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September 30, 2005

I'm trying to record narration for this new short, but my voice has gone hoarse. I thought I'd take a brief constitutional of sorts and take into account here that ever-so-exciting topic - Movies I've Seen Recently.

I saw George Clooney's Good Night, And Good Luck yesterday morning, which was terrific and emboldening (in terms of content, yes, but also in the simple fact that Clooney made it), and I'll probably write more about it later (should I ever catch up in the 'write more later' department). I also saw Proof, which was a great deal better than I expected. The writing overcame most traces of Miramax-ishness - which were so abundant in the trailer that I almost wrote off the film completely. I'd have loved to see it on stage, especially if Gwyneth Paltrow was in it; she gave an enormous amount of texture to a fairly one-note role. I wanted to give her character a hug throughout the whole film. And then ask her out, because I'm hopelessly attracted to pretty girls with mental problems.

And then there was a press screening of Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit this evening. It's an absolutely delightful film, and achieves the miraculous feat of not seeming a second longer than any of its 30 minute predecessors. Between this and Corpse Bride, I'm just about desparate to replace all the burnt out bulbs on my stop-motion set and finish the last minute of that film (that I can't is probably not too terrible a thing, though, given the number of projects on my plate).

One of the many great things about the Wallace & Gromit film was its wonderful perspective on animal rights; it had a strong anti-hunting message, and the word 'humane' was dropped with great frequency. This reminded me that I meant to post a link to this article from Sunday's paper, which will be the only article formerly published in American Conservative and written by a member of Bush's cabinet (a former speechwriter, no less) I ever link to alonside an admonition of it's brilliance. But there it is: this article is important, and a must-read (except for those friends of mine to whose choir the piece will be preaching - although in our case, the odd sense of amazement that comes from finding oneself in agreeement with a Republican shouldn't be discounted). While it is clearly written with a conservative readership in mind (and contains a handful of conservative bon mots I'll waive from accountability for the moment), its content is of great importance to anyone who hasn't given the issue due consideration: after all, one of the most important facts outlined in the article is that the matter of animal rights is not political - it is simply moral.

Hmmm. My voice is still scratchy.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:55 AM | Comments (5)

September 29, 2005

Matt and I were talking about editing recently, and in one of the e-mails that made up our exchange he wrote

All I will say is that there is more to the image than we know when we shoot it and that hundreds of thousands of multiple meanings can come from arranging that content in various ways. Every frame a vector, every cut a possibility. Sometimes our instincts can lead us to what feels right it one sense, but which can be completely wrong in another.

Well said, and with that, let me now link to the best trailer I've seen in ages.

I laughed. I cried.

P.S. I've never seen one link pop up on so many blogs in such a short amount of time - with different vias every time (or the record, someone showed me the link, which was why I didn't include any attribution). It seems to have originated here. I'll bet the guy that cut this is in line for a promotion...

Posted by David Lowery at 10:54 AM

September 26, 2005

Green Cine points to Back From The Cold, an article in The Guardian in which a host of filmmakers explain what Ingmar Bergman means to them. It's a lovely piece, with responses that range from moving (Liv Ullmann) to funny (Alexander Payne) and which leave one wanting, naturally enough, to go watch a Bergman film.

Because I would wish ((ha!) to be considered in the company of these filmmakers, I thought I'd answer the question myself (and invite anyone else to do so, either here or at their own blogs - I'd certainly be interested in reading more thoughts).

My earliest exposure to Bergman was through Roger Ebert; in particular his review of Cries And Whispers. I read it many times, always somewhat unsettled by the visceral horror he evoked in his description (I had the same response to his review of The Exorcist). This would have been around the time I was nine or ten. Bergman's name would again surface in my cinematic awareness when Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey came out and I learned about The Seventh Seal, but I didn't actually see any of his films until I was in 10th grade (this was a good thing; I was probably just beginning to reach a point where I could appreciate them). I discovered that the local library had a fairly decent collection of foreign films on VHS, and while I was disappointed that there was nothing on the shelves from Godard (with whom I firmly believed I needed to be obsessed), I did grab a handful of titles from other 'canonical' directors - Fellini, mainly, and also Bergman. The Virgin Spring was the first one I watched - as it turned out, that was my mom's favorite film of his, and she in turn recommended some more of his work (she told me that her interest in him ended when I was a baby - the first time she ever left me with a sitter was when she went to see Fanny & Alexander; she spent the entire three hours of the film worried about my well-being and anxious for it to hurry up and end).

I watched The Seventh Seal next. Then Hour Of The Wolf. Then a few year went by. I returned to him with Wild Strawberries and then, at long last, sometime in 2002, I watched the Criterion edition of Cries And Whispers. The experience of watching that film seemed tantamount to self mutilation. It literally hurt. Suddenly, incisively, he was my favorite filmmaker. I've now seen just about everything he's done from Smiles Of A Summer Night onward.

Incisive: that's the word I always use to describe Bergman's films. Because they cut you. You can feel it: the deep dull pressure of the cut that gradually turns hot and then cold again as the blood rushes to fill the laceration. His films deal with pain, deal in pain, and, cyclically, the pain they provoke is its own catharsis; this the essence of the human struggle, distilled by the artistic struggle; the only way to transcend misery is to embrace it; and the only way to embrace it, in Bergman's case, is to make a film about it. This phenomenon naturally has a divine correlation - indeed, religion is intrinsic to Bergman's understanding of humanity. In Winter Light, for example, the Priest discovers that the only way he can believe in God is to continue doubting in him.

To me, Bergman represents cinematic purity, although not in in an ascetic sense. He gets his fingers dirty; he gets them bloody. His simple, unconvoluted style is betrayed by these intentions, and yet it facilities them. After all, his most volatile moments are often those long, unbroken, unmoving sequences where his actresses gaze directly into the lens and speak. Their eyes and words are like razors, slowly slashing both themselves and that fourth wall - and when they can't do the job well enough, Bergman himself is not above reaching in and tearing the film itself from the projector to let, if only for a few moments, the clean white light shine through.

Suffice to say, I find in Bergman's work a prevailing obsession with the same topics I find myself returning to again and again (in a manner that is decidedly different and yet which still, I think, shows signs of his influence). I could go on about his use of light and shadows, his way with actors - and oh, how could I forget his perspectives on human sexuality? There's a book waiting to be written! However, for fear of more pretentious metaphors on my part, I'll bring this little impression to an end.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:03 PM | Comments (3)

September 23, 2005

We all went and saw a last minute screening of Cronenberg's A History Of Violence this evening. It was great film, breathlessly efficient in its allegory. It's a very political picture, and yet it contains not a single politicized frame.

I'll have more on it later, probably, after I finish perusing all the Cronenbergian press linked to over at GreenCine.

In the meantime, allow me present my own latest press efforts: a friendly chat with Mike Mills and Lou Pucci, director and star of Thumbsucker. It was a lengthy conversation, although in transcribing it I wondered if its duration wasn't somewhat inversely related to its quality. It's my fault; I've really got to start preparing better questions for these things. Either that, or stick solely to chatting about the weather.

* (I'm putting an asterisk on this post, in case I need to remember it later)

Posted by David Lowery at 12:16 AM | Comments (2)

September 22, 2005

Yesterday morning, the rough cut was around fourteen minutes from beginning to end. Then James came over and had a brilliant idea that chopped about three minutes off that. A few more cuts today and it's down to ten minutes. Just about where I want it to be.

Putting this film together has been enlightening in so many ways, especially as I figure out my approach for my next directorial outing. Things I need to do, to remember, to forget about. And I think I'm a little bit in love with it. I don't expect anyone else to share that sentiment, though; and I think I'll abstain from talking about it now until it's actually done. Here's one more frame for the time being, this one featuring the two leads from the film.

48ribs3.jpg

One of these fine thespians (seen here in one of the few shots in which he's actually visible) is Matt Zeske, who in about three hours will be hopping a red-eye to his new home in Chicago. Good luck with the move, pal, and don't forget about the aliens in the desert.

Speaking of Chicago, Joe has written a very astute rebuke to all those timid acquisition folks out there.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:00 AM | Comments (5)

September 20, 2005

Why does everything I love have to cost so much money? Filmmaking's all-consuming enough as is, but now I think I might be hooked on skydiving.

A big thanks to Amy for facilitating the development of this new habit.

* * *

On Saturday I filmed this insert shot for 48 Ribs.

48ribs2.jpg

That image in particular and this film in general are the last things I'll ever shoot on my classic XL-1. Yen and I are upgrading (only one or two steps up - certainly not to this), and tomorrow morning, before placing our order online, we're delivering our cameras into the hands of their new owner.

I'm not a materialistic person, but I am extremely sentimental; thus it's hard for me to part ways with this piece of equipment. I bought it almost exactly six years ago, on my first trip to Austin, back when the XL-1 was still a cutting-edge camera. It was the deciding factor in my plans to go ahead and make my first film by myself, and since then it's been used on every movie I've made that hasn't been shot on celluloid (and for that one, it filmed the behind-the-scenes documentary). In addition, it's been used on a lot of other people's projects, too. Those 3 CCDs have been witness to a lot of history. They've also been possessed, but that's another story.

Yen's had his for about the same amount of time as I have. After we used both cameras to shoot Deadroom, we started talking about retiring them. Yen convinced me we needed to finally take action while on the drive to Kat's shoot two months ago. And now my camera - CAM. A, as denoted by the handwritten label leftover from some long ago shoot - is cleaned up, packed up in its original box (speaking of sentimental value, I couldn't believe some of the stuff I had stored in that when I dug it out this evening), practically out of my hands. I wish I wasn't so poor; otherwise, I'd just go ahead and buy a new camera every time I needed one and just let the old loveworn models...accumulate.

Oh well. It was a good run. And as soon as the replacement arrives, I'll forget about it forever.

* * *

Editing, meanwhile, is going pretty well. The film's structural shortcomings are becoming apparent, but I've still got a lot of rewriting to do. I may take a break, however, to finish up the sound work on my short documentary piece, which I've almost settled on a title for...

Posted by David Lowery at 3:06 AM | Comments (5)

September 18, 2005

48ribs1.jpg

I started cutting the film today. In correlation with the screenplay, I'm two pages in so far, but it's well past the five minute mark (notable because, when I initially conceived this project, I imagined it to be no longer than that in total).

I've always been a strong advocate of killing one's babies (artistically speaking), but with this first draft of this film, I wanted to give myself the freedom to make a 'long' cut, in which I'd let everything play out as it did while we were shooting. I'm finding, though, that I'm just too judicious an editor to indulge myself like that; I don't get any satisfaction from it. I can hold on a shot for as long as I feel necessary (and my current sensibilites lean towards lengthiness far more than they used to); but already the film is beginning to take form and dictate its own structure, and what really happened on set can't help but be conformed to this reconstructed naturalism.

But I'm done for tonight. I've got get up early for a production meeting, and also to go jump out of an airplane.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:05 AM | Comments (2)

September 16, 2005

I promise I'll have a review later, but for now I just have to say that I'm in love with the Corpse Bride. She's my dream girl.

UPDATE: my review is up. And I'm still in love. I can't wait to see it again on Monday.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:16 AM | Comments (3)

September 15, 2005

This recent lack of updates has been due to a few days of principal photography on my new film. And I think it might be a really good one. And practice, in some ways. And an act of atonement, in others. But mainly just a really, really good film.

The title (which I'm pretty sure I'll stick with) is 48 Ribs.

A big thanks to Cammi, Matt, James, Yen and Amy for making it happen. XO, suckas.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:46 AM | Comments (1)

September 10, 2005

Before time got away from me, I had intended to post a lengthy rumination on various critical matters, using 'The Moviegoer,' the wonderful piece on Sontag by David Denby in this week's New Yorker, as a platform. Instead, I'll just link to that article, which is a must-read. It's nothing less than a brief critical history of her entire career - and a celebration of that career, and of Sontag herself. Denby also raises some interesting issues about the transgression of critics upon that which they critique, pointing out in particular Sontag's failure as a narrative filmmaker (her first effort, Duet For Cannibals, is screening on Tuesday in Austin as part of the Cinematexas Festival, but I unfortunately can't make it). This was what set the wheels in my head turning - for naught, it seems, at least for the time being. I've got papers to write, pictures to lock, shoots to plan.

In addition to reading that article, I'd recommend watching Matt's latest film, Writing: An Homage To James And Abbas, which, in my opinion, is his best work yet. As I suggested in an e-mail to him last night, I think it's his first romantic (in the historical sense) bit of filmmaking.

* * *

One of the things that I think will unfortunately fall by the wayside over the next few weeks and probably months is the frequency with which I find time to write full length reviews. I did manage to write a piece on Thumbsucker, and I'll surely have something to say about The Corpse Bride after the screening this week (anyone want to join me?), but I think that overall, they'll be more far and few between than they already are. I'd rather not see whatever quality I've managed to muster start to slip; quality over quantity, you know.

The Polyphonic Spree did the score to Thumbsucker, and thus it was that a large number of them were at the press screening the other week, humming along to the music at times. I was tempted to ask if they'd ever actually seen that video of mine...but of course that might have been awkward.

Posted by David Lowery at 10:03 PM | Comments (3)

September 8, 2005

A lot of bad stuff came in the mail today, and also a lot of good stuff, including:

finalcutstudio.jpg

And now I have some things to finish.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:55 AM | Comments (4)

In Venice, Steven Soderbergh said, regarding European audiences and why they're better than Americans,

"They are much more likely to change the shape of their thinking to fit the art they're watching instead of trying to cut the art down to fit the shape of their thinking."

I've been meaning to put it so succinctly myself for ages. In fact, the sentiment is so perfectly stated that it rendered my lengthy deconstruction of the perspective it describes completely pointless, which is why this post is ending now and not three paragraphs down, as it originally did.

* * *

But to continue on a different subject: there are so many films at Venice (and, starting this week and in the weeks to come, Toronto and New York) that I want to discuss - and link to reviews of and share my expectations for - that I think, to avoid excessive rambling, I'll just say nothing, aside from the fact that Drawing Restraint 9 keeps sounding better with every bewildered review it gets; and that Brokeback Mountain's trailer, despite being one of the worst I've seen in ages, is proof that it will actually be an incredible experience; and also how the three hour German documentary on monastic life, Die Grosse Stille, sounds far more appealing than it does daunting; and how the spaceboy in me can't wait to see Herzog's Wild Blue Yonder; and that I thought Vincent Gallo was going to be playing Jesus in Abel Ferrera's Mary, but that seems to not be the case; etc, etc etc. This is worse than Cannes.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:47 AM | Comments (3)

September 6, 2005

The first teaser trailer for Joe Swanberg's LOL is a truly wondrous thing.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:44 PM | Comments (6)

September 5, 2005

Last night, I was supposed to go to a party and meet with someone who might be the lead actress in The Outlaw Son; but I couldn't even answer my phone all day, much less leave the house. It was one of those weekends. The kind where you resist writing some long journal entry that you know you'll regret later (I had it planned out in my head - it was going to consist entirely of screen grabs from The Royal Tennenbaums and Punch Drunk Love) because it's so overwrought and, on a relative scale, silly and sort of selfish.

* * *

I'm going to be without editing software for the next five to six days. I don't know what to do with myself. I feel like making some belabored emasculative metaphor.

shelf.jpg

There I am, back when I had editing software, hard at work behind a shelf I built. It's an image from the short documentary-ish film I'm just about done with (in which the shelf has a supporting role) but which for the moment is hanging in limbo. By the time I can open up the Final Cut Pro file again, it'll be just about time to shoot another short film (this one a traditional narrative with real actors instead of furniture), the post production of which will probably take immediate priority. I have titles for these films (I think), but you know me - I like to keep things vague and amorphous until the very last minute.

That image has become suddenly dated, incidentally, as I shaved my head yesterday.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:20 PM | Comments (6)

September 2, 2005

There were reports on NPR this afternoon from the New Orleans convention center; of the two thousand survivors huddled within it, and the bodies and waste that were accumulating around them. A ten year old girl had been raped there the night before, it was said.

When I heard that last awful fact, I felt a sense of deja vu; and then almost immediately recalled Michael Haneke's Le Temps Du Loup. There was scarcely a drop of water in that film, and yet it was entirely about what has happened in New Orleans; in very specific details, yes, but more importantly in its portrayal of the way in which extreme circumstance gives rise to both the best and worst human nature has to offer. Just as there was no explanation for the events in that film, I think the flooding is merely circumstantial disaster; the deeper, more prevalent tragedy is the lack of unity in overcoming it.

The responses I've read to the hurricane and its aftermath are varied - consider Kat's simple lament or Matt's comparative analysis or Yen's suggestion to donate - and they're all sincere and legitimate; they're also largely based on newspapers, television reports, radio, and (primarily) the internet, and they're all, in that sense, reactionary. I have my own reactions too, of course; you read some of them in the paragraph above. Reactions are all anyone has, unless they're already in the heart of the storm.

But on that note: I also have my memories of this film suddenly coming back in force, and providing me with what I feel is an understanding, on a more personal level, that is not afforded by general news coverage. There will eventually be more in depth stories, and documentaries, and probably films about this; but right now, there's this film, and others like it. They certainly could never be considered preparative in any way but, in the heat of the moment, is can be comforting to reflect on them. This is one of the great things that art is able to do: facilitate, through interpretation, a greater sense of comprehension. Cinema, with its offer of immediate vicarious association, is in an especially unique position to do this. This is something that has always been known; but every now and then, it's good to discover these reminders that film - and all art, all expression - does not become trivial in the face of real tragedy.

And just as it facilitates empathy, art can alleviate distress, and create hope in the face of insurmountable odds: while the conclusion of Le Temps Du Loup is a vague one, I like to think that my interpretation of it is as representative of human nature as the more specific parts of the film have horribly proven to be. As I wrote after first seeing it last year: This is the work of someone who believes that there is an essential goodness to people, and despite all the despair he evokes in these landscapes of death and flames, he shows us at the end a vision of simple, almost heartbreaking optimism and warmth.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:17 AM

September 1, 2005

I had one of those wonderful moments of near out-of-body self-recognition last night when I read this passage from Kieslowski On Kieslowski (which Yen lent me), in which Kieslowski himself seems to explain in explicit detail my reasoning behind Point Five from the list I composed last week regarding my next film.

At one stage we had the idea of making as many versions of Veronique as there are cinemas to be shown. What's a film? we thought. Theoretically it's something which goes through a projector at the speed of twenty-four frames a second and, in fact, the success of cinematogaphy depends on repetition. That is, whether you project in a huge cinema in Paris or a tiny cinema in Mlawa or a medium-sized cinema in Nebraska, the same things appears on screen because the film passes through the projector at the same speed. And so we thought, Why, in fact, does it have to be like that? Why can't we say that the film is hand-made? And that every version's going to be different? And that if you see version number 00241b then it'll be a bit different from 00243c. Maybe it'll have a slightly different ending, or maybe one scene will be a tiny bit longer and another shorter, or maybe there'll be a scene which isn't in the other version, and so on. That's how we worked it out. And that's how the script was written. We shot enough material to make these versions possible. It would be possible to release this film with the concept that it was, so to speak, hand-made. That if you got to a different cinema, you'll see the same film but in a slightly different version, and if you go to yet another cinema, you'll see yet another version, seemingly the same film but a little different. Maybe it'll have a happier ending, or maybe slightly sadder - that's the chance you take.

He goes a bit further, talking about the financial impossibility of cutting that many negatives, the time it would take, etc.

These are problems that have, of course, been nullified by technology...

Posted by David Lowery at 2:20 AM | Comments (2)