“It started when I simply wrote a narration that interested me and challenged myself to fit it to a film, using existing objects in nature, without animation techniques of any kind. I did the photography myself for very little money….It represents an almost abstract attempt to illustrate philosophical thoughts and ideas with strictly photographed—not manufactured—images. What, it asks, is truth, and what is illusion? It draws its examples from obvious things like the movies’ illusory ‘motion,’ and the way railroad tracks seem to converge to a point on the horizon.
In 1964, Vidor made Truth and Illusion: An Introduction to Metaphysics, a short film in 16 mm where he expounded directly on his view that man is God and mind is all. He answers that old question, “When a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if no one hears it?” with a resounding no, and maintains that a fake multiplication table would be evil. Vidor insisted that we have complete control over our own consciousness and we can’t blame anyone or anything for our feelings, which can be changed through a (simple?) act of will. This short shows Vidor’s intellect expressing itself as clearly as possible, and it is very valuable as a summation of most of his themes. Before his death, he looked into the murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor, tried to make a movie about James Murray, and acted in James Toback’s Love and Money (1982). In his lifetime, he was acclaimed and attended retrospectives of his work, but his reputation is not as high as it once was. Maybe that’s because his films are both too simple and too sophisticated for easy digestion. In his autobiography, A Tree is a Tree (1953), he states his case in a nutshell:
I believe that every one of us knows that his major job on earth is to make some contribution, no matter how small, to this inexorable movement of human progress. The march of man, as I see it, is not from the cradle to the grave. It is instead, from the animal or physical to the spiritual. The airplane, the atom bomb, radio, radar, television are all evidences of the urge to overcome the limitations of the physical in favor of the freedom of the spirit. Man, whether he is conscious of it or not, knows deep inside that he has a definite upward mission to perform during the time of his life span. He knows that the purpose of his life cannot be stated in terms of ultimate oblivion.
Dan Callahan, November 2006, Sense for Cinema