Kim Jong Il’s Remarkable Series of Books About Film

(Happy Kim Il Sung’s eternal birthday!)

Sergei Eisenstein wrote extensively on film theory.  As did Lloyd Kaufman.  So, knowing what a film buff Kim Jong Il is, I was proud to see he’d already hopped on that bandwagon. 

kimjongilcinemaanddirecting

I recently picked up his fascinating 1987 treatise on filmmaking techniques, “The Cinema and Directing.” It’s short at only 69 pages (while he’s short at only 69– bam!), but he really knows how to pack in those anti-consumerist punches. 

“In the capitalist system of film-making,” he writes early on, “the director is called ‘director’ but, in fact, the right of supervision and control over film production is entirely in the hands of the tycoons of the film-making industry who have the money, whereas the directors are nothing but their agents…. The director is shackled…. he is a mere worker who obeys…”

It’s all rather terrifying, I have to say.  On Poultrygeist, Lloyd was shackled, too. But that was more of an S/M thing.  He seemed to like it.

In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, though, things are different:

“In socialist society the director is an independent and creative artist who is responsible to the Party and the people for the cinema…. The director is not a mere worker who makes films, but the commander!”

The commander!  Wow… so much for brotherhood and equality.  Maybe that’s just not the juche way.  Here’s a clip from “A Traffic Controller on Crossroads,” a great DVD I picked up there.  Sadly, there’s no sound or subtitles, so I have no idea what’s going on….  but it looks great!  Don’t miss the great props, like the four telephones and all the hair salon equipment.

 Some of his advice is useful for any new director:

“Artistic guidance to individual creative workers must always be specific.”

“It is only when production is well organized that it is possible to make an excellent film in a short time and with a small amount of manpower, funds and material.”

“The director must have confidence in himself and aim high and work boldly.”

I think I read the same points in “Six Minute Manager,” actually.  Funny.  But I don’t remember any of this:

“There was once a debate on the problem of filming the story of a general of ancient times who had repulsed foreign invaders.  A director said that he would give a wonderful representation of that heroic resistance if he was just given 500 horses.  Some people claimed that the director’s imagination was rich and bold and they even envied him. Is this really rich and bold artistic imagination? What would happen if one started making films, excited by the idea of visualizing a spectacular panorama in which 500 horses charge like a hurricane over a wide expanse of fields and thunderous cheers are heard over a forest of glittering spears?
     A director who does not see the essential content of life but considers only the genre and scale of the work to be important cannot achieve success in film-making. Before imagining the 500 horses, the director should have pictured the gallant people who rose up against foreign aggressors and should have planned to depict their heroic struggle vividly.”

We didn’t have 500 horses on Poultrygeist, either.  But we did have 500 chicken-zombies…  that’s kinda like “gallant people.” Check out the background of this scene from the “Traffic Controller” movie.  There’s like 500 gallant (and happy!) five-year-old children in the background.  It’s kinda weird…

Sometimes his advice gets a little bizarre.

“There is no necessity to try hard to find a ‘suitable actor.’  The actor who fits a part 100 per cent is one in a hundred… a director who searches for a ‘suitable actor’ is taking a chance in creative work. No director who relies on luck in creative work has ever achieved success.”  So it’s not worth auditioning 100 people to find the actor who fits 100%???

“An actor may resemble the character he is to play, but if he is spiritually and morally inferior to the character, then he cannot play the role.”  Kim then goes on to insist you investigate every aspect of the actor’s life (“social, political, cultural and moral”) before deciding on whether to hire him. Can’t have those anti-Juche influences on set!

“The director must be particularly careful not to use actors who have been trained by others.”  Mother your own little sparrows, Darling!

He also writes extensively about art direction, camera work, and even the soundtrack. 

“Sound is art,” he writes.  “The thrilling whistle of an electric locomotive pulling into a station with a load of thousands of tons, is not just a whistle to most people.  They think of it as the triumphant announcement of an accident-free journey, an ardent call for a new surge forward in work. To those who love labor, sounds that echo during worthwhile work are not just the sounds of machines. This is why the sounds of creative work are often compared with a great symphony.”

“One cannot always use stirring music in order to sing of life at a busy construction site, for example.  At the construction site where dynamic labor efforts are made, the hero may meditate over the kindly care of the Party that has provided him with such a fine life.  The music which flows from his heart can be lyrical.”

Powerful stuff.  Beats Walter Murch’s “Blink” in a second.  Wow.

Sweet Movies and Wild Books /

2 Responses to Kim Jong Il’s Remarkable Series of Books About Film

  1. Kowloon says:

    “In the capitalist system of film-making,” he writes early on, “the director is called ‘director’ but, in fact, the right of supervision and control over film production is entirely in the hands of the tycoons of the film-making industry who have the money, whereas the directors are nothing but their agents…. The director is shackled…. he is a mere worker who obeys…”

    Coming from a man who ordered the kidnapping of a director in a foreign country so he could have his own national version of Godzilla made, that is quite tasteful.

    Judging by the sheer sexiness of the korean traffic officers, the first clip is either their version of porn or a piece of propaganda directed to the oustide world.

  2. Dean Pickles says:

    You’re right! That was already a piece of inspired academic/theoretic prose, but even moreso now! (Oh, if only the book was ghost-penned by Shin Sang-ok….)

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