Machiavelli and Me / by Gary Popovich

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I took a break to do other things, and all I could think about was Machiavelli’s sharp clear-eyed relevance to this time we're living in. I’m working on a new video called Machiavelli and Me, a piece about power and leadership.

Over the years I’ve worked with actors on several films and videos, more in the spirit of talking compositional arrangements, less often evoking characters with some sort of psychological realism. This time I’m using characters from a canon of works blasting about the complexities of leadership and the use of power, and force.

I put together an ensemble of actors for the project. Two of them I’ve worked with before; some of them I’ve been watching for years; some of them are new to me.

(l to r) Jordin Hall, Brefny Caribou, Chris Whidden, Tatiana Deans, Alice Lundy, Dylan Evans, Lesley Robertson (Felix Beauchamp and Erik Helle will join us too, and likely a few others)

(l to r) Jordin Hall, Brefny Caribou, Chris Whidden, Tatiana Deans, Alice Lundy, Dylan Evans, Lesley Robertson (Felix Beauchamp and Erik Helle will join us too, and likely a few others)

We’ll be shooting in front of a blue screen, which means I will be putting all kinds of backgrounds behind them: Medici opulence, domed cathedrals, sunsets, wars, forests, cities. In front of these backgrounds the actors will perform bits from Shakespeare and many other writers up to the present, mixed with bits from Machiavelli, and some improv. The actors will at times appear in the background, and will at times interact with themselves as foreground and background.

We’ll go outside to generate a bit of our material. We’re going to do a small segment of Julius Caesar (and other things including improv) in the midst of the financial district in Toronto, while some of the actors engage with the people who happen to come by. In addition to my camera, some of the actors will be recording with their cellphones.

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar. Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall. London, 1802.

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar. Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall. London, 1802.

I’m also asking this brave group of thespians for homework. On their own (with minimal directorial input from me) they will go home and do something with their cellphones, something personal, around issues of leadership and power.

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Why Machiavelli? Because of the rules of the game the world still lives by. Machiavelli was clear about how to acquire power and how to hold it; the methods include deadly force, deceit, violence, crushing entirely one’s opposition. Machiavelli was quite clear-eyed in his ability to see that under the present (his time and ours) rules of world politics these brutal principles are operative; and only foolish leaders (who would lose power) would do otherwise.

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.

The video is an incarnation of these ideas; and it ends (hopefully) begging the next questions that need to be asked: how else might we organize our world, together? are countries necessary? what are the grounds of good leadership?

The world systems may pay lip service to democratic principles and human rights, but it’s an endless stream of wars, slavery, occupation, race and class divisions and injustice, resource exploitation, labour exploitation, etc. Until we evolve out of this, Machiavelli’s (satirical?) advice is still at play de facto.

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Maya, my blog inspiration, told me that if I was going to blog, it’s a good idea to keep it regular.  Ok, I’ll try.