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August 26, 2008

Team Picture

Kentucker Audley's lovely Team Picture is out on DVD today, thanks to Benten Films, and so I whipped up a little review for Hammer To Nail:

Post-collegiate malaise is not a new topic, of course. Nor is inter-collegiate doldrums or pre-collegiate jitters, or any combination of the above; is it worth mentioning that the protagonist of Team Picture reveals to his mother early in the film that he’s actually foregone the college application process entirely? The crux here is not the specific terms of David’s decision, but what he more generally represents: on the one hand is youth, blissfully ignorant of the practical realities of adulthood, and on the other is youth once more, but this time wisely aware of precisely what can be gotten away with.

See how I screwed the rest of it up here.

On the subject of criticism (and my own paucity of knowledge on the topic), I've been reading the many tributes to and remembrances of Manny Farber, who died last week, and quickly realizing that this is somebody whose writing I need to be familiar with, and soon. I'd always been aware of him, and had a cursory understanding of the ideas behind White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art, but it never actually occurred to me that I should read his work. Now, just the little that I've picked up in quotations and commemorative paraphrases has set me straight, and I'm about to pick up Negative Space. In the meantime, here's one little offhand quote that I especially like, which I've lifted wholesale from Girish Shambu's post:

It's terrible that a certain language and capacity to make judgments come so easily. It should be hard to write on these films. Whatever the film, we are told endlessly, shot by shot, scene by scene, what's good or bad. It's crazy, totally crazy. I'd like to see that mode of criticism applied to Cezanne or Mozart, saying what does and doesn't work at every step [...] In short, the resistance posed to artistic criticism has vanished; it's turned into a pie that critics quickly slice into pieces.

A shame it took his passing to actually incite this interest on my part, but then again, there's no such thing as too late when it comes to a body of work.

* * *

The next thing I write here is not going to have anything to do with movies.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:24 AM

August 25, 2008

Different Tiger Mountain Peasant Song

Toby found this Fleet Foxes cover from Swedish wunderkinds First Aid Kit the other night. I've been listening to it ever since. Two minutes of serenity...

...followed by thirty seconds of uncanny harmonization that sends chills down my spine.

Dedicated to anyone who needs three minutes to collect themselves.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:02 AM | Comments (1)

August 22, 2008

Momma's Man opens today

Allow me to add to the litany of insistences sounding out today that, should you be in Manhattan this weekend, you go see Azazel Jacob's Momma's Man. Partially because good opening weekend numbers are necessary to make a good film stick in this marketplace, but mostly because it is a good film - a very good film, a great one, and one which seems to have the uncanny ability to make grown men weep. Amy Taubin and Manohla Dargis have raved about the film, but the most fervent responses seem to be from those gentlemen for whom the subject matter cuts a little bit too close to home. I don't think I'll read a more passionate recommendation than the text message I got from Michael Tully at Sundance, immediately after he saw the film. It was practically tear-stained. I've still got it on my old phone, but unfortunately that phone is out of juice and so I can't quote from it.

I caught the film myself the next afternoon, and I didn't cry. I don't know why. I remember leaving the theater and feeling about as frigid on the inside as the evening air around me. I loved the movie, but it wasn't the same emotional emetic for me that it was for so many of my friends. It made me close up, and I think my subconscious blocked all the parts that hit them so hard. And so what I took away from it more than anything was the performance of Flo Jacobs: that fragile, resolute expression on her face, that wavering tenderness in her voice; the meta throughline that this was the director's own mother, giving a performance that was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. And, too, I'll never forget that image of her, sitting beside her husband as he showed her his latest work, and the idea contained therein of an artist narrowing down his or her audience to the one person who matters most, the person whose opinion is worth more than the validation of all the critics in the world.

As I've been writing this, I've been marveling that what is ultimately a comedy can eke out these sorts of reactions. The film opens today at the Angelika, and Aza will be at the evening screenings to answer questions. Here is the trailer, which put in mind those wonderful wind-up toys I'd forgotten about.

...and here is Michael Tully's openhearted follow-up to that text message he sent out, almost exactly eight months after the fact.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:43 AM

August 21, 2008

Pop Will Eat Itself


Pop has a leg up on high art; at its best (and that's a best that is almost entirely subjective), it can freely traverse the currents of cultural favor, flirting with academia as it coasts along the zeitgeist. But this isn't a two way street; this there-and-back-again luxury is not mutually inclusive. Sontag said it was okay to like The Supremes, and so The Supremes become art. Górecki's 3rd, on the other hand, can hit the pop charts, but it will never become pop on its own terms. Pop is celebrated in whole, regardless of whether text is applied or extracted from it. Art from the opposite spectrum can only be divvied up, reappropriated, paid homage to or denigrated (a phenomenon highlighted by Rodger Jacobs in his excellent overview of the mistaken pop commodity culture made of Nabokov's Lolita). As frustrating as it is to see something beautiful be trampled on, as thrilling as it can be to have one's guilty pleasures validated, the fact that these transmutations and transpositions occur at all belies the level playing field on which these works ultimately coexist. Their malleability within an immediate cultural context denotes sustainability outside of the same, which itself denotes a deeper, richer manner of qualification...

I'm digging myself in deep here, treading blindly on territory worn thin by thousands of critics and grad students before me. It all began when I noted to a friend a few weeks ago that my appetite for films these days is pretty squarely bifurcated between two vague categories: I either want to see something small and strange and unique, something that will get under my skin, or I want really great pop. There's a middle ground between Mr. Lonely and Iron Man, and I don't think I'm too terribly interested in whatever occupies it. I don't know on what terms to delineate these tastes - I don't even want to delineate them, but this categorization seems undeniable and probably accounts for the ever-growing number of movies I don't go see. And so, as per my wont, I'm tracing the geography of these ill-defined regions, looking for parameters and switchbacks and getting terribly lost on adjunct avenues of theory.

Indeed, my initial assumption - that a mastery of form might fold the distance between these modes - now seems little more than a straw man, easily blown down by the hefty gust of iconography. The possibility that form is ultimately the common ground between, say, The Dark Knight and Vendredi Soir, is rendered null when one considers that, in the case of the Denis film, the form is self-defining, whereas every phrase of filmic language in Christopher Nolan's magnum opus is ultimately in service to an extant icon (although one could reasonably argue that the reverse is not only true but the very reason for the picture's popularity). There's a bit of reverse leeway (e.g. Michael Jackson wouldn't be Michael Jackson if Billie Jean hadn't been so musically sound) but once again any chance at strict definition is subjugated by culture, which likes to throw camp into the mix, and by artists, who turn camp on its head and tweak it, and by my own tastes, which throw a subtle wrench into any hypothesis I might come up with. There's no syllogism to this, but there must be a reason why I can vacillate from Bela Tarr to Will Ferrell, from Justin Timberlake to Jandek, and it's not enough to simply say that I like what I like and leave it at that - I've conditioned myself to want to know why I like something.

This can, in truth, be vaguely annoying. I do love mysteries, but I'm no good at math.

A tertial footnote to this train that's scarcely left the station: I experienced a strange, tingling shift between the hemispheres of my frontal lobe a few nights back when, during a Jon Brion show at Largo, I realized that the Beatles song he was playing was actually a Nirvana tune. It wasn't that I'd mistaken the latter for a specific Beatles song - I recognized the number (it was Lithium) but for some reason instantly associated it with the Fab Four instead of its actual progenitor. There was, in this tonal lapse, a moment in which some light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Some archetypal glimmer. On the one hand, maybe my mistaken assumption was reductive of both the artists in question; on the other, maybe it speaks to why they still get performed at all in the wee hours of a Friday night.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:23 AM | Comments (8)

August 19, 2008

Overheard while waiting in line at the bank...

A blind man said to a very old woman: "You must be built like a gunslinger."

* * *

Yen is in town to finalize deliverables for Ciao, which until Warner's surprise announcement the other day was going to be released head to head against the new Harry Potter movie. Anyway, I sat in yesterday as notes were taken for a pan-and-scan session that's occurring at this very moment. The very act of wondering why, in this day and age, we need a pan-and-scan of the film bores me to tears. Someone wake me up when we're back in the 21st Century and films are mastered for really big screens and embeddable windows and nothing much in between. And that, then, would be my cue to breathlessly segue into last week's still-current news that thanks to Matt and the folks at Cinetic, Whit Stillman's timeless Metropolitan can be viewed right now, right here, on the whim of your own choosing!

Posted by David Lowery at 1:36 PM | Comments (4)

August 18, 2008

Old Favorites

We've been watching music videos all day. I always end up back at this one.

I've got so much wrapped up in this thing that there's no point in even starting to write about it.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:09 AM | Comments (4)

August 14, 2008

Criterion Brand

branduponbraindvd.jpgWhen I first saw Guy Maddin's Brand Upon The Brain! on the big screen, with all the grandeur and bombast of its orchestral accompaniment and live narration, I was fairly certain I wouldn't ever want to see it again under any other conditions. Now, as has so often been the case in the past, I'm going to eat my words and thoughts and deep dark secrets, because the Criterion Collection has this past week released a robust and hearty edition of the film on DVD! I haven't picked it up yet, but I understand that it's a typically outstanding treatment of the second-most recent masterpiece from Winnipeg's favorite prodigal son. Meanwhile, my initial impressions upon seeing it last summer, can be read here.

Also released this week: an excellent interview with that film's cinematographer, Ben Kasulke, over at Short End Magazine. Ben also shot Lynn Shelton's two feature films and half of Joe Swanberg's Nights And Weekends. And towards the end of this year, it seems, I'll be joining him on a mysterious, Herzog-ian excursion into the jungles of South America. It'll be one last feature film endeavor for a year that's turned out to be rife with them (five, including my own). I wonder where my passport is.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:17 PM | Comments (2)

August 13, 2008

Whale I Wish I Was


Posted by David Lowery at 3:49 PM

August 12, 2008

Running Uphill (literally, at 8AM, every morning)

We've been keeping busy here, writing and editing and, yes, going running every day. Yesterday was a mad succession of phone calls and teleconferences, fueled by the buzz of one really great development meeting, and then I had to switch over to New York time temporarily to get that trailer we'd been working on ready for the band's press release this morning. Said trailer is now online at the band's site:


Now we're moving on to the documentary itself. Searching for a through line, as well as any stray audio that might sync up to all the 16mm footage. We have a few really cool ideas about how to handle this film, to make it something more than just another band-on-tour documentary - but then again, we're only one day into watching, categorizing and subclipping all the footage, so it could go anywhere. The film's director, Mike Torres, has given us an unprecedented amount of freedom - our direction, more or less, is to turn all this footage into a great film. We shall endeavor to do just that...

Meanwhile, I've got a great film of my own to polish up and get ready for scoring. And two great scripts to finish writing, and two great novels to finish reading. And some great memories to curl up inside of, all cozy like. Greatness abounds...except in the financial sector. That part's not so great. But when is it ever?

Posted by David Lowery at 9:21 PM | Comments (1)

August 7, 2008

"To call it uncompromising..."

I know I've written before of my cinematic matriculation in the pages of Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion; I practically learned to read with the dog-eared copy on my grandfather's bookshelf. So it is that one of my more sentimental goals as a filmmaker is to one day read a review, by him, of one of my movies, and so too is it that I felt quite the vicarious thrill this evening when I happened upon his review of Frownland. It literally sent chills down my spine, much in the same way that, in my youth, my heart would stop upon unexpectedly seeing a girl I fancied turn a corner. Does this mean I have a crush on Ronnie's film? It just might. I've certainly been in less functional relationships....

Anyway, the cause célèbre is that Frownland opens its run at the Facets Cinematheque in Chicago today. If you're in town, and you haven't seen this film yet - you know the drill, friends, you do indeed.

Posted by David Lowery at 10:52 PM | Comments (3)

August 6, 2008

We Are Hardly Men

It wasn't as smooth this time around. Sample dialogue from yesterday:

TOBY: Are we back on the highway?

DAVID: ...yeah.

TOBY: How did that happen?

Our increasingly delirious jaunt to Los Angeles climaxed around 2AM this morning with a blow-out in the desert. We had to ease our way down an on-ramp to get off the freeway, and then put our manhood to the test by trying - and failing, miserably - to take the wheel off. Thank goodness for non-judgmental roadside assistance folks.

We spent the night in desiccate motel that time forgot and, looking back on it now, we never seemed to entirely wake up. We're still not awake. We arrived at our destination, and I promptly bought a plane ticket to New York.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:43 PM

August 3, 2008

Editing a River

At some point in the next twelve hours, Toby and I are hitting the road to Los Angeles for the second time this summer, this time taking the Northern route through the desert foothills before curving down into that tectonically precarious basin. We'll be there for the next month or so, developing some new projects, supposedly jogging every morning at seven and also devoting the other 127% of our time to editing a feature-length documentary about this band...

All the hip kids are into them these days, I hear. I'm getting into them myself, as I finish up a last-minute edit of a teaser trailer for the film before we leave (although I still find myself turning away from the computer to listen to that Bonnie Prince Billy album some more - the third, seventh and twelfth songs on that album are almost all I want to listen to right now, over and over and over again).

I think we're going to be shooting a test for a music video while we drive out there, too. We're also going to endeavor to start our own band over the next few weeks, eat only raw food and perhaps learn a new language or two as well. Nothing like maximizing time.

Is it raining outside?

Posted by David Lowery at 6:18 PM | Comments (1)

August 1, 2008


I'm showing St. Nick again this evening, to a few select folks. I'm at the point now where I'm watching it repeatedly, all the way through, on a pretty regular basis. I'm still too excited about showing it to people to not sit there and watch it with them (although I suppose I'm earning the right to never sit through it again after its eventual public premiere).

As I mentioned way back when, the spark for this movie was a web series that I was making with my brother and sister that I never finished. It was a different animal, with separate intent and purpose, but I re-watched the first episode the other day (the only one I ever actually cut), for the first time in ages, and was surprised by how closely it adheres to the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie. For example, the first shot of each:

stnick_precedent1.jpg stnick_precedent2.jpg

There a handful of little things like that scattered throughout the film. Basically, I rip myself off a lot. There's an alley that was behind my old apartment that I used in a music video I made last year (which will officially be seeing the light of day soon), and again in a static shot of the neighborhood in the film.

stnick_precedent5.jpg stnick_precedent6.jpg

And this photo I took in Marfa last October was the inspiration for the shot of the kids entering the house.

stnick_precedent3.jpg stnick_precedent4.jpg

There are a lot of others I've discovered, too. A few conscious, but most of them not.

* * *

I cut anther four minutes out of the movie today, taking it down to 83. But I think I might put a few of them back in. I don't want to be a running time bully.

Okay, I'm gonna stop talking about this movie now.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:36 PM

Writing With Jandek, pt. 2

"I crashed and burned and phoenixed out of there. And now what do I have? Some semblance of my body, an overview of my mind. I stand looking. I can't see all that was."

It doesn't read quite the same without the music.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:14 AM