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July 31, 2006

Texan Again

After a whirlwind trip to Austin over the weekend, I've made my way back Home to North Texas. Home with a capital H, as opposed to the lower case varieties that are gradually going to be supplanting it over the next few months. I'll be back in LA in a few weeks, for a few weeks, but for the time being I'm at my desk and it's five AM and Final Cut and After Effects and Photoshop are all open and I'm waiting for some footage to render.

I was hoping to finish my new short film, Upheave, while I was gone, but the Final Cut crossgrade software didn't arrive until this past Wednesday. I had to get the crossgrade because I bought a MacBook Pro right before I left Dallas last month, and of course the only programs that weren't compatible with the new Intel chipset were the editing applications. But I overlooked the inconvenience because this MacBook is pretty swell. The Photobooth feature in OS Tiger is the best thing I've ever seen. We spent at least two hours in the hotel room in Austin the other night, applying all the Chris Cunningham-style filters to our faces. It's the most narcissistic distraction ever.

Anway. I have to finish that film, finish GDMF, finish a few other things, get started on a few more things, come up with more ideas, always more ideas...and catch up on my reading. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is waiting patiently for me to finish it.

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

July 26, 2006

Time To Leave

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Francois Ozon's latest work treads where dozens of weepy Hallmark movies have gone before, but it succeeds so beautifully because it underwhelms. In telling the story of a photographer who chooses to give in to his terminal case of cancer, Ozon doesn't go for hystrionics; nor does he challenge our expectations. The film proceeds exactly as one might expect, from beginning to end, and is marked with what I'd identify as a sort of austere Gallic sentimentality (see also: Patrice Leconte) that is stripped down, stylistically, but doesn't entirely avoid getting worked up by its own emotions. It pushes buttons, but does so very discreetly.

Taking this median approach, the film will leave you feeling moved but not manipulated, sad but not devastated, thoughtful but not terribly intelectually stimulated. And yet it sticks; days later, I'm still thinking about it. The lump that it left in my throat, the one that didn't melt into outright tears, is still there, minor though it may be. Ozon is too sensitive a filmmaker to make a purely ordinary film about this subject; he wouldn't have made it if he didn't have something to say about death and dying, and while he's not one for pedagogy, he knows how to sink his hooks where they matter, to push them past the pellicle of sentimentality and into truth.

One of those moments is just a fragment, a single shot of a baby nursing at its mother's breast. Dreyer used the same image to beautiful effect in The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, and in the eighty years between that film and this one, it's scarecely been utilized - it seems almost stigmatized, in fact. It therefore communicates its intended meaning with a delicate, rarified sort of immediacy that transcends its intended (and fairly obvious) meaning; it transcends transcendence, in fact, and slips out of the realm of symbolism. Although it plays directly into one of the film's subplots (hinted at in the very Photoshopped poster), it functions simultaneously on an entirely separate level, and becomes one of the film's defining images.

The other scenes that hooked me were the ones where the photographer (Melvil Poupaud) visits his grandmother, played by the legendary Jeanne Moreau. She's the only person to whom he tells of his condition, over the course of a visit that we sense has been put off for a long time. As she takes her regiment of pills and prescriptions, she tells him she wishes they could slip off together that very night; later she changes her mind and asks him to reconsider chemotherapy. He maintains his position, and the next morning, as they're saying their goodbyes, he takes a picture of her and bursts into tears. He'll spend a fair amount of time crying throughout the rest of the film, but this is the first time since he received the bad news. At this point, though, he's not crying because he is going to die; that's part of it, certainly, on some level, but the immediate cause of his tears is simply that he and she both know that, regardless of who dies first, they will never see each other again. Death is irrelevant in that moment, and it just about broke my heart. In fact, it's breaking my heart writing about it right now, and I have to stop.

* * *

Sentences that I wrote that didn't make it into this review:

The most selfish tragedy of death, after all, is not that we're gone, but that everyone else is left behind.

Every artist makes at least one work dealing with their own mortality, and the good ones make their death our own; they transpose their fears and worries onto us, and their work becomes universally therapeutic.

* * *

The trailers before Time To Leave were particularly good. I love the Science Of Sleep preview, and that was followed by one for Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation, which I didn't realize was about to get a theatrical release. And then there was one I hadn't seen before...the ThinkFilm logo, a digital cityscape, and then...

From the director of Hedwig And The Angry Inch...

That was all I needed to see.

One of the best things I've done in LA is sit at home and watch Hedwig on IFC with Curtis and Valerie. It had been too long since I'd last seen it.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:55 PM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2006

Dallas Video Festival, 2006

The venerable Dallas Video Festival, now in their 19th year, finally released their schedule, which means I can finally mention that James' film GDMF will be having its first public screening there. Which means I better get back to Texas so we can finish it.

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In addition to GDMF, the scheule is a veritable who's who of our friends and fellow filmmakers. Joe Swanberg's LOL and Kat Candler's jumping off bridges both have prime slots. Our good buddy and future collaborator Frank Mosely will be there with his directorial debut Holy The Sabbath, in addition to popping up as an actor in a handful of other films (including GDMF). And while I've never met Kyle Henry, I feel like I already love his work: his acclaimed feature, ROOM, will be showing right before James' film.

Some Analog Lines will be screening as well, as part of the Texas Show - an annual compilation of the best short films from Texas filmmakers (selected by, among others, Matt Dentler of SXSW). In addition to closing out the festival, the Texas Show will be available for purchase on DVD, and will also play on PBS and at other festivals. Exposure is good. Being in the company of the Zellner brothers' Redemptitude is also good.

And off course, Albert Maysles will be there, as he always is - this year with a screening of his classic Grey Gardens.

In addition, there are over 100 other films to choose from - there are always wonderful surprises (last year, for example, I sat down to watch Jay Rosenblatt's The Phantom Limb without knowing what it was, and ended up seeing one of the very best films I'd see all year). The festival runs from August 8th to the 13th. Get your tickets now, and make plans to hang out with us afterwards - we'll probably throw at least one killer party to celebrate the one great cinematic institution in our hometown (and our work's place in it).

Posted by David Lowery at 9:22 PM | Comments (1)

Gracefully Sidestepping Disaster

When you throw in the gas, the hotel room (somehow I ended up with a double), the parking and more gas (but not food), it probably would have been cheaper for me to just fly in to San Francisco for a day. But the coastal drive was nice. Time to think, to breathe the ocean, to listen to lots and lots of music (more on that momentarily). I had exactly one mental breakthrough regarding my current script: I finally realized exactly what the main character had been taking pictures of before deciding he wanted to photograph cadavers. It's a simple but vital detail, and it's something that I've been hung up on for ages. I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier.

But what I was about to say was that I almost didn't take this weekend trip, for a single reason: on Friday, I thought my iPod had died. Or not died, really, but somehow erased itself. I turned it on in the car as I was driving to the movie theater, and it wouldn't play anything. At first I thought it was frozen, but a quick spin of the click-wheel revealed: there was nothing on it to play. I almost had a panic attack. That was the end of the story; there was absolutely no way I was going to take a six hour drive without my musical archives. I paused briefly to recognize my addiction, and then noticed that the clock on the device was still set correctly, and that the SXSW schedule from last March was still stored in the Notes folder. Thinking that it might be playing tricks on me, I went home and I tried plugging the thing into my computer. Music issued forth; everything was recovered; I was not about to be cured of my dependency.

The SFMOMA may be the best modern art museum I've been to yet, although I'll admit I might be biased by its current exhibition.

I have quite a bit more to write here, but first I'm going to bed.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:13 AM

July 21, 2006

We're Spanning Time

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At long last, there's a full trailer for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. I don't know what to say, other than that it's pretty beautiful. That last shot looks like nothing I've ever seen before.

I like the futura-bold font face, too. A bold move, but one that might be entirely appropriate, if the movie's as good as the whispers about town suggest...

* * *

I hung out with Jake Vaughan (of The Cassidy Kids and Dear Pillow fame) a few times this week; it's so great to be able to touch base with like-minded individuals out here - especially when they're Texas ex-pats who love Gus Van Sant's Gerry. Last night, we had dinner and drinks over at Jay Duplass' place, where we mourned the loss of all the cool coffee shops in Austin and discussed the akward art of the pitch.

Tonight, I've planned a double feature of Ozon's Time To Leave and Monster House. I think I'm equally excited about both films.

Tomorrow, I'm going to drive up to San Francisco. My sole reason for going is to see comprehensive Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint exhibit at SFMOMA. In the interest of perhaps stealing a few pictures, and for future use in general, I went out and bought a digital camera yesterday. I already sort of hate it - there aren't even any fake manual controls! I feel lost without a focus ring, or at least a focus button.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:05 PM | Comments (4)

July 18, 2006

Some Analog Lines. Again.

I've some beautiful friends. Ignoring my own muted hints of self promotion, they've been spreading the word about Some Analog Lines via every online interface in existence, putting my own humble efforts to shame. I thank you all - and in support of your support, I'm going to not suggest but ask that you go vote for my movie! Those italics are meant to be indicative of confidence, by the way, and not braggodocio. There's just over a week left before they close the polls, so head on over and cast your ballot.

I woke up this morning with caffeine tremors left over from the night before. The only nice thing about that happening is that I don't have to make coffee in the morning.

Last week, Curtis downloaded Us by Regina Spektor (from her Soviet Kitsch album) onto my desktop. I'd been aware of her for a while, but I must have never actually heard her before - if I had, I'd surely have immediately bought the album and listened to it incessantly for days on end. Which I did, and have been doing, although that one song is still the one I'm spinning most (when I'm not watching the video for it, which is lovely and amazing in a Gondy-esque fashion - and, more importantly, eschews all special effects and even all edits in all the right places).

I have at least one music video of my own to get started on when I get back to Texas and all the equipment and collaborators that await me there. If I could actually maintain a steady pace of work on a given project, I'd be done with both of them by September. But try telling that to the little clay man who's been sitting still in his chair in a room grown thick with dust for nearly a year now....

Posted by David Lowery at 2:21 PM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2006

Black Hole

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Back in the mid-nineties, around the time my voice was breaking and Pulp Fiction was coming to steal me back to cinema after my pre-adolescent flirtations with comic books, I caught a glimpse of some of the crisp, haunting artwork from a book called Black Hole, by Charles Burns. It was an image of some monstrous form: a misshapen head, its face twisted in misery, atop a twisted, extruded spine of a body. I knew that Burns' graphic-novel-in-progress had something to do with teen sexuality, and the dynamic between that subject and that image wedged the title in my head. It stuck with me, and over the years, as I'd see Burns' immediately recogniable, less grotesque but no less evocative artwork on the covers of books or The Believer magazine from time to time, I'd remember Black Hole and wonder about it.

Last fall, when - a full decade after its inception - Burns finished the novel; last month I finally picked it up and finished the entire thing in one long sitting. It's an outright masterpiece, easily ranking with my favorite works of the medium. One a purely graphical front, it's one of the most beautifully illustrated works I've read in a long time; Burns captures a world of detail in seemingly simple brush strokes, and his artwork is so rich and nuanced that I didn't even realize it was entirely monochromatic - solid blacks and whites, without a single shade of gray. Most reviews have marveled at how he maintained exactly the same style over the ten years it took to finish the book; equally impressive is his organic utilization of the geometry of the medium, of the repetition of various motifs and the overall cohesiveness of his form that affects the reader on almost subconsicous levels (the most obvious of these is the recurring use of vaginal imagery - it's there, with its shifting implications, in a disected frog, a nasty wound, a bit of parted foliage, not to mention an actual vagina) and keeps the thematic content bubbling constantly under the surface.

The book, set in the 70s, is a dense horror story of hormonal awakening and physical maturation. It centers around a group of teenagers beset by a strange disease, known as 'The Bug,' that is transmitted through sexual contact and which causes odd, frequently terrifying physical deformations. Burns offers no explanation or exposition for this plague; one might initially assume it to be a metaphor for AIDS, but after the few chapter or two, such a strict reading will seem far too limited (in fact, after that first chapter or two, I found myself so caught up in the narrative that I stopped thinking about metaphors entirely). The book is not simply about sexually transmitted disease; nor is it simply about teen sexuality, or alienation, or going to school, or first loves and heartbreaks. It is about adolescence, in general, and the end of it, in particular, and its intimately subjective perspective affords it a scope that it is epic and precipital.

I don't mean to suggest, however, that the sense metaphor of 'the bug' isn't persistent in the narrative. It's there throughout, in a vaguely enveloping sense, and its meaning is of the sort that is profoundly affecting and yet hard to put a finger on. Paging back through the book after I finished it, I realized that Burns' intentions are most immediatley displayed on the inside cover and dust jacket of the book's hardcover edition. In the front, Burns has illustrated a page from his own high school senior yearbook. Smiling faces, all looking just off camera, anonymous and yet completely familiar. On the back half, the same illustration has been altered; the faces are all still there, still smiling, but they've been mutated by 'The Bug.'

The key to this equation, though, is the way Burns presents himself on the dust jacket. On the front flap, he offers a rendering of his own yearbook photo. On the back, alongside all his deformed peers, he's drawn himself again; the same expression, the same picture - except he's in his 40s. All grown up.

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The novel has, of course, unfortunately, been snatched up by Hollywood. Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman are adapting it, which is okay. The problem is that Alexandre Aja is attached to direct. Haute Tension is one of the most insulting scary movies I've seen recently; The Hills Have Eyes wasn't quite as bad, but, while I don't want to be judegmental, I've seen nothing from him that suggests that he won't treat the story as anything more than a parade of grotesqueries. I hope he proves me wrong; more than that, though, I sort of hope the project falls apart until another filmmaker, more in tune with Burns' sensibilties comes along to guide it to the screen.

Who might that filmmaker be? I was talking to Clay about it last month, right after he'd just watched Funny Ha Ha for the first (and second, and third) time, and he thought Andrew Bujalski might handle it really well. Yen mentioned Higuchinsky, the director of the comically bizarre Uzumaki. Both are interesting possibilities, but I think that Larry Clark, as predictabl a choice as he might be, could really do the work justice. And of course, as with any literary property I fall in love with, I can't help but propose myself (to myself, mostly) for the job. I'll add it to my list of projects I dream of one day rescuing from development hell.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:25 PM

July 14, 2006

It Hurts When I Laugh

It's a longstanding tradition that, in the editing process of my films, all my attempts at humor will invariably hit the cutting room floor. I just can't help but make these dour, depressing films!

So I attempt to mitigate this, to expand my horizons, to vicariously share in that natural wit of which I'm so grievously bereft, by participating from time to time in more lighthearted projects. Which is how I ended up playing a flamboyant robot pirate in Aqua Rangers, the greenscreen project I was helping some friends with last April. This serialized saga is now complete, and will be premiering at a gala event in Dallas in late August. You can get an advance glimpse of its epic scope - and me in my dazzling costume, trying hard not to sink the entire picture - via its trailer.

The screening is on August 24th. RSVP, etc.

* * *

On the flip side of things is Parlor Trick, my piece in the touring Slow Motion Video Festival. It's essentially a sixty-second indulgence in one of my primary thematic obsessions. Now that I think about it, it's probably had more exposure than any of my other work; the collection has screened at festivals and galleries in LA, NY, Chicago, London, Spain....and next, it's coming to DFW on July 19th. Just in time for me to miss it. Which doesn't mean you have to.

More screenings of other films will be announced shortly...

Posted by David Lowery at 2:33 AM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2006

Office Job

Sounds of traffic several stories below, bulletin boards with notecards hanging from the walls, Dylan and Danny Elfman adding a touch of familiarity; after years of having trouble maintaining focus at my desk at home, I'm now working out of an office. Surprisingly, for the time being, it doesn't feel like a trap. It's a nice change of pace - a place to get things done. Creativity knows no bounds, but neither do distractions, and until they begin to seep through these oblong walls, I'm enjoying a nice case of 7th floor tunnel vision. Of course, the fact that I'm writing this (my 500th post!) here probably is indicative of things to come...

One of these days, I'll catalog all the things I've been working on. Actually, I probably won't. It's a shifting mass of projects, all vying for attention, some more than others; this past week, I've been spending my nights and early mornings finishing up a script for Jim (my way of paying rent). I think it's just about done, which means I can finally return to my decomposing piece, which I'm growing increasingly passionate about. As I predicted, that Susan Sontag text has given me some incredibly valuable perspectives on the subject matter.

(As for the book itself, I think the most extrordinary thing about it, aside from the subject matter itself, is the way she deals so lucidly and comprehensively with her subject - photography - without ever relying on a single actual photograph to illustrate and support her discourse. It's almost daunting - I feel like I shouldn't even try to ever write that well. But of course I will.)

Another plus about the office: air conditioning!

Posted by David Lowery at 5:04 PM | Comments (2)

July 9, 2006

Brown

The Lavender Diamond show was gorgeous. Afterwards, we went out to grab some late night vegan food. Five minutes after we take our booth, Curtis looked up and said "hey, it's Vincent Gallo." And sure enough, it was.

I don't normally get starstruck, and tonight was no exception; but I must say, seeing Lavender Diamond and Vincent Gallo in the space of a few hours made me just all around happy.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:10 AM | Comments (2)

July 7, 2006

In A Town So Small, There's Nothing Left To Do

I may be missing Fiona Apple in Texas tonight, but finally getting to see Belle & Sebastian is helping to ease the pain. They played at the Hollywood Bowl last night, backed by the entire Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert was sold out, but thanks to longtime reader/commenter/fellow screenwriter Bryan, I got a last minute ticket. All symphonic grandeur aside, it was probably the most entertaining concert I've ever been to. I sometimes get caught up in looking for some sort of transcendent, rarified element in music - my idea of a great show is one that approximates a religious experience - and so it was unexpectedly refreshing to see Stuart Murdoch & company go out of their way to deliver an evening of completely unportentous, beautifully exuberant music. Even the sad songs were joyful.

It was also the most sustained show I've ever been to. They played for a solid two and a half hours, beginning with I Fought In A War and ending with The Boy With The Arab Strap, continuing on even after the orchestra had retired. During the closing number, the crowd ignored security, barged the stage and started dancing; it was a pretty wonderful moment, particularly because it would be impossible to argue that the band didn't encourage it.

* * *

I finally got a car yesterday morning, and have settled into a bit of a groove out here. Curtis and Valerie flew in from Fort Worth the other day, partially to hang out and mainly (so they claim, and I don't blame them) to see Lavendar Diamond, that chanteuse who so enchanted us in Austin last March, perform one last show before embarking on a long European tour. More joy! I think we've all had her four-song EP on constant repeat these past few months. I haven't actually written the ending to my latest script yet, but I think I want Rise In The Springtime to play during it.

When your friends come to visit you in a new city, you're pretty much forced to stop feeling like a visitor yourself.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:41 AM | Comments (1)

July 4, 2006

Fourth

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This is a still from my a new short film, Upheave. I started shooting it two weeks ago, and was desperately trying to finish it before I left Texas. I guess I wasn't pushing myself hard enough.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:23 AM | Comments (2)

July 3, 2006

Perfect Day

We went to see Sergio Machado's Lower City this evening. It was good, with a particularly wonderful ending, but what I loved most about this particular theatergoing experience was the trailer for Francois Ozon's Time To Leave, which put me right on the verge of tears. It's a perfect combination of juxtaposition, implication and Lou Reed. I only hope the film is as good.

We also went to see the opening of Larry Clark's Wassup Rockers the other night, which was as sweet and pleasant as I hoped it would be. Clark offered a brief introduction, after which Jim leaned over to me and whispered something to the effect of: "See, it's okay to be inarticulate and awkward, as long as you make a good movie." Oh, he knows me too well...

While wandering around the house, I found a copy of Susan Sontag's Regarding The Pain Of Others and started reading it. I'm only a few chapters in, and thus can't comment on the work itself except to say that it's always such a thrill to read Sontag's work that I can't believe I don't make a more regular habit of it. She's the sort of writer whose prose you can feel inside your head, entwining itself around your cortex so tightly it might as well have always been there. Even when I don't agree with her, she has a way of making me need to hear what she has to say; in that sense, her work is the most intellectually exciting comfort literature I've ever read.

This particular book of hers is about our relationship to atrocity through photograpy, and within a few pages, I knew that it would seep its way into my current project. I even went ahead and posted a quote from its beginning on the first page of the script: "Ever since cameras were invented in 1839, photography has kept company with death." This is one of those scripts that needs to be simple; but its storyline tip toes so closely to big ideas and universal concepts that I've found it helpful to gather as many perspectives on the subject matter as I can, just so I know precisely, verbatim, what needs to be left unsaid. I get hooked on the idea of trying to make the ephmeral too literal; that's why this thing is taking so long to write.

* * *

I'm ready for this long weekend to be over; I have it somehow fixed in my head that the weather will cool down once the fireworks have died down. I feel like I've been working harder than usual, just because I've been sweating more; but the word count's staying pretty much the same.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:11 AM | Comments (2)