December 31, 2010
Daniel Hart sent us the last few tracks for the score last night. We got up early, dropped them into edit, made an OMF and then headed to Tim's studio for the final mix. We finished by 2pm, watched the whole thing twice through, got word that the two FX shots we needed were complete and called it a day. Sunday night, we're going to tech screen the final version after hours at the local Landmark before laying off the HD master. Then it's off to Fed Ex, off to Utah, and three weeks from this very moment it'll be playing at the Prospector Square Theater...
Time to catch up on some movies.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:23 PM
December 30, 2010
Just To The Left Of Admiration
Augustine found me sitting in a chair in Barnes & Nobile yesterday, and asked what I was reading; I held up the latest issue of the Paris Review, and the Jonathan Franzen article contained therein (from which the image above was culled). She laughed and told me I was obsessed. "I'm not obsessed," I countered. "I'm just really, really interested."
I bought Franzen's Freedom shortly after it was released this past fall, but held off on reading it for a while, alternately blaming the cover art, that cover of Time and the other books I'd picked up at the same time for the delay. Then I did read it, quite quickly, and immediately thereafter devoured How To Be Alone, his book of essays, his girlfriend Kathryn Chetkovich's essay Envy, and just about every interview I could get my hands on, all with one question in mind: who does this guy think he is?
And I ask that quite sincerely, without a sense of the pejorative. The version of Franzen that emerges through his writing is intensely curious to me; the slightly more immediate persona he projects in interviews even more so. Curious, and oddly abrasive; I noticed it in The Corrections nine years ago, some ulterior aspiration that infringed on the literary quality of the novel. I noticed it too in Freedom, but let me say first that whatever misgivings I had going into that book where quelled by the litany of quotidian queries (e.g. "Where to recycle batteries?") that take up most of the second page and resound with an escalating, intoxicating crystallization of subject matter and style. It's brilliant writing. Franzen is a master of finding the right sentence, and Freedom is a landslide of proverbial bon mots that hit with uncanny precision. They're casually strewn here and there amidst seemingly incidental paragraphs; he doesn't build up to them, or take time to savor them before hitting us with the next syntactical dart. I had two or three instances of this in mind that I thought I might quote here, sentences I should have written down; I couldn't remember their wording, but I recalled the scenes they occurred in, and even their physical orientation on the page. When I opened the book to find them, however, those sentences seemed to have vanished. The little traps of language Franzen sets for us are apparently only tripped by cumulative reading; what one finds in piecemeal is extremely skillful, almost ebullient social storytelling. I went looking for a single line and wound up reading ten pages and reflecting on the mores of our time.
And yet I take it all with a tincture of umbrage. It's a better book than The Corrections, free of the cartoonish set-pieces that story leaned on, but it shares with it, along with several of Franzen's essays, a rather knowing sensibility. They know exactly how good they are. They were written to be that good, as opposed to their goodness being an inherent byproduct of having been written. Their egalitarianism is of a higher order; they were intended to be great. Since when is aspiring to greatness a bad thing? It's not, but when one notices such aspirations, certain red flags go up. Especially when one admits to oneself that one aspires for exactly the same thing.
This is, I think, why I'm simultaneously intrigued by and distrustful of Franzen: his open ivory-tower perspective brings into sharper realization various highfalutin sensibilities of my own. I'm annoyed with the way he qualifies the novels he admires with the prefix 'literary,' but I make the same distinction, silently, when selecting the literature I read. I roll my eyes at his adherence to antiquated technology, his deep distrust of television, and yet I've written in these same pages about how I don't own a TV and often imagine myself in my minds' eye in a burnished room piled high with books. I outright love books, novels in particular. In short, I share share his preferences, and I also share in is idealism. I think there's room for the 'literary' novel in American culture (just as I think there's room for the literary film), and within this context I've yet to exchange the word think for hope. And yet in introducing these propensities within myself, I use a word like 'highfalutin' to let readers know that I'm in on my own joke. I'm afraid of being accused of elitism, even as I constantly seek its shelter. I'm a straddler. Franzen, meanwhile, has long ago admitted that what he likes, what he wants and what he seeks to do is outright better.
Indeed, any problems I have with Freedom are not necessarily the book's fault, but because it comes packaged with its author and his ensuing baggage. In reverse chronological order, we have that Time cover; his reconciliation with Oprah; his book of essays, including the revised version of 'the Harpers' Essay' which, regardless of whether he chose its or not (he didn't), still bears the stigma of its awful original title, Perchance To Dream; the original Oprah debacle (covered beautifully in one of the best essays in How To Be Alone); The Corrections, which itself comes compounded by its novelistic flaws and, conversely, its beloved status; and the 5000-word-longer version of the Harpers' essay, which, pruned though it later was, planted seeds that have flourished into opinions which have proven hard to shake.
Jumping back to the present, I greatly enjoyed reading Chuck Klosterman's recent interview with Franzen in GQ, which adroitly engages this sense of contention and reveals that a.) it's widespread and b.) that Franzen is completely aware of it. He himself succinctly sums up his modus operandi in two quotes:
"I do lead a privileged life. I do believe some books are better than others. I do think that mere popularity does not indicate greatness. In those respects, I suppose I'm an elitist. But I think what was meant by the term elitist at the time was the antithesis of what I've tried to do as a writer, which is to reach the largest possible audience. I've worked so long—and in such a conscious way—to not exclude people."
And, prior to that:
"I think there is a space in our culture—in the living memory of people over 40, and probably in the collective memory of people under 40—for the American novelist ... I had an interest in being that kind of novelist, and I worked at it for thirty years."
There, again, that ambition, about which he is both crystal clear and perfectly modest; it's his having it at all that seems immodest. His intention is to matter, to the most people possible, via the form he considers intrinsic to our culture, at the level he feels is appropriate. Not just appropriate, but necessary. He writes responsibly. He does not look backwards or reach downward with his prose; his standards are set, his door is open. He doesn't have to call himself a Great American Novelist because he's done such a perfect job of openly becoming one. If all we had of him were his books, we'd think them fine books indeed, and perhaps eventually both they and he would be called great. But because they come with him now, accompanied by his goals, his worries, his aspirations, his fears, his beliefs, his standards and his love of the novel and dedication to its value, we've watched him become Great contemporaneously. This immediacy is unsettling; it forces us to make decisions now, without the safety net of time. It's an affront to our own standards, because it forces us to consider them. And maybe it's an awkward cross to bear for Franzen, who I assume would prefer us to engage with his literature, rather than with him. Except that, for better or for worse, he himself has become representative of American literature at this moment, so if we engage with him, we're doing our part to save the novel - the literary novel - from obsolescence. Mission accomplished. Perhaps it's a backwards and messy way of going about it, but let's not argue with results.
Here's a result: when I turned out the lights last night, Augustine was reading Freedom in bed beside me. When I woke up at 6 in the morning, she was still at it. I, meanwhile, after all this vigorous fretting and reflection, have picked up another book (Marilyn Robinson's Home, the followup to Gilead, which is my pick for best novel of the last decade) and am letting it sooth the creases from my brow. Out of the frying pan, into the fire (a closing statement which would have made more sense had I not deleted my original reference to the figuratively conflagrative qualities the best of books offer).
Posted by David Lowery at 12:07 AM
December 29, 2010
There I was playing it cool, and then my family gave me this T-shirt for Christmas:
Posted by David Lowery at 2:04 AM
December 22, 2010
Designed, naturally, by Yen Tan.
The image we used, which also shows up in the trailer, was stolen while we were setting up a shot. The camera was in the process of being moved, Will and Myles were waiting for us to get ready, and everyone glanced at the monitor and silently agreed that we had to roll.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:54 AM
December 20, 2010
I love the Tree Of Life trailer wholeheartedly. I rejoiced when I saw it on the big screen, and again when it debuted online. It's everything I want out of a movie, much less an advertisement for one.
I also love Eric Kohn's shot-by-shot breakdown of it, which is as hilarious as any such deconstruction should be.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:08 AM
December 19, 2010
I was asked the other day how old I'd be if I didn't know how old I was, and I answered by jumping around between multiples of seven. Seven, when I had my first birthday party, to fourteen, which I skip on account of awkwardness, to twenty-one and its implicit sense of arrival. Aphorisms aside, seven is the age at which, in my mind's eye, I peak; my constitution generally follows suit, even as I sit here, about to abscond from my twenties. One week left - although I believe that one's twenties actually end at twenty-eight, an age followed by a twelve month grace period-cum-hinterland just vast enough to hush the knells of advancement.
Of course, try as one might, one can't help but become attuned to signs of progress. Some are obvious, such as the loss of baby fat and its subsequent redistribution elsewhere, or the thinning of one's hair (which I nipped in the bud early on). Then there are the more subtle shifts: a tightening of the skin here, a subtle ache there and the gradual and disconcerting recognition of one's parents in the mirror. All of these adjustments have crept up slowly, for the most part, and I hope that they continue to do so, so that I might acquiesce to them with some measure of grace.
There is one great change, though, which announces itself loudly and regularly, and which causes internal temper-tantrums the likes of which the seven-year-old me could only dream of. It turns out that I need sleep. That most contentious of bedfellows whose maw I'd shrug off without a second thought in years past has begun to exert some new form of mind control over me: I find myself not only needing sleep, but wanting it. I'll glance at the clock as the hours advance, quickly calculating when I'll need to cast off by in order to get a requisite number - a requisite number! - of hours. This is not something I'm used to giving precedence. In the past, when held up against myriad attractions such as productivity and careless joie de vivre, slumber was always the last of my considerations - until suddenly it wasn't. If I knew I had to wake up at seven the following morning and was asked to go get coffee an hour after midnight, you'd surely find me sitting at a booth as the sun was coming up. If I procrastinated on an impending deadline until the witching hour, the ensuing all-nighter wouldn't turn me into a giant grumpy baby.
These days, though, very few deadlines have the imperiousness necessary to keep me awake when I don't want to be. Often, they have the reverse effect: the more immediate and insurmountable a task might seem, the more swiftly it will drive me to bury my head in my pillow. I seem to have bidden adieu to late night fits of inspiration, to all-night fonts of creativity, to those delirious epiphanies that swallow hours whole. I used to romanticize such nights well spent; now, I don't even dream about them in the literal sense. Nor do I take solace in dreams at all; I've never been one to find in them a wellspring of ideas. I dream wildly; they fascinate me, and I marvel at their physiological and reflective qualities. I need them, but I do not seek them out, or look forward to them. There always comes that point, poised on the precipice of six or seven hours that I cannot define, when I feel a restless fear of what lies ahead. Not of dreams, per se, but of the state that facilitates them. "Of sleep," wrote Baudelaire, "that sinister adventure of all our nights, we may say that men go to bed daily with an audacity that would be incomprehensible if we did not know that it is the result of ignorance of the danger." I think I'm aware of the danger; I've just reached a point where I don't often feel like putting up a fight.
Another grievous affront can be found in the form of naps, or, as I like to call them, day-ruiners. What a way to upend one's afternoon, slipping into some dreamy halfstate that doesn't even deserve the phonetic silkiness of a word like leisure. Straight up lazy is what it is, and the hard consonance of that term is hard to shake upon waking to find that a day's best hours have waned. Napping is what my mom used to do while we children did our best to keep quiet in our play; now it's what I do, often in the company of my wife, on days when we've woken up too early and can't keep our eyes open, and so seek in each others' unconscious company the comfort of blissful coexistance. Which admittedly doesn't sound that bad at all. Likewise, I must cop to the fact that a great appeal of going to bed these days is the presence there of someone I want to lay next to, especially on these winter nights when we like to keep the windows open. I never intend to fully commit to the business of snuggling; I've always an equal mind to rebel, to kick my feet and get out of bed after my better half is asleep, to get back to work (but I never do, and in my inaction is a different sort of want. I might have once considered it a step back; I don't know that I'd now call it a step forward, but I suppose another thing one grows to recognize is the ability to think laterally).
I remember working on a short film, early on, in which we shot for 21 hours straight. I was nineteen. It was miserable, in a way - but the misery was of a charged sort. It was thrilling, once having done it. The accomplishment was tractable; I felt I was keeping a train on course over a long rickety bridge. I was briefly convinced that this was the best manner in which to work. Only later did I realize the folly of asking others to function under such conditions; later still that I decided it was too much to ask of myself. These days, I like to schedule nine hour shooting days. I also like to edit until I don't feel like editing, write without writing myself raw. I like to be paid for what I do. I run. I eat with a mind towards my health. I don't smoke. I don't drink too much. I try to be honest. I am, it would seem, a boring adult, and yet I can answer for each of these traits that make me so sincerely, and wouldn't have it any other way. And so we're left with sleep, a good night's sleep - the shirking of which is one last great rebellion that I feel, in my wakefulness, I can partake in.
Alas, those friends who might have called me up to join them for some after-hours coffee and conversation are all, apparently, just as dull as I am, and while I might at this moment, caffeinated and at the height of my consciousness, optimistically envision a long night of rallying against melatonin, time will surely tell a different tale, one with a familiar narrative and inevitable conclusion. I'll lay my head down at some point between midnight and four in the morning, perhaps thinking that I'm just going to relax a moment before resuming whatever I was doing (nothing at all, most likely) and seconds later I'll be out. I've never had trouble falling asleep, never been an insomniac, never met a desk or an airplane seat I couldn't make an immediate pillow out of. In high school I became skilled at the art of the micronap, and at work in the projection booth afterwards I'd find fifteen or twenty-minute windows in which I could knock myself out. On those long and winding nights spent doing more fruitful things, I'd rest easy knowing that I could catch up on sleep at work or at school. And there, it seems, is the line in the sand I've been searching for: at school has ceased to be a state I can count on; work is no longer a place that I go. I work for myself. I set my own schedule. There is no bureaucracy or institution lording over me. What has happened, over the course of these multiples of seven, is that my time has become entirely my own, and I have no one to blame but myself for sleeping on it. What I've diagnosed within myself, then, is not a symptom of aging; it's the result of doing things the way I want them done.
Which is a sign of maturity in its own right, and which is why the statistics don't matter much. I've read the studies that suggest that people who sleep later are generally smarter than those who wake up early; I've seen polls of artists and creative types whose median sleep requirement seems to be about six hours. I understand that as I get older, I can actually look forward to needing less sleep than I do now. Were I to revise this in 30 years on the onset of turning 60, perhaps I'd read Baudelaire's truism differently, and note that the danger implicit in sleep is not of falling into it - a childhood fear that still persists - but of failing to re-emerge. Right now, I'll enjoy the luxury of balancing betwixt the two. That, and the luxury of calling sleep a nuisance, calling it accursed, calling it all the worst names I can think of, and knowing that it'll still be there for me when I need it.
Posted by David Lowery at 7:01 PM
December 17, 2010
Best Of (2010 Edition)
Tying for first place are the two silliest (in completely different ways) and yet most compelling bits of cinema I saw this year.
Lest you think I'm a junkie numb to all but the most outre of provocations, let me place The Social Network, I Am Love , Black Swan, A Prophet, Winter's Bone, Exit Through The Gift Shop, 127 Hours, Jackass 3D and Catfish in the second spot. There are many more (Blue Valentine, Carlos, Dogtooth, etc) I'll be catching up with in the weeks ahead, and if any of them compel me to see them three times on the big screen, for whatever reason, I'll ratify my necessarily brief list. And there are other films, made by friends, that I'm excluding on principal for once but which I love all the same.
Best movies from last year that I caught up with: Revanche and Julia.
Note: the Enter The Void image is not from the film, but a Nan Goldin photoshoot in V Magazine.
Posted by David Lowery at 6:14 PM
December 12, 2010
Movies Watched On Cable
We don't have a TV at home, but even when I did I never subscribed to cable. Hence my idea of a vacation, which entails spending hours in the hotel room watching things on HBO that I'd previously made a point of not seeing but which suddenly are provided for me in great abundance, with no expended effort on my part. This past week I saw: Sex And The City: The Movie, It's Complicated, Whip It, The Lovely Bones and, best of all, Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen. All of which, when viewed from bed under the guise of lazing about, were curiously pleasant experiences that I believe I'll remember fondly, much in the same way that one looks back on a terrible illness with some degree of wistful pleasure.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:01 PM
December 11, 2010
I've just returned from a brief sojourn to the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, which is a wonderful place but for the fact that its gates open up to Orlando, Florida - a mood-breaker if ever there was one! Now back to Sundance, and finishing Pioneer. The color-correction is done, and the music will be finished by Christmas.
Meanwhile, the full Sundance schedule has gone online. Here's our page, which comes complete with screening times and an incredibly ominous shot of Will Oldham. I had a feeling when I sent in a handful of our stills that this was going to be the one that showed up in the program, which is surely why I sent it in the first place: I always want everyone to go into all of my movies thinking they're about to see a horror film.
Oh, and to jump back a few weeks for the sort of statistics that I'd be interested in were I reading about myself: The Call came bright and early the morning after Thanksgiving while I was still in bed, 8AM Pacific Time, and was in fact not a call at all but a voicemail message that I promptly returned. Later, Toby and I celebrated by diving into the Black Friday crowds at Northpark Mall and just letting the Christmas season sink in.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:24 AM
December 7, 2010
This Slate story on the decline of the projectionist was a bittersweet one for me, given my own history in that field, and the opening paragraphs reminded me of a similar anecdote of my own. It just so happened that, in February of 1998, on the east wing of the theater, in auditorium seventeen, the usher staff noticed a young man slumbering in his seat after the credits ended. We could see him from the booth, one slack head left in the empty auditorium. I don't remember how they figured out that he was dead, and I don't remember if they canceled the next show or not, but by the end of the night the theater was back up and running with an 'Out Of Order' cover placed over the seat the deceased had occupied. The film he'd shaken off during? Spice World. Which, if my memory serves correct, wasn't as bad a way to go as one might think.
Posted by David Lowery at 9:27 AM
December 6, 2010
Sundance 2011 (pt. 2)
Short films announced today!
December 5, 2010
Anyone who caught the previews in front of Black Swan this weekend may have this bit of Smetana stuck in their heads, and with good reason:
Don't watch the YouTube bootleg of it, at least until you've seen the real thing up where it belongs.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:09 PM
December 2, 2010
Sundance 2011 (pt. 1)
Monday brought the news that Bryan Poyser and Megan Gilbride have been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Lovers Of Hate, roughly a year to the day that it was announced that that very film would be playing in competition at Sundance. Which means that it's time for this year's Sundance Lineup, which but for the short films has been revealed in its entirety.
Folks whose names I'm thrilled to see:
- Todd Rohal's The Catechism Cataclysm
- Joe Swanberg's Uncle Kent
- Michael Tully's Septien
- Calvin Reeder's The Oregonian
- Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter
Joe's is the only one I've seen a cut off. It's also, incidentally, the only one which doesn't feature a fine actor and wonderful human being named Robert Longstreet in the cast. I was telling a friend the other day that everyone who meets Robert wants to work with him, so a landslide like this was bound to happen at some point.
Other films I'm excited to see include Azazel Jacobs' Terri, Meagan Griffith's The Off Hours, Matthew Lessner's The Woods and especially Zach Godshall's Lord Byron (Zach's Low and Behold - starring Robert Longstreet! - premiered at Sundance a few years ago, but his follow-up, the beautiful documentary God's Architects, was sadly underseen). I'm also, of course, looking forward to the films I know nothing about.
(Conspicuously absent from the lineup: Ti West's The Inkeepers, Dustin Guy Defa's Bad Fever and Clay Liford's My Mom Smokes Weed followup Wuss, all of which I'll be keeping an eye out for at other spring festivals...)
Posted by David Lowery at 3:02 PM
December 1, 2010
Back to work
What with the wedding and that music video and all, two whole months passed by without me batting an eye towards Pioneer. The present seems like a good time to finish it up. I cracked open the hard drive yesterday and watched it again; I think the cut is where it needs to be. It's fifteen minutes long, and by fifteen I mean fourteen. We're going to lay some music down on it and record some new sound effects, and as I was looking through some of the unused B-roll, I decided to cut a little trailer.
Trailers for short films oftentimes seem mildly redundant, but until the entire movie finds its way online, it's nice to have a link to pass around. The spot one I cut this morning doesn't have a frame of footage from the actual film, and it's just over thirty seconds long, and it doesn't say 'a film by', so its list of offenses shouldn't be too great. It does, however, feature my favorite stuffed bear, which I received as a Christmas present when I was four or five.
It'll be online in a few days.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:52 PM