In the Toronto film and literary communities, Marc Glassman is a true renaissance man. Sitting at a conference table in his new office over the course of over an hour with him he has to take a few calls, but I’m shocked he even had an hour to sit down in the first place.
Glassman has several jobs you might recognize him from. He’s a local film critic for Classical 96.3 and one of the founding and managing editors of POV Magazine. He is one of the founders of Toronto’s Images Festival, bringing some of the best in art and experimental cinema to the city. He has made, produced, and distributed films on his own and with others. He curates the popular This is Not a Reading Series. He was also at one point the founder, owner, and proprietor of Toronto’s beloved, sadly gone, and influential Queen Street bookshop Pages. I’m sure there are also at least a dozen jobs that I am forgetting about.
But given Glassman’s current major project, these jobs are the most relevant to talk about. This weekend finds Glassman kicking off Pages Festival, a logical extension of everything that Glassman has loved working on and talking about that seeks to talk about the places where different forms of media meet and collide to create brave new forms of art. A way to look at the large cultural shifts in culture one piece at a time, the festival consists of proper talks on various art forms from cinematic adaptations of previously published materials with Atom Egoyan to how social media can create and inform urban narratives to the rise in popularity and critical acclaim of the graphic novel. Most of events will take place at Randolph Theatre at 736 Bathurst Street, but there will also be a separate conference on the future of the book and select events at the Tranzac at 292 Brunswick Avenue.
For more information on the Pages Festival (running from the 13th to the 15th) and a full list of programs, times, and ticketing information, please visit their website, but here now is an in-depth discussion with Glassman about the aims of the festival, how his past work influenced his current work, and we walk through this year’s schedule of events.
Dork Shelf: First of all, before we get too carried away, what is the difference between the festival and the conference portions of this coming weekend?
Marc Glassman: With the conference as opposed to the festival, the main thing with that is that we have Bob Stein coming in and he’s kind of who gave the conference part its name. You probably know Ron Mann, right? (Filmmaker and founder and operator of film distributor FilmsWeLike) Well, I used to hang out with Ron a lot and I worked on several of his films, and he at one point back in the early 90s was producing CD-ROMs, and thos CD-ROMs were done with Bob, who that point had the most visionary company for that sort of thing in the United States, which was called Voyager, and they were founded back in the 1980s. They were doing these CD-ROMs that were dealing with film, but they also had these extrapolations of text. At one point they also had some variation on The Criterion Collection, so Bob was very big in those days.
When Voyager and the CD-ROM thing kind of collapsed, he moved on into becoming kind of like a thinker, and now he has a thing called The Institute for the future of the book, which operates out of New York and LA. He’s our keynote speaker and he’ll be speaking on Friday morning between 9am and 10am on the future of the book and the rest of the conference will follow along those same lines, but that’s that part of it.
And then there’s the festival…
DS: …which is a very interesting blend of things that I know you personally have a lot of interest in and experience with. It’s covering a lot of different art forms and talent, but these are all people who are all very well versed in more than one field and they have created their own kinds of areas of expertise. I look at someone like Atom Egoyan or Shawn Micallef and these are people who know a lot about a lot of different and sometimes dissimilar things that they sort of bring together in their own kind of discipline. It seems like there’s this fight nowadays to have that connection to multiple forms of art at the same time. There’s a drive to make people specifically clued into only one form of art or one area of precise knowledge like it’s a bad thing to be well rounded. Is that something that you keep in mind when you set out to put together a festival like this?
MG: Yeah, I mean, you’ve known me for a while now and you know that’s who I am and that’s where I’m coming from. So tended to gravitate in the festival towards people who had that same sort of eclecticism, and to then see that commonality between various art forms and cultures. It’s sort of funny because you’re a lot younger than I am, so if you dispute this it will be interesting (laughs), but one of the things I think I’ve been noticing is that there are more and more people like me and like Atom and Shawn and you than there were maybe 30 or so years ago when you were a kid.
Let me give you an example: When I was running Pages, very quickly after that I started doing film programming and it kind of took off. I was doing very well with the film programming, and I think for a while there I was only one of a small handful of people who at that time was doing independent art film programming back then in the city. So I had lots of gigs coming in. I had gigs with Harbourfront, the National Film Board, I was one of the founders of the Images Festival, all of that. So really I was pursing two careers at once; three if you take into consideration that I was writing the whole time.
DS: Four, technically, if you wanted to say that you were kind of a professional arts enthusiast, because with something like Pages or Images there was a lot of overlap to an even greater arts community in the city.
MG: Very much, yes. But here’s what would happen in those days: I would be introduced to someone at a party or something like that and they would either introduce me as the guy who ran Pages or the film programmer for the National Film Board, which I did for five years. Then at one point in the conversation, the other job that I wasn’t introduced with would come up. The literary people used to be shocked that I was doing all this film stuff, and with the film people they would say “But, wait, don’t you own that bookstore?” Then it would lead to people kind of openly questioning which one was real. There was never a cut and dry answer that I could give people back then that would necessarily satisfy them. The one exception was French people. (laughs) They understood this concept of eclecticism and around them I wouldn’t have to say “The book store is my day job and everything else is my stamp collection” or “The film thing is my passion, but I got stuck with this bookstore.” So I would be labouring trying to explain to people that this is all the same to me; that this was all part of what’s interesting. It’s all cultural commentary and how people do their work. I’m interested in the creative process and I’ve always been interested in the best of everything, whether that’s in literature or film or art. Some people would see it and get convinced, but so many of them would kind of leave the conversation looking still puzzled like I didn’t answer their question.
DS: It seems like an easy question to ask, and I know for me it would be an easy question to answer. Plenty of people say to other people that they have second and third jobs and no one bats an eyelash, but if they’re in cultural fields people can’t seem to grasp that concept as easily.
MG: That’s why I think that now people would be able to accept a festival like this a lot easier. Hopefully today the idea of a festival like this isn’t as much of a brain scratcher, although frankly I have still run into some issues with some of my literary friends who are still looking puzzled. (laughs) They looked puzzled at Pages, too, at first, by the way. It took some people a long time for people to even realize what Pages was because you could never sum it up in a single sentence. They had to come and come and come before they realized that it was just a really great bookstore with all these things that you couldn’t have anywhere else. People would always ask about Pages, “Well, what’s you’re niche?” “I don’t know? People who like interesting books? People who like to read?” They wanted it to be one thing, like they wanted us to choose between traditional literature, graphic novels, history, photography, cultural studies, and that kind of thing.
The reason I think now people would understand it better is precisely because we have moved into that kind of economy where people have upwards of three or four jobs. When I first started out in the 80s, people still had jobs and there were concrete, set in stone kinds of professions that people could go after. So the question actually has a kind of reality to it. Back then most people could answer the question of what they did for a living with “This is my job. This is what I do.” or with “This is my job. I don’t like my job, but what I want to do is THIS.” Those were the answers people expected to hear back in the 80s. Today you have people who are bloggers, but they also do photography, but they want to start something else. You can even look at things like bicycle culture and urban activists and see how they branch out into other forms of popular media. It seems to me that there’s more of an understanding that it’s okay to be invested in a bunch of different things and not just find that one thing for the next 20 or 30 years. Now would you say I’m right about that?
DS: I think for the most part, you’re mostly right, at least when it comes to the people who I think will be the most successful further down the line. The longest lasting careers are the people who I think will be able to diversify what they do. I bounce predominantly between film and fiction writing because those are the things I think I’m best at and what I love doing the most. At the same time I think there’s still this very strange disconnect, particularly when it comes to university education, that leads to people having to really figure things out on their own. That’s the one thing that always boggled my mind. We teach kids when they are getting ready to leave high school – and this is such an old school mentality that it just bothers me to no end – that you have to plunk yourself into this one field and never deviate from it. We tell and mock anyone that dares to attempt a double major that it will be too much work or that one will take away from the other. If you go into journalism, you have to be a journalist. If you go into film, you have to stick with film. I don’t think that’s entirely true because on paper you can be someone with a degree that says you know all there is to know about a given subject by way of a degree, but does that make someone a well rounded worker or does it make them a person who knows enough trivial things about one particular subject to be deemed an expert in that field. It’s in that period I think when you’re in your 20s that you still have to deal with this to a great extent where people are demanding that concrete answer from people as to what they want them to do with their lives. You’ll either learn as you get older that’s just not the case or you’ll become the person who questions someone having more than one job because they can’t understand the concept. I think that even extends beyond just the arts community, as well. You can’t teach that, but you can suggest it, which is why I think something like this festival is a good idea.
MG: I can see that, and that’s interesting to me, because for me one of the reasons to do this was because of something like what I went through with Pages, which wasn’t just a theory, but rather something that actually worked. So now I’m trying to apply some of the same things that I did with the bookstore to the festival to see if it will work in a festival setting.
It’s definitely a bit challenging, but I’ve already set a goal for myself: to do well this year and get the word out and get people to come out even for just one event. I’m already planning to start booking for next April for a second festival, actually. I figure within two years people will either get it or maybe I should reassess what I’m doing with it. But although this is an inaugural, I am looking at this as the start of something to happen over the course of a couple of years and see what direction it should go in and f people can get behind it. I’m hoping that they will.
I’m hoping that the same response will happen this that happened with the bookstore. People came in during those first few days we were open and they would walk in right off the street – mostly because it was in such a great location – but they would look puzzled. After about two or three years, people weren’t looking so puzzled anymore. After about five or six years, they had obviously told their friends, and from that point on everything was just fine and we didn’t have to really worry about explaining the concept to people. I was always at first operating under the apprehension that people would ask who we were and what we did, but it was easier for me to be able to say “Come down and have a look at it because it seems to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I can say that there’s something here that you can find that you’ll like and appreciate and it might be something unusual.” That’s what this festival will be, too.
I’m kind of deliberately positioning it like that. I’m calling it “a literary festival for the 21st century” and thinking of it as being not just a spring festival for literature, but that it has a different approach to something like that than say the International Festival of Authors approach. And they’re fine and it’s really great to have that kind of festival that’s really only about literature, but in my case I more like thinking about how I’m interested in narrative, the future of the book, how new technologies are going to impact how we communicate. I think literature is evolving, and I want to have a festival that embraces that evolving nature.
And, of course, given my background, I’m fascinated by the visual aspect of the medium, whereas some people can drill down hard and say that literature is only about text, I would always counter that it isn’t all about text. It’s about presentation, and once you broach that subject it’s no longer just about text, especially when you get into something like hypertext, subtext, and everything happening now that’s very fluid and requires a lot of different disciplines to it. It has design elements to it, it has literary elements, it has art elements to it, it has communications elements to it that go back in theory to people like McLuhan and Innis and people like that. It’s still being explored, and we can say that there are 50 to 100 years of theory about communications and mass communications, but we are living in a time of the greatest time of change and innovation ever.
And I hate to say it, but for some literary people to keep their head in the sand I would like to say to them “Get your head out of the sand. Love it. Embrace it. Try to understand how we can make it better and make it work for the future.” If there are going to be eBooks in the future, don’t hate the idea of eBooks. Let’s make them look really great, because let’s be honest, they don’t! Let’s actually get designers to create ways to make the designs better for eBooks. Should the book be the way that it was before? Are there ways that we can make books better than they are now? I can see the potential for there to be groundbreaking hybrids with this new technology when it comes to incorporating possible art and film and internet elements to have all of it take place within one so called text. And that’s incredibly exciting to think about if you just embrace the thought process behind it.
DS: I think one of the things that caught me off guard with Pages when it was a store and it was still around that set it apart from other stores, possibly with the exception of a comic book shop which is all about visuals, that was a very visual store in terms of layout and the design of the building in general. I think the confusion at first might have been this disconnect that something like a book could ever been seen as something visual. It’s hard to believe that even a book on something like photography could even be displayed in a visual setting.
MG: Well what I tried to convey was that. Fiona Smith, whom you might know because she’s a graphic artist now, did a lot of my signs, and the other person who did a lot of the signs for the store was Michael Cho, who did a series of books and illustrations over the year. It was definitely part of my thinking that throughout the course of the year that we would always have the work of artists incorporated into what I was doing and to have even art that’s as simple as the signs marking off the section headings. We were going to have different, quirky signs for each one of them.
The other thing was the window displays that we did that artists would come in and do. In the beginning we had what I liked to call the “art window” and the “commerce window, “ and even that one was done artistically and usually planned around some sort of an event so we could help set some books. As for the “art window,” I hesitate to say I “curated” it. I programmed it. What I did was that I just put the word out for the last 12 or 13 years of the store once we expanded it to a point where we had more than one window. People would come in with ideas and I would say “Yeah this will work” and sometimes I would say, “I love the work you do, but this idea isn’t really addressing the street. Could you come back to me with another idea?”
At first I just went along with it, and it’s like anything you get better – unless this festival here goes off perfectly. (laughs) But although I’ve been programming forever – over 35 years now – this is different, too. It feels different from anything I’ve seen in Toronto, but it’s still funny to me. It looks and feels like me, but it I’m also getting from people who are still wondering what this is, which is fine by me because that’s exactly what happened with the bookstore, too. But I’m also thinking that you perfect it and you get better with it. That’s what I mean by the example of the windows. At first I would just say “You’re a great artist so whatever you want to do is fine,” but then I would realize that sometimes it just didn’t work at times. Sometimes they would design a piece that would just work better in a gallery when you walk in and pay complete attention, but it doesn’t do either of us any good to have it in a store window. I’m not saying that the display should ever be an advertisement, but you have to be doing street art in some sort of way. People have to be able to walk right by, get caught by it, look at it, and then the best ones were the ones where people weren’t sure about them and they had to stand there and figure it out Those were fabulous. I had one that John Oswald did that everyone thought was a video, but he had actually done it in a computer with series of photographs to morph them into moving images that went from Michael Jackson to Marilyn Monroe. If you stood there you would see all of these iconic figures, and if you stood there for twenty minutes, which most people didn’t stay for the whole thing, you would see the whole thing. That was one of my favourites, and I do have many favourites, but that one comes to mind when thinking about Pages within the context of this festival.
I was always visually oriented that way. I also thought about music a lot, which comes up in the festival. When Pages was around one of the things we did that was a deliberate policy was that we let my staff play any music that they wanted to play. It basically worked out fine. At one point we had someone who got really heavy into country and then a couple of other people had an intervention with them to get them to stop playing country so much, (laughs) but apart from that it worked out okay. And I can’t tell you how many times over the years people liked walking into the store and hearing music. And we also had local music that we sold, but as usual it was never about the money. Pages was never about the money as you could ultimately see. (laughs) But, hey, for this if I can break even, I’ll be quite happy.
DS: You can say this is an inaugural run, but this is also a logical extension of not only Pages, but also This is Not a Reading Series and your programming. What was the impetus to put it all in one place at once?
MG: I had been talking about doing something like this with friends for a few years and wondering when would be the right time and what would be the right time to do it. With This is Not a Reading Series, it’s great, but it really hasn’t grown. We have some events that are very successful and others that are less successful. It doesn’t feel like it has been getting any stronger or weaker. It’s kind of in a middle kind of situation in a kind of “Go big or die” kind of mentality that there can be these days.
So I thought that Toronto as a city really likes its festivals, so why not see if we can make the festival work, which could also help TINARS and everything else I like to work on and advocate for, as well. We’ll end up getting a lot more support from the industry and people for that, as well. I’m not saying I’m only for having TINARS throughout the year or just having a festival in the spring, but I think the latter could help the former.
DS: There’s this push that we were talking about earlier in the conversation about this push towards trying to meld numerous forms of new media, especially when we come to the subject of graphic novels, or someone that you have coming in like Jo-anne McArthur who has been blending photography, web content, publishing, and film, or someone like Shawn Micallef, who has kind of become a bit of a modern day Jane Jacobs that has mastered the art of social media. He has become the kind of person who can be instantly recognized on Twitter, but not in an infamous, passing, or joking way, but because of the content that he provides. So how much of the planning process was devoted to bringing in people who have become sort of new media experts?
MG: You’re right. It was very important, completely. That’s a major part of the strategy in terms of getting people to come out to the festival, as well. Obviously, we have major media sponsors in that old fashioned way, and we can and still do these things, but that’s not the only way to get the word out. TINARS most successful events over the past three years were the result of the participants being major Facebook and Twitter presences. I’m fascinated by it and by the way that this has all changed. It’s a democratization to a large extent. I was talking to a friend about this over lunch today when she was pitching me on a documentary that will be playing soon and I started mentioning the festival and she kind of groaned and laughed “Yeah, you’ve written me about five times about that this week.” (laughs)
I haven’t had Twitter or Facebook that long, myself. I can see the Facebook thing pretty easily, but I’m still not entirely sure about the Twitter thing, but I am definitely working on it. I’ve been teaching at Ryerson now for about four years, and I have a social media person that was one of my graduates who is just fabulous and someone who I liked and was an A-student, so it’s great that we can be friends and that I can hire her to help me with all that whole aspect of things. She’s 27 and she’s smart, and I’m older than that – and hopefully smart, too – but in different ways. But she gets it and is explaining it to me. Now she’s giving me tutorials instead of the other way around. (laughs)
And Shawn in particular is one of the guests that I really wanted to bring in and highlight, and he has done a great job of explaining it all to me. I’ve known Shawn for years now, and I have a niece who is at U of T who is getting her doctorate right now and she has a thing called the Toronto Review of Books, and her and Shawn are really close friends. I’ve known Shawn socially and through his work for quite a few years now, so I am very aware of his Tweets.
And I can absolutely see the Jane Jacobs comparison when it comes to someone like Shawn. He really brought me into that Twitter world, and he’s able to mobilize people into really caring about the city, nature, and history around them. I think he’s done wonderful things with Spacing and Murmur and Full Frontal TO. What he calls the “psychogeography of the city” is just fascinating to me, and I think that those urban narratives fit perfectly.
I wanted to do that one right away, and I think while were in these early stages where I have to sort of still explain to people what we’re trying to do, I think things have to be kind of thematic or it’s going to seem too eclectic for people to get into it at all. One of the things I knew we had to do was urban narratives which are vital to the understanding of our culture in the city. Another thing is sort of the rise of the documentary website, which is something that we wrote a bit about in POV. I think what Jerry Flahive and Zizek have been doing with the Highrise series is just fantastic. It’s probably the best and most ambitious project out of the National Film Board in the past five years.
So the idea of combining that kind of new technology and Shawn’s technology seemed like an interesting contrast. And Shawn suggested that I look into Chloe Doesburg from Track Toronto, which tracks the music and songs of the city, and it turned out that one of the people who works for them works at an architecture firm during the day in my building. (laughs) So once Shawn introduced us together via email, we just met at the coffee shop that’s downstairs in this building. And I think there was another idea called City Sonic that was a form of exploring this in new media a few years ago, with Peter Raymont and Bob Lang, they did it and then kind of stopped, but Track Toronto seems to really have their legs on it. They have been doing a phenomenal job of keeping track of the songs of the city and the history behind them, and I think that’s great.
The three of them together along with our host, Amy Lavender Harris, who has written about this before on Toronto in specific can have a great discussion on this. Shawn has already written two books on this kind of material before, too, and is working on a third. Apart from that they other panellists have created valuable narratives and archives that no one would have thought to make back in the 80s. It’s a delicious kind of way to curate it all together.
[The Urban Narratives talk with Harris, Micallef, Doesburg, and Flahive will happen on Saturday, March 15th at 3:00pm]
DS: Let’s move back a little bit and talk about your opening night event, which comes back to that bridge between music and literature and film the identity of the city with folksinger Bob Bossin talking about his father with former Premier Bob Rae to launch his book Davy the Punk. It’s not exactly a pairing of a speaker with a host that would spring to mind immediately.
MG: Well, guess what? They went to high school together. I didn’t even know at first. Bob was Bob Bossin’s suggestion. I actually had someone else in mind who, as it turns out, also knew him for a long time. I am Jewish (laughs), but I’m not from Toronto, so I can still kind of guess who knows who in that part of the world. The person I suggested was someone Bob knew very well, but he also said “Yeah, we can do that, but I also have someone in mind that would surprise you.” He suggested Bob Rae, and I always knew that Bob Rae was always interested in music. He plays quite frequently. That was all fine.
And the latest thing I can tell you is that Bob Bossin had a band in the 1970s called Stringband, which was one of the most popular folk bands in the country at the time. It was with Maria-Lynn Hammond, who was one of the best guitar and string players and later was a CBC radio host, and Allan Soberman who was their bass player. And both Allan and Maria have written to Bob and they knew about the concert and the appearance and had known his dad, which is what the book was about. They both expressed the interest to come back and play, so we’re also going to have the first time they have been together on stage together on 25 years. Up until that point it was going to be a solo show, but now it’s all of Stringband as the performance. There will also be visuals and Bob reading from the book, and then Bob will sit down with Bob Rae and talk about the book and Davy the Punk. It should be a lot of fun.
And I don’t know if Allan Soberman and him go back to high school together, but because I used to run the Ashkenaz Festival that Allan’s father was a cantor at one of the most important synagogues in Toronto for 35 years, Beth Tzedec, which was huge. So Allan Soberman’s father would have been doing the exact OPPOSITE thing from Davy the Punk. (laughs) Bob’s dad was just the most scandalous kind of Jew, and Allan’s was a pillar of the community and both were still musicians and had that musical upbringing.
[Bob Rae will host Bob Bossin performing with Stringband and talking about Davy the Punk on Thursday, March 13th at 8:00pm]
DS: Let’s move on through the schedule to the next event, which you are personally hosting with Atom Egoyan, who has proven himself as someone who has become quite adept at taking literary material and turning it into something visual, whether it was from a real life incident, a novel, or reverse engineering a pre-existing text for the stage, especially in his operas, where he can rewrite famous works to fit his own kind of sensibility.
MG: Absolutely, and I do hope to talk about Cosi Fan Tutte, especially since it seems like a lot of people I know seem to have seen the version of it that he just did at the Canadian Opera Company. It was a very interesting how it made great use of the paintings of Diego Rivera, and he has really thought through the idea of how to play with opera. And opera is a lot like film in a lot of ways. Opera was the film of the 19th century. It was the most important performance art form. In many cases the librettist was the screenwriter and the composer was the director, essentially.
DS: It’s interesting to talk to someone who is well versed in film in theatre who is as well versed in the art of the adaptation as Atom is, especially with something like The Sweet Hereafter, which I think in some ways improves upon Russell Banks’ source material.
MG: Well, the book’s great, too. And I have a really great story there and how that kind of came about.
It was right around the time of Atom’s birthday, and I have known Arsinée (Khanjian, Atom’s wife) for years, and she came into the store one day, as a lot of people used to do, for a recommendation for a book to get. I had read Sweet Hereafter from an advance reading copy from Random House, and I had thought about him right away, and I said “I have the perfect book.” And she said “This is great, and I’m going to tell him that you recommended it.”
I got a phone call from Atom about three or four days later. I think his birthday was on a Saturday and he called me on a Monday; either way it was very quickly. He said “This is fantastic. I want to adapt it.” So I got to actually see – and we’ll probably get into it a bit at the event – all the drafts. He sent me the different drafts as it went along. And I had been in film even at that point for a long time, so it was interesting to see a lot of the stuff that he didn’t keep. For example, the Rashomon form that the novel was told in he dropped right away. He thought it was too complicated. He kept a little bit towards the end with the exception of the very ending part, the final third of the film is a lot like the book since it’s told largely from the perspective of Sarah Polley’s character. Beyond that, it’s really done in a way that’s very objective: here’s the story, here are the people. In the novel there were various individuals telling the story.
The other thing that kind of surprised me was how the ending changed. Maybe it was because Russell Banks was an American trying to write for an American audience and he thought he needed a big bang of some sort, he had a Fourth of July demolition derby race as the way the town gets together at the climax. When I read the book, that was actually one of the things that seemed to me like it would appeal to Atom most because it was this really dark and visually rich idea. Atom said “No, that’s not going to work at all because all it’s going to be a bunch of cars hitting each other.”
DS: And visually that might have been a bit too on the nose on a visual level for the story.
MG: Exactly, exactly. So he kind of came up with that Pied Piper concept, which wasn’t in the book at all. So in a way he made the book more subtle and he restructured it. It was very interesting to watch him do that. It was almost as if he had written an original story, but he was also so faithful to the book and its themes in a lot of ways. I want to kind of teach through the drama of that and how he was able to make that adaptation work for him.
And, of course, we’ll be talking about his original screenplays and how those came about and what influenced those. He does kind of have a way of forming his films that’s unusual for a fiction filmmaker where a lot of times in his cuts there’s a certain looseness even for the first assembly and rough cut beyond which things will change fairly radically. I want to talk to him about that because it’s almost like what he does is what you would expect to see from a documentary and not a fictional film. He has a great relationship with (editor) Susan Shipton, and it’s fascinating to watch that happen, too, and how he empowers her to help and gives her a good deal of freedom and input. He also really relies on showing the film to friends and getting responses as he hones it down to make the film work, even with his originals.
Now he’s in this interesting phase in his career where he’s not so much writing originals but taking screenplays from other people and working through that. He’s really doing that with his operas, too. He really seems to now be thinking about what really goes on when you’re a director and how a director works with something already set in stone. “Okay. Here’s the libretto. Now what do I do?” Whereas earlier in his career it seemed a lot more about the script and about structure. Now it seems to be about visual alignment and what’s actually happening on stage and on screen. At least that’s my thinking on it, and I really want to see what he has to say. He may say I’m completely wrong or “What I was actually thinking was this…” I don’t think he’s ever told me that I am completely wrong. He’s too nice. (laughs) Or maybe I’m close enough.
I find him so interesting, and I think it’s great that he’s teaching now, too. His approach to writing and directing is really fascinating. With him we’re going to show clips from the films to illustrate how his process works from theory to practice.
[Marc Glassman hosts a talk with Atom Egoyan at 7:00pm on Friday]
DS: The next talk that I wanted to get into was about the Artist and the Book. You have a very interesting line up of various different artists and storytellers talking about something that I’m still not quite sure people can grasp just yet, which is that a book can be completely visual and not necessarily come across like a comic book or a children’s book. And in a lot of cases these writers are cultural critics, activists, or telling the same kinds of urban narratives we were talking about earlier. This one might be the one that might be one of the more informative talks for people who might not necessarily know how a book can be used visually for a lot of different purposes.
MG: Well, with someone like (pannelist) Jo-Anne (McArthur, creator of We Animals), she thought a lot about her book and had a ton of good ideas for her book, and if you see the film that was made about her (the documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine) you can see her really stressing about that and how hard it was to get publishers to listen to her and understand what she wanted to do just by trying to explain it to him. That in the film really looks like the hardest part. She’s trying to sell that book and no one really wants it. We’re going to try and show that clip of that. I asked (director) Liz (Garbus) to give me a few clips. Then Jo is going to show a lot of her work and talk about it during the talk.
Derek Sullivan, as an artist, was a bookseller. He used to work with his wife years ago. He’s done book works and art installations that have dealt with the art of the book. He’s represented through the Susan Hobbs Gallery here, and he’s a great speaker. He’s going to go through his love of the book and his love of the printed work and how over the years many of his art installations have been about this question of what has happened to the book and where it’s going. His most recent work is called Four Booksellers, and it’s all about the classic old way that bookstores along the Seine weren’t really stores, but more like stands. It was a place where you could open up your cart in the morning, sell your books along the Seine, and wrap it up at night and wheel it away somewhere for the evening or lock it up. He’s really big on the question of where the book has been and where it’s going to be and how to use text and visuals in terms of creating books.
DS: We touched upon it earlier that eBooks don’t look very good…
MG: No, they don’t and that’s interesting when thinking about this, because one of the things that we are going to talk about here is how we might be able to make them a bit better. Jim Miller has been working with our other panellists Carole (Condé) and Karl (Beveridge) – he produced a documentary that came out about them a few years ago (Portrait of Resistance), and he’s working on a new online project to collect the works of Carole and Karl. We’re going to have a demo of this project as part of their presentation.
DS: I think at the same time there might be a more cynical minded person in our culture who would look at some of their photography and just say “Well, why don’t you just put it all online?” I think that’s another interesting thing that will come up here, you get into the same kind of discussion that one has about film, which is if you really love the medium, what format should you see it in? Is photography exclusively or art books or galleries that can bring out the true resolution of the image or can it make the transition to being online outside of the abundance of amateur cell phone photography? Is there still a place for artful large scale photography on the internet or in eBooks?
MG: Actually to some extent I guess that could be true, but there’s an assumption there that all there is to photography is just visual images, but it isn’t like that at all. The reason that photo books exist and have been great is because they actually can be edited together like a film. A lot of editing goes into making a great photo book, and when you put it together in the right way – in some cases they have words and in some cases they don’t – but if it’s done correctly there’s a flow and structure to it. A famous example for me is how Robert Frank spent a year and a half photographing for The Americans, which is sort of his On the Road, if you will. The number of images that he shot was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 13,000. There are only 97 images that made it into The Americans. That’s a lot of editing. That’s like saying that a documentary is simply a case of saying “Well, if you shot for ten hours, then let’s just look at the ten hours.” When you think about photography, it’s not just about what’s the best picture. If you take a look at what used to be a roll of film in a roll of 16 or 32, you can definitely find one or two that are better than others. It seems to me that there is a form to the photo book, and while you can organize it any way you want to, there’s a kind of pristine nature to it, as well.
I guess that you could argue that you can just put it all online, and that’s a question. I think I would argue that it should exist as paper, but that we can have it both ways. I think there are a lot of people who would prefer it as paper, but for sure one of the things that’s wonderful these days is that now as someone who loves photography, it’s the one thing that more and more people are turning me onto new photographers all the time. There are so many photographers out there in the world right now, and the best part is how you can just keep track of them all so easily and hope that you can see a book from them some day. Some of the most famous images also are starting to show up online. I think we’re already at a point that’s so sophisticated and so wonderful. But I wouldn’t be sure that every great photo book could ever appear online or would even work. Maybe on a website, but not something like an iPhone, which would be like watching a bad VHS copied TV print of Citizen Kane. You probably shouldn’t look at most photography that way, either.
[Artists & the Book: a Crazy Love Affair with pannelists Jo-Anne McArthur, Derek Sullivan, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge happens March 14th at 9:00pm.]