Posts tagged ‘Affordance’

July 22, 2013

Hello Hollywood

by dyketheelder

Carl and Frau arrived rather unexpectedly for a short in-transit visit. A real treat: you voles have some sense of the relationship between Carl and me by now, but Rachel and I are also compliciters in a number of projects. (Actually, you know that too.)
We got heavily into Roger Corman. Attack of the Crab Monsters on Thursday, and on Friday the Roger Corman volume in AFI’s Director series, plus the documentary “A salute to Roger Corman”. My interest in sci-fi doesn’t begin to match Carl’s. Mine is pretty much confined to “Gort! Klaatu barada nikto,” Krell metal, and Q. But Roger Corman is another matter. Not only did he produce and direct Little Shop of Horrors, a far more finely crafted movie, in my estimation, than, say, Gone with the Wind, but he was the most important teacher/mentor in the 20th Century film world. It’s the latter that Carl and I hermeneutered ‘til midnight.
James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola, and Ron Howard are just a few of the many movie makers given their important start by Corman. It would be hard to think of another teacher with that kind of lineup of grads – maybe Wheeler at Princeton: he gets to start his list with Dick Fineman – but I can’t think of another in any field. So of course Carl and I were afforded the opportunity to ruminate on what Corman actually did, and how he did it.
For me and my generation, I’ve found in retrospect, Corman’s initial importance was his affording us the opportunity to have our socks knocked off, at an impressionable age, by Rashomon, The Magician, Wild Strawberries, the Seventh Seal, and La Strada. He’s the one, as Janus Films, who was responsible for the US distribution of the great “foreign” art films of the period – en passant with respect to his career, punctuational with respect to mine. Others owe Corman for many (potentially hundreds of) thrilling nights at the local drive-in.
But what Carl and I were after was the understanding of Corman as teacher/mentor. What can we learn from him to get better at doing what we do when we do what we do? The conversation pretty quickly homed in on providing opportunity. Corman was a genius at recognizing talent when he saw it, gave it the chance to show itself and develop, and shoved it into a challenging place, very often the chance to direct a first movie. (The catch phrase in the tribe was Corman’s “If you do well with this, you’ll never have to make a film for me again.”) Tough love and a boot out the door to opportunity.
Two important words showed up: “trust”, and “risk.” Corman trusted both his own judgment, and those about whom he made the judgment. Of course trusting them entailed a certain amount of risk, a failed movie, and so on, but Corman was smart enough to buffer the risk, and keep it under control. Carl’s way of putting it was that Corman found a place in the movie biz where you didn’t have to hit a home run every time at bat. He was the greatest singles hitter in film history. If you get to a place where you have to make a multi-million dollar blockbuster (as, ironically, Cameron certainly did), the risk is stultifying. If you were knocking off Bucket of Blood, or The Wasp Woman in five days or so (or Little Shop of Horrors in two) for a few thousand bucks, the risk was negligible – and exhilarating fun to boot. The immediate consequence was the space to afford all those wonderful opportunities. Ask yourself, is your course (or your current project) tangled up in the ethos of megabuck homerun hitting, or would a good solid base hit get the job done? Cameron, in his interview, counts what he learned about attitude toward risk with Corman as one of his formative lessons. The only thing I’d add to Carl’s image is that sometimes you don’t even need to get a base hit. Success may mean bunting somebody into scoring position, something Corman did over and over again.
“Afford” keeps popping up. It’s a funny word, usually showing up when you ask yourself if you can afford a new Mercedes, or some such. But as it’s appeared here, its meaning has flipped. Corman’s affordances were largely the result of what he couldn’t afford. Affordances as opportunities needn’t be tied to affordances as resources, especially financial resources. In fact, Carl and I fell into talking a lot of this through in terms of the concept of affordance, a concept we’ve come to use a lot (and was showing up in DV long before I was). Corman just turns out to be one of the best conversation platforms for affordance since Miu lib.
In any case, I’d been thinking about affordance again over the last couple of weeks in pursuit of a project some of you have dealt with at an earlier stage. Vis. I hacked my way back into the jungle I’d created “in defense of” Terry Deacon and his terminological terrorism. In particular, I pulled out the stuff on his concept of “ententionality” – a discussion I’d couched in terms of soil fertility as ententional. The old paper had been shot down somewhere over the Zuider Zee, and I wanted to see if I could locate any survivors who could live on in another context. Deacon and I both still like my take on entention.
So I recontextualized, and submitted (electronically, of course) elsewhere. I’ve never gotten such good service. The rejection was in my e-mail the next time I looked at it. But meanwhile, I’d sent the new version to Tony Chemero, who some of you might have run across: e.g. Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, out of MIT. Tony’s interest in, and understanding of, Deacon is very close to mine. But the roots of his work are with John Gibson’s ecological psychology (E.g. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception), and Gibson is the originator of the best known industrial strength concept of affordance. In fact, lacking as always in good sense, I’d mentioned (parenthetically) in the new version that the whole discussion of the ententionality of soil could be re-written in terms of affordance. (I’m somehow bound to shove awkward connections down the throats of people who don’t want to make any connections at all.)
Chemero liked the paper, lamented its misfortunes, and suggested that if I actually worked out the connection to affordance a bit, Ecological Psychology, the Gibsonian journal, might publish it. So that’s what I’m working on.
I think I’d better do it without raking in Roger Corman. But for DV there’s lots more to be said about Roger and his affordance machine.

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