Peter Sellars at the Kabuki 8

The San Francisco Film Festival gave a forum yesterday to theatre director, opera-creator and impresario Peter Sellars to deliver a “State of Cinema” address inside a large theatre at the Kabuki 8 plex. Sellars is a man who lives in his own mystical-energy field and within his own ecclesiastical realm, but who sees and shares everything from within it. It was a stirring, touching, soul-lifting thing to sit in the fourth row and just absorb every brilliant thought, whether you agreed with every last word or not.


Peter Sellars during yesterday afternoon’s speech at the Kabuki 8 — Sunday, 4.29.07, 4:35 pm

I recorded most of what he said, in two sessions. Here’s the second part. The sound is low and it would be best to listen with headphones, but this will give you an idea of what it was like.

What did Sellars say? That deliberately cruel and heartless things are inflicted upon the poor by the well-to-do, and that film is perhaps best considered as an agent of consciousness-raising and social change, and that art’s highest function is to prepare the public for what is possible, even if it may seem impossible at the time.

Sellars is professor of World Arts and Culture at U.C.L.A., where he teaches “Art as Social Action” and “Art as Moral Action.” Yesterday’s talk was an extension or expression of these themes.

At one point in discussing some institutional cruelty Sellars began to weep, and although I wasn’t feeling the moral outrage as acutely as he was I was moved by that fact that he was feeling it and then some — his emotionalism is one serious torch. Immense artistic accomplishments, worldwide respect, orange shirt, blue beads, spikey hair, Harvard education…the man is a trip.

Sellars talked a lot about the last year of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and what he was really consumed with as his life drew to a close, and that this was far more fascinating than the “frat-boy ” shenanigans that Milos Forman and Anthony Shaffer’s Amadeus depicted.

Again, here’s a 22-minute portion of what he said.

15 thoughts on “Peter Sellars at the Kabuki 8

  1. Great news for fans:

    Sellars was unable to attend the Athens premiere of “Nixon in China”, organized by the Greek National Opera and staged at the Athens Concert Hall last Friday (4/20), as he was busy working on the staging of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. On this production he worked with acclaimed video artist Bill Viola, raising expectations of a “21st century Tristan,” according to the local press.

    http://grhomeboy.wordpress.com/2007/04/23/%E2%80%98nixon-in-china%E2%80%99-final-performances-in-athens/

  2. Great news for fans:

    Sellars was unable to attend the Athens premiere of “Nixon in China”, organized by the Greek National Opera and staged at the Athens Concert Hall last Friday (4/20), as he was busy working on the staging of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. On this production he worked with acclaimed video artist Bill Viola, raising expectations of a “21st century Tristan,” according to the local press.

    http://grhomeboy.wordpress.com/2007/04/23/%E2%80%98nixon-in-china%E2%80%99-final-performances-in-athens/

  3. Exactly why cinema is still the also-ran, poor-relation, ghetto art form – outsiders are still defining what it is and what it isn’t.

    All due respect to Sellars, but why the fuck should actual cinephiles want to listen to yet another “high art” maven pontificate about a form they do not embrace and/or practice?

    Did anyone call him on the supreme irony of giving a lecture about “art” and then speak ill of another artist’s work because it veered from established facts? Here’s hoping Forman verbally bitch-slaps him for such hypocrisy. This would be akin to Warhol going off on Vonnegut because the Dresden section of “Slaughterhouse Five” didn’t depict the Germans accurately enough.

    I have no problem with Sellars exhorting on art in general, but if the topic was the “State of Cinema” then the organizers of the FILM festival needed to look elsewhere for their speaker.

  4. Is that Peter Sellars or Sideshow Bob?

    So why has Sellars’ one theatrical movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez, dropped so completely off the face of the earth?

  5. Great news for fans:

    Sellars was unable to attend the Athens premiere of “Nixon in China”, organized by the Greek National Opera and staged at the Athens Concert Hall last Friday (4/20), as he was busy working on the staging of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. On this production he worked with acclaimed video artist Bill Viola, raising expectations of a “21st century Tristan,” according to the local press.

    http://grhomeboy.wordpress.com/2007/04/23/%E2%80%98nixon-in-china%E2%80%99-final-performances-in-athens/

  6. Great news for fans:

    Sellars was unable to attend the Athens premiere of “Nixon in China”, organized by the Greek National Opera and staged at the Athens Concert Hall last Friday (4/20), as he was busy working on the staging of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. On this production he worked with acclaimed video artist Bill Viola, raising expectations of a “21st century Tristan,” according to the local press.

    http://grhomeboy.wordpress.com/2007/04/23/%E2%80%98nixon-in-china%E2%80%99-final-performances-in-athens/

  7. Did anyone call him on the supreme irony of giving a lecture about “art” and then speak ill of another artist’s work because it veered from established facts?

    I’d say there’s a pretty big difference between slagging someone for veering from established facts and slagging someone for veering from established facts in a way that makes the story less “fascinating.” The former would certainly be an odd criticism considering the source, unless Henry Kissinger and Pat Nixon actually performed in The Red Detachment of Women.

  8. Is that Peter Sellars or Sideshow Bob?

    So why has Sellars’ one theatrical movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez, dropped so completely off the face of the earth?

  9. Sellars on art–nutty but fascinating. Sellars on politics–stupidity and bottomless ignorance.

    The best part is he spends his life working in a field highly subsidized by the well-to-do, and enjoyed almost entirely but the well-off. If he wants to truly help the poor, he could tell his patrons to send it to the poor who really need it. But I’d rather he be an artist, and wecan simply ignore anything he has to say about politics.

  10. If Sellars believes that the aim of art is moral consciousness-raising, and he targets, with his own art, the well-to-do overlords who own and control everything, there is no irony or contradiction. The bank is where the money is.

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