Arthur Penn: Artistic Assassination

Directing Marlon Brando in The Chase, which was released in 1966.

Arthur Penn
In Conversation
New York

Why is it now impossible to be honest? To make an honest, heartfelt value judgment? My God, if I were to recount for you things said to me by peers in the industry! You would wonder why I'm friends with them. I'm friends with them because they were--and are--always unafraid to show up and tell me the total truth about what I'm working on and how I might improve it.

I can always reject their suggestions; their opinions. However, I'm always grateful that they've offered them. There is really no other way to learn anything than by attempting something far beyond your means or your reach or your past abilities and failing, or half-succeeding, or, glory of glories, getting it right.

I'm invited to things now--previews, readings--and everyone whispers as if in a funeral parlor. No one, it is implied, is to impede the artistic progress of those involved. No one must trample on a dream. Well, the work never gets any better, because work cannot survive within a cocoon, a bubble.

I'm not implying--or stating--that we should be vicious or overly critical, but we must tell our peers, our friends (and I think of those in the field, so to speak, as my friends) what we thought of what they did. We must tell them how we might improve it. And why can't we say that we didn't like something? Our judgments, our opinions, are the chief defining ingredient of the artistic person.

So don't ask me what I thought of something if you don't want an honest answer. I don't do kumbaya criticism. I don't love everything because I just want us all to succeed and get along and prosper. I don't think that the theatre or films are so fragile that a negative comment is going to shatter the foundations on which they stand.

I'll tell you that it didn't work for me, and why. I won't rip apart a production or an actor or anyone. But I'll tell you that I didn't think it was terribly good.

And when I do, I will be labeled--and have been--as an artistic assassin.

This is insanity.

With Gene Hackman on the set of Night Moves (1975).

©2013 by James GrissomFrom Artistic Suicide


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