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July 30, 2009

A Serious Man trailer

Everyone is going to be talking about this in about six to eight hours. I don't even need to bother with my own two cents.

Watch it if you haven't already. The moment when the Rabbi's secretary finally speaks rendered me...well, speechless.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:17 AM

July 29, 2009

Interview: Chris Fuller

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My interview with Chris Fuller, director of Loren Cass, for Filmmaker Magazine is now online. A sample:

"I definitely feel that content dictates form. Everything should be done to service the particular project, which was the case with Loren Cass. I don't really think that a filmmaker should develop their own aesthetic consciously. Whatever the aesthetic is should come naturally and be intertwined with the form. After all it's the filmmaker who selects the subject matter, writes the film, and so on, so an aesthetic materializes from a combination of things starting with the first decision made. The moment you become conscious of your aesthetic is the moment it turns into a gimmick."

You can read the rest right here.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:17 PM

July 27, 2009

Covert Drama Queen

I left Seattle a few hours after a vibrant screening, and a few hours after that I was in Austin, in the screening room at the Austin Film Society, watching the first cut of Bryan's film. The fact had already hit me that it was just about a year to the day since I'd shown St. Nick to an audience for the very first time, in that very same theater; and also un annum since the beginning of something that has long since ended but which formed the backbone, for better or worse, of a strange and memorable fragment of life. I left a little bread crumb trail over that entire period: I can follow it back to here, where it began, and then to here, where it should have ceased; but no, it sustained itself until Christmas, after which it flared up and down and sent me on my merry way feeling very unmerry indeed. This ephemeral trail finally, eventually, inevitably, definitively reached its conclusion here, and now here I am, sitting on the same couch that I was on when I wrote that and feeling like a whole lifetime has passed, all for the better.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:31 AM

July 24, 2009

Loren Cass


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Opening today in New York City is Loren Cass, the debut film from writer-director Chris Fuller. It was nominated for a Gotham Award last year, and earned a good amount of acclaim at festivals - mostly European ones, which may be why I knew nothing about it other than its title until a few weeks ago, when I sat down to watch it in Chicago.

I've been turning it over in my head ever since. There's one cut in particular that I keep revisiting, in which a character in an armchair spontaneously combusts. It's one of the strongest, most meaningful bits of dialectical editing I've seen in a long while. And there I was thinking about it when I learned that Kino was on the verge of releasing the film theatrically - it's already available on iTunes and Amazon Unboxed, but this is the sort of confrontational cinema that is best experienced writ large.

The film's context is as intrinsic as it is mostly unstated: it is a gorgeously shot, defiantly opaque portrait of three youths all reeling in their own private ways from the aftermath of the 1996 riots in St. Petersburg, Florida. It's the sort of frictive film I love, even while not loving it; I had problems with it, but they were of the sort that forced me to wholly engage with what Fuller was attempting to do - or rather, what he did, and does, since the film is there, finished, an aggressive statement from an artist who undeniably knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. That the phrasing may sometimes be awkward and the syntax unwieldy is perhaps more noticeable because the language is otherwise so strong - but they are also more forgivable for that same reason. This is a film in which I'm almost willing to accept that my problems with it were just that: mine and not the film's.

In other words, it's very much worth a second look. Or first, as the case may be. Be prepared to wrestle.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:06 PM | Comments (2)

July 23, 2009

St. Nick in Seattle

I'm heading to the Pacific Northwest tomorrow to show St. Nick at the Raw Stock Short Film Festival. All of my Seattle friends, save one, will be out of town or working, so I'm going to depend on the kindness of strangers to keep me company during my whirlwind stay. And as for the screening - this week's edition of The Stranger has a lovely capsule review (made up entirely of pull quotes):

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The Seattle Weekly, meanwhile, writes that "(Lowery) does push St. Nick past the patience that most will be willing to grant the movie. It’s a worthwhile effort, but also like eating dry toast." That's probably pretty accurate too, actually.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:57 PM | Comments (2)

July 20, 2009

A Facebook Message...

...from (St. Nick DP) Clay Liford

Why aren't you blogging about Twilight? Stop spending so much time pretending to care about Claire Denis, when we all know where your loyalties truly lie.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:41 AM | Comments (3)

July 17, 2009

Commentary: Gallo

There's a draft of a post that's been sitting here for months now, and in light of the Claire Denis films I've been writing about, it seemed a good time to finally put it to bed. It's dated March 7th, which if I recall correctly would have found me in Dallas, sleeping at a friend's office and working like mad to put the finishing touches on St. Nick. Around that time, some kind soul sent me the commentary track to The Brown Bunny, pulled from the Japanese DVD release. From that post:

And then here's a passage that sort of put in words, old words but accurate ones, just how I've been feeling lately:
What, what exactly do I get out of making these films? I mean, I don't make any money, I give up three years of my life on each one, I make a lot of enemies because I'm bossy and pushy and crotchety, and I get old and crabby and my back and my neck and everything hurts now, and I didn't go on any dates. What do I get, this weird satisfaction that I was able to put something in the world that now exists that most people don't like anyway? I don't know, this is just a sick in the head move. But at the time it seemed like the most important thing.

A few weeks prior to that, I'd taken part in an e-mail interview about St. Nick. The faithful correspondent asked me what my all time favorite film was, and I'd responded with something along the lines of "right now, The Brown Bunny seems like a pretty good answer." And sure enough, it still does. And I never go on any dates, either.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:27 PM

July 14, 2009

Trouble Every Day (2001) - pt. 2


About 21 minutes into Trouble Every Day is an extraordinary sequence which, just the kiss that begins the film adumbrates Denis' thesis, deftly outlines the dynamics on which she lays her case. It begins in the hotel into which newlyweds Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey) have just checked themseves (Shane identifies himself to the concierge as Mr. Brown - you can tell Denis is a fan). The sullen maid Christelle (Florence Loiret) carries their bags to their room, and as they follow her, Shane catches himself staring at her a little bit too intently.

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They enter the room, and Christelle begins to make up the bed. June quickly, eagerly jumps in to help her. Shane unenthusiastically follows suit - and once again finds himself transfixed by the maid. This time, she notices. In a single shot, the camera tilts up from the sheets clutched in his hands to his jetlagged glower - and then from there it pans into a close-up of Christelle, who doesn't meet his gaze but seems entirely aware of it.

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Moments later Denis makes a sharp turn into subjectivity by cutting out of the hotel room and into a close-up of Christelle as she pushes her housekeeping cart down the hall. This mimics the shot from a few moments ago, when Shane was following her; but now she's alone, and the camera is more closely bound to the nape of her neck, more in time with her step. The perspective, this time, is unmistakably ours - which is to say that, in the grand tradition of horror cinema, we the audience are being implicated.

But then, an aside: as she proceeds down the corridor, Christelle discreetly swipes a few single-serving jars of jam from discarded room service trays...

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Now we're in the hotel basement, where Christelle is stashing her spoils in employee locker. A neat arrangement of jam and soap.

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Why make her such a magpie, and why call such careful attention to it? Consider that Christelle is roughly the same age as June, of the same height and general shape, also a brunette. And that June's defining characteristics so far are trust, neediness and selflessness. Christelle has quickly and efficiently been established as her mirror image: independent, cunning, selfish...

...and, above all else, sexual. While June may not be a virgin per se, she's certainly virginal, and Shane treats her as such. Like a doll, like a little girl. On the other hand, we've just seen the manner in which he regards Christelle, and now we're invited to share that perspective. The camera slowly pushes in on her as she removes her maid's uniform, exposing her breasts. That she's not wearing a bra isn't a character detail (this routine will be repeated later, and she'll be wearing undergarments) but an overt statement on Denis' part. She is eroticizing Christelle through egregious nudity, in the same way that Kubrick exaggerated the sexual appeal of every woman Dr. Tom interacts with in the first half of Eyes Wide Shut. But what felt blunt in the Kubrick film here is as alluring as it is wanton (perhaps because two female filmmakers are so slyly playing with the idiom of the male gaze).

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The next shot finds Christelle still in a state of dishabille, washing her feet in the sink, showing off the shape of her legs and participating in the time honored tradition of horror film heroines placing themselves in the most vulnerable positions imagineable.

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Indeed, this is followed by a voyeuristic composition, peeking out from behind a laundry bin. Once again, a classic example of the male gaze (see Halloween, Mulvey, Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema, etc.), minus, at least in the literal sense, any actual male.

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A noise echoes from somewhere deep in the basement, and a corresponding shot of the dark recesses of the locker room. In the distance, another employee can be seen leaving. Christelle is now completely alone. Denis cuts to another close up of her, as her eyes glance backwards - the inverse of her acknowledgment of Shane's gaze back in the hotel room.

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And now we're presented, in turn, with the inverse of those two shots (the entire sequence - indeed, much of the movie - is built on such interconnected articulations). Out of the basement, back upstairs to the hotel corridor (Kubrick again). Also empty. And inside the hotel room, we find Shane, laying face down on the bed, his hand down his pants. He's alone. The sound of running water suggests that June is in the bathroom. He brings himself to a muffled climax...

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...and with that the promise of that initial tilt-pan shot is fulfilled. I don't doubt that the entire sequence was meant to be taken literally, but it also functions as Shane's fantasy. Hence, the disembodied stalker perspective, and the overt eroticization (as mentioned previously, the next time we see Christelle disrobe, she's desexualized), and the plundered goods which, imagined or otherwise, give him a free pass to do with (his mental image of) her whatever he pleases. Or, rather, whatever he needs.

In interviews concerning her 2004 film L'Intrus, Denis has suggested that, in spite of the large cast and multitude of locations, there are only two actual characters in the film. I think Trouble Every Day can be read the same way; every character corresponds to some facet of Shane and June - egos, ids and whatnot, transposed or otherwise - and the horror each is trying to suppress within their own relationship. This interpretation is is a little difficult, considering how extensively Denis delves into the palpable specifics of the narrative - this is no ephemeral, Lynchian dream story - but there's an internal cohesion to it all that's impossible to ignore.

There is following the sequence above some business with pills and vivisected brains and lab coats and phone calls (all material deserving of their own discussion) and then: an addendum. Shane ventures into the bathroom, where his wife is taking a bath. June is fully exposed, but there's an awkwardness to her nudity; she doesn't seem to quite comfortably in either the tub or her own skin. Shane gives her a good, long look - one which Denis talks about in the interview I linked to in my previous post:

You know, in Trouble Every Day there is this scene where Vincent Gallo is looking at his wife taking a bath, and you can see pubic hair moving in the water. That's one of Stuart's songs. On his second CD there is a song called Sea Weeds and the story is just that. I truly wrote the scene because of that song

June awakens in the tub and is startled to see Shane standing over her.

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He leans down, touches her tenderly and asks: "Are you frightened?"

Posted by David Lowery at 3:41 AM | Comments (1)

July 11, 2009

Trouble Every Day (2001) - pt. 1


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Trouble Every Day opens with a gorgeous, sustained kiss between an anonymous man and woman in an automobile. Their identities hold no bearing on the narrative, and they won't be seen again, but their exchange defines the ensuing film.

Denis spoke about how this scene came about in a 2002 interview with Aimé Ancian for Senses Of Cinema:

That's not where it was in the screenplay – that kiss – it was elsewhere, during a nocturnal ramble by Vincent Gallo, which incidentally wasn't filmed. But I still wanted to shoot the kiss because the kiss is the film. In the screenplay, the first scene is the scene in the plane. Stuart of the Tindersticks wanted to write a song, but not for the beginning of the film. And when I heard his song, I said to him: “Stuart, I think it should be at the beginning, you can't put it in after.” And so we can't begin with the plane, everything has to be pushed back for Stuart's song.

I'm curious as to whether the song preceded the title of the film, or vise versa. It has a certain cadence, a sing-song quality that deflects both its blunt literalness (it would sound even better, I imagine, if English weren't your first language) and the hue in which it casts the rest of the film. Between the kiss and the title, Denis' intentions are as clearly telegraphed as they are easy to forget - at least on first viewing - in the light of all that follows them.

I've seen this film twice in the past week, and three times total, and it just keeps getting better.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:53 AM

July 7, 2009

The Beginnings of St. Nick

We showed St. Nick last night under the stars out in the rain in a cozy pre-Civil War den in which folks had crowded into every nook and cranny. But prior to the film, I thought it would be appropriate to show that little web series episode that I'd begun shooting in 2007, which soon gave way to the film itself. It was the first time I showed it publicly, so I figured I might as well make it available here:

Watching it back to back with the movie was great - the beginning of the film is practically a shot for shot remake of the episode, and you can just about see the point in the short at which I changed modes from slapstick family adventure story to something more serious, more demanding of less disposable treatment.

And so, for maximum comparative effect (and to be enjoyed on its lonesome too), here are the first nine minutes of the film itself:


If you click through to the actual Vimeo page, you can watch it in full screen HD. As always, turn your volume up. I hope you enjoy it.

Posted by David Lowery at 10:09 AM | Comments (5)

July 5, 2009

Precedents

An acquaintance of mine sent this scan to me the other day. A playful little reminder from two-and-a-half years ago.

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More on this momentarily...

Posted by David Lowery at 8:46 PM

July 4, 2009

The 2nd Annual Mill House Film Festival

And now an interlude, as I ignore the prescient possibility of writing a full monograph on Trouble Every Day by tearing through the hills of Virginia on motorcycles. I'm out here once again at the Swanberg family manse, and tonight we held the the first night of the second annual Mill House Film Festival out on the grassy knolls. Friends and family gathered to watch such classics as Mike Brune's The Adventure, selected works by the Zellner and Duplass Brothers, and Benh Zeitlen's ubiquitous Glory At Sea. The audience is made up entirely of friends and neighbors and family members and folks who would otherwise never see these movies. The screen is a homemade construction of PVC pipe and canvas. The projector light is augmented by fireflies, which afterward are the closest thing to light pollution you might find out here. I think this officially counts as a vacation - especially since the internet doesn't really work, and there's no cellular coverage whatsoever. My phone died two days ago and I haven't even bothered to charge it.

Meanwhile, looking to the future: St. Nick will next be seen on July 24th in Seattle - a one night-only event at the ACT Theater, via the Raw Stock Short Film Festival. St. Nick, of course, is not a short, but I'm always a fan of crashing through boundaries of running time. I've never been to Seattle. More on this exciting story as it develops...

Posted by David Lowery at 12:35 AM