November 30, 2005
A quick, belated note on The Slow Motion Film Festival, which begins its tour tonight in Brooklyn. It's a series of 120 one minute short films, all in slow motion. One of those minutes was provided by yours truly - it's a stately, luxuriously paced little piece called Parlor Trick. Some of you reading this will have only to look at that title to, from past experience, know exactly what it refers to. Everyone else, feel free to guess...or just go see it, if you have the chance.
November 29, 2005
I really want to write a review of Stephen Gaghan's Syriana, but I feel like I need to do some serious research before I can even get into the specifics of the plot. I do know that it made me feel very guilty for consuming the gasoline needed to drive home from the theater; and also that I agree very much with David Denby's New Yorker review (he says it is "a major film, without being a great one")
The film was produced by Section 8 and all the usual suspects involved with that shingle, one of whom is named Jennifer Fox. I just realized the other day that she was one of the three filmmakers profiled in Doug Block's 1991 documentary The Heck With Hollywood, which I saw on PBS back when I first began to gravitate towards independent filmmaking in '94 or '95. Made before the Miramax/Sundance monopoly on the indie scene, Block chronicled the trials and tribulations of three first-time directors; Fox, with her documentary Beirut: The Last Home Movie, was the only one who seemed to come out on top at the end, and it's very satisfying to see that she's now producing films for Soderbergh and Clooney.
I remember watching it with my parents; afterwards, they asked me if I found it discouraging to see these filmmakers work so hard for such minimal returns (something I was still several years away from experiencing firsthand). I think I said something about how it was actually encouraging, simply because these filmmakers were actually making their movies. That, to the 13 year old me, was all the success one could ask for. That, and maybe a date with Natalie Portman.
The 24 year old me is now starting to have dreams about the production that's sneaking up in the next two weeks - the familiar nightmares, where I show up on set with no idea what I'm doing. Of course, we're currently doing what we can to preclude that possibility: James is currently finalizing the shooting schedule and trying to get the film commission to let us shoot at the airport for free. Tomorrow the rest of the film stock arrives, as does the lead actor (he's been in Hawaii for the past few weeks). Rehearsals will finally begin this weekend (or thereabouts).
As Nick and James and I toured our locations the other night, taking light readings and discussing what sort of additional illumination we'll be needing, I suddenly realized exactly how cold it's going to be during our two exterior night shoots...
November 28, 2005
The other day, Darren at Long Pauses posted a list of his Top Five Spiritually Significant Films, and invited others to do the same in the comments. I've decided to compose my own list here instead, since cinematic discourse on spirituality is a favorite topic of mine (right on par with cinematic sexuality). My appreciation of it is twofold: I love films that deal with human morality in the secular sense; I also love films which challenge my rejection of that which I perceive as illogical. There is a quote from Einstein (paraphrased in Before Sunset) that sums up this trait: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." There's another I like, which gets more specific: ""My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."
My real top five on this subject would of course be full of Bresson and Bergman. To make things more interesting, I'll avoid both (which still leaves me with a handful of predictable choices, two of which I can't help but include).
1. The Decalogue (Kieslowski, 1988). There are approximately 1.5 instances of overt spirituality in Kieslowski's' masterpiece of moral complexity: the first is the iconic imagery that closes the first episode, and then there is the case of the young man who appears in the background of all but one of the ten segments, to whom various religious significance has been assigned. Is he an angel? Christ? Kieslowski claims that he is just a man who is there, randomly, meaninglessly - but he knew what he was doing when he included him, and it is such a detail that lends these otherwise extremely intimate films a wider scope. This figure represents, to me, a standard against which the moral complexity of the characters and their dilemmas is suddenly made clear; the concept of right and wrong is distilled to its simplest essence. There is nothing judgmental in these films, but they are not works of moral relativism, and in that constancy one can recognize - if one wishes - a thread of connection between what is innately human and what might be divine.
2. La Passion De Jeanne D'Arc(Dreyer, 1928). By fixing his camera on Jeanne's face for the majority of the film, Dreyer is essentially creating a record of the process of faith. Her expressions, and the emotions that are made transparent through them, deflect and transcend any incredulity on the audience's part. Her martyrdom is all the more tragic because of the human connection this perspective facilitates, but there's something victorious about it as well. Whether or not her achievement is a divine one is open to interpretation, but there is no doubt that it is a triumph of the spirit.
3. Magnolia (Anderson, 1999). Human transgression and forgiveness have never been more beautifully elucidated than in this, one of my all-time favorite films (how does Anderson manage to be so bombastic and subtle simultaneously?). This is an exquisitely moral picture, but unlike Kieslowski and The Decalogue, Anderson suggests that judgment of a higher sort will eventually be passed on his characters; Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall), a terrible man made sympathetic through considerate writing, remains unforgiven and pays the price for his sins - he's deprived of the easy exit of suicide when a falling frog knocks him unconsicous, presumably leaving him to perish in his burning house. The meaning there is pretty unavoidable, and those frogs? In the words of the narration, "this cannot be 'one of those things. This, please, cannot be that."
4. The Rapture (Tolkin, 1991). Here, on the other hand, is a film that is hardly subtle in its meaning; moving from a satire of born-again evangelism to a very physical realization of the apocalypse (the scene in the jail, with the bars falling from the cell doors, is rather awe inspiring), Michael Tolkin openly confronts and engages what are, for many Christians, traditional (and casually understood) concepts of faith and spiritual duty. It is an imperfect but important film.
5. Solaris (Tarkovsky/Soderbergh, 1976/2002). Both of these adaptations of Stanislaw Lem's novel deal with the concept of mankind's response when faced with a higher, incomprehensible power. Soderbergh's version, trimmed of all but the most essential narrative details, cuts to the core of the mystery with greater impact but less subtlety (although I'm speaking of relative subtlety here); Tarkovsky's is more oblique, and therefore more open to interpretation. Take which one you will: I love both.
And as one last addendum: my favorite use of cinematic form to convey the divine is the last few seconds of The Last Temptation Of Christ, in which the film is splashed with Brakhage-like bursts of light and color before, seemingly, catching in the projector and disentegrating. Talk about breaking the fourth wall.
November 26, 2005
Jim McMahon's been in town this past week, to a.) finally show us his directorial debut (a superior slasher picture called Bloodshed, which nonetheless still isn't finished), b.) location-scout for Yen's next film and c) discuss the signing of contracts for Deadroom (which have been revised once so far and will probably be revised again before we put our pens to them). After staying up until four last night, talking about our respective future projects (he's convinced he's not going to get to work on Drift, but I told him he shouldn't be so sure), he hopped an early plane back to LA, leaving us all encouraged, emboldened and
perhaps a little bit aroused over excited about the continung development of our symbiotic directors/producer relationship. I think we're all finally on the same page, as far as understanding our individual goals and needs (of both the creative and financial sort). It's nice to have someone in our camp who not only wants to produce, but is good at it. Or, in other words: he schmoozes so we don't have to.
I ignored my workload this evening and went to the local megaplex to lose myself in some mainstream cinema. I haven't had a theatrical marathon of any sorts in quite a while, and I need to practice for the 24-hour endurance test in two weeks. What I saw was...
Jarhead: I liked this quite a bit; it's a two hour slow burn with some pretty unforgettable imagery (Sam Mendes is undeniably good when it comes to painterly composition), and it climaxes brilliantly in that final, frighteningly orgiastic scene in the desert. I also enjoyed the way Mendes and editor Walter Murch recontextualized Apocalypse Now, which Murch also edited.
Walk The Line: I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for with this, but I'm enough of a Johnny Cash fan to be curious about the supposedly outstanding musical performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. And indeed, when they were singing, the film was wonderful; when they weren't, it was even more turgid than Ray. I thought maybe I'd recommend it for the musical sequences; then I thought I'd recommend waiting for the DVD and skipping to the performance sequences; then I decided the best bet would simply be to recommend listening to the original Cash/Carter recordings in the comfort of your own home. Which is what I'm doing right now.
Pride & Prejudice: I feel a bit embarassed to say that I've never read a single Jane Austen novel; I do, however, generally enjoy the films they inspire. I didn't find this quite so wonderful as Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility or Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park, but it's perfectly charming - and absolutely marvelous on a technical marvel. Director Joe Wright frames the film with a magnificent melange of stately dolly shots, Altman-esque zooms and some pretty amazing steadicam sequences.
In consideration of America's massive post-Thanksgiving shopping spree, my brother and I were discussing the root of that awful term 'retail.' It comes from the French word retaillier, which means 'to cut up' or 'to separate.' I began to think about how this etymology connected my aversion to both laissez-faire economics and non-autonymous forms of cinema...but that's another post, and I've got too many other things to write and rewrite tonight. And tomorrow.
November 24, 2005
Thanksgiving - what an appropriate day to review Lars Von Trier's Manderlay!
The production breakdown for The Outlaw Son is the shortest and simplest I've had for any of my films.
Our film stock is now sitting in James' refrigerator. Were we to stick strictly to the script, it would be enough to constitute a 3:1 shooting ratio. In an effort to increase that, I'll be ordering a few more rolls tomorrow. Also, I found the leftover short ends from my last super16mm effort. They've spent two years in the refrigerator (during which some curry spilled on them) and one year on the shelf next to my computer (during which the curry calcified into a orange crust), so it'll be interesting to see what sort of pictures they make (suffice to say, we won't use them for anything important - or actually, maybe we will).
My plans for the holiday, once I've gone to bed and awoken once more, involve going to my grandparents' house, not eating and finally finishing the last 100 pages of In Cold Blood.
Best of luck to Kat and Bryan and everyone else biting their nails, waiting to hear back from the Dances this week. I remember when we were doing the very same thing last year...
Posted by David Lowery at 2:47 AM
November 20, 2005
When James, Nick, Yen and I were at SXSW last spring, we took part in a program Kodak offered called Stop By And Shoot Film. They had a table in the filmmaker's lounge where you could sign up, and they'd give you an Aaton A-Minima for an hour and a roll of film and you could just go out and shoot whatever, with the promise that they'd send you the footage.
It was a lot of fun. We tried to make the best of the opportunity, and the Kodak rep running the program told us that we were the only ones who actually tried to make a film, as opposed to just shooting random things around the convention center. We were also the only ones who stopped traffic on 4th street for fifteen minutes to get a certain shot.
So finally, seven months after the festival, the footage showed up in our mailbox - well, some of it. We ended up shooting more than one roll, but the lab only sent us the contents of the first one, and so the finished product isn't quite as good as it could have been. In particular, we're missing the best take of the climactic shot; we did it six or seven times, and each one escalated in muted hilarity, but we've been forced to settle with the fourth. Nonetheless, it's good for half a chuckle, and thus we present: Matt And Curtis Run Into Each Other At SXSW.
Also, sign up for Joe's LOL podcast. The first entry is awesome, and I've a feeling they'll only get better...
November 18, 2005
Yesterday, Girish wrote a post on favored literary adaptations, and I wrote in the comments that the one of the great never-realized-adaptation must surely be the Coen Brothers' failed attempt to bring James Dickey's To The White Sea to the screen. Dickey's novel, a tale of a crashed WWII bomber escaping firebombed Tokyo and making his way North to the frozen plains of Hokkaido, is a tome of primal, mythic poetry masquerading as prose. It is extreme in its violence and grace, and by all accounts, the Coens' screenplay was almost a direct transcription of the text; past the first few pages, it was essentially a silent film. For those Coen fans who loved Fargo, which for all its bitterness remains their one film that transcends postmodernity, this might have been a near awe-inspiring follow-up. I've never forgotten the first few lines of the screenplay, transcribed in a review from way back at the turn of the century, and, with the novel in mind, the possibilities imminent in them:
A dark speck is just visible in the center of the screen. It resolves itself into a sea bird, flying toward us.
Brad Pitt was attached to star (making this the second circa-2000 project of his that fell apart, along with The Fountain), and cameras were getting ready to role; but 20th Century Fox reportedly could not reconcile themselves with the 20 million the Coens needed to shoot the film on location. The project went into turnaround, and instead of To The White Sea, we got the middling Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers; the brothers went from a passion project to being writer/directors for hire on projects in which, for the first time, the general criticism that they loathed their own characters seemed quite astute. I'm sure there are dots to be connected there.
So yesterday, not five minutes after making that post at Girish's site, I turned over to the Austin Chronicle and read that the Coens are thinking of making their next film in Austin. What might that movie be? An adapatation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men.
More dots to connect. For anyone who has read the two novels, it's not at all hard to imagine that this new project might essentially be a replacement for the former. No Country For Old Men is more hard boiled novel, but out of those genre conventions McCarthy indulges in arise the same mythic leitmotifs that he made so prevalent in The Crossing and Blood Meridian - and which Dickey explores in To The White Sea as well, and which the Coens stood on the precipice of when they wrote this, one of the closing monologues in Fargo:
...So that was Mrs. Lundergaard in there? I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper...and those three people in Brainerd...and for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than money, you know. Don't you know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day...well...
...I just don't unnerstand it.
Just reading that dialogue leaves me confident that McCarthy's novel is in good hands. As for To The White Sea, if it isn't made sooner, it'll be made later (and I certainly wouldn't mind having a hand in it, if the opportunity arose), but in the meantime, I recommend it without reservation. As a teaser of sorts, I've posted a poem of his, The Heaven Of Animals, after the jump...
THE HEAVEN OF ANIMALS
Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.
Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.
To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.
For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,
More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey
May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk
Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain
At the cycle's center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.
-- James Dickey
November 17, 2005
Having turned many a blind eye to the unfinished - and now, more prevalently, simply unstarted - reviews stacking up at Reversing The Gaze, I've seriously considered switching formats from essay to more managable tercets of criticism; a paragraph or so per film, gathered up on a weekly basis. I hate doing it - but I also feel guilty about going to press screenings and then not writing about the films. Especially the ones that deserve to be written about.
On the other hand, I've hardly had time to see any movies these past few weeks, much less write about them. I did see Thomas Riedelsheimer's Touch The Sound, and the aforementioned re-release of Bertolucci's The Conformist; and I've seen Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, twice (I thought once would have been enough for me, but I of course could not begrudge my younger brothers and sisters the chance to brag to their classmates about seeing it so far in advance; and so multiple screenings were attended to get them all in, and luckily it turned out to be better the second time). I think I may have a slightly open weekend coming up; time to hit the cinema. At the very least, I really need to see Paradise Now.
Last night, I managed to dig into my Netflix queue and watch a film that I missed during its one-week engagement over the summer: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady. It's striking bit of work, a romance which tiptoes around passion and into magical realism. The restraing Weerasethakul displays - especially in the latter half, which is fraught with stylistic and narrative dangers - is remarkable (this is evidenced even further if one watches the deleted scenes on the DVD). The film's aesthetics are in keeping with the current trend in Pan-Asian filmmaking: the slight devolution of the static/silent style is noticeable, but still, this is a film that will try the patience of those who don't know what they're supposed to be looking for and excite those for whom long takes are never quite long enough.
Yen told me he thought that it made an excellent companion piece to Van Sant's Last Days. While the style is similar, and there are two or three shots in both films that are mirror images of themselves, I didn't find them completely compatible in the thematic sense. What am I missing, Yen?
Time for a random segue: there's an image of a glowing tree in Tropical Malady that reminded me very much of one of the handful of shots in the teaser for The Fountain. This internet trailer is one of ths most tantalizing things I've seen in ages; it's almost like Aronofsky is rubbing the fact that we can't see the film yet in our faces! God bless him.
November 15, 2005
So here's what's going on with all of our films (minus one).
Just the other night, Brad finished the score and sound mix for Some Analog Lines. I sort of sprung the project on him without warning, and he very admirably took up the task and completed it within a matter of weeks. And he did a really amazing job - it's an incredibly simple, minimalist score, but from past experience, I've learned that those are apparently the toughest to pull off. It complements the picture beautifully. Some Analog Lines and 48 Ribs (both the five and ten minute cut) should be arriving in Beverly Hills...well, any minute actually, according to this FedEx receipt. Here's hoping they shine brightly.
Yen and James and I were in Austin over the weekend. James was auditioning actors there for his upcoming film, GDMF, which is a very risky project but which, if it turns out - if it doesn't fall short - could be really great. I'm producing it - a task which, for the time being, involves offering moral suport and offering suggestions such as the one in this e-mail:
DVD: I think you should change the title of GDMF to Myrrah and Antiochus.
JMJ: You and your damn English lit.
The auditions only lasted four hours, and the rest of the time was spent hanging out with friends, watching The Conformist (we missed the engagement in Dallas, but the print was spending a week in Austin, so it all worked out), watching the extra features on Last Days (that dolly shot - my god!) and playing this awesome board game called Hungry Frogs, which was basically just Hungry Hungry Hippos, with frogs instead of hippos. We spent a long time playing that.
We also had breakfast with Kat and Bryan. Bryan and Jake (who we'd never had the chance to meet prior) showed us the current cut of their latest opus, and listened to our feedback afterwards (which hopefully wasn't too redundant). I was hoping we could convince Kat to show us the rough cut of her film, but no luck...
In the middle of all this, Jim called us and told us that he secured foreign representation for Deadroom at AFM. We knew he'd been working on a deal there, but apparently it's now pretty much set in stone, which means that the film may be released after all - although not necessarily in the US. So now we have about three weeks to prepare all sorts of deliverables - M&E mix, commentaries, extra features, and all the other stuff we should have done a long time ago, before we directors prematurely decided that the film had no future. I could go into my mixed feelings about the film being released, but really - what's the point? Jim did a great job, taking up the reigns as a businessman and doing in one day what none of us artsy types could manage over the past eight months. That's why he's our producer, after all. He's coming into town on Thursday to help us put all the deliverables together, and also to solidify plans for shooting Yen's next feature, Ciao, in the spring (which has gone from being a miniDV film to something potentially much larger - as editor on the picture, I'm actually having to do research on various workflows, and I decided last night that I'm gonna push Jim to budget for a DI).
The day before the trip to Austin, James and I secured the camera package (Arri SRII) rental for The Outlaw Son and access to the location for the climax of the film. The shoot dates are December 16th through the 21st. Things are going to continue to move somewhat slowly on this project for the next week and a half, but come December 1st, craziness will ensue, as I try to balance rehearsals, ironing out production details, editing Deadroom stuff, going to Harry Knowles' 24-hour Butt-Numb-A-Thon with James and Amy, and probably a half dozen things I'm forgetting about at the moment. Oh, and final exams, of course. And because I don't like limiting myself in any way, I just signed up for classes for next semester, doubling the hours I'm taking this term.
Coming soon: crashing and burning, in the most glorious fashion possible! I can't wait.
November 14, 2005
A prelude to the next entry...
I went to the Theater Fire show at the Cavern last week. They played 'Special Ways,' of course, which is the song I had decided to use as the sole piece of music in The Outlaw Son before I'd even heard it. They also played quite a few new pieces which most of us had never heard before - some truly beautiful material that nearly managed to wring a few tears from these weary eyes. James and I sat in the back afterwards and told Curtis that it didn't make sense that we knew him and Nick and the rest of the band, much less that we make movies and music and other things with them; how did we end up with friends that talented?
They were opening up for Bosque Brown, who I'd never heard before, but who I remember reading about on Kat's blog, since she'll be on the Jumping Off Bridges soundtrack. She was also amazing, and if I hadn't been cashless, I'd have bought her album (as it was, I only got into the show because I was on the guestlist). For now, I'll be satisfied with listening to the two tracks on her MySpace page: 'Still Afraid' is my favorite.
If you're so inclined, you can hear a few Theater Fire tracks at their website (check out 'Ne'er Too Late' if you're feeling moody, or 'The Desert' if you're not), but they're all from the first album from a few years ago - which is great, but believe me, you haven't heard anything yet. Albums two and three are recorded/being recorded, and will be released shortly (meaning: by the end of the decade, if we're lucky, long after James and I have plundered all of their contents for soundtracks).
Two weeks ago, I was reading what is perhaps the best of the 12 books in Paradise Lost and I came across a familiar passage:
Invincible: abashed the Devil stood,
And felt how awful goodness is, and saw
Virtue in her shape how lovely, saw and pined
I thought I'd never read Milton before, but these lines were instantly familiar to me; I knew them by heart. I worked my way backwards, following fragments (the green volume on my mother's bookshelf, the smell of the paper, scanning the lines for those perfectly hinged words - invincible, abashed - a tone of voice, afraid, in awe), until it all came flooding back in full, and I thought I'd write something about it. And I began to...
And then I stopped. And stopped. To paraphrase the words of another David: biographies are too close to obituaries, and I wasn't ready to write this part of mine just yet.
Since then, I've finished the poem, and things have happened and I've some serious catching up to do.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:10 AM
November 3, 2005
November 2, 2005
I don't really agree with this particular piece, nor do I feel the need to comment on it; but because I've spoken of George Lucas and Matthew Barney in the same breath several times in the past, I feel compelled to link to any article that explicitly equates the Star Wars trilogy with The Cremaster Cycle, as Aidan Wasley does here for Slate. Via Green Cine, of course.
(And yeah, I bought Revenge Of The Sith as soon as I woke up yesterday, but I don't know when I'll have time to watch it. Well, maybe I will tonight.)
Posted by David Lowery at 10:06 PM
I've begun to refine my approach to The Outlaw Son. Up to this point, I've been very content to be wishy-washy, in so far as making decisions or providing details to those working on the film with me. I like giving the impression that I don't really know what I want: I like to stay open to possibilities, I like to hear what other people bring to the table, and I like to maintain secrecy. And sometimes I really just don't know what I want yet. But most of the time I do, and I'm starting to speak in complete sentences, and those sentences have more period than ellipses. And I've got to remember to deposit that check!
Rehearsals proper start in about three weeks.
Posted by David Lowery at 3:17 PM