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The Unauthorized Biography of Donald G. Jackson

From The Scott Shaw Blog

By Scott Shaw

Life forever amuses me. The actions of other people also amuse me. Though, in truth, I forever find myself questioning why some people do some of the things that they do…

More often than not I find that when people contact me to tell me of some of the goings-on out there in the world, I wish that they had not done so. Really people, I just don’t want to know. I live this very simple (semi reclusive) life. I focus on art, spirituality, meditation, and helping others whenever I can. All the nonsense that goes on out in the world, I just find distracting.

Anyway, before I get too far off target, let me get to the point. Somebody told me that someone had written a biography about Donald G. Jackson and published it on Amazon. The title, “From Roller Blade to Frogtown: The Strange Film Journey of Donald G. Jackson.” Interesting title.

So, I popped over to Amazon to check it out. The cover, a photo of Don that I had taken and the author had altered and used without my permission. Does no one care about copyright laws? There’s also a frog from Frogtown on the cover, a little silhouette shot of me near the bottom from Max Hell Frog Warrior, and a screen grab of one of the nuns from Roller Blade Warriors. The Kindle version of the book was only ninety-nine cents so what could I do? I had to read it.

To be fair, the author, Matthew Skelly, clearly states in the introduction to the book, “Mind you, I didn’t write this book to reveal some hidden bombshell that will set the world on fire. There is nothing new or secret here. Everything written here was already out in the open where anyone with a web browser or a library card could unearth it. My goal here is to simply consolidate all of the information about Jackson’s life and work, so I can lay it out in a clear timeline.”

Basically, what he did was to scour this website (scottshaw.com), throw in a brief passages or two from a couple of other sources, get some information from my Zen Film Documentaries, mix all that up in a blender, talk about Don’s and my films and that’s the book. I imagine it took some time to do all that and I give the guy an A for effort. For the most part, though he does throw a couple of shots, he speaks kindly about Don and myself and I thank him for that. I also thank him for taking the time and caring enough about the filmmaking of Donald G. Jackson to put the book together. Though, as is always the case with people who write about someone or something when they were not at the sourcepoint of the knowledge, he does get somethings wrong, takes some of what I have written out of context, leaves out some essential facts, states a couple of things that simply are not true, and the timeline he describes or the motivation for some events he writes about is incorrect. This is why I always say, “I am alive! I was there! I knew the man! I made the movies! If you have any questions, ask me!!!” And, as I also always say, “If you want to know the truth, go to the source.” In this case, I am the source.

Skelly did provide footnotes in the book and they point to my writings and my films, so that's all good. At least it is with me. But, this book was obviously written by someone who knows very little about copyright law and the fact that you need to gain formalized permission from an author or a publishing company when you are going to extensively quote or paraphrase a large amount of another author's writings. You need to do this before you publish a book and offer it for sale. The simple explanation of copyright law is, you can't take somebody else's creation and make money off of it. Basically, what this guy has done is to base his writing about Don upon the quotations and the analysis of my writings and then detail his interpretation of what I have written and add his own description and critique about Don's life and the movies that Don was involved with. But, he was not there! He does not know what actually took place! So, in some cases, his presentation really misses the point of what actually occurred.

Having lived what this author is writing about places me in a weird position. Knowing who Don was, what he was or was not thinking, what he did or did not do at a specific point in time and what I was or was not thinking or what I did or did not do at a specific point in time leaves me a bit befuddled when reading this book. I mean, I appreciate the fact that this guy took the time to put his book together but as is the case with all unauthorized biographies, the essence of the person that is being written about and their creative life motivations is missing from the pages. If a person did not personally know an individual and they did not speak to those of us who did, at best all a work like this becomes is a book report or a term paper. This is not meant as an insult or a harsh critique of the book in any manner. In fact, if I wasn’t me, I may have learned something from the book. But, to know the truth about a person, to understand a person, to know the facts about what an individual actually did and why they did what they did you either need to have actually known that person or at least to have spoken to those of us who did. This author did not do that. And, knowing Don the way I did I do know that he would have been very upset about the inaccuracies presented in this book.

I believe that there has always been the faithful who have appreciated and studied the filmmaking of Donald G. Jackson. And, I am glad to see that some new people may find out about his work through this book. Though it is important to state that some of the facts presented in this book are misleading or false. Just keep that in mind if you read it. But, Skelly did care enough about the filmmaking of Donald G. Jackson to take the time to put the book together so you’ve got to give him credit for that!

Awh, Hell… After reading the Kindle version of the book and writing this little tidbit I'm going to buy a paperback copy of the book and put it in the Zen Filmmaking Archives… Or, hand it off to my attorney: one or the other. :-)

Post Script:

DGJ Cover
Donald G. Jackson: Soldier of Cinema

The PS to all this is that what Skelly did caused me to do something I never planned to do and that was to put together an, “Authorized,” biography about DGJ using his actual writings combined with interviews and with some of the many essays and articles I have composed in association with his and our filmmaking career. Check it out if you feel like it and if you want to get the real story.

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