Though it would be difficult to envision a cinematic sensibility further from mine than James Cameron's, Dana Goodyear's New Yorker profile of the man reveals higher-order qualities to be admired:
“This film integrates my life’s achievements,” he told me. “It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done.” Another time, he said, “If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
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“The words ‘No’ and ‘That’s impossible’ and phrases like ‘That can’t be done’ — that’s the stuff that gives him an erection,” the actor Bill Paxton, who has worked with Cameron since the early eighties, says. Cameron reserves a special quotient of his anger for suits who get in his way. “Tell your friend he’s getting fucked in the ass, and if he would stop squirming it wouldn’t hurt so much” was the message he once told a Fox producer to deliver to an executive at the studio.
[ ... ]
There is a chivalric aspect to Cameron’s antagonism; he figures his struggles in heroic terms. “I try to live with honor, even if it costs me millions of dollars and takes a long time,” he says. “It’s very unusual in Hollywood. Few people are trustworthy — a handshake means nothing to them. They feel they’re required to keep an agreement with you only if you’re successful, or they need you. I’ve tried not to get sucked into the Hollywood hierarchy system. Personally, I don’t like it when people are deferential to me because I’m an established filmmaker. It’s a blue-collar sensibility.”
We happened to watch Xenogenesis, Cameron's very first short, in film class the other day. Here it is, fr yr viewing pleasure:
Rough, sure, but it probably ranks among my top three James Cameron movies. Avatar may be ridiculously ambitious, but man, does it ever look like a death march.
On a very related note, here is (former Marketplace of Ideas guest) David L. Ulin on William T. Vollmann. Or if you prefer, DLU on WTV. Or if you prefer, D-Ul on W-Voll:
Vollmann's abilities tend to be overshadowed by the sensational aspects of his career. Partly, it's the length of his books, but even more, it's the fixation on prostitutes and street life, and his tendency to put himself in the line of fire.
In 1982, fresh out of college, he went to Afghanistan to help the mujahedinagainst the Soviets; his account, "An Afghanistan Picture Show," was published in 1992. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the early 1990s, he survived a sniper attack that left his translator dead. While researching his 1994 novel "The Rifles" -- part of a seven-volume "Symbolic History" of America called "Seven Dreams" -- he spent two weeks at the Arctic Circle and nearly died of hypothermia.
These were death-defying stunts even for a young man; a decade and a half later, the father of a young daughter, his balance impaired, the hair at his temples graying, he seems heavier, slower, if not exactly the worse for wear.
For Vollmann, the issue is not just writing but also how he wants to live. "Last year," he recalls, "I was in Kurdistan in an area that had just been bombed. . . . We were going up a narrow canyon, right before twilight. It was getting dark, and I was looking down at the path and my glasses were all misted up with sweat. I was having a little trouble seeing my feet and there was a bit of a drop. And I thought, 'How much longer can I keep doing this?' And you never know. You either stop too soon or too late."