May 31, 2006
This time tomorrow night I'll be at my grandparents house. I haven't visited them - or my hometown of Milwakuee - in ten years. The last time I was there, I convinced a friend of the family to take me to see Trainspotting; I was (in anticipation of what would later become a Goth phase) anxiously awaiting the sequel to The Crow (yeah, my taste was even more questionable then than it is now, but you won't catch me apologizing for it, or for that film's score's presence on my iPod); I was for the first time decisively, desperately shedding all those awkward pounds I still force my to keep off; and I was a month away from meeting a dear friend I've still somehow managed to stay friends with, even through those times when 'friend' hasn't been quite the right word.
So it'll be interesting, being back. Driving by the house I grew up in and tried to learn to fly in. Maybe pulling out the old VHS tapes that were my introductions to Star Wars and Stanley Kubrick. Indulging in serious nostalgia is something I never pass up the chance for.
My grandparents don't have an internet connection, which will be handy; I'm going to try to get up early each morning (something I've been doing fairly well all week) and dedicate a good portion of each day to finishing both the script I've been working on and the one I just started the day before yesterday. One for me, one for the man (and me). I'll also be doing some reading. So far on this trip, I've made it through two books I've been meaning to catch up with for a long time: Theodore Roszak's Flicker and Mark Hadden's The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. The former is a good page turner - I'd assumptively describe it as The DaVinci Code, except with movies instead of Jesus - and I'd recommend it almost unequivocally to any cinephiles, especially those who have an airport layover in the near future. Hadden's novel is equally engaging; more than that, though, I think it's a minor masterpiece. I was expecting something more clever, and wasn't prepared for its emotionally devastating qualities. Both books are being made into movies: Darren Aronofsky's signed on for Flicker, which may turn out to be best left a book; and Steven Kloves is writing and directing The Curious Incident, which will make a great film - although I can't help but wish it had fallen into the hands of Lodge Kerrigan instead (speaking of whom - apologies to The Reeler for missing the screening of Keane at the Pioneer Theater last night; I hope it was a succcess).
Next up: more Phillip Roth, and (in the interest of light research for one of those scripts) Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Life Of The Human Cadaver. And three hours at the airport with a laptop and some Netflix movies I brought with me.
But anyway. I can't decide anymore whether I love or hate the way that ten years ago feels like yesterday.
May 30, 2006
Señor Love Daddy's Weather Report
After a climactic night spent sitting on a misty city rooftop with a bottle of whiskey, my traveling companions have all departed, and I've moved from my brother's bachelor pad in the Bronx to Brad and Isabelle's lovely home across the river. Their balcony has a beautiful view of Manhattan - or would, if this thick haze of hot air hadn't set in the other day, obscuring everything that isn't already washed out by the sunlight. Even when the temperatures are the same, New York heat is very different from Texas heat. I think I definitely prefer the latter.
Brad and I went through The Outlaw Son last night, taking notes for the sound mix. Then he showed me his own nearly-completed cut of it, which fulfilled pretty much every hope I had for the alternate edits. It's like looking in the mirror and not recongizing my reflection: all these elements that I'm so familiar with, refracted, rearranged, redefined. It bears almost no resemblance to my version, and yet they're exactly the same thing. It works like a memory. I can't wait to see more.
I was going to try to catch The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu this afternoon, but I might hold off, stay in, hide from the heat, do a bit of writing and editing. So far, the only film I've managed to see is Melville's Army Of Shadows at the Film Forum. I really wanted to see Mouth To Mouth, but it's already gone. Everything else that's playing here right now will be opening in Dallas within the next few weeks.
On Thursday I leave for the Midwest and a seven day trip down memory lane. Then it's back home again (hopefully with a completed screenplay in tow), and then, two weeks after that, I'll be headed out to the other coast...
May 27, 2006
Just Another Travelin' Song
We spent the first half of this week hanging out with Sujewa, and screening Deadroom to a tiny but enthusiastic audience at his microcinema. I loved the bookstore that hosted the screening. I sat upstairs through the whole thing, in a warm corner amidst the shelves, vaguely aware of that familiar dialogue drifting up through the floor while getting lost in the pages of Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus. Today, on the drive from DC to New York, I dozed off for about thirty seconds, during which that novella became my own personal history.
The drive was beautiful (never so much as when we were lost out in the plains of New Jersey). We stopped in Philadelphia along the way to have lunch with Paul Harrill of Self Reliant Film, who told us some great short film war stories.
Now I'm sitting in an apartment in the Bronx (after spending a very interesting hour trying to find the place), with a cool summer rain pouring down outside. It should be a good weekend; my friend Tony gets into town tomorrow morning. I haven't seen him since he joined the Navy last summer. And we're meeting up with Brad, whom I haven't hung out with in person since we left Berlin last year. We'll get a bit of work done on The Outlaw Son sound mix over the course of the next week. I'm also going to try and see some movies, so if any of you New Yorkers want to go catch a flick, please do let me know. It would certainly be fun to put some more faces to names.
Meanwhile, back in Texas, P.T. Anderson is prepping for There Will Be Blood, and chronicling the process in a Melville-infused photo blog. It makes me very happy to see Jack Fisk in there. (via Cigarettes & Red Vines.)
Posted by David Lowery at 12:32 AM
May 21, 2006
Operating in a far more timely fashion than I did with my own film, James and I finished the first cut of GDMF last night, after five days of editing. It was tough job, but we forgot all about its difficulties when we reached to the final scene. "I could never write an ending that good," James said after we watched the film straight through for the first time.
So it's off to a really good start, but at the same time, its very rough, and there's a lot of work left to be done. I suggested that some of that work might include a bit of additional shooting (I can hear James groaning again right now). On the other hand, that may just be the impulsive reaction of a filmmaker who's become increasingly obsessed with shooting as much material as possible, even on his friends' movies ("Why do we have seven takes of this shot?" James asked me at another point, as we watched an actor walk into a room over and over and over again), but regardless, we've quite a bit of refinement to get through before we come to any conclusions on what the film does or doesn't need.
I do think, though, that when one is making a film without a script, the lines between production and post-production will - and should - begin to blur. The old adage about films being written three times (on the page, on the set and in the cut) doesn't have the luxury of being so clearly delineated -- a deficiency which is in itself a luxury, especially if you're shooting on DV, but one that requires its own set of disciplines. James may never have been able to write an ending as good as the one that spontaneously occurred on set, but he established the context and guided the actors to the point where they were able to create it. But what is this 'it?' It is an end that's free of a certain structural means; it's something more organic than a scripted scene, but also more volatile in its relationship to the film as a whole. It's precisely because James didn't write this closing scene, or plan for it, that its dynamic with what precedes it must be taken into careful consideration.
In other words, if an improvised scene fulfills the general ends a director had in mind (which he or she should always have, no matter how vague), then it's a success, and that's great. If it takes things to a slightly new level, or if it changes the meaning of something that came before it, that might be even better - but it might also necessitate some reevaluation, and perhaps some recutting and reshooting. Although I think reshoots, with their negative connotation, are the wrong term to use in these instances; any additional shooting is an extension of principal photography just as much as its a part of post-production; you can't say that you write a film three times in this context, because you never quite finish the first draft.
My requisite closing caveats number two: the first is that it's important to remember that most films which feature a great deal of improvisation are still scripted (see pretty much any Andrew Bujalski interview for example by way of further explanation); the second is I say all this without ever having directed a film that completely eschewed any form of a script - it was just over a year ago, after all, that I was whining about how difficult it was to write The Outlaw Son - although I have become somewhat adept at throwing my scripts out prior to production, and I imagine that the experiences are somewhat comparable. But GDMF was ninety percent improvised - probably more, actually - and the experience has and continues to present new ideas and new possibilities, and new problems as well. Problems which may be solved by cuts that haven't presented themselves to us, or with scene that haven't yet been shot. Whatever the case, the rough cut will be accompanying us around the country in the next two weeks, where it might be exhibited for an objective audience member or two.
In the meantime, because I want the best of both worlds, I'm going to turn back to the methodical labor pains of this new feature sceenplay and its carefully attenuated dialogue, its precisely paced chronology. It's turning out pretty well.
May 20, 2006
DIY In Seattle
Just a reminder to anyone who reads this in Seattle (is there anyone?) that Sujewa Ekanayake's Date Number One is screening tonight and tomorrow night, 7pm and 9pm, at the Northwest Film Forum. More details available here (and Chuck Tryon's review of the film is here). A new print of Cassavetes' Love Streams is playing at the same theater; if I were there, I wouldn't miss either film.
Instead, I'm back in Dallas, enjoying the 'afterglow' of a whirlwind night of
too many drinks, salsa dancing (?) and two amazing shows by my favorite band. But come Tuesday, I'll be heading to the opposite side of the country to join Sujewa in presenting a screening of that movie about those crazy talking dead people...
May 18, 2006
Everybody Has A Dark Side
Last Tuesday saw the release of two requisite items; Terrence Malick's The New World on DVD; and the Theater Fire's new album, Everybody Has A Dark Side. The latter will seep into stores around the country and Amazon.com later in the summer, but for now you can order it direct from the label or get it from iTunes. If you head over to their MySpace page, you can hear a few of the new songs - but seriously, this record is worth a blind buy. If you need more convincing, this week's Observer has a great article on them, in which more praises are sung.
Also at the MySpace page are details on the record release party, which is tomorrow night at Good Records, at 7pm. Free admission, free (vegan) food, free drinks, live music. Afterwards, the band will be heading over to the Cavern to headline a second show, in which they'll play the entire album from beginning to end.
If you come to the first show, you'll probably get to hear Cease, the song which (for better or worse) gets its own scene in The Outlaw Son and which will probably be on their next record. At both shows, you'll likely hear These Tears Coud Rust A Train, which has actually ended up in the film as well, after initially being replaced just prior to shooting. When I was editing last week, I realized I need another piece of diegetic music, and back into the cut it went.
May 17, 2006
Keane, Or Something.
As I mentioned last month, Lodge Kerrigan's recent Keane has been released on DVD with an alternate cut by Steven Soderbergh. I watched both versions back to back the other night.
First let me say that Kerrigan's film is brilliant; so too is the performance by Damien Lewis that fills up most of the space in every single one of its frames, and indeed, I don't think Kerrigan can be credited any more than his leading man for the success of the picture. It's a tandem effort, each artist pushing and pulling and pivoting on the fulcrum of that nearly subjective lens. The film's style reminded me very much of the Dardennes - although how reminiscent it is of Kerrigan's prior work, I can't say (it's been too long since I've seen Clean, Shaven and I've yet to see Claire Dolan). Keane does bear several similarities to Clean, Shaven, in that both films center around a mentally ill man and a missing girl; but that film, as I recall, was a bit more narratively driven, whereas this one is more concerned with immediate experience. Or, more specifically, the fluctuations of a psychosis on a moment to moment basis. To that extent, we never know exactly what is wrong with Keane; perhaps he's schizophrenic; perhaps he's a paranoid delusional; perhaps, in a way, he chooses to go crazy because it provides an escape, like the drugs and booze he gulps down in equal measure. Kerrigan and Lewis certainly know the key to the character, and I'm sure the film was researched as assiduously as it was executed; but were that information to be revealed, it would qualify as exposition, and that is something Keane is blessedly free of.
Now, here's what Soderbergh has to say on the DVD about his alternate cut:
While I was away on location, Lodge sent me a copy of Keane to look at before he locked picture. I loved the film and told him so, but I also sent him this version to look at, in case it jogged anything (it didn't). In any case, we agreed it was an interesting (to us) example of how editing affects intent. Or something.
It is interesting. Soderbergh's cut is fascinating not because it makes a minor failure of a great film - which I think it is - but because it goes to show how inseperable inent is from the quality. Keane has an improvised feel, but watching it with its chronology rearranged and one key scene excised completely, it becomes clear how carefully structured it actually is. Soderbergh's sapped it of its forward momentum, its singular, hypnotic draw. Which isn't so much of a problem all by itself, but what I found odd was that he doesn't offer anything in exchange for what he's taken out. His cut doesn't generate any new ideas regarding the content of the film, or challenge our perception of its events.
Soderbergh's too smart to have merely hit the shuffle button, and his reordering does display a certain vision; the problem, though, is that Kerrigan's footage doesn't support it. Their intentions run afoul of each other. What Soderbergh's done, essentially, is to create a blueprint for the film as he would have directed it. In other words, he's hammered a square peg ino a round hole.
May 16, 2006
They Kept The Ending, All Right.
Go watch the new German trailer for Perfume. It's a real gem.
May 15, 2006
21 Minutes, 59 Seconds, 16 frames, Pt. 1
I just finished watching my own cut of The Outlaw Son straight through for the first time. I'll write more about the grossly extended and yet deceptively swift process of getting to this point later. For now, I'll just say that I'm pretty overjoyed with it; and that I don't envy the brave souls who are themselves currently (or soon to be be) looking for some sort of meaning (or overt lack thereof) within the footage.
I'll be showing the cut to a few people tomorrow morning. I may wish to retract all this afterwards, but I won't.
To be continued...
May 12, 2006
I wish I could provide with this post a legitimate followup to my Abel Ferrara blog-a-thon entry concerning the director's work and the Catholicism ingrained in it, but unfortunately - fortunately! - I'll have to watch Mary again before I can give it the consideration it deserves; I saw it about two weeks ago, and while I feel like I've got a sufficient grasp on most of its pieces, I need a second viewing to to put them in order. Thus, consider the following as notes for future viewing and reviewing.
- Suffice to say that this is unmistakably a Ferrara film; indeed, until I learn otherwise, I'll continue to believe that it's his voice we hear coming out of the angel at the beginning of the film, asking Mary Magdalene why she's looking for the living amongst the dead. It certainly sounded like him.
- The film continues to an extent the dissolution of traditional narrative most exemplified New Rose Hotel; likewise, it certainly supports my previous arguments concerning both his representations of faith and what might be called a Catholic brand of feminism.
- As I understand it, the project was originated in a different form by Jean-Yves Leloup, a historian who translated the gnostic Gospel Of Mary Magdalene and wanted to make a literal cinematic adaptation of it. Leloup appears in Mary as himself, which may suggest the direction Ferrara's taken with this picture; rather than make a revisionist biblical film, he's used the fictional making of such a film as a platform from which he extrudes several parallel narratives, each with its own line of ecumenical query. The film largely takes place in the week leading up to the premiere of a controversial about Jesus and Mary entitled This Is My Blood, which is at least partially based on the Gospel Of Mary Magadelene (we only see snippets of it). Childress is an insufferable blowhard, but his film - as yet unseen by the public when Mary begins - has touched a cultural nerve and instigated massive protests.
- In that sense - and I'm making an uneducated guess here - I can't help but feel that Ferrara's film could be viewed as a serious answer to the hype of The DaVinci Code. I haven't read Dan Brown's book, nor do I have much interest in the film, but I do know that it posits a more involved relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Whether it follows that conclusion to any levels deeper than sensationalism, I can't say, but it's interesting to note that Ron Howard's film will be released in such close proximity to Ferrara's, which does look further that the few lines contained in the Gospel Of Mary that might be seen as allusions to sexual relations. The more fascinating (and, I might add, beautifully written) aspects of the text are the theological doctrines which Christ espouses to Mary, and the suggestion of divine privilege which confounds and angers the other apostles when she reveals to them what she's been told. "Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us?" Peter asks after she'd told of the revelations made to her. "Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?" Such a scene is suggested in Mark's account, which shares with the other canonical texts the incident in which Mary is the first to see the risen Christ; but this newer recounting not only goes into detail about it, but offers preferential closure.
Ferrara acknowledges this in Mary, but he places the promulgation of this Gospel within a much wider context; he is, in effect, attempting to reconcile variations in creed with the power of personal faith. Whether or not he completly succeeds is something I'm not quite certain of yet. I'm tempted to say that the film's apoplectic ending is one third profound and two thirds cornball - but I won't sign off on that opinion just yet, and it doesn't by any means negate the quality of discourse that precedes it.
- And when I say discourse, I mean that literally; the film's lead character is a talk show host named Ted Younger, played by Forest Whitaker, who is hosting a series of television series on the historical Jesus. Much of the film's theology is presented in his interviews, and one of Ferrara's triumphs is the way in which this staggered academic exegesis becomes infused by and eventually inseparable from the analogous progress of the overarching narrative.
- One of Younger's guests is the director of This Is My Blood, an insufferable hotshot actor named Tony Childress (Matthew Modine) who not only helmed the picture but cast himself as Jesus. Childress has been called by other critics a caricature of Mel Gibson, but I don't think that's quite accurate; if anything, I'd say that he represents a criticism of Gibson's intentions with The Passion Of The Christ, rather than the man himself, since the two directors are quite diametrically opposed. Childress is an atheist, and his film is not devout in any traditional way, but he claims that it is no less divinely inspired than any other religious art. The dynamic of an artist compelled by the meaning of something he doesn't believe in is a fascinating one; I think it's been slightly undersold, however, by Modine's approach to the character (or Ferrara's direction of him). He plays Childress as so hilariously smug that it's impossible to take him seriously as an artist; I can't help but feel that this might have been less of a problem had Vincent Gallo, who was originally cast in the role, not dropped out of the project (although I don't think either actor could have handled the hyperbole of the climax with much grace). Indeed, several of the lines Childress delivers at the press screening seem to have been tailor-written for Gallo; but maybe I'm just biased.
- And again, that's one of the things I want to reevaluate when I see the film again: I'm not sure if This Is My Blood is actually supposed to be a good film. The overbearing title sequence we see suggests otherwise, as does Childress' performance as Jesus; but then there are the scenes lifted directly from The Gospel Of Mary, in which Magdalene, who is played by actress Marie Palesi (who is played by Juliette Binoche) confronts the other Apostles. These are fascinating fragments, and seem less Childress' film than Ferrara's. Perhaps Ferrara is suggesting that the film is transcended by its own content; or that there are some subjects which cannot be made light of, in which case Childress' fate is his punishment for trying to make a buck off Christ.
- Why is Marion Cotillard's character named Gretchen Mol?
Mary opens in limited release beginning in June. It's already opened in France, and the official site for that release has a trailer both for the film and for a making-of documentary, Oddysey In Rome, which looks absolutely specatacular.
May 8, 2006
A simple Proposition
The Western is a genre rooted entirely in the blood-soaked soil of expansionism. When Frederick Turner wrote his Frontier Thesis in 1893, he stated that America was defined by the violence which marked its development towards the Pacific; the European refinements that held fast on the East Coast of the country grew dissolute as the settlers expanded Westward, and the social hierarchy of the Crown was replaced by an anti-authoritive sentiment - "that restless, nervous energy, that dominant individualism, working for good and evil," as he put it - which was intrinsically bound to the savagery of the frontier.
This history is shared to no small extent by Australia, whose Commonwealth was developing under imperious European sovereignty around the same period that Turner wrote his thesis. This similarly receding frontier, circa 1880, marked like America with the grim domination of an indigenous people, is the setting for John Hillcoat's The Proposition, a film which takes the roots of the genre and viciously tugs them from their earthen bed. If Jarmusch's Dead Man could be described as a post-Western, then The Proposition is a pre-Western, made of the primal stuff which early John Wayne and the Lone Ranger turned generic, which The Searchers boldly managed to hint at, which Peckinpah stripped bare as best as he was able to within the studio system, and which in recent years has been refracted through postmodern revisionism (A History Of Violence would be a good example of this).
When Matt Clayfield reviewed the film upon its release in Australia last fall, he wrote that it "often feels like Hillcoat has added a lot of the more detailed historical stuff (such as the archival material that appears in the film's opening and end credits), the vast majority of which concerns itself with the oppression of indigenous Australians by white settlers, to a story by Nick Cave that, like much of his music, is ultimately more concerned with big, timeless, universal themes."
Indeed, in the press notes for the film, Cave is quoted as saying that "the fact that it was a western set in Australia was very much secondary. I was primarily interested in the interplay between characters in the most general sense." He makes no attempt to expound upon or revise the mythical building blocks he's used to construct it; when a writer as steeped in Southern literature and Old Testament values as Cave is sits down to write a story about three brothers in a lawless land, there is only one direction that can be taken. The script is simple as hell, but its simplicity is of the primal sort demanded by a context such as this, of the sort Turner saw in early America, in which the delineation between the primeval and the civilized loops back on itself. It is a simplicity which Hillcoat takes full advantage of, which he parses and creates space enough to lyrically envelope the history of the land. Little details like the aboriginal servant set free, leaving his shoes at the threshold of a homestead before disappearing into the outback, become as memorable as the scene in which Emily Watson stares at her hand while recounting a haunting dream of a departed friend.
The latter scene is one of several subtle instances in which, as Matt points out, Hillcoat skews our expectations; he lingers on Watson's naked back as she relates a story, having chosen an awkward angle that suddenly gains significance as she lifts her hand from the bathwater that previously hid it. An unremarkable image suddenly becomes heartbreaking, just as others become menacing or frightening or sickening (its impossible to become accustomed to the the way violence explodes - literally - throughout the film). Cave, for his part, makes one striking departure from the archetypal form of his narrative: one would expect Ray Winstone's Captain Stanley, the man who makes the titular proposition, to be a villainous symbol of futile bureaucracy, like Kenneth Brannagh's government official in Rabbit Proof Fence; instead, he becomes an unexpected protagonist, occupying not the center but his own half of the moral scales that shift constantly as the outlaw Charlie Burns, played by Guy Pearce, shifts his loyalty back and forth between his evil brother Arthur (Danny Huston) and his own conscience.
I wrote last week, after listening to the score by Cave and Warren Ellis, that the penultimate track on the record could only belong at the end of the film. Indeed, it does come on, assuaging an appropriately abrupt conclusion with a wistful sense of passage. Lyrically, it reflects the narrative (and provides closure to Cave's incantatory presence on the rest of the soundtrack) in its most mythic sense; but coming on as it does over an image of the land beset by a descending blood-red sun, I think that it tonally serves the historical context as well. There is nothing triumphant about the blood spilt in the development of a nation, and any argument over its necessity can rage on, so long as an acknowledgment occurs. Narratively, The Proposition offers little that is new; but contextually, it is as definitive a Western as one might wish for.
Readers of this journal know that I'm a bit of an emphatic - if critical - devotee of Cave; and yet, I've never read his novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel. I've heard it described as a fourth-rate Faulkner and second-rate O'Connor; I suppose I should finally go ahead and give it a shot, now that it's back in print. Is anyone else familiar with it?
May 7, 2006
The Eudaimonistic Perfection Of Pleasure
My brother Daniel graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy this weekend; I, meanwhile, being the wayward academic of the family, just wrapped up my first course in that subject. I was supposed to finish my final paper last weekend, while simultaneously logging footage for James' film, GDMF. But last weekened somehow turned into this weekend, and so it was that, at 5am yesterday, I finished that paper and e-mailed it to my professor before settling down for two hours of sleep - just enough to refresh my mind to the point of being able to study for the exam I had at nine, after which James was scheduled to arrive with his big hard drive for that delayed logging session. Everything proceeded according to plan, and shortly after noon we started digitizing the twelve hours of footage, none of which we'd had a chance to look at since we shot it a month ago. It looked (and sounded, for once) beautiful - there were no unpleasant surprises or disappointing insufficiencies (those will all come later, undoubtedly). Around seven o'clock, with five tapes left, we decided to go get some food. We went to an Italian place, where we debated over whether we should get a bottle of wine. James is a notorious lightweight, and we had a lot of work left; but, as he put it, "eating pasta without drinking wine is like standing over a toilet without pissing," and so we cracked a bottle and began the imbibement that would continue once we got back to my place, where a magnum's worth of merlot made expeditious work of those last tapes (watching A-cam footage is great, but then you always have to sit through the B-cam). We finished around two-ish, by which point inebration had set in mightily and our vision had become drenched in red. I closed the evening with celebratory accident - namely, spilling my coffee all over my keyboard and effectively frying it.
We start editing the film on Wednesday, with the new keyboard and mouse I bought this morning; we need to have a rough cut done before we leave town. I also have to have my cut of The Outlaw Son done by then, since much of my time in NY will be spent mixing the sound with Brad. I haven't worked on it in over a week; I forced myself to put all my other projects aside until school gets out, but my last exam is Tuesday morning, after which I'll return with a vengeance to the three very different cuts I currently have hanging in the balance.
If you were as enamoured with A History Of Violence as I was but haven't picked up the DVD yet, allow me to offer some instigation. Aside from the film itself, which is of course worth revisiting, the intimate making-of documentary on the disc offers a wonderful portrait of Cronenberg at work; watching it made me extremely envious of everyone who gets to take part in and learn from the creative environment he fosters on his sets. I can't wait to listen to the commentary track tonight.
May 4, 2006
That's how I felt reading Tilda Swinton's keynote address at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Swinton's words fit the very form my thoughts and feeling so often do, but with all the precision of elucidation I never quite manage.
Thanks to Scott Macaulay and David Hudson and everyone else who's already linked to it.
May 3, 2006
Death In Washington
In about three weeks, James and I will be heading to our nation's capital, where Sujewa will be screening Deadroom at his DC Microcinema. I don't know how many readers live in the area, but if you do, this is your chance to join the esteemed ranks of those who've walked out on our film. The details are:
DATE: Thursday, May 25th
PLACE: Kensington Row Bookshop
3786 Howard Ave. Kensington, MD 20895
That's right, it's in a bookshop. I wish I could expect an old flame to show up during the Q&A after the screening, to catch my eye over the rows of careworn manuscripts as I discuss the parallels between my films and my life, and, implicitly, her life too. Then we could sneak away and lose ourselves in a discussion laced with regret and longing that would ebb and flow as the hours wiled themselves away while we lose ourselves in the permanent golden hour of...well, considering the city, maybe we'd just stay at the bookstore and discuss Flaubert or something.
Anyway, we were hoping to have the DVD of the film on hand at the screening, in case anyone might actually want one, but unfortunately it won't be in our hands at that point. Perhaps we can show some scenes from the making-of documentary instead.
A big thanks is due to Sujewa for giving us a reason to dust off this old picture of ours and head East.
I suppose I spoke to soon last week, when I wrote about how few films I'd seen lately. In the six days since, I've watched Wristcutters: A Love Story, Hard Candy, Edmond, United 93, MI:3, and Abel Ferrara's Mary. And before I have time to sleep, it'll be time to go see The Proposition. I'm back to my old self.
May 2, 2006
Young American Bodies
In Joe Swanberg's LOL, one of the characters is addicted to an adult website called Young American Bodies. That's also the title of Joe's new web series, which premieres today on Nerve.com. It deals with the same topics of relationships and sexual demystification that he explored in Kissing On The Mouth, but it is slightly more refined in its approach; at the same time, it's more relaxed, and pretty damn funny. Joe's style lends itself very well to the form of a serialized narrative. This is a soap opera, but all the incident has stripped of just about every single pretense of melodrama - or is it the other way around? Regardless, it's a great start, and judging from the episodes I've seen so far, it's only going to get better.
The first episode can be found here, and I believe the future installments will be airing on a weekly basis, beginning today.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:13 AM
May 1, 2006
One of my favorite elements of David Mamet's dialogue, by which I think I might recognize it even if I didn't know he wrote it, is his use of the word yes. Where you or I might choose the cautious ellipsis of a yeah, Mamet's characters support their logical conclusions or their passions or both by punctuating their syntax with that extra bit of sibilance, uttering it much in the same way that they drop invectives with that trademark gratuity. The word does not so much signify commitment or confirmation; rather, it is a desperate attempt at conviction, a way for a small man to feel bigger. He can say he wants something and sound like he means it, and in Edmond, when Joe Mantegna tells William H. Macy that he needs to get laid and Macy responds with an firm, emphatic yes, he sounds convinced that he has, at the very least, given the right answer, with the enthusiasm expected of him; he can think about the consequences later.
The film is written by Mamet, and directed by Stuart Gordon. Since premiering at Venice last fall, it hasn't been seen outside of the festival circuit, and so for those in the dark, I'll offer this much exposition as to the plot: it concerns the titular character, played by Macy, suffering from a bout of white-collar angst, spontaneously deciding to leave his wife and job and embarking on a long night of attempted debauchery, sudden violence and twisted enlightement that cannot quite be called a downward spiral. His journey takes him to peep shows and brothels, but getting laid is not what Edmond needs, and Mamet and Gordon know this. When he finally does manage to have sex, the camera is not complicit in the act; his desire - or instigation for desire - is not so irrelevant as to be labeled a MacGuffin, but it is a narrative gateway through which Mamet puts Edmond exactly where he wants him. He's not the type of writer who lets his characters live; he may let them speak their minds, but their thoughts are always his, or at least always defined by his purpose. And his purpose, in this case, is to vent.
His screenplay is based on one of his earlier plays, written circa 1982, when he was living in a pre-Guiliani Manhattan and going through a divorce; it is presumable from this material that the separation wasn't terribly amicable. One can imagine the younger, less refined Mamet sitting at his typewriter, spilling the dogmatic contents of his overburdened head and finding his guts going with them, for the play is a barrage of lofty rhetoric soaked in bile. This is Mamet with blood rushing to his cheeks; the philosopher's attempt to reconcile rage with logic. I'm not sure if he's entirely successful, necessarily, or if the chain reaction of existential syllogisms represent a cohesive argument, but they are arranged - and, in the film, delivered, largely by Macy - with a grace that is fairly breathtaking.
Now, to be certain, some of the ideology is a bit simplistic, of the live-your-life-to-the-fullest variety, but even in those cases, it has two things going for it: one is the fact that it's written by Mamet, who can make an old hat seem not new but newly impassioned, and the second is that social vitriol that surges beneath the dialogue's sense of reason. This goes beyond rage and becomes something dangerous, something verging on hate. Looking at a basketball game on television, Mantegna notes that "niggers have it easy, because there are certain responsibilities they've never accepted." This is the first of many instances of the word 'nigger' in the film, and Mamet is quick to bring closeted prejudices to the surface with uncomfortable ferocity. We're not dealing here white business men casually dropping the word 'nigga' because mainstream rap has made it acceptable; these characters use the word because it represents something that legitimately disgusts them. They mean it when they say it.
The film isn't specifically about racism - the hatred towards blacks is also extended towards women and homosexuals - but even in this limited context, it offers a far more believable, far more upsetting portrayal of that particular social ill than something like Crash. At the screening I attended, producer Lionel Mark Smith, who is black, talked about seeing the show the first time it was staged in Chicago and how, upon hearing the line of dialogue quote above, he wanted to find David Mamet and throttle him for writing such a thing. And then the play progressed, and Mamet being Mamet, the content was justified. Smith has been trying to produce this film for the past twenty years, partially because of that dialogue and his response to it (and it's very likely that it is for that same reason that the film took so long to get off the ground)
Stuart Gordon was also at the screening. I presume that most people are aware of Gordon first and foremost as the director of Re-Animator and other Lovecraft adaptations; I thought this was a fascinating change of pace for him, until he informed the crowd that he'd been working with Mamet on the stage for thirty years, had been one of his earliest champions, and had directed the very first production of Sexual Perversity In Chicago. Along with Smith, he's been trying to make this picture for years; he talked about how, even with William H. Macy and Julia Stiles (not to mention Denise Richards, Bokeem Woodbine, Bai Ling and Mena Suvari) attached, it took twelve production companies to cobble together the financing (all of whom are represented, rather humorously, in the opening credits sequence). It's clear that Gordon understands the play, because his direction of it is invisible. That's the best tact when adapting Mamet for the screen, I think, and while, as with the film versions of Oleanna and American Buffalo, one is never unaware of the theatrical source of the material, the quality of that material exceeds the boundaries of the medium. As with Mamet's best work, it works, regardless.
The film will be opening on one screen in New York City in July. And here I am at the end of this post, and I've forgotten to mention how I'm still wondering whether Mamet was sincere when he gave Edmond the surname Burke.