May 7, 1973

 

Dear Vincent,

Since youíre in your Van Gogh period, can I have your ear? I realize that the competition with Barbara for the forementioned appendage is fierce, but I thought Iíd mention it. It would be quite stunning on the wall. Can I be your Gaugin?

 

How can you argue theoretically on economics of film? With Pratley yet! Heís still into screening 1948 David Lean movies. A nice enough guy and all that, but stillÖ Whenever I get into a long-short argument I always use a comparison of Zero Du Conduit and IfÖ both are fine films, IfÖ is obviously a serious copy, almost shot for shot and character for character of a not so seriously done film. But both would be hurt if they were either expanded or cut. You can also take bets that although IfÖ received vast publicity, good notices, etc. Zero will outlast it in the eyes of film enthusiasts and eventually the general public. Time puts a good perspective on lots of things. Thereís more beauty, warmth, fun and talent in Buster Keatonís least accepted silent short than all of Chaplinís strained and sentimental movies put together. Anyone who expects more than the most minimal appreciation of their work is living in a fantasy land, and anyone who works only for that little bit of appreciation if stupid and wasting their time and any talent they might have.

 

Take me for example (generally speaking Iím a fair old example for a number of things ranging from poor eyesight to Western moral decay). It is well known that I am not a business head, however I am a prime art appreciator, and the desire to get money for filmmakers whose work I admire spurs me to great heights of invoice typing. Now when you read your Sunday times you will not see an advertisement for an invoice I typed in the Sotheby column wedged between Napoleon (a little known requisition for enamel privies, signed by the French imperator which led to thousands of battle casualties) and George Washington (A fragment of the finished whiskey tax, highly legible, with cameo portrait). Whatís more, our collected correspondence will not be mentionedby Jonas Mekas in the foreseeable future and Andrew Sarris will not dedicate his next book to Andre Bazin and Jim Murphy (the two people who most influenced my perception and heightened my enjoyment of the art of the cinema). But does this deter me, you ask. NO! I reply. Because every four months I sign dozens of payment cheques, and although some people like yourself do not make the money they deserve both personally and artistically, the fact that my signature is on enough cheques to make two or three House Movies or a fourth reel of La Region Centrale helps. And although I may not be as good in my job as I could be, I donít trust anyone else to do it because of the effort I put into it.

 

And now for a little analysis of what you do. Audiences, as you know by now, see a movie and not the person who made it. Fine for Eisenstein and other polemicists. However, the value of films like yours or any other independent filmmaker is in the collection of images and thoughts as it relates to the person. The films obviously must hold up to a viewer who hasnít lived with someone for six or seven years, but the impact on someone who knows you is commensurately greater. If you ask my humble opinion, Tall Dark Stranger is the work of a kid with a feeling for film, but no sophistication in human relationships. In a sense, all your films are autobiographical, some by omission and some by choice. When you made Rose; I, A Dog and Next to Me, I bet you were fairly isolated and fucked up lonely. The people in those movies are manipulated as objects a la our conversation at Grossmanís. Of course what you did wasnít intentional (except I, A Dog) but filmic. You sacrificed people for technique, no great loss in and of itself, because your technique at that point was so much better than your feel for people. Why else do you think you made those movies anyway? Thatís why on the level Iím talking about Rose is so much better than Stranger, even though it preceded it.

 

The technique used in Rooftops is an obvious progression, but thatís the first movie that you show a feeling for life. The same setting is used to place two simple shots which make the movie, the birds and the children; Iíve seen movies so similar to Rooftops that I feel the old dťjŗ vu (ever see Bridges and Lights or other Bob Crawford films?) Isolated as two little pieces of film, those shots donít mean shit, but compared to the way you treat people in your other movies, they mean quite a lot. You werenít being ha, ha critical or oh boy cynical, but just showing what was going on there. Make sense?

 

House Movie is light years ahead of the others because you give your objects and images, things you were always capable of showing us, but just showing us, an emotional context. Thereís more than the old Ďtwo people together in a shot means theyíre in loveí bit. Thereís shared experience in space and teapots and kittens and all kinds of things, and that shows. It shows on the level I first experienced when I saw it at the Poor Alex, namely Ďthatís nice because I went through the same thingí and it shows in the progression of your style of filmmaking, and your treatment of relationships. September 15 is really your first film about dada! people. Do you see it that way? Also, do you see that if you make a movie like Arrival and Departure of a Train it wonít be because youíre only capable of filming things like that?

 

Thatís the context that I put your movies into. The elemental things like your cutting style, the types of music you use and a fairly distinct framing eye are the things youíve had for years, and something that anyone can see and admire in one screening. But the value of your work is as a body and a person progressing beyond technique. If people canít see that then fuck them, not the work.

 

Getting beyond heavy art criticism and into the world of reality, are you going to have some time this year to go to high schools around Ontario to teach workshops/screen your films for fabulous sums of money like $50-$150 a day? We got some money ($7500) from POCA to do a high school thing which will include you and Lorne and numerous other people from ARTLAND. So if you really want to commute.

 

Thereís also a John Grierson Memorial Film Seminar thing in the offing, similar to Robert Flaherty et. Which is supposed to happen in late August and which I am supposed to be helping to organize. Donít hold your breathe.

 

In other great developments, my beard is coming in slowly but surely, Tom is getting married and David is trying to get a feature film together for a nice Vancouver dude named Peter Bryant. If it happens, heíll produce it and Iíll got out for a few weeks when they shoot to help David.

 

When you come to Ontario you can at last count on money from POCA to make your films. At least thatís encouraging.

 

Donít because of the wording of this letter, consider it a verbal care package. It means more than that to me. It means I can type all afternoon while still looking like Iím working.

 

So there.

 

Jim (your pal)

 

 

 

Jim Murphy

Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre

Room 204, 341 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 1W8