|Back in the early 70s, years before he decided to launch Taepodong missiles towards Japan and Hawaii, Kim Jong-il was North Korea's culture minister — a job given to him by founding Prime Minster Kim Il-sung, or as Kim likes to call him, dad. Tasked with creating a national cinema that embodied the spirit of the people's revolution, Kim would regularly visit movie sets to "oversee" the production of films, and some have credited him as the director of such classic films as The Flower Girl and Sea of Blood.|
In 1973, Kim wrote his treatise on film — the 330 page On the Art of Cinema, which, sadly, is less a study of the art form than it is a rulebook for all aspiring North Korean directors. It's interesting to note that Kim never found a director who could actualize his vision, and as a result kidnapped South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and forced him to make propaganda films for over eight years.
With the pint-sized leader rapidly working his way towards the top of the Public Enemy list, I thought it would be an excellent time to purchase and read through this masterwork.
To call Kim's writing dry would be an understatement. From its opening sentence ("This is the great age of Juche.") to its on-the-nose chapter headings ("In Creative Work One Must Aim High"), it's soon obvious that we're not faced with a page-turner. But beneath the propaganda about ideas as seeds, working-class revolutionary heroes, and how dramatic conflict should be settled in accordance with the law of class struggle, there are a few passages about Hollywood and the studio system that ring true (and are perhaps even more valid today than they were in '73). Two of the more interesting ones:
Chris Columbus comes to mind. Yet if stories out of North Korea are true, Kim is a die-hard film fanatic who has a private vault of over 15,000 films, many of which are the so-called capitalist film he denounces. (One can only wonder if he's seen Team America.)Though the book is bogged down in ideological arguments on proper communist art, many of Kim's rules aren't far removed from what you'd find in a Syd Field book. He's a champion of method acting, encourages originality, stresses the need for screenwriters to have an excellent grasp of language, and places great importance on the use of music. (As evinced by the chapter, "A Film Without Music is Incomplete.")
The book closes with a few chapters on film criticism, which Kim sees a collective endeavor. Critics are meant to come together and collectively assess a film purely on its adherence to Juche-oriented ideas, and the director's understanding of Party policy. (Sort of like what Armond does.)
For fun, passages from On the Art of Cinema can easily be applied to current releases. To wit:
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: "A film with an untidy plot cannot grip the audience and define their emotional response. Only when the storyline flows naturally and logically can the film rouse the ideological and emotional sympathy of the audience, and make their hearts beat faster. If it does not convince the audience of the truth through the natural flow of the story, it is not art."
The Break-Up: "If the characters' behavior in a given situation is determined by the whim of the writer, and not by their own will and conviction, they will not seem like living people and will fail to arouse a genuine emotional response. Actions which have no basis in logic or the characters' rationale are no more than the imposed movements of marionettes."
Any Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer/Roland Emmerich film: "Introducing some stunning occurrence or the total impact of something completely strange and unheard of in the hope of evoking meaningless exclamations of wonder is a vulgarity which is incompatible with art created for the people."
On the Art of Cinema can be ordered from Amazon.