The Marketplace of Ideas

04 Mar 2008

JA, codename jah neezy

Willingly or no, every artist who throws his hat in with another set of creatives becomes a part of a marketplace of ideas. The quality of that marketplace — the quality of ideas bandied about within it — will determine how much that artist can gain from his cohort. Here we find the basis of the classic fork: which has more value, the auteur or the collaboration? Film being, at its heart, a collaborative medium, there seems to be at every turn a marketplace among collaborators to be considered or skipped. Does one stop at the fruit vendor for a fresh grapefruit on the way home, or peruse the picked-over stack at the supermarket? Does one go fruitless, or make do with a can of Del Monte? Depending on the context, any one of these routes can lead to the proper nourishment of creativity.

It is the objective, as ever, that ideas forge themselves into bullets, that pages are laid to waste. It is the objective that rolls of film are exposed to light under the most explosive of conditions but that those conditions somehow undulate with mellifluous precision. If there were formulas for such things, the capture device could be represented by a sine wave cycling at 24Hz. But it is the director’s mind, its chaotic impulses, that must balance the equation.

I formulated my own directing style in my own head, proceeding without any unnecessary imitation of others…for me there was no such thing as a teacher. I have relied entirely on my own strength. [1]

–Yasujiro Ozu

[A]fter making The Motel, I had an awakening like Neo in the Matrix. All of sudden I saw all the numbers and codes that make up the world of filmmaking, but I don’t know if that is something you can teach. It is like a rite of manhood. You just have to go through it to understand it. You can prepare all you want, but there is that moment when you have to go in the woods alone, eat peyote and find a spirit animal and no book or teacher is going to be able to prepare you for that. [2]

–Michael Kang

always cool on set

Robert Mugge’s Sun Ra – A Joyful Noise is one of the best music documentaries you will ever see — masterfully and creatively shot (on film! One forgets that there was once no other way). In it, we are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Ra directing a rehearsal while contending with the wayward personalities among his Arkestra (skip to 4:20 below). Throughout we hear the testimony of collaborators whose music becomes his music. For these collaborators, the quality of the idea marketplace itself becomes the reason for participation.

I said, “my gosh this man is more stretched out than Monk!” It’s unbelievable that anybody could write any meaner intervals than Monk or Mingus, you know, but he does. … So when I saw that, I said, “well I think I’ll make this the stop.” [3]

— Saxophonist John Gilmore

There is the hard hat and the axe. There is the pillow or the bag of weed. And always, the camera, the piano, the canvas. For the director, it is the objective that his desires unfurled shall carry him to broader vistas. Such is the hard work of his dreams. Such is the currency of the marketplace of ideas.

1. Ozu as famously quoted.
2. From RR interview with Kang; photo captured on the set of West 32nd.
3. From: Sun Ra – A Joyful Noise (60 min.). Dir. Mugge, 1980.
Buy it, steal it, or watch most of it for free here.