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Imitation is not Flattery it’s Just Appropriation

I was flipping channels the other night and I watched a few minutes of the great Oliver Stone film, The Doors. I came in around the time when Kyle MacLachlan’s character, who was portraying Ray Manzarek, made mention of Jean-Luc Godard. (I actually saw the movie for the first time in the theatre with Ray Manzarek. But, I’ve spoken about that in other places). Anyway… Amazingly, Godard just died a little over a month ago. He was certainly one of the greatest figures in causing modern cinema to evolve. You can read all about his history, the French New Wave, the Dziga Vertov Group, and all that on-line, so I won’t go into any of that here. But, if you are a student of film or a lover of cinema, you really need to check him and his work out.
 
The thing about Godard, and other filmmakers who worked to push the craft of filmmaking to new levels of exploration, is that they had their critics. I mean, Godard was very outspoken about his political and philosophic beliefs. His group even got the Cann Film Festival to shut down for a moment in 1968. This being said, he came up in a time when experimentation was applauded and appreciated. From this, he could lean into his artistic tendances and forge new realms in cinema that may not have been explored had he attempt to create in another time and a different geographic environment.
 
I know I have been asked many times, (and I am not comparing myself to Godard on any level), if I thought that had I been based in Europe would my cinematic creative vision of Zen Filmmaking have found a more appreciative audience? I always dismiss that question, as I know my reality is simply my reality. Like Popeye said, “I yam what I yam,” and I lived in the time and the place where I existed. Sure, it would have been nice to have found myself in a time of a global mindset where the exploration of new forms of art was more embraced. But, that was not the case. And certainly, there have been those that have understood and liked what I was doing and what I am doing. And, I thank them! But, it seems we are living in a period of time where people find more truth in criticism than in the creation of art.
 
One of the things that I find interesting in all of this, and the reason I write this piece, is that there have been a number of people who have criticized my work and myself, yet they go out there and attempt to mimic by Zen creative vision. They do this while giving me no credit. Interesting…
 
As I have long said, “Criticism is easy. Making a movie is hard work.” And, “What is a film critic? With very few exceptions it is someone who doesn’t have the talent or the dedication to actually make a movie.” Yet, a few have. They attempt to imitate my process, while providing no reference to their source of inspiration. They do this while criticizing my work. Okay???
 
It’s kind of like in the world of martial arts, where criticism reigns supreme. I have certainly had my detractors. But, all of my detractors have never practiced anything I teach; in my books or via other methods. They may have read my articles or my books, but they have not tried to actually put the techniques I illustrate into practice. Again, criticism is easy. Doing is much harder. The ones who have attempted to put the techniques into practice, have learned new things. And, that’s what life is all about; isn’t it?
 
Talk is cheap and that’s why so many make a name for themselves by doing it. But, what are they truly giving to the world? A new form of art? No. A new evolution or interpretation of artistic understanding? No. Just talk.
 
Speaking of the martial arts, I think back to this one so-called teacher a number of years ago. When my book Samurai Zen came out, he was apparently teaching some of the methods presented in that book. When some of his students inquired where he received the knowledge, did he get it from my book? He told them that, “No, I was his student.”  Funny… I had never met then man. …Had never even heard of him. I also later found out that he was criticizing the book and me. This, while he was teaching techniques he had learned from it.
 
You know, we all learn from someone. Once we learn we then take that knowledge and hopefully not only put it to use but then expand upon it and develop our own personal realizations that we may then spread out to the world based upon the initially knowledge that was provided to us. But, if you can’t honor the source of your knowledge, what does that say about you? If you do not give credit where credit is due, imitation is not a form of flattery, it is simply an appropriation.