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January 28, 2010

Have One On Me

Coming February 23rd...

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Posted by David Lowery at 11:18 PM

January 27, 2010

Enter The Void (2010)

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I have yet to see Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lovely Bones - my opinion of the novel, compounded by the torpor of special effects so pronounced in the trailer, has not sent my scurrying to the theater - but I couldn't help but think of it while watching Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void, and apply it's touchy-feely tagline -'The story of a life...and everything after' - to Noe's vision of just that. Enter The Void, to be fair, is touchy-feely too, in its own inappropriate fashion, and it's perhaps even more dependent on CGI trickery than I presume Jackson's opus is, but it doesn't commit the cardinal sin of realizing the inconceivable. He gives us visions we can relate to - such as a sexual climax filmed from inside a woman's vagina. It's somewhat funny, but also so operatically audacious that it achieves its desired effect in spite of any laughter.

Noe isn't interested in heaven, and death seems to be a means to an end more than a raison d'etre; his intentions, he explained after the screening at Sundance, was to make the audience feel like they were on drugs. He pretty much succeeds. Early in the film, Oscar, the young protagonist, takes a hit of DMT and lapses into an extended reverie of computer generated abstractions - long tendrils of unfurling bioluminescence, swirling flagellum trailing into floral orifices, forever shifting and branching. It's comparable to the final flight in 2001, and also perhaps to a screensaver, but what's remarkable about it is how it captures in visual terms precisely how one's brain functions when under the influence of hallucinogens. In other words, it's not a visual representation of a hallucination (which is only a few degrees less dangerous than representing the afterlife), but a road map, if you will, to how a hallucination works. It's a guide which the rest of the narrative will follow, in a more figurative sense, and during the last 45 minutes, when ennui and distended repetition begin to grate on one's shellshocked eyes and you just want it all to stop - well, you can't take Noe to task for inaccuracy.

You also can't quite take him to task for shallowness, which, to a large extent, Enter The Void is. There's nothing dangerous about the film's provocations. It's unsetting, but not intellectually or ideologically so. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Noe's nihilism, much like David Fincher's, is mostly surface; it's aesthetic window dressing for bravura filmmaking, and indeed, the technical work on display here is of the highest order, graceful and intense and frequently dazzling. There's an enormous amount of digital work on display, but it's nearly impossible to tell where the special effects sequences begin and end. Hence, the film functions as a cohesive whole, a singular experience, and we're able to take a vested interest in the sad lives Noe puts on display. Irreversible worked in a similar fashion - a threadbare story made grandiloquent through craft and conceit. That film, of course, also had two almost unbearably disturbing scenes, which Noe seems to have no interest in topping. Indeed, for all unpleasantness he pushes our noses into here (a violent car accident and its aftermath, an unnervingly realistic abortion), he ultimately reveals himself to be a great big softie.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:39 PM

Afterwards

It's a remarkably pleasant thing, attending a festival in support of someone else's film. On the one hand, I feel close enough to Bryan's film that I can take enormous satisfaction and no small degree of pride in hearing people say they've heard good things about, hearing them say good things about it. But I'm also able to detach entirely from the usual nerve-wracking jitters and subsequent decompression and just dip in and out of the ride. I've been watching movies and enjoying myself and when people congratulate me on the film, I take their kind words and run with them to the next screening, feeling just a little bit warmer than I did beforehand.

The first screening was wonderful. It looked really good on the big screen, and sometimes even beautiful. I made a lot of mistakes behind the camera, but there were lots of things I tried to do that did work, and never so well as when projected at large (I was pleased to see that the Hollywood Reporter thought likewise). I skipped the second screening to see a different movie, and now I regret it.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:15 AM

January 24, 2010

Failure!

I'll have more to write about Sundance as a whole later on, but right now, we're ninety minutes out from the world premiere of Lovers Of Hate. I'd say that it's so surreal that it's not even surreal, except that it's not. Is it wrong to say that it feels strangely appropriate? Maybe I can get away with saying that, since I'm not the director.

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An anecdote: during the Austin leg of the shoot, I cut together the title sequence of the movie for the cast and crew's viewing pleasure. As temp score, I used the theme from Raising Arizona. Aside from the fact that it was instantly recognizable as such, it worked perfectly - so perfectly that there were doubts we'd find anything as good.

But then when I flew down to Austin last summer to work with Bryan on trimming his first cut, he suggested we drop in Power (Failure), a song by Kevin Bewersdorf. I dragged it into the timeline, replacing the Coen Bros. cue - and there it's remained ever since. It was perfect. So perfect that the opening sequence has hardly changed since that day, and Kevin ended up composing the entire score. If we hadn't used that song, I don't think the movie would be what it is, and we probably wouldn't be here today - it was the piece of the puzzle we didn't know we needed until it was in there.

So here, for your listening pleasure, is that song: Power (Failure) by Kevin Bewersdorf. With any luck, this will become the anthem of Sundance 2010.

Power (Failure) : mP3 : 5.1mb

And now I'm off to the screening!

Posted by David Lowery at 4:40 PM

January 20, 2010

Lovers Of Hate is almost upon us

Bryan's film premieres in Park City a few short days. Technically, I'm going to be there. That is to say, I have a ticket scheduled for a flight departing Friday morning. Whether I'm on it or not is the crux of a forever vacillating see-saw of finicky decision making. Yesterday I was overcoming some mild bug and the thought of venturing up the slope of Main Street was too much to bear. But today I'm in good health and high spirits, and while I'm not one hundred percent sure where I'm going to stay once I arrive at Sundance, I feel up to the possibility of burrowing into a snowbank every night if it means getting to be there with the rest of the crew in that first moment of glory Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, back in Austin, the press kit for Lovers Of Hate has just returned from the printers. It's something of a comic book, created by Monofonus Press (who helped back the film), and in it you'll find beautifully rendered illustrations of people who hold vague and eerie likenesses to the makers of the film. Including yours truly, represented by a black and white salty sea dog of a cameraman at least thirty years my senior. The picture is a cribbing of this photograph, which was taken on a very hot day in the back of an old Caddy in Memphis. The polar opposite of the weather we'll be hiding from in the Eccles when the lights dim on Sunday. Notice I said 'we.' I guess I've made up my mind.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:10 PM

January 18, 2010

More Shooting

Alas, no municipal government intervention this time.

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Now on to the stop-motion part.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:52 PM

January 12, 2010

Accumulation

French president Nicholas Sarkozy had this to say about Eric Rohmer's passing yesterday:

"Classic and romantic, wise and iconoclastic, light and serious, sentimental and moralistic, he created the ‘Rohmer’ style, which will outlive him.’’

Which coincided nicely with this passage from David Rieff's beautiful forward to At The Same Time, the final collection of essays by his mother, Susan Sontag, which I'm currently reading:

"Loved ones, admirers, detractors, works, work: beyond soon-to-be distorted or at least edited memories, beyond the possessions soon to be dispersed or distributed, beyond libraries, archives, voice recordings, videotape, and photographs - that is surely the most that can ever remain of a life, no matter how well and kindly lived, no matter how accomplished."

From which I'll skip to another passage in the same text:

"She was interested in everything. Indeed, if I had only one word with which to evoke her, it would be avidity. She wanted to experience everything, taste everything, go everywhere, do everything. Even travel, she once wrote, she conceived of as accumulation."

Accumulation. That's the end I have in mind as I plunge, sometimes greedily but just as often fearfully, ever forward, with as dense a bedrock of experience beneath me as I can manage to rest on when I get tired.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:28 PM

January 10, 2010

Lucky


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Part 1

By six o'clock, we had our antique movie camera but not our second cast member. We thought finding a gentleman with a moustache would be easy enough - a stone thrown in a hipster bar, perhaps - but such was not the case. Seven o'clock found us scouring Facebook, looking for friends and friends of friends who might fit the bill. Phone calls were made, but apparently 'tis the season for close shaves.

Finally we found someone - a graduate student in cancer related research. Would he fit in the period costumes already procured? He invited us over to a party at his friend's house. We showed up with a bag full of clothes and had him try them on during halftime of the big game. I took a snapshot on the old iPhone. He looked good and old fashioned - our second leading man was found. We thanked him, told him that we were getting started at three the next day and, on the way out the door, let him know that we'd be setting his head on fire.

Part 2

We were on our sixth or seventh take when the coyotes began to howl. By and by, their melancholy howls were augmented by another shrill, distant caterwaul - a siren, barely there, twisting its way through the breaks in those wails coming from no discernible direction. It wasn't really coming closer, it didn't seem, which didn't stop me from wondering, in the back of my head, if it wasn't coming for us.

We kept shooting as the sun sank lower and lower, until our latitude was lost and we could shoot no more. "Should we put out the fire, or just let it burn out?" someone (who may have been me) asked. In answer to my question, the flashing lights of a fire engine rounded the corner at the bottom of a hill. A fire extinguisher was grabbed, the fire doused, and a great billow of white smoke unfurled. Two firemen got out of the truck and began walking towards us. Up the dry, grassy hill that opened up onto miles and miles of dry, grassy fields, at the foot of which we'd lit a (properly controlled) fire because, after all, the shot would look so much better with it. The fact that we were on private property without permission was the furthest thing on our mind at this point.

They looked at the film equipment, and at the snuffed conflagration at our feet.

"Well, it looks like you've got everything under control," they said.

And then they left, proving once again that when you're making movies, you can pretty much get away with anything.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:34 PM

January 2, 2010

Best Of, pt. 2


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I somehow neglected to realize that 2010 was a turning point of any sort at all until just a few weeks ago, when I remembered an upcoming anniversary that I'll definitely be paying more attention to in the near future. Within this suddenly-defined envelope I rediscovered a catalog of encapsulated remembrances, all of which accumulated more import when applied to a timeframe. Many of these events occurred in darkened theaters, or their immediate proxies; indeed, the bulk of my cinematic matriculation occurred over the past decade, hand-in-hand with my own awkward shuffle into some version of maturity, and so I've commensurately been looking up and down at all those best-of-the-decade lists, remembering what came out when and where and, aside from wondering whether or not they're being compiled twelve months early (where does a decade begin and end, exactly?), considering which of those titles I'd pick for my own momentous run-down of millennial cinema.

I could choose ten films, or twenty-five, or fifty - there's safety in higher numbers, less of a need to choose between two favorites - or I could go in the opposite direction and narrow things down to a list of three films and one filmmaker. This accounting beginning almost exactly ten years ago, when I went to see Magnolia. It was technically a 1999 film, but it didn't reach Texas screens until early 2000. I loved it more than anything. I still love it, but I watched it again two or so years ago, and had I seen it for the first time at the age I was then (or am now), I don't know if it would have worked so well for me. Conversely, if I hadn't seen it then, I don't know if I'd be the person I am now.

That person was working as a projectionist in the summer of 2002, when a shipment of trailers from Technicolor arrived at the theater, containing the first preview for Punch Drunk Love. I spooled it onto a print, threaded it up and snuck into the theater to watch it, and I recall that as the first frames hit the screen, I thought to myself "There really is a new Paul Thomas Anderson/i> movie coming out" with the same out-of-body-reverence that generally accompanies the arrival of any anticipated landmark in one's life.

A similar thought occurred in late December five years later, when the lights dimmed on that first midnight screening of There Will Be Blood (which I think could handily take the title of best film of the decade were I to focus solely on individual films). Its own considerable qualities aside, what I love about it - what I love about PT Anderson in general - is that it's not just a great fucking movie, but that it is such a marked progression from the one that came before it, which was itself a huge step forward from its own predecessor. His next project, The Master, has just been announced, and with the press release came a shot of the strangest sense of anticipation. One part anticipation, three parts trust - what a true joy it is to watch such a gifted filmmaker grow over the span of his oeuvre! And on a more personal level, as a filmmaker, what a joy it is to try and keep pace.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:09 PM