August 31, 2007
Frownland Is Coming
My interview with Frownland director Ronnie Bronstein is now online over at the Filmmaker Magazine website. If you live in the United States, your chances for seeing Frownland are unfortunately slim. If you live in the United States and the State happens to be New York, you're in luck, because the film is screening at the IFC Center on Wednesday, September 5th. Save the date! And read the article, too. And watch a clip or two from the film over at it's official site.
August 29, 2007
Finding Quiet City
One last thing. A comment posted to the NYT review of Quiet City (credited to one jde003):
I was lucky enough to see this movie on a DVD that I happened to find on the street, not being sold...literally lying on the street. I was curious so I watched it and it is one of the best depictions of youthful romance, and Brooklyn-living, that I have come across. I am going to check it out on the big screen at the IFC Center when it plays next week, for sure!
I'm envious. Can you imagine a better way to discover a movie like this?
Watching Movies with Aaron Katz & Brendan McFadden
Quiet City, the second feature film from writer-director Aaron Katz and Brendan McFadden, opens at the IFC Center today. Back in November, I interviewed Brendan and Aaron when Dance Party USA opened at the Pioneer, and we wanted to do something in celebration of the new release as well. Brendan suggested that we borrow a page from the New York Times' old 'Watching Movies With...' series, in which filmmakers would watch and discuss a favorite film, relating it to their current body of work.
It was a fantastic idea. A date was set, and Brendan and Aaron chose Whit Stillman's The Last Days Of Disco to be the subject of our conversation. And so it was that, on Monday night, they sat down to watch the film in Brooklyn while I let it unspool here in Texas. The following morning, we got on the horn to talk about it.
David: So did you have any trouble finding a copy of the film?
Brendan: We actually just ended up watching my old VHS copy.
Aaron: Which actually felt sort of appropriate for Last Days Of Disco.
David: Did yours have the Elizabeth trailer on it?
Aaron: Yes! Yes. The Elizabeth trailer and Very Bad Things and that period 1920s British movie.
Brendan: The Land Girls.
David: I think this is the first time I've actually watched something on VHS in I don't know how long. I kind of miss it.
Aaron: It was kinda great. I kinda like watching things on VHS.
Brendan: I'm really nostalgic for the kinds of trailers that are on movies from the mini-majors from that time period. Like, it reminds me of being fifteen and watching Before Sunrise.
David: Just seeing the Polygram and Grammercy logos...
Brendan: Yeah, that too.
David: So what made you pick Last Days Of Disco for us to talk about? I've got a few ideas, but I'd like to hear from you first.
Brendan: We were talking about it and we were trying to search for something that had common ground but wasn't too obvious. I don't know, it just seemed right. We kinda just hit upon it, and I think that after picking it, more reasons occurred to us that we hadn't thought about.
Aaron: Yeah, it was kinda a pick on instinct. I'd only seen the movie once before, but I really loved it the first time I saw it. I don't think I saw it until the senior year in college. Brendan actually introduced me to Whit Stillman.
Brendan: Yeah, I think it was the summer between our junior and senior year. We watched a VHS copy of Metropolitan that the school had. It was the kind of thing where I had three friends who liked Whit Stillman in film school. Everybody else either hadn't heard of him or really didn't like him, so I always eager to introduce him to other people.
Aaron: And it's kind of an underappreciated movie, too, so it was something I was eager to think a little bit about.
David: I saw it when it first came out in 1998, which would have been my junior year in high school. Back then, I think the most important thing to me in the world was great dialogue. Which is of course what Whit Stilllman's known for, and I really loved the movie for that. I hadn't seen it since until earlier this summer, I was flipping through some TV stations and it was on. It was right at that moment when they were having that Lady In The Tramp discussion, and I was like "Oh my god, how did I ever like this?" It was pop culture references right out the gate! But then I watched the rest of it and realized that it was actually really good, as good as I remembered. And it reminded me that I've become so formal in my cinematic interests lately that I've forgotten what a thrill it is to listen to a really well written conversation! And even when it sounds very theatrical, as his stuff often does, it's such a pleasure to just listen to the characters speak. That's the joy of his films, in many ways.
Brendan: It's totally true.
Aaron: I think that the way people speak in Whit Stillman movies is really theatrical, and if you watch five minutes of it and you didn't know it was a Whit Stillman movie, you'd think it was really bad acting and bad writing. But somehow, watching the whole thing, it actually brings you into its own world. Where that's the speech pattern. It doesn't matter where a person comes from - if you're in a Whit Stillman movie, all of a sudden you have that speech pattern.
Brendan: He actually says as much, I think. I heard an interview with him on NPR circa this coming out, and Terri Gross mentioned the fact that the dialogue is stylized, and he was like "Stylized? Really? This is how people I know talk!" I think also that, because his world is so specific, you're sort of glimpsing this other world where people do talk like that.
David: Where people use these rarified speech patterns that are so effete and refined that sounds awkward in a way but also sounds very sophisticated, where you're kind of like "Oh, I wish I talked like that."
Aaron: I wish I talked like that.
Brendan: I often have that reaction after watching his stuff. And also, it's so obvious that the characters are immensely guarded and it's a form of protection, almost.
David: The funny thing about his movies is that you can tell he's of that world that he depicts, and he's very critical of it, but I think he definitely loves it. There's a definite affection for this sophisticated upper class, but he knows how to hit them where it hurts at the same time.
Aaron: It's kind of like P.G .Wodehouse in that way. He has a great affection for the British upper class, but it's filled with these sort of semi-satirical humorous characters.
Brendan: I think also a big influence for Stillman is Fitzgerald. I think he kind of has a similar relationship to that world that Fitzgerald had to the world that he wrote about. He sort of adores it, isn't one hundred percent a member, but sort of yearns to be. And is also distanced enough that he has some ability to be critical of it. I've always sort of sensed that the protagonist in Metropolitan is a good indication of Whit Stillman's role in things.
David: I just watched Metropolitan yesterday, as well, which I'd never seen before. It's always fun to go back and see that kind of independent film, back when people were limited to shooting on 16mm and making this sort of film that you really don't see anymore. And then, to watch that and Last Days Of Disco back to back was really cool, and to realize that they weren't that far apart -- like five years? They were closer together then we are now to Last Days Of Disco.
Brendan: I think Metropolitan was '91 or '92, and Disco was '98. So it's kind of like, in a span of six years, he made three films, and has notably made nothing since.
David: Did you read the press he did last year when he was talking about making a new film?
Brendan: Yeah, actually, when I was working at IFC he came in and had a meeting. I've heard about four or five different reports about different films he was going to make. Like a science fiction movie, a movie about ancient China....
David: I'd heard about the science fiction one.
Brendan: There was a point where he was going to adapt two unfinished Jane Austen novels into one film.
Aaron: That sounds like a really good idea.
Brendan: They're all over the map, and it's so hard to picture him doing anything else rightly or wrongly, because what he's done so far has been so specific and is set in this specific world.
David: So when you guys look back at this sort of movie, can you trace its influence in your current work?
Aaron: We were actually talking about that last night. There are a bunch of filmmakers that we all like in common. Like Matt Dentler asked us for his blog, people talk about Godard and Truffaut and Cassavetes and Malick and so on and so fourth, but do they really influence us? I don't know. I think the answer is that we all like those people, and we like Whit Stillman and -- I don't know, I'm not really a good job at explaining. Brendan?
Brendan: Well, I know that when Aaron first wrote the Quiet City script, we talked a lot about Antonioni initially. At least aesthetically. But then it just became clear that the aesthetic we were talking about wasn't feasible, because essentially what we could do was shoot it handheld and shoot it very quickly, just based on necessity -- for the better. I think there was that time in my life where I was watching Slacker and trying to duplicate that when I was fifteen or sixteen. Or Pulp Fiction, or whatever. And doing so very slavishly. I don't know if you had similar experiences, Aaron...
David: I did, and I definitely tried to duplicate things that I saw. But I think that by not trying to fit those kind of things, whether it's Pulp Fiction or Slacker or anything else, into the kind of movie we were making, we ended up responding more to what was really in front of us. Just as an example, in the park scene in Quiet City where they run, we knew we were going to shoot it up at Prospect Park, but we really didn't know where until we got there. And it was us actually being there and going, "okay, let's look at what we have here, let's look at the layout" instead of being like "it's gotta be shot like this," or "let's take this shot from this movie." In fact, that's a scene that we were going to steal a shot from La Notte for --
Brendan: Actually, it was L'Eclisse.
Aaron: Oh, yeah, it is from L'Eclisse. It was sort of like a wide shot of them running up a hill, if I recall correctly, and and we were thinking about trying to duplicate something like that. But then Reed [Andrew Reed, cinematographer] suggested shooting right into the sun and having them run over the horizon and then back. And he suggested that three minutes before we actually shot it, and I think that some of the most interesting things in the movie, and some of the most exciting things, came out of being there and disposing of any preconceived notions that we did have.
David: I've experienced the same thing. Like there'll be a certain shot that I can't help but want to 'pay homage' to or lift, but if I do rip something off, it usually ends up being the weakest part of the move. And also, I'm working on a film right now and someone asked me what it was going to be like it and the only thing I could think of was Ernest Scared Stupid. It's like you said, you always have Malick and Cassavetes and all of those guys, but I think there are all these other movies that aren't necessarily good but they're influential because you saw them at a certain age, and they give you a little jolt of inspiration.
Aaron: And I think it's just a mish mash of stuff bouncing around in your head. Whether or it's a little bit of Can't Hardly Meet mixed with a little Sergio Leone, and even though neither of those have anything to do with anything, they're totally in there.
David: You totally beat me to the punch, because I read that you liked Can't Hardly Wait in Karina Longworth's interview, and man, I love that movie.
Aaron: I love that movie too.
David: And it came out the same summer as Last Days Of Disco, so they're intrinsically linked in my memory. I actually haven't seen that one since it was in theaters either, but it was encouraging to see that you think it's held up.
Aaron: Yeah, I actually own it. I think it's great. As I said on Karina's blog, the whole thing's a long party. And obviously it's based on...not Pretty In Pink, but Sixteen Candles, right? What's the John Hughes movie that's like a nonstop party?
David: I'm John Hughes illiterate. All I've seen is The Breakfast Club.
Aaron: It's been a really long time since I've seen any of them, but obviously Can't Hardly Wait is informed to some extent by the teen movies of the 80s. It has this heightened stuff in it, but it's weirdly natural and it's just kind of about relationships. It's not that wacky.
David: I remember Roger Ebert gave it like half a star, which I thought was horribly unfair. It felt so accurate to me at the time, being seventeen. The movie actually meant something to me! And these days, all I really remember is the emotional quality of it, and I don't know if I were to go back and watch it...but I think that the Jenna Elfman character showing up, that stripper angel or whatever she was, definitely had a big impact on me, storytelling wise.
Aaron: Yeah, I forgot all about that part. The last time I saw it was two years ago. I also watched it with commentary, and the commentary's kinda good too. It's directed by two people, and Seth Green was there, and the directors were talking about operating the camera. I'm sure it was a real movie with a semi-big crew, but it sounded kind of like there was a casual thing to how it was shot that sounded a little bit out of the ordinary.
David: They went on to do Josie And The Pussycats.
Aaron: I don't think they've made anything since.
Brendan: Going back for a second to the trailers for late to mid 90's indie films -- watching those trailers reminded me of what a big influence those films had on my life when I was in high school, because that was my first gateway into independent and foreign films, those American indie films of that period.
David: I don't know if you guys followed the same path, but Pulp Fiction comes out when you're like thirteen or fourteen and just sort of rocks your world...
Brendan: Very much so.
David:...and gradually from there, throughout high school, you just start discovering more of these independent and foreign films. And that period was just sort of an epoch, in my development, at least, because you had all these independent films coming out, and I was getting my driver's license and being able to drive to the theater for the first time...
Aaron: I remember Lone Star came out and I hadn't seen a John Sayles movie before. That was in '96.
David: Yeah, that was the first art house experience I ever had. My dad took me to see it, and I'd never been to an art house before.
Brendan: I would go with my dad a lot as well, or I'd go to the multiplex and buy a ticket for something else and sneak into R-rated stuff like Pulp Fiction,
David: I did exactly the same thing.
Brendan: I remember seeing all these films, and I remember seeing Before Sunrise in the theater in 8th grade was a really big deal.
Aaron: To go back to what you were saying, David, about how you watch one thing, like Pulp Fiction and then you branch off from there to other stuff. I think that's true. I remember I'd see Pulp Fiction and then I'd hear Tarantino talk about something he was influenced by - or stealing from - and then I'd go out and watch that, and that would lead to something else. But in retrospect, I'm kind of surprised at the people I never heard of back in high school.
David: I wish I'd been more adventurous. Pulp Fiction lead me to Godard because Tarantino's company's name was A Band Apart Productions. And actually, one of my prized possessions is a letter from them, because when I was fourteen I wrote to them asking if they'd produce my next film. I got a letter back stating that they didn't accept unsolicited submissions, but I was just like, "wow, it's the official Band Apart letterhead!" That's what got me into Godard, and I did see Breathless at that time. But I almost wonder what kind of person I'd be if I sought out more of these art house films and classics back in high school, instead of taking such a gradual route to where I am now as far as my tastes and understanding of film history are.
Aaron: Yeah, but I think I'm more patient now than when I was in high school. I had never heard of Ozu in high school, and maybe it was better to find out about him later on.
Brendan: And I think in terms of foreign films and older films, you have to get used to the idea that they're acting and behaving in a way that's often different from what you're used to. I think when you're younger, that can be a little more difficult to come to terms with.
Aaron: Last Days Of Disco is actually interesting in that way, because it's set in New York and there are a million movies set in New York, but people are behaving differently from how any of the three of us behave.
Brendan: It's interesting in regards to Quiet City, because I think they're both New York movies.
Aaron: And with Last Days Of Disco, obviously I wasn't there then and I'm not part of whatever that world might be now, but it captures something that feels very true. At it's best, when they go to Rex's and then when they go to breakfast and when they're not at the club, when it's the morning after...it's kind of a cheesy thing to say, but I feel like I'm there. I know how that feels, even though I haven't experienced it. And one of the other things I was thinking about is that there have recently been a lot of articles and discussion about Mumblecore and so on and so forth, and I think that a lot of us are very different, not only in our approach but in our finished product. Some of the articles' take is that if you've seen one film, you might as well stop there because they're all exactly the same. So I was kind of thinking about that, and then I was thinking about, "okay, what are the actual similarities?" And I think the actual similarities are an interest in being true to the world around you, whether it's the world around us or the world that Joe sees around him, and being true to our instincts and trying to be as unmanipulative as possible not only in what the film is about but what it's sensibility is. And I think that Whit Stillman actually achieves that, too. It's his world, and it's also achieved in this way that, if someone else set out to make a movie about that world, it wouldn't be that way. I think he stays true to how he perceives things.
David: Very much so, and in that sense his is very much a sort of personal filmmaking.
Brendan: Aaron and I both own but haven't read the novelization of Last Days Of Disco. I bought it on Amazon a few years ago and never got around to reading it...
Aaron: I'm fascinated by the idea of the book -- I don't know if you know, but it acknowledges that the movie exists, and then says "and here's what really happened."
David: I read interview with him where he said that because it was such a personal story and he was so wrapped up in that world, he couldn't abandon it, and that's why he wrote the novel instead of making another film.
Brendan: I also remember reading that his ambitions initially were to be a writer, kind of in the mold of Fitzgerald, but he felt that he didn't have the chops for prose. He felt that writing screenplays was a little more doable, and I think that's in part how he ended up making Metropolitan.
David: I haven't seen Barcelona in years, but Metropolitan and The Last Days Of Disco are both so nostalgic for a time that's passed and never to be had again. They're very precipitous.
Aaron: Yeah, we were talking about how the whole film of Last Days Of Disco feels like, not the last song at a party, but the song where you realize that it's almost over, and you realize it's at the height of the fun but you know that the song's going to be over pretty soon. It's kind of slipping through your fingers and you can't quite grasp it. It's something that you don't want to go, but it's inevitable.
Brendan: I think the movie has that quality, but disco music, at least the music in the film, also has that quality. Of always feeling like it's the last song and everything's at it's apex, but then that feeling continues throughout the evening. That might have had something to do with it being cocaine fueled, but that seems to be the tone of the music.
Aaron: That one song comes to mind, Doctor's Orders [by Carol Douglas]. It's a happy song and it's fun, but there's a lingering sadness to it.
Brendan: I don't know if it's because a lot of those people began in R&B and soul and there's a certain sadness on some level to that music.
Aaron: And although the movie is nostalgic, it doesn't look back at disco in a kitschy way. And I think that it might be the only film I've seen that doesn't look back at disco in a kitschy way. They discuss it in the movie; it's not Olivia Newton John and John Travolta in white bell bottoms and all that.
David: You know, I think that was the same summer that 54 came out, too.
Aaron: What did you think of the ending?
David: With the subway?
Aaron: I had forgotten about that part.
David: I really like it. It's a nice grace note. It's totally unprecedented in his work - he never goes into surrealism - but when a filmmaker does something like that, especially after three very similar films, it's a way to say "hey, I'm moving forward. Let's try something new now."
Aaron: It's almost like a release of all the mannered stuff from his previous films.
Brendan: I had forgotten about it as well, but I feel like it's a celebration of everything that's coming from.
Aaron: It's almost a bad idea. On paper, all these people dancing on the subway platform -- it's almost such a bad idea that its actually amazing that it made it in.
David: It's really beautiful, and I think what actually helps sell it is that the lead characters disappear almost immediately. The lights flicker, the rest of the subway starts dancing, but they're gone. And that gives the scene the same bittersweet quality that we were talking about with the music. It's a very happy, ebullient thing, but our characters have moved on. They've passed.
Aaron: And before they go, they dance, but it's a very tentative dance.
Brendan: It's like a weird music from a musical. Like a Whit Stillman musical.
Aaron: Oh, man -- The Last Days Of Disco is so good!
David: And now that we've been talking about it, I really can't wait to see him make another film.
Brendan: I think it's funny - when you just know a filmmaker by their work, I think that you have this very particular idea of what they like, and I think it's completely untrue. I'd be curious to know what Whit Stillman is watching.
Aaron: Yeah, did Whit Stillman watch The Bourne Ultimatum? I can't fathom it, but maybe. I imagine him only reading F. Scott Fitzgerald books and living in Metropolitan...
David: You picture him sitting in that drawing room, wearing that tuxedo at all times.
Brendan: I think that's one of the reasons why we chose The Last Days Of Disco for this, because I don't think you would necessarily assume that would be the pick from watching Quiet City and Dance Party USA.
David: I'm really glad you guys picked this. We could deconstruct their influence all day, but it's just really fun to go back and look at these formative films.
Brendan: The other thing we talked about is that, being at the apex of all these newspaper articles and hype and already knowing that there's going to be an inevitable backlash, it's interesting to watch The Last Days Of Disco, which is about very much about experiencing something and knowing it' about to end and having mixed feelings about it ending.
Aaron: Hopefully, no one will blow up a bunch of a Mumblecore DVDs.
David: That would actually be a great SXSW intro next year!
Aaron: I think the difference between disco and mumblecore is that the characters in the film have unabashed love for disco, whereas I think mumblecore is just...we don't need to go into it here, but it's just a a stupid, stupid term. I can't believe it caught on.
Brendan: We've kind of resigned ourselves to it.
Aaron: Yeah, it's too late.
David: We'll look back on this a year from now and brush away tears of fond remembrance.
Brendan: The halcyon days of the New Talkies.
August 27, 2007
LOL on DVD
As wonderful and mature a film as Hannah Takes The Stairs might be, I don't think it would be in the position it is right now had not Joe Swanberg's previous feature LOL provided such a shot in the arm to the festival circuit in 2006. An exuberantly scrappy, handmade little film about being a young dude in this digital age, LOL is - even more so than Hannah - both a product of and herald to its generation.
What with the explosion of recent related press, Benten Films couldn't have picked a better time to release LOL on DVD this week. That timeliness has set a sort of precedent for this boutique distributor, which is going to be closely linked to this circle of filmmakers for the near future: up next are Dance Party USA, Quiet City and (the pin that consistently pops any cohesion in the Mumblecore balloon) Todd Rohal's The Guatemalan Handshake. But this is a niche that deserves to be filled, and speaking as a filmmaker who's had to put up with micro-distributors who want to treat art films like exploitation, it's refreshing to see a boutique with a passion for these little films that could.
This inaugural release bodes well for the future. The film is handsomly packaged and supplemented by a whole host of extra features, including two commentary tracks (so far I've listened to the first, by Joe, Kevin Bewersdorf and C. Mason Wells), the video podcasts Kevin made while he was working on the audio for the film in Berlin, and the enchanting Tipper Newton's audition interview. A lengthy essay by GreenCine's David Hudson ties the film explicitly and appropriately to the blogosphere. And then, last but not least, there are the complete Noisehead videos, some of which were interpolated throughout the film but which are presented here in their entirety. On the commentary track, Kevin talks about how they were conceived as intentionally lame video art, and that they weren't actually supposed to turn out as cool as they did. But cool they are, and it is at this point I should probably offer a word of warning: I'm in one of them (it was shot while I was filming the closing sequence of Some Analog Lines) and, well, it's pretty frightening. Note to self: try to be less scary in the future.
But of course, as with most DVDs, the best extra feature is the film itself. It's repeatedly noted in the commentary how completely dated the film is, only two years out from its production (can you remember a time before YouTube?). But that devil is in the details, and in the grander sense LOL is as vital and prescient as ever.
And, in keeping with its generation's need for instant gratification, it's available right now.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:08 PM
August 25, 2007
The Other Talkies
Karina Longworth beat me to the punch in writing a a closer look at three of the more under-publicized entries in the New Talkies series: Frank Ross' Quietly On By and Hohokam and Kentucker Audley's Team Picture haven't received the acclaim of Hannah Takes The Stairs or Quiet City, but neither have they had to weather the scrutiny or the hype. Watching them still feels a little bit like discovering some wonderful little secret.
Karina cites Ray Carney's notes on Hohokam from the Harvard Film Independent Week, in which he poses the question: "is this the future the characters in the other works have to look forward to?” Maybe, maybe not - the socio-economic disparity between the various character sets predicates a wide variety of potential downfalls - but in a less material sense it's certainly a possibility, and one that's very pointedly underscored by Joe Swanberg's cameo in the film.
Watching Hohokam again at the Dallas Video Festival a few weeks ago, I was struck with how deceptively deliberate it is; it's very nearly a testament against what's generally perceived as the effusive formalism of its genre. There's one moment in particular that I think speaks to this most explicitly. The camera tracks alongside a pretty young girl, unseen in the film before this point and never glimpsed again. She leaves her apartment and passes the main characters as they return to theirs. It's a momentary diversion, and its seemingly inexplicable inclusion speaks volumes about Ross' intentions with the film - intentions which are also reflected in the title itself. Most people going into Hohokam probably won't know what that word means, and I'm hesitant to provide the definition here, because looking it up after my first viewing was such a perfect capper to the film; it really sealed the deal, and turns a simple, intimate portrait into something rather epic.
Kentucker Audley's Team Picture isn't quite so austere in its intentions. Of all the films in the series, this one hews the closest to the casual twentysomething model co-opted by Andrew Bujalski in Funny Ha Ha and, especially, Mutual Appreciation, except that these particular twentysomethings occupy an overgrown corner of Memphis instead of the affluent city blocks of the East Coast. The setting is different, but the aimlessness ain't: "I'm a grown-up boy," says David (Andrew Nenninger, who also directed the film under the Audley pseudonym), without a hint of irony. This Southern Holden Caulfied seems, against the better judgement of his elders, to be retreating into a caricature of rural eccentricity; he speaks with a gentle, mumbling drawl and a vernacular that grows more complex as the film progresses; his outfit of choice is a pair of cut-offs, a hayseed hat and not much else. Early on, he quits his job working at his mom's boyfriend's sporting goods store to pursue his own interests, which sometimes include strumming the guitar and writing songs but mostly consist of lounging in the kiddie pool in the front yard.
Audley gets a lot of deadpan mileage out of David's mannerisms, and Team Picture certainly succeeds as a comedy (there's one subtle sight gag in particular that made me bust an unexpected gut). Beneath that lackadaisical surface, though, some familiar wheels are turning. Audely isn't making a film about characters who change, or grow, or follow any particular arc of development. Rather, like Bujalksi, he follows them to the point where they begin to realize that such change might be necessary, and it's there that the film finds its natural and fitting end. The synopsis of the film reads: "Two young artists fall in love with the wrong girls. Shucks!" The reason the girl David falls for in the film is wrong is because she has ambition - which, from another point of view, makes her the right girl, because she casts his own ambivalence in a slightly harsher light. Shucks, indeed.
Quietly On By and Team Picture both play at the IFC Center on August 30th, with Hohokam following on September 4th as an appropriate close to the New Talkies series. You can get tickets here.
One more note: at 62 minutes, Team Picture falls into the no-man's land of films that don't hit the feature length quota but are much too long to be shorts; Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA is similarly brief, and I think that, were they any longer, they'd run the risk of seeming slight or protracted (or both). There's something uniquely satisfying about an hour long film; as someone who holds as a goal the decimation of running time categorization, I'm excited to see these films accepted as the features they are.
Oh wait, I'm not quite done yet: Season 1 of Young American Bodies is playing at the IFC Center, too, but I want to mention Season 2, which recently wrapped up over at Nerve.com and which I finally got around to watching. Color me extra impressed - I liked Season 1, but this new material is, I think, some of Joe's best work yet. Particularly in the last two episodes, there are some moments of really inspired honesty that hit me in a way I didn't particularly expect. Ah, relationships!
August 23, 2007
Tight On Hand, Leaves Of Grass, Pushing Forward
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Dominik, 2007) (trailer)
Marie Antoinette (Coppola, 2006)
The New World (Malick, 2005)
August 22, 2007
Much Ado About Something
Last Halloween, I hopped a last minute plane to go see a rough cut screening of Hannah Takes The Stairs in Austin. This morning, I very nearly caught another flight to go see the same film open in New York. I didn't, but not because I didn't want to. I'm definitely there in spirit.
I could get all critical and deconstructive at this point - and rest assured, there's more on all these talkative pictures in the works for next week. Today, though, I'm just wishing Mr. Swanberg and his cast and crew the best, and echoing my sentiments from the world premiere of Hannah in Austin last March: it feels like the best thing ever.
P.S. Keep an eye out for my 'cameo' in the film. I didn't even notice it, until Joe told me where to look. But now that I know, I'm happy to have a new claim to fame!
August 20, 2007
Fall Movie Season
According to Entertainment Weekly, by way of David Hudson's massive Fall Movie Preview, the release date for There Will Be Blood, has been moved to December 26. A perfect birthday present!
While sitting in the Phoenix airport this morning, I got an acceptance letter and a rejection letter from the same festival within the space of a few minutes. Some Analog Lines will be continuing its intermitent run at the Sidewalk Moving Pictures Festival in September; The Outlaw Son, however, will not. But I ain't complaining; I've always wanted to go to Sidewalk, and I'm glad I finally have the opportunity!
And now I'm back in Texas again, until at least mid-September, beginning what scholars will someday refer to as 'his homeless period.'
August 19, 2007
Writing With Jandek
I'm finishing the second draft of a script that I started writing back in June, about a man driving up North to see his dad. I don't know what will come of it, although it's something I could and certainly would like to make in the foreseeable future. It's a harsh, cold and unhappy bit of writing, and the process behind it was enriched by, infused with and eventually fueled by the record that has become the soundtrack of my summer: Glasgow Monday by Jandek.
I've been aware of the man known as Jandek for some time, but had never actually heard his music until I was sitting in the front row at the Central Presbyterian Church in Austin during SXSW last spring, where he played the twenty-third concert of his thirty year career (I wrote about the experience here). A month or two later, while we were shooting Moxie, Brad passed on an assortment of his records. I've been listening to them ever since but, as anyone who's ever heard his work knows, he's not exactly easy to listen to. His music is jarring, discordant, dissonant; in fact, the prefect adjective, with all its Plutonic parallels, is simply the prefix dis, to the point that it's sometimes physically unpleasant to listen to him. And yet people do listen to him, and his fanbase has grown ever since his first self-released LP in 1978. As it's put at the Guide To Jandek website, "Some find it crude or inept at first, but upon exploration it reveals incredible depth, intelligence, feeling, and rewards for the listener. "
Earlier this summer, I randomly started listening to Glasgow Monday while working on the early scenes of this script. And then I listened to it again, and again, and before long I was suitably obsessed. The album is a recording of a live performance in Glasgow in 2004, and it's ninety minutes comprise a ten part piece of music entitled The Cell. Foregoing his usual electric guitar, Jandek sticks to the piano, working in and around the same simple phrases for the entire performance, softly singing his seemingly nonsensical lyrics as the the strings of a bass are ground with a bow in accompaniment. It's simple, protracted and repetitive; each part blends into the one before it, and it doesn't take but a track or two for the haunting, meditative qualities to work their spell. It's beautiful, and moving. There's a purity to it, a sort of gut level aesthetic that verges on the sublime.
Of course, beautiful and pure are relative terms, especially when dealing with an artist in such frequent conflict with common standards of musical quality. But it works for me, and I love it, and I would recommend Glasgow Monday as the perfect gateway recording for the unitiated. To that end, here's a sample from the album. It's ten minutes long, and fairly representative of the piece as a whole (minus the majestic applause the signals the performance's conclusion):
I don't have a title for the script that's come out of so many afternoons spent listening to this record, but for the time being I'm just going to wear my influences on my sleeve and refer to it as Glasgow Monday, even though it takes place in the American Midwest on a day that's probably not a Monday. It's still perfect.
August 17, 2007
About A Son At DocuWeek
If you're in Los Angeles this weekend, you've got an early chance to see one of the very best films of the year: AJ Schnack's Kurt Cobain About A Son is getting a one-week engagement at the Arclight courtesy of the IDA's DocuWeek - which will qualify it for Academy Award consideration. I'm going to try to go see it again on Sunday (and then improve on my initial thoughts from when I saw it at SXSW). In the meantime, here's a lyrical excerpt from the film itself:
Posted by David Lowery at 2:09 PM
August 16, 2007
Dentler Takes The Stairs: The Kent Osborne Interview
This time next week, Hannah Takes The Stairs will have just opened at the IFC Center. I'll have more to write about it soon, but right now I'm going to turn things over to Matt Dentler:
On the eve of the theatrical debut of Joe Swanberg's SXSW 2007 hit, Hannah Takes the Stairs, I wanted to check in with each of the film's principal collaborators. The film has been documented as a successful collaboration between acclaimed film artists from around the nation, each one offering their own trademark influence on the final film. Hannah Takes the Stairs will open at the IFC Center in New York, on August 22, as well as be available on IFC VOD the same day. As part of an ongoing series you can find throughout the film blogosphere, here is an interview with Hannah co-star Kent Osborne (also the writer/star of Dropping Out).
Dentler: How did you first get connected to Hannah Takes the Stairs?
Osborne: I met Joe and Kris and Kevin at SXSW in 2006. Dan Brown took me to see LOL and I thought it was amazing. On the flight home I remember wishing that someone would put me in a movie like that because I'm really good at talking about my feelings. And then my wish came true! Joe and I stayed in touch and six weeks later I was flying to Chicago to hang out with Joe and Greta and talk about Hannah.
Dentler: What do you remember most about the shoot in Chicago?
Osborne: My first night in Chicago, Joe took me to the movie house (where the cast and crew stayed during production) and then left to spend the night with Kris so it was just me and Kevin. Everyone else would arrive the next day. Kevin and I didn't really know each other that well, so we stayed up really late, drawing pictures and listening to Steve Reich. It was awesome.
Dentler: How did the production process differ from your own other projects, or projects you've acted in before or since?
Osborne: Well, I don't like to talk about it, but I was in a movie called School Ties and that production was TOTALLY different. There was a script, and a set, and a big light to simulate the sun, and there was a P.A. whose job was to fetch grilled cheeses for Ben Affleck.
Dentler: What are your thoughts on the issues of sex and relationships that come to the forefront of the film?
Osborne: Going from relationship to relationship, not wanting to be alone, having the relationship you're in identify who you are, being addicted to crushes.... These are things I relate to, but I didn't realize I related to them until we made this movie.
Dentler: Ever been in a love triangle?
Osborne: Well, once I had feelings for this girl whose brother hooked up with my ex and then I traded pictures of my genitals with the brother's girlfriend and so ... I guess that's a love pentagon?
Dentler: Did you ever work with "the stairs?" Any thoughts on why they didn't make the cut?
Osborne: We had stairs in the movie house and one night while I was drunk I attempted to kiss Ry Russo-Young on those stairs and she laughed and said, "Aw Kent." It was awesome!
It's David again. I was hoping to procure a copy of the photo Kent mentioned above to accompany the interview, but alas, it was not to be had. Stay tuned for more of Matt's interviews at other film blogs throughout the week: Michael and AJ already have Hannah's leading ladies covered, and Karina is hosting the Dupes.
UPDATED AGAIN: Joe's interview, is online over at Filmmaker, while his collaborator and better half Kris gets her spot in the limelight (bloglight?) via Aaron Hillis. And Matt's got his chat Anish Savjani at his own blog.
AND FINALLY: Kevin Bewersdorf gets Self Reliant!
Posted by David Lowery at 12:07 AM
August 15, 2007
The Palm Springs International Short Film Festival just published their schedule, and included amidst the other excellent films is the first public showing of A Catalog Of Anticipations II. Which, of course, is being exhibited without any numerical identification, thus kicking off what's sure to be an oddball experiment of a festival run, as I've started submiting this segment to some festivals and the full triptych to others, all under the very same title. This might be a bad idea, but I'm sticking to it for now.
The film plays on August 26th. Sadly, I won't be able to attend, although looking over the schedule left me feeling a bit remiss. So many amazing-sounding films! And all with such short running times! I'd be in heaven.
This will be the third festival intersection this year between one of my films and Don Hertzfeldt's brilliant Everything Will Be OK, which I think at this point has swept awards at every film festival in the known world. If you've managed to miss it, never fear: the DVD release has just been announced, and if you pre-order it, you'll get a 35mm film strip from one of the original prints. Hurry up and buy it, so Don can live comfortably while he finishes the sequel.
Also available soon: Michael Tully's Cocaine Angel, finally hitting shelves on the 28th in a two-disc special edition. I can't wait to watch the extra features, particularly the one Michael describes as "the worst five-minute scene/short film in the history of low-budget filmmaking." I also can't wait to see the film again; I haven't seen it with the new soundtrack. To hold you over until it comes out, check out this rather inspiring interview with the director himself.
Sundance season is starting once again, and with it comes the mandatory submission process. I've got Catalog already out to them, with my documentary to follow. James has Merrily, Merrily just about wrapped up and ready to make it out by the early deadline. Yen's got a feature and two shorts. We decided to make a pact to do something out of the ordinary if any one of us gets in. James has to lose 50 pounds. Yen has to turn vegan for a year. And I have to get a tattoo. I've already decided where I'm going to get it - now I just have to decide what.
August 11, 2007
An Unfinished Post
In an article in the new issue of Filmmaker entitled Transart Film Express (available only in the print version), Shari Roman writes that modern artists "are unabashedly wielding the language and history of traditional cinema... they appropriate and stylishly compound critical narrative-image structures while toying with the construct and context of material, sound, space and time." Filmmakers, meanwhile, are bridging the gap from the opposite side.
I've got a few minor issues with that dimension of the article (and no mention of Weerasethakul?), but Roman hits the nail on the head of one of the most exciting aspects of film and video art (as opposed to art films), at least from the perspective of someone crossing over: the explosion of narrative form. The implicit understanding, expectation and application of narrative affords artists quite a bit of room to explore the same (in other words, they can take advantage of deep structure). Two examples, both by Brahkhage: Dog Star Man, which depicts the archetypal heroic journey, and Mothlight, which represents the same from a subjective perspective (in so much as that the moth, compelled by genetically ordained instinct/destiny, could be perceived as the Campbellian hero of its own life) and relies on the audience to impose (or withdraw) the dramatic arc.
I should probably go to the library before I write any more on this; I was about to rashly reference Derrida.
Posted by David Lowery at 9:08 PM
August 10, 2007
First Onscreen Crush
Via this meme:
I was eight when The Little Mermaid came out, and I thought Ariel was just the bee's knees. I still think Kiss The Girl might just be the most romantic song ever. Sometimes.
August 8, 2007
As at least one person has already discovered, I've been in the slow process of revising this site. The process has largely involved stepping outside my Flash-based comfort zone and stripping everything down to create something that's simple and (hopefully) systematically somewhat elegant. I finally uploaded the last few files last night; the results begin here.The filmography has also been updated to include a few films that have never been seen before - at least online.
The list of work seems distressingly small (and the list of films I think are any good even smaller) when put in chronological order. What on earth was I doing between 2001 and 2004?
Posted by David Lowery at 7:50 AM
Hannah Takes The Cake
During the brief discussion following the Slackavettes program at the Dallas Video Festival last week, an attempt was made to disavow the Mumblecore moniker. True to my own entry in the program, I remained entirely mum, but had I spoken, I would have suggested that the ultimate qualification that all the films lumped under this mildly awkward term share is simply: they're all good. Sure, there are other factors (DV, improvisation, Swanberg) that tie some of them together, but ultimately, I think the link they all share is both temporal and qualitative, and any attempt to bandy about any sort of categorization can ultimately be justified merely by the fact that they're made on on their own terms - and that those terms, in their own right, are very, very strong.
All of this is a preamble to the official trailer for Hannah Takes The Stairs, which is itself a proem to a certain degree of coverage this New Talkies genre is going to be receiving in the near future, both here and elsewhere.
In related news, Wiley Wiggins reports that the outstanding Kevin Bewersdorf, who arranged the cover of the 1812 Overture that's audible in the above trailer, will be having a show with Paul Slocum in Austin this weekend. Will it compare to the amazing evening of hotel room fireworks (leftover from James' shoot) in Dallas this past week? I wish I could tell you for certain, but regretfully I've forsaken the plains of Texas for the palm trees of La La Land once again. The thought of this transition makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:12 AM
August 7, 2007
It's A Secret
Nothing picks you up out of a downward spiral quite like driving around with a friend in the wee hours of the morning to shoot background plates for a music video. I've taken a temporary break from the documentary editing to shoot this new project, which is only halfway complete at this point and yet still manages to choke me up every time I watch it. It feels like the best thing ever.
Also making me smile: an e-mail from my little sister Mary Margaret, star of A Catalog Of Anticipations II, who wrote that "last night, I watched vertigo. it was pretty awesome. alfred hitchcock is pretty ingenius."
Posted by David Lowery at 6:28 PM
August 4, 2007
Too Much For Guy!
For those who saw it this evening, or on some evening prior or yet to come, here's a an erudite analysis of Brand Upon The Brain, courtesy of Steven Shaviro. In addition to precisely describing the manner in which Maddin's hyperbolic melodrama is, in fact, autobiographical, he offers an excellent precis on how that same melodrama has evolved over the course of its directors' oveure.
Also, I don't know that I've ever seen the word "hauntological" anywhere else before, but I'm hoping to use it myself someday soon.
I sat through about forty-five minutes of A Pervert's Guide To Cinema again the other night, during its Video Fest engagement. I'm not informed enough to square off against Zizek (after three months and lots of re-reading, I'm still no further than 100 pages into A Parallax View) the way Shaviro or Zach Campbell have. Nor am I disciplined enough in my own practice of critical theory or understanding of modern philosophy to find much fault in his arguments, even when I can see why the impetus for those arguments might be criticized. I do, however, still get a kick out him; likewise, I'm happy to ease into the comfortable incline of his more classical generalizations and find in their articulation ample support for my own ideas. Last night, I listened to the scene in the film in which he proposes that pornography represents a far more drastic form of censorship than what might be levied upon regular motion picture with some degree of sexual content; that this censorship is, indeed, tragic, because it impedes emotion and intelligence, whereas its opposite is merely a stopgag to biological function. Hence, one can choose to indulge in those two factors and draw the line at depicting their eventual physical intersection, or show that intercourse and be condemned to contextual banality. This dovetailed into a conversation James and I were having earlier in the evening about our respective feelings about including unsimulated sex in our films, something I'm not at all opposed to. My interest in it is not reductive: the defense that "it's just sex" doesn't really apply, at least in my mind, because even if one's intent is to be reductive, to depict the act in question as something purely biological, that depiction in and of itself represents a rather problematic intersection between the third and fourth wall of cinema. Because it is sex, it can't just be sex. Is it ethically tricky to ask actors to occupy this space? I think so (I'm reminded of that rumored story from the set of Last Tango In Paris, about Bertolucci telling Brando and Maria Schneider that they could go ahead and have sex if they wanted to, a suggestion which Brando took as a grievous insult to his craft), but I don't think it's wrong explore it. My own interest walks a fine; the sex can't be the film's raison d'etre, and yet its volatility mustn't be disregarded. There's a deference to form that must be taken into consideration, too; most films don't need to be primers on plumbing.
Anyway. Back to Zizek. I was amused by what seems to be a bit of a slip-up in his anaylsis of the Star Wars prequels within The Parallax View; he refers to Anakin Skywalker as Ken Annakin - who is, in fact, a British filmmakers (director of Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines and The Swiss Family Robinson, among others). Although I don't think it's ever been decisively proven, the general consensus is that Lucas did indeed borrow the older filmmakers' name. Incidentally, the fact that it's a bit of nomenclatural trivia that catches my eye in the midst of such ontological machinations only adds to my already massive inadequacy complex.
Posted by David Lowery at 3:45 AM
August 3, 2007
El Automovil Gris
Mexican avant garde theater company Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes made a grand appearance at the Dallas Video Festival this evening, performing their interpretive exhibition - or, rather, reappropriation - of Enrique Rosas' 1919 film El Automóvil Gris, a silent era thriller about a gang of criminals in Mexico city. The film is famous for its use of actual participants in the true-crime case; it's an early example of shaky fourth wall, which makes it ideal for the context in which theater director Claudio Valdés-Kuri has recast it: he presents the film in the traditional Japanese style of benshi narration, in which an actor stands aside the screen, providing a non-stop stream voices, sound effects and commentary on the film itself.
And so for the first fifteen minutes of the performance, we're watching a Mexican film with occasional English subtitles and live narration in Japanese. We're still trying to follow the film's plot at this point - but then a second narrator appears, commenting not on the film in question but on the long tradition and historical significance of the benshi discipline. Shortly thereafter, a third performer joins the fray, this one speaking in Spanish; later, English is introduced to the mix and the narration takes detours into live song and dance, by which point the subtitles on the screen have gone haywire, swirling across the screen in their own interpretations of each other. By the time the film ends with the very real execution of the actual Grey Automobile gang, the plot has gone right out the window; this is a exuberant celebration of glorious meta-narrativity.
Valdéz-Kuri and his troupe of actors have been performing El Automovil Gris around the country for the past few years (Roger Ebert reviewed it here back in 2003). It apparently took quite a bit of work to get it to Dallas (a collaboration between the DVF, the Asian Film Festival of Dallas and the Vistas Film Festival), but thank god it did - this is an unforgettable experience. If you have the chance to see it, dear reader, take care that you sit in the front row.
Tonight, another bit of silent-film magic will be on display: the local premiere of Guy Maddin's Brand Upon The Brain!
Posted by David Lowery at 4:42 AM
August 1, 2007
Killing A Dead Cat
On the last day of production on Merrily, Merrily, Tim and Frederick (the sound guys) and I conspired to add a little pizzaz to one of the shots. We were planning on executing the prank during a close-up, for maximum effect, but as the day transpired, we had to keep pushing it back, until it turned into a nice capper for the martini. One more production - and one boom microphone- down for the count.
By the time we wrapped, I was already halfway done with a first cut. James and I finished it this evening. I like this sort of turn-around time.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:31 AM