Negative Time

I

When Samuel Wentworth heard that Arnold Rump was nominated, along with himself, for the Academy Award, he put down his morning coffee, looked out the window at the long stretch of buildings beneath his Manhattan penthouse, and wondered if his whole life had been a series of mistakes.

Wentworth was a well-respected documentarian. For the last 15 years he’d been arguably the best living documentarian alive. He’d already won three Academy Awards for his work, revolutionized the art with his neoclassical decadence, and worked from the same basic premise for the last thirty three years: documentary was simply a high art form of propaganda. And the further he’d taken this premise toward its logical extremes, the more successful his work had become. But this morning, over coffee, a newspaper, and a fine cigar all of that was about to be challenged by Arnold Rump.

II

Arnold Rump was born on June 16th, 1971, son of Gordon and Samantha Rump. They were a modest family living just North of Boston, in the suburbs of Malden, Massachusetts. Arnold’s father was carpenter, and Arnold’s mother was a nurse. Arnold was an only child. They weren’t wealthy, but they were happy, spending cozy evenings together in their cramped little apartment. Arnold’s father was always building new furniture around the house, and Arnold’s mother was always reading to him as a child. Later, growing up, Arnold’s mother would sit with him in the evenings in front of the television, and they would discuss the programs they watched. From an early age Arnold was fascinated with television. More than anything though, he was fascinated by documentaries. His mother would find him up all hours of the night watching PBS, documentary after documentary.

III

Samuel Wentworth was born on August 23rd, 1941 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The son of two New York socialites, Wentworth grew up among well-known artists and celebrities. From an early age, Wentworth showed a talent for reading and writing. It was only when he reached his college years, however, that he began to pursue a career in film. His then college sweetheart, later to become his lifelong companion, Sheila Maxim, a talented young photographer convinced him he should try his hand at making documentaries. Wentworth, who believed in doing everything to the full, dived into the art with fervor. He studied the history of the documentary, spending days and nights watching film after film, taking notes, and in the meantime, writing a dissertation on the theory of the documentary. His dissertation,“Documentary and Propaganda: A study of the History of Filmmaking”, was published in 1965. It was greeted with much critical acclaim, and a few years later, Wentworth produced his first full-length documentary on the 60’s youth culture.

IV

By the time he was in high school, Arnold was filming his own documentaries. All his teachers said he had a wonderful eye, and a wonderful gift for telling a story. His journalism teacher said he was a natural. His photography teacher said he was the real deal. Arnold just said he was pursuing his passion.

Arnold would go on to receive a full scholarship to the New School in New York City, where he continued to follow his passion. Two years into his college career, he shot a documentary on the history of the East Village. This documentary premiered at a small film festival in the city, and caught the attention of documentarian giant Samuel Wentworth. After seeing the film, Wentworth arranged for a meeting with Rump, saying: “this kid Rump may very well be the future of the documentary.”

V

By the mid Seventies Wentworth was already a household name. His neoclassical, black & white documentaries were meant to strike an emotional chord with his viewers. He almost always hit the mark, winning him his first Academy Award for best documentary in 1978. When accepting the award, the host smiled, shook his hand, and said: “Wentworth, you know, you may very well be the future of the documentary.”

VI

One afternoon Wentworth took a car out to meet his agent. His agent confirmed the rumor. “They say this kid Rump really is onto something. He’s challenging everything you built. Call me paranoid, but I say this kid is gunning for you. He’s not just after your spot; he’s after your vision.”

His agent pulled out a copy of the Daily News. “You see what he says right there? -‘The documentarian who views documentary as propaganda is not an artist. He’s a dishonest journalist. If he’s any kind of artist at all, it’s nothing more than a con artist.’”

“Well…” said Wentworth

“Oh, it goes on. Look: – ‘Any true artist is dedicated to the truth. The documentarian bears the burden of relating history to the generations. A propagandist is a liar after the public’s reality. Such a man is no artist at all.’”

Wentworth’s agent looked up. “There’s more, too. See:”

“I’ve heard enough.”

VII

From the very beginning Wentworth and Rump had differences, but Rump was learning a lot from his mentor. He was the most talented person Wentworth had ever had the pleasure of tutoring. Rump caught onto the nuances of the craft like he was born knowing them. “Like he just had to recollect them,” Wentworth said of his protégé.

VIII

The first time Rump shot a documentary in color, Wentworth was upset. “Color upsets the balance. It lets the viewer see things that you as the director might not see. Documentary, more than any other film is about holding your viewer hostage. You have a perspective you’re coming from, and you cannot leave anything up to the viewer. It is a dictatorship, a documentary.”

IX

In 1999, Wentworth and Rump had a public falling out. Wentworth called Rump, “an arrogant young upstart.” Rump said Wentworth was, “a dinosaur in the industry. One that needed to die off so younger artists could breathe.” Each announced they were at work on a documentary of the other.

X

When Arnold Rump heard that Samuel Wentworth was nominated, along with himself, for the Academy Award, he put down his morning coffee, looked out the window at the long stretch of buildings beneath his Manhattan penthouse, and wondered if his whole life had been a series of mistakes.

 

-Whit Frazier, 2005

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