MODEST AND FAST (by Amabel Holland)

Mary Russell

Stanley Kubrick directed thirteen features over the course of a forty-six year career, most of which are widely regarded as masterpieces. Folks can quibble over which ones, of course – I personally don't much care for A Clockwork Orange – but it's a career full of "major" works.


By contrast, Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed forty-one features in thirteen years. And while arguments can be made for this film or that one – I'm very partial to Lola – I don't think anyone is going to argue that every single one of these films are a "major" work.


But all of them are interesting, and most of them succeed on their own terms. Those terms are less ambitious than Kubrick's – more intimate, more persnickety – and certainly less palatable to most tastes.


When I started making films, I didn't want a career like Kubrick's; I wanted one like Fassbinder's. Now, this shocked everyone who both knew me and had at least a passing familiarity with Fassbinder – so, you know, all of six people – so, there's a couple of important caveats. Fassbinder's pace was fueled at least in part by an awful lot of drugs, leading to his death at age thirty-seven from an overdose of cocaine and barbiturates. So, while I wanted to work quickly, I didn't want to work that quickly. And by all accounts he was a mess of a human being: volatile, violent, mercurial, possessive, malicious. These qualities infuse his work – giving them a restless and bracing energy – but to say the least they're not qualities I would ever want to emulate.


So, I wanted to be like Fassbinder, but a gentle, sweet version who kept her D.A.R.E. pledge – probably the kind of goody two-shoes he would despise. Which is to say: I wanted to make a lot of small, interesting films rather than a fewer number of big, ambitious ones. I wanted each thing to fully express something singular and specific, rather than try and say everything within a single film.


I made a couple films after high school that didn't go anywhere, and then Mary and I made a few films together that also didn't go anywhere: hardly a prolific career. Eventually of course we fell into board games, where we got significantly more traction. And to date I've designed, I dunno, fifty-some published games.


Most of these succeed on the terms I set for myself. Mostly these terms are fairly modest. I'm never, for example, going to create the "definitive" game on the American War for Independence, but I was able to do a game or two about the importance of supply, and how that dictated the operational tempo. That's an aspect that isn't likely to get nearly as much emphasis in a broader or more comprehensive treatment. If someone wants the game on hoplite warfare, they're probably going to make a bee-line for Herman & Berg's Hoplite, which models in some detail the interplay of various unit types and weaponry. But if you want a game that just models the advantages and disadvantages of hoplite formations – to the exclusion of practically everything else – then I'd like to think my With It Or On It does that in an accessible and intuitive way.


And probably there are, or will be, bigger and heavier and more nuanced games about American politics and social activism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but I think This Guilty Land and The Vote: Suffrage and Suppression in America, perhaps the two games of which I am the proudest, make their specific arguments clearly and forcibly.


They're two games that complement, and also argue with, each other – two different approaches, with different conclusions, to the same underlying foundational issues. And I think perhaps that's what most draws me to creating a large body of work, that capacity for the games to argue with and spin off of each other, to contradict and to question. It's also convenient for me because instead of committing to saying a single thing, I am free to change my mind and adapt. Each game I make is a reflection of the moment in which it is made: of my skillset, of course, but also of my thinking and my values, things that of necessity should always be evolving.



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