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December 25, 2009

A Special Christmas Present from Frank V. Ross & Co.

This Christmas, we're happy to present the first glimpse at the upcoming film from Frank V. Ross, Audrey The Trainwreck:

This trailer is also a birthday present to me, as tomorrow sees the onset of the last year of my twenties. That odd year in which you can no longer say you're in your twenties, those twelve months during which various lapsed goals will resolve themselves in diminishing fashion, because really, who cares in the end? All of that is a very big reason why I love this film as much as I do.

Starring Tony Baker, Alexi Wasser, Nick Offerman, Jess Weixler, Danny Rhodes, Rebecca Spence and Alison Latta, and featuring an original score by jazz legend John Medeski, Audrey The Trainwreck will bow in 2010. Spread the word.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:23 PM

December 24, 2009

Best Of

My favorite movies of the year? I've got that curious affliction wherein all titles vanish from my mind the moment I try to categorize them. A cursory glance over other lists reminds me that I cherished Two Lovers, 35 Shots Of Rum and Antichrist above all others, have tremendously fond memories of my double feature of A Serious Man and Where The Wild Things Are, that I'm enormously proud of my friends who made 45365 and That Evening Sun and The House Of The Devil, that Fantastic Mr. Fox and Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans made for fine holiday viewing, that Avatar was indeed a blast, and that there are a massive number of films I still haven't seen (Revanche, Julia, et al).

(I also participated in two polls over at Hammer To Nail - The Best of '09 and Best of The Decade, with both lists being confined to films with budgets under one million dollars.)

However, I'm going to take the liberty to be particularly Grinchy this Christmas Eve and say that my favorite film year, the one which demarcates the past twelve months more than any others, was my own. I'm not saying it's the best - not by a long shot - but when I think back on time spent in a darkened theater in 2009, St. Nick will be what comes to mind first. And I'll welcome it.

* * *

Yesterday called for air conditioning. I went running in shorts and a tank top and worked up a good sweat. Today brought more snow than I've ever seen on a Christmas Eve in Texas before. By nightfall we were stuck inside, all travel plans forsaken. We're going sledding in the morning. And this is why I love it here.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:11 PM

December 23, 2009

Sundance Laureate 1

Here is Clay's great new trailer for his hilarious short film My Mom Smokes Weed.

Whither the trailer for Lovers Of Hate? I'm not sure, but I do know that there are some pretty special promotional items being put together in time for its premiere. I was just going back through old e-mails, as I often do when I'm procrastinating, and found the one in which Lovers Of Hate went from being a hazy maybe to a sure thing - a sure thing that was suddenly going to be in production in less than two months. That e-mail came on November 18th. And then a month and change later, a year ago today, I landed back in the United States after an extended filmmaking trip in Costa Rica. I remember during that first week there, sitting in a slightly grimy hostel room, watching hundreds of ants swarm out of the guts of my MacBook and wishing I was home. The trip got a lot better after that, and we ended up making a movie I'm really proud of, and now here I am a year later, sitting here with all the windows open, hoping it gets cold in time for Christmas, and making a futile attempt to quantify.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:41 PM

New Stuff

In lieu of words for the moment, a few storyboards for something I'm gonna be shooting right after the turn of the new year...

concept_art1.jpg concept_art2.jpg

I can't wait to get out of this editing suite and back behind a camera again. And then back to the editing suite, but with my own images in tow...

Posted by David Lowery at 10:26 AM

December 18, 2009

Just when you thought you've caught up...

...you get sidetracked with a feature film that needs to be cut in five days. I spent a full week on the first twenty minutes of this actioner that I've been hired to edit (plus ten full days on the trailer alone), and then came the request from the higher-ups that we get the rest of the first cut done by Saturday. Ever the go-getter, I said no problem. Since then, I've been very, very sleepy.

In the midst of this delirium, the Sundance schedule went online, including Lovers Of Hate. Only one or two alphabetized clicks away is Clay Liford's short film My Mom Smokes Weed, which has also been accepted, marking the culmination of a rather stunning festival about-face. It was rejected by Sundance (and Slamdance, and SXSW) last year, but then gathered steam at smaller regional festivals, where it was seen by Park City programmers who realized the error of their ways and have made up for last year's rejection letter in full. A yuletide tale of inspiration for filmmakers near and far!

I helped shoot that movie, too, which means that I have two films I DPd at Sundance - which means that I'm totally crazy for thinking about sitting the festival out, right? I keep flashing back to this particular entry in the photo journal I kept the last time I was there. But when have red lines ever stopped me before? What's wrong?

Posted by David Lowery at 10:15 PM

December 7, 2009

Zoophobia (more on Antichrist)


antichrist_animals.jpg

One more note before I change subjects (and, as in the previous post, spoilers will follow)!

The earliest press releases for Antichrist revealed that Von Trier was making a horror film; a subsequent statement signaled the completion of casting, with four animals joining Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe as the principal performers. A deer, two crows and a fox, representing grief, pain and despair - the lynchpins of Von Trier's realization of evil. They're the latest in a longstanding tradition of using animals as narrative signifiers. From the three horses in Michael Clayton to the tiger shark in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (an encounter Wes Anderson repeats in The Fantastic Mr. Fox with a wolf in place of the shark and a fox in place of the human) to the image of a horse falling over the edge of a ship that all on its lonesome made the American remake of The Ring far more terrifying than its predecessor to the taxidermied whale in Bela Tarr's Werkmeister Harmonies to the flocks of birds the beginning of Lance Hammer's Ballast and the end of Rahmin Bahrani's Chop Shop; animals have an uncanny representational ability, functioning both as the unbridled id and as a primeval omen, a reminder that there is something out there bigger than us, something which will remain long after we're gone (hence, the sense of victory in the slaughter of the oxen in Apocalypse Now - a temporary triumph over inevitability).

In Antichrist, Von Trier establishes nature as a malevolent force, and then exploits it for all its worth. During Dafoe and Gainsbourg's initial hike to the cabin, she falters, protesting that "the ground is burning." She takes off her shoes, revealing a mess of red blisters. Of course there are blisters - she's hiking - but the infernal connotation has already been drawn. "Nature is Satan's church," Gainsbourg utters late in the film, stating what has by now been made obvious. There's no need for supernatural when evil seems to well up from earth itself. The rain of acorns that pitter-patter ceaselessly on the tin roof of the cabin; the swollen ticks that Dafoe discovers on his hand; the trees that fall in the middle of the night with, their low, timbrous ruptures echoing through the desolate wind. Nothing here is out of the ordinary, but in concert with the psychological progression of the narrative, it is explicitly antagonistic, and never more tacitly then when it comes in animal form - first, with Dafoe's glimpse of the mother deer whose dead fawn hangs half-born from her backside; then, with the crow, whose featherless baby falls from its nest, is set upon by ants and then plucked up and eaten by its mother; and, finally, by the dessicate fox, who Dafoe happens upon in the process of devouring itself (the first in a series of inversions, or deformations).

These Three Beggars, as they are identified in Gainsbourg's character's research, are - to the extent of my knowledge - mythological entities of Von Trier's own creation. Various triads can be invoked - the three faces of drama, the Three Wise Men of the Nativity, the three-headed Lucifer of Dante's Inferno. When they reappear at the climax of the film, however, they occupy an even more portentous role. We've already seen Dafoe bludgeon the crow to death when he discovered it burrowed in the fox's hole (the second inversion). Now, laying on the floor of his cabin, he witnesses the entrance of deer and fox - and he and we anticipate the arrival of fowl through the open door and window. Instead, a muffled caw and the flutter of wings sounds out from below, growing louder and louder. Dafoe finally breaks open the floorboards and the crow emerges - in effect, a reincarnation, a Christological inversion that fulfills the potential of the film's title, and the initial promise of the film itself. Horror, indeed.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:31 PM

December 6, 2009

St. Nick's Day

I was hoping to have some great news to share on this, the feast day of my movie's namesake, but we're still a little ways out. I thought then that I might let slip a little bit of extra material we've been sitting on for some time, but as it turns out I don't have those hard drives with me. And so...nothing. No news, no festivals. All is quiet for the time being. And sitting here, next to our Christmas tree, with the heater on and a glass of wine at my elbow, waiting for the door to open, I must admit: this particular silence is actually quite nice for once.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:34 PM

December 5, 2009

The Dialectics Of Shock: Antichrist and Kinatay


antichrist_fox.jpg

Above all its other qualities - unsettling, shocking, horrifying - Lars Von Trier has made with Antichrist an invigorating motion picture, one which engages the viewer wholly through that perfect conjunction of intellect and trickery which marks the work of any great director (a great director being one who knows how to perfectly establish, sustain and build upon a single intonation, and then get away with something as outre as letting a fox speak aloud to his protagonist without tearing that fabric asunder). I loved the movie. I walked out of the theater - and went to sleep, and woke up the next morning - still thrilled, not so much by its specific ideas as by its aspirations towards and achievement of ideology.

These ideas, of course, are underscored by some some famously physical moments, including unsimulated intercourse, animals consuming their young, animals consuming themselves, strangulation, conflagration, a drill through the leg, bloody ejaculation and an extreme close-up of female circumcision by way of rusty scissors. It's a brutal film, and yet I didn't feel brutalized; it's confrontational, but not an affront, which is exactly the opposite reaction I had to that of the other enfant terrible from this past Cannes festival, Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay. Mendoza takes Von Trier's genital mutilation and raises him the rape and dismemberment of a prostitute. He hedges his bets on strident realism, while Von Trier goes for broke and lets his entire opus pivot on a talking fox. Both take entirely legitimate approaches to incredibly difficult subject matter, and I pit them against each other not to compare and categorize styles but to examine my own reactions to them. I didn't feel nourished after Mendoza's film; I felt a bit nauseous, a bit shellshocked and a bit debased. It's a real bummer of a movie. So is Antichrist, but you wouldn't have guessed that based on my mood afterwards. It doesn't make you want to shuffle out of the theater and avoid the gaze of your fellow moviegoers who've likewise subjected themselves to such blunt shock treatment.

Why do we subject ourselves to it? Subjection is of course the keyword to the question - I knew all about what Kinatay had in store for me, the same with Antichrist - and the answer is the same one that horror filmmakers have exploited for decades: audiences will always find some illicit pleasure in witnessing something awful, preferably something more awful than the last awful thing they paid to glimpse. Mendoza plays heavily upon this in Kinatay, and he hits a homerun when it comes to building a dreadful sense of anticipation. From the casual suicide that skews the otherwise happy opening scenes to the distended van ride that ferries both our hero and the poor young woman to their fates, the majority of Kinatay is a masterpiece of escalating tension. Von Trier plays much the same game throughout Antichrist, using nature (falling acorns, ticks, animals) to gradually pluck away at the audience's defenses. The evil he's suggesting is far more esoteric than the sociopathic culture shock of Mendoza's film, but both directors are clearly building towards a horrific crescendo. Whether or not it's explicitly anticipated by the audience is inconsequential; it's there in the filmmaking. In both cases, what has to happen has to happen.

But it doesn't have to happen the way it happens, and it's here, in the moment of release, that Kinatay falters and Antichrist succeeds. Mendoza, it turns out, has nothing more to offer us than a Cannes-friendly alternative to Hostel or Saw. His film resolves itself as an endurance test. We either stomach it or we do not; we've either survived the experience or we've fled the theater. I stayed, of course, and the discombobulation I felt as the lights came up wasn't because the film turned my stomach - it had every right to do that - but because I felt I'd been mildly had. This is a film that demands quite a bit from its audience, and offers a paucity of returns. It's not in the ballpark of the worst film in the history of Cannes, as an aghast Roger Ebert proclaimed last May, and there's no denying it's initial effectiveness. But it's also frustratingly limited in its perspective. Mendoza paints himself into a very small corner, and briefly wallows there before cutting to black.

Von Trier is too bombastic to be content with the same, and this latest film finds those tendencies at their most constructive. Antichrist's most extreme moments are not about shock for shock's sake, but the dialectics of shock. Like that beloved talking fox, each represents an impediment to resolution; each creates friction which must be worked through, thereby forcing Von Trier and his audience to dig deeper, more forcefully into the subject matter at hand in search of a solution. This is rigorous filmmaking - vigorous filmmaking! - and as such, it's exegetical qualities not only justify the graphic content but are bolstered by them. Von Trier isn't content to present us with a dry document; this is a thesis on evil, written in blood. By the time we reach self-circumcision - the ostensible climax of the film - we're in need not just of catharsis but of a closing statement, and we get both. The thrill of the terrible (the image) is met head-on by its own terrible meaning (the narrative instigation, which in this case takes us back to the opening of the film and demands close interpretation), which then gives way to a postscript of almost startlingly poetic power. How wonderful is it to have confidence that the enigmatic final moments, as impossible as they may be to completely decipher, actually do mean something?

* * *

A note, which would never have come about had it not been for the nearly arbitrary comparison of Mendoza's film and Von Trier's: it's perhaps worth noting that the blunt, verite force of Kinatay occurs in a milieu of third world poverty, with a hero who is uneducated but good at heart, whose turn to evil is predicated entirely on economics. The married couple at the heart of Von Trier's film are white, presumably wealthy and almost definitively educated, the latter trait being the root of their own Edenic fall. I wouldn't say that cultural context excuses Mendoza's film, but it does put an interesting spin on the idea of its limitations.

Another note: that talking fox looks an awful lot like the hero of Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:26 PM

December 2, 2009

Lovers Of Hate at Sundance!

I got the e-mail from Bryan about an hour after landing in the US last week, and now it's officially public: Lovers Of Hate is one of sixteen features in competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Which means that, regardless of whether it snows today, tomorrow or (as per the current forecast) on Friday, I'll be getting some sledding time in come January.

A huge congratulations to Bryan, Megan and everyone else who helped make this movie. It's been an awesome year of watching it take shape, from script readings to rehearsals to production to editing to screening after screening after screening. I can't wait to watch it one more time, on the big screen at the Eccles (or the Library) and then stumble with the rest of my friends arm-in-arm out into the cold to celebrate.

For old time's sake, here's what I wrote about the project back when we were in production, in the glory days of earlier this year.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:31 PM

December 1, 2009

Chill

How appropriate that, after weeks of balmy weather, Texas might just be cold and precipitous enough to see some snow on December first! Into this weather I'll gladly plunge, to negotiate the finer points of contracts and such with James before finally catching up with Antichrist (which I almost watched a screener of on the plane the other day, before thinking of the innocent passenger sitting next to me) and coffee and...and what else? Only one thing missing.

A warm congratulations to all my friends who are nominated for Independent Spirit Awards today, and for my one friend who won a Gotham Award last night. St. Nick was shortlisted for both, and I could spin a cautionary tale about getting DVDS in the mail on time and such, but in truth, we couldn't in good faith allow ourselves to be considered for the Best Film Not Coming To A Theater Near You award at the Gothams (re: aforementioned contracts), and as for the Spirit Awards - well, to paraphrase Bad Santa, we can't all be winners, can we? There's plenty of other good news on its way.

Can you ever close a book on a film? Should you ever? James and I were talking about how, after Thessaloniki, we're both ready to put St. Nick to bed - or rather, to let it out into the world and watch from afar as it goes wherever it might go. I'm hearing left and right these days that this is neither the model nor the mindset that we independent filmmakers must maintain, but I can barely watch my movies after I make them, much less go the distance to ensure that they are seen, not just by everyone who wants to see them but everyone who might feasibly want to see them, in perpetuity, throughout the universe, etc. Am I doomed? Call me crazy, but I'm pretty confident that I'm not.

Along these lines, this op-ed at Filmmaker by Noah Buschel is a really great read.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:51 PM