For it is Written

Friday night in the Hillary Step – the collision of two concepts as coincidence.

The first, my ambition that instead of buying Christmas presents this year, I write letters. Careful, considered and personal notes to my nearest and dearest, most of whom wouldn’t have got a present anyway. All of whom will probably open their letter suspecting that I’m about to reveal the darkest of dark secrets or announce my impending exit.

I’m doing neither.

The intention is simple. To communicate, to share a little, in a hopefully human and festive way. How unusual. How queer.

There’s a Neil Young song on Harvest Moon called ‘One of These Days’  – he talks about sitting down and writing a long letter to ‘all the good friends I’ve known’. A wise and honourable intention as the lyrics make clear the guy still hasn’t got around to it. I don’t want to fall into the same ‘one of these days’ traps. It will happen.

Which brings me to the second of the Friday night in the Hillary Step concepts. The concept that through pure synchronicity has committed me.

With my cute Christmas letters idea safely filed at the back of my mind and marinating in half a gallon on Guinness, big buddy Sick Festival Tim kindly introduced me to his new best mate. Shaun.

Shaun used to be a copywriter. It’s what he does now that’s the point here.

He compiles books.

His best known? Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience.

You may know it. You may have it.

It was The Sunday Times’ Best Book of 2013 and won a stack of other awards and rave reviews.

I have it. I love it.

That made Shaun happy. Which made me happy. To be fair I was pretty happy anyway.

Small world huh?

So this morning I was thumbing through the website and came across this.

In November of 1993, a week after the death of celebrated Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, the New York Times published an article by Bruce Weber in which he made clear his impatience with the supposedly opaque, perplexing movies of directors like Fellini. One person who read the piece was Martin Scorsese–he responded by letter.

Here’s a link to it.

Here’s the letter in full.

The Letter

New York,

19 Nov 1993

To the Editor:

“Excuse Me; I Must Have Missed Part of the Movie” (The Week in Review, 7 November) cites Federico Fellini as an example of a filmmaker whose style gets in the way of his storytelling and whose films, as a result, are not easily accessible to audiences. Broadening that argument, it includes other artists: Ingmar Bergman, James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Cage, Alain Resnais and Andy Warhol.

It’s not the opinion I find distressing, but the underlying attitude toward artistic expression that is different, difficult or demanding. Was it necessary to publish this article only a few days after Fellini’s death? I feel it’s a dangerous attitude, limiting, intolerant. If this is the attitude toward Fellini, one of the old masters, and the most accessible at that, imagine what chance new foreign films and filmmakers have in this country.

It reminds me of a beer commercial that ran a while back. The commercial opened with a black and white parody of a foreign film—obviously a combination of Fellini and Bergman. Two young men are watching it, puzzled, in a video store, while a female companion seems more interested. A title comes up: “Why do foreign films have to be so foreign?” The solution is to ignore the foreign film and rent an action-adventure tape, filled with explosions, much to the chagrin of the woman.

It seems the commercial equates “negative” associations between women and foreign films: weakness, complexity, tedium. I like action-adventure films too. I also like movies that tell a story, but is the American way the only way of telling stories?

The issue here is not “film theory,” but cultural diversity and openness. Diversity guarantees our cultural survival. When the world is fragmenting into groups of intolerance, ignorance and hatred, film is a powerful tool to knowledge and understanding. To our shame, your article was cited at length by the European press.

The attitude that I’ve been describing celebrates ignorance. It also unfortunately confirms the worst fears of European filmmakers.

Is this closed-mindedness something we want to pass along to future generations?

If you accept the answer in the commercial, why not take it to its natural progression:

Why don’t they make movies like ours?
Why don’t they tell stories as we do?
Why don’t they dress as we do?
Why don’t they eat as we do?
Why don’t they talk as we do?
Why don’t they think as we do?
Why don’t they worship as we do?
Why don’t they look like us?

Ultimately, who will decide who “we” are?

—Martin Scorsese

Wise. Apt. Prescient.  

Much as we have to witness ignorance, we don’t have celebrate it.

Much as we have to endure the Christmas commercial wankfest we don’t have to go all in.

I’m not. Not this year anyway.

Letters of note – it’s the thought that counts.

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