June 30, 2006
Watch Some Analog Lines
The short essay film I made last fall, which a lot of people think is the best work I've done yet, is finally available for viewing - but not through my site. The film is one of three finalists in the documentary category of the SXSWClick Short Film Festival. It's up for a jury prize (which includes an automatic slot in next year's SXSW Film Festival), but there's also an audience award up for grabs, and to that end all of the finalists have been made available for download in gorgeous Quicktime HD. You can watch it streaming online, download it to your iPod, etc.
And then feel free to vote! You can vote once a day for most of July, and while I really don't feel like staging a campaign or urging people to go out of their way to send those ballots in, I certainly won't complain if the mood strikes anyone to do so. I do feel like urging people to take a look at the film, though, because I'm really proud of it, and want people to see it.
So. Without further ado, go here and watch it. And watch the other films, too.
I've submitted Some Analog Lines a few other festivals over the past two months, so hopefully it'll be showing up some more in the future.
June 28, 2006
I'm currently en route to California and my iPod has, coincidentally, shuffled over to 'Homesick' by The Cure.
Now I've landed, but I'll have to finish writing this later. I've got to go attempt to navigate these high strung roads...
And now, one day, two meetings, one teleconference, one dentist appointment (not mine) and one mad sprint with Jim across Westwood to catch This Film Is Not Yet Rated later, I've finally got something to write about. But I'll save that for tomorrow.
June 25, 2006
Prior to the day or so before I saw it, I wasn't anticipating Superman Returns all that much. Partially because the trailers didn't win me over, but primarily because I can't claim the personal connection to Superman that a lot of folks seem to have. I had some Man Of Steel pajamas when I was six or seven years old, and I know I saw the first and third films in the original series a handful of times - but all I remember from either of them are those iconographic images that have fused the character so firmly into pop culture.
But lo and behold, Bryan Singer has fulfilled the promise of those images, and placed them within the sort of truly heartfelt spectactle that generally makes me abandon all critical faculties. I could criticize the movie, and point out its few flaws, but why should I when I so sincerely enjoyed it? Sometimes, I just want to be a member of the audience. I like being the kind of person this sort of film is made for; I love being able to love every single minute of it.
June 22, 2006
Army Of Shadows
The first page of the press notes for Melville's lost masterpiece reads:
"Critics, Writers and Editors, please note: Army Of Shadows has never before been released in the United States. Please do not refer to it in your publication as a revival, re-release or reissue."
I knew the film had been somewhat suppressed upon its release in 1969, but I never realized that it had never made it to these shores. That it's currently showing around the country suddenly seems not so much a special occasion as a cinematic landmark. The newly struck, completely restored 35mm prints really must be seen to be believed. It's the best thing you could see this summer.
I saw it for a second time myself yesterday and, having done so, I can now admit the rather embarrassing conditions under which I first experienced it, the week before last. It was myself, Brad, James and Tony. A scorching Saturday afternoon. We arrived at the Film Forum to find a line wrapping around the block. A line for an old French film that had already been playing for a month, on a Saturday afternoon - it was a glorious sight! On the downside, the matinee was sold out, and so we purchased tickets for the next show and went off to wile away the afternoon at the least expensive watering hole in the West Village.
Three hour later, we returned, tickets in hand and ever so slightly sloshed. The lights dimmed, the film began and here I must admit: I began to doze off. Never completely, and never for any great length of time; but the resulting experience was somewhat like turning the pages of a great novel and discovering that you don't remember a thing you've been reading. I'm not proud of this fact, but I think (hope?) every cinephile can probably admit to a similar experience.
Watching it again, then, was like playing an incredibly profound game of connect-the-dots. I remember every scene, but now I understood how they fit together. And what a picture those pieces form! I remember talking to Brad after that first (invalidated) screening, and agreeing with him that it wasn't as good as Le Samourai; but it is, in fact, quite a bit better. Of the Melville films I've seen, this is unquestionably the the best. he bitter sentimentality that seeps through his normally detached style - the result of his personal involvement in the French Resistance during his youth - is terribly affecting, and all the moreso on the big screen. This is a film to see and see again - preferably while sober and fully tuned to its quiet, overwhelming power.
Girish is hosting great discussion on what Christian Keathley calls "the cinephiliac moment." A moment, in other words, that transcends its own relative unremarkable qualities to find a fixed home in the memories of cineastes (the definition can and has been broken down further). Here's a new favorite moment of my own: there's a scene in Army Of Shadows where Gerbier (Lino Ventura) must return to France from London, via a parachute. After a cold, unrestful flight that seems to go on far too long, the co-pilot appears in the hold, tells Gerbier it's time for him to go and opens the hatch. Gerbier sits there, his feet dangling out over space, the wind rushing in his face; the co-pilot waits for just the right moment, and then tells him to jump.
And he sits there. He's given the go-ahead once more, and he pauses for a few seconds more - and in that moment, right before he takes the plunge, I found one of those points of pure connectivity that, for me, define a cinephiliac moment. I've made that same hesitation myself. I think anyone who's ever jumped out of an airplane has. There's just no way you can't.
I also saw Drawing Restraint 9 again, and want to amend a previous statement. What I love about Barney's films is not just the the attention to process, but the manner in which the process is marked by both primordial order and otherworldly consequence. There's something enormously satisfying about the levels of cause and effect in his films, and in the textures and forms that comprise them.
Also: where does he get all that vasline?
A Plane Ticket For A Song
I've been waiting for Fiona Apple to come to town for six years, ever since she cancelled her When The Pawn tour the very morning that the tickets for the Dallas show went on sale. Finally, after what has essentially been a ten year absence (I don't count opening for that popular British band I don't like), she's playing two shows in Texas in early July - and of course, I'll be gone for both of them. I'm considering the possibility of flying back just to see her play; not because I'm obssessed or anything, but just because I'm so tired of waiting. I suppose it'll all come down to whether or not I have any money in two weks.
Brad recently released an amazing EP on his net label by an artist known as adcBicycle. The full album will be released by Noise Factory later this year, but for now you can download the first five tracks for free. It's along the electronic instrumental lines of Godspeed You Black Emperor, and it's very invigorating material to listen to while writing.
Or not writing, as circumstances may be: my self-imposed deadline for finishing this script about decomposition has been egregiously overlooked. I decided to go out back and make an experimental film instead. I'm still cleaning the dirt out of my ears.
Posted by David Lowery at 4:06 AM
June 20, 2006
Gone In A Flash
One of my favorite little things about shooting on film (aside from the obvious) is going through the footage and finding the spots at the head and tail of each shot where the motor and shutter weren't quite up to speed. There's usually a flash of white, but on either side of that are one or two frames of beautiful, light-drenched imagery. Sometimes there's just a gentle flare; sometimes it's a bizarre distortion; sometimes it's a blooming blossom of primary colors that would make Jeremy Blake jealous.
It's been exactly six months since we wrapped production (for the first time) on The Outlaw Son. Half a year of post production seems sort of ridiculous for what would technically be considered a short film, but considering that I didn't get the footage processed until February, and then shot some more, and then didn't seriously begin editing until April, I guess it's okay. More to the point: I gave myself the time I needed.
And it's very nearly finished. Brad and Isabelle are going to still be mixing the sound, and I'm finishing the final touches of color correction, but the cut itself is locked, and I'll be taking it with me to LA next week in case anyone there wants to look at it. I love, love love how it turned out. For the first time with one of my film's (not counting Some Analog Lines), I don't have any excuses to make; I think I could sincerely make an argument for everything in it. And I'm sure I'll have to, at some point, but thus far, everyone who's seen it has liked it. A lot of people have really like it, and a few people have loved it.
I don't know what I'll do with it. I've got plans for the collection of multiple cuts, but those won't be done for a while. As far as my own version goes, I'm wary of submitting it to many festivals, since it doesn't adhere one bit to the general guidelines of successful short films (primarily that it be under ten minutes in length). In fact, to avoid misconceptions, I'm not even calling it a short. If people ask me, I tell them it's a short feature film. There's definitely an audience out there for it, but as I wrote in the original grant application, I'd rather not go shooting in the dark in order for them to see it. There's probably a more appropriate approach; I'm just not sure what it is yet.
Anyway. My original intention with this post was to list some observations I made during the post-production of the film. I've written them all down, but posting them here feels like overkill (if anyone's interested, I'll put them in the comments below). Instead, I've added three more scenes the website, which I will be updating someday with more text and images and a list of the other filmmakers currently working on their own interpretations of the film (and possibly wondering what the hell I was thinking on a take-by-take basis).
So. All that having been said, make sure you tune in six months from now to see if my convictions have wavered (for once, I'm thinking they won't).
I noticed that the site looks absolutely atrocious on some monitors, with the text all squished and out of alignment; this is because I'm still essentially clueless about CSS formatting. I think I fixed it, to a certain extent, but if any of you tech-savvy readers want to take a look at the code and offer any hints or suggestions, please feel free to do so.
June 17, 2006
Drawing My Own Restraints
I finally saw the new Matthew Barney film today - and there was much rejoicing. Drawing Restraint 9 certainly bears aesthetic similarities to The Cremaster Cycle, but it is far more formally rigorous in its attention to process, and in that I think it probably falls into line with its eight predecessors (which I haven't actually seen). The series is about self-imposed restraints upon the creative process, which here seems to have been generalized to include the push-and-pull process by which society, history, industry and nature reach harmonization.
I think the thing which speaks to me the most about Barney's films is that almost ontological attention to procedure. The opening scene, which documents, step by step, the meticulous wrapping of two gifts, may well be the strongest sequence in the film; it's hypnotic, certainly, and it can easily be viewed as both a prelude to and a representation of the film's themes, but what I especially appreciate about it is the sense of respect with which Barney records the process. Within the context of his films, no element supersedes another in terms of importance; once one adjusts to this perspective, the wrapping of a gift is as powerful as an evisceration with flensing knives.
One thing I'm still contemplating: what does the fact that Barney is now working with computer generated petroleum jelly say about his own processes? In a slightly trivial sense, it almost borders on self parody. Incidentally, the special effects in the film are extremely impressive - if you have the stomach to watch them.
I've been enabling all sorts of restraints against my own creative process this week. This script just isn't writing itself the way I hoped it would. It's going to be the best film I've written in a long time - if I can just get it down on paper. I was at the sixty page mark on Monday, and, somehow, I'm still there.
Earlier this week, Chuck Tryon wrote about a documentary called What Remains, about the photography of Sally Mann, which I'm now obsessed with seeing. Actually, I'm more obsessed with going to the bookstore to buy Mann's book of the same name, because the series of photographs is about the emotional and physiological process of decomposition, and as such, it contains images of decomposing corpses at the Body Farm in Tennessee. The reason this is of such interest to me is that the script I'm working on deals in part with a photographer who, in the interest of chronicling the emotional and physiological process of decomposition, visits (you guessed it) the same institute to take (what I'm guessing are) very similar photographs. I need to get in the habit of doing research before I begin these writing projects, to makes sure reality doesn't impose too heavily on some of my ideas. I don't think Mann's work will effect my story, but it will certainly help me refine it.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:35 AM
June 16, 2006
A Scanner Darkly
Talking to the Onion A.V. Club about his long awaited (by me, at least) adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater recently said that "I think usually in adaptations, you lose the comedic. People think drama drives story, but I thought the comedy was really the heart and soul."
I think he's right about the first part: comedy ain't easy, and fusing it seamlessly, naturalistically, with a dramatic narrative is an even greater challenge. I don't think he's necessarily wrong in his interpretation of Dick's novel, either; I never saw it as a comedy - quite the opposite, in fact - but everyone's entitled to their own own. The problem with his film, though, is that, rather than preserve the spirit of what he felt was the heart and soul of the novel, Linklater seems to have assumed it would be implicit in an adaptation that isn't necessarily extremely literal, but is extremely perfunctory in all the wrong places. His script hits all the necessary story notes, but it gives precedence to the more humorous sequences from the novel in which schizophrenic undercover agent Bob Arctor is hanging out with his druggie pals, Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson), riding the highs and lows of addiction. Harrelson and Downey, Jr. take naturally (naturally) to their parts, and it's fun to watch them riff off each other; it is, indeed, funny, but these scenes don't participate in the overall story the way they need to, the way they do in the novel, because when they occur, Arctor - the central character - seems to disappear into the background for distressingly long periods of time.
Cue jokes about Keanu and his acting. I've always liked Reeves, when he's in the right roles, and I think he's actually quite good as Arctor, a narcotics agent who isn't quite aware he's reporting on himself. The problem is, essentially, that his character remains a single character; the paranoid schizophrenic element of Dick's novel never become a recognizable issue in the film until Arctor's condition is explicitly explained to him (and to us). When the script finally begins to indulge in some substantial voice over narration, the subjectivity is like a breath of fresh air - but it's too little, too late. All those sequences in which Barris and Luckman argue over whether a bicycle has eighteen gears or merely nine might have benefitted from a liberal dose Arctor's perspective.
I haven't reach many of Dick's novels, and I'm not a purist by any means; but I think that while Linklater certainly understands the point of the novel, he doesn't properly convey it. Thus, at the end, when Dick's afterword from the novel is put word for word on screen - an alphabetical elegy for all his friends, most of them dead, who suffered from drug additctions - it doesn't have the impact that it should. Audiences may feel like they should be moved, but they may not know why; those who've read the book will know why, and, like me, they'll likely consider the film a great opportunity, narrowly missed.
So now comes the curious part of this review in which, after explaining why I don't think it's the success that I was hoping for, I try to convince people to see it anyway. Seriously flawed though it may be, it's certainly not a bad film; it's certainly better than everything else that's been released thus far this summer, and I've always been of the opinion that an interesting failure from a great filmmakers is still a worthwhile experience. In a more specific sense, however, it's worth seeing for the animation - and even more specifically, for the way in which the use of animaton (which, unlike that in Waking Life, seems almost like a surrealy tranparency laid over the video footage) is justified by the scramble suits. These outifts, worn by undercover agents to obscure their very existence, hide their wearer behind an array of features, visages and countenances - a vague blur made up of, in Dick's words, "a million and a half physiognomic fraction-�representations of various people every conceivable eye color, hair color, shape and type of nose, formation of teeth, configuration of facial bone structure projected at any nanosecond and then switched to the next." The way this effect has been achieved in the film is, as any one of its characters might say, completely mind-blowing. The suit seen in the trailer was a work in progress; the finished version is worth the price of admission.
A few worthwhile links, concerning the film:
- The Wired article from a few months ago, which hints at the troubled history of the film's post-production.
- Producer Tommy Pallotta's blog, which has a great entry on the style manual used by the animators, and on the animation process itself.
- An unproduced adaptation of the novel, this one written by Charlie Kaufman. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but it seems he's kept the 70s sensibility of the novel intact - something Linklater wisely changed.
- A PDF version of a Res magazine article on the film.
It was in this article that I learned that a gentleman named Nick Derrington, who I've hung out with because he's a good friend of my good friend Clay Liford (he designed the poster for Clay's film, A Four Course Meal, and just last week did some awesome concept art for Mr. Liford's next film, which I'll keep mum about for the moment) was actually the lead animator on the scramble suits.
And on the subject of connections: while watching the scene from which the image above is pulled, I thought I recognized the voice of one of those doctors, but couldn't place the face. It wasn't until the credits were rolling that I realized it was Wilbur Penn, a local actor who impressed the hell out of us with his entirely improvised performance in GDMF. Seeing animated versions of people you know is weird, especially when you don't recognize them.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:45 AM
June 12, 2006
- The sixty-degree weather in Chicago last week made me fear returning to Texas, but something about the encompassing vacuum of dry heat here seemed welcoming. Feels like home, I guess.
- This Thursday, Bryan Poyser is holding a fundaiser for his new short film, Best Birthday Ever (which he sarts shooting the following day, I think). For fifteen bucks, you can see Bryan's Dear Pillow and Joe Swanberg's Kissing On The Mouth back to back, and be entered in a raffle to win prizes worth hundreds of dollars (i.e. film festival passes). Buy your tickets here; and while you're waiting for your credit card to get charged, you should head over to GreenCine and read David Hudson's comprehensive review of Joe's recent work.
- I meant to review Pixar's Cars over a month ago, when I first saw it, but it completely slipped my mind until it opened this week and all the reviews reminded me of exactly how unexceptional it is.
- While driving around Waukesha, looking for the school my parents dragged me to, kicking and screaming, for the first day of 1st Grade, I listened to an old episode of On The Media with a segment on the history of the Wilhelm Scream. It was only a few days earlier that Brad and I had been discussing where we might, for our own amusement, slip a Wilehelm into The Outlaw Son...
- I used to really love Neil LaBute - I even liked Possession to a certain extent - and I still watch In The Company Of Men once a year or so. I couldn't figure out why he, of all people, might want to direct a remake of The Wicker Man, but whatever his reasoning, the trailer is pretty scary. It opens on September 1st, and hopefully will set a good precedent for a genre-rific fall (Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and, of course, The Fountain are at the top of my current must-see lists).
- I didn't finish any of those scripts I was hoping to finish while I was in Milwaukee (although I did start on a third one). I'm going to spend the next week finishing them up, so I can hand one or two of them to Jim McMahon when he comes to town to prep Yen's film. Yes sir, seven days of non stop writing! You'll be able to chart my procrastination by the frequency of new posts here.
- As a parting gift, I bought my grandparents the best gift I could think of: a copy of The New World.
June 11, 2006
The Road To Guantanamo
Michael Winterbottom has never made a bona fide documentary, but he's courted the format so intensely with some of his recent films that I'm hesitant to refer to them as docudramas, or works of traditional verité. Even those that are narratively fictive (Nine Songs, Tristram Shandy) deal liberally in fact, and in the case of In This World and, now, The Road To Guantanamo, he's taken an intentional step towards dramatic indistinction. His technique has always included aesthetics commonly associated with documentary filmmaking, and while a handheld camera should not by itself imply a greater degree of truthfulness, I think he's found a formula that makes the truth implicit in his shaky images. By throwing himself - literally - into the front lines of his subject matter, by making his dramas within their actual context, he achieves the sort of urgent authenticity a retrospective documentary could not quite achieve. The deeply ingrained riskiness of his films counters the fact that they are, in fact, staged; that, on a basic formal level, they are no different than any other film that bare the 'Based On A True Story' subtitle.
In the case of The Road To Guantanamo, however, the truth is so polarized, so politicized, that Winterbottom and co-director Mat Whitecross stray a bit closer to fact. The film, an account of the treatment of the Tipton Three leading up to and during their internment at Guantanamo Bay, is a work of visceral protest, and it backs up its statement as bluntly as it can by letting its subjects - Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul - tell the story in their own words. Interviews with them are both the source of and the backbone to the narrative, and their first person accounts provide the film with some defense against those who will claim that the film is biased dramaturgy. It may not be objective, but at least it's an accurate source.
Although I think, for that very reason, that it was a wise decision to include the interview footage, it has the odd effect of rendering the reenactments that make up the majority of the film less effective. They are often harrowing, and brilliantly executed, but there's no need to suspend disbelief - there's no disbelief to suspend - when the line between the real men and the actors playing them is so clearly established. As far as polemical purposes go, this isn't necessarily a problem; the film is properly infuriating, and does what Winterbottom intended it to do very well. But I'm not sure how much it has going for it beyond its immediacy and, subsequently, its historical value. In fact, as of this very moment, the film is already overshadowede by its own subject matter.
While I was watching The Road To Guantanamo, I kept thinking about Paul Greengrass' United 93, which blurs the same lines that Winterbottom does, but in different ways. I didn't write about United 93 when it came out because I wasn't sure there was much to be said; it's a great film, but its greatness is commemorative, self-encapsulated, and isn't sustained much longer than its own running time. What has stuck with me in the weeks since I saw it, though, are the sequences in ground control. While the drama in the skies was assumptive, everything in the control rooms can be traced to actual records; adding to the impact of these scenes is the fact that many of the actors in these scenes are playing themselves (in particular, Ben Sliney, the director of operations for the FAA on 9/11, emerges as a hero both of the film and the day itself). This casting is not merely meta data; it makes reality an intrinsic element to the film, in the same way that Winterbottom's technique brings such veracity to his pictures.
That veracity is somewhat mitigated in The Road To Guantanamo (imagine if United 93 had been punctuated by similar interviews). On the other hand, Greengrass' film had little to offer aside from its own experience, and The Road To Guantanamo subjugates experience in favor of application; it is designed to open eyes, to make an impact, to inspire an immediate need for change. And in that sense, in the here and now to which it is bound, it is Winterbottom's most important film. It leaves no question that there's something rotten in Guantanamo Bay, and when it's over, we're left to reflect not on the film but on the reality it represents.
And it works. Immediately after watching it, I got in my car, tuned on the ignition, and was met with the reports breaking across the BBC of the three Gitmo prisoners who hung themselves. I listened to the press statements of the US officials, and I questioned every single word.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:39 AM
June 10, 2006
On the plane this evening, I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Memories Of My Melancholy Whores while the woman sitting next to me perused the chapter on Sexual Morality in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.
That's all I feel like writing for the time being.
June 4, 2006
A rare instance of connectivity this weekend finds me with nothing much to report, except that I've been watching the first ten minutes of Beau Travail over and over again.
I miss my dog.