Today, an observation from celebrated director Jim Jarmusch:

            “Nothing is original.  Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.  Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.  Select only things to steal from that directly speak to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.  Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.  And don’t bother concealing your thievery.  Celebrate it if you feel like it.  In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

            On the surface, this quote might come off as somewhat trite or facile.  But there’s a lot of truth there, too.  Every cinematographer starts their career by imitating someone else.  Is that theft?  Flattery?  Or is it just a necessity borne of ignorance?

            I don’t think Jarmusch is endorsing anarchy; certainly, it’s best to master the rules before breaking them.  But Godard is uncharacteristically succinct with his closing tag.  It implies justification for why something is “stolen” and subtly affirms originality.  If it’s non-existent, as Jarmusch says it is, that’s true only in its lowest form.

            Experience increases self-awareness and depletes innocent excuses. That’s why seasoned artists struggle so profoundly to dredge up something new.  Ask any veteran cinematographer if the effort to render meaningful images – not technically, but emotionally and intellectually – gets easier with more time in the saddle.

            I for one can tell you, it doesn’t.


12 thoughts on “IT TAKES A THIEF…?”

  1. I remember in film school a fellow student telling me “I want to shoot this scene in a way no one has ever done before, so I’m going to put the camera overhead looking straight down.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the high-angle shot had already been invented. In the Silent Era. It’s almost always a pointless exercise to approach a scene with the attitude that one has to shoot it in a way that’s never been done before. One can certainly try to avoid cliches or obvious routes but otherwise, it’s better to just shoot the scene honestly and simply, satisfying its dramatic needs.
    I also remember that interview with Conrad Hall when he was asked if he still took risks, and he said “sure, but what’s a risk to me isn’t the same as for a beginner — I have to reach further to find my risks.” Something to that effect.

  2. Great insightt Richard.
    From Google: Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Whether or not Picasso was truly the first person to voice this idea is in some dispute.

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