Humanitarian Gifted People

 

 

Humanitarian Gifted People

Alfredo Zotti

This paper is dedicated to the famous writer and film director, Anthony Minghella, who was a humanitarian gifted person. I will briefly look at some of his work and his life in an attempt to define a humanitarian gifted person. Essentially, a humanitarian gifted person is one who uses his/her talents and resources to help humanity and attempts to reduce social inequality and injustice. Stigma is complex and prejudice has to do with a lot of things, including the way in which we treat our women and children in society and the way in which migrants and ethnic groups are often discriminated against in hidden, yet powerful, ways. Anthony Minghella desired a better world in terms of social justice. His work reflects this desire. His desire for social justice, plus the fact that he was a multitalented artist, is what made him a humanitarian gifted person. Anthony, like all humanitarian gifted people, made films that reflected his own view of the world, rather than embrace or buy into the status quo.

The Genius of Anthony Minghella: Cold Mountain.

For quite a long time, I wanted to write something about “humanitarian gifted people.”  This presented tremendous problems, because the concept of “giftedness” is complex and controversial. Some say that all humans have potential to be gifted; it all depends upon their upbringing and life situations. Others say that there are truly gifted individuals who have innate abilities that cannot be developed over time, but are genetic.  Some refer to giftedness in terms of artistic skills, mathematical genius, scientific genius and so on. Others take into consideration sensitivities, multiple intelligences, and a variety of other traits and characteristics such as IQ scores and other tests. For example, a person with an IQ of 130 to 160 is said to be superior or gifted.

To add to these perspectives and complexities, intelligence is not single, but multifaceted. And there are numerous theories that try to explain intelligence. There is widespread agreement today that there are eight intelligences which we use in order to assimilate and learn about the world around us. These are: intrapersonal, interpersonal, bodily kinesthetic, linguistics, logical mathematical, musical, naturalistic, and spatial visual. We do not all develop equally in these different areas and, what distinguishes “humanitarian gifted people” from others is their developed emotional intelligence which, I believe, leads to compassion, altruism, and the desire to achieve a better world.

If it were up to me, I would only use the term “gifted” to define a person who has developed abilities in one or more areas of knowledge and uses this knowledge and abilities to help humanity.  I believe that the term “gifted” is used in the wrong way. Can we call a person who has 160 IQ gifted, just because she or he is a mathematical genius? For some people, the answer is “Yes,” but for me it is “No.” Why not? Let’s take into consideration the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who engaged in a mail bombing spree for 20 years, killing three people and injuring 24 others. His IQ was 167 and he was a mathematical genius. He was a child prodigy and gained a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and became a professor before his 30’s, teaching at Barkley University. However, what Kaczynski lacked was social-emotional intelligence and for this reason, he had no consideration of other people’s sufferings.

Psychiatrist Kazmierz Dabrowski stated in his writing that knowledge does not equal understanding and that understanding is more important than knowledge. Understanding requires that we learn about life from experience, that we learn to put ourselves in other people’s shoes before we criticize or exclude anyone and that we develop compassion, empathy, and wisdom. Kaczynski, in my opinion, was not gifted at all and we should not use the term “gifted” to define someone who has tremendous abilities in mathematics but no empathy for humanity. I think that the word “gifted” should be reserved for a person who uses their abilities to make the world a better place, to help others and in this sense, I believe that empathy and compassion are necessary elements of a gifted person. However, because the term “giftedness” is often used to refer to talents or special skills, I use the words “humanitarian gifted people” to ensure that we understand that my idea of a gifted person is, above all, a humanitarian individual.

Rather than rave on about what a “humanitarian gifted person” is, or how to define it, it is best to give an example and for this, I have chosen the famous and multi-talented writer, musician, and movie director, Anthony Minghella.  I tend to agree with those who propose that humanitarian gifted people may have lived many previous past lives and that because of this, humanitarian gifted people have had an opportunity to develop spiritually and morally. I tend to think that the Universe is vast and that there are many life forms out there and that we may be reincarnated and experience life in a variety of different worlds, in different forms. But it is just speculation, nothing that can be proved.

Anthony Minghella was a genius, and there is much evidence to support this. His gifts and talents where abundant and he could handle stressful situations and remain calm, in total control. He was a multitalented man who had tremendous empathy for people and who loved life. What made him a humanitarian gifted person, in my opinion, was his constant concern for the people and for social justice ideas. This concern was not a burden for Anthony, but a passion. He once stated that:

“We’re terrified of aging, we’re terrified of dying, and we don’t want to think of our lives in simple terms…Our humanness is being extracted from us, but our Chinese chicken salad tastes really good.”

That humanness is being extracted from us is an absolute fact. We are becoming alienated from nature and have become confused about what is morally right and what is morally wrong. To give an example, Minghella stated:

“It was interesting when we were previewing the film – 4,000 men died in a hole at the beginning and no one batted an eye, but you take the goat and cut its throat and the whole audience is devastated. Our sense of violence has been reduced to video games. We don’t understand that it’s flesh and blood involved. And we also don’t accept the degree to which we’ve created a world in which the cycle is distant from us.”

In the movie Cold Mountain, there is a scene where an old woman kills a goat to feed herself and Inman. She kills the goat in a very humane way and the goat hardly feels any pain as she keeps caressing and thanking the goat for having served her well. It is clear that the goat was also her pet and that the mountain woman respected this animal.  I don’t see anything unnatural in killing an animal in a humane way, causing the least pain possible when it is absolutely necessary. And it was the same when Ruby, in the movie, pulled and cut the rooster’s head.  Some people do eat meat, but the fact is that we are so used to buying meat from the supermarket that we forget that that piece of meat, prior to being packaged, was part of a living animal. Yet as Anthony argues, there is a scene where 4,000 soldiers are blown up in the air by a tremendous explosion and die in a hole. Today we are so used to seeing soldiers and civilians killed in video games and on the news that somehow we forget there is flesh and blood involved. We become desensitized from seeing humans get killed. So it is okay to kill 4,000 soldiers but not okay to kill a goat in order to survive? This is how we are becoming confused about morality and how we are becoming alienated from a natural life.

Anthony Minghella was a respected director of theater, cinema, opera, radio, and television – as well as a producer, screenwriter, playwright and chairman of the British Film Institute (BFI).

Although he made an impact on all the above fields, he identified himself as a “writer” who was able to direct and produce. His passion was writing and he was never happier than when he was writing alone, working away on some project.

As a writer, he believed that a good writer does not tie her or himself to a totally mapped out route.  He believed that the work needs to breathe so as to find its own inner life. As an artist, I know quite well what this means. Any creation, be it a piece of music, a sculpture, a poem or a novel, needs to find its inner life. Following the Quantum Theory Principle, there are unpredicted elements of the creative process which need to be part of the work.  Some of the best characteristics of a work may be created by accident. Nevertheless, the artist needs to see that there is something in the accident or unforeseen event and be able to capture it and integrate it into the work.

To give an example, I was once composing an arrangement and I needed a specific chord (harmony) to create that something special as a transition from the initial part of the music piece to the development of it.  I could not come up with a chord and, in fact, I had to leave things for a while. The next day, a heavy book fell on the piano keyboard, creating the dissonant chord that I was looking for. Frantically, I tried to reproduce the exact notes. This was a welcome accident but it is my artistic taste and intelligence that enabled me to recognize it and integrate it into my work.

If one were to stick to a rigid and totally mapped out route, the work would not gain its inner life. It would be a dead and mechanical work of art. As the artist creates, she or he must be open to possibilities so that the work speaks. Intuition, heart intelligence and open mindedness are all part of the creative process.

Following this philosophy, Anthony would read a book several times – take Cold Mountain, for example – and then he would forget about the book and never refer to it again. In this way, the adaptation had a life of its own and was never the faithful adaptation.

Anthony had developed a personal philosophy that guided him and his work. For example, as a director, he was aware that once a script is written, the work of the writer is finished and the director does not need to carry the script in order to refer to the words back and forth. It is better if the director leaves the words to the actors who should carry the script in their minds. Better for the director to ensure that the actors mediate the story and the message to the audience in the best possible manner.

Anthony was a very humanitarian, warm and reasonable person who understood the human condition well. Because his philosophy and working methods were so unique, all of the actors who worked with him felt loved, respected and understood and did their best to give him the best performance of their life.  When you give the best and you love people, you usually get the best in return. This much Anthony knew and it was quite natural for him to love and support people. In fact, he would say that he was sick and tired of movies portraying people who cannot get along, who get divorced at the first opportunity. Anthony was interested in second and even third chances, in people helping each other and the understanding that we are all human and likely to make mistakes, sometimes even serious mistakes. This does not mean that we give up on people. Anthony was looking for communication between people and he believed that by portraying tolerance, understanding and compassion in movies, the message would spill into the wider community. People can learn from movies. The movie with Peter Sellers, “Being There,” comes to mind here. Some movies can teach us a lot about life and Anthony’s movies did just this.

An interesting question that comes to mind is this: how did Minghella find the right actors for his characters? Did he audition many actors before finding the right ones? I believe that Minghella, working with the actor, aimed to find aspects of the personality of that actor that matched the character and vice versa.  Working in this way, the actor and the character merged into one, giving rise to a magnificent performance. I think it was more a matter of adaptation than selection. I see part of Nicole’s personality in Ada; I see part of Jude in Inman and part of Renee in Ruby. The parts that they were playing were relevant to their real-life experiences.  This was the genius of Minghella, to find something relevant that was special to the actor so that she/he could play that part so realistically well that it was hard to distinguish real life from acting.  And that was not difficult, given that Minghella had such good actors available and such a rich script. It all happened naturally. And in this respect, I feel that the performances in “Cold Mountain” were special, more so than those of “The English Patient.”  But it is all a matter of personal opinion, of course.

Anthony was interested in genuine friendship, in real people and was against the human tendencies to hide behind a mask. If we understand Anthony, I feel, we can begin to understand all humanitarian gifted people like Nicole Kidman and many others.

Anthony was a deep thinker who studied life and people and who desired a better world. He had come to the conclusion that people do not communicate with each other as well as they should and that, in present society, our humanness is being extracted from us. We are becoming alienated from nature and all that is natural.

Vernon Cook, who was the projectionist at the local picture house on the Isle of Wight, remembers well that Anthony’s concentration level was extraordinary for a boy of his age. Vernon remembers how he spent hours glued to the screen and how he liked Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne.

It is possible to learn about life by watching movies. A great part of our knowledge comes from the entertainment media, especially movies. What we learn by watching movies will depend on the quality and content of the movie and how well we absorb information and interpret what we are watching. It is true that movie directors and actors have tremendous power to influence our younger generations. Anthony was well aware of this fact, and he used his movies to send a clear message that there is nothing more important in the world than love.

He created films that call for social justice. He was particularly interested in the clash of people from different classes and cultures and he was aware that humanity desperately needs to find pathways to better communication. He was opposed to the idea of war and he saw nothing honorable in it. Indeed, his movies show the harsh reality of war without the embellishments usually found in war movies. It is true that these ideas went right against the grain of the Western ideology, where we romanticize the war, seeing it as an honorable cause, a necessary evil. Under this ideology that supports war, love must be sacrificed and it must come second to the honorable war. But the ideology that the war is honorable and that it serves a purpose is only there to convince people that they are fighting for a good cause and that, if they lose their lives, they will be remembered as heroes who died to protect their country. In “Cold Mountain,” we see the young people happy to be going to war: “We got our war!” they say, without having any idea of the horrors and desolation that await them, an experience that will change their lives. And this has not changed to this day, where young soldiers die in Afghanistan, in a war that many would define as useless. In Minghella’s movies, we see the reality of war, the unnecessary loss of lives. War comes from ignorance, from lack of wisdom, and, most importantly, from the patriarchal system, an aggressive system that is causing much trouble in our world.

It is true that people have tremendous influence on our life as they become real figureheads in our lives. My grandmother, for example, told me that women are more practical than men; so, too, Anthony’s grandmother told him how the world works: “… men are weak, women are strong; women survive, men are helpless and stupid.” Anthony was well aware of the fact that women are constructive and able to work together, that women know how to communicate. Women care and are nurturing beings. Most men, on the other hand, are destructive, quick to engage in violence and quick to let their emotions rule their undeveloped intellect and spirituality.

Anthony was well aware of the powers of the mind. The human mind can achieve incredible things. It can shape reality through vision, desire and perseverance. Anthony had achieved incredible things in his life and he was able to work well with people.  For me, one of his greatest achievements was his movie, “Cold Mountain,” which cost $79 million to make. At the box office, it made almost $96 million which was not such a great return compared to other major movies. However, “Cold Mountain” is a legacy, not just a movie. It is a film that is a work of art that has a message for humanity.  And along the way, it has generated employment, inspired many artists, and left us many wonderful works of art in the shape of visual scenes, songs and music.  It is a movie which continues to inspire. It still inspires me to this day.

It was not easy for Anthony to persuade financial backers to take a risk with his movie. And a risk it was. The movie contains scenes of horror, cruelty and violence. There are good reasons for this, and that is to show the naked reality of war. One is left to wonder, after seeing such film, if a war, any war, is ever justified.  And while many may mistakenly think that this is a movie about doomed love, this is not at all the message for me. The message is that love is powerful and everlasting because it continues to exist, even after we die. Unfortunately, even some experts did not get the messages of this movie. For example, Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel called it the worst movie of the year. One must wonder about the kind of criteria that Schickel applied to come to such a conclusion.

The movie presents a challenge for the viewer in that it show the many pitfalls of our social order where women are the organizers, those who keep things running smooth, in a dysfunctional world, while men engage in destructive behavior. Though the movie is set in the period of the American Civil War (1861-1865), much of the story is about life and still very relevant in present times. That is the genius of Anthony, who adapted the novel set in the 19th century, and written by Charles Frazier, and made it so very relevant to our present situation.  “Cold Mountain” is a film which metaphorically speaks of the world and, for me, “Cold Mountain” is our world, in many ways a cold world where the human spirit constantly struggles to survive. Given the intellectual depths of this movie and its emphasis on what is wrong with our world today, it is no wonder that MGM pulled out over budget concerns, fearing that it would just be relevant to a sophisticated audience. But the fact is that each scene of the movie and each frame of the film is a work of art and, although some scenes are shocking and horrific, they are also undeniably gorgeous.

MGM had no vision because with a movie of this caliber, based on a Pulitzer price winning novel, with a wonderful cast of actors (Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Renee Zellweger, Kathy Baker and many other wonderful actors); with professional people involved like cinematographer John Seale and editor Walter Murch; and with artists like Sting, Jack White, Alison Krauss, composer Gabriel Yared, and many other dedicated professionals, how could such a movie go wrong?

Fortunately, Miramax came to the rescue to ensure that “Cold Mountain” would become a reality. The people at Miramax were aware that with such a cast and an Oscar winning director like Anthony Minghella, it was inevitable that “Cold Mountain” would win nominations.  And, indeed, the movie won eight Golden Globe nominations.

Anthony, just like any good artist I know, had some self doubt. In an interview he stated that, “If I had a studio, I’d never make one of my films.” He knew that his films were respected, but he believed that there was no appetite for them. He was probably right in that most people I know do not get the movie at all, except that they like the scenes which are stunning and the general artistic feel of the movie.  Fortunately, Cold Mountain did appeal to a big enough audience and despite his self doubt, Anthony knew in his heart that he had to ensure “Cold Mountain” would become a reality. He had a vision and that vision had taken a life of its own, nothing could stop it now.

The vision and effort of Anthony had paid off and now with Miramax behind him and a cast of wonderful actors and artists, Anthony begun filming in Romania, given that the real Cold Mountain location, in North Carolina, was unsuitable for shooting the right scenes.  The legendary production designer, Dante Ferretti, built the town from scratch. And while Anthony found a pristine and naturally beautiful spot in the mountains, his problems were not over for he was to experience, while filming, some of the worst weather Europe had seen in many years. This, however, was no obstacle for Anthony, who proceeded with calmness and level headedness to deliver what I feel is one of the best movies of our times.

In an interview, Anthony argued that when we read a novel, we automatically make a movie in our mind. We create a picture of the characters and the environment in which the novel unfolds. This kind of personal movie inside our head, which we fabricate automatically, is different from person to person. When we read Oliver Twist, we all have our own particular image of Oliver in our mind and, similarly, our mind fabricates all sorts of pictures about the story as we read.

As Anthony argued, he had done just this with “Cold Mountain,” he had flipped out of his head the images he had created in his mind while reading Frazier’s novel so that now people could see what he had seen, his first impressions. According to Anthony, the story teller dominates the writer because the story teller interprets the story and in this position, she or he adds personal viewpoints and beliefs to it.  In this movie, there is a lot of Anthony in the characters and in the way he narrates the story. I feel that his personality, integrity and concerns with the world came through as I was watching it. Having read the book, I can see how Anthony had interpreted the story to include his personal concerns about life.

Cold Mountain

This is the story of a Confederate soldier, Inman, who leaves the battlefield to return home to the woman he loves but barely knows. However, there are many other stories running through the movie, a common Minghella trait which, as Renee Zellweger comments in an interview, makes this also a movie about change, about redefining what is important in a person’s life and about developing as a person in challenging times. In this sense, although we are not in a physical war today, we are caught in a kind of psychological war against the system and ourselves, were alienation and spiritual bankruptcy is affecting humanity in ways never before imagined. In this sense, the movie is relevant to our lives.

Inman’s character reflects a conflict between moral precepts and the horrific realities of life. When the movie opens, Inman is wounded and psychologically scarred by memories of war. The ghosts of dead soldiers haunt him in his dreams and memories of Ada fill his days. Despite his psychological torments, Inman remains an honorable man and his conscience guides his actions. Troubled by the many unnecessary deaths, to which he does not wish to add, Inman is willing to resort to violence, if necessary. Inman is a worrior who fights moral as well as physical battles and I feel that Minghella highlights the fact that even Inman can take just so much, after which there is a breaking point.

As a hero, Inman justifies aggressive behavior in the name of protecting innocent people. Consequently, Inman’s journey is ideological as well as geographical. Inman’s travel book, Bartram’s Travels, is a spiritual guide which inspires Inman, with idealized visions of home, to return to his loved one and his hometown.

On his journey back to his home as a deserter, Inman comes to question his crusade as a confederate soldier (the confederation was a group of Southern American states engaged in the war against the North, during the Civil War, to protect the abolition of slavery trades), especially when he saved the life of the young black girl who had been raped by the preacher who crosses his path. The preacher, although he had committed a terrible act of rape, repents himself and Inman comes to forgive him. Forgiveness is part of Inman and something that I feel was one of Anthony’s tendencies.

An interesting, and personal, observation is the impression I get that Inman was caught in a dilemma towards the end of the movie. I felt that, on one hand, Inman was very much in love with Ada and wanted to spend a life with her, a clean and honorable life; and on the other hand, there was his desire to want to end it all, to end all the suffering he had experienced. It seems to me that Inman was psychologically scarred, perhaps to a point of no return.  And it is here that I sense the complexity of Anthony’s mind and his sense of morality, his disappointment with the world, a world where inhumanity is the order. There is a great desire to want to change things so as to bring about justice and decency. In Inman, we see the sensitive man, the man who cares about people and the world and who finds it extremely hard to cope. While Inman cannot control the world, he seeks to control life inwardly, questioning his past and speculating about the future. Inman goes through a spiritual journey and we see that the character develops from a tortured and disillusioned man to a calmer and self-aware person. After much suffering, having fought in the war and having experienced many atrocities, Inman finds temporary relief with Ada and his love for her. Finally, Ada and Inman are able to completely love each other but unfortunately, both for Anthony and Frazier, escape from suffering and the cold world can only be attained by death.

In Ada we also find Anthony’s concern with being vulnerable, sensitive and afraid. Ada is a defenseless, creative and sensitive young woman and in a way, this is also a metaphor for the sensitive side of humans, the vulnerable and creative side that is also part of men. This does make sense if we consider that in the past, and possibly still today, certain professions were associated with femininity, or a weak emotional character, such as playing the piano or being a poet or a writer. Creativity is not usually associated with the masculine world and that is why both creativity and the creative process are much neglected and misunderstood in our society.

The character of Ada goes through a substantial transformation, from a middle-class educated young woman, who has learned about life by reading books, to a practical person able to engage in manual labor and appreciate/experience the hard life of struggling Americans.

Both Inman and Ada wanted the world to correspond to their ideals before they could accept it and they both had to learn to accept it regardless, understanding that it is impossible for the world to be in line with one’s ideals. This is an existential problem, I feel, and I cannot here cover the complexities of it. We all struggle to accept the world and the more we accept it, the more we give up on our ideals. At the same time, it is important to work towards change within our limited capabilities. Ada, in the movie, embraces change; she embraces both joy and pain and she learns to trust her instincts. In so doing, Ada learns to engage with both the emotional and practical demands of life.

When Ruby comes into Ada’s life, Ada finds both a friend and a role model. Ruby is a strong and practical woman and, as a character, is there to reveal to the audience the distinctive traits of Ada. But more than that, Ruby completes Ada’s character. Both Ada and Ruby learn from each other and grow together, Ada learning to cope and accepting the harshness of life and Ruby learning to forgive and to be compassionate.  This is a wonderful example of how friends can help each other and where one lacks in certain skills or attitudes, the other can make up for it. In Ruby and Ada, we find the community spirit.

The movie is about life and, indeed, Anthony stated in an interview that he did not watch his movies once completed because there were parts of him in the movie that could be disturbing to him to watch, he felt naked. I know what he meant by this.  “Cold Mountain” is a kind of film that one can watch and watch, over and over again, and every time there will be something new to find. There is no doubt in my mind that this was not just a movie, but a work of art and it must have been wonderful to be part of such a living work of art.

To briefly conclude this section, I will say that one of the most important things I have learned from watching interviews with Anthony Minghella is that an artist cannot and should not be concerned with the end product. What happens once the work is finished is not in the control of the creator. Will she or he be recognized? Will the work lead to success, financial security and recognition? What Anthony believed is that an artist must focus on and enjoy the creative process per se, not be concerned with whether or not the work will lead to fame and fortune.  As Anthony stated, he did not grow taller or smarter or change in any way after winning the awards for best director. He was still Anthony. What I feel he was trying to say is that awards and recognition are important to a certain extent, but do not make the artist nor have anything to do with the artistic and creative process. Indeed, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life – to his brother. His art was never recognized for what it was until his death. Today, we recognize him as one of the most influential visual artists of our times. What Van Gogh did was to enjoy the creative process, to enrich his life and to learn from it. In this sense, it was a spiritual journey.

As an artist, I understand what Anthony was trying to say and I have taken his advice to heart. Today I create and I enjoy the process. I share my art with people and most of my art I show on the internet, thanks to our computer technology. What happens with my art is not in my control. All I can do is to enjoy the creative process and share it, hoping that it is valuable to someone in some way. My art is an expression of who I am and my main concern is to learn about life through my art and to attempt to help people while I am inspired and involved in the wonderful creative process, which is a true gift.

For those artists who are able to understand it, it is the ability to create that is the real treasure, not the awards, the recognition, or the fame and fortune. Yes, recognition and fame may be nice, but we should try not to get caught up in it and develop an addiction to recognition and what we make out of our art. This is not what art or being an artist is all about. To be an artist is to engage in a wonderful life journey of self discovery and attempt to make the world a better place for future generations. This is what an artist is and this is what I have learned from Anthony.

Anthony once stated that: “If you cut me open, you find that I am a writer, there is a sign that says: ‘writer’.” Anthony was a writer, a screen writer or playwright who could direct. And he was one of the best directors who ever lived. But for me, screenwriting or playwriting is very much connected to directing the work. When the writer writes, he or she creates the scenes in her or his mind and should be able to have a total and general idea of the finished outcome, not in complete details but in a basic, yet complete, sense. I feel that Anthony would have been good at anything he turned his attention to. He was meticulous, a perfectionist, and took his time to come up with extraordinary work.

There is no doubt in my mind that Anthony was a humanitarian gifted man. The depth of his ideas, his intellectual genius and his compassion and empathy for the world and the people were something that has truly touched me deeply. This was a highly complex man, a true artist who created in order to embark on a journey of self discovery and help people along the way. His life may have been short, but he left behind an incredible amount of work of excellent quality. His movie, “Cold Mountain,” for me his best movie, is about life and hope for the future. For where there’s life there is hope. Where there is hope there is love and love is the most important thing in this life. Love never dies. Indeed, though Anthony died back in the year 2008, his love and his spirit are still with us today and we can find them whenever we watch one of his movies, especially “Cold Mountain.”

Anthony had a very unique way of looking at life and I think that I understand his perspective because, in many ways, I feel that I think in a similar fashion. He was aware of the fact that people tend to create unnecessary problems in their lives and their work.

Some information on Anthony Minghella (1954-2008)

Anthony Minghella was born in Ryde, Isle of Wight, on the 6th of January 1954. The Isle of Wight is one of the 83 countries of England located in the English Channel.  Slightly more than half of the Island, mainly in the West, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).  In the year 2001, the population of the Isle was slightly over 130,000 inhabitants and today it is probably over 150.000 inhabitants.

The island’s industry encompasses  the manufacture of flying boats (hovercrafts), boat building, sail making  and testing  the British space rockets. The largest industry on the Isle of Wight is tourism.  The island has a strong agricultural heritage, including sheep and dairy farming and the growing of arable crops. It is the home of the red squirrel; the home of the Isle of Wight International Jazz Festival (Bestival); and the Isle of Wight Rock Festival.

During the Seven Years War, the island was used as a staging post for British troops departing on expeditions against the French coast. During the Second World War, the island was frequently bombed. With its proximity to France, the island also had a number of observation stations and transmitters, and was the starting-point for one of the earlier Operation Pluto pipelines to feed fuel to the Normandy landings.

It is likely that the rich war history and natural beauty of the isle had some impact on the ideas of the young Anthony who later became concerned with the concept of  war which featured in his movies. To quote Anthony, he once stated that:  “The only lesson to extract from the civil war (or any war), is that it’s pointless and futile and ugly, and that there is nothing  glamorous or heroic about it. There are heroes, but the causes are never heroic. “ As I will argue in the book , in his movie “Cold Mountain”,  Anthony shows the ugliness of the Civil War, the unnecessary suffering and the horrors of people dying.

As a teenage boy, Anthony had some difficulties. He was the son of ice-cream factory owners: Edward Minghella, who was Italian/Scottish, and his mother Gloria (nee Arcari) who came from Leeds but whose ancestors originally came from Valvori, a small village in the Lazio region of central Italy. Even though Anthony was born on the Isle of Wight, and was therefore English born, he felt that kind of discrimination that migrants usually feel.  It is a fact that Italian families tend to keep many of their customs and pass them on from generation to generation even in the case where they have lived in a new country for generations.  As a migrant who lives in Australia, I know many families of people who were born here and are Australian but whose parents were Italian. It is easy to tell that their parents were migrants because of the food they eat, the way in which they dress and their mannerism  which is wonderful , but  often much more colorful, passionate and articulated than that of Anglo Saxons.  Anthony did feel some discrimination and he wrote: “I feel more at home in America because everybody there is from another country.” Yet even in America there is always some discrimination.  This concern for social justice is something that Anthony shows in many of his movies, especially Cold Mountain.  It is important to state that social injustice was a concern for Anthony and that his desire was to make the world a better place. His work reflects this desire and the fact that he attempted to help people, by calling for the end of social injustice, something that he also expressed in his movies and writings.

As a teenager, Anthony felt neglected by his parents who were working hard to build up their ice-cream/café’ business and a string of kiosks located on the island.  In the noisy environment of a busy business , where the family kitchen also provided the produce for the business, Anthony felt a complete outsider and he desired to be anywhere else other than Ryde. But the fact is that, as he probably discovered in later years, humanitarian gifted people  will always feel outsiders, as if they do not belong. It is extremely hard to find a group of like minds when your attitude is so different and so at odds with social conventions. This sense of not belonging is not only social or physical but mostly intellectual. Anthony was an intellectual giant. He once stated: “The feeling of not belonging, of not being entirely worthy, of being sometimes hostage to your own sensibilities. Those things speak to me very personally.”  Unfortunately, I feel exactly as Anthony did. That feeling of not belonging is part of “humanitarian gifted people”.

As a tenager, when Anthony came home from school, he had to serve at the café tables or spend his evenings helping to deliver ice cream in a van that had traditional chimes. I know how he felt because when I was a teenager I also worked in my grandfather’s business. I know how out of place Anthony felt.

Feeling frustrated, misunderstood, and lonely, Anthony soon grew into an angry teenager. As he recalls in an interview he once heard his parents talk about him and were worried, and felt that Anthony was such a looser. At his Catholic school, St John’s College, he was labeled the most disruptive child and left by mutual consent.  And in an interview, he does say that he was a bad egg, a rebellious young boy.  This is quite normal for gifted people or those who have a vivid imagination and are highly creative. If they don’t have enough stimulation, and feel tied down by the monotony of life, gifted people soon become troublesome to themselves and others. Highly creative teenagers may feel that the classroom suffocates rather than enable their dreams and Anthony wanted to be a painter and play music. He needed to express himself creatively. I was exactly like Anthony when I was a teenager and my problems were worse than his because my father was also an unhappy alcoholic. It has taken me a long time to get my life back in order and much suffering along the way. Going back to Anthony, his troubled teenage years did not stop him from going to Hull University to read drama. There he met the poet Phil Larkin and learned playwriting with successful screenwriter Alan Plater. He graduated with First Class honors and the peer and staff of Hull University best remember him for his flamboyant fashion sense.

Anthony loved the University life and indeed in some of his interviews he stated that the University had “liberated” and “empowered” (two words that he really liked) his talents and creativity. Yet, just like me, he was unable to complete his PhD (while I was unable to complete my Master Degree) possibly because, going by my personal experience, he found that he could not really write what he wanted to write in a PhD thesis. And just like me, he probably felt that, yes the University had liberated and empowered his talents and his creativity, but there is a limit to how Universities can help humanitarian gifted people, precisely because Universities are not designed to cater for humanitarian gifted students. Universities are institutions that reproduce and sustain the Status Quo, the Patriarchal system, which gives rise to so much social injustice, wars and various other problems. His PhD thesis was to be about the famous play writer Samuel Beckett who expressed the problems with the academia as follow:

“Spend the years of learning squandering

Courage for the years of wandering

Through a world politely turning

From the loutishness of learning”

“Gnome” from Collected Poems