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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

On Terrence Malick and an Artist’s Right to Privacy

“Terrence Malick is extremely shy and you must not attempt to make direct contact with him. You must pretend you are eavesdropping on a private conversation.”

My friend Matt Zoller Seitz posted a link this morning on Facebook to this rare transcript of a public Q&A with Terrence Malick from 2007 at the Rome Film Festival, at which he showed clips from a few Italian films and discussed what he liked about them. Although the audience had been warned that Malick would not talk about his own work, he did in fact show clips from Badlands and The New World and briefly discuss them — perhaps one of the only times he’s ever done so.

It’s a fascinating glimpse at the notoriously private filmmaker, and if you’re an admirer of Malick, you’ll want to go read it.

Some of the comments in the Facebook thread got me pondering, though, why it is that we (and by “we” I mean, both “we” the film viewing public and “we” in the press) tend to feel entitled to have access to the minds of filmmakers or actors? The more we admire them and the less access they allow us to their private minds and private lives, it seems, the more we want to “own” them.

Personally, I don’t think any filmmaker or artist has any kind of moral obligation to interact with fans of his or her work. To a certain extent, it’s the work the artist creates that the audience is to interact with and respond to, not the artist himself — unless he or she chooses to allow public access to private thoughts. But in reading through various comments out and about on the internet about Malick, it seems that there’s a certain degree of, well, pissiness from some quarters regarding Malick’s notorious shyness and privacy. He doesn’t do interviews. He doesn’t do press conferences. He didn’t show up to accept the Palm d’Or at Cannes (although he did reportedly briefly make an appearance at the film’s premiere there). The nerve of the man! some say. Who does he think he is, to have his film screen at Cannes, and refuse — refuse! — to do press conferences and interviews? To NOT show up to accept the fest’s highest honor?

Who does he think he is? I’ve never met the man, but I assume he thinks — correctly — that he is a private citizen with a right to his privacy, and a good enough filmmaker to be able to dictate the terms of his contracts such that he doesn’t have to do things that he’s clearly uncomfortable doing. Charlie Kaufman doesn’t talk about how he writes scripts, Terrence Malick doesn’t talk to anyone publicly about his work, period. So what?

What do you think? Do filmmakers have a right to their privacy? Or are some film buffs and press right to feel that a filmmaker like Malick has some kind of obligation to give interviews about his work?

10 Responses to “On Terrence Malick and an Artist’s Right to Privacy”

  1. RIGHTS says:


  2. Mike M. says:

    Of course he’s within his rights. Though most artists will not be able to afford to be aloof. Sometimes distance from your fans can create mystique, but often it will create unnecessary, and insurmountable, distance.

  3. Donald A says:

    Did anyone get a decent photo of Terrence Malick during his Cannes visit? They keep using a shot from the early 1990s. I did see a shot of him on the Oklahoma set last fall of his new Ben Affleck-Javier Bardem film, but he was wearing dark glasses. I believe Malick even shot a part of it in Paris.He may have gone 20 years without making a film before “The Thin Red Line”, but he does occasionally leave his home in Texas these days.You would think someone would have a newer photo by now.

  4. Kim Voynar says:

    Uh, RIGHTS? I was advocating FOR Malick’s right to privacy, not against. You should maybe read a little more carefully before you call someone a moron, darlin’.

  5. Anthony says:

    Malick shouldn’t have to submit to press scrutiny if he chooses not to. Jean-Luc Godard also dodged the press, last year at Cannes.

    But it does seem rude of Malick not to at least show up to accept the Palme d’Or, which requires only thanks.

    If he actually has a clinical phobia about public appearances, this might excuse his behavior.

  6. Keil Shults says:

    Maybe Malick tried being in the spotlight in the late 1960s, made an off-color remark about Hitler at a commencement ceremony, and swore off future public appearances.

  7. Bilge says:

    Malick is obviously entitled to his privacy, but it is interesting that he was AT Cannes. It’s nice that he showed up at his premiere at any rate. I certainly don’t think he has any obligations to do press or anything like that.

    But, being the big reader that he is, presumably he’s also read a few artists’ biographies in his time (he did once write a screenplay about the life of Jerry Lee Lewis). So I imagine he understands that people are naturally fascinated by the lives of artists who create work that they admire, and that they in turn should not be judged for wanting to do so.

  8. Kim Voynar says:

    Bilge, that’s a good point. I’m not saying people who WANT to know about Malick are bad people or anything. Heck, I would love to sit down and talk to him for hours, or have him as a teacher. But I get that a some artists can be very insular and socially uncomfortable, and maybe they just want to tell their story, show their art from behind the lens or the canvas and not in front of it. Sometimes they really have a hard time in social situations and find being forced to hang at parties and do interviews just excruciating. I just think judging Malick for being reclusive is idiotic. His work speaks for itself.

  9. Keil Shults says:

    Malick’s probably on to something anyway. Look how many people’s work is inevitably soured by their public indiscretions. And the more publicized you are, the more false your work seems to be, fair or not. However, I will say that just standing up to say thank you and receive an award wouldn’t seem too difficult, unless, like Alvy Singer, you simply detest the idea of awards. Then again, if he’d gone up on stage, received the awards, mumbled a thank you, and then left, he’d be harshly referred to as “that guy who just grabs his trophy and leaves.” So he may feel there’s no real way to please everyone in our flawed society.

  10. Kim Voynar says:

    Keil, exactly. But the greater point is, why do people feel an artist has some obligation to do anything beyond make their art and put it out there? I get that a lot of directors and actors enjoy the spotlight — or at least don’t seem to detest it. But what, for instance, is the intrinsic value of anyone interviewing Tommy Lee Jones, ever? He hates doing interviews, he shows nothing but contempt for journalists, and he surely has the clout by now to say “no interviews,” right?

    As for Malick, so far as I am concerned his work either speaks to you or it does not, and I don’t think he has an obligation beyond making it to talk about his process, or sit through endless roundtable interviews being asked the same dumbass questions over and over again. His contract says he doesn’t have to, ergo he doesn’t do it.

    Not really anything for anyone to bitch about, IMO, other than the professional jealousy of “Well, if *I* had a film accepted to Cannnes, I’d be so grateful I’d do whatever they told me to!” Which kind of goes against the whole idea of the artist as a being independent and apart from much of the bullshit societal structure we impose upon ourselves and each other.

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“We now have a situation where audiences very often prefer commercial trash to Bergman’s Persona or Bresson’s L’Argent. Professionals find themselves shrugging, and predicting that serious, significant works will have no success with the general public. What is the explanation? Decline of taste or impoverishment of repertoire? Neither and both. It is simply that cinema now exists, and is evolving, under new conditions. That total, enthralling impression which once overwhelmed the audiences of the 1930s was explained by the universal delight of those who were witnessing and rejoicing over the birth of a new art form, which furthermore had recently acquired sound. By the very fact of its existence this new art, which displayed a new kind of wholeness, a new kind of image, and revealed hitherto unexplored areas of reality, could not but astound its audiences and turn them into passionate enthusiasts.

Less than twenty years now separate us from the twenty-first century. In the course of its existence, through its peaks and troughs, cinema has travelled a long and tortuous path. The relationship that has grown up between artistic films and the commercial cinema is not an easy one, and the gulf between the two becomes wider every day. Nonetheless, films are being made all the time that are undoubtedly landmarks in the history of cinema. Audiences have become more discerning in their attitude to films. Cinema as such long ago ceased to amaze them as a new and original phenomenon; and at the same time it is expected to answer a far wider range of individual needs. Audiences have developed their likes and dislikes. That means that the filmmaker in turn has an audience that is constant, his own circle. Divergence of taste on the part of audiences can be extreme, and this is in no way regrettable or alarming; the fact that people have their own aesthetic criteria indicates a growth of self-awareness.

Directors are going deeper into the areas which concern them. There are faithful audiences and favorite directors, so that there is no question of thinking in terms of unqualified success with the public—that is, if one is talking about cinema not as commercial entertainment but as art. Indeed, mass popularity suggests what is known as mass culture, and not art.”
~ Andrei Tarkovsky, “Sculpting In Time”

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