Feb 17, 2008

An introduction by Paul Cox....

Right now, I'm reading through Reflections, a memoir written by Australian director Paul Cox, first published in 1998. And once I've completed the book, I will post a proper review of it here. But for now, I wanted to share this passage that paraphrased his opening introduction for his star Isabelle Huppert, when he was invited to the Telluride film festival for his 1986 film Cactus, in which the two worked together. He had just seen Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice, and the experience moved him so deeply that he decided to rewrite his introduction completely, and ultimately it had less to do with Isabelle Huppert, than with the whole dichotomy of the American film industry. I hope Mr. Cox will forgive my adding of such a long quotation, but it touched me so much that I had to share it.

"Thank you for inviting CACTUS to Telluride and for paying this tribute to Isabelle Huppert. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more, especially here where people, for a few days at least, are serious about film. So far I haven't heard the word 'product' once and even the question, 'What's your next project?' hasn't been asked.

Unfortunately I have to digress a little here, as I've just seen the real sacrifice Andrei Tarkovsky made with his film THE SACRIFICE. From the town of Larissa in Greece to the city of Arles in France, I've recently seen Rocky fighting for his tenth title, Rambo committing more obscenities and Arnold Schwarzenegger terminating anything that moved around him. Today I saw an extraordinary film made by an extraordinarily courageous man. No American producer or company wanted to help him make the film, yet you're all here now celebrating his sacrifice. It must be embarrassing for any thinking, feeling American to find even the smallest cinema in Europe loaded with films like, TEEN WEREWOLF, THE KARATE KID or TOP GUN representing your country, together with McDonalds and Kentucky Fried, while you could have been the proud producer of this important contribution to contemporary cinema.

Walking the streets of Manhattan is a far more exciting experience than watching the average American movie. Why is this in a country that harbours the amazing Julliard School of Music, has the finest dance and opera companies and a bubbling cultural life that embraces many cultures? Why all this wonderful activity can't rub off a little on your cinema, is an appalling mystery. Cinema in this country is nothing but the manufacture of bad taste, which is pretty tricky stuff when you realise that the right marketing of chicken winds or hamburgers can change the form and shape of less advanced countries.

Film wasn't invented to patronise and corrupt our children and to appeal mostly to our lower instincts. America is the country that has the power to change the future use of the medium, to restore some balance, to allow people like Tarkovsky to speak. After all you control, legally or illegally, most screens around the world and could bring love and peace and true imagination to those screens, instead of constant exploitation. I know of many marvellously talented people in your country who, in this climate of exploitation, will never get a chance to show what this country really has to offer.

I'm not totally condemning what most of you think is 'the right stuff', but I'm pleading for some balance. I'm asking you to restore the cinema to its true potential and once again make it available to grown-ups.

I did see TOP GUN and was appalled. Its budget was at least thirty times more than that of THE SACRIFICE. To think that TOP GUN will be seen by a hundred million people and THE SACRIFICE by a handful, is horrifying.

I'm here to introduce Isabelle Huppert and I'm sorry I had to digress. I just wonder what would have happened to Isabelle had she been born and raised in America and THE LACEMAKER had been a 'package' aimed at a particular youth market. Most probably the film would never have been made or, if by some fluke the film had gone through the system, it would never have had the same poignant integrity. Too many experts would have stood by to tell the director Claude Goretta how to make it more marketable."

Understand that this passage was said during a time when the Pac Man generation had taken over the box office, and before the indie boom of the 90's, which at least gave American cinema some however brief flirtation with the consideration of art before commerce. But once again, we find ourselves back at those times when bubblegum reigns supreme, and it is still difficult to see smaller, independent films (let alone get them funded), and as such, these comments ring true once again. This section is classic Paul Cox- savage and uncompromising, but in a unique way-- forcing us to consider truths we may not want to think about.

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