February 28, 2005
"He took himself off the pedestal with a shotgun."
My latest filmmaker interview is now online at my reviews page. This one was with Dan Harris, the director of Imaginary Heroes, a film I had a mixed reaction to, but which I greatly enjoyed discussing with Dan (via e-mail, as he's currently in Sydney). The paragraph from which the quote above was excerpted rang especially true with me.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:25 PM
February 27, 2005
Tonight is Oscar night, and the only mention I'm going to make of them (I think) is that I very much enjoyed watching this short film nominee: Nacho Vigalando's 7:35 In The Morning. It's nothing profound, but it's very entertaining and very clever, in a very pitch black sort of way.
I didn't get to watch the Independent Spirit Awards this afternoon, but I was following along online intermittently, enough to know that most of the best films lost. Going along with this trend, the Dear Pillow crew didn't win - but I get the sense that the whole 'It Was An Honor Just To Be Nominated' saying rings especially true in this case.
Far better than any awards shows: I made up for missing The Wayward Cloud by watching Tsai Ming Liang's Goodbye Dragon Inn with Yen this evening. But more on that later.
I need to re-learn French.
Posted by David Lowery at 3:22 AM
February 25, 2005
The Press section is sort of under-construction; it will be revised once we start getting some (hopefully not terrible) press. To that end, we've begun what I guess could be considered our marketing campaign, sending out DVDs to all the attending press at SXSW (and also at the Philadelphia and Cleveland festivals). It's an expensive venture, but you've got to spend money to - well, in this case, not to make money but just to create a substantial enough buzz to get the seats in the theaters filled. We also just had about 1000 postcards printed up, and we're going to have some 11x17 posters made en masse as well (we're too poor to get nice 27x40 versions). We're going to Austin a week in advance to hang them up/leave them laying about/etc.
Ever since the SXSW schedule (which now has our trailer included with it) went online, we've received a lot of interest from a lot of sources (including a few other festivals). Many of them have commented on how impressive they think the website and trailer are, which is nice to hear; I'm just afraid that they might decide, after seeing the film, that the website and trailer are better than the movie they're advertising. I guess we'll find out over the next three weeks whether that's the case or not.
In case you're one of the few people who doesn't get our e-mail updates, here's the interview the four of us did with eFilmcritic.com. Regarding that picture of us - it was funny at the time, and still is, but I wonder if people who don't know us are going to think we're incredibly pretentious and narcissistic. Oh well. I guess we actually are pretty pretentious, when you really think about it.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:44 PM
February 23, 2005
Also in the revamped category: my reviews page, which now has stronger code and, more importantly, its own URL: www.reversingthegaze.com. I guess that first title stuck.
As a sidenote, my first review on the newly-redesigned-yet-still-cheerfully-geeky AICN is up: a recap of all the films I saw in Berlin. I was still a bit jet lagged when I sent them in; thus, apologies to Campbell Scott for writing his name backwards.
To begin with, a few links courtsey of GreenCine: first, that most brilliant of modern cult films, The American Astronaut, is at long lastavailable on DVD. Trust me, it's the black and white best sci-fi musical you'll ever see. Second, the new issue of Synoptique is out, and it's comprised almost entirely of very worthy tributes to the late, great Susan Sontag.
I've recently, finally, started reading Sontag's work; she was always on my short list of nonfiction that I knew I had to read, but it wasn't until the most recent installment of exchanges between Matt Clayfield and myself that I finally made good on my intentions. I'm still progressing through the latter half Against Interpretation, her first collection of essays, but the best way I can describe the first two entries in the book -- the titular essay and it's follow-up, On Style - is, for lack of a better or more appropriate word, thrilling. I could quote incredibly relavant passages from these works all day; in lieu of that, at least for the time being, let me just suggest - no, insist - that you pick them up yourself.
Every year, the main section of this site (although this blog is almost inarguably the main section these days) undergoes a fairly substantial series of revisions and refinements. The latest improvement is now online. While I've maintained (and, indeed, amplified) the general aethetics I've always found representative of my style, I've utilized a simpler design that is more introductory than expository. You'll also notice that I'm phasing out the actual Road Dog Productions aspect of the site in favor of a more personal focus - something I've been leaning towards doing for quite a while.
I have a few things I need to correct/finish, but for the most part, it's all set. Comments and feedback are welcome/requested.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:33 AM
February 20, 2005
Robert Altman turned 80 today. I hope my brain and creativity hold out for as long as his has.
Sort-of in celebration, I watched his 1977 film Three Women this afternoon. It was one of the most frightening films I've seen in a long time, and would make an excellent triple feature with Bergman's Persona and Lynch's Mulholland Drive. And the connections between the three films are certainly far from tenuous; Altman claims Bergman's film as an inspiration for his own, and also explained that the entire story came to him in a dream. Likewise, Lynch has suggested that the inspiration for turning his failed TV pilot into a feature also was based on a dream he had. All three films, of course, are about two women who grow close over a period of time - so close that they somehow switch personas. All three feature stunning performances from their lead actresses (Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek, Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman, and Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring). Of the three, Altman's film is the most subtle, which makes the terror of its climax almost (if not quite) more shocking than the film break in Persona or (most definitely moreso than) the discovery of the corpse in Mulholland Drive. Another viewing or so, and it might just become my second favorite Altman film (after McCabe & Mrs. Miller).
On a completely unrelated note: the trailer for A Scanner Darkly is amazing - it appears to be a perfect realization of Dick's novel (particularly in regards to the scramble suits, which would never have worked so well in live action).
Posted by David Lowery at 11:10 AM
February 19, 2005
I'm back, and awake. Thank god I have another big festival to get ready for, or I wouldn't know what to do with myself...but more on that later. For now, here's the requisite lowdown on the Berlinale Talent Campus.
Unlike, say, the Sundance Labs, the Talent Campus is not project-centric for most involved (nor, with 540 participants, could it be). Rather, it is simply a gathering of dedicated, like-minded individuals - a concentration of artists with a creative chemical reaction. There were four applicants chosen to produce a short film over the week, and three chosen to participate in the scoring competition, but their experiences aside, the Campus was all about communicating, networking, learning, and/or just hanging out with new friends. And I did make a few new friends. And that wasn't too terribly hard to do, seeing as how everyone there was there because they loved making movies - although I do wish I'd been slightly more outgoing.
The best moments of the week were...
a.) The Kubrick exhibit, as guided by Christiane Kubrick (still as lovely as she was in Paths Of Glory) and Jan Harlan. I did indeed have tears in my eyes throughout it. After the tour was over, I spent another two hours in the exhibit, just soaking it all up. I mean, can you imagine gazing into the eyes of the actual Star Child prop? Enough said.
b.) Chris Doyle. He was there for two days and was sorely missed after he flew off to begin work on Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's new film. He had one panel to himself, participated in another, and the rest of the time he hung out in the cafe at the House Of World Cultures, chatting and giving out advice and, of course, drinking beer after beer after beer. A crowd of devoted followers constantly surrounded him, and he loved it. He was the warmest, friendliest guy imagineable, and is in person both as crazy as he comes off in his interviews and also incredibly lucid (when he wants to be) on the subject of filmmaking.
c.) Seeing Battleship Potemkin on the big screen with a live orchestra. I don't know if I'll ever be able to watch the film again after that. The standing ovation went on for at least ten minutes.
d.) Going to the Film Museum and seeing every original stop motion puppet from just about every Ray Harryhausen film ever. For me, that was even more exciting than seeeing the Maria robot from Metropolis or F.W. Murnau's test screening scorecards.
e.) Mike Figgis, Walter Salles and Peter Cowie discussing the use of music in film. I'd missed the earlier Salles panel on filmmaking in general, which was apparently wonderful - but this one was great, and Mike Figgis is awesome (even if the film he presented the next morning wasn't).
f.) The massive closing night party. To be more exact: chatting with Peter Cowie about Bergman films during the massive closing night party. He gave me his card and told me to let him know when my film starts getting reviewed.
g.) The very insightful panel on film marketing and festival planning, with a bunch of people whose names I don't remember except for Michael Barker, the head of Sony Pictures Classics.
h.) The panel on film criticism, involving Peter Cowie, Michel Ciment and Dai Jinhua.
The best part of the best of these panels was that the panelists generally regarded themselves on the same level as the audience; when Chris Doyle or Walter Salles talked about trying to get films made, they always used a first person plural - "we" or "us" - meaning, of course, that they regarded all of us as peers and not merely fans. Which was indeed the case - but it was still wonderful and gratifying to see that they acknowledged and embraced this (this was not the case with the event Ridley Scott was involved in, which would have been useless were it not for the undying charm of co-panelist Dante Feretti).
As far as the Berlinale itself went, we had access to free tickets to all the screenings after 6pm (they wanted us to attend the panels, of course). I tried and for the most part succeeded in seeing two films a day, focusing on works that a.) sounded promising and b.) that I would have less of a chance of seeing in a few months in the states (a la The Ballad Of Jack And Rose or Thumbsucker, which are both playing at SXSW). I didn't get to see all the movies I wanted to see - most noticeably and regrettably, Tsai Ming Liang's The Wayward Cloud, which I actually have an untorn ticket for - but I did see a fair amount, some of which were actually screened at the Talent Campus as part of various panels. These were:
- The Dying Gaul (dir. Craig Lucas)
Yes (dir. Sally Potter)
Asylum (dir. David MacKenzie)
Plastic Flowers (dir. Bingjian Liu)
The Goebbels Experiment (dir. Lutz Hackmeister)
Mars (dir. Anna Melikian)
Lost And Found (dir. Nadjeda Kosva, Jasmila Zbanich, Stefan Arsenijevic, Mait Laas, Kornel Mundruczo, Cristian Mungiu)
That Man: Peter Berlin (dir. Jim Tushinski)
Transamerica (dir. Duncan Tucker)
Tori (dir. Asano Tadanobu)
Coma (dir. Mike Figgis, et al)
The best of these were Yes and Lost And Found. I do wish I had seen Paradise Now, Tickets, Ghosts and maybe one or two of the many retrospectives, but there are only so many hours in the day.
I also saw a lot of shorts, including the Silver Bear winner The Intervention, directed by Jay Duplass, who I believe is/was from Austin, and whose feature The Puffy Chair will be at SXSW. He mentioned before the screening that the film cost 200 dollars. I couldn't believe it while I was watching it - how could you make a 16mm film of that length that cheaply? Afterwards, he explained it was shot on the Panasonic DVX-100A, and my jaw dropped. That's probably the best 35mm transfer I've ever seen.
Preceeding that short film was one of the minor failures of the Campus - a walk down the red carpet at the Berlin Palast. It was all fine and good, complete with cheering crowds who of course had no idea who anyone was, until we got to the end, at which point we had to turn around and walk back, because the short films we were all going to were all screening in a different theater. It was sort of pointless, although I think we all managed to end up on TV.
The closing night party was sort of crazy. It was the same free beer and free wine that was available every evening, but I think everyone just drank a whole lot more of it. I slept for an hour that night, and then set out for the first of three flights over the next 20 hours.
It was a great experience, and a great precursor to SXSW. I can't wait to go back next year.
All that said, I'm going to go back to bed. I forgot that I keep my clock at home set four hours ahead, and thus woke up after only four hours of sleep.
P.S. I took a lot of really bad pictures. Here are a few that are passable.
One of the omnipresent bears in Potsdamer Platz.
The House Of World Cultures, where the Talent Campus took place.
Bai Ling doing what she does best, which is being cute.
Chris Doyle, blushing.
Another one of Chris Doyle, just because he rules.
Me on the red carpet.
Waiting for the bus to take me to Potsdamer Platz to see some films. I remember being slightly tipsy at the time. Pink light courtesy of Arri.
The carpet at CineStar, notable for being made up of the screenplay for Taxi Driver.
Me in the airlock set from 2001.
Christiane Kubrick and Jan Harlan.
Christiane Kubrick leaning against Stanley Kubrick's collection of books on Napoleon.
Jan Harlan discussing how a certain mask ended up on a certain pillow in a certain favorite film of mine.
The closing night party.
February 15, 2005
This will be my last update until I return, I think (unless I have some time to kill during my layover in London on Friday, a date which isn´t nearly a far away as I´d like - I really wish I could change my plane tickets. I just had to mention the wonder that is the Berlin Film Museum - the most amazing thing imaginable for a cinephile (although that might change when I go to the Kubrick exhibition tomorrow). The amount of history on display is just...stupefying. There are a few props from a few films in particular that I could have just stared at all day. Of course, I´ll have more to say about that later, when I actually have time.
Other quick notes:
It´s been snowing profusely all week...
And I finally remembered to start taking pictures...
And Sally Potter´s Yes is the best film I´ve seen at the festival...
...etc. etc. etc.
February 12, 2005
It's interesting how much they encourage everyone to drink here. There's a Talent Happy Hour every evening (e.g. free drinks) at the House Of World Cultures. Maybe Chris Doyle will be there tomorrow after his lecture...
I've got my first really full day tomorrow, starting with a screening of a new print of The Battleship Potemkin with a live orchestra providing musical accompaniment. Then a bunch of lectures. Then more movies. Pretty soon, I'm going to be sleeping as little as I'm eating.
I really, really wish Deadroom had been accepted into this festival. And I'm going to stop writing now because this hotel computer is really annoying.
February 11, 2005
By the time I landed in Switzerland this morning, I had come to the realization that the one thing I'd left behind was all my information about the campus, the festival, transportation, and how to get to my hotel. Typical me.
Everything's been looking way up since then. Berlin is pretty darn swell.
I've been up for well over 24 hours now (and thus, I'm embarassed to say, I dozed off during the first film I went to), so I'm cutting this short. The actual Talent Campus begins tomorrow...expect more updates intermittently.
Posted by David Lowery at 4:06 PM
February 9, 2005
I finally had some business cards made up this morning:
I'll be heading to the airport in twelve hours. I've got my iPod stocked up with probably 80% of my records, which should be enough, and also with my screenplays in Word and RTF formats, in case I need them for some reason (I wonder if I should bring some hard copies, too). In my shoulder bag I've a stack of DVDs with my reel on them, and I'm currently burning a handful of Deadroom DVDs. I don't know what I'm going to do with these, exactly, but I am sorta hoping my usual shyness recedes for the next week or so. Yen mentioned something hyperbolic about a multi-million dollar deal...I'm just hoping I manage to say a word or two to someone without mumbling naively.
Last time I was in Europe, all I had to listen to was a portable CD player and various Radiohead and Outkast records to last the entire time, and I have wonderful memories of listening to Fake Plastic Trees as the plane took off from Rome. I'm planning on improving on that memory. Perhaps with Poison Oak, my favorite song off this new Bright Eyes album, and which incidentally /coincidentally sums up the emotional core of Rocketman with eerie accuracy, to the point that I can practically hear it playing over the as-yet non-existant end credits; which in turn reminds me how their last album, Lifted, was part of what inspired me to write that script in the first place, although it ended up going in completely different direction then. Cyclical things like that make me think of spirals, which reminds me that it's Amy's birthday today and you all should e-mail her and congratulate her on a quarter of a century of existence.
Anyway, I guess I should start doing some laundry and packing clothes and things now. I've got a pretty decent grasp on my intinerary for tomorrow, and a lot of it involves sleeping on the plane (nine hours to Zurich, two hours to Berlin), and also perusing the Berlinale programme to figure out what I'm going to try and catch. Next time you hear from me, hopefully I'll be in an internet cafe somewhere, taking a spare moment in between screenings/lectures/workshops/etc.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:45 PM
Last week when I mentioned that the solution to that confounding Deadroom trailer was probably right in front of me, I was right - as soon as I posted that, I went and spent the whole night cutting together a spot based around our key marketing image, which is probably the best stand-alone image in the entire film. That trailer is pretty much the same one that we shipped off to SXSW yesterday, for them to put on their online program. It turned out beautifully, I think (and I think we all agree) - and once again we're stuck with a trailer that's probably better than the actual movie.
Over the weekend, Yen cut a second trailer that felt much darker and more intense than mine. Although it turned out great, and although it was the same length as my cut, it felt more like a teaser trailer, and that was something we were trying to get away from. Incidentally, neither of them feature a single line of dialogue.
So the official version will be premiering on the SXSW site, and then both of them will be available on the Deadroom site after that. Although I suppose there's a chance that one or both of them might get leaked online beforehand...
Posted by David Lowery at 1:06 PM
February 8, 2005
I've had versions of this post in draft form for the past two days, and keep having to change it.
Today is Tuesday. Yesterday, Bright Eyes had a show at the Ridglea. The day before, on Sunday, James, being the good friend that he is and knowing how much I love them, called me to see if I wanted to take some food to Conor Oberst and the rest of the band at their hotel. You may remember that I mentioned they came by the Spiral Diner last time they played a show in town, back in the fall; and Spiral being the only place to get vegan food in the metroplex, we were pretty sure they'd come back this time. So I went with Bryan Norvelle (art/construction on Deadroom) and he and I, and subsequently James and Amy, all ended up getting on the guest list. Which made us - or, at least, me - feel important. The show was outstanding. Rather than describe it further, I'll just refer you to this New Yorker profile, which describes his show in Manhattan last week; it was pretty much like that.
We left them with a copy of Deadroom. Hopefully they'll watch it and not be turned off by the fact that it's the old, vastly inferior version. Although it is the version that got us into these various festivals, so I guess it's not too terrible.
Speaking of which, SXSW announced their official line up. There are a lot of must-see films - including ours, of course. Unfortunately, the synopsis they gave us is HORRIBLE! It doesn't make any sense. Hopefully it'll change when the final program is made available in the next few weeks.
I have a lot more to delve into before I leave in a few days, but at the moment I've got a script to finish co-writing.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:43 PM
February 6, 2005
"I try to aspire to the condition of documentary." - Mike Leigh to Lynne Ramsay in The Guardian.
(James is going to take the last line of this interview and adapt it to his own purposes. Actually, he pretty much already has.)
Posted by David Lowery at 11:59 AM
February 5, 2005
The brand new installment of the Ghostboy/Esoteric Rabbit Letters is up. This particular dialogue, initially sprung from my literary posting last month, quickly grew to deal with increasingly hard-to-define concepts (you can practically spot the moment when the rug was pulled out from under me), and as a result it is both more wide-ranging in terms of topics and, hopefully, more thought provoking than the last section.
Enjoy (I hope).
I, in the meantime, am going to go attempt to recover from Woody Allen's Interiors.
February 4, 2005
Posted by David Lowery at 2:28 PM
February 3, 2005
A New Introduction:
In the last issue of The Paris Review, an interview with Tobias Wolff contained the following exchange:
INTERVIEWER: Have you written reviews?
WOLFF: Years ago, a few. But it's not an efficient use of my time. A really good critic has a distinct voice. I didn't....The other thing is, the older I get, the more I'm aware of how hard it is to write a book, for anybody, and I really didn't like giving ungrateful reviews.
I felt an immediate tinge of recognition when I read that, especially since I, lately, have once again been weighing my own love-hate feelings towards my own critical writings, which are generally far from being appropriately critical. I give mediocre films too much credit and very good films a hyperbolic amount of praise, and my reason for this is stated in that quote above: I don't like being - find it almost impossible to be - ungrateful.
In some cases, sentimentality becomes a problem, too. I was watching The Sound Of Music the other day, and found myself quite unwilling to even consider its flaws; in such cases, I'd actually rather remain in the dark.
So, I came close to closing the door on my reviews altogether not long ago, but ultimately didn't for two reasons: one being that the status of film critic affords me certain luxuries, and the other being that, while I don't ultimately want to do this forever, I do want to be able to think critically and academically about film, when and if I want to; and I want to be able to express those thoughts in refined and lucid prose, when and if I want to. If nothing else, it's an endeavor of personal betterment, more than anything else (one which people are free to read, of course).
In addition, I still just love writing about movies (that may be part of my problem - I also love praising them).
In the past year (beginning, I remember, with my review of Dogville) I've made a definite attempt to increase the quality of thought that I put into the writing, and the quality of writing has increased accordingly (conversely, the number of pieces I've written has gone down). Continuing in this trend, I've now done away with the last vestiges of that longstanding, clunky HTML code that marked this site's inception; from this point on, my reviews will be located here.
I have a few coding kinks to work out, but it's nonetheless fully functionable, fully searchable. The title is perhaps temporary; it's simply the first cliche that leaped to mind, and suggestions are welcome. Thus far, I've archived (and made minor corrections to) all reviews written throughout 2004, with a few leftovers from 2003 included as well. I'll likely add a few more, but beyond that, consider this a clean - and henceforth gramatically, syntactically, stylistically and (hopefully) idealogically improved - slate.
A final note: I understand that film reviews and film criticism are two entirely different, although not exclusive, concepts; while I hope to lean further towards the latter with my future writing, I'll continue to generally identify these efforts with the former. In my mind, it allows me a slight window of opportunity for excessively praising Episode III in three months (speaking of which, have you read the opening crawl? It's awesome!!!).
A second final note: it's odd how a simply having a nice font and page layout make the writing seem substantially better.
February 2, 2005
A few minutes after my last post, we got a rejection letter from one of the festivals I'd long held out hope for getting into - the New York Underground Film Festival. Oh well. Two months ago this would have been cause for further devastation but at the moment it's not too hard to ignore it.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:44 PM
James and I had planned on finishing our script yesterday, but we ended up writing additional material to fill out the narrative instead. We wrote the scene in question with the intention of putting it just before the beginning of the last act; but once we finished it, it was almost immediately apparent that it would work better earlier on in the film. We changed its placement, and it did work better, strengthening both the central themes of the script and the overall narrative flow. It's interesting how this script has developed; so much deletion, so much rearrangment - and with every revision the story grows both simpler and stronger - and truer to the spirit of the source material (oh yes, it is an adaptation - in an abstract and yet very direct sense).
The Berlinale Talent Campus finally released their full curriculum. The good news is that it is full of an amazing array of programs and lectures; the bad news is that a lot of them allow very limited attendance, which is first-come, first-serve for the talent. There's one in particular that I couldn't bear not to be a part of; something that I anticipate being so amazing that it'll probably bring me to tears. I won't say what it is, so that I don't jinx myself - but if I make it onboard the bus to that event, rest assured I'll be writing about it later. I believe the entire program is available on their website, though, so you can try to guess which one I'm talking about.
In "preparation for the trip," I finally bought an iPod. Between the half of my record collection I've loaded up so far and the selections I stole from James, I've nearly filled it's twenty gigabytes (9 days of straight music, 3386 songs). It doesn't make sense how amazing these things are. I was going to write something about how iPods are more than mere technological marvels - how they are actual tangible extensions of their owners' personalities - an id in the form of an organically aesthete device - but Matt has coincidentally beat me to much of that punch.
And now back to this accursed Deadroom trailer, which has not yet made it past the minute mark - I keep starting over from scratch, trying out approaches which seem like they'll be better but never actually are. The solution is surely right in front of me - one of those forest-for-the-trees situations.
Oh, and we got into another festival.. This is the first one we've been invited to (or invited to submit to, at least). Incidentally, we'll be playing alongside Dear Pillow, which I'm looking forward to seeing again, and which will (hopefully) by that point have won an Independent Spirit Award.