You have to believe in the muse

SVEN HEUCHERT: Marc, almost twenty years of film-making, how does it feel to get this book published?

MARC LITTLER: Filmmaking turned into a profession. If you love something and depend on it to make bread, often that love turns into a love/hate bastard and eventually to sheer hate. Filmmaking is 90 percent money and logistics and the neglected muse cries in agony. Writing is almost entirely muse – unless you want to get published. In my case, I kept the writing almost clandestine for 20 years…a secret life of sorts. I simply didn’t want to subject the act of writing to the cruelty of business and end up hating what I love most. Getting the book published after such a long time is almost like holding the work of a stranger in my hands – a rather disturbed stranger.

S: I think of filmmaking as very busy and almost chaotic process filled with a lot of action and the need to improvise, to resolve things quickly. William Stafford once described the act of writing a poem to starting a car on icy ground. At first you drive very slowly and carefully. Pacing is one of the things I would like to take about. Writing poetry compared to film-making. It comes all from the same source, but how does the process differ?

M: Filmmaking is logos. Poetry is eros. Filmmaking is drawing the map then following it and only occasionally deviating from the designed path. Poetry is wandering off into the dark woods. Filmmaking is turning an idea into a reality. Poetry does not care about the concept of reality. Filmmaking to me is male/sun-based, poetry female/moon-based – hence the phrase „the white goddess“. As to pace: Film moves very slowly, due to the aforementioned logistics, technical aspects etc. Poetry can move faster than light. The origin of an idea for a film I can usually track, the origin of a poem remains a mystery to me. How does your own process between writing prose fiction and verse differ?

S: I like to think of myself as a minimalist, in prose, and in poetry as well. In prose I like to cut it all down to this one very specific scene, everything leads to this one thing, a word, a situation, a dialogue, and I try to describe the movement to this point precisely and clearly, even if everything moves very slowly, then there is still the surface, that suddenly becomes magic, almost like in a piece from Stuart Dybek, where there is almost no plot but still there is something you never fully can describe, a certain sound, a certain feel to it. In poetry it is just one point, that it all boils down to, one exact moment I have in mind, like a short memory, the second something happens and that sets a thought or a feeling free, I want to catch this very motion, poetry in motion so to speak.

I just rewatched „The Kingdom of Survival“, one of your best films, and it came to my mind that there is a certain underlying theme in all of your films – it is the struggle with the modern world, struggle with mysticism, the search for something real, truthful, and the meaning beyond just these words, the actual action, the doing of it. In your poetry, there is also a lot of mythical undertones, almost archaic. Tell me something about the inspiration, and about how you incorporate these mythical elements into a poem?

M: I am interested in the permanent things, matters that were relevant two thousand years ago and remain relevant – at least to me. In recent years my poetry explores the world beyond the visible. I use language to approximate things that cannot be said in words – a paradox and rather futile really. My recent films (Lost Coast, Armenia, Last Words, Beyond The White Rains) function more like my poetry – it feels like they’re leaving the physical world behind. As to the modern world: I think the times we live in are actually anti-modern. They’re regressive, there is no avantgarde and the glorification of the trivial has led to an intellectual and cultural garbage heap and to metpahysical homelessness. Man needs mythology as a coordinate system to exist. In this regard I curse the age of enlightenment. 

I find your work however, to be rooted in the physical world, whereas I have little interest in things like Zeitgeist and the modus operandi of so-called modern civilization. The only physical „thing“ I am interested in is the carnage of love. Do you have any spiritual leanings?

S: I do think that I am somehow spiritual in nature, but not in a way of an organized religion or a structured belief system. I think that there is a greater power, but I’m not interested in naming or describing it. That is one of the biggest problems of our society, that we’re longing for answers for everything. Even in art, there is this fine underlying theme of control, of knowing how someone did this, the knowledge of craft, there is no more room for mystery and secrets, it seems that everything has to be controlled in an almost scientific way. It’s true, my writing is rooted in the physical experience, I come from the school of Dirty Realism. But in my writing there is also a lot of symbolism, not in the way Baudelaire used it in his poems, in an entirely different way, it is almost a mystification of everyday life, because I believe there is a second level to the odd, plain things we do, riding a bus, buying cigarettes, having a chat with the neighbor, a quick beer after work, the labor itself, it is almost like a magical door that suddenly appears and then two separate worlds connect, and that is the spark that ignites a creative process, at least for me. Let’s talk about the process. You said you kept your writing secret. No thoughts of business or anything, just pure muse, in which we both believe. How did that affect your output and the process of writing?

M: By keeping my writing more or less clandestine I ended up writing more. I wasn’t concerned with a readership, even the rather nebulous term „quality“ didn’t really concern me. It gave me a lot of time and space for experiments and discovery uninfringed by worldly standards and expectations. Mark my words: expectations can kill you. The good thing about poetry is that no one reads it, so there’s nothing to win, hence nothing to lose. I play around with prose every now and again – the keyword being „play“. I also don’t invite the creative process. It simply befalls me – like a virus or a rainstorm. Since I am not plagued by any kind of traditional employment I can obey the muse and simply sit down and write at any time until the flow ebbs off. Writers often live dull lives. Monotonous, solitary, ritualistic. I am often more interested in the daily life of artists than their work. How do you live and write? In silk pajamas? Smoking raw opium? Writing solely past midnight? – or less glamorously after a day of employment and interaction with the so-called real world milking as much remaining energy out of mind and body to lay down a few pages?

S: Hopefully a lot of people will read your book! I do not write in silk pajamas. I try to write between 800-900 words per day, at my desk at home. When you’re getting down to it, it is not easy. Pete Dexter once said, when people tell him they love to write, that tells you they are no good at it. Sometimes a sentence can take a whole day. Sometimes you write one page, and it’s pitch-perfect. In the end, it is a little bit of a gamble. I need time and solitude, silence. No music. I write, revise, write again. It has to have a certain aesthetic to it, a certain sound. Afterwards I have a drink to loosen up and to reread everything. You are currently working on a new film – tell me something about it.

I am working on two films. LAST WORDS a film based on audio recordings made by and documenting the dying of the late poet Franz Wright and his widow Elizabeth and BEYOND THE WHITE RAINS a neverending film that merges cinema and poetry. I lost interest and faith in narrative film some time ago. There’s too much talking in the world today – especially in the realm of film. In a nutshell: I wanted to create an antidote to the hysterics, something whimsical, ephemeral, hypnotic and intuitive…and unlike you, I have a deep mistrust of plot. Our lives don’t adhere to a plot, why should our stories, poems, and films?