January 27, 2009
Two more notes about Che
Two things came to mind as I was writing about Che yesterday. The first was that the lack of "outre narrative tropes" plays not only to Soderbergh's intentions, but also to my essential laziness as an audience member. I love not having to to keep track of first-act plants and anticipate third-act payoffs. It's so refreshing!
The other is that the structure of the film reminded me of that most formalist of children's programming: the Teletubbies. For those of you who've never had a chance to experience the show, it's important to understand that the structure is rooted in repetition. Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Po and Laa-Laa all take turns exhibiting short subject documentaries via the televisions embedded (in true Cronenbergian fashion) in their stomachs. Once a given clip concludes, the Teletubbies all jump up and down and shot "again, again!" And, indeed, the clip is shown again in its entirety. It's astounding! This almost ritualistic format was developed around cognitive psychology studies, and I'd argue that what makes it so precisely appealing to its target audience is the same principal that makes Che so effective. In short, repetition engenders basic comprehension, and this comprehension can then be deepened by the introduction not of foreign elements but of that repetitive pattern itself into new contexts.
Seriously. You should watch the show sometime.
January 25, 2009
I hesitate to call Steven Soderbergh an outright formalist, perhaps simply because his oeuvre is so flighty, but two of the traits running through his unwieldy body of work certainly lend themselves to an emphasis on form: he's an extremely efficient auteur, in that he strives for the most effective means of conveying an action, a joke, an ideal; and he's a clinical one, an attribute which itself begets a focus on the how moreso than the what. This has recently gotten him in hot water - The Good German seemed a cheap trick, Ocean's 13 merely cheap - but with Che he's crafted, through pure formalism, a truly magnificent piece of biography. This is exactly the sort of historical filmmaking that speaks to me; this is a biopic I can get behind! And it works, I think, largely for the reasons that so many have criticized: objectivity, distance, exposition through outward action; in other words, for stridently avoiding any sort of hagiography.
He goes so far in the opposite direction, in fact, rejecting any outre narrative tropes, that I can perhaps see why one might wonder why this character, within the context of the film, should require our attention. The answer lies squarely in the film's formalism; it is simply that the Che Guevara who begins the film becomes the Che Guevara who ends it, a transition left unremarked on but for its deep roots implicit in the film's structure. Che was designed as a procedural diptych; is perfectly bifurcated; perfectly symmetrical; and thus perfectly satisfying on a very basic level. It is essentially simple, and it allows Soderbergh to expressly convey - not history - but idealism. To convey, not through fiery speeches and agitprop but through process. Process, and the repetition of process, and the denial of certain connective points that might be useful as text but would turn the film, as an extant work, entirely askew. This is why it is necessary to watch both halves of the film in one sitting; one must make those connections, and understand those processes and see where those processes fail, to understand what it is that Guevara has committed to. Arriving at that understanding was the only question I brought with me into the theater. I left more than satisfied.
I'm waging my own little battles between form and efficiency on St. Nick. Minor skirmishes in the edit that keep me from locking picture. There are little rough edges, little errors even, that I'm hesitant to remove. In the sequence below, for example, the efficient thing to do would be to use version 1, with a cut (sloppy though it is) to get the character from point A to point B and move on with the story (I think here of the old rule about bad movies being filled with doors opening and closing). But I'm hung up on the unbroken iteration. Something about the camera move, unplanned and imperfect and overt as it is, is really wonderful to me.
There's some alchemy going on there. A shift. It's unnecessary, perhaps, but it's the sort of excess that I think might make the movie special. Or maybe I'm just deluded at this point. I'm trying not to think too much about these things.
January 20, 2009
I'm back in Dallas for two days to take care of a few things, including: going to join the crowds watching the inauguration at Victory Park, and then following that up (not quite appropriately, but whatever) with a matinee of the Che roadshow. It's going to be an exciting morning!
Meanwhile, St. Nick lost thirty seconds and then nearly gained a minute last night, as I come dangerously close to actually locking picture.
January 19, 2009
IFC announced this morning that Joe's new film Alexander The Last will be released on VOD simultaneously with its festival premiere at SXSW. This is exciting news for a number of reasons, but at the moment I'm still laughing at the image accompanying the press release.
Filmmaker's Scott Maccaulay has more details on the announcement, which occurred during a panel with Joe, Steven Soderbergh and Janet Pierson. More of my own thoughts soon...
Posted by David Lowery at 12:28 PM
January 17, 2009
Works In Progress
January 16, 2009
Learn From Me!
I received an e-mail this evening informing me that this site had been selected as one of the "100 Best Blogs for Film and Theater Students." A dubious honor! I'm down there at the bottom of the list, where I belong. That said, I hope that I'm able to provide, if not true information, at least some modicum of amusement to the future intelligentsia whose numbers I'll sadly never be counted among.
I should also note to new visitors flooding over from the above link that, these days, most of my good writing shows up elsewhere, such as at the gloriously redesigned Hammer To Nail. Here on this page, though, you'll be prone to learn more mundane facts of my day to day existence. For example, at dinner this evening, Andrew Bujalski pointed out that the signature on my drivers' license looks like a crude drawing of a penis.
I really can't offer much more than that without advance warning.
January 14, 2009
Catalog on TV, cold Chai tea
The wonderful Rooftop Films continues to support A Catalog Of Anticipations, this time airing it on the latest episode of Rooftop TV on the MNN network in Manhattan (channel 67) at 9pm tonight. I think this is the first time it's been broadcast on television. Now that it's festival run is pretty much over, I suppose it's high time I let it seep out online...
Yesterday was a strange day. I felt completely out of control. I'd be driving and the cars would whip past me at terrifying velocities, swoops of light and sound; I'd have no idea how fast I was going or where I was going or where I was. I went to lunch with Kat and afterward got completely, inexplicably lost. I had to pull over and just breathe and try to collect myself, and figure out where I was. I went for a long run, hoping that it would clear my head, and it did. But then I got the shakes, and I started to feel some little seedling growing between my eyes, spreading down into the cavity behind my nose, and sure enough - I was sick, and down for the count. It must be out of Sundance sympathy. Hopefully it will be gone before I hit Park City proper in just over a week; not for the festival, but something else (predictably) film-related.
And now back to this cold mug of Chai tea. I really should go warm it up.
January 12, 2009
We finished the music video yesterday, finished one of those many scripts today (time to erase those marker boads). I'd forgotten what completion actually feels like. I also managed to spot St. Nick with our sound designer this afternoon. I watched it on a big screen for the first time in a while, which was a good idea. I think I'll take the hard drive with me when I leave town again tomorrow and make a few more tweaks...
I'm really looking forward to a time, hopefully soon, when I can stay in one place for a solid month, and perhaps even focus on A Single Project. Actually, that last part is probably an impossibility.
January 10, 2009
After a snap decision to make good on the goal implicit in last night's post, I went ahead and ran 13 miles this morning, in one hour and fifty freezing cold minutes. So that takes care of any doubt I had about whether I could do that come February. I guess now I'll just work on my time.
My sincere apologies for these tiresome entries on minor personal milestones, but writing them down in a public forum helps me feel a little less lazy and worthless than I actually am. Kidding! I'm not worthless, just lazy.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:34 PM
January 9, 2009
Almost Hardly Done
I've been in Chicago for the past week, editing Kris' film, which we shot in Costa Rica last month. I finished the first cut in four days, which is a new personal record that I'd hereafter like to strike from the accounts, lest I become known as the guy who can cut an entire feature in a ridiculously short amount of time (not that I can't, but there are some reputations you don't want to precede you). The morning after, we decided the ending didn't work; halfway-conceived a new one; and ventured into the outlying blizzard to shoot whatever it was that we were feeling. A few hours later it was in the cut and working beautifully. My usual filmmaking motto - that snow makes everything better - proved true once again! Rolling green hills are nice and all, but precipitation can't be beat.
I've also been reviewing edits on the music video Toby and I have been working on, writing some odd number of projects which seem destined to remain eternally unfinished, and fielding various bits of news, good and great and sometimes bad. And now the snow is gone and it's back to work on St. Nick, which needed to be done yesterday, or last week, or even last month.
Also: I've fallen madly in love with Virginia Woolf all over again. I want to quote entire paragraphs right here.
And: barely a month until the half-marathon that I'm going to settle for instead of the full twenty-six.
Posted by David Lowery at 9:51 PM
January 7, 2009
Silent Light is open
As of today, there's only one movie in theaters worth seeing: Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, rescued by Palisades from the Tartan library, is opening for a two-week run at the Film Forum today.
"I’ve seen Silent Light three times — it had its premiere at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival — and find it more pleasurable and touching with each viewing. After having wowed and appalled international audiences with bravura technique in his first feature, “Japón” (2002), and assaultive provocations in his second, Battle in Heaven (2005), which opens with the kind of sexual encounter that keeps nunneries in business, Mr. Reygadas has quietly altered his visual style to brilliant and meaningful effect. His silky camera movements and harmoniously balanced widescreen compositions still enthrall, but he now comes across as less committed to his own virtuosity and more invested in finding images — of children bathing, trees rustling, clouds passing — that offer a truer sense of the world than is found in melodramatic bloodletting."
And, once more, my own, as yet to be followed up on:
"In literal terms, of course, heaven is just the glorious skies of the northern Mexican countryside, and its weight is simply the conscience of the characters who move stoically against them. But there seems to be some sort of divinity present in both, and to say that it is merely a trick of the camera isn’t to belittle it; one of Reygadas’ greatest achievements is that he stitches his supremely human narrative together with imagery that’s possessed with a preternatural grace. Perhaps the lens itself represents a divine perspective. If so, Reygadas has reappropriated and repurposed the trope of the God’s-eye-view, which in traditional cinematic terms refers to a vantage point from high above, looking down on the drama and the characters. Here, God is on the ground, in the dirt. Looking up, looking straight ahead."
And Karina Longworth's, which is marvelously graceful in a completely different way:
"Ultimately, the words that serve as the most compelling evidence as to why you should see this “fucking Mennonite movie,” come from the fucking Mennonite movie’s own script. When Johan confesses to Zacharias that he’s gone back to Marianne even after swearing he’d quit her, Zacharias tries to convince his friend that maybe things aren’t so bad, that maybe Johan’s feelings are “based in something sacred…even if we don’t understand it.” Soon after, Johan temporarily gives himself over to the giddy high of his obsession with Marianne: he dances into his pick-up truck, and literally drives circles around his friend in glee, before speeding off to one of the most romantically rendered adulterous kisses in recent movie memory. In these brief moments, Johan is liberated to not understand what’s happening to him or inside him or to the people around him, while Reygadas telegraphs that experience directly to the viewer. Silent Light is a film dedicated to making the incomprehensible tangible, visible, even half-knowable. And that’s why you should go see a movie that’s in fucking Mennonite."
Posted by David Lowery at 2:04 AM
January 5, 2009
Donut BonesOne of the most ubiquitous sights on the festival circuit this past year was the button for the Zellner Brothers' Goliath - a simple, striking and cuddly graphic depicting the titular feline, one which still graces the lapels and shoulder-bag straps of filmmakers and cat lovers from one end of this weary world to the next. So now, as we turn our eyes and efforts towards disseminating St. Nick into that same globosphere, in whole and in part, we've decided to try a similar tactic; here is our initial button design, featuring Donut, the beloved skeleton dog (who might actually be a cat - we never actually figured it out).
Because, after all, everyone loves animals, and everyone loves difficult, glacially-paced art films when they have animals representing them! Right? Right.
Elsewhere: the website stnickfilm.com is now live, although there's nothing new on it yet. Also, if you haven't joined the Facebook page yet, there's no time like the present. Expect copious updates to both in the coming two months...
January 1, 2009
I didn't want to leave. The path from Texas to the Windy City is straight line; so why when I travel there do I always wind up in Atlanta? Some ancient ley line pulling me East when I need to go North; making straight a curve, as natural as an arm bent at the elbow. I trace its length with my fingertip; finding the radial artery that runs the entire course, following it to the elbow where I pause, and then turn on towards the wrist. Along the way that vein opens of its own accord; the sun is low in the sky and spins gold out of the pools and rivulets that well up from its riven surface; a spatter of mercury stretching to the horizon. Little lakes and ponds shimmering like mirages that do indeed disappear as the sun sinks lower and the faded green and brown quilt below turns monochrome with frost. Winter spreading in the afternoon. I flatten the image in my head, as I imagine Vermeer must have done, so as to see it as patchwork of color and shade; to detect the blues and purples in what looks so uniformly gray.
We hit a bank of clouds, and all color vanishes. Something deep and guttural shifts within the plane as it beginning to drop. Nearly there, after six hours. The radial artery wraps around the wrist. Its shoots spread into the fingers. It is almost as far from the heart as I can get. To get to where I really want to be, I'd have to retrace my steps, take the same path further back, back to the brachial artery, where I'd slip through a a wall of muscle below the shoulder and try to make longitudes out of the axillary artery, which itself would give way to the subclavian artery. I'd stay its course and then duck under the arch of the aorta and slip down through its descending branches, into those depths below, where East and West and up and down no longer matter and everything is a deep shade of red. Finally I'd find myself in the coronaries, and I could curl up warm and rest.
Vapor on the window; a thick imposing rolling wall of gray, thousands of feet high, reaching from the ground to somewhere above us. I settle back, and it's then that I see in my periphery: a ribbon of pink, unfurling across the sky in less than half a second and then vanishing. An optical trick, I think, but then there it is again. Brilliant, shimmering, heraldic, rippling long across the distance. Seemingly free from physics and all the natural laws, like the sailor's green flash, and like that gone in an instant. It makes no sense. I see it a third time. It's something to hold onto. And so I do. I hold on tight and let it be what I need it to be.
The cloud bank dissipates. The patchwork below is deep dark blue, and off in the distance is that same splash of pink, but sustained. A valiant sunset, making itself known while it sinks into the West. Hanging over the source. Waiting for me to see it. I know. We land.