John Cage Mushroom Hunting in Stony Point and 4'33"
Although Cage has been involved with over forty-three films, the two particular films that will be discussed are, "John Cage Mushroom Hunting in Stony Point," and "4'33" his most famous musical piece and an intriguing film. Both films aid to revolutionize the definition of film and music. I chose to examine them because they epitomize Cage, as a non-conformist.
The first film, "John Cage Mushroom Hunting in Stony Point" directed by Jud Yalkut in 1972, was re-edited from the original into a forty-nine second film entitled, "Mushroom Picking," Which included the following poetry from Cage:
"Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest
improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we're living, which is so excellent once one gets one's mind and ones desire's out of its way and lets it act of its own accord." (Cage, 1972).
This quote is Cage's character in a nutshell. I think that John Cage was a man that loved living. He found music and harmony in everything. He said that if something was boring for thirty seconds, try it for one minute, if it is still boring try it for two or twenty minutes, until you find that it is not boring at all. I wish I could have known Cage while he was alive because from what I have found in my research, he may have been the happiest man in the world. He is so admirable, not only in finding the beauty of randomness, but that is was content in just sitting and being aware of his surroundings. His views of life are so similar to my own, that while I was researching him, I feel like I have also found a part of myself.
John Cage was not interested in content or context, animation, or special effects. He was interested in finding the viewer's reaction. That was his character, and is reflected in the films he was involved with. He was not a filmmaker; he was a philosopher that discovered what was really important, and what was artificial. He was interested in emotion and harmony.
Cage was an expert in the field of mycology, the study of mushrooms, so it made sense to Yalkut that Cage appeared in the film. (Marice) What the viewer sees in the film is Cage opening a basket that is filled with Portobello mushrooms that he shows the camera and then he closes the lid and walks away. The narration fits beautifully with this film because it suggests that people are so concerned with desires that they are missing out on life. I think Cage was trying to tell us that we should not change or improve the world; we should enjoy what is right in front of us. I also believe that Cage shared my own believe in fate, and that everything happens for a reason.
In 1951, Cage went to the anechoic chamber at Harvard University to hear silence. " I literally epected to hear nothing," he said. Instead, he heard two sounds, one high and one low. He was told that the first was his nervous system and the other his blood circulating. This was a major revelation that was to affect his compositional philosophy from that time on. It was from this experience that he decided that silence defined, as total absence of sound did not exist. "Try as we may to make silence, we cannot." He wrote." (Solomon 1998) It was this knowledge that inspired Cage to compose 4'33".
In the film, we see Cage performing his 4'33" in the middle of the street with lots of people around him. He is sitting at a piano holding a stopwatch with a blank look on his face. I think he was listening to the talking, movement, and noise around him, that in his own mind had rhythm, and was a beautiful symphony. Cage said, "Which is more musical: a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?" (Williams 1990) This quote, although humorous, is also the John Cage ideology. This film, I think captured the essence of who John Cage was.
In conclusion, John Cage and his ideas have made a tremendous impact on me. His films "John Cage Mushroom Hunting in Stony Point" and "4'33" help to exemplify Cage's personality and characteristics.
--Elisabeth Breitling, 2003
Cage, John (1991). John Cage an Autobiographical Statement.
Kostelanetz, Richard A. (1970). John Cage. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc.
Maue, Kenneth (1992). What John Cage Did. interact.uoregon.edu/MediaLit/wfae/readings/Cage.html
Smith, R. Marice. Please Don't Eat The Mushrooms!
Solomon, Larry. (1998). The Sounds of Silence John Cage and 4'33".
Williams, Joe. (1990). John Cage Quotations.
Yalkut, Jud. (Director). (1972) John Cage Mushroom Hunting in Stony Point.