Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘film’

04 MARCH, 2014

A Solitary World: A Breathtaking Homage to H.G. Wells from a New Genre of Cinematic Poetry

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“What is this spirit in man that urges him forever to depart from happiness, to toil and to place himself in danger?”

From my friends at PBS Digital Studios and filmmaker James W. Griffiths comes A Solitary World — a breathtaking homage to H.G. Wells, with text adapted from five of his most celebrated works: The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The First Men in the Moon (1901), In The Days of the Comet (1906), The World Set Free (1914). Read by Terry Burns and featuring an appropriately haunting score from the young British composer Lennert Busch, the film belongs to — pioneers, perhaps — an emerging creative genre: the cinematic poem.

A horrible feeling of desolation pinched my heart. I listened rigid but heard nothing but the creep of blood in my ears. Great and shadowy and strange was the world and I drifted solitary through its vast mysteries.

A remote faint question, where I might be, drifted and vanished again in my mind. I found myself standing astonished, my emotions penetrated by something I could not understand.

I felt naked. I felt as perhaps a bird may feel in the clear air knowing the hawk wings above and will swoop.

I began to feel the need of fellowship. I wanted to question, wanted to speak, wanted to relate my experience. What is this spirit in man that urges him forever to depart from happiness, to toil and to place himself in danger?

It was this restlessness, this insecurity perhaps that drove me further and further afield in my exploring expedition. As the hush of the evening crept over the world, the sun touched the mountains and became very swiftly a blazing hemisphere of liquid flame, and sank.

Then, slow and soft and wrapping the world in fold after fold of deepening blue, came the night. And then, the splendor of the sight — in the sky, one bright planet shone kindly and steadily like the face of an old friend. The full temerity of my voyage suddenly came upon me. At last I began to feel the pull of the earth upon my being, drawing me back again to the life that is real, for men.

For a wholly different homage to Wells, see Edward Gorey’s vintage illustrations of The War of the Worlds. For a deeper dive into Wells’s own narrative magic, the works used in the film are in the public domain and thus available as free ebooks here, here, here, here and here.

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19 FEBRUARY, 2014

The 10 Stages of the Creative Process

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Listen to your hunches, sponge up ideas, let them marinate, and know when you’re done.

The question of what creativity is and how it works will perhaps remain humanity’s most unanswerable — but that hasn’t stopped us from trying. On the heels of Neil Gaiman’s recent reflection on the subject comes one from filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards and daughter of the great Leonard Shlain of Art & Physics fame. In this short installment from AOL’s The Future Starts Here series, Shlain offers ten steps to the creative process based on her own experience in film and art, expanding, perhaps inadvertently, on Graham Wallace’s famous 1926 model of the four stages of the creative process and incorporating other notable theories of yore, like John Dewey’s emphasis on hunches and T.S. Eliot’s insistence on idea-incubation.

  1. The Hunch
  2. Any project starts with a hunch, and you have to act on it. It’s a total risk because you’re just about to jump off a cliff, and you have to go for it if you believe in it.

  3. Talk About It
  4. Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your community … they’re the ones who are going to support you on this whole treacherous journey of the creative process, so involve them, engage them.

  5. The Sponge
  6. I’m going to tons of art shows, I’m watching a lot of movies, I’m reading voraciously… and I’m just sponging up ideas and trying to formulate my own idea about the subject.

  7. Build
  8. I love the world “filmmaker” because it has “maker” in it. My team and I are … building an armature — the architecture for the project.

  9. Confusion
  10. Dread. Heart of Darkness. Forest of fire, doubt, fear… [But] as hard as it is — and it is really hard — any project … gets infinitely better after I’ve rumbled with all of my fears.

  11. Just Step Away
  12. Take a breather — literally just step away from the project… Let it marinate — don’t look at it or think about it.

  13. “The Love Sandwich”
  14. To give constructive feedback, always snuggle it in love — because we’re only human, and we’re vulnerable… Set expectations for where you are in the project, then ask questions in a way that allows for “the love sandwich”: First, “What works for you?” Then, “What doesn’t work for you?” Then, “What works for you?” again. If you just ask people for feedback, they’ll go straight for the jugular.

  15. The Premature Breakthroughlation
  16. You’ll find in a project that you’ll have many small breakthroughs — and you have to celebrate those breakthroughs, because they’re ultimately going to lead to the Big Breakthrough.

  17. Revisit Your Notes
  18. I always do this throughout the project, but especially during that last home stretch… I revisit all my notes and think back, and always find a clue — that missing link that brings it all home.

  19. Know When You’re Done

Complement with a five-step “technique for producing ideas” from 1939 and Arthur Koestler’s famous “bisociation” theory of how creativity works.

See more of Shlain’s films here.

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30 DECEMBER, 2013

Dream of Life: The Ultimate Documentary on the Iconic Artist Patti Smith

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“Life isn’t some vertical or horizontal line — you have your own interior world, and it’s not neat.”

Patti Smith (born December 30, 1946) is celebrated as the “godmother of punk rock,” but besides being a magnificent musician, she is also a phenomenal poet, artist, rebel, and modern philosopher — a mind so diversely interesting and a heart so boundless in creative curiosity that she stands as a rare kind of modern muse to generation after generation of contemporary creators. Hardly anywhere does Smith’s singular spirit shine in more kaleidoscopic dimension than in Steven Sebring’s 2007 documentary Dream of Life, named after Smith’s 1988 album of the same title. The film, a decade in the making and narrated by Smith herself, offers an intimate portrait of one of the most important artists of the last century, in which she discusses everything from art and music to love and grief to politics to how creativity works. It’s available below in two parts — please enjoy:

My mission is to communicate, to wake people up, to give them my energy and accept theirs.

The film was eventually adapted into the coffee-table photo book Patti Smith: Dream of Life (public library), a treasure in its own right.

Complement with Patti Smith’s advice to the young, her tribute to Virginia Woolf, her lettuce soup recipe for starving artists, and her stirring poems mourning her soulmate.

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