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From: Arthur Penn

The University Press of Kentucky colophon
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254 Wrap They say that the artist himself is least able to judge his own work, but that rejects the very nature of the creative process. An artist deconstructs before he constructs, and often destroys in order to discover. On May 20, 1968, Arthur Penn delivered these remarks at a symposium at Dartmouth College. Both reflective and prescient, they offer remarkable insight, not only regarding Penn himself but also the self-examination he clearly performed while writing them. I am an outsider to American film. I never envisioned myself as being a film person. I went to film very seldom as a child. I experienced a terrifying horror movie at about age six; I don’t remember where it was. I always thought of the theater as being my métier and it was only somewhat by accident that I found myself making film, because along came live television and I had a brief experience with that. And then was invited to make a film at Warner Bros., and I made one, and I was bewildered by what I encountered. And that’s what I am here to describe, because those things that bewildered me in film-world continue to bewilder me, and continue, in a certain sense—at least in my sense—to describe the character of American film. For instance, I was very startled that the people in Hollywood referred to motion pictures as “an industry” and to the films themselves as “product.” That came as a staggering insight to me, and I wondered about that. I’ve since read about it, and there’s no mystery to it: there’s a long history of nepotism and to the growth of a new industry out there, and, in the course of the growth of an industry whose technology is as complex as that of Wrap 255 motion pictures, there began to be established certain technical norms which were, in terms of light and film and sound, as being of the highest level, and that began to be the glossy Hollywood product. That had a twofold purpose. One was to improve the technique of the material. But the other was to find a place for the nephews and son-in-laws so that they wouldn’t disturb the process if the process was meticulously as evolved as that. Oddly enough, roles were cut out that didn’t particularly involve the personality of the person filling that role. By that I mean that they used to talk about “Send me a writer.” I recall hearing the story from Clifford Odets that during one of the temporary crises on a movie set, the word went out, “Send me a writer” and a young man arrived, and the producer said, “How much do you make?” and the young man said, “seventeen fifty” and the producer shouted, “I told ’em to send me a writer,” meaning that if he didn’t make thirty-five hundred a week, he wasn’t a writer. You could get a director who was hired under long-term contract to make films; that was his job. You could get stars who were beautiful machines that you could wind up and they would say the lines and they all belonged to the studio. It was a highly familial, but clearly structured, organization. That was the Hollywood that prevailed up to the incursion of television. Television invaded the domain that Hollywood had occupied with great privilege and no competition, and it terrified them. At the same time, in the period shortly after the Second World War, film of an extraordinary character was beginning to be made in Europe, and it was starting to be imported into the United States. A small part of the American consciousness was beginning to be touched by those films, and the major flow of the Hollywood film was beginning to be severely interrupted, if not diverted, by the development of television. What happened, of course, is that Hollywood retracted. Instead of trying to make a new kind of film, it just reduced the number of the same kind of films it had been making all along. It wasn’t until the Hollywood film as film was suddenly overwhelmed by European film that it came to the point where it 256 Arthur Penn is now, and that is a kind of crossroad where a highly industrialized , highly technical film industry is confronted with the alternatives of continuing as it has in the past, making films for...


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Subject Headings

  • Penn, Arthur, 1922-2010.
  • Motion picture producers and directors -- United States -- Biography.
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