David Lynch doesn’t like giving interviews. He has to be coaxed by interviewer Mark Cousins, to give answers to his questions.
Mark Cousins: David Lynch, you don’t like doing interviews, do you?
David Lynch: No I don’t.
Mark Cousins: Why are you sitting on this sofa then?
David Lynch: To do you a great favor.
Lynch certainly does a great favor here, in this fine documentary Scene By Scene, as the cult director goes on to explain his thoughts on films and film-making:
A film is its own thing. And in an ideal world, I think film should be discovered knowing nothing, and nothing should be added to it, and nothing should be subtracted from it.
The usually taciturn Lynch then opens-out about his life; his insecurities (why he once wore three ties); his ideas on the speed of rooms; why he doesn’t follow politics (‘I don’t understand the concept of two sides’); and his response to criticism in his portrayal of women:
..the problem is that somebody sees a woman in a film, and then mistakenly assumes that that is the way the person sees all women, when in actuality it’s just that particular woman within this particular story.
The interview concludes with Cousins asking Lynch about his thoughts on mortality.
Inside, we’re ageless. And when we talk to ourselves, it’s the same person we were talking to, the same age, when we were little, and it’s the body that’s changing around that ageless center.
Recorded prior to the release of The Straight Story, this fifty-minute documentary, made by BBC Scotland, gives great insight into David Lynch and his method of film-making.
Watch it—before it’s gone!
A full transcript of the interview with David Lynch can be found here.
Conner Habib is a gay porn star and educator—as well as being an avid student of the occult and, in particular, the works of esoteric thinker Rudolf Steiner.
He’s written for Salon, Out and many others—and is currently making a name for himself with a pro-sexuality, pro-spirituality message. After studying at the University of Massachusetts with evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, Conner left a career in academia and education to set sail on the high seas of adult entertainment—and also as an independent writer and lecturer. His candor and openness as a pro-sexuality advocate are matched by his eloquence as a speaker on the subject of experimental spirituality and magick. In short, he’s the Timothy Leary of gay porn—and the embodiment of Middle America’s worst nightmares.
It might be good, then, that Middle America doesn’t know he exists—yet.
Conner stopped by my Ultraculture podcast to have a chat about magick and the Western Esoteric Tradition—the tradition of scientifically-minded inquiry into the spiritual world which runs throughout Western history and has been represented by thinkers like Steiner, Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley and many, many others.
We had a great conversation not only about spirituality and “higher consciousness” but also about the nature of the self, interconnectedness, meditation, the Gaia Hypothesis and many other avenues of higher consciousness. It was a great chat, enlivened by Conner’s insistence on warmth and compassion.
Let me state this clearly, London-based DM readers: Next Tuesday, you will have the rare opportunity to meet one of the most fascinating people alive on the planet today. I truly believe that you will be stunned, I repeat, stunned, by what you’ll see there that evening. Paul Laffoley’s a Sci-Fi Leonardo da Vinci, a Bodhisattva reborn as a mild-mannered Harvard-trained architect/artist/inventor.
In short, the man is a dazzling genius and I’m reasonably sure that you, London-based reader, yes, I am talking to YOU, here, don’t have anything better to do that evening. In fact, I know that you don’t.
An opportunity to hear artist Paul Laffoley, whose practice has been defined as ‘the conversion of mysticism into mechanics’.
Paul Laffoley works with texts and images to create new ways of thinking about time and space, dream and mysticism, magic and consciousness. He has also designed a time machine and a prayer gun.
His appearance, to celebrate the opening of The Alternative Guide to the Universe, is a unique chance to hear someone The New York Times recently hailed as ‘one of the most unusual creative minds of our time’.
You hear that? It’s not just me, it’s The New York Times, too… Miss this at your own later regret, truly. The lecture begins at 6:30.
Slavoj Žižek might just be the world’s foremost intellectual prostitute, but it still feels novel to hear him riff on these bulwarks of relatively recent mass culture, not to mention relate “Gangnam Style” (“your first reaction is maybe, ‘fuck them stupid Koreans’”) to his beloved Jacques Lacan.
And who’d have thought he’d seen Kung Fu Panda five times!
Saul Bellow reads from his novel Henderson the Rain King (“What made me take this trip to Africa?”) before moving on to a question and answer session.
Coming after his breakthrough book The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson confounded critics, who generally gave the book middling praise—at worst being described it as a “failed experiment.” This may have influenced the decision not to award Henderson that year’s Pulitzer Prize, even though the selection committee had recommended it. Listening to the Q&A, it’s interesting to hear Bellow admit that the worst thing he faced as a writer was ‘doubt’ about not being able to finish a project. While the best was either ‘laughing or weeping yourself, and scribbling at that same time. When you’re turned on that way.’
What comes across in this short tape is Bellow’s humanism, diginity and great sense of humor. When asked if he has ever seen any of his novels on the “bargain table,” Bellow replies:
I have seen my books on the bargain table, and I have been very pleased, because the bargain table is usually where I buy books myself.
He then goes onto say how he usually skips the As and the Bs altogether on the book store shelves, as it makes him uncomfortable—‘uncomfortable because I know I can’t correct the mistakes I know are there.’
The existing social and financial order is crumbling because it is unsustainable on multiple levels. The central state is not the Millennials’ friend, it is their oppressor.
No generation of young people is ever politicized by hunger in distant lands or issues of the elderly. It’s no rap on youth that self-interest defines what issues have the potential to radically transform their political consciousness; the transformative cause must reveal the system is broken for them and that it intends on sacrificing their generation to uphold the status quo.
The Millennial generation, also known as Gen-Y (Gen-Y comes after Gen-X), is generally defined as those born between 1982 and 2004.
The oldest Millennials were children during the first Iraq War in 1991 (Desert Storm) and just coming of age in 2001 (9/11 and the war in Afghanistan) and the start of the second Iraq War (2003).
The Millennials have entered adulthood in a era characterized by permanent low-intensity wars and central-bank/state managed financial bubbles—2001 to the present. In other words, the only experience they have is of centralized state mismanagement on a global scale.
The gross incompetence of the government and central bank—not to mention the endless power grabs by these centralized authorities—has not yet aroused a political consciousness that the system is irrevocably broken, not just for older generations but most especially for them.
Anecdotally, it appears the Millennial generation is still operating on the fantasy that all they need to do to get a secure, good-paying job and a happy life is go to college and enter the status quo machine of government/corporate America.
There are two fatal flaws in this fantasy: the $1+ trillion student loan industry and a transforming economy. The higher education industry in the U.S. operates as a central state-enabled and funded cartel, limiting supply while demand (based on the fantasy that a college degree has critical value) soars. This enables the cartel to keep raising prices even as the value of its product (a diploma) sinks to near-zero.
Since the Federal government issues and guarantees all student loans, the higher education cartel is (like sickcare, national defense and the mortgage industry) effectively socialized, i.e. funded and managed by the central state.
If you understand the student loan system is predatory, parasitic and exploitive, you have reached first base of a meaningful political awareness. If you understand the central state (Federal government) funds and enforces this system, you’ve reached second base. If you understand the vast majority of college degrees do little to prepare you to be productively employed in the real economy, you have reached third base.
If you understand the status quo is unsustainable and does not operate according the the fantasy model you’ve been told, congratulations, you’re close to home base.
The central state is not your friend, it is your oppressor. The loan shark that won’t let you discharge your student loan debt without appealing each ruling against you three times is the government (and its hired-gun proxies).
The oppressor who demands you work your entire life to pay interest on public debt squandered on neocolonial wars and various cartels (sickcare et al.) is your central state.
The entity who demands you pay higher taxes so the generation entering retirement gets all that it was promised, even though the world has changed and the promises are no longer sustainable? The central state.
The oppressor that will devote its enormous resources to investigate and crush you if you actively resist the bankers and financiers who pull the political lackeys’ strings? The central state.
At some point, the Millennial generation will have to awaken to the fact that the only way to change its fate is to grasp political power and redirect the policy and mindset of the nation. Centralization is the black hole that is destroying the nation’s social and economic vigor. Decentralization, transparency, accountability, adaptability, social innovation, a community-based economy—these are the key features of a sustainable social order.
The existing social and financial order is crumbling because it is unsustainable on multiple levels. The status quo will cling to its false promises and corrupt centers of power until the moment the whole thing implodes.
Pier Paolo Pasolini said his first films were inspired by Antonio Gramsci, the founder and one-time leader of the Italian Communist Party.
To Pasolini, Gramsci was the ‘greatest Marxist theoretician in all Italy,’ who wanted popular art to be aimed at an “ideal people.”
But by the 1960s, this “ideal people” had been turned by capitalism into consumers—a culture of mass consumption, where works of art and politics had little or no value.
It was then that Pasolini instinctively rejected the idea of making films for mass consumption, and instead opted for a more personal and political film-making.
Based on Montaigne’s idea that ‘one does not really know a person until he has died,’ Philo Bregstein’s documentary Whoever Says The Truth Shall Die—A Film About Pier Paolo Pasolini offers a fascinating look at the life, artistic ambitions and political vision of the poet, writer and controversial film director.
C.D., a longtime contributor to my blog, Of Two Minds, recently highlighted another danger of centralization: sociopaths/psychopaths excel in organizations that centralize power, and their ability to flatter, browbeat and manipulate others greases their climb to the top.
In effect, centralization is tailor-made for sociopaths gaining power. Sociopaths seek power over others, and centralization gives them the perfect avenue to control over millions or even entire nations.
Even worse (from the view of non-sociopaths), their perverse abilities are tailor-made for excelling in office and national politics via ruthless elimination of rivals and enemies and grandiose appeals to national greatness, ideological purity, etc.
As C.D. points out, the ultimate protection against sociopathology is to minimize the power held in any one agency, organization or institution:
After you watch these films on psychopaths, I think you’ll have an even greater understanding of why your premise of centralization is a key problem of our society. The first film points out that psychopaths generally thrive in the corporate/government top-down organization (I have seen it happen in my agency, unfortunately) and that when they come to power, their values (or lack thereof) tend to pervade the organization to varying degrees. In some cases, they end up creating secondary psychopaths which is kind of like a spiritual/moral disease that infects people.
If we are to believe the premise in the film that there are always psychopaths among us in small numbers, it follows then that we must limit the power of any one institution, whether it’s private or public, so that the damage created by psychopaths is limited.
It is very difficult for many people to fathom that there are people in our society that are that evil, for lack of a better term, and it is even harder for many people in society to accept that people in the higher strata of our society can exhibit these dangerous traits.
The same goes for criminal behavior. From my studies, it’s pretty clear that criminality is fairly constant throughout the different levels of our society and yet, it is the lower classes that are subjected to more scrutiny by law enforcement. The disparity between blue collar and white collar crime is pretty evident when one looks at arrests and sentencing. The total lack of effective enforcement against politically connected banks over the last few years is astounding to me and it sets a dangerous precedent. Corruption and psychopathy go hand in hand.
A less dark reason for avoiding over centralization is that we have to be aware of normal human fallibility. Nobody possesses enough information, experience, ability, lack of bias, etc. to always make the right decisions.
Defense Against the Psychopath (video, 37 minutes; the many photos of political, religious and secular leaders will likely offend many/most; if you look past these outrages, there is useful information here)
As C.D. observes, once sociopaths rule an organization or nation, they create a zombie army of secondary sociopaths beneath them as those who resist are undermined, banished, fired or exterminated. If there is any lesson to be drawn from Iraq, it is how a single sociopath can completely undermine and destroy civil society by empowering secondary sociopaths and eliminating or marginalizing anyone who dares to cling to their humanity, conscience and independence.
“Going along to get along” breeds passive acceptance of sociopathology as “the new normal” and mimicry of the values and techniques of sociopathology as the ambitious and fearful (i.e. almost everyone) scramble to emulate the “successful” leadership.
Organizations can be perverted into institutionalizing sociopathology via sociopathological goals and rules of conduct. Make the metric of success in war a body count of dead “enemy combatants” and you’ll soon have dead civilians stacked like cordwood as proof of every units’ outstanding success.
Make lowering unemployment the acme of policy success and soon every agency will be gaming and manipulating data to reach that metric of success. Make higher grades the metric of academic success and soon every kid is getting a gold star and an A or B.
Centralization has another dark side: those ensconced in highly concentrated centers of power (for example, The White House) are in another world, and they find it increasingly easy to become isolated from the larger context and to slip into reliance on sycophants, toadies (i.e. budding secondary sociopaths) and “experts” (i.e. apparatchiks and factotums) who are equally influenced by the intense “high” of concentrated power/wealth.
Increasingly out of touch with those outside the circle of power, those within the circle slide into a belief in the superiority of their knowledge, skills and awareness—the very definition of sociopathology.
Even worse (if that is possible), the incestuous nature of the tight circle of power breeds a uniformity of opinion and ideology that creates a feedback loop that marginalizes dissenters and those with open minds. Dissenters are soon dismissed—“not a team player”—or trotted out for PR purposes, i.e. as evidence the administration maintains ties to the outside world.
Those few dissenters who resist the siren song of power soon face a choice: either quietly quit “to pursue other opportunities” (the easy way out) or quit in a blast of public refutation of the administration’s policies.
Public dissenters are quickly crucified by those in power, and knowing this fate awaits any dissenter places a powerful disincentive on “going public” about the sociopathology of the inner circle of power.
On rare occasions, an insider has the courage and talent to secure documentation that details the sociopathology of a policy, agency or administration (for example, Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers).
Nothing infuriates a sociopath or a sociopathological organization more than the exposure of their sociopathology, and so those in power will stop at nothing to silence, discredit, criminalize or eliminate the heroic whistleblower.
In these ways, centralized power is itself is a sociopathologizing force. We cannot understand the present devolution of our civil society, economy and ethics unless we understand that concentrated power and wealth are intrinsically sociopathological by their very nature.
The solution: a culture of decentralization, transparency and open competition, what I call the DATA model (Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable) in my book Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
“We’re getting closer to a world where technology takes care of the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so that you can get on with what makes you happiest… living and loving. It’s an exciting time to be at Google.”
These are the concluding lines of a recent announcement by the CEO of Google, Larry Page. It sounds great: technology will make our lives easier and we don’t have to work hard anymore. The machines, or rather ‘technology,’ they say will run our world. But…
I think we’e in the middle of an unfolding horror story!
It can’t simply be some bizarre coincidence, can it, that as we scale ever higher peaks of technological innovation, the USA is going through its worst recession in 97 years? The story is not too different in Europe and most of the rest of the world; there must be something seriously wrong somewhere. Stands to reason, right?
Plenty of words have been written on the topic of machines taking away jobs from humans, and the twin threat of outsourcing, but this time things are different, really different. They are so different that…
I have no hesitation in saying that the world is on the verge of screwing itself in a spectacular fashion!
Here is the proof…
The invisible robots
As a kid I used to imagine a future where robots would do things for us. That day has arrived but these robots don’t look like anything I imagined they would as a child. They don’t have arms or legs, they are computers and smartphones with the Internet acting as their brains. The talk about machines replacing humans is an age old story and we have managed pretty well so far, but this time things are different for two reasons: Distribution and Convergence!
Since the Industrial Revolution, even before, machines have replaced human jobs but they never had this ability to multiply and spread across the global with almost zero additional costs through the Internet. Take the case of the mailman vs email or traditional books vs Kindle books. In the later case, it costs next to nothing to distribute something that used to take time and effort, printing, warehousing, shipping and retail outlets in the past. Time and effort that was spent by real people doing real jobs which are simply not necessary anymore.
From bank clerks to airline ticketing attendants, there are many classes of jobs that are going extinct. Read this article: A look at jobs replaced by technology. Where do all these people go now?
But isn’t capitalism, to a certain extent supposed to be “destructive”? Isn’t that where innovation comes from? In the battle between man and machine there is an old argument that goes instead of a candle we now have light bulbs and in place of a horse and carriage we have cars, so “disruption” is good. But now we are faced with a new problem: Convergence.
Due to convergence of technologies, multiple tasks are now doable with but a single device. The smartphone and tablet are effectively destroying the calculator, camera, flashlight, alarm clock, wrist watch, notepad, audio player and multiple other industries. I am not merely talking about the things one can do via the Internet for the scale of disruption is unimaginable. Real people were making those products. They are now not needed anymore. And it’s not merely job loss, the products themselves won’t exist anymore.
And who manufactures these new converged products?
Most probably some company like Foxconn in China where Apple and many other companies build their products at dead cheap rates. Almost none of those manufacturing jobs are in the USA or anyplace in Europe. No wonder the Eurozone is in tatters right now, Greece is at 60% unemployment and Spain has 55% of its youth between the ages of 18 and 25 unemployed right now; forget manufacturing, they might never ever get a job that involves soft skills, all thanks to outsourcing.
Ousted by outsourcing
Outsourcing, while taking away jobs from many, has provided employment to millions in another part of the globe. This led to an increase in earning potential as well as spending capacity for millions who could now aspire to “things” and a lifestyle unimaginable earlier. New doors have opened where none existed earlier. However, there are dangerous pitfalls on this side too. There are already two main patterns one can notice emerging– Obsolescence and Cannibalism.
All the pitfalls of disruptive technology apply here too. You can never say when a particular piece of technology or service will become obsolete. The skills that we learn today might not be needed tomorrow; this applies to software professionals who are dime a dozen out there specializing in skills that could be without economic value tomorrow.
Very few people specialize in “real” skills anymore, right from a commerce graduate to a science student to a mechanical, civil or chemical engineer; all want to become Software-IT Professionals.That’s where the easy moolah is. Those who continue in the pursuit of conventional professions often find themselves in a unique fix, not able to compete with their counterparts in the IT industry in terms of fat paychecks. But there is an even bigger issue in play here, cannibalism.
In the modern world of outsourcing, cannibalism is a rampant practice. No one is eating anyone else alive but everyone is eating away at everyone else’s jobs.
Organizations are always looking at doing things the fastest and cheapest way. They achieve it by employing smarter technology, but where manpower is still essential they are always on the lookout for a cheaper option that can accomplish the same task in a shorter time-frame—the primary reason why outsourcing exists in the first place. Why bothering hiring and paying an experienced hand when a trainee will suffice?
For a country like India, that boasts of a massive youth population that is ready to be employed, the future can be quite unsettling. It is a win-win situation for the bosses, but the same can’t be said for the employees as job security simply does not exist anymore.
So basically, technology and outsourcing are screwing the west and the rest are hell bent on screwing themselves . To put it simply…
The West is already screwed and the rest are hellbent on screwing themselves by cannibalising themselves to obsolescence
So what is the solution?
James Altucher, one of the most exciting writers I have come across online recently, wrote a post on TechCrunch titled “10 reasons why 2013 will be the year you quit your job.” In it Altucher advises his readers to turn into entrepreneurs to save themselves. He makes some terrific points to support his case, but I wonder if it’s realistic to expect that everyone can become an entrepreneur? Someone has to be at the bottom of the foodchain and even if someone dares to do something on his own, the big daddies will give them sleepless nights. Also in an open economy where everyone has equal opportunities, it is the big corporations that have the maximum leverage. Everyone else is just part of the crowd.
Take the case of movies. The top hits today make more money than ever while the bottom is a horror story with the vast majority of films not even finding any avenues of release or exhibition; it is a problem of plenty. It is the same with businesses and tech start ups. The big corps capture the bulk of the market and the smaller fish are in the game only to be hooked or to be eaten by the biggies. No wonder income inequalities are growing wider across the globe between the rich and the rest of us.
The Rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer has never been truer than it is today!
Forgetting for a moment, the poorer countries where wealth inequality is extraordinary and the bottom of the pyramid is unimaginably huge. Instead take the case of America, which in everyone’s opinion is an advanced and wealthy nation. Truth is, top 1% of America’s wealthy elite control 40% of their nation’s wealth. You should check the video below to see the scale of this phenomenon.
The middle class is almost non-existent now. We might as well rename it the “temporary class.”
We aspire to reach the top, but in reality most of us are just a part of the vast bottom that is feeding the top!
Technology is wonderful, it really does help us to live better lives. It is good that most things are becoming automated, wonderful that we don’t have to work as hard anymore, but here is the catch:
How do we survive in a world where our worth is only determined by our last paycheck?
And if all the jobs are handled by technology, who will give us those checks? We have yet to figure out a way to live in this world without money. Somewhere this cycle of the world’s productive labor and capital going to the 1% has to be broken.
That reminds me of the famous line by Charles Bukowski:
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so”
How in the hell did we end up here? I wonder too. It is high time we all started to talk about this. A global conversation. Until then, we shall continue to be willing and invisible participants in the mission to screw ourselves and our world over (and to what end? We already know the answer). We have done a pretty great job of it until now. It is high time we figured out newer (and BETTER) ways of living and surviving in this world that are not dependent on us working ourselves to death so that the 1%‘s kids can sit on golden toilet seats and have a servant wipe their asses with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton napkins. In the future we’re heading for, your kid won’t have a pot to piss in.
I hope Google has some ideas for that too. Maybe you have one. Let me know.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
Ken Russell had thought about making a film on Debussy for some time. He was ‘hovering on the feature film fringe,’ having just made his first movie French Dressing, in 1964. But it had sadly flopped and he had returned to work as a producer and director for the BBC’s arts series Monitor.
Making a feature film had encouraged Russell’s ambitions, and he now had a revolutionary idea for a new kind of documentary arts film, but he wasn’t quite sure how best to achieve it. This was when Russell met Melvyn Bragg, a young Northern writer, who was also working in the Monitor office.
At twenty, Bragg had decided to become a writer, but thought ‘quite rightly as it turned out,’ that he wouldn’t be able to make a living from it. So, he got a job, to support his literary ambitions.
‘I got a BBC traineeship when I was twenty-one,’ Bragg told me in 1984. ‘Went into radio, which I liked an awful lot. Worked in Newcastle. Worked in the World Service, Bush House. Then I worked in Broadcasting House, in the Features Department. I was going to stay there—I didn’t like television, except for Monitor—and I said I’d only go into television if I could get an attachment onto Monitor. Eventually, one came up, and I got it.’
Russell wanted to share his idea with Bragg. He met him in a cafe, and told Bragg about Debussy and his plan for a new kind of arts documentary—a film-within-a-film. Together they wrote a script, and Bragg turned it into a screenplay.
‘When I did Debussy, Ken’s first talkie on television, nobody had done that before I did that as a screenplay as a way to make it work. The real problem you’ve got with biopics about people is that there is no structured drama in anybody’s life. You’ve got to make it.
‘What you’ve got are pits, which are very good, all over the fucking shop, and you’ve got to have that bit because [they’re] terrific, and you’ve got to have that bit because there’s hardly any relationship between them. Where, if you write a play, or write a book, there is a relationship because you’ve written it like that. But in people’s lives, something happens there, and 7 years later, something else happens. This enables us to dip in-and-out.’
It was a lunchtime in May, and I was interviewing Bragg in his office, at London Weekend Television, where he worked as editor and presenter of the (now legendary) arts series, The South Bank Show. Bragg sat behind his desk, dressed as usual in a suit (‘Another way to get people to forget about me and concentrate on the person that I am talking to’), eating an apple for his lunch.
Bragg said he thought Russell ‘a very brilliant, eccentric and erratic talent, he can be marvelous.’
The Debussy Film was the first of several highly successful collaborations between Russell and Bragg—as director and writer. A partnership that lasted until The Music Lovers (‘I had a big row with [Ken] on that which is fairly public. I hated it.’) The pair later worked together again on several documentaries for The South Bank Show .
It was also Russell’s first collaboration with actor Oliver Reed, who later described the director as:
Jesus is not Christ, only Russell.
Reed was a rare talent, who had been slightly over-looked by film producers because of a scar on his face, which he had received on a drunken night out. But Reed was more than just a feared Hell-raiser, he was a brilliant actor who brought an incredibly complex and emotional depth to the role of Debussy.
‘Debussy was an ambiguous character,’ Russell told one of his biographers, John Baxter in 1973.
...and I always let the character of the person or his work dictate the way a film goes. Also, one was a bit critical of artists like Debussy and I thought the time had come to ask questions, and the natural way for me to ask questions was to have a film director [Vladek Sheybal] talking to an actor [Oliver Reed], because an actor always asks questions about the character he’s playing and the director usually had to answer them, or try to, often to keep him happy. And when I found Debussy was friendly with an intellectual named Pierre Louys from whom he derived a lot, it seemed an analogous relationship to that of a film director and an actor. There are some points in the film, I think, where it doesn’t matter if it’s the director talking to the actor or Louys talking to Debussy—passages of intentional ambiguity.
Born in his music and his life, Debussy was a great sensualist. There’s a line of his in the film: “Music should express things that can’t be said,” which simply means to me that music is something which, the moment you talk about it, disintegrates and becomes meaningless. That’s what I mean by sensuality—something that’s felt rather than reasoned.
Ken Russell directing ‘The Debussy Film’ (1965)
While The Debussy Film may at first appear a film that is “felt rather than reasoned,” it has to be understood that every element of it is based on fact, taken from letters and personal details of the main characters. Also, by presenting inter-linking narratives, Russell was able to question, examine and comment on Debussy’s creative life, and the damage it caused him to those he loved.
With Debussy I felt it was important to say something about his music and attitudes to it as well as relevant facts of his life. A good example of this is his relationship with his mistress Gaby, and her inability to understand either him or his art. There’s a scene where the actor playing Debussy goes to a party with his girlfriend (playing Gaby) and puts on a record of Danse Sacre et Danse Profane. He wants to listen to it, to be immersed completely; he sees in it images of art nouveau. But everyone else in the room, instead of carrying on talking, or dancing to it, or giving it half an ear, all become silent and listen to the music with a mixture of duty and piety, which is all too often the case. His girlfriend, who just sees him as being perverse, does a strip-tease to it and ridicules both the man and his music. People are very wary of the heightening of experience, and want to knock it down. It’s fear as much as anything that makes her do the strip dance, fear of something she doesn’t understand and so can only get level with by ridiculing. A lot of people still do that, not just with art but with life.
I wasn’t totally on Debussy’s side; in a sense he had no right to disrupt the party. But artists are dogmatic and pig-headed, and they over-ride people. Most of the people I’ve dealt with in films have quite dispassionately sacrificed someone in their way who understood them. It’s not nice but that’s how it works. The end of the film, the music from his unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher, with Debussy alone in the castle and his ghostly mistress—whom he drove to attempted suicide—rising up, was an analogy of the lost romantic ideal he had destroyed by his disregard for people. You can be an egomaniac up to a point but in the end it can destroy you, or your work, or both.
The Debussy Film is Russell developing the style and technique that would make him internationally recognized as one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century. His approach was revolutionary and brilliant, and The Debussy Film changed television and cinematic biography for good. It also revealed another side to Oliver Reed (who is quite brilliant) and Vladek Sheybal, who was usually typecast as KGB agents. The film also contains cameos form artists Duggie Fields and Pauline Boty.