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August 30, 2010

Missing Kubrick

This profile of Christiane Kubrick from The Guardian is sad and lovely.

One time, she and Anya spotted me riffling through one of his old notepads in the stable block. She said: "I get very upset at seeing some of his old things. The paper is so dusty and old and yellow. They look so sad. The person is so very dead."

It was at the apex of my Kubrick obsession that I attended the Berlinale Talent Campus five years ago and, along with twenty or thirty other fellows of the program, got a personal tour of the master's archives from Christiane and her brother Jan Harlan. As I recall, before we stepped into the exhibit hall, Harlan proposed that she guide half of our group and he the other; but when it came time to split up, everyone crowded around Christiane, through whom, I suspect, we all thought might all get a little bit closer to our hero. They ended up joining forces and taking us through together.

The Kubrick Collection has since traveled around the world and been viewed by many, but at that time it was an exhibit that had not yet gone public, and the fact that I'd be seeing the Star Child in person was something I was completely unprepared for. Were I to get writerly about it, I'd suggest that staring that foam rubber infant dead the eye might have something to do with why I haven't revisited any of Kubrick's work these past few years, and why he's become less of an immediate icon to me and my own processes. But that just isn't the case.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:51 PM | Comments (1)

August 27, 2010

The Fine Art Of Referrals

I wrote a brief capsule review of R. Alverson's debut feature The Builder for Hammer To Nail. That it was a capsule was not my intention, and if it seems brief, it's because I curtailed what was originally going to be an overriding theme - the concept, featured in last Sunday's NY Times, of record labels releasing independent films.

That filmmakers should take a cue from the recording industry has been a running cry these past few years, one always foiled by the fact that films, by their very nature, cannot be enjoyed in the same manner as music. What struck me when I read the article, however, wasn't necessarily the manner of distribution the labels were applying to these films, but the labels themselves. An interesting trick occurs in my head when I think about it. Drag City, for example, is a label I trust implicitly, home to my very favorite musicians. I bought more of their records in the past year than I did DVDs. Their stamp on a film automatically piques my curiosity, regardless of whether it was directed by Harmony Korine (or Michael Tully). There's some degree of novelty to it, but that novelty will wear off as more labels do the same thing, and what will be left, what was there all along, is the matter of taste.

Which is to say: it all comes back to curation. As much fun as uncharted territory and the joy of discovery can be, by and large I place great value in the fine art of referral. There's too much material out there for me to parse; I want the stamp of approval of a trusted critic, a festival programmer, even a distributor to direct my attention towards works I should be seeing. That I include distributors here may suggest that I'm casting my net too wide, or that I'm attached to an old model. But I'm intrigued by the notion of trusting a distributor (Oscilloscope Laboratories is after just that, with their Circle Of Trust program that depends on a subscriber's faith in the taste of the acquisition department). On the other end of the spectrum is a friend sending me a link to a video and telling me to check it out, but in between the two is a spectrum of possibility for getting the work out there that appeals to me in a way that self-promotion does not. A million tweets from an unknown filmmaker is not going to get my attention as much as a nod towards that same filmmaker from a writer whose opinion I hold in high regard.

I think this can work for getting the work made in the first place, as well. I attended a fundraiser party for a friend's band the other night, hosted by a friend, at her house. Any random patron who donated money that night did so not because he or she had been randomly perusing Kickstarter pages, but because the opportunity to discover the project - along with sufficient evidence as to it's worth - had been provided by a trusted confidante. Our hostess suggested that she would be holding a continuing series of such events - a philanthropic subscription service, if you will.

All of this was circling in my head as I wrote about The Builder, but none of it belonged in that review, and so I cut it short and continue it here. What I'm saying, in short, is that I'm shirking responsibility left and right, both as an audience member and a filmmaker. In the latter category, I want my the ubiquity of my voice to rapidly diminish the moment my film is over; I want to trust others to carry it forward from there.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:21 AM | Comments (2)

August 22, 2010

Callbacks


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Posted by David Lowery at 1:33 PM

August 18, 2010

Ephemera 7

Things I'm looking forward to:

Posted by David Lowery at 9:49 AM

August 15, 2010

Critical Dreams

I've been having the same dream a lot lately. I've never been one for recurring dreams, much less extremely literal ones, which makes this one all the more noteworthy. In this dream, I meet Roger Ebert. Sometimes it happens at what I understand to be his house, other times at a movie theater or film festival. I introduce myself, and he responds, and I find that he's able to speak once more. He's written that in his own dreams he can communicate as he always had before. In mine, he's on the mend. To what degree depends on the particular dream, but the vocalization denied to him is no longer absolute; his voice is there, instantly recognizable. He can eat and drink, and smile, and argue; and sometimes, dreams being dreams, he's also my dad.

My dad is the star of the other dream I've been having, and his own convalescence the subject matter. In reality, his mobility has been challenged over the past two years by a debilitating case of lyme disease, which manifests itself through symptoms of Parkinson's. I haven't been around to see the graduation of this ailment; I remember what he was like before, and I know what he's like now, and in my sleep whatever dystrophy occurred between those two states is speedily reversed. This remarkable change is sometimes attended to by a shift in hair color, or length or thickness; in weight and posture, and fashion and overall physical makeup. And sometimes he's Roger Ebert.

These dreams are largely about the same thing; a bifurcated worry line somewhere in my brain, fed by two tributaries that trickle back further than I can remember. I've been reading Roger Ebert since the days when reading meant bringing a book to my mother and sitting on her lap. Surely I've written about this before, about how she would read me his review of Return Of The Jedi until I practically had it memorized. I received various copies of his Movie Home Companion for various birthdays, and I believe they still sit tattered and coverless on the shelves at my parents' house, long since exchanged for his website. New reviews used to go up on Thursday after midnight, and I'd be there to read them; lately they come in the wee hours of Wednesday, and Ebert provides links to them on his twitter page as he publishes them. They've become, in many ways, supplementary material to his blog, which seemingly began as a lark two summers ago and then opened up, floodgate style, to a deluge that was equal parts Proust and Samuel Johnson. He wrote about anticipating death, about God,, about his earliest days as a newspaperman. He wrote about science, and his attachment to books, and teenagers making out. He discussed losing his voice in a beautiful entry that explicated the journal itself. Recently, he wrote about his father. There was a specific moment when his journal truly flowered from the casual to the profound. I remember thinking that here is the writing of a man trying to put it all down before the end.

The profundity stuck around, but that sense of fatefulness did not; maybe it was Chris Lemire's Esquire article which dispersed it, and perhaps that was aided and abetted by the thousands of twitter posts that eroded any notion that he'd be going anywhere anytime soon. Lately, it's been a joy to see him take so kindly to the work of my friends - Frownland, The House Of The Devil and 45365. And as much as I hold onto my one-sided hope that he'll one day review one of my films, I've started to hope even more that such an event won't be one-sided at all, and that he'll get something out of whatever I have to offer. There's time enough, or maybe there's not. It's something I think about, but not too much.

But let's jump back a bit, to the decay, to what he's written about coping with illness, and to that Esquire article, which presented an encapsulated portrait of the same. I think of the term lionizing, which is so often used in a pejorative sense, without regard to those instances in which it's earned. Suffering on its own terms does not make one a hero, but sharing one's own context can provide some comfort to those struggling with it. It's the same principal by which Ebert has called movies the greatest art form; they offer a channel towards perspective and, through that, empathy. And so it is that I dream about him; because he's made an impact on my life, and because he currently puts a spin on something happening within it that I myself am unsure how to handle. Not that I am handling it - I go home to see my family once in a blue moon. Which, circuitously, is probably the source of this subconscious currency.

The laws of good composition imply that I must now write about dad for a paragraph or two, and then loop back to the subject of dreams as I proffer my hypothesis as to why these elements have become so intertwined. Were I to end this entry here, now, it would be lopsided, an incomplete expression. But I'm going to cheat. For it's here that my thoughts and feelings about the little film I'll be making next month begin to weave their way into the mix. And while I could play the good essayist and complete this miniature memoir in print, I fear that it would somehow dim the other sort of illumination I'm after, one much more in tune with the language of dreams, in which the amorphousness of history and personage can remain intact, and twenty pages of dialogue can rest upon a lifetime of growing up.

We start shooting in three weeks.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:55 PM | Comments (2)

August 12, 2010

Carolinas

Now I'm in Virginia, watching the sun set through a thunderstorm. This has been a continuation of the documentary that started in Peru. I really need to stop pretending to be a cinematographer, but it's hard when it gets you a ticket to pretty places in the middle of nowhere.

northcarolina.jpg

That being said, all this middle of nowhere makes me look forward to Pioneer, which is set entirely in a cozy bed, and which will be going before cameras in exactly a month. Unless the first shoe drops.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:41 PM

August 11, 2010

Power

Kanye West continues his tradition of foregoing traditional music videos in favor of working with notable artistic savants with this new piece from Marco Brambilla:

My obsessive-compulsive love of chiaroscuro, prosceniums and, especially, neoclassical tableaux pretty much ensured that I'd like this. I flipped out over Brambilla's stunning Civilization installation from a few years ago - if there's anything I love more than a long, slow dolly back, it's a lateral move up and down - and this new video pushes pretty much all the same buttons.

brambilla_civilization.jpg

The major difference being that, while Civilzation was art co-opting pop, this is pop taking advantage of art. But if this is what constitutes advertising, I'll take it. And disseminate it.

UPDATED: Apparently, the above directors' cut of the piece has been made unavailable. I don't want to embed the other released version because it's not as good. All of the nudity is gone and, worse than that, the single shot structure has been compromised.

* * *

A side note: Brambilla's first foray into Hollywood filmmaking was Demolition Man, which I really, really wanted to see when I was twelve. I have no idea why. I walked to the grocery store to buy the newspaper on the day it opened, just so I could read the review. And as I often did when my parents forbade my viewing of a particular film, I then wrote a futuristic action screenplay of my own which was comprised of everything I imagined that movie might contain and which my mother, upon reading it, found completely horrifying. I think it was a little too violent. I guess her disapproval did its trick, because now I can't even begin to write a death scene without feeling sick to my stomach.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:37 PM

August 10, 2010

Alas

I'm in Appalachia these days, in this blue strain of North Carolina mountains that's just about the most beautiful place I've ever been, and I awoke this morning to heartbreaking news. Apparently, the classic musical version of Les Miserables is being made into a film. I had plans - a pre-emptive strike, even, already in motion - that would have delivered me to the director's chair of the one big budget epic I'd love to helm, if only Hollywood could keep its hands off it for just a little bit longer. It's one old dream that's stuck in my throat, that I don't want to let go of. I would even set aside my insistence that it be adapted with the French book because the English lyrics are frequently so terrible! Maybe I'll be lucky and it'll get stuck in development hell.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:57 PM

August 6, 2010

Short Films by Jamie Travis


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Being that I'm gearing up for this new production of mine, I've had short films on my mind again lately. One or two weeks back, I went searching for a particular little movie called The Saddest Boy In The World. It was, as I recalled, a charming aestheticization of misery that was note-perfect in its execution. I saw it at SXSW a few years back, predicted great things for its director Jamie Travis, and then never heard about it again. I found its official site but no word on its availability...

And then, scarcely missing a beat, there appeared in Tuesday's New York Times an article about Travis' work - a collection of which was about to be issued on DVD by Zeitgeist. The article incorporates a handful of clips from his films, which altogether comprise a set of trilogies: one called The Patterns Trilogy and the other The Saddest Children In The World. The hyper-design and attention to detail present in his work is so loud and lovely that it's easy to overlook the equally notable fact that Travis has, to date, dedicated himself entirely to short form filmmaking. He would seem to be one of a small handful of modern narrative filmmakers who've eschewed feature length running times and found themselves all the more acclaimed because of it. Does it help if you're Canadian?

Posted by David Lowery at 2:54 PM | Comments (1)

576 Takes and counting...

I am not a great extemporaneous speaker. I'm not a great speaker at all, or even a good one. And so the idea of doing my own commentary track for St. Nick was one whose value seemed outweighed from the onset by my own incapability to communicate in a comprehensible manner, much less an erudite one.

Nonetheless, at the last minute I decided to give it a shot. That last minute has now turned into three days, on and off, of me sitting in front of a microphone, trying to find a way to maintain some semblance of a working vocabulary and hitting record over, and over and over again. I'm moving forward bit by bit, one sentence at a time, until I've managed to utter something that might technically be considered a cohesive statement (I gave up on trying to be enlightening on the first day).

I've got about ten minutes of the film left to go. At this point the whole endeavor is stuck halfway between an endurance test and a practical joke, especially since I arbitrarily discovered that I can speak slightly better if I add an entirely artificial Texas twang to my diction. I'm fake!

I am compelled to do this, I know, by the same misguided idealism that thought - still thinks - I might someday make a good teacher. And I'll continue to picture myself as that dashing pontificate, ignoring the awkward part-time adjunct that stares back from that faint reflection in the window. I'm sure this is good for something.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:43 AM

August 3, 2010

That Catfish trailer

The best film I saw in Park City last January might not have been Catfish, but there's no denying that it packed the strongest punch; my jaw was on the floor for the majority of its running time. In the lobby afterwards, Amy Taubin was throwing up her hands in disgust, while I made a brief attempt to trace the source of the disquiet I myself was feeling. I'd say that I have to see it again to decide, but I also wonder if this is a film that even can be seen a second time. When an initial viewing serves up such a punch in the gut, can the second allow room for anything other than intense and rapid deconstruction?

Regardless, it's definitely requisite viewing when it hits theaters this fall. The trailer that just hit answers the question of how one market this film without betraying its Russian Doll's worth of surprises (even the title is casually misleading). The solution is pretty close to what I imagined after the screening: which is that you market it like a horror film, an approach that isn't entirely inaccurate. The suspense that is so literally implied in the trailer escalates to nearly unbearable levels during the film, but it's building towards a different sort of crescendo.

It's a great trailer, but while I'm ambivalent about the manipulation it employs, the intersecting lines of good marketing, good filmmaking and overall ethics make for some tricky ground: it's the task of the marketing team to build a sense of mystery, but do they vicariously inherit any of the filmmakers' responsibility to their subjects? Taubin's chief complaint about the film was that the directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost cruelly exploited their subject (a similar sentiment was hinted at by Manohla Dargis in her article on the film post Sundance). By reducing this potential quandary into and advertising hook, any potential callowness on the part of the filmmakers would seem to be exacerbated.

I personally didn't find Catfish to be callow, and I think I struggled less with its authenticity than with its sincerity. Or was it the other way around? (These are the the three basic attributes which I also shuffled around while forming my opinion of Kurt Kuenne's 2008 documentary Dear Zachary; in that case, they fell in a different but oddly comparable arrangement.) It's as if there's some root discomfort that kicks in when one can't quite put their finger on a nonfiction film. This particular one is indeed a rollercoaster ride, as the trailer proclaims, but it is a curiously disorienting one.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:15 PM

August 2, 2010

Turning Things Down

The other week, I got a call from an agent wondering if I'd be interested in directing a feature in Los Angeles this fall. He had a script, and a producer, and a lump sum sitting in a bank account waiting to be spent on it. All that was required was a director to head up the casting process and then make the film, and he was wondering if I would be interested in filling that position. He liked those Boycrazy shorts I did with Alexi and thought I'd be a good fit.

The problem - and it was a problem, even though I might have once qualified it as a problem well worth having - was that the budget totaled out around sixty thousand dollars. That, and it wasn't a script I had written. I'm not so precious about auteurism that I refuse to consider helming anything I haven't penned myself, but the writer in this instance just wasn't speaking my language. Commensurately, this film wouldn't be a passion project but a paycheck, and the sort of paycheck that comes from a 60k budget is not worth the endurance test implicit in that same number.

Granted, that number is still roughly five times what it cost to make St. Nick. And it's only a little bit lower than the budget I just put together for what I hope is my next feature effort. And I'm also currently so broke that I shouldn't turn my nose up at any sort of creative opportunity that might have some petty cash I can steal away with. So I spent a lot of time worrying about it, wondering if I was being delusional, sitting astride some high horse made of straw. The conclusion I came to, which I knew all along, is that at at this point in the game - the point at which I'm suddenly being offered a project - it's unfair both to myself and to that project to jump on it if I'm not feeling it. I'll make money on things I don't care one bit about, until the things I do care about start paying off. And I'll be working on those things regardless, which is what I mean when I say that filmmaking is a lifestyle and not a career.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:03 PM