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November 28, 2010

Writing About Other Things Worth Writing About

The other day I thought about posting a recipe here, for the exceedingly simple (to the point of dullness) but extremely satisfying green smoothies I've been making for the past few weeks. But I held back for a second, and wondered if in doing so I'd be jumping some sort of shark - leaning into myopic trivia as a result of a massive deficit of film-related content. A second later, I remembered that, in so much as I've often claimed filmmaking to be as much a lifestyle as it is a career, a recipe for my new favorite drink is as film-related as anything else, in the same way that walking from one country to another as per Herzog's prescription is, or reading great literature or history books or playing hide-and-seek with little kids.

A realization that's unfolded before me with constant elegance these recent years is that filmmaking in and of itself will not make me happy. This is bluntly obvious - hence, my surprise to find it so consistently refreshing a concept to reflect on. I love my work, but when it's going poorly, it's a comfort to think that this isn't all there is. And when it's going good, or even great, that same thought is somewhat exhilarating.

I think about the fact that I am not expressly prolific. I've officially made one feature film so far; realistically speaking, I might at best make another every two to three years. In between, I'll make shorts and music videos and such, at a pace that I suppose suits me. One could do the math and do some temporal cartography and make certain guesses about my life's output, but I'd hate for that to be considered the full measure of my life. While I sometimes get frustrated that I'm not creating more, that I won't have a new film out next year, that I'll be a certain age before I achieve some careerist goal which various peers may have already attained, I know that ultimately whatever audience I create these works for doesn't care. There's the one film, and then there's the next, and if I'm lucky enough to have someone out there feeling some anticipation between each one, I know from my own experience that it ultimately has all the registry of an afterthought when pressed against everything else in this person's life. Which is why, in that bit of in-between-ness, I've got to get on with my own.

I enjoy my privacy. I enjoy a good secret even more, and find as I get older that I stray ever further in both of those directions. At the same time, I really enjoy sharing, which is why I write here; it's fun. It fills a certain exhibitionist need. In a minor way, it makes up for the movies I'm not constantly making. But when I go a month or two without publishing some semi-serious bit of critical thought or update on a project of my own, I get anxious and think that maybe it's time to jump the gun and shutter this site before before it truly slips into irrelevance. The source of this inclination is one part sincere and two parts misguided, because while I don't want to write anything that's not worth reading (god and the internet know I did enough of that in the past), I also would be deceiving myself to think that the true subject here is anything other than myself. And if I'm made up of more than movies, then why not own it?

I mentioned recently that I'd rather write about running than filmmaking, and this is true. I love running. When I have a bad day, I know that it can make me feel better. I have all my best ideas when my feet are hitting the pavement. It makes me feel better, in a way that is all my own (one's body is a the source of perhaps the most solipsistic artform there is). When everything else is spinning out of control, I can find solace in the fact that I have control of my limbs, that I can push them just so. Who knows how long I'll be able to do this; I'll take advantage of it while I can. Striving for excellence in this discipline will trickle into all the others, and in this regard writing about running is no different than writing about filmmaking. They're both things I keep getting better at.

* * *

So: that recipe for green smoothies. I must admit first that I'm stealing the idea of from James M. Johnston, who introduced me to the concept while we were making Pioneer, and that I've also been influenced by my lovely wife's new blog, which is in and of itself another explanation as to why I need to run so much. Also, this is hardly a recipe at all. Basically, what I do is this.

  1. I take four great handfuls of organic spinach and put it in the blender - enough to make up two decently sized salads.
  2. To this I add a bit of fitltered water and a big splash of Odwalla superfood juice - the green one, which is chock full of spirulina, wheatgrass and all sorts of fruits, including bananas. James recommends adding a fresh banana to the mix, but bananas are my second least-favorite fruit, and the Odwalla juice masks the flavor to the point that I can enjoy it.
  3. I also sometimes add fresh apples or oranges, a scoop of Chia or flax seeds and sometimes a dash of almond milk, but really, the point here is the spinach (I've tried lettuce and chard as well, but it doesn't taste very good).
  4. Once the blender is pretty full, I hit the liquefy button and grind it all to the finest pulp imaginable. It comes out to about four cups worth, which taste so good that I can't help but gulp them all down.
Even better than the taste: the rush that usually follows is better than any caffeine buzz I've ever had (admittedly, if I'm doing this first thing in the morning, I usually have coffee shortly thereafter). It's completely refreshing and energizing; it's like eating two huge salads in a few big gulps. I'm a big fan of juicing, particularly carrots and fruits, but the great thing about these smoothies is that you're getting the whole food, including the fiber, which is essential to improving digestion. Even more excitingly, because the greens are essentially predigested when you consume it, the chlorophyll and other nutrients in them will go to work on your body as soon as you take a sip, cutting down your bloodstream's acidity, increasing its alkalinity and generally doing you a world of good. Do it for a week and you'll feel right as rain.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:57 AM

November 27, 2010

The Texas Theatre


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I went to see Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void for the third time last night; my opinion of it hasn't changed since catching it at Sundance for the first time last winter, but it's just so damn big and impressive that I don't think I'll ever be able to turn down the opportunity to see it on the big screen. This particular opportunity was provided by The Texas Theatre, a new arthouse/repertoire cinema based in the historic Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas.To call it new is something of a misnomer; it was built in 1931 by Howard Hughes and endured for years as a traditional movie palace, until its reputation was sealed in November, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald was captured at the theater. Since then, it's been shuttered repeatedly, as Oak Cliff hopped on that urban carousel and went from affluence to barrio to kindling for the current civic renaissance that's starting to take hold.

Now, a consortium of valiant friends have bought the theater and are in the process of turning it into the sort of cinema that North Texas is entirely bereft of. Think The New Beverly, or the Alamo Ritz - a mix of new and old and great and strange. Heading up this venture are Barak Epstein, Eric Steele and Adam Donaghey, all of whom are filmmakers I've worked with in more creative capacities, and all of whom, I've noticed in those dealings, understand the business side of things in a way I am incapable of, which is why they're the ones polishing this old jewel and I'm just the one writing about it. And watching the movies. Which at the moment include a week of Gaspar Noe's epic, a Kurosawa retrospective, the local premiere of Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench and Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym. All this and the theater isn't even officially open yet - that happens at a big gala shindig in early December, once the renovations are 100% complete.

For folks such as myself, who have tremendous difficulty watching films at home, I suspect this theater will become a haven. And I look forward to this time next year, when it's joined by James and Amy's Citizen Theater in Fort Worth. Way to counter the Netflix blues, friends.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:45 AM

November 24, 2010

No More Pictures, I Promise

Two final I L U behind-the-scenes pictures, courtesy of Toby and Tom.

The first in which I get slimed by what will soon be made into marionette guts:

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And the second in which we break out the 7D for one shot, because at this point we're all too exhausted to hoist the RED 14 feet into the air.

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It's been fun tipping my hat on this one. Thank you for indulging me.

Now this blog has too much color in it.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:34 AM

November 22, 2010

ILU is released

The label officially released the video we did for the new School Of Seven Bells single.

It was directed, photographed and edited by myself and Toby Halbrooks. I built the puppets, the invaluable Tom Walker and Annell Brodeur went above and beyond the call of duty in the art department (and built that nifty ribcage and beating heart), and we all did more than our fair share of puppeteering, often while simultaneously operating the camera or smoke machine or wrangling one of the various goos and viscous liquids we had on hand at all times. It was shot on the RED, except for one shot which was on the 7D. Everything was done in camera - no digital trickery this time around, which is probably why we were able to edit it in a day and a half.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:53 PM

November 21, 2010

Revolución (2010)

This weekend, to coincide with the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, Mubi organized a special presentation of Revolución, a feature comprised of ten films commissioned from some of the country's more notable directors (including Fernando Eimbcke, Rodrigo Garcia, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, both of whom also produced, Gerardo Naranjo and Carlos Reygadas). The picture adds to the commemorative cache of the omnibus picture, which often seems to serve first and foremost as a symbol of cultural significance, while offering up a mixed bag of actual perspective. In this case, however, the decade following the fall of the Porfirato is such a complex issue to celebrate (and one that this writer admittedly understands in only the most cursory terms) that the symbolic nature of the whole seeps through to the seemingly lesser parts.

To call any of the films lesser is a bit unfair - they're all good, but none can hold a candle to Reygadas' entry, Esta es me Reino, which appropriately serves as the collection's centerpiece. A purported documentary about a multinational celebration in the Mexican countryside, the film gradually turns into an increasingly unsettling Bacchanalia (at times resembling a highly politicized version of Trash Humpers). It's a virtuoso piece of filmmaking, symbolism with a capital S - which is exactly one would expect from Reygadas, who plays his cards in such a way that his images strike the appropriate chords even when we don't understand their literal interpretation. Upon second viewing, snippets of interviews begin to make sense - one man, perhaps worried about the noise, complains that the police will never come when called, while an American says (in English) that "they don't need disorder." It's a portrait of culture that is at once protective and critical; it points fingers in all directions even as it lifts its glass in salute. At the midpoint, a man is seen giving a speech that seems to sum up the film. "This poem is dedicated to our ancestral traditions," he intones. "It is also dedicated to everything new, to everything that is yet to surge. To everything image wise: intelligence, consciousness, and our roots."

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Prior to Regadas' film, the strongest entry is El Cura Nicolás Colgado, by Amant Escalante (Sangre), a strikingly black and white allegory that points to both the anticlerical Calles regime and the industrialization of Mexico using the visual lexicon of Jodorwosky and Bunuel. And then there's Gerardo Narano's nearly silent R-100, which finds two bloodied men crossing the desert, desperately seeking transportation. It's a harsh film, beautifully photographed and ragged at the same time - I love that Naranjo chose not to mask off the rough edges of his camera's aperture - and it climaxes with a shot that is far too pointedly obvious but that, had I been the one making the film, I couldn't have ignored any more than he did.

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Not every entry deals with violence; Mariana Chenillo's La Tienda De Raya is the entry most openly critical of modern Mexico, but it's also the sweetest. And while Rodrigo Garcia's closing piece, 7th & Alameda, is but a single, simplistic expression - Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries ride through an intersection in modern-day Los Angeles in a series of extreme slow motion shots - it contains at its opening an exceedingly lovely juxtapostion: Garcia shows us a gaggle of Mexican men sitting on a grassy knoll on the side of the road, playing into the standard image of migrant day laborers waiting for a gig, before cutting to a wide shot that reveals that they're all actually gathered to watch a childrens' soccer game in a city park.

* * *

Watching Revolución was a nice companion piece to the journey I've vicariously been taking with my old partner in cinematic discourse, Matthew Clayfield. For the past two months, Matt has been traveling through Mexico with his friend Austin Andrews, documenting the country in words and photographs as the Centenary approached. Their project, which will beget a book, is entitled Between Two Anniversaries, and the chronicles enscribed thus far can be read and viewed here. My favorite entries are the two-part Migration which detail a week spent in the city of Arriaga, waiting for a train along with the hundreds of indocumentados who will hitch rides atop it into the Northern city of Veracruz, and the piece on St. Death, the non-cannonical saint who's become increasingly venerated in the barrios of Mexico City. Between Matt's words and Austin's stunning photography, this is top notch journalism. The next time Mr. Clayfield crosses through Texas, hopefully I won't be making a film and can finally buy him a drink; he deserves one.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:30 PM

November 20, 2010

Stone (2010)


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John Curran's Stone is most overtly notable for featuring a legitimately good performance from Robert DeNiro; he actually seems engaged by the material, which one can trace to the film's other primary tenet: it's got a head on it's shoulder, and there are interesting things ticking away inside it. That it's quietly come and gone from theaters in the past month is perhaps not surprising; likewise, Curran's filmmaking doesn't pack the sort of exceedingly graceful formalist punch that, say, James Gray's work does, which means it's not going to get many love letters from critics. But in so much as he (and screenwriter Angus MacLaughlan) try to imbue the narrative with a deeper sense of meaning, and that he boldly exercises the potential of his medium in order to do this, Stone is worth talking about.

And imbuing is indeed what he's doing, as opposed to circumventing, as Manohla Dargis suggested in her review. Beneath the boilerplate outline of the story is an ideological reservoir, one established not so much through dialogue as through a firm cinematic hand. There's a conscious decision to show certain things at certain points (the opening scene, for example), to use rich sound beds (including a score by Jon Brion, Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, and Curran himself) to guide one's focus, to play with the conventions of the shot-reverse shot structure, to use montage to draw out a surprisingly metaphysical groundswell that is instigated as much by Curran as it is by the spiritual awakening of Edward Norton's titular convict. There's a murder scene in the middle of the film that succeeds in overcoming the horror of what it literally represents and succeeds in achieving that rare (and overly prescribed) mode: transcendence.

Does it all add up? I don't know - the exact degree to which spirituality literally affects the narrative is ultimately unclear, to the film's detriment. DeNiro's character completes his preordained character arc, and Norton's is meant to correspond, but there seems to be a missing beat. His character is driven by equal parts manipulation and sincere awakening, and the two make for an awkward sort of complexity; it's easy to take him seriously but hard to believe him, and his true perspective is missing in the final, mystifying moments of the film. I'm sure Curran could direct me towards what I'm missing, but regardless, the danger in being even a little bit wishy-washy with this sort of material is that one might be perceived as delving into pop spiritualism, which I don't think was Curran's intent; I'm reminded of another film that dealt with the nature of belief, Scott McGehee and David Siegel's all-but-forgotten Bee Season from 2005, which contained an hour of near-profundity but didn't quite stick its landing. I remember it for what it approximated, though, and I'll remember this one as well.

* * *

But to speak of sticking one's landing, I caught Danny Boyle's 127 Hours immediately after Stone. Boyle and James Franco have made of a grueling personal ordeal a rousing cowd-pleaser; the sense of satisfaction when Franco finally rids himself of that pesky limb cut fast and deep through the audience. It was practically a stand-up-and-cheer moment, and it was followed by a denouement scored to a Sigur Ros song, which is a surefire way to turn anything, especially an ending, into a rush of profound ebullience. The movie, for all of its seeming constrictions, frees itself of any real challenges by playing fast and loose with time and space, and I don't for a second hold that against it. It's a terrific time at the movies, and upon exiting the theater it made me consider my dedication to more heady cinema, and whether or not it wouldn't be better to just try to make people really happy. Then I walked past a poster for Tony Scott's Unstoppable (which I saw the previous weekend and, let me tell you, it was no Man On Fire) and figured I'd just keep trying to split the difference.

Posted by David Lowery at 10:13 PM

November 16, 2010

I.L.U. Production Aftermath

We ignominiously finished the video at 3AM one week ago, tardy by about thirty hours. We assumed the label would release it this week, and that this post would contain an embed of it for your viewing pleasure, but that seems to not be the case. We could have used that extra week on the edit, but whatever - I'm proud of how it turned out, and that it's tastefully NSFW, and hopefully we'll be able to share it soon. In the meantime, here's the one bit of pre-production we did. I drew this sketch so Toby would know what the hell I was talking about, conceptually, and it served as our outline for the entire project:

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On to the next one.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:52 PM

November 15, 2010

Start Dates, pt. 2

Back in the summer I set a start date of February 2nd for my next feature. I've labored vaguely towards that date ever since, hoping that all the pieces fall into place just so to enable us to get moving by that date. It's a wintry movie, of course, and February 2nd seemed the most reasonable date by which we might be ready to roll while still affording us the brunt of the Texas winter.

But as the weeks ticked on and other projects presented themselves, the possibility of really and truly being ready was knelled by the rusty scraping sound that signifies the skin of one's teeth, I decided not to sweat it. We'll start next fall, on a different day, when the winter's just beginning, the ducks are lined up properly, the maids are in a row and so on and so forth. I'm only in a hurry when I think about getting older, which is something I try to do less and less. The movie will be done before we know it, and it'll be nine months better than it would have been otherwise.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:43 AM | Comments (1)

November 8, 2010

Claire Denis - No Fear


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This Wednesday sees the beginning of an in-depth retrospective of the work of one of my very favorite filmmakers at the IFC Center in New York. No Fear: The Films Of Claire Denis features every one of the director's films, including rarities such as Vers Mathilde and The Nightwatchman, her short film Pour Ushari Ahmed Mahmoud, and her latest feature White Material. As an added bonus, there are screenings of the films she assistant-directed, such as Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law.

I wish I could be there for every one of them (I'll instead be spending the latter half of the week following another one of my muses, Joanna Newsom, from one show to the next down through Texas). The retrospective seemed like a good opportunity to catalogue the pieces I wrote about a number of Denis' films last summer:

Trouble Every Day, pt. 2
Trouble Every Day, pt. 1
Beau Travail
Nenette et Boni
35 Shots Of Rum
I Can't Sleep
Chocolat

I never made it to L'Intrus, the picture which inspired me to write about all the others in the first place (although my initial plan of a one-week immersion was greatly distended). For anyone else not lucky enough to be in lower Manhattan this coming week, that film and Beau Travail are both available instantly from Netflix, and are perhaps best watched in chronological order. Enjoy.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:56 PM

I.L.U. Production Day I Don't Know Anymore


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Since the last entry, we've shot a bunch, I spent thirty six hours in Milwaukee, I ran a half marathon in a new record time of 1:49 and I haven't really slept. We're supposed to turn the completed video in today. I think it'll be about twelve hours late.

Posted by David Lowery at 8:58 PM

November 4, 2010

I.L.U. Production 9

Annell standing in, on the bedroom set we built in the kitchen.

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Posted by David Lowery at 1:17 AM

November 3, 2010

I.L.U. Production 8


We finally started shooting today. And I'm afraid these photos are going to have to start getting boring or I'll wind up spoiling the whole video.

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Posted by David Lowery at 1:11 AM

November 2, 2010

I.L.U. Production 7


We used to use HVX200s to make movies. Now we just use them for lighting tests.

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Posted by David Lowery at 12:15 AM

November 1, 2010

I.L.U. Production 5 & 6

We're recycling the set walls from the SXSW Soundstage Spot.

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It doesn't look like much yet, but it will. Or at least it better - the finished product has to be turned in to the label a week from tonight.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:05 AM