April 30, 2006
And while speaking of Nick Cave and westerns...
Some trailers that have caught my attention lately:
- Curtis called me the other day to tell me about the new Leonard Cohen documentary, I'm Your Man. It was on my radar, but what I wasn't aware of was that, in addition to Cohen himself, the film features performances by three of my favorite singer/songwriters: Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright and Antony (of the Johnsons). I'm assuming from the footage in the trailer that they didn't all play together at one event - or rather, I'm choosing to believe they didn't, because I don't know if I could live with having missed that.
- I never saw Chopper, so I'm not sure if a new film from director Andrew Dominik is something I should be looking forward to; but I do know that The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is the best self sustaining title for a film since A History Of Violence, and that's enough to sell me.
- Scott Macaulay and Manohla Dargis have both offered glowing endorsements of Robinson Devor's Police Beat, which is playing for a week at the Anthology Film Archives. It sounds like a wonderful film, and there's an extended trailer available at its website; unfortunately, the super35mm photograph is compressed into a Quicktime window that's almost too small to see. Still, this is another addition to the list of undistributed films I need to track down and see.
- I loved the Wes Anderson AmEx commercial as much as I hated the M. Night Shyamalan, but, as a handful of fellow bloggers have already pointed out, this spot is the only one that's worthy of honest endorsement (that new G5 iMac you mentioned in the comments here a few posts down ain't gonna help that debt, Jamie - but don't worry, we all understand).
April 27, 2006
Down In The Valley
I finally managed to catch Spike Lee's The Inside Man this evening, and as I was leaving the theater, I realized that, discounting the week of festival filmgoing, I can count the number of films I've seen theatrically so far this year on two hands. I don't feel that I've missed too much, but I can think of a few tiny films which I very much wanted to see that darted in and out of theaters before I had the chance to catch them. I'm looking forward to catching up in the near future - school's out next Wednesday - but there has been one pleasant side effect of this draught. When I've been to see a film lately, the sense of routine (no matter how wonderful that routine may be) is gone. When the lights go down, my guard goes with them, and I can feel my excitement rising. Regardless of whatever it is I'm seeing.
Next Friday, I'll finally be seeing The Proposition, by John Hillcoat and Nick Cave. It's been available on import DVD for a while, but I've held off. I want to experience it on the big screen - because I'm a romantic and still go to films for Experiences with a capital E (before I critique them with an admittedly lower-case C).
What I have experienced, though, is the score to the film by Cave and Warren Ellis. It's exactly what one might expect a score by those two bad seeds to sound like. The minimalist orchestration puts Cave's piano and Ellis' violin front and center, the latter coiled tight like wire around the ominous riffs of the former. It's a very minimalist, very organic collection of compositions. The bass line that backs many of the tracks sounds gutteral, almost aboriginal; I may be projecting a bit when I say that the score as a whole sounds distinctly Australian - indeed, there's not a didjeridu or gum-leaf to be found - but, as with his last album, Cave sounds as if he's getting in touch with his roots. He puts his voice to excellent instrumental use as well; his baritone drifts in and out of the cues, sometimes muttering lyrics, sometimes simply lapsing into a drone, and never dominating the music as he generally does in his songs.
There is one proper song on the soundtrack, entitled The Rider Song. After an hour of music that grows progressively darker, this song closes the record with a note of gently epic acquiescence.
No, said the moon that rose from his sleep
No, said the cry of the dying sun
No, said the planets that started to weep
Yes, said the rider and lay down his gun.
If the movie's anything like I'm imagining it will be, then this song can only belong in the closing credits. I can't wait to hear it, as the lights in the theater go up and I stay firmly rooted in my seat.
Addendum: Daniel Robert Epstein has an excellent interview with Nick Cave over at Suicide Girls.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:35 PM
April 26, 2006
James has cut to the chase and posted a photo montage from one of the scenes in GDMF. It's artfully work safe.
We're finally going to start logging footage for that this weekend. I'll simultaneously be working on a philosophy paper. I'm sure one will start to influence the other.
Posted by David Lowery at 5:28 PM
April 23, 2006
Musings Made While Counting Electric Sheep
I'd readily call myself a cinematic thrill-seeker. I openly seek out and embrace originality in film, and have developed a bit of an addiction to the bracing experience of seeing a work that at least seems to offer something completely new (on both sensory and intellectual levels, in the best of cases, although I think there's some room for exclusivity there). I love it when a film makes me prick up my eyes and ears. But all that said, I'm rather glad my appreciation for the familiar hasn't been numbed. I'm not talking here of the simple pleasures of a comfort film, but of the bedrock of archetypes that I can always count on to break my fall on those more ill-advised kinescopic cliff jumps.
This is what I was thinking about halfway through James Bai's lovely Puzzlehead, when I realized that I knew exactly where the story was going and most of the steps it would take to get there; and that I was extremely satisfied to see it following that course of action. The film is (by the director's own admission) an update of Frankenstein, and, like so many films before it, it adheres the specific beats of Shelley's novel fairly closely. There are only so many stories in the world, and this is one of the better ones, and it has implicit to it so many primal issues ( as science fiction so often does) that it can be retold almost verbatim with a slight accent to the perspective and not seem at all redundant.
Bai's accent occurs in his setting - an unspecified point in the future - and in his thematic focus, which takes the hubris central to Shelley's story as an understood element, and extracts from it a specific crisis of identity. Of course, this opens up the film to further points of comparison; to Blade Runner, and to A.I., and to all the other stories that have explored the psychological implications of machines that look and act and think like humans. These are the paradigmatic, parabolic paradoxes of science fiction; they can be made to seem new - witness Shane Carruth's breathless reinvigoration of all the classic time travel dilemmas in Primer - but often it's enough that they're done well. As in this case.
But back to the context. The film is narrated by its titular automoton, who informs us that he was created in his maker's likeness "after the decline." Whatever cataclysm he may be referring to is never made clear, but its repurcussions are evident in the the fascinating, timeless wastelands Bai has created, both interior and exterior. The industrial landscapes through which the characters scurry to and fro are disconcertingly silent; there are few cars, and fewer people (one of the film's most striking sequences uses an act of incidental violence as set dressing). Everything is gray and diluted. In contrast, the turn-of-the-century brownstone in which most of the film takes place seems illuminated by Victorian gaslight; diffused stripes of yellow and green cut across the dark nooks and crannies, barely illuminating technological implements which, so central to the story, are nearly impossible to date. The production design is, in one sense, very subtle; but like that violent beating in the streets, it is put in focus precisely because it is unremarked upon. Bai, with production designer Jessica Shaw and cinematographer Jeffrey Lando, is intent on creating a world of stringent, almost exhaustive constancy, bound together by a delicate harpsichord score.
The entire film is infused with that sense of care; it was shot over three months in various dilapidated corners of Brooklyn, and while such a schedule may seem grossly distended for a low budget independent film, it's nothing compared to the seven years of post production work that followed. The 16mm film was cut on a flatbed; every single sound was recorded after the fact; there isn't a single frame that doesn't seem to bare the marks of careful consideration. This extends in part to the fifteen or so digital effects in the film, most of which are used to put lead actor Stephen Galaida in the same frame with himself (he plays both scientist and monster), and most of which are seamless; there are a few indulgent shots involving a mechanical iris which don't fit, but at least they still flicker with the same grain as the rest of the film.
Given my prediliction towards handcrafted films, I certainly appreciated those qualities in Puzzlehead; but what struck me the most about it was how perfectly it worked within its means. In other words, despite the film's low budget, there's nothing in it which would suggest that Bai had any sort of limitations. Neither, for the most part, did the brilliant Primer, or Greg Pak's Robot Stories; nor, looking back even further, did Godard's Alphaville or (my personal favorite) Marker's La Jetee. These films participated in their genre by virtue of their ideas; science fiction, after all, is not dependent on the special effects and action sequences that have come to define it. While studios will occasionally release a serious work like Soderbergh's version of Solaris, I think independent filmmakers could do quite a bit to reclaim the genre.
Or perhaps they already are, and the films simply aren't being released. Case in point: nearly a decade after it started shooting, Puzzlehead has yet to find a distributor. It premiered at Tribeca a year ago, had a short run at the Pioneer Theater in NYC a few weeks ago, and will presumably continue to screen at festivals until it finds a well-deserved home in some acquistion catalog. Upcoming screenings are as follows:
- April 20- 21, Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival)
- April 29, Sci-fi London
- May 6, Santa Cruz Film Festival
- May 11, FANT Film Festival (Bilbao)
- May 18-21, Jacksonville Film Festival
- June 14-25, Durban Film Festival (South Africa)
Catch it if you can. It's a great spin on an old number. And, in case you missed it, here's Matt Zoller Seitz's interview with Bai, which is how I learned about the film in the first place.
I've had science fiction on the brain for the past few weeks, due to a project I've been developing. In particular, I'm concerned with the rift between pop sci-fi and its more intellectual incarnations. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who feels like responding: what are your favorite examples of the genre, and why?
April 22, 2006
Puzzlehead vs. Pyramid Head
I'm about halfway through a brief consideration of James Bai's no budget science fiction gem Puzzlehead, but I keep getting sidetracked by this tangled web of more pressing engagements.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that there are currently several films out by filmmakers I really admire that I have yet to see, I went to see Christophe Gans' Silent Hill this evening. One of these days, a talented director is going to realize that he or she can easily get away with making a horror film that operates purely on nightmare logic - something along the lines of a big budget version of Merhige's The Begotten. Until then, I suppose we'll keep suffering perfunctory plot points and terribly redundant exposition for the sake of the ten or so minutes of genuinely frightening content that films like this manage to offer. I don't know if it's worth it, but I don't imagine I'll ever really learn my lesson. I'll give this film points for intermittent imagination and, conversely, for the score that seems lifted straight from Fulci's masterpiece The Beyond.
And now I've got a semi-frightening tale of my own. I was working on The Outlaw Son this evening when I noticed something which had previously escaped my attention, during a shot in which a character's wireless phone rings. Those of you with digital phones may be familiar with the way certain devices will pick up a signal and buzz with static when a call is coming through, just before the phone itself rings. On the film, we used wireless lavalieres for most of the shoot, and so, right before ringtone sounds in the scene, the microphone picked up this anticipatory buzz. It was nothing that couldn't be removed in post, and I thought nothing of it.
So: I was working on this scene, and as I played it back over and over again, perfecting the cut, I heard that digital interference. Nothing out of the ordinary, until I realized that it wasn't all I was hearing. I turned off my iPod, turned up the speakers on my computer and pressed play on the clip once more; sure enough, there was something else there. Buried in that buzz was what sounded like a recording of a woman's voice. I couldn't tell what she was saying - it sounded like a recording played backwards.
I played it several times, until I was sure that my ears weren't playing tricks on me. Then, sufficiently creeped out, I quit Final Cut Pro. I get scared very easily (James could tell you an amusing story about a late night editing session a few years back in which he scared the hell out of me), and while I know there's a perfectly logical explanation for this particular phenomenon, it's enough to keep me from editing until the sun comes up in the morning. At which point I'll most likely laugh at myself, in much the same way you're probably laughing at me right now.
April 20, 2006
The bit of embedded amazingness above is a short film by Karina Lomelin, made in honor of Film Fatale, the film festival for female filmmakers run by our friend Maria Garcia. This year's installment occurs this Saturday night, so clear your calendars.
DATE: Saturday, April 22
PLACE: Metrognome Collective
(1715 Lancaster Ave. in Ft Worth, TX)
More details available here.
Also occurring this weekend: Barak Epstein and Lauren Graham are getting married, and Frank Moseley is beginning production on a new film entitled Birthday, which has as its basis one of the best short screenplays I've read in a long time. Congratulations all around! I wish I could be in three places at once, but the best I can manage is two.
P.S. The Outlaw Son website has been updated with two additional fragments of film.
April 17, 2006
I've been wanting to see Jake Mahaffy's War ever since I saw the trailer last December, prior to its Sundance premiere; now, Paul Harrill has posted an interview with Mahaffy that's not only whetted my appetite for the film further, but cast doubt on my chances of ever seeing it; he says he has no real interest in distributing it, as he's too busy with his new projects. In other words, the film has had it's time to shine.
It's a must-read interview; I won't offer up any samples of it here, but I will point to the website for Mahaffy's filmmaking collective, Handcranked Films, where there's a short interview from the Sundance Channel, which ends with this quote from the filmmaker himself:
"I've actually created a reality. And as far as other people being able to accept that reality or engage in it, it's their responsibility. The audience has their responsibility, I have mine, and I've fulfilled my part of the bargain. The movie exists, and that's an achievement. And now I'm going to make another one."
I really admire that philosophy. And I love those rare, passionate instances that occur most often in the arts, when supply and demand are separated from commerce. And I wonder if it's my responsibility to not only try to engage the film, but to see it in the first place? I've done pretty well thus far with tracking down undistributed films (I'll be fulfilling my part of the bargain and writing about at least one of them later this week). Maybe my luck will continue...
Do take a moment to check out the work of all the other filmmakers at Handcranked Films; you'll be glad you did. I'm particularly fond of the stop-motion work of Jeff Sias.
Four hours of data transfer left and I can start editing again. Meanwhile, the Texas temperature just about hit 100 for the first time today. I have some good summer memories that are always brought on by that first gust of air conditioning and the air outside that hits you like a brick wall; but I have a feeling that I'm remembering them far too early this year.
Posted by David Lowery at 9:31 PM
April 15, 2006
IEEE 1394 SOS
I've broken the raw footage from The Outlaw Son into ninety-eight different exported clips, each consisting of a single take of one of the shots that comprise the twenty-two different scenes we filmed (the script only had eleven). They've been burned onto DVDs that will begin to be shipped out Monday morning, all around the world; eventually, they'll find their way back here. I'm very much looking forward to that.
But in the meantime, all that footage, and all the footage for the Deadroom documentary I'm working on, is residing on a Firewire drive, one which became host to some sort of corruption last night. I can't quite figure out what happened; I took the drive over to Yen's place to give him the footage, and it wouldn't register on his desktop. Not only that, but after restarting his computer, all his other Firewire drives had vanished as well. He tried various fixes, but the disks stayed gone. I took my drive home and plugged it in to the port where only a few hours earlier it had been functioning fine - and nothing. I had resigned myself to having to start over from scratch - it was an oddly liberating disaster, once I came to terms with it - when I tried to connect the drive through its USB port. That worked.
But working with massive amounts of digital video over a USB cable is highly impractible, so this afternoon I went out and put a big new external Firewire drive on my credit card. My poor Visa certainly wasn't in need of such an incurrence, but on the plus side, whoever designed this particular drive must have been a Star Wars fan, because it looks like an accessory from the Death Star. That's enough to make me happy. Yen, however, still can't get his Firewire drives (which don't have USB ports) to respond, so if anyone with any technical expertise has any insight into the matter, please do share it.
I'm now transferring 120 gigabytes of audio and video to this new drive, by way of USB. It'll take about twenty hours. That frees up the rest of the long weekend to work on this screenplay, which I've given the working title of Ain't Them Bodies Saints.
The film I'm helping Clay with is a lovingly comic homage to old Flash Gordon serials. I've gone from being grip to script super to boom operator. On Monday, I think I'm playing a mad scientist. While shooting one particularly goofy scene yesterday (although everything seems goofy when you're interacting with green screen environments), someone whom we were later told was the Argentine Ambassador and his entourage wandered onto the sound stage and watched us at work. Much like the hard drive problems, it didn't make any sense. We just kept shooting.
April 12, 2006
I knew that as soon as I started to impelent headings in my posts, I'd get lazy and just use the title of whatever song I might be listening to, instead of taking a few moments to come up with something that's literally relevant. Oh well. I generally do the same thing with screenplay titles, too.
You'll have to forgive my lack of a substantive presence here for the time being; there are many things I want to write about, as always, but I'm having to divide my time quite a bit these days on various filmmaking issues. I'm fine tuning all the raw elements of The Outlaw Son; color correction is pretty much done, and last night and tonight I recorded some ADR monologues and one-man foley (I'll tell you, it's hard to record the sound of bootsteps when the boots are two sizes too small for your feet). I'll finally get some serious editing underway with that film next week, once I've finished the nearly feature length documentary I'm currently cutting for the Deadroom DVD. And whenever I'm tired of editing, I can turn to this screenplay that really needs to be done by May 1. I'm not the best multi-tasker; every day this past week, I've had to force myself to find stopping points on each project, so that I can move onto the next one. I'm glad we put off editing GDMF until May. By that point, I'll have hopefully finished at least one of these projects, and hopefully have started no more than two new ones.
There is, of course, all that schoolwork to get in the way, too. Luckily, a week of Easter vacation starts today - just in time for me to join the crew of Clay Liford's new film, which starts shooting bright and early tomorrow morning. Rigging lights on a greenscreen grid will be a nice change of pace from staring at this monitor. If only the call time weren't so rapidly approaching!
I'll have some better, legitimately opinionated writing coming soon. I promise. In the meantime, let me make a few brief and exclamatory cinematic admonitions:
- Go see the Dardenne Brothers' L'Enfant! And Brick! One is much better than the other, but still, they're the best films I've seen so far this year (that have distribution).
- And if you're in a city that's playing Caveh's I Am A Sex Addict, go see that too, and make me jealous. The same naturally goes for another IFC release, Drawing Restraint 9, although I don't know if it's as important to turn that one into a box office phenomenon.
- If you're in the mood for some reading, as you very well should be, I suggest you savor the fascinating articulation between these two pieces - one by Chris Fujiwara, the other by Harry Tuttle of Screenvision - on Tsai Ming Liang's second greatest film, The Wayward Cloud.
- Then turn to Steven Shaviro's wonderfully prolix take on V For Vendetta. Which reminds me that Dennis Cozzalio responded to my post on that film with a second one of his own, also very much worth reading.
Okay, what am I really supposed to be doing right now?
April 10, 2006
Cities and images.
I think Evan Mather's new film, The Image Of The City, is his best work since Icarus Of Pittsburgh. I don't know why, I just do, and when I say that, I'm lying because I really do know why and just like felt like pleading ignorance for a moment for no real reason. What I love about the film is that it's such a superb instance of adaptation - in this case, of Kevin Lynch's urban design manual of the same name. It takes a certain skill to translate a diagrammatical piece of writing to film and maintain both the intent and meaning of the original work while making creative digressions; but when Mather pokes fun at academic credentials in his opening narration, or expands upon Lynch's five visual qualities of urban architecture to include the opinion of ants on the doctrine of transubstantiation, he never reduces the film to the level of lampoon. Rather, he appropriates the original work and puts his authorial stamp on it as a filmmaker, while honoring its original literary intent and purpose. Lynch's theory comes across as strongly as Mather's stylistic traits and After Effects-endowed idiosyncracies.
Speaking of images of a city...
I've always maintained that my friends and I make films in Dallas-Ft. Worth for reasons of circumstance, and not choice. I love making films here, but that's because I'm making a film, not due to where I'm making it. There is no filmmaking community here; there are merely filmmakers (many of them wonderful and talented, many of them my friends) functioning in a civic void (something tells me that Laura Miller would never jump off a bridge for one of our movies). I'm not afraid of burning bridges when I say this, because there really are none to burn. Individual support is thankfully in no short supply; but I can count the local institutions that have consistently gone out of their way to help us on two fingers (Bart Weiss' Video Association, and MPS Studios), and we've long been bemused at the fact that our films have received more press in national publications more than in the local newspapers. And when the area rags do mention us, they shoot themselves - and us, and whatever vestige of a community the metroplex might have - in the foot, as the Fort Worth Weekly did the other day when they printed this article. James has written a level-headed response to it; since I don't live in Fort Worth, and have no civic pride in the metroplex, I don't feel the need to go easy on it. Initial good intentions aside, this is sloppy journalism at best, and deliberate misrepresentation at worst; the reporting erroneously substantiates the very problems it purportedly laments. The author's error regarding Deadroom (an insult to inaccurate injury) isn't even the most egregious element; it is his snide comments about the Facist Watch film series, which is run by friends of ours who do know who their congressmen and women are, that I find entirely unforgiveable. Someone needs to stop a moment and weigh the value of fact-checking against snarky commentary. It's a disservice, both to my peers and to the city itself.
I'm happy and proud to be known as a Texas filmmaker; get any more regionally specific than that, though, and I start to get uncomfortable.
April 6, 2006
As if on cue, I've gotten sick, and it's started raining.
This was one of the posts I had meant to make last week, before I got sidetracked. Had I managed to get it up on Friday, the day we started shooting GDMF, it would have had a more cosmically balanced effect - out with the old, in with the new. Sort of.
It was reported in the Washington Post last week that the DVD of Lodge Kerrigan's Keane would come with an alternate cut of the film, edited by Steven Soderbergh, who had different ideas about how the narrative could be formed. I've got the film in my Netflix queue, and will be writing about it as soon as I watch both versions. For now, this bit of experimentation is very much in line with what Soderbergh said about multiple cuts last fall; so to is it a good lead-in for explaining where exactly The Outlaw Son is.
It's still on my hard drive at the moment (where my initial 35 minute rough cut will soon be shortened by about fifty percent. I've suddenly realized why Wong Kar Wai spends so long shooting his films; when telling a story in this fashion, you always need new footage to supplement whatever direction the film decides to go in. I'm currently pushing hard against this unknowingly self-imposed limitation - and, if all goes well, I won't be alone in doing so. Over the next few months, other filmmakers will be taking the footage and making their own versions of the film. In keeping with the rule during production that forbade anyone from reading the script, no one cutting the film will have an idea about its contents, or receive notes from myself on how the footage should be put together. The film, then, in these multiple interpretations, will be an experiment in subjectivity. Within its own four walls, it will be an uncertain memory; its pieces constantly shifting, taking on ever-so-slightly different meanings.
From my own subjective perpsective, this is an exciting experiment. More than that, though, it's really, really scary.
It will take a while to get everything taken care of, and I'll write about it at greater length and with more grand disclosure later, once I have a full slate of participants, and once my sinuses clear up; in the meantime, however, let me offer up a series of adjectival phrases describing the film, each with its own imagistic accompaniment.
April 5, 2006
We finished up the Austin leg of the GDMF shoot yesterday (an auspicious end to the production; hopefully, we'll be shooting all our films there in the near future). This film certainly kept us on our toes. Maybe I just noticed it more because I was producing. Or maybe after being spoiled by the relative weightlessness of the Outlaw Son, I had nearly forgotten what it was like to fall behind schedule, or to have locations drop out at the last minute, or to wrangle a room full of nearly twenty actors, or to actually need an assistant director. It was extremely exhausting and frequently stressful, but I think that duress made the entire process more memorable, and more valuable; and from it, James and his actors pulled the elements for a fairly remarkable film. We'll find out for sure when I start editing them together next month, but I'm already pretty proud of what they accomplished. And jealous. In a good way.
It was good to get some more producing experience under my belt; it should come in handy this summer. And it was somewhat fun to flex my cinematographer muscles again, since Clay had to abdicate after the first two days. I know there's at least one shot that I lit halfway competently.
A good memory from the other night: crashing with James at our friend Marc's completely vacant apartment in Austin (which he'd just moved out of the day before), staying up late, drinking a bottle of wine from paper cups and talking about filmmaking, both specifically and in general, with an enthusiasm only slightly abetted by inebriation. These are the sort of things we've done a million times before, and that I naively hope we have a million more opportunities for - even though I know that things will change. We always make our movies knowing that it's only a matter of time before we're not serving as each other's crews any longer - at least not in the same capacity.
Which reminds me of something from David D'Arcy's oustanding interview with David Cronenberg last week. It'
I try to crush all other filmmakers. I think it's important to be honest about that. In fact, it was a process of coming up from the underground. I had a lot of friends who were underground filmmakers. One of them was Ivan Reitman. Of course, he's very successful in Hollywood and moved to LA a long time ago from Toronto. But others did fall by the wayside and never became filmmakers for various reasons. At a certain point in your career, you have to do it yourself. There's only so much help that you can have. For a long time, I wasn't making enough money to survive, so I certainly couldn't help anybody financially.
It is important to b honest about that, although but my optimistic side tends to believe that I'll keep trying to help, even when I can't.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:21 PM
April 1, 2006
I've a whole catalog of entries I haven't had time to finish and post this past week, and it'll be a few days more before I get around to them; in fact, I should really be using the time I'm taking to write this to grab a quick nap. We're one day into principal photography on James' film; and whenever James makes a movie, every night's a wrap party.