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September 26, 2010


I'm currently holding off on the currently beatified literary crop and returning to Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing for a bit. The following passage in my waterlogged copy was underlined - not by me, but only because whomever I inherited the book from beat me to it.

The task of the narrator is not an easy one, he said. He appears to be required to choose his tale from among the many that are possible. But of course that is not the case. The case is rather to make many of the one. Always the teller must be at pains to devise against his listener's claim - perhaps spoken, perhaps not - that he has heard the tale before. He sets forth the categories into which the listener will wish to fit the narrative as he hears it. But he understands that the narrative is itself in fact no category but is rather the category of all categories for there is nothing which falls outside its purview. All is telling.

I wanted to quote that here because it's a nice summation of Pioneer, which is pretty much done now. I think it's my best film. Hopefully I'll have reason to bring it up again in the coming months.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:32 PM

September 22, 2010

Bookending Audrey The Trainwreck

This weekend brings a bout of satisfying symmetry, as Audrey The Trainwreck screens at both the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham and the Dallas Video Festival. Two years ago, I attended the former with my short film A Catalog Of Anticipations and convened there with Frank Ross, who was presenting his feature Present Company. From Alabama, we both flew back to Chicago and within a few days had begun production on Audrey, my first feature length effort as a cinematographer (a profession from which I've now formally retired). A month later, we'd wrapped and I was due to fly back to Texas; the night before leaving, I made this bumper for the DVF, a commission that I'd of course put off until right before it was due.

That's Frank's mother's dining room table that I'm sleeping on at the end; I think some of the animation was even done on the back of the Audrey shooting schedule. Incidentally, one of my initial concepts for this bumper involved a filmmaker's head catching on fire. Sometimes it's best to let things cook.

I'll be at the Videofest screening on Saturday to lead the audience in a singalong prior to the screening. I'd be delighted if you joined me.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:12 AM

September 21, 2010

Revisiting julien donkey-boy

I watched julien donkey-boy again the other day. I'd seen it twice prior, once at a friend's house in 2001 and once on opening weekend at the late lamented UA Cine, where the ticket-taker was a mentally handicapped gentleman who would often employ the more dutiful customers to man his post while he took restroom breaks.


I watched it again because someone asked me if Trash Humpers was my favorite Harmony Korine movie, and I realized it had been too long since I'd seen his early works to rightly say. Revisiting it again was not a revelatory experience; it's a very good film, but it also evidences the degrees to which Korine has grown as a director since. What was more enlightening was imagining the context within which I first saw this back in 1999.


The structure, the rhythms, the teasing hints of ecstatic loveliness cut short by deliberately ugly edits, the lulling tones of a score denied the opportunity to traditionally flower - all of these play like second hand to me now. But eleven years ago, they must have shaken something in the kid whose sense of cinema was not nearly as expansive as he thought. Herzog was just a storied name at that point, I hadn't yet realized that Gummo was great and the most exciting thing about this movie, prior to seeing it, was that it was shot on this newfangled format called digital video.


In those days, I heeded breathlessly to the news of any film shot on DV; I hoped with all of them that I'd see proof that I had within my means the technology necessary to make a movie look like a movie, without conceding the possibility that a movie needn't look like a movie to be a movie. What julien donkey-boy looked like was not what I'd been hoping to see, but its shifty melange of low-res electronic artifacts and chemical grain opened up a sinewy new causeway in my conception of aesthetic propriety. This must have been how I learned to love things that looked shitty.

I coincidentally happened upon a passage from Guy Maddin this morning, in his consideration of Von Trier's Medea:

"How does the director get his mise en scéne to appear woven out of virgin wool and other natural fibres native to his region? Turns out he just shot it on crummy old video equipment. Is the gossamer soul Von Trier managed to convey with this clunky analogue gadgetry simply inherent in this previously unloved, grotesquely under-appreciated technology? I can't believe I once derided the look of this medium. As usual, we're moving in the wrong direction - with its every step forward, digital video feels like it's leaving something wonderful behind."

Now I need to watch Mr. Lonely again and see if it still makes me cry.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:46 AM

September 19, 2010

I'm Still Here

The news that I'm Still Here was indeed an act came a day or two after I caught up with the movie. I thought then and still suspect now that Casey Affleck's picture has some basis in truth, that it is perhaps an extenuated expression of some discontent on the part of its subject. I don't think it's a particularly good movie, but it's a fascinating document by default, and still rife with unanswered questions. In particular, I'm curious as to how sustained the act was. The drugs might have been fake, the debauchery staged; the film could feasibly have been shot over the period of a few months and edited to make it appear to cover an entire year; even so, the part required a disconcerting amount of commitment. Surely Phoenix wasn't completely in character, so to speak, for the past two years, but all the same, he openly altered certain intractable aspects of his persona for that duration. He took both his body and his career and deliberately pushed them into an awkward and uncomfortable places. When Robert DeNiro gained weight for Raging Bull, it was for the sake of a film which he rightly believed to be a great one. I can't believe that Phoenix expected I'm Still Here to be great, nor is it.

A more admirable perspective: the film is anecdotal evidence to a performance of questionable duration but utmost conviction, executed for the sake of the artist and not his audience. Box office results suggest that moviegoers don't doesn't care, one way or another, and I'd like to think their indifference is reciprocated, that the public is peripheral to the work; the terms of its justification and success are entirely private. This is a species of satisfaction that fascinates me - one in which the process eclipses or even negates the work. I was reminded of the acting workshop described by Andre Gregory in My Dinner With Andre, which with its arbitrary strictures sounds maddeningly solipsistic until one considers it from the perspective not of the outcome but an experience. In other words, if one loves one's art wholly, one might come to relish the exaltation of it without relying on something so palpable as a DVD, a CD, a book, a 35mm print or critical and public reactions to justify the means.

This would be the motive of the Artist As Supreme Egoist - the act of creation for one's sole benefit. The lack of reciprocation is why I do not subscribe to this ideal, and yet, as I edit the film I'm currently working on and distribute the data of which it's comprised to as many places as possible for posterity's sake, the fragility of the end product has reared its head again. Many of the pictures I've made sit on hard drives that may or may not work the next time I try to plug them in. They've been made, they've been seen, and what I hold onto is not the physical media but what I've gained from making them. This includes the act of sharing them, of exploiting them, of employing them as arguments in a continuing conversation and so on and so forth. I benefit from all of this in a manner which can't be commodified. I benefit from the commodification of my work as well - I have to, and I want to - but were I to wake up one morning and find that need gone, the desire might soon follow, and a reappropriation of means would take place.

Phoenix surely arrived at this point, and he must have found other tenets of his craft similarly unstable. He set them aside in exchange for an exercise whose end must have been one of two things. It might have been I'm Still Here, in which case his aim was discouragingly limited. Or perhaps I'm Still Here was a byproduct of something we're not privy to, and which certainly isn't illuminated in the film itself. The movie illuminates nothing, which is why it fails to work in either context. It is a side effect - to what being the question that makes it worth considering. Affleck stands by his brother-in-law's work in the picture, calling it the best performance of his career. If it ends with the film, I disagree, but I have a strong suspicion that it doesn't.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:17 PM

The Look Of It


Previously: the St. Nick timeline.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:58 PM

September 15, 2010

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

There were dozens of movies at this year's Venice/Toronto/Telluride trifecta that I was incredibly anxious to see - Promises Written In Water, Rabbit Hole, A Horrible Way To Die, Meek's Cutoff, Uncle Boonmee and so on and so forth - but I'll pick just one to expound upon now: Sophie Fiennes new film, Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, which documents the work of Anselm Keifer. As with her last picture, Fiennes seems to have made a film which formally embodies her subject. In A Pervert's Guide To Cinema, she aestheticized the referential theory of Slavoj Zizek; here, it would appear that she likewise takes Kiefer's already established aesthetic and converts it to cinematic currency.

My two favorite works at The Modern in Fort Worth are by Keifer (from a total of four in their permanent collection). Both loom large, occupying entire walls and looking as if the galleries and halls had been built up around them: Aschenblume, with its desiccate vanishing point, and Papst Alexander VI: Die goldene Bulle, which hangs over the the entrance to the museum's cinema and thus sets quite a precedent for whatever's to be seen on the other side of that wall.

Thanks to Tom Hall for the link to the trailer.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:56 PM

September 13, 2010

Pioneer shoot


We had cops show up on the set within thirty minutes of the first day of production. Everything was perfect.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:23 PM

September 8, 2010

Courier New

I wrote Pioneer in Word, as a deliberate affront to the screenwriting software that had been taunting me. I was blocked, as I often am, so I threw aside all concept of margins and formatting and wrote this new idea in (almost) one sitting, in Times New Roman or whatever typeset Word defaults to. It was a tremendously freeing act of defiance. And that's what I've been developing ever since, that Word draft, all the way up until last week when I wrote a new draft and transcribed it into Final Draft in the process. I did it, I said, for the crew's sake, so we could break it down and produce it more easily. But looking at it with that centered dialogue and Courier font was like looking at a new project entirely. It made me read it differently; certain words or phrases stood out like sore thumbs, solely on account of the tweak to their serifs.

Luckily, it'll all be spoken word soon enough. The cast gets to town on Thursday. We start shooting on Saturday.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:43 AM

September 2, 2010

Act Da Fool

Harmony Korine's new short film:


As with Kanye Wests' Power (not to mention Spike Jonze's I'm Here, among others), this is a fine example of manufacturers enabling artists to their mutual benefit, and ours. Compare this to the lyrically crass Levi's commercial, directed by John Hillcoat, which made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

Incidentally, I saw Trash Humpers on the big screen for the third time last month. I wish I could afford one of these 35mm prints.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

September 1, 2010

Reference Material

We did our location scout this past Sunday. Costume measurements were taken yesterday. I rewrote the script this morning. I'm sort of preparing a shot list. And I'm watching a few movies to see how certain elements have been covered by others. Bergman's Persona, Tarsem's The Fall and maybe even Inglourious Basterds for good measure. I want to see how and when someone else would cut from this...


...to this...


...to this...


...along with all of the reverse instigation that's implicit in those three shots. I know why I would do it, but I'm curious enough this time around to cross-check my impulses.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:41 AM