word, in the way I think about images and thoughts and how they’re arranged in my films. I’m captivated by the idea of arranging something in a form. Thinking about the constellations of the stars, they are only perceived in this form from a certain perspective. But then, you can rotate them and get another perspective and the form of the thing can change. There’s something in that idea of trying to assemble and rotate.
It’s really so hard to explain. It makes me think of Tarkovsky’s idea of sculpting in time. I do tend to think very fundamentally about how long this event—that is, the film—is going to last. And about the way that consciousness will move during that period of time. That’s what the film is—the manipulation, the direction of consciousness along certain pathways over a period of time. You could say that’s what entertainment is anyway, that that is the definition of entertainment. That’s the way I think about it.
PC That makes sense to me but then there’s the other mysterious thing of the work being able to tap into some deep emotional stuff. That’s what takes one by surprise. That’s my definition of entertainment. Entertainment can be a very passive activity in which you take in something and it entertains you for a moment, makes you laugh, makes you think about something. But there’s also something much deeper going on in your films and, perhaps, it’s the subject matter you tend to cover. The emotionalism comes from this layering of words and imagery we were talking about. There’s something really magical that happens and when you hit it right, it can move you deeply.
GG Obviously that’s wonderful to hear. I would never claim it for myself that that’s what I’m able to do. (laughter) But what you’ve just said reminds me of what Katie Mitchell says in the Sebald film. She talks about Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in relation to Sebald. She says it’s like a depiction of consciousness in all of its fleeting, super fast movements. Katie’s very interested in this depiction of consciousness, how you bring the most microscopic electrical connections within your brain and externalize them into an art form. That’s what I’m really interested in, as well. Rather than telling a story, making a film is a way of communicating consciousness, my own take on another’s consciousness when I’m trying to do a more biographical thing. Maybe what helps me, or what I’ve discovered works best for me, is to do that with a very small-scale kitchen sink, intimate style of filmmaking. I’ve always shot my own stuff when it’s important to me. I’m very hands-on. It’s very small scale. I mean literally, Sebald was edited here at my kitchen table, half of it anyway. I walked around with the camera on my back for eight days on my own. I recorded the sound on my own. And I sat here at my kitchen table for the first six weeks looking at stuff and playing around with the material. There were other people involved in the production, but the fundamental creative stuff was happening in a very, very small-scale, intimate way. So I think if it’s successful at that small of a scale and you’re dealing with quite substantial themes, there can be a real uninterrupted charge that comes from the subject matter to the viewer. The connection isn’t being messed with by lots of techniques, lots of standard themes, lots of media interference, or institutional forms. It’s very direct in a way. For instance, in Ben Rivers’ film Two Years at Sea—people really love that—I mean, that’s far more folksy than what I do. But I think there’s something similar in the directness of it.
PC It’s about autonomous control as a director, really. But more than that, you are directly dialoguing with your material. Otherwise you wouldn’t get these kinds of results. As Rivers does, you don’t mess with the breathing spaces too much. And those other parts that might need a bit more oxygen or require you to breathe more life into them, you work around those authentic moments that already have life in them.
I think of the storytellers that you have in the Sebald film, for instance, and they are definitely a spectacular constellation, to use your word, of intellectual and poetic minds and voices. Each and every one at some point completely goosebumped me out, not in so much what they said, but how they said it.
There’s Sir Andrew Motion’s story of the mer-man and his reading of the extract from “Field of Mirrors,” where he reinterprets this story that he heard as a young boy. The visuals you chose when he’s reciting the story are so calm and serene and give the eye a resting place so that one can really take in the story, which is so violent and sad. And Motion’s recitation is just the most exquisite thing. It gains extra potency looking at the visuals that accompany this section, completely anti-intuitive. The eye and the ear can then complement one another instead of competing, if that makes any sense at all.
GG It’s funny that you say the eye and the ear because I don’t think about the ear. I think about the audio information as “mind.” I always think about it as the eye and the mind, not the eye and the ear. I think the audio information is going straight into your brain. I don’t know why this is. That’s always how I imagine it. There’s the consciousness of the content being processed as you’re watching the film. Your own brain’s processing away with your own story and your eyes are being held or gently moved to the rhythms of what’s going on on the screen. It’s the relationship between those two rhythms, the consciousness processing information and the stories, and the pure visual rhythms. That’s where the cinema happens, between those two things. But of course it’s the ear, not the mind. That’s very interesting to me.
Here’s a story that might put an intriguing spin on what you just said because, for me, as the person making that sequence, what was also going on with dealing with Andrew Motion’s story, is the fact that when I got together with my wife, which is now seventeen years ago, we had a situation where we had ex-partners—who were not that “ex.” We upset a few people with friends going one way and other friends going the other way, the way they do sometimes when couples split up. So very early on in our relationship we were feeling like we were sort of at the black end of the street a bit, that we had to hide away a little bit. Anyway, I won’t ramble on about this too much, but that piece is a really important touchstone for my and my wife’s relationship in a very weird way. We actually went up to that coast; the only time I’d been there before going back for this film. You come to that poem and then sixteen, seventeen years later to have the author of that in my film talking about another writer. It was right around that time that Sebald did his Rings of Saturn walk in the mid-’90s. It was very peculiar. The deeper connections of how these voices resonate for me across time within the film are important and, perhaps, why the film is like it is.
PC One can sense that, definitely. Another theme in all of the work that I’ve seen of yours is this idea of the suffering artist, but really suffering. From Ian Curtis to someone like Thom Yorke as he’s portrayed in the Radiohead film during that crazy time of the band’s rise, to Sebald to Orhan Pamuk—and we’ll talk about how he fits into your constellation in a bit. All these men channel this vast scope of human suffering. And what’s really sort of delightful, at least to a Yank like me, is the way in which this suffering is processed and put out into the world in what I consider to be a very British way of handling it externally. Even Sebald, though German by birth, had a very British personality at the end of the day. It’s a very uncomfortable fit for them to embody something larger than themselves, as if they perceive themselves to be way too modest to possess such grand suffering. But it’s their muse somehow.
GG That’s interesting. There is this irony of English suffering, if you like. That’s maybe what it is. You know what I’m like. I’m reasonably cheerful most of the time. But I know the stuff that I get involved with is melancholic at best, and depressive at worst. I know also what I try and do is to apply, not exactly a black humor to it, but there is something there that is very British about the kind of ironic stiff upper lip, the way one treats this cosmic melancholy.
PC More than that though, it’s this kind of struggle to step away from all that’s being imposed upon them. At one point, Iain Sinclair says how ripe for a cult Sebald was. And then when you’re talking in terms of a rock star, someone as massively popular as Curtis and Yorke and the music groups that were these phenomena, you get a totally different spin on things. And it’s all so subdued and dulled and treated almost as an embarrassment when they’re in this positively over-the-top situation. We’re talking about the Holocaust, suicide, being eaten alive by mass media, which are all hugely traumatic events.
GG Yes, but I can say that essentially the three feature things I’ve done are all really fan’s films. To be a fan is fundamentally about getting pleasure off the material. It’s recognizing, no matter what, the subject matter of the material that you’re confronting is something that’s giving you pleasure. It’s making that explicit, in a way, so that you can present the material. It is at the level of a conceptual edit because I never think about a conclusion. It is a kind of sculptural thing. All the facets of the story can almost exist at the same time; they’re not going anywhere.
All I’m thinking about when I’m making something, which is really in the edit in the case of all these films we’re talking about, there’s a starting point. And it might be in the middle of the film or the beginning, wherever the first sequence is where I can really recognize it as the story I want to tell. It’s about where the line is going and thinking about the time this force of consciousness is going to take and something about the choreographing of it and how that movement is going to happen. That’s all I’m thinking about, the choreography of it.
The only time I think about an audience is in terms of hand-holding and this usually comes at the end of editing a documentary. In other words, how much basic, factual “hand-hold” stuff needs to be in there so that people can relax, so that they can accept the rest of it without being bothered by nagging questions that they might be missing something.
PC You talk a lot about choreography and rhythm and music. But as a filmmaker, in terms of cinema, I’m curious to know what you’ve seen that particularly resonates with you visually.
GG I’m not much of a cinephile at all but the stuff that’s really knocked me out in the past ten years has been what Godard has done—old Godard, really, the things he was doing in the ’90s. He really got into sampling all those ECM records. Everything’s a sample; everything’s a mix. Nouvelle Vague was the first great one. You couldn’t get these Histoire(s) du Cinéma films in the UK and I scoured the Web to try and get a hold of them. I finally found something I could get for two hundred quid, a five-DVD set available in Japan so I bought it. I don’t even remember whether it had English subtitles or not. I had to buy a box set of the ECM CDs, as well. But the way that he was using sound and image together, not to tell stories, but . . . I don’t know—more than anything else, really, that’s the stuff that knocked me out and impressed upon me what could be done with something you could call cinema and now, god knows what it should be called. Something like music but also like film, like the Internet. But it was also like an individual consciousness. That’s the stuff that did it for me. It’s not at all like what I do, but it’s totally inspirational.
The Web is a really incredible new state of consciousness these days. I think the removal of time, the replacement of narrative time and space is really interesting but it also causes a great deal of anxiety. It’s why DJs have become so important, curators of all sorts, in fact, because information has become so spatial. You know, it’s just all there. What gives it form? Ultimately, your consciousness gives it form, but it really helps to have these mediators who give a bit of form to wildly disparate pieces of information and then give it back to you. That’s what bloggers do. That’s what DJs do. It’s what, increasingly, a certain type of filmmaker is doing. He or she is giving you a mix of information. It’s putting the element of time back into something that’s become purely spatial.
PC And it’s also deeply personal as in someone giving you a mix tape they’ve made especially for you.
GG That’s absolutely right, probably the best analogy for the spirit in which my sort of films are made and are, hopefully, received. And absolutely spot on, generationally. That’s what I spent much of my teens and twenties doing is making mix tapes.
PC I think every young person of any generation is looking for that bespoke way of, not only expressing themselves and their personal taste—through whatever artistic or non-artistic means—but also of finding other people who are making these personal statements. For you and, of course, gazillions of other people, Godard has this huge creative capacity that can tap into this kind of way in which people want to take in information. The literalness in which we’re asked to take in certain things doesn’t seem to work for people much anymore, the bullshit of being force fed about what’s worth thinking about and what’s not. I’m curious to know about this new Mitchell piece.
I’m curious to know what the content is, what themes she’s exploring. You described it in a general way before in terms of its technical challenges.
GG Well, basically I got involved because I interviewed her for the Sebald film. My producer told me that she was planning a version of The Rings of Saturn as a stage show. After she saw the completed film, she told me she really liked it and that she used a lot of video in her work. She was doing this stage version and wanted to use some of my landscape shots for the production. I said fine. Then it grew and she said she wanted actors on stage integrated with the landscapes and asked if I was interested in directing the cameras. I said yes. That happened back in March/April of this year.
This production of hers that I’m involved with now is an adaptation of something very obscure, and that is a work of an Austrian poet called Friederike Mayröcker who wrote a stream-of-consciousness novel, in style halfway between Virginia Woolf and William Burroughs called Night Train. It’s the consciousness of someone having a night of insomnia on the night train between Paris and Vienna. This is the starting point.
Katie’s built an absolutely realistic replication of an Austrian sleeper train circa 1981 and put a slight narrative through it of regret, childhood trauma, realizing you’re married to someone who is like your father and being shocked by that, realizing over the course of this journey that what we’re doing is shooting a movie in real time on the set of a train.
It’ll be watched in front of 300 people in Cologne. It’ll run for, I guess, two weeks there at first and we’ll see if it works. It’s done for a specific theatre and that’s where it’ll live for a while since they own the production. The Rings of Saturn did two weeks in Cologne, did a week or so at the Avignon festival in France over the summer, and it might happen again in Cologne next year. As far as I understand it, the theatre that pays for it has it as part of their repertory.
PC It sounds very exciting for you. The technical challenges will work themselves out as they do after several migraines. But it’s fascinating the way your film work is being utilized in a non-cinema setting. I like this idea very much, this mash-up of forms and different types of media. It’s very exciting and fresh. It always leaves room for surprises.
GG The blanket term is “multi-media,” and it seems like, increasingly, the big theatre productions almost have to be multi-media. There’s a whole slate of world-class directors and they want movies in with their plays so yes, totally ripe for great collaborations. There’s been the same kind of production set-up for so long and suddenly, there are a whole new bunch of people who want to be involved with this in a serious, very tech-savvy way, as well as camera operators and all the baggage that comes with that. It’s happening more and more often. It’s akin to still photographers who now have to be videographers, as well. They have to go out and shoot stories with video cameras.
PC Storytelling on steroids—stronger, faster, meaner, etc. It’s a lot of pressure for media makers, really. And audience keeps breaking up into smaller and smaller fragments. You can have a fan club of six people these days and call it a success. This is what has led to the breakdown of the habit of going to the movies, for instance, or a night at the theatre. It sounds like such a quaint idea now. Music concerts are still the one performance-driven event that people still clamor to go to—and, of course, a football game and other sports events.
So, as we wrap up, I must ask you to talk about something you mentioned to me this summer. I’m intrigued about this project having to do with Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence—the book, the structure, the literary phenomenon. The museum opened in Istanbul in April of this year. Here’s a brilliant modern mind who is a novel writer, Nobel prize-winning and all that. And he’s built a physical manifestation of something that stemmed from a fictional love story he wrote, an incredibly beautiful and extravagantly romantic idea.
GG Well, the process has been slow and it’s in its very, very early days, but so far it’s okay. We’ve literally had two communiqués from Pamuk world via the agents basically saying, okay, yes, interested in talking more about this. One thing I was meant to be doing this evening was writing a letter to Orhan. So this is what I’d like to do. But I’m stuck at the level where I’m agonizing over whether to write “Dear Orhan”? Or, “Dear Mr. Pamuk”? Or, “Dear Mr. Orhan Pamuk”? It’s critical how to address him. So that’s all it is. It’s an idea that, thank Christ, hasn’t been nixed quite yet.
PC But can you describe exactly what it is you’re thinking of wanting to do, or what you’re proposing to Mr. Orhan Pamuk? I mean it’s encouraging they haven’t shut you down completely but I know there’s a tremendous amount at stake.
GG It doesn’t hurt at all that his agents are the same people who manage the Sebald estate, the Wylie Agency.
PC Oh, very good.
GG I didn’t screw up there. And there aren’t that many people doing essay films about literature, right? It’s a very narrow field. (laughter) And now I’ve got form in this narrow field. They are responsible for the direction of the estate so they want to know what’s the product, what’s the thing you’re making? I haven’t had any direct contact yet. This letter to Orhan will be the first one.
All I can say is that I can see, so clearly—and I get so terribly excited, I have to look away from the idea—because I just see the whole thing made, done, I can see the texture, I can see the way it moves. The crossover between imagination and objects in space, objects in consciousness, and setting it within this extraordinary city, a place that is so amazing. It’s about the melancholy of losing objects and people over time within this space with Pamuk’s voice in it, with his consciousness in it. There would be some other characters, as well. I would like to film the great photographer, Ara Güler, who’s been photographing Istanbul for fifty, sixty years. His photographs are all throughout Pamuk’s Istanbul book. I can see him as a presence. But, really it’s one of those things where I can just see the whole bloody thing. So I have to be very cautious and very slowly convince everyone else that it’s as good as made.
I’d like to come back to what we were talking about earlier, about this notion of what the new Web consciousness is doing to us. What’s odd, in a way, about film, even more so than music, is that it’s possibly the most linear art form we’ve still got. Despite the fact that the consciousness that forms it is non-linear, the technology that we’re using—the digital cameras, the digital editing—is all about making non-linear thought easier. When it gets down to it, it’s an absolutely focused linear experience in a cinema. Unlike being somewhere where you’re listening to live music, you can’t really look around at the audience, or stare at the architecture while you’re listening to the music or look at the person across from you while you’re listening to the music, or the orchestra. With film, you’ve got your eyes glued up on the screen, the thing starts and for ninety minutes, you’re going to be led down one route. Along that route, there may be non-linear associations made, but there ain’t no getting away from it. It’s black, it starts, it runs, it goes black again, the end. Quite weird these days, really.
PC I think those of us who really love cinema and consider it and its survival very important will want to keep having the privilege of this experience. No matter the other goodies at our disposal, there’s really nothing like the experience you just described. To me, the documentary film world, its makers, are the last vestiges, in a way, of trying to keep doing this.
GG You’re right. My agent, god bless her, she’s a great supporter of everything I do. But then again, from time to time, she’ll say to me, “Oh! You’ve got to get involved in multi-platform!” And I say, “Oh, noooo. One platform, one thing!” (laughter) That’s the most important—that it’s one thing, not fifty things in time. It’s just this one thing that starts here and then it goes and then it stops. That’s what it’s really all about.
PC There will always be a place for long-form work that’s focused in this way. It’ll be the end of civilization otherwise if we can’t sit collectively in a dark room and be captivated by a storyteller for a couple of hours. I thank you very, very much, Grant, for this conversation, really. It was great talking to you.
GG And you as well. Thank you.