Early FilmsEarly Films
Short FilmsShort Films
The Family AlbumThe Family Album
Nobody's BusinessNobody's Business
The Sweetest SoundThe Sweetest Sound

Wide AwakeWide Awake
First Cousin Once RemovedFirst Cousin Once Removed
56 Ways of Saying I Don't Remember56 Ways of Saying I Don't Remember
Letter to the EditorLetter to the Editor


1989 - 1991

January 31,1989 1:54 AM

What is this all about?

Why does knowing that I would one day do this make it all that much more special? Why is it especially pertinent that I intuitively chose to do it now, at this point in time, at this stage/phase of my life when (after THE FAMILY ALBUM) I am confident enough and synchronistically evolved enough to suffer the patience, to risk the paradoxes, and to confront the spirits of my maternal familial roots.

February 2, 1989 2:02 AM

I was slightly disturbed by my mother this evening. She asked on the phone why it was or would be necessary to bring up negative or unflattering aspects or comments about JC. Why can't we (she asked) just remember the good in him, his good deeds only. I responded by saying that we all are composites of flattering and unflattering characteristics and traits, and that a fuller understanding of both sides helps us to know a person. I stressed to her that I wanted to know who this person JC was. Of course I didn't mention to her that this very issue will ultimately be at the crux of the film itself, and infuses the element of risk throughout the process -- how to reconcile truth, mythology and fact with a sensitivity to the feelings of the living who have altered, distorted, and hybridized memory, emotion, story, reflection and insight into various convenient fictions -- some valid and appealing, most self-serving and facile.


Who am I as his grandson to burst into these sacred places and start rushing about making trouble, causing tears, opening wounds, exposing scar tissue, and raising the dead. My uncle Al said that he had a love/hate relationship to this project. That's the appropriate tension for all of us.

I am myself a character in this play. I am in it. Not passive, but actively seeking out and stirring up the water that on its shimmering surface still retains reflections of past motion and emotion and then calls me forward to jump in, dive in, swim around, and hopefully

touch the

February 9, 1989 12:32 AM

I had this dream on the morning of Wednesday, February 8, 1989.

I appears as though I have relived a version of the moment of his death.

I was sitting in a restaurant at a table. We (I don't remember who I was with) heard loud gunshots in sequence - wondering/looking about as to where they were coming from. Suddenly I look to my left and see that someone (a man) is shooting a gun (blanks, I don't remember thinking bullets) into a dart board inside the pub. My grandfather JOSEPH CASSUTO (I don't have reason to think or to remember that he was at my table) walks up to this man and asks him to stop the loud shooting. The shooter then (perhaps after a bit of back and forth between the two) hits my grandfather over the head with a bottle and he falls back hitting his head VERY HARD with a whipping THUMP on the floor. The action was almost as if in slow motion - the hard hit on the ground, his head hitting the floor. I was shocked. I thought how he must be very very hurt perhaps even dead. I walked or ran over to him, gathered him in my arms, cradled him and walked with him towards the front entrance of the establishment, where I came upon an airport type of limousine/van/car. It was empty and waiting. I asked the driver to take us immediately (EMERGENCY) to the hospital. Inside the van, I am literally holding my grandfather, enveloping him. He is awake. His face is soft, circa the 1950s (early post-war) period of his life. We make eye contact. He is not in obvious pain. I ask him how he feels. He says that he feels alright but I can see that maybe he really isn't. There is no blood. His face and physical appearance are of a much younger man, circa 1948-1955 or so (a period before my own birth) -WHICH IS THE PERIOD OF PHOTOGRAPHS I SPENT THREE HOURS SORTING THROUGH THAT VERY NIGHT PRIOR TO GOING TO SLEEP) I ask him (of all things) what year he went to Arizona and dressed up in the cowboy clothing. He said that it was in the early 50's but that he really didn't remember.

When we got to the hospital, a doctor told me to stop talking with him, that he was weak and hurt - that I was sapping his strength - sort of an admonishment. They took him away. That's all I remember.

July 22, 1989 1:37 AM

I am going about this project like a private detective, like an archaeologist, exploring the site stone by stone - in this case - letter/document by letter/document (18 boxes worth), notating any or everything there is to learn from each new bit of evidence. Circumstantial, tangential, mundane, provocative, curious - each detail is a piece of a puzzle - the image, size, scope and meaning of which is still and perhaps forever a mystery. I want to know and get a feel for the characters, their inter-relationships, how they evolve - who said what when, and maybe even deduce why. I want to lay out a geography so that every new clue fills in a bit of the map. In short, I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING and simply do not know any other way to go about doing it.

My grandfather, Joseph Cassuto left behind a mountain to climb. there may not even be a good view when I get there, but it is the journey that is the treat.

August 6, 1989 2:18 AM

P.S. Last night I had a dream of Ken Jacobs lecturing or teaching, (I was in the back of the room just listening and was then struck with the fact that he was) speaking in/with the voice of Harold Clurman. Jacobs was talking with Jacobs' body and mouth, speaking Harold Clurman's philosophy of Art* and with Harold Clurman's inimitable voice.

*That Art has to reach the pulse of life - shock the masses - challenge our implicit assumptions - be vital and move us. That art must be a living art even if it is hated, even if it appears crazy or risky. That art is all or nothing. That it takes no prisoners.

As I listened I knew exactly what he meant, as if those words were meant only for me, but that (AT THAT MOMENT) I couldn't fulfill them. -- but that don't you worry, eventually I Goddamn sure as hell will.

August 9, 1989 3:22 AM

I can't help it. I am transformed. My metabolism has shifted. I am a creature of the night. Something other. It is painful in that I am so out of sync with the diurnal world that each day I can feel my energy ebb and flow (fade) until the latter part of the early evening when everything clicks in and I can ride the surge all the way through until the late late hours of the morning.

August 17, 1989 2:59 AM

I have come to realize why he saved all of his letters. I give the reason by asking a rhetorical question: What would you do if virtually every letter that you ever received...

thanked you for some kindness you inflicted,

couldn't express enough gratitude for some gift you presented,

and in general wished you and your family a lifetime of happiness, special treatment in God's heaven, and the promise that you would never ever be forgotten, if for no other reason than they would spend the rest of their lives trying to find the words to convey, to fully convey their appreciation of you?

You might do what he did. You might save them as (if nothing else) a testimonial to yourself- a way of reminding yourself who you are - a form of currency - and - if you're lucky enough, someone someday might come along and read them and/or write about them and/or salute you, but at least remember you, who you were, what you did and how you were thought of.


This is absolutely fantastic really, this process I am undergoing. I am actually meeting this man in this way, digesting his ups, his downs, his sense of mission, his gifts, and of course, his tragic flaws. How many?/Not too many people get a chance to do this. Biographers and historians of course. But how many get a chance to do this about a relative, a parent or a grandparent with whom there are fabrics of connection -- actual and unspoken threads of affinity - sparks of cultural similarity and/or difference, familial pattern and mysterious unknowable genetic links.

August 24, 1989 2:51 AM

Who am I to claim ownership of "family property? Who am I to publicly disclose family information - to refute or explore dark or hidden or forgotten family mythology? To open wounds that have finally healed and TO MAKE SOME NEW INCISIONS?

To apply this "photo-therapy." What are my credentials? Who do I think I am?

December 17, 1989 3:11 AM

I need to create primary experience. I need to invigorate my life, actively absorb everything that derives from this quest, in order to grow into the more mature, wiser, and certainly more vulnerable artist that needs to report back to the rest of humanity with the story.

I can't help but believe that all of his material remains, his personal archives - that veritable mountain of stuff was waiting for me, was indeed planted for me, and that I have come to a plateau of my own destiny....The fact that I believe all of this is in itself a state of self-delusion, a self-fulfilling synchronistic fantasy. I am allowing myself to be drawn into it and have in fact gained attention and funding for a project that essentially lives in my head.

Sometimes I can't help but feel my grandfather is somehow watching all of this, somehow presiding over the events that have and will unfold. Sometimes I imagine that he is with his old friend Mr. Tojuro Kiba and several other Japanese friends, all of them eager to see me through. I feel protected - in the hands of the gods, so to speak....I can't help but remember that Mr. Kiba wrote to my grandfather, "surely God will bless you some time, sooner or later." Somehow this seems later like later.

January 15, 1990 9:15 PM TOKYO, JAPAN

Tres fatigue.

A sightseeing day to Kamakura, Hakone and environs. Bullet train home.

Shot six rolls of film today.

Some shots inspired.
Some shots habitual.

Somehow it all feels so detached. I come here like a fool, spirited grandson full of facts, details, insight, and questions, the ink barely dry off my pen and the guy died almost 16 years ago for gods sake. These people won't care. I'm fetishizing events, people, stories, and memories, that these people had no reason to think about as it was happening, let alone remember now.

March 24, 1990 6:35 PM

Transcribed from informal notes waiting in a car written on 2/20/90.

...My instincts after college took me away from the closed circuit/insular "ghetto" of avant garde cultism and clubism. I thought, as I still do, that I had to find my own way, assert my own hybrid solutions to ever more complicated and challenging projects.....

...I cannot make traditional form solutions to UNFINISHED BUSINESS [earlier title before INTIMATE STRANGER]. I must suffer the patience and anxiety of discovering and/or sculpting an original form for the film - frame by frame if need be - erecting my own miniature architecture.

...I am a personal filmmaker - one who tries to (who needs to) do everything - not out of gallant bravado - but out of a deep necessity to be present in the formation of the work at every turn, to savor the entire process of the film's making - and to tax, but thereby to expand, my own sense of encompassing and accomplishment

March 25, 1990 12:33 AM DREAM

There was a discussion about Zionism, Jews, or Israel (all a muddle at this distance) which then led to an Israeli connection to China.

I am then on my belly (stomach) under an ancient "oriental" stone bridge with very little room to move (hence on my belly) watching an Israeli (Jewish) man repair (or is it build) the bridge (a section of it underneath) stone by stone. The process was elaborate, requiring great patience and diligence on his part. At some point as I was watching, I got claustrophobic and wanted to climb out from under the bridge, but it was too narrow and too far to go to leave. Did I need to wait for him to be finished?

August 23, 1990 2:36 AM

I'm nervous but
I'm also thrilled
to be in this position.
To have evolved with the entire process of making the film to the point of discerning how to codify the various textual, linguistic and story-telling elements into a work that I am committed to being "exquisitely unique."

"Not knowing" what to do has allowed me the possibility of (re) inventing (for myself) a new documentary form. Of being open to a film that find its own solutions, that can solve itself.

Imagine that.

The film knows the answers. I must be tender enough to recognize and acknowledge them and then enact them.

August 28, 1990 3:18 AM

This is damned exciting.


But its also extremely painful

I am a prisoner sentenced for the duration of this process - as if I am overtaken by a shamanistic power. I believe the word is possessed - living with my mind subsumed with this closed (universe of a) circuit in a self imposed (and lonely) though essential isolation, sleeping from late in the morning to the mid afternoon completely out of sync with the world outside.

Loving it.

Hating it.

Needing it.


December 26, 1990 1:55 AM

This typewriter technique can become too intrusive and I must therefore be careful that I am judicious in my usage...There is a part of me that wants to go extreme - to use a bell/keystroke for each and every change of image/source!

This might be too much, but after all, when one is typing a letter, or typing a poem - romantic/imagist or even a haiku, ONE CANNOT ESCAPE THE INCESSANT CLATTER/CLATTER/CLICK/CLICK/SHIFT/BELL rhythms of musical accompaniment that inherently feed the very act of writing/typing itself.

March 4, 1991 3:29 AM

As I sit here editing, each time I hang a piece of film over and around my neck, I feel an ancient memory - that of the old Jewish custom tailors on either side of my family tree - grandfather (father's side) and great-grandfather (JC's father) -- and I know that I too am making a fine custom garment, exquisite and authentic, thread by each and every thread. The other male great-grandparents were either teachers or Rabbis. Thats what I am as I sit here making this film: a mixture of custom tailor and Rabbi.

July 9, 1991 3:18 AM

I fell into a time warp, my days no longer quantifiable and discrete - the filmic process become one elaborate and extended flow of effort.

No time to write.

My mind (remember "the mind is what the brain does") leaving language.