Kim Jong-il’s ‘On the Art of the Cinema’ is fearlessly stupid

Every once in a while you happen upon a book that changes your life. A work of art so beautiful, so well-written and heartbreaking and magical that when you finish reading it you have trouble coming back down to Earth. You walk around in a haze. Everything seems like it’s underwater, far away. You’re unable to realize that you’re in public and you forgot to put on pants.

This is not that book.

This, instead, is On the Art of the Cinema by Kim Jong-il.

Yeah, that Kim Jong-il. The dead North Korean dictator.

I know, right? Not only was he the greatest golfer in the entire world, a lover of Hennessy, ignorer of mass starvation and literally a god—he was also a writer of, like, literature.

While the people of North Korea were starving in the dark, and daddy Kim Il-sung oversaw the near-total destruction of an entire country, Kim Jong-il was busy writing an enlightening tome on how to use cinema to fuel the revolution.

The revolution of what? I can’t say for certain. Because, though Kim is repetitive and repeats stuff a lot in this book because he writes the same stuff over and over, it’s hard to parse what he’s really trying to say.

So far, I understand this: Cinema is one of the highest artforms. Blah, blah, blah.

We can use it in order to push the revolution of, I don’t know, art or something like that. Maybe the political revolution? Blah, blah, blah.

Cinema is visually stimulating, so we should use it to our benefit. Something about the seed of the plot has to be realistic to develop the underlying themes.

Camera angles have to mimic real life, and actors have to be good at their jobs. Something, something, be loyal to the Party, long live Dear Leader.

The end.

There are a lot of moments in this book where you just want to climb to the top of Paektu Mountain, pray until Dear Leader materializes and then smack him. It’s like, bruh, we get it. Good art has to be realistic, go tell that to J.R.R. Tolkien and shit.

But in all seriousness, this book is predictably weird. It reads like the insane ramblings of an angry teenager who just read The Communist Manifesto for the first time and really wants to marry his hope for the great revolution to his love for Clerks.

He just wants his parents to stop being such fuckin’ squares! He doesn’t want to get a summer job! Summer jobs are for capitalist pigs!

There’s also an entire section titled, “Originality is the Essence of Creation” which fits well into my communist-teenager-doesn’t-understand-irony metaphor.

On the Art of the Cinema was, if the title page is to be believed, initially published in 1973, which makes the 329 pages of repetition somewhat less ridiculous.

I mean, writing about the necessity of film as an artform only, what, 70 years after film became the opiate of the masses, isn’t that behind the times.

Not to mention Kim Jong-il was only a crazed dictator in training at the time. Give him a break.

The version I have was printed by University Press of the Pacific which, according to their website, also publishes German Air Force Airlift Operations, The Love Letters of ­Victor Hugo 1820–1822, Boys in Fatherless Families and The Women Who Make Our Novels, among other choice titles.

Their “About Me” page is weird fake Latin along the lines of “lorem ipsum dolor” nonsense you might find on template websites. I’m not entirely sure they’re a real company, to be honest. It makes me wonder if I just inadvertently funded North Korea’s efforts to be even more insane.

The idea that I just possibly gave money to one of the most bat-shit insane governments ever to exist is disturbing beyond words.

I think…I think I’ll go lie down and think about what I’ve done. Don’t read this book. It’s not very well written, it’s repetitive and might just be morally reprehensible.