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May 31, 2007

I Wish I Was More Funny

And I'm going to take steps towards making improvements in that area in the near future. In the meantime, knowing that I wouldn't have a chance to see The Theater Fire again until the end of the summer, I packed up my dour countenance and went to their show in Denton tonight, where they made up for the temporary absence of Curtis by playing a bunch of new material, including It's A Secret, a stunning new song that they've secretly recorded with Red Hunter of Peter And The Wolf. If I was the sort of guy who liked to leak songs instead of only happ'ly possessing them (and who didn't mind his friends being preturbed with him) I'd put it up here in a heartbeat.

A band from San Francisco called The Dodos opened for them. They were pretty invigorating, and their CD, which I bought immediately after their set, is almost as good as their live performance. I'd recommend going to their MySpace page and listening to the song called The Ball at a very high volume. I'm doing just that at this very moment, while I weigh the pros and cons of falling asleep instead of all the countless other things I need to be doing.

Other music I've been listening to lately: Plague Park, the really outstanding first record from the Handsome Furs, and the new Feist album, which comes in the company of a truly enchanting video. And also Górecki's famous third symphony and the entire repertoire of Gustav Mahler.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:16 AM | Comments (3)

May 30, 2007

Uberindiefied

Lucas McNelly, filmmaker and film blogger and creator of the IndieFilmPedia, has been reviewing "uber-indie" films on his blog for the past few months, and today he takes a look at a handful of my own short efforts (all recent, some very new, one so new it's never even been mentioned here before). I'm pleased as punch that he liked them all as much as he did - and, most of all, that he completely got The Outlaw Son. I still feel more connected to that film than anything else I've made, and it's still thrilling to hear people respond favorably to it (which, by and large, they have).

In other news, IFC sent me the dates and times that A Delineation will be broadcast. The first is this coming Monday, June 4th, at 8:30 PM (Eastern Time), and it'll continue to air throughout June as part of the Media Lab Uploaded show.

Also appearing on television this week: site reader Chris pointed out in the comments a few posts down that Cormac McCarthy's landmark interview with Oprah is airing this Tuesday, June 5th, at whatever time Oprah come on. I've got my afternoon booked.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:25 PM | Comments (5)

May 29, 2007

When It Rains...

I spent some extensive quality time in a darkened theater this holiday weekend, catching up with Once, Away From Her, Waitress, that really long pirate movie and Killer Of Sheep. More on that one later. I tried to squeeze Chalk and Bug in there as well, but in between vegan barbeques and chasing sunlight on the other side of the silver screen, I ran out of time. For the last week, I've been trying to shoot the climactic sequence to A Catalog Of Anticipations - an 4th of July picnic scene with fireworks and lots of golden hour light - but the torrents of rain that have swept North Texas all month long has made it a little bit tricky. I finally finished shooting yesterday, stitching together four locations and the rare cloudbreaks of three separate shooting days into one (hopefully) seamless scene.

On one of those days, in my car, halfway to the location, I had a bit of a panic attack; I all at once felt that I'd made a pretty grievous mistake, and that everything I'd shot was suddenly useless. I pulled off the highway and sat on the side of the road for a while, and then turned around and headed back towards home. Then I rethought things and turned around again. I went ahead and shot the scene, and it turned out exactly as I'd originally planned, and everything was fine, and I'm pretty sure that when it's all cut together and done, no one will ever notice the one intangible thing that's missing from it. Half the time I probably won't even notice myself.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:05 AM | Comments (3)

May 26, 2007

Low And Behold

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Friends and acquaintances more magnanimous than I have gone down to aid in reconstruction effort in New Orleans over the past year, and they've all come back with the same prognosis: too much of the city hasn't really changed since Katrina hit. You wouldn't know this from the news, of course; the media managed to sidestep the situation a few months after it happened, conveniently brushing it under the rug of the public consicousness. This country, it seems, has no stomach for aftermath.

Which is exactly what Low And Behold, a new film by Zack Godshall and Barlow Jacobs, is about, and which, ironically, may be the reason no one's seen it yet: it's a victim of the very complacency it's an affront to. It premiered at Sundance this year, and has since screened at festivals across the country, but has yet to secure any distribution. If you live in Los Angeles, however, you have a chance to see it this coming Tuesday at UCLA:

Low And Behold
Tuesday May 29th at 7:30pm
James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall (on UCLA campus).
Brad Silberling will moderate the Q&A with Zack Godshall (Co-writer/Director) & Barlow Jacobs (Co-Writer/Actor/Producer)

Godshall and Jacobs are both natives of Louisiana, and Low And Behold is their paean to New Orleans and its people. Directed by Godshall, produced and starring Jacobs and written by both, the film is, on a narrative level, about a naive young man named Turner Stulll who goes to work as a claim adjuster in the months after the storm, and the friendship he forms with a destitue man in search of his lost dog. It's a simple, deeply felt story, sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking, and were it limited to that, it would have been a fine example of narrative explotation; of a context mined for dramatic purposes; but there's more going on than that. Godshall took as inspiration for their style this quote from James Agee:

The films I most eagerly look forward to will not be documentaries but works of pure fiction, played against, and into, and in collaboration with unrehearsed and univented reality.

And indeed, the film's periphery is filled to the bursting point with real places, real people, all with stories of their own to tell. Their cumulative presence is overwhelming and, gradually, the story becomes enveloped in the reality of its context. When the wool is pulled from Turner's eyes at the film's climax, we nod and think to ourselves, of course, how could he have not seen that coming? And then we realize that we're able to think this because the filmmakers have subtly, effectively done the same thing to us; we're seeing up on the big screen a microcosm of our own experience watching the film. Likewise, the last shot of the film is representative of its intentions as a whole. It's a lengthy shot, following a truck as it leave New Orleans, moving through neighborhoods, down streets, past houses. And then the truck turns the corner and is gone. We stay behind.

I'll be interviewing Zack and Barlow in the near future; in the meantime, if you live in Los Angeles, do yourself a favor and attend the screening. It's of one of the best films you'll see this year.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:36 AM | Comments (7)

May 25, 2007

5-25-77

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I haven't participated in a blog-a-thon for a while, but I knew I'd be remiss if I didn't put down a few words in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Star Wars...

...except that, for once, I seem to have run out of things to say. I'll just stick to reading for the time being.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:32 AM

May 22, 2007

Fay Grim

I saw Hal Hartley's Henry Fool around the same time I discovered James Joyce, and to a certain extent I credit both for igniting in me a conscious passion for literature. Perhaps that attribution is a little off balance; I revisited A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man last year, but I haven't seen Hartley's film since it was in theaters. I remember loving it, though, and hope it's not in complete ignorance that I love it still.

Ten years later, Henry Fool's sequel, Fay Grim, has a decidedly different tone; Hartley has taken the bookish thrills of the first film and replaced them with the real deal. Henry's wife, the titular Fay, discovers that her missing husband may have been an international spy, and that his eight volumes of unreadable confessions may be a heavily coded set of incideniary documents. Global hijinks ensue, all designed with the explicit intention of giving Parker Posey center stage. She's a joy to watch, of course, but what caught me off guard was how dramatically satisfying the film was as a sequel; it's a massive bit of revisionism that (I think) that feels like a natural extension. Hartley's the kind of director who can drop an explosive diarrhea scene smack dab in the middle of an intellectual comedy and come out on top, and he pulls off the same tricks here. No matter how ludicrous or slapstick he gets, there's always something strangely grounded about this comedy of massive errors; a vibrating cell phone hidden in Posey's panties feels right at home alongside a very serious case of suicide bombing. I imagine (but can't say for sure) that it's a case of constants; that Hartley's changed the context, but not the characters.

He only makes two missteps. The first is that he's shot the entire film at dutch angles. The second is a long scene that reintroduces Thomas Jay Ryan - Henry Fool himself. It's an interesting scene, a one act play in and of itself, but it's so far outside Fay's periphery that it feels tacked on, and it comes close, very close, to stealing the punch from the final exchange of shots. A familiarity with Henry Fool is not a prerequisite for this film until this poignant sting of a conclusion, which is just about the point when I suddenly realized that these two disparate works were pretty intimately conjoined after all.

I've moved Henry Fool to the top of my Netflix queue; it's currently listed as a very long wait.

* * *

So clearly, I didn't make it to Cannes this year, as I was originally planning; the absence of There Will Be Blood (now tipped to bow at Venice), and a general deficit in cash helped seal the deal. As always, though, I've been following along on a day to day basis over at GreenCine (and, from there, a host of other sites) and watching what seems to be an unusually large number of clips from the films playing above and below the Croisette. The three teaser trailers for My Blueberry Nights have been joined by clips from Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park and Harmony Korine's Mr. Lonely,. And then of course there are the five scenes from the Coens' adaptation of No Country For Old Men. They're perfect. I wish I hadn't watched them.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:39 PM | Comments (3)

May 21, 2007

Wholpin Goes Analog

wholphin.jpgNow that it's SXSWClick page has been taken down, Some Analog Lines has found a new home over at the Wholphin website. For those out of the know, Wholphin is the short film offshoot of Dave Eggers' literary magazine McSweeney's. It's a great magazine, and their online catalog is awesome too (scroll down the list and you might see some familiar names).

I think there might be some interesting ancillary material going up sometime soon, too, along with a higher resolution version of the film. Until then, though, Some Analog Lines and its accompanying liner notes (in which I used the phrase at this point, or some variation thereof, way too many times) can be viewed here.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:30 PM | Comments (3)

May 20, 2007

Moxie

I just got back from a wonderful time in the Midwest, with a speeding ticket and who knows how many hours of great footage in tow. It all sounds great, too, thanks to Brad, who's had to put up with way too much lousy production audio on my movies in the past (who also, over the course of the weekend, saw Inland Empire for the sixth and seventh times). We celebrated the end of production by having sushi for breakfast this morning, and then I hit the road to the alternating tunes of the most recent Clipse album (which Brad passed on to me) and all the amazing old fashioned country stations that fill the airwaves throughout Oklahoma.

Here are a few frame grabs, which should give something of an idea of what the movie will be about. Or at least what it will look like.

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Incidentally, I ran into my first problems with the P2 system. I was using a P2 Store to hold all the footage during the first day of shooting, but it somehow managed to eat about two cards' worth of material (luckily, it was all stuff I could reshoot). The next day I brought my MacBook to the location and just loaded everything directly to my hard drive, which I'll continue to do from now on. Better be safe, if somewhat lugubrious, than sorry.

I can't wait to start editing! Unfortunately, I have another film to shoot tomorrow. But I can't wait to start editing that one either. Everybody wins!

Posted by David Lowery at 10:56 PM | Comments (4)

May 17, 2007

A Second Essay

I'm up in Missouri right now, getting ready to shoot a new documentary or essay film or what have you. I wasn't sure if I was going to find an opportunity to make it, but all the requisite elements seemed to coalesce at just the right moment, and thus here I am, with cameras (or camera, since I only have one) ready to start rolling tomorrow morning. It'll be a short film - how short, I don't know exactly yet (my films always seem to turn out best when I only have a halfway idea of where I want to go with them). My friend Brad Mitchell is my partner in crime on this one; he's done sound work on every film I've made since we met in Berlin two years ago, but this is the first time we've ever actually worked together in person. And since he's moving to Switzerland in three weeks, this'll probably be our last chance to do so (at least until my potential big European feature of '08 - knock on wood).

Last night, I was still in Texas, and it was there that I finally filmed the first shot of the third part of A Catalog Of Anticipations. It turned out almost too beautifully. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth shots (and possibly a few more) will hopefully go before cameras on Monday, and then I'll cut them together to the beat of whatever music I end up selecting (thanks for the recommendations, everyone). And then it'll be done. I wrote in an e-mail to someone the other day that I wish it didn't take me so long to make all these short little films. But I've learned the value of waiting, I guess. In this case, I've known what the film was going to be about for months, but I've only recently realized how it was going to be about it.

But back to the documentary. On the drive up here today, I was headed down some pitch black corridor of interstate freeway, listening to a Penderecki CD, and I got so scared that I had to drive with the dome lights on. It was seriously terrifying. You all should try it sometime.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:52 AM

May 14, 2007

Production Meeting No. 1

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Posted by David Lowery at 5:00 PM | Comments (2)

May 12, 2007

Legal Man

I got an e-mail from IFC the other day, letting me know that they wanted to program A Delineation in a new shorts program that'll be airing soon. I've been in a mad scramble since then, re-doing titles, adding credits and trying to get all the paperwork and releases filled out and notarized by their deadline. This proved to be somewhat difficult, since I had absolutely no clearances from anyone or anything in the film - especially since it was never even intended to be a film. But I think I've got everything squared up now, and now I have a license to use Beethoven's 7th to boot! Hopefully, everything's clear, and hopefully the finished product looks okay on television screens.

Speaking of licensing, I've started going through CDs, looking for the score for the third part of A Catalog Of Anticipations. For once, I don't want something original - I want it to have the weight of history behind it. Can any readers more classically attuned then I refer me to a piece of music that has a similar feel as the Vorspiel from Das Rheingold used in The New World? Something swelling, grand, ebulient, like an orchestra tuning and gradually falling into both harmony and melody at the same time? I could just go ahead and use the Wagner piece, which is what I always hear in my head when I picture the finished product, but I don't want to infringe on Malick's territory.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:25 AM | Comments (8)

May 11, 2007

Summer Syndromes

It's been two weeks now since I saw Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes And A Century, and I'm still wandering about under it's spell. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't completely get it - but what joy there can be not getting a film like this, and then learning what's there to be got! I've been poring over reviews, filling in those ellipitical blanks, figuring out why exactly Weerasethekul calls it a science fiction picture. I can't wait to see it again, and when I do, I hope it's on the big screen - my first viewing was on DVD, but I think this is definitely one of those films that deserves to loom large.

And I'm glad it's being released right now; it's the perfect antidote to the radioactive spiderbite of summer cinema. That said, I miss the days when I actually looked forward to big summer movies. I used to really love not just the films but their proximity to each other, this glut of spectacle, each trying to top the last. I used to love looking forward to Michael Bay films! Am I getting older? Or just smarter? Regardless, I just finished reading David Mamet's fantastic new book Bambi Vs. Godzilla, and in it he offers a sensible prognosis for this phenomenon:

Big and bad films, summer films, blockbusters have similarly become the laugh track to our national experiment. As with the Defense Department, we are reassured by their presence rather than their content or operations. As examples of waste they appeal to our need - not for entertainment but for security.

Mamet, incidentally, would, I think, not care much for Syndromes And A Century. He breaks down over several chapters his airtight formula for the perfect film, and comes off a bit like Robert McKee with reverse psychology: he doesn't tell you how to write a great script, but he tells you exactly what your script will be like if it turns out great. He's so logical, so simply persuasive, that it's easy to forget that what he preaches isn't necessarily empirical; that movies needn't be limited to three causal acts. But if you're writing something that needs to tick like a Swiss watch, this treatise can serve as a helpful decongestant - it certainly helped me earlier this week, when I needed to knock out a rewrite in one afternoon. I did so, and then moved on to an evening of ruminating upon the more elusive, abstract expressions of the stories I really want to tell.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:59 AM | Comments (2)

May 6, 2007

Matthew Barney: No Restraint

barney_no_restraint.jpg What struck me most when I attended the Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint exhibit in San Francisco last summer was how accessible the work suddenly became in the context of the museum. On the one hand there were the numerous parents walking through the galleries with children, talking to them about the installations, carrying handy brochures that offered helpful suggestions on how to decipher the seemingly impenetrable code of Barney's work; on the other, there were the sculptures themselves. Barney has always referred to his films as plans for scuplture, and that causal delineation suddenly becomes clear and logical and natural when you walk up to, around, through these immense plastinate biproducts of his creative process.

Barney himself is similarly illuminated in Alison Chernick's Matthew Barney: No Restraint, which was released to DVD this week. The documentary begins, appropriately enough, with a massive tanker of petroleum jelly pulling up outside Barney's studio in Brooklyn for a dry-run of the vaseline casting that will be performed on the whaling ship in Drawing Restraint 9. The liquid goo is pumped up the stairs, through the door, into a giant mold of that signature field emblem, and all the while Barney explains how the substance relates to the themes of the films, both culturally, biologically and geographically. He sounds like he knows exactly what he's talking about until, at a certain point, he shakes his head and laughs. "I know more about this than I think I want to know; I just want to fill this mold with vaseline!"

The production of Drawing Restraint 9 provides the film its overriding structure, and from it Chernick platforms off into Barney's entire oveure (those who haven't had a chance to see The Cremaster Cycle or Drawing Restraint series will get to see quite a bit of footage from both here), tracing it back to his days as a college football player and male model, and then forward again, to the decks of the Nisshin Maru, where Japanese sailors express amused bewilderment at the starring role in this bizarre epic. Their confusion escalates, predictably, when they actually see the film, and though they give the film a lot of entertainment mileage, Chernick is very careful never to laugh at them. They represent after all, in a way, her own audience.

And Barney, it turns out, is a friendly guy with a sense of humor. He doesn't take himself quite so seriously as he takes his work, and what's great about this documentary is that it brings him down to earth while leaving his art in whatever stratosphere of phyisogenic process it exists in. Chernick doesn't try to demystify what Barney makes, but she does seek to understand where he's coming from, and in doing so she reveals him not so much as a gatekeeper of his own ideas as a conduit to them.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:19 AM

May 3, 2007

It's no Brown Bunny

I'm about to head out to the midnight show of Spiderman 3. I don't want to be a hater, but I don't see any possible way that it could be any good at all. I'll report back in three to four hours!

* * *

Yep, that was pretty awful.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:52 PM | Comments (7)

May 2, 2007

Pretty Babies, Little Girls And Terry Gilliam's Tideland

tideland.jpgDirectly preceding the feature on the DVD of Tideland is a curious thing: a preface from director Terry Gilliam in which he states to the camera that "Many of you are not going to like this film."

It's not all that uncommon for directors to introduce their films on DVD, but there's something different about this one. It's almost a disclaimer and, indeed, after an initial general admonition to keep an open mind, Gilliam moves into considerably more pointed territory. He notes that the story is told entirely from a child's perspective, that "if it's shocking, it's because it's innocent," and he asks audiences to to remember that

Children are strong. They're resilient. They're designed to survive. When you drop them, they bounce.

I don't know whether or not this proem was attached to release prints of Tideland as well, but regardless, it seems designed as a direct response to a particularly sensitive allegation, best represented in this case by two pieces of rather prickly press. The first is an open correspondence with Gilliam that actress Sarah Polley published in the Toronto Star. [1] Upon learning that Tideland, then in pre-production, would have a nine year old girl as its lead, she sent him a cordial but pointed e-mail, asking him to be more considerate in his treatment of his new ingenue than he had been of her, when she had, at the same age, starred in his The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam was taken aback by the letter; months later, after the film had wrapped, he told her that Jodelle Ferland had a terrific experience on the set. "Then again," he said, "I remember thinking the same thing about you."

The second sore spot is a particular strain of critical response to Tideland, summed up most vehemently by Owen Gleiberman's review in Entertainment Weekly. [2] Hardly a Gilliam fan, it wasn't that he described the film as "gruesomely awful" and graded it an F that cast a grim pallor over the film's reception, but that he cited a "flirtation with pedophilia" among its many offenses - an inaccurate and reactionary criticism that I imagine must have stung quite a bit more than the general bad press Gilliam's grown accustomed to over the years. Words like that hurt.

I missed Tideland during its so-called theatrical run last year (it played locally for all of two days), and finally caught up with it on DVD a few weeks ago. It was interesting enough to watch twice, not good enough to enjoy, confrontational enough to embrace anyway. The tiny budget Gilliam had to work with is masked by his dazzling exterior vistas (Andrew Wyeth springs to mind more than once as the characters run through golden sun-dappled fields towards decrepit country mansions), but his insistent use of what seems to be a single wide-angle lens - always roving, never resting - grows tiresome. The film is also rather aimless, and a wee bit on the lengthy side (as Gilliam and screenwriter Tony Grisoni humorously point out on the commentary track). Unadulterated magical-realism works best in smaller doses, especially when it's got such a heavy Southern Gothic glaze on top. At the same time, though the singularity of Gilliam's vision is hard to deny. Tideland is one of those frictive films where every element, no matter how grating, has been purposefully included, to very specific effect, and the perspective he forces the film into is actually quite impressive, especially upon second viewing. This is, on the one hand, a grim and ugly film; on the other, it's a frightening and believable portrait of a little girl going insane.

It's that little girl - beautifully named Jeliza Rose, beautifully played by Jodelle Ferland - who makes the film so galvanizing. Early in the film, she lovingly helps her junkie parents shoot up; when her mother ODs, she and her father run off to his childhood home in West Texas; and when dad follows in mom's footsteps, Jeliza Rose goes right on living with his corpse, swatting away the flies and cuddling on his lap at night. But that's not the troublesome part of the film. What raised the ire of many critics, and what prompted Gleiberman's accusation, is Jeliza-Rose's playfully amorous relationship with a local retarded man named Dickens. This naive, flirtatious romance is laced with the repercussions of child abuse - but is not abusive in and of itself. Mentally, these characters are both children; they're just playing a game, an innocent reflection of something they don't understand. Neither of them actually knows what sex is - but we know, and we perceive that Dickens might be capable of more than he is aware. Thus, for the viewer, these scenes implicitly become a sort of sexualized take on Hitchcock's famous bomb-under-the-table scenario; they are polarized by grown-up expectation, even though, on their own terms, they're harmless. No one's being taken advantage of. It's not a flirtation with pedophilia on anyone's part, least of all Gilliam's.

Gilliam, for his part, was aware of what he was getting into. "I knew full well when we were making it there would be a lot of adults who would really squirm and be very uncomfortable, but that's because of what goes on in their heads, not because of what children are about," he said in an interview with Reuters prior to the film's release. [3] "What's going on is clearly a sexuality that's bubbling under the surface. That's the way children have always been. But somehow we're not allowed to talk about that any more..."

pretty_baby.jpg Which is very true. Putting the words child and sexuality in a sentence together is practically taboo, and to explore them in conjunction is to walk a pretty tempestuous line. This is even more true in the visual arts, where the problem is twofold; the subject matter is controversial enough by itself, but the representation of it is even more troublesome. Artists are charged with protecting their underage subjects, and we trust that they do; but where does one draw the line? Certainly, it's drawn a lot more quickly these days than it was in decades past. Louis Malle's acclaimed Pretty Baby (which Gilliam, intentionally or not, evokes with a shot of Jeliza Rose sitting before a mirror, applying a slash of red lipstick) could never be made today; at the very least, it could not be made with the same level of visual candor that it was in 1978. Does that mean it should never have been made in the first place? Again, it's a bifurcated issue. Children possess sexuality; they have the potential to be sexual beings, and the current tendency to avoid these issues entirely is a societal problem that does more harm than good. That some art attempts to acknowledge this is a positive thing. At the same time, within that acknowledgment, that very same potential must not be exploited, and it's here that the issue becomes almost hopelessly gray. Did Malle exploit Brooke Shields? Do the subjects understand what they are helping to represent? Need they understand? This moral quagmire allows room for Pretty Baby to be regarded as a minor classic, while contemporary artists like Sally Mann and Jock Sturges weather charges of child pornography [4] and, at Sundance this year, the film Hounddog (unseen by me) came to be ubiquitously known as "The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie." [5]

phillips_girlchild.jpgThere's an exhibition running now at the Modern in Fort Worth [6] that deals with the volatility of the unidealized child; its title, not coincidentally, is Pretty Baby (the museum hosted a screening of the film to coincide with the opening). There are two artists in this show whose work, in concert (and in a fine example of curatorial dialectics), distills these issues to their core. The first is Ann Gaskell, whose highly cinematic photography captures in its depiction of children at play a provocative, heightened sense of eroticism. Her work is gorgeous, sumptuous; sometimes frightening, sometimes playful; almost always, it is unsettling. The second, a few galleries down, almost serves as an analysis of this propensity: Richard Phillips' GirlChild depicts a little girl, three or four years old, standing alongside an older version of herself, a teenager on the cusp of womanhood. Both are in a state of suggested undress, and both stare at the viewer with a same vague stare that, were the older girl alone, might be regarded as demure or even sensual. The dynamic between them and the viewer is confrontational; they demand to be regarded in equal measure, on the same ground. This juxtaposition defines, in very clear terms, the intederminate passage which Gaskell exploits so sensationally: the terrifying transition of the child into an adult.

Tideland exists on this same fault line (and, with its lush imagery and nods to Alice In Wonderland, [7] it reflects Gaskell's cinematic influences and fairie tale sensibilites right back at her). As Gilliam suggests, it's innocence unnerves us because of what we're able to bring to it. Interestingly, Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, which also features a young girl lost in a real-world fairy tale, drew nary a cry of outrage, even though it ended with the heroine being shot and killed. Death is finite; we have yet to experience it, and so as a narrative device it isn't subjectively applicable in the same way that sex is. At the same time, sex and death are conjoined by our fear of the latter. The advent of the one gives way to the inevitability of the other, and when children display adult traits and engage in adult behavior, they begin, in a sense, to decay. They lose their lustre; our idealized image of them collapses; we begin to see ourselves in them. As any good dramatist knows, there's nothing quite so tragic as a child who grows up.

This is half of the reason why films like Tideland upset people. The other, which ties into Polley's letter, is a legitimate concern for the children in the film. "Like many kids," she wrote of her experience on Baron Munchausen, "I was eager to please and good at adapting to difficult situations, storing them away to unpack later." That 'later' is the wild card that artists should always take into consideration when dealing with difficult material; at the same time, it should not bar them from that material. One hopes and trusts that that Gilliam took Polley's advice to heart, and that he is sincere when he concludes his introduction to the film thusly:

I was sixty four when I made this film. I think I finally discovered the child within me; it turned out to be a little girl.

Within that bittersweet platitude is the same delineation found in Phillips' painting, the same twilight zone of Gaskell's photography, and the key to the film's perspective. Tideland is not a masterpiece, but what it does do masterfully is capture innocence in its natural state: in flux.


[1] Polley's article, including her correspondence with Gilliam, is available for purchase through The Toronto Star, but a full transcript can be read here free of charge.
[4]Mann and Sturges have both made extensive use in their photography of children and adolescents in their natural statee; both have come under fire for it. Sturges was famously arrested in 1990, his studio and work seized. The case was later thrown out.
[5]Child-actor advocate Paul Peterson's essay The 'Rape' Of Dakota Fanning, while grounded in hearsay from the Hounddog set, makes an impassioned argument against employing children for sexual scenes. He draws a valuable comparison between the subtlety and suggestion of Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of Nabokov's Lolita and the lack of the same in Adrian Lyne's lurid 1997 remake.
[6]Pretty Baby is on exhibit at the Fort Worth Modern until June 24th. Along with Gaskell and Phillips, featured artists include Loretta Lux, Yoshitomo Nara, Catherinie Opie and Margaret Meehan, among otheres.
[7]Two of Gaskells' series from the late 90s, Wonderland and Override, are loosely based on Lewis Carrol's stories.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:56 PM | Comments (3)

May 1, 2007

Eighty Percent Off Enlightenment

This post goes out to the wonderful Fry's employee who mistakenly priced the Alejandro Jodorowsky boxset at $9.95. Now I don't feel bad about buying lunch this afternoon!

Posted by David Lowery at 8:00 PM | Comments (2)