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July 27, 2005

I didn't get a chance to start Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men until yesterday, and I'm now about a third of the way through it. It's fast. And, somewhat suprisingly if not unwelcomely, very pulpish. The New York Times' review seems pretty accurate - "a darting movie-ready narrative," it claims, and indeed, its easy to see why Scott Rudin jumped the gun in snapping up the film rights.

The Times review also contains as a sidebar a lexicon of all the paper's criticisms of McCarthy's literature (along with its interview with the man himself, the only one he's ever given). I turned to this piece from eleven years ago concerning The Crossing, the novel that made McCarthy my favorite author, and reading it made me long to throw all these other words aside and pick my up old rainwater-warped copy again. I'd recommend the review to anyone curious as to why I hold his fiction in such high esteem; it includes enough text from the book itself to give an overall idea of its simple magnificence. The author puts it on the same level as Morrison's Beloved and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying - and while it's perhaps not as important a work as either of those, it more than deserves their company (interesting, too, particularly to me, are the comparison to Bunuel and Fellini).

This is all putting me in a good mindset to continue with (one of the many) tasks I've set at hand: a third (or is it fourth) quick polish on Henry Lee, this one to give the dialogue a much needed brush-up before I send the whole thing off to France. Some of it is too excessive; too blatantly archaic; or just plain bad. And while I do think I can write good and realistic dialogue, I've come to the conclusion that I am not a 'clever' writer; I can't craft spontaneity; sustained laughter heard during my segments of Deadroom notwithstanding, my attempts at aping the Wilder-Diamond style generally end up on the cutting room floor (or deserve to). Time to take a pre-emptive strike.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:53 PM

July 26, 2005

My brother Ben (visible in the first photo below) and I went on a research & development expedition this morning, studying the mechanics of things like airlock doors up close and taking a few hundred high resolution digital photographs of surfaces and such for future implementation.

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Incidentally, I meant to get up really early this morning to watch the shuttle launch on television, but it totally slipped my mind.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:12 PM | Comments (6)

July 25, 2005

Vaseline is so awesome! Too bad it's a byproduct of petroleum. And too bad Matthew Barney claimed it as his artistic medium of choice first. I've been stealing his idea all afternoon.

Now it's night. I've stopped drinking coffee late at night for the most part, turning instead to a press full of yerba maté to keep me up until just before dawn. It provides a less powerful but far cleaner and increasingly benificial sort of energy.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:55 PM

Brief thoughts on some experimental films:

Brad Mitchell's just finished his first short, Asterion, which is, simply enough, about a man going to the subway station and catching a train. It's an experiment in sound design, above all else, but the visual aspects of the film are pretty impressive in their own right. There are a few overt special effects, but what I really liked were the more obscure tricks - the digital camera shakes, the fragmenting, and one particular close up of skin undergoing some sort of transmutation that's subtly disturbing in a rather Cronenberg-esque manner.

* * *

I'd been looking forward to the release of Chris Cunningham's short film Rubber Johnny for some time; the website and trailer were enormously enticing, and it's overall been far too long since Cunningham's had anything new to offer. And although the film is categorized as abstract, the synopsis at the website gave me reason to be excited about the possibility of Cunningham applying his vision to a narrative of some sort.

To that end, the film itself was disappointing. The first minute or so is what the trailer is culled from, and that material is wonderful; like so much of Cunningham's work, it's both funny and unsettling, and I really admired the way he uses uncomfortably long takes and night-vision - essentially, home video aesthetics - to ground his effects work in reality. That all changes shortly after the opening titles. The music kicks in, the film takes a drastic change in tone, and it basically becomes a hyperkinetic Aphex Twin video. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing; it's a pretty great music video (if one were to watch it on various mind altering substances, it would probably be terrifying). But we already know Cunningham can make great Aphex Twin clips, and it's a bit of a letdown to see the creepy promise of those opening minutes undermined by something that, however cool and conceptually original it may be, is pretty unsubstantial.

It's not an expensive DVD, and that it's packaged with a book of artwork is a nice gesture to fans, given that the film itself is so brief; but this really is little more than filler, and would have been better suited for inclusion on a (greatly needed) second volume of Cunningham's collected works from the Director's Series.

I will say, however, that Cunningham is on to something with the night vision, a gimmick that's been underutilized by filmmakers. It has an inherently eerie, otherwordly quality to it (as anyone who's seen the Paris Hilton video can certainly attest to), due as much to the noise and gamma levels as the glowing-retina effect, that transcends its own potential tackiness. It probably should remain underutilized, but, like Pixelvision, its application has some very interesting possibilities in the dramatic realm.

* * *

This is where I'd write about Bodysong - except that it only just this morning arrived in my mailbox. Finally! I'm off to try to find the time to watch it.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:50 AM

July 23, 2005

I can hardly think of a more inappropriate follow-up to a post extolling the virtues of Ingmar Bergman's final masterpiece than one celebrating a film directed by Rob Zombie, but such are the dichotomies of my taste. The Devils Rejects is not a necessary film; I'm not a better person for having seen it; I didn't need to see what it contained, and by all means, if you don't appreciate hardcore horror films, you should stay far, far away. All that being said, however, it was strangely satisfying, and I am grateful to Zombie for making it just about as perfect as a film of its type can be. As much as I love Kill Bill, I think this picture has, in many ways, a great deal more integrity (they're comparable because they're both graphically violent throwbacks to grindhouse cinema - but Tarantino's film is endearing faux-grindhouse, whereas Rejects is the real deal). Zombie's mostly excerable House Of 1000 Corpses has been made up for in full.

There's a small part in the movie played by cult actress Mary Woronov. She's in another movie hitting DVD shelves this coming Tuesday: the delightful camp extravaganza Prison-A-Go-Go, directed by your friend and mine, Barak Epstein. Barak told me that there's a quote on the back cover of the packaging, pulled from a review by none other than yours truly. I suppose that's a conflict of interest, seeing as how I'm a.) friends with the director and b.) one of the three 'musical geniuses,' alongside James M. Johnston and Curtis Heath, who wrote and performed the 'totally awesome' song that plays during the closing credits - but I ain't complaining.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:54 AM

July 22, 2005

My review of Last Days is up, along with a relatively uneducated look at Linklater's remake of The Bad News Bears.

I'll have one soon for Saraband, which I saw this afternoon. It was exquisite. It's the first time I've been able to see a new Bergman film on the big screen - and, sadly, the last. Although truthfully, it's not sad; he's said that this is his swan song; in many ways it seems crafted as such, and it's a truly beautiful closing note to his career.

Of minor relevance: the film was shot on HD, and although I'd heard Bergman was unhappy with the look of the 35mm transfer and only allowed it to be projected digitally in Sweden, I hadn't expected Sony Pictures Classics to honor his requests here - but they did indeed. It's always interesting to see old masters embracing new mediums (and the film certainly looks gorgeous, with a palette very reminiscent of Autumn Sonata).

Another old master, Robert Altman, is curently shooting what hopefully won't be his last film, Prairie Home Companion, in Chuck's Twin Cities stomping grounds. You've probably heard by now that Altman has on-set backup from a certain cause celebre filmmaker...but if you haven't, you can read all about this at that filmmaker's newly relaunched (un)official site.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:02 AM | Comments (2)

July 19, 2005

When I gave the rest of my site its minimalist redesign earlier this year, the one page that I left untouched was the short films page. Now that I'm starting to explore the possibilities of online content, I figured it was high time I fixed that. The new version is is now online. A few of my older shorts have been removed; and one addition has been made.

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For better or worse, Still is now available for download. The film, as a whole, is not quite as good as the evocative photograph above (by James M. Johnston, making good use of a malfunctioning camera), but I think I can safely say that it's a whole lot better than it was before. Late last spring (right after watching Robert Altman's Three Women and listening to the commentary track, to be exact), I decided that I was tired of being completely embarassed by the film's drawbacks, and that I'd do follow the gut instincts I ignored so long ago and fix whatever I could. Thus, the film is now significantly...quieter. I asked my friend Brad Mitchell, who I met in Berlin (how lucky that my roommate there was one of the only sound designers to attend the Campus!), if he'd be interested in remixing the whole thing. He agreed, and did an amazing job in filling in all the holes with foley, removing the sound of the camera motor, etc. I knew we'd work well together from the moment he told me that Dead Man was his favorite Jarmusch film...

Anway, once the film was listenable-to, I made a few trims to the cut to adjust the pacing (which no longer had music to cushion it) and to remove some material that I left in originally just because...well, because I was stupid. There's a lot of stuff that's still in there that's also the result of me being stupid, and if I were to distill the whole picture down to the moments that I feel I directed to the fullest, it would only be two minutes long. What it all essentially came down to was whether I wanted to bury the film and its various inadequacies forever or to be proud of what did work (and happy to admit that I've learned from what didn't) - and I chose the latter.

The film is available in a smaller 55 MB version; an alternalte 55 MB version with commentary; or in a great big version that's being hosted at the Internet Archive. If you haven't seen the film before, I'd suggest watching it before you read anything else about it. And if you have any comments - well, as always, I'm a glutton for punishment.

I think I'll have at least one more short to upload by the end of the summer; and after that, things should start getting interesting.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:01 PM | Comments (1)

July 18, 2005

Along with (I assume, or at least hope) most of the kids and kids at heart around the world, I abandoned this past weekend for the (frequently rather nightmarish) joys of the new Harry Potter book. I couldn't help but finish it in two extended sittings (admittedly, this volume is relatively short - only about 650 pages). Yet another breathless read - I'm amazed at how marvelously Rowling manages to raise the stakes with each installment, while keeping the familiar elements that make the books so beloved, so comforting, intact.

The only reason I'm glad it's out of the way already is that Cormac McCarthy's new novel, No Country For Old Men, is released on Tuesday...

Posted by David Lowery at 6:05 AM

July 17, 2005

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I watched Robert Bresson's Lancelot Du Lac this evening, and thought it problematic, but ultimately inspiring. I found Bresson's style an odd mix with the medieval trappings, and while there are countless memorable compositions, they have a theatricality that is entirely absent from his other films. His style here often occupies an odd ground between the extremely cinematic (as in Dreyer's Passion Of Joan Of Arc or Bergman's The Seventh Seal) and the painterly (the film's color scheme seems drawn straight from artwork of the period), which would be less distracting if not for the setting. I think part of the problem may be that we're unused to seeing knights of Arthurian lore outside of a mythological context, which is stridently avoided here, and which, ironically, was the very thing I admired about the film as a whole. I was aware going in that Bresson would eschew any of the grandiose elements we remember from Malory, and indeed, in examining the last days of the relationship between Guinivere and Lancelot, I was thrilled to see him displace it from its archetypal position. The psychology of their affair, examined through the limited window of the film's context, is fascinating (as is Laura Duke Condominas' stitled, petulant, perfect performance as a Queen far too young and pampered to place nobility over her own personal feelings).

I mentioned that I was unconvinced by Bresson's compositions, which at times almost feel timid; this is in stark contrast to the forceful and altogether brilliant editing with which he stitches those compositions together. The rhythm of the film apparently extends beyond the juxtaposition; there are suggestions in this review of the film (from robert-bresson.com) that the poetic source material was reflected meticulously in Bresson's dialogue - something that's sadly lost in the English subtitles.

So yes, I was inspired by it; there are certain elements of the film's sense of romantic hubris that I've already halfway explored (on the page, at least) in Henry Lee, and seeing the way Bresson handled offered some credence to my own planned approach (both in rewrites and, oh-so-hopefully, in filming); but the troika of unattainable goals represented by The Grail, Guinivere and the Round Table gave me some ideas for an entirely new script.

Just what I need! Given my current circumstances, I'd best let this concept perambulate around my skull for a bit before I bother putting it down on paper.

* * *

I'll have more to write about the screen cap from my last post, and what it pertains to, at a later date. I've been reluctant to provide anything but cryptic details thus far - perhaps for fear of revealing that there's not that much to reveal? Last night, some friends asked me what I've been up to lately, and I honestly couldn't think of a single thing to say except that I've been going running a lot. Later, I tried to figure out why I didn't feel like talking about any of the many things I've been working on; I think it's because I must measure productivity by outcome, and the ratio between the two is pretty far from balanced at the moment.

* * *

I was going to write about why this Wired article, and other articles of its ilk, don't scare me; but then I saw that Stu Willis beat me to it, at greater length and with greater gusto than I probably would have managed.

* * *

Actually, I really don't have anything else to say at the moment.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:37 AM

July 14, 2005

The Beginning
It Begins
The Continuation Of The Process That Will Eventually Lead Up To The Beginning

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Posted by David Lowery at 9:34 PM | Comments (4)

Things that are making me happy:

1. The previously-linked-to blogs of Kat, Bryan and Joe, all detailing their respective and varied stages of production. The latter, with the tale of a night of shooting foregone for development-by-way-of-dinner, really makes me smile.

1. GreenCine's note that the adaptation of Patrick Suskind's brilliant novel Perfume is finally going before the cameras, under the surely capable direction of Tom Tykwer. I remember fondly reading the book almost in its entirety while waiting for a flight out of LAX two years ago, right after seeing Gwyneth Paltrow buying a magazine.

2. The e-mail about the local press screening of Saraband next week. I'm currently (well, not literally currently) watching Ingmar Bergman Makes A Movie to whet my appetite (and also as research for something else).

4. The launch of Chuck's Minnesota Stories website, which will hopefully come to as wonderful a fruition as its potential suggests. I wonder if I had gone to the U of M all those years ago, as I briefly considered doing, how long it would have taken me to meet Chuck.

5. I've lost ten pounds so far this summer!

6. Being in pre-pre-preproduction.

Things that are making me unhappy:

1. Not being any further than pre-pre-preproduction.

2. The rest of the usual suspects.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:14 AM

July 13, 2005

My computer's tied up, spitting out various video files at various rates of compression, so I've been occupying myself with other things, such as building abstract textiles with my brother and testing them against various degrees of cosmic radiation. That project is coming along nicely. I also decided to inventory all my DVDs, just to see how many I actually have and whether any of them are worth getting rid of. The answer to the first question is two hundred and five; to the second, four (technically, there's a lot more than that, but there are too many inconsequential movies I just can't bare to part with). The best surprise uncovered in the not-quite-vast recesses of my shelf: the out-of-print Criterion Edition of Sid & Nancy, which I totally forgot that I had.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:24 PM

July 12, 2005

It looks like James is through with blogging, but at least he's going out with a good post.

He's thinking about making a new feature. I recommended to him, just as I did in one of the comments in a post below, and just as it was to me late last year, that he read Cassavetes On Cassavetes by Ray Carney before he gets too far into the development process. I finally picked it up back in April; for whatever reason, I haven't written about it until now, but it's the best book on filmmaking I've ever read. I wish I had its insights under my belt five years ago - all my films would have been so much better as a result, I think. It's interesting, too, how it changes my perception of Cassavetes' films; the only one I truly loved on my first viewing was Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, but now I don't think I could help but completely embrace everything he made, particularly Shadows and Faces. I have them on my Netflix Queue again, but actually, I think that the next time I get paid I'll just go ahead and order the Criterion box set. Some films are worth buying, even when you can't afford them.

I realize now that that's a paraphrase of sorts from Tim Burton's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, which was better than I thought it would be. He's a perfect match for Roald Dahl's sensibilities, even if some of his specific choices aren't.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:30 AM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2005

I've had my interview with November director Greg Harrison sitting on my desktop for over a month now. Now, two weeks away from its release, I've finally posted it. I've also posted my review of the film, in spite of the fact that it needs some revising - I think I heedlessly, needlessly went a little over the top in writing it.

So now that you know these two pieces are online, do not read them. They're full of dreadful, evil spoilers which will ruin your theatergoing experience.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:35 PM | Comments (2)

Going running at 2AM after a day of teleconferencing, coffee brewing, production designing, storyboarding, action scripting, wisdom-tooth-numbing, sound mix-checking, color correcting and (responsible) whiskey sipping a.) impedes your balance and b.) feels wonderful as long as c.) Jon Brion's 'Row' from the Eternal Sunshine score comes on afterwards, right before you feel like going to bed, icing-on-the-cake-style.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:14 AM

July 8, 2005

Just because it isn't as perfect as Gerry doesn't mean it's not the most beautiful film I've seen in ages.

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Halfway through, a woman behind me said loudly to no one in particular: "This is like watching paint dry." If I hadn't been so enraptured by the film, that might have made me really mad.

I'll have a review soon, but I wonder if I don't suffer from a lack of objectivity towards this film. Its subject matter and the style in which it is portrayed are sort of conducive towards my being overwhelmed. Nonetheless, I'll do my best to explain why I love it.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:00 PM | Comments (2)

July 7, 2005

Earlier this afternoon, due to an endorsement from Paul Thomas Anderson and the promise of a soundtrack from Jonny Greenwood, I learned about this experimental documentary entitled Bodysong.

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I visited the website and watched the trailer and read the Q&A with the director, Simon Pummell; and then I instantly went and pre-ordered the film, which is being released on DVD in the US next week. I don't often blind-buy DVDs on impulse anymore - but this particular impulse ran very, very deep.

This film looks like the most amazing thing since...since I don't know. The website suggests something reminiscent in form of Peter Greenaway's plans for The Tulse Luper Suitcase; the site is an experience in and of itself, and is thankfully included on the DVD.

Here are two quotes from Pummell that helped sell me in less than thirty seconds:

"Is it possible to make films that have a mythic scale? And yet show ordinary people living recognisable human lives. The things we have in common. Big epic movies and personal home movies - could these poles meet? Writing this film was about trying to really use the basic magic of the most powerful medium of the last 100 years. Trying to take the 'magic of the movies' seriously, asking what is it? What is it good for?"
"One thing became clearer and clearer for me, as we made this film, is that big close ups of the human face are always beautiful, if the emotion is true. It's seeing emotion written so clearly on a massive screen that is a great magic of cinema - that's how the ghosts speak to us."

The DVD should arrive sometime next week. I'm on the edge of my seat.

* * *

And this new trailer for The Corpse Bride leaves my heart all aflutter as well, albeit in an entirely different way.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:21 AM

July 4, 2005

I spent this holiday celebrating a different sort of independence, reading Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own. It's a beautiful treatise, executed with grace and (surprisingly, to me) prevailing wit - and yet I must admit some selfish disappointment in feeling ever so slightly shut out by it! I'd be nodding my head in agreement, marveling at her manner of reasoning, growing excited by her cause; and then I'd realize that I was looking in from the outside, and that her primary call, her overt intent, did not apply to me. That is, of course, entirely appropriate; but I did miss that very androgynous style, the mental consummation of both sexes, that she propogates within it, and which I've so grown to love in her fiction.

This is the first non-fiction of hers that I've read; I'm looking foward to perusing her volumes of letters.

* * *

Matt's second-best film, Notes From The Arctic Circle, is now online.

When I first watched it in January, my only criticism was, predictably, of the music. At some point - not soon, but soon enough - I think I might discover that I've placed my fist squarely within my own mouth.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:50 PM | Comments (1)

I always like to put together a '10 Best Films So Far' list at the six month point every year - and this is the first year in a long time I can't legitimately make it past five.

1. Pan With Us (dir. David Russo)
2. Star Wars: Episode III (dir. George Lucas)
3. Me And You And Everyone We Know (dir. Miranda July)
4. 2046 (dir. Wong Kar Wai)

Am I forgetting anything? Technically, Star Wars shouldn't be there, but I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't include it. But what else? Palindromes, Hirokazu's Nobody Knows and Assisted Living might all tie for fifth place at this point. I could include Sally Potter's Yes, maybe, but I think I should see it again before I pass judgement. I honestly think War Of The Worlds is pretty close to being great, but I don't see it as top ten material. Nine Songs is sort of in the same category. 3-Iron was somewhat disappointing, all things considered. Goodbye Dragon Inn is vastly better than all of these, but it was released last year and I was just late in seeing it.

There's a press screening on Friday for something that I'm sort of counting on to top everything else so far this year. And aside from that, I guess I just need to hold tight and wait to be surprised by something astonishing that isn't The New World, Saraband, The Corpse Bride, Broken Flowers or the Wallace & Gromit movie (which are all safe for passing advance judgement on, correct?).

Ah, hope. I just need to stop making lists.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:14 AM | Comments (2)

July 3, 2005

Pretentious thought of the day: I was reorganizing my film books this afternoon and thinking about how future editions of the great Directors On Director' series from Faber are being made either irrelevant or, more likely, far easier to edit. After all, couldn't they all be considered post factum blogs? Take any of the filmmakers from the list of links to the left - I daresay that they all may warrant a volume of their own in the future, and those that maintain regular blogs already probably have at least one book's worth of very substantial and personally revealing content, all fit and ready for the press.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:27 PM | Comments (2)

July 2, 2005

We received another invitation to submit the other day. They've been coming from festivals in Europe more often these days. Dutifully, we send them the film and then forget about them. Every now and then a rejection letter will surface; the only notable recent one was from a woman who very kindly told us that we were really close to getting in and that if another film was pulled from the schedule, ours would most certainly replace it.

This time last year, these invitations would have excited me, even with their implication of rejection; they represent an expression of interest about my work, and that's always wonderful; but now I feel like writing back and saying "hold that thought until my next film is ready, because it will be incomparably better and is the one you really want to invite!" But no, I have to think about this film, and, in this recent case, make a VHS copy of it. Which means I have to print it off my computer, and for 100 minutes, it's there, preventing me from possibly doing something else, inviting me to look at it, taunting me with its insufficiencies.

I'm making this all sound more dramatic than it is; I'm just taking a more prolonged stay on the hate it side of the constant love/hate flux, and just don't want to deal with the film in any manner at all. But I will, of course. There are enough people out there who genuinely like our movie that it would be irresponsible of me as a filmmaker to cater only to my current enfant terrible feelings towards it.

* * *

I was sixteen before I ever went to a rock concert. My youngest sister Anna is six, and she went to her first last night, and loved it. Granted, it was a Polyphonic Spree concert for which my grandparents bought my whole family tickets - and man, wouldn't you know it but as I'm writing this right now, their song from the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack just started playing on my iPod - but it was still cool to see her standing in her chair, waving a glowstick. She's fearless. She's so unlike me in that way.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:48 PM

July 1, 2005

In three hours, Kat Candler at long last begins shooting her second feature film, Jumping Off Bridges; so here's wishing her and her crew the very best of luck over the next few weeks. I wish I could be there to see it happen. I read the script the other day while listening to all my Cure records - a good combination, I'd say.

Meanwhile, Bryan Poyser is gearing up for production, and Joe Swanberg just broke ground on his new feature. I'm getting jealous here...

Posted by David Lowery at 2:39 AM