Jack Kerouac on How to Meditate.

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Jack Kerouac was many things – writer, philosopher, artist, wanderer … and I’d like to add mystic to this list. In “How to Meditate”, he brings his unique literary voice to a process that, in the end, defies linguistic expression. Sometimes, though, a stunning rendering of words can be as meditative as the act of sitting on the cushion seeking peace. Meditation is not just something that happens on a cushion.

Whenever we can step back from our traditional way of looking at the world – from our busy minds, our many conditionings – and become present within our bodies and surroundings … this is meditation. From this space of presence and mindfulness, we can go deeper with our contemplations, and find that an opening has been provided, so that we can experience a vastness of experience typically unavailable to us.

We can access this state while on a long walk, surrounded by trees and and mountains and rivers, by staring into someone’s eyes with real presence and compassion, and also by reading the inspired words of others. May these words fuel calm and happiness for you!

HOW TO MEDITATE

— lights out —

fall, hands a-clasped, into instantaneous
ecstasy like a shot of heroin or morphine,
the gland inside of my brain discharging
the good glad fluid (Holy Fluid) as
I hap-down and hold all my body parts
down to a deadstop trance — Healing
all my sicknesses — erasing all — not
even the shred of a “I-hope-you” or a
Loony Balloon left in it, but the mind
blank, serene, thoughtless. When a thought
comes a-springing from afar with its held-
forth figure of image, you spoof it out,
you spuff it out, you fake it, and
it fades, and thought never comes — and
with joy you realize for the first time
“Thinking’s just like not thinking —
So I don’t have to think
any
more”

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An Essential Quote about the Power of Kindness.

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Words are so precious.

There are times when we can feel at battle with them, when we so badly want to express the deepest parts of ourselves or what we experience, and come up short.

Sometimes there are just no words, and the world itself is ever-spinning, and we are spilling over with emotion. This can be so wondrous, and also difficult and isolating.

Language allows us to connect, but also provides the barrier to the truths that lie behind it. Ah, words!

But then, once in awhile, the right words appear. They can pour right out in a spellbinding moment of harmony between self and world, between us in communication.

They can come in the form of storytelling, the perfect book you sink into and never want to end.

Or, they can come in the form of a poem, like the one below, by Jack Kerouac, who never seemed to take a single word for granted.

I think Kerouac’s ability to put a mountain of truth into each word formation was a dual commitment, which he fed with discipline and passion: to live life beyond the border of words to its very edges, and to do everything he possibly could to reach out to others, using language to give structure to the messiness, chaos and glory that he found.

I read this poem often. I love how it takes us to the vital importance of being kind and not harboring negativity, and to the sacred aspects of ordinary life, which can be our springboard into awe and ecstasy.

Rocks don’t see what we see. Should we take what we see so seriously? What a beautiful sentiment.

I hope you enjoy it and feel inspired to let it move through you as you carry out your day!

 

“The world you see is just a movie in your mind.
Rocks don’t see it.
Bless and sit down.
Forgive and forget.
Practice kindness all day to everybody
and you will realize you’re already
in heaven now.
That’s the story.
That’s the message.
Nobody understands it,
nobody listens, they’re
all running around like chickens with heads cut
off. I will try to teach it but it will
be in vain, s’why I’ll
end up in a shack
praying and being
cool and singing
by my woodstove
making pancakes.”

~ Jack Kerouac

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!

*Also published on elephant journal, here!

Dear Jack Kerouac, on the 45 Anniversary of your Death

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Jack Kerouac is my James Dean, my George Harrison, my Tom Cruise (honesty is everything), and every boy I used to stare at on the cover of Tiger Beat all rolled into one.

With a dash of mandatory literary genius and lone soul-seeking wanderer on the side.

He was the fantasy of my bookish-angst-addled youth and is still my co-conspirator in nostalgia, myth-making and spiritual searching as I reread some his books as an adult.

Allen Ginsberg also kept me up many a night, wondering how it was humanly possible to write a poem about one’s mother that poured forth sacred secrets with such insane grace and searing candidness.

And the others:  William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti … I would have given anything to sit with them in smoky bars, trying not to get so drunk that I could no longer read my words out loud or hear others belt out a stream of word-songs while scanning lustily around the room.

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and lord knows I’ve tried to imitate them—especially Ginsberg. I spent the better part of a semester on this attempt way back when I was a young, fatalistic student temporarily dabbling in poetry. The results were mixed but I was happy.

Suddenly, Kerouac et al have popped back into my head with a vengeance. What to do? Reading them has always made we want to write even more than I already do. And they make me feel like my attempts at being concise and succinct are overrated (though I know this isn’t true—a girl can dream).

This time I wanted to try something slightly different than imitation, and ‘write’ using their own words. Yup, a remix!

The beauty of the Beats is that to do a remix of their words requires no effort do a long search for the ‘best’ or ‘most poetic’ work. In a way, the Beats as a whole are already one enmeshed entanglement of thoughts, feelings and word orgies. Their words to each other in letters, about their craft and personal lives, and in their published works can, in a sense, be read as one long homage to a lovely, bizarre, entirely mesmerizing Truth.

I borrow here from all the authors I listed above. My method was more or less this: choose quotes at will, relatively quickly. Remove reference to specific authors, cut and paste to my heart’s content, use no words of my own, and see what I end up with. No cheating, no over-thinking, no last-minute grasping at new quotes to fill in the blanks.

Oh, and I changed all the hims to hers, and left the few ‘hers’ I found untouched.

It was amazing to see how quickly a story emerged that I didn’t plan or construct in advance, and how emotionally involved I became with what I realized was a story from my heart.

Maybe this is the point: sometimes we get tired of our own words and the thoughts that inspired them. Using a gift pack of words that came before us can be a really refreshing tool to help us out of a rut, to see ourselves better – and engage in delicious flights of fancy at the same time.

I hope you enjoy!

 

Here Lies Life

Standing on a street corner one fine day I am awaiting. I want to be a saint. I’m running out of everything now. I want to create wilderness out of empire.

I experienced and loved and lost, and she would smile and look away, sigh and rise to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human anatomy, starving hysterical naked –

Oh, smell the people! yelled The Mover, compulsive, dedicated.

Her passing thoughts were extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul and

I am beginning to think she is a great saint, a girl who was going the opposite direction, sniffling, the first person on earth moving from one place to another to sacrifice all these strange ghosts rooted to the silly little adventure of earth.

I feel there is an angel in me, she told me once, lying back languidly.

Who are with me? she’d say and stretch. There is no such thing as writing for yourself.

I went with her for no reason. Out of veins, out of money.

At that instant there was a kind of celestial cold fire that crept over us and blazed up and illuminated her sorrows and desires and made it an eternal place.

If you believe you’re a poet, she’d say, then you’re saved.

This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.

Ah, God!

We think differently at night, humbly and sincerely, for there is so much work to do.

So here lies life, love,

Two piercing eyes glancing into two piercing eyes in an instant and

I miss you so much your absence causes me, at times, acute pain.

I like too many things and get all confused, her face out the window, family, friends, little short stories for children.

I touch your book and dream of our odyssey and feel absurd. Holy!

I am going to marry you.

Even my too-big world, trapped between 2 visual images, third coming, perpetually and forever, a renaissance of wonder.

Don’t you remember how you made me stop trembling in shame and drew me to you as the sharer?

It was a face which darkness could kill by laughter or light. And dash of consciousness, together.

Here lies love in lyrical delight, between incomprehensible and incoherent, and with one grand, beautiful dawn.

I don’t know if I can do it again.

We look into each other’s eyes, one grand boulevard with trees, the only people, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

Death hovers over me, a face as easily hurt, whom I am constantly shocking.

A pain stabs my heart. For me the mad ones are who love you, floating across the tops of cities,

who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space

and hung-up running from one falling star to another.

I stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame.

I am not mad. I am young, sorrowful, not necessarily man or woman, and have my generation dragging themselves till joined, elemental, jumping with sensation.

The best minds, she’d say, stand by the madhouse for one very beautiful, shining Revelation.

* original article published on elephant journal.

Remembering Wolf Koenig: Dialogue

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

Wolf Koenig (1927 – 2014) was a giant the way more than a few Canadian artists are: in a quiet, humble and very modest way.

I had the huge privilege of witnessing these traits firsthand when I interviewed him back in 2001, while I was in the throes of a Masters degree in film, exploring notions of documentary, observation, reality and truth.

I was living in Bangkok at the time, and he was living in small-town Ontario, not far from where I’m from, though we never met face-to-face.

Kind in a from-the-bottom-of-the-heart way, gentle and at turns humorous and contemplative, Koenig showed his adventurous spirit from the get-go.

I had a million questions for this maverick of the Canadian documentary, and he very graciously agreed to a long-form e-mail interview—his first conducted in cyberspace, as he told me. It ended up being part interview and part dialogue, as I tried to soak up what this brilliant mind was teaching me. We “spoke” for a few weeks, almost daily and by the end, he referred to this exploration as an “archeological dig.”

An explorer—and philosopher, miner of the psyche, and self-professed “tinkerer”—he was.

In the 1950s, Koenig, along with his young, rogue colleagues at the National Film Board of Canada (including IMAX founder and inventor Roman Kroitor), formed a documentary unit called Unit B, and ended up changing the way documentaries were made—which is also to say, how we perceived the world.

Decades before reality TV would permeate the globe, the Unit B filmmakers had the idea that they wanted to record reality “as it was,” without any overt decisions to package or frame what they saw, or offer audiences a predetermined view of the subject matter. This flew in the face of the kind of propagandistic documentaries that were being made at the time, and the team, while given rudimentary support, was more or less left to forge their own path.

This even included the necessity of designing and building their own equipment to record synchronous sound (to record images and sounds at the scene, simultaneously): they were wholly determined to go onto the streets with equipment that was as light as possible, and try to unobtrusively capture the world.

My personal favorites are a two-part series on Glenn Gould and the Unit B’s most famous, a film called “Lonely Boy”, (1961), which follows then-19-year-old Ottawa-boy crooner Paul Anka as he sets out to make it big in Atlantic City. The poignancy and raw excitement this film generates cannot be overstated – check it out below!

It’s also considered by many to be the very first rockumentary, or at least its progenitor, and is startling when you watch the girls scream over Anka, crazed, and realize it was made about three years before the Beatles landed in America.

A lot of the Unit B’s work is not widely available, but serve as a lasting visual and auric archive of an era when the likes of Jackson Pollock, Jack Kerouac, Albert Camus, and this ragtag group of brilliant filmmakers set out to test the very limits of artistic and philosophical imagination.

What do splotches of paint on canvas, free-form poetic ramblings, existentialist philosophy and the observational film have in common? To me, they epitomize the ultimate spirit of modernity and represent, in very different ways, what happens when classical forms of representation no longer suffice to express a personal or societal ethos, when something has to give.

These artists truly turned the world on its head during a creatively fertile time, each representing an edge, a limit, a willingness to explore the frontier of mind and spirit. I think of this as meditation-in-action, a motivated intention to discover what lies beyond what the senses can know directly, using the senses as the way in.

Koenig and his fellow filmmakers may have wanted to “directly capture reality,” but they were in no way naive or obtuse about the possibility of doing this, unfiltered – art can only be an attempt, and people can only do their best, using the tools they have.

These were some of the brilliant, inspiring words Wolf Koenig shared with me, about the potential of art as it relates to Truth:

“I’ve come to the conclusion in my dotage that “structure” is what all the arts are really about – music, dance, the graphic arts, the theatre, the literary arts, architecture, poetry, etc. They show us by inference something that we otherwise can’t see. This ‘something’ is invisible to us, like a fir tree in the dark. But come Christmas time, people hang lights all over the boughs. At first one only sees the lights, but if you step back a bit and squint, you see the shape of the tree – even though the tree itself still invisible. The lights define it, so we’re able to see it by inference. In this laboured analogy, the lights represent the “arts” and the tree the “structure”. And the Structure is what permeates the universe from the sub-atomic particle to the whole cosmos – in effect, we are all little lights hung on the invisible tree. And the arts are about the only way we have of talking about this thing: “Structure” or “Truth.”

I didn’t realize until just now how deeply his wise words remained within me as I set out to find my own way of being in the world, of observing my mind in hopes of peering into Truth.

RIP, Wolf Koenig, light that you were. You will be missed, and thank you for your work, the worlds you gave us, for your being.

 

* This article was published in elephant journal, here.

I also wrote an article about “Lonely Boy” (a true masterpiece, and Cannes award winner) in Dairy River magazine, which you can check out here. You can watch the full version of the film here.

 And now, for the dialogue!

Some of my interview with Wolf was published in a Take One Magazine article, so please enjoy! If anyone is interested in having access to the full interview, please feel free to contact me by email.

 

Candid Eye, & Lonely Boy Unit B: take one’s interview with Wolf Koenig.

 

If the word documentary is synonymous with Canada, and the NFB is synonymous with Canadian documentary, it is impossible to consider the NFB, and particularly its fabled Unit B team, without one of its core members, Wolf Koenig. An integral part of the “dream team,” he worked with, among others, Colin Low, Roman Kroitor, Terence Macartney–Filgate and unit head Tom Daly, as part of the NFB’s most prolific and innovative ensemble. Koenig-began his career as a splicer before moving on to animator, cameraman, director and producer, responsible for much of the output of the renowned Candid Eye series produced for CBC–TV between 1958 and 1961. Among Unit B’s greatest achievements is Lonely Boy (1962), which brilliantly captured the phenomenon of megastar mania before anyone else, and continues to be screened worldwide. I had the opportunity to “speak” to Wolf Koenig in his first Internet interview, a fitting format for a self–professed tinkerer who made a career out of embracing the latest technologies. He refl ects on his days as part of Unit B, what the term documentary means to him and the process of making Lonely Boy.

What was your background before joining the NFB?

In 1937, my family fled Nazi Germany and came to Canada, just in the nick of time. After a couple of years of wondering what he should do, my father decided that we should settle down on a farm. He found the perfect place, 145 acres of beautiful hills and bush bordering the Grand River, just outside of Galt, Ontario. The hills and valleys were beautiful, allright, but hell to plow and harvest. So we got a tractor, one of the first in the area, a Ford–Ferguson — small but strong.

One day, in early May 1948, my father got a call from a neighbour down the road — Mr. Merritt, the local agricultural representative for the federal department of agriculture — who asked if “the boy” could come over with the tractor to try out a new tree–planting machine. The machine was designed to fit only the Ford–Ferguson, and we were the only ones in the area to have one. So my father called me over and said, “Go!” As I was pulling the tree planter across a field, I noticed a couple of guys off to the side. One was pointing and giving directions and the other one was setting up a tripod with a movie camera on it. After the test planting was done, I went over and asked them what they were filming. Raymond Garceau, the director, told me that they were from the agricultural unit of the NFB and that they were making a film about this new tree–planting machine. I got talking to them and told them how much I loved films, especially animation films and that I wanted one day to work in that field. They suggested that I send a job application to the NFB. I think Garceau must have mailed me one, although I don’t remember exactly how I got it. Anyway, I sent it off, and about six weeks later I got a letter asking if I were interested in a position as junior splicer at $100 per month at the National Film Board of Canada. My father said, “Go! It’s the government!.”
So, on July 12, 1948, I boarded the CPR train in Galt, hay seed in my hair, hauling a cardboard suitcase bulging with clothing and my mother’s cookies and sandwiches. I was off to Toronto and then Ottawa [where the NFB was located at the time]. And on the morning of July 13, I reported for work as junior splicer. I was 20, and had no education save four years at vocational school, where I learned the rudiments to auto mechanics, drafting, house wiring and wood-working–all useful things if you’re a farmer, but not much help in filmaking. So I learned how to splice film and I got rather good at it. I met practically everybody involved in production because they all had to come to my tiny cubicle to get their films spliced. In spare moments, I’d hang around and watch people edit or go down to animation and see how they did it, and then go into the optical camera section and watch how animation was shot. I thought I was in heaven. Anyway, after about a year and a half of spicing and learning, I was invited to come and join the animation department.

I understand Tom Daly, who would go on to head the Unit B team, was executive producer for the animation department when you were there. What was your relationship like with him?

Tom was truly the heart of Unit B. He was the executive producer of the unit and its brains and muscle, too. He was a master editor, and still is, and he took great care that we new ones were fully instructed in the rules of the craft. He’d give regular lectures and with the help of a 16 mm projector took us through a film shot by shot that he or Stuart Legg – the great British documentarian brought in by Grierson during the war to oversee The Worth in Action – had edited. Tom had apprenticed with Legg and learned the craft from him. In the war years, they invariably had to use newsreel material from disparate sources – British, German, Portuguese, American or Canadian – yet made it look as if it all came from the same source. Later, as head of Unit B, Tom continued to mentor and guide us. And he still edited. I remember Colin Low and me looking over Tom’s shoulder as he cut Corral and later City of Gold. And he explained everything he did. He was a master teacher as well as an artist. Without his guidance and infinite patience, many of us would never have worked on a film. And Tom challenged us intellectually too. He’d get those of us who were undereducated to read the classics, like Plato’s Dialogues. He was giving us a university education. No other executive producer would have taken the trouble to do this. In the end, Tom’s efforts paid off. Studio B did some of the NFB’s most interesting work and has never seen his like again.

It sounds like an ideal work environment. Does your relationship with Roman Kroitor go back to the early days too?

I met Roman first while I was still a splicing boy. He came to the NFB — I don’t know the exact year — as a summer student. He came into Unit B and therefore was under Daly’s jurisdiction. Roman was doing his Ph.D. in philosophy, I believe, at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. I met him in the usual way. He brought something in for me to splice. We got to talking and pretty soon we were spending lunch hours debating deep philosophical things while eating our sandwiches. Roman always won any debate. He was just too smart for me. He was also very outspoken, and he spoke his mind without much regard for diplomacy. Once, one veteran NFB director stopped Roman in the hall and asked him how he liked his latest film. It had just been screened and he noticed that Roman was there. And Roman said, “It’s a pile of shit!” And I’m sure it was Needless to say, the “old boys” became a little leery of Roman. They didn’t appreciate his frankness. However a least one of the old boys liked Roman’s chutzpah, and so Stanley Jackson would often join us in our philosophical lunches, which we would often continue at Murray’s Restaurant after work, and then we would go see a movie. When I finally got out of splicing, I was fortunate enough to be taken in by the animation department, which was the fulfillment of a dream I had ever since I saw Disney’s Snow White and the Seven dwarfs in 1937. Eventually, I began working with Robert Verrall and Colin Low on The Romance of Transportation in Canada.

Did you work with Kroitor prior to the Candid Eye series?

Yes. Roman’s genius came in handy on City of Gold. He helped shape the film, working closely with Tom Daly, who edited it, Colin Low, myself and Pierre Berton, who wrote and read the narration. Roman was a technical wizard. We had the problem of doing the complex, curved camera moves over the photographs. This was an immensely difficult task, and Roman invented a solution. We called it the “Kroitorer” and it consisted of a hand–sized platform with four tiny caster wheels, a magnetic solenoid, within which was a sharply pointed armature and an oscillating power supply that caused the sharp armature to vibrate up and down 24 times a second. The photograph was covered with a sheet of clear acetate. The Kroitorer was powered up, and moved over the photo, the pointed armature leaving a trail of tiny impressions on the surface of the acetate. Then black grease pencil was rubbed into these impressions to make them more visible. Next, the acetate sheet was placed beside the animation table under a small microscope a ttached to the table and the photo was placed under the camera. The camera operator had only to align the crosshairs of the microscope with the first dot, shoot a frame, line up the second dot, shoot another frame, and so on. The results were perfect. This saved us weeks if not months of work and reshoots. Roman and I then worked together for a couple of years on the Candid Eye series.

How did Candid Eye come about? How was it initially conceived?

I can answer this very simply — Henri Cartier-Bresson. One year I was given a book of Cartier-Bresson photographs, The Decisive Moment. The photographs absolutely stunned me. Here was real life, as it happened, captured on film at the moment of greatest clarity and meaning. I showed the book to Roman, Tom and others, with the purpose of convincing them that we could do this kind of observation on film. We had already seen work from the British Free Cinema and we were impressed. And then there were the earlier films of Pere Lorenz, The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River. We were also very familiar with the fine wartime documentary features like Desert Victory and The True Glory. So it was in the air and the Cartier-Bresson photographs were the final inspiration. Roman agreed we should give it a try, so we took the notion to Tom, who agreed with us. Off we went with little experience, but a lot of enthusiasm. I think our first film was The Days before Christmas, a natural subject, considering the season was upon us. A whole lot of us fanned out across the city and began running film through the cameras.

Candid Eyes was a true departure for CBC-TV and for filmmaking in Canada. Did you have any particular idea about how Candid Eye subjects should be approached? Is it possible to say there was a mandate, or a distinct philosophy, behind the series?

The idea behind the Candid Eye series was simple: show our world and the lives lived by ordinary people without influencing or manipulating them. Observe but do not disturb; preferably remain invisible. Our intention was to put the real world on film — sound and image — in order to help people become more aware of their community and the world they lived in. Who knows whether we succeeded. If nothing else, we recorded a bit of history. Pretty high-minded, if not a little naive, eh? Anyhow, that was it. Not much of a manifesto, but it allowed us a great deal of flexibility and a lot of room to grow. Today, anyone and everyone can do this with the marvellous new DV cameras. I sure wish we’d had these in the old days.

How much of what you did was made possible by the portable 16 mm cameras and possibilities for synchronized sound, so often hailed as the tools that made cinema verite possible?

Alas, we didn’t have a lot of that wonderful new technology at the beginning of Candid Eye. All we had was the little 16 mm Arri S, not a silent machine, therefore not suited to shooting sync sound. For sound, the sound recordist had to haul around a portable suitcase-sized recorder, the Maihack, which was spring wound and weighed about 50 pounds. A little later in the game we used the sprocket-tape machine for sync sound. It was designed and built at the NFB, and used specially perforated quarter-inch audio tape. However, this was not a portable device. The Nagra arrived sometime later. For sync picture we had the 16 mm Auricon, but it couldn’t be hand-held. It weighed about 40 pounds with a 1,200-foot magazine, so we used tripods. A lot of our stuff was shot on the handy little Arri S. The sound recordist picked up a lot of ambient sound and, with careful picture and sound-editing, we got it to look as if the material was in sync an editor’s trick from theearlier documentary days.

You know, the guy talking on the phone, shot so that you couldn’t see his mouth move and editing his voice over the picture.

Here I should digress for a moment and talk about this editing business. The fact is, every cut is a lie. The cutaway of someone intently listening to someone speak is shot after — or before — the actual conversation. Even with multiple camera shoots, the editor uses the ideal reaction shot rather than the exact, matching moment. And when one cuts back to the speaker, likely as not, a long chunk of the actual conversation is dropped in order to get to the point. So, the truth is adjusted. The irony is that, in editing, one has to lie to tell the truth, otherwise the audience would die of boredom or the truth would be smothered under a mountain of chaff. Anyhow, toward the end of the candid Eye series, the camera and engineering departments built a small, noiseless camera. It was a bit awkward to hand–hold, a design problem that could eventually have been corrected; however, just then, the French company Eclair put the NPR on the market. Perfectly balanced for hand–holding, relatively light — about 18 pounds — and almost totally silent. But it came too late for the Candid Eye, even for Lonely Boy [the immediate heir of the Candid Eye series].

A prevailing myth is that there was an active dislike of Unit B and its new ideas at the Film Board, that you were the renegade team. Was it difficult to work as part of this group at the NFB at this time?

The rumour is only partly true. Yes there was a certain disdain toward these young upstarts who thought they knew how to make films. I don’t think it was outright hostility. We were a bit of a joke making films on 16 mm, the “substandard format” as it was called. “Real pros” used 35 mm. Eventually, though, I think we won the old guard’s respect. And even they began to try 16mm. It was a lot cheaper than 35 mm and the equipment was much more portable. The BNC Mitchell, a 35mm blimped sound camera, weighed in at about 80 pounds. The French section of the Film Board was much more open to the newer ways and quickly adopted them. Within a couple of years the whole place was moving in the new direction.

Now, to get to Lonely Boy. There seems to be a dispute whether Lonely Boy was part of Candid Eye or not. Was it?

Lonely Boy wasn’t part of the original Candid Eye series, although it was a direct descendant. It was made in 1962. Candid Eye ended in 1961 with Festival in Puerto Rico, which was about Maureen Forrester in Puerto Rico. The idea for the film, I guess, came from me. We hadn’t really looked at pop music yet and here was an opportunity to go that route — a young, successful pop star from Ottawa, of all places. Roman and I went to Boston to see one of his concerts. The scene was totally different from what we had experienced. We were convinced that there was a film here.

I understand you only had one camera on that shoot. How did your team solve the problems of capturing so much action simultaneously with one camera?

One camera was all we needed. We had pretty well absorbed Tom’s editing lessons by then. We became quite adept at shooting with a mind to the editing process — get lots of cutaway material; get wide shots as well as close–ups; get reaction shots; get material to establish the location, etc. I’m sure you’ve noticed that at one point in the film Anka gets dressed in a black suit before stepping out on stage. Then, when he appears before the crowd, he’s wearing a white suit. Obviously shot at different times. Not an ideal cut, but the general trajectory of the sequence allowed us to get away with it. As I said, every cut is a lie. But sometimes one has to lie to tell the truth.

There is such a sense of immediacy about the film, as though you and Roman were completely thrown off guard by the sensation Anka had become, which is a credit to how the final film was put together. How much did you know about him before joining him for the few days of the film?

We didn’t know much about Anka when we started out. But we did see his concert in Boston and we knew that the material would be rich and relatively easy to obtain. So, with a fair bit of experience behind us, as well as a considerable helping of naivete, we jumped into the river. Then it was a matter of being alert to every moment and continually observant and trying not to drown.

I find it fascinating that while synchronous sound was a triumph of the verite movement, you eschewed it at several key moments in the film, such as when the camera rests on the screaming girls’ faces while we only hear Anka sing. And when Anka is seen writing on stage at the Copacabana, but we hear his voice on the track talking about the gift he’d been given. Can you tell me a little bit about how these decisions were made?

Sometimes, necessity is the mother of invention. Turning the screaming down as Anka continues to sing happened because even though the sound editor, Kathleen Shannon, painstakingly cut and synchronized every scream to the non–sync picture, the screams got to be a bit too much. The only solution was to turn them off. Surprisingly it worked better without them. The imagination continued to supply them. And the sound of Anka’s performance wasn’t recorded at that location either. Marcel Carriere, the sound recordist, was off in the crowd recording the screams while I was shooting picture, non–sync. If you look carefully, you’ll notice moments when Anka’s lips go out of sync a bit as he sings. That’s because the sound was recorded at another concert, a couple of weeks earlier. The band’s and Anka’s routine were perfectly repeated every time. The tempos varied very slightly, hence the out of sync, but it was so close we could use it for short pieces. It’s the magic of editing. The same thing happened at the Copac abana. We used a recording from another location, but this time the tempos were far off, so we used Anka talking about his gift to mask the discrepancy. This also had the incidental advantage of adding another level of thought, allowing the audience to be in two places at once. So you see, it was necessity that made us become inventive.

The film is so ambitious, employing cutaways, creative use of sound, self-reflexivity, interviews. Can you expand a little on the editing of Lonely Boy?

The editing of a documentary is like creating something out of thin air, The shots are often unrelated in time and space and yet, by bringing them together correctly, they begin to attract each other and cohere, like molecules forming a new substance. In editing — like playing an instrument — one has to know the rules as almost second nature. Then one has to let go and allow the material to lead you. The shots often tell one where they should go; one has to be alert and listen. The process of editing, especially documentaries, is probably the most demanding part of filmmaking and it’s also the most rewarding. In the editing process, the film begins to live. Even ordinary material, well put together, can really shine. Conversely, good material badly edited can ruin the project. The cutting of Lonely Boy, as always, was a collaborative effort. I did the basic assembly and Roman and Tom would look at it and make suggestions. Then John Spotton and Guy Cote took over — each with one half of the film — and did the final polish, adding some ideas that we hadn’t thought of. So, you see, even at this stage of the game, film is an ensemble art. This way of working was probably unique to our gang. Many great films have been made by individuals working solo. We were just more comfortable as a chamber orchestra.

I would like to ask you about what it means to you to make an observational film because there’s something transcendent about Lonely Boy and this seems to have something to do with truth, whether it’s an emotional or visceral truth. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Any of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs shows us the truth. He was our inspiration because he did it so consistently. Clearly, it was no accident for him. He knew exactly when to trip the shutter. With film, it’s a little different. It exists in time, and so the element of time becomes important. In both cases, though, there’s a shared commonality — and that’s structure. Roman — the great structuralist — used to clutch his forehead after a rushes screening and ask despairingly, “What’s the structure? What’s the structure?” And he was right to ask it, because that’s what a film is really about. I’ve come to the conclusion in my dotage that “structure” is what all the arts are really about: music, dance, the graphic arts, the theatre, the literary arts, architecture, poetry, etc. They show us by inference something that we otherwise can’t see. This “something” is invisible to us, like a fir tree in the dark, But come Christmas time, people hang lights all over the boughs. At first one only sees the lights, but if you step back a bit and squint, you see the shape of the tree, even though the tree itself is still invisible. The lights define it, so we’re able to see it by inference. In this laboured analogy, the lights represent the “arts” and the tree the “structure.” And the structure is what permeates the universe from the subatomic particle to the whole cosmos; in effect, we are all little lights hung on the invisible tree. And the arts are about the only way we have of talking about this thing structure or truth. So you are quite right to raise the question. Truth is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Wolf Koenig’s films and television include: Neighbours 1952 (ph); The Romance of Transportation in Canada 1953 (coan, AAN-AS); Corral 1954 (ph); Gold 1955 (sc/ph/ed); City of Gold 1957 (d/ph with Colin Low, CFA-FY, AAN-SD); It’s a Crime 1957 (d); The Days before Christmas 1958 (co-p/co-d/coed, TV); Blood and Fire 1958 (co-p/ed, TV); Glenn Gould – Off the Record 1959 (p/d with Roman Kroitor, also ph, TV); Glenn Gould — On the Record 1959 (p/d with Kroitor, also ph, TV); The Back–Breaking Leaf 1959 (co-p, TV); Lonely Boy 1962 (ph/co-d with Kroitor, CFA-FY); The Great Toy Robbery 1964 (co-p); The Drag 1965 (co-p, AAN-AS); Stravinsky 1965 (ph/ed/co-d with Kroitor, TV); What on Earth! 1966 (co-p, AAN-AS); This is the House that Jack Built 1967 (co-p. AAN-AS); Psychocratie 1969 (co-p, CFA-FY, CFA-AS); N–Zone 1970 (co-ph); Hot Stuff 1971 (co-p); The Family that Dwelt Apart 1973 (p, CFA-AS, AAN-AS); The Street 1976 (exp, AAN-AS); The Hottest Show on Earth 1977 (co-p/co-d/co-sc, CFA-SD); Spinnolio 1977 (p. CFA-AS); Eve Lambart 1978 (exp/ph); Why Men Rape 1979 (co-p/co-ed); Ted Baryluk’s Grocery 1982 (co-p, GA-SD); John Cat 1984 (d/sc); Connection 1986 (d/ed); Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance 1993 (co-p).

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Dreams for Those Who Wait

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Dreams for Those Who Wait

(Laos)

When tired, one can have the impression that things are designed to be funny. It all gets easier. You can look at a lush green view with a coconut tree in the middle of it and not strain to take it all in, to be really present since one day you won’t be here anymore and you won’t remember any of this, and a little chunk of great meaning will be lost. No, when you’re tired you can just look at it and it seems really pretty, and it’s like you can touch it with your eyes. And even if you can’t it’s okay, because what is a tree? Who are you, this satiated jumble of particles and dizzy emotions looking at it? A lush view? And you laugh, not in mockery or because it doesn’t mean anything, but because, what is what? One time this happened to me. I was so tired because I couldn’t sleep for the previous eleven nights and it wasn’t even that I was up nights working on an important project, or plagued by nightmares, or feeding a newborn. Nothing like that. Which was disturbing in itself, this lack of reason for sleeplessness. Generally I love sleeping, the dreams that come, the cozy darkness. One time a person came to me in my dreams, a very old man who wore coveralls and a straw hat. His beard was wispy and this made him look a little bit like Lao Tzu. He didn’t say anything for the longest time. He just looked at me very gently, and eventually he held out his ancient hand. There was a toothpick in his mouth, which he’d chewed almost into bits. I didn’t quite know I was dreaming but usually I’m very hesitant and anxious in dreams; this time I took his hand without thought. As soon as I did we were sitting under a tree in a small field and a river flowed by quietly next to us. It was hiding a strong current that had caused many deaths before and as soon as this thought struck me it was clear I was in Laos, which is where I was for real, though in my dream I was back home in Canada, being taken by this old man to the northern mountains of Laos, just south from where most of the unexploded ordnance was dropped onto the country during the Vietnam War. Now a rainbow appeared, a luminous band I could see in its entirety: my first full rainbow. The old man was taking it in with appreciation, but in due stride. He was a calmer Jack Kerouac, past the struggles, in love with his ancient encounter with the road. “Beautiful, isn’t it,” he said. “Now go back to your loving husband, and get yourself some sleep.” “Funny,” I said, wondering what he could possibly mean. But I left the dream anyway, and along with it, Jack Kerouac Lao Tzu.