Sol Worth’s Perception of the Students

“He did not understand what film was about”

Sol Worth expressed frustration when his students didn’t seem to understand what filmmaking was “about.” In a recorded and transcribed conversation with Richard Chalfen,  he explained an interaction between himself and Al Clah:

So he, he just refuses to use an idea and I think he’s hiding behind this artist shit and uh, being an artist and that he just will not deal with anything else….and I pressed him very hard, and of course it didn’t do me any good, uh, because I guess the Navajo are as stubborn as I am…I deliberately pushed him. I knew he was angry, and I felt that I, that there were several things I wanted to do. One, I wanted to put him down a little bit, because he was not my equal and he was not your equal and I didn’t want him to think he was…and two, – I really feel that he did not understand what a film was about…There are five other students there and I see absolutely no reason for allowing, you know, for allowing him to do what I…wouldn’t allow them to do. I mean, I would criticize them for not having an idea and I’m fighting with each one…(1)

In this context, we believe that the reference to inequality refers to the teacher-student relationship rather than racial, ethnic, or class inequality.

“The guy is just talented.”

Whether he believed that a student showed an aptitude for filmmaking or not, it is clear that Worth assessed their talents by holding them to the standards of his own filmmaking tradition. Later in the same recorded and transcribed conversation, Worth remarked to Chalfen that,

…if you think that he (Johnny Nelson) has picked all of this up from me, – of course it’s right. In other words you can’t say he didn’t because he didn’t get it from anyone else. Uh, but the others didn’t certainly. So it has to be him. The guy just is talented. And damn it I’m certainly not going to take somebody like Johnny Nelson and not tell him anything. I mean that’s crazy (2).

On a similar note, he wrote,

I also believe that filmmaking itself seems to be a universal. Suzy is every bit as good as one of my students. She has the gift as does Johnny. So in a different way does Al (3).

“The cliche artist”

On another occasion, Worth wrote,

I looked at his rushes with [Al]. The same old stuff as he had done before. The mask moving – the shadows – a man walking holding a camera. He is the most like an Annenberg student. I would be critical and criticize his footage even it would be adored at UCLA. At any event he’s the cliche artist – filmmaker and I must record my lack of sympathy for this unorganized and not too creative “arty stuff.” A Vanderbeek he’s not. A Scorpio Rising, he’s not (4).

About the Tsosie sisters, he remarked to Chalfen in the previously mentioned conversation that, “I don’t agree that Maxine is doing well….I feel that…Maxine doesn’t know what-the-hell she’s doing and neither does Mary Jane” (5).

“This film transfer teaching”

Worth’s fixation on the students’ talent was, in part, connected to his interest in transferring technology across cultures. He wrote,

Is there a point in the transfer of a communication conception when one can say it won’t work – and how does one do this with a person in another culture. I can see many problems to telling Mike he is not cut out to be a filmmaker. He can say to me “I never said I was.” Or he can say “so what.” Or “I gave up a job to do this.” Or, “You said it was for 8 weeks, you never said I had to be any good.”

This may be a lesson for us in case we repeat this film transfer teaching process in another culture. We were probably so anxious to get people that we would have taken anyone. Maybe what we should do is to try to collect an inventory of the successful students so as to have a way of knowing what kind of people in another culture are capable of learning a communication conception, or of having an innovation transferred to them (6).

This quote could indicate that Worth was not primarily concerned with learning about the Navajo and what their style of filmmaking revealed about them.  He seems to have been focused on learning how to successfully transfer the “correct” version of a technology across cultures.