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June 27, 2011

In praise, briefly, of length


1. In complete congruence with all those articles and papers detailing the rewiring of our craniums by the mess of information at our fingertips, I've found my ever-diminishing attention span matched handily by the evolution of online analysis and discourse into brief sets of opinions and bullet points. My own output is even less than that, and so it was with a mix of admiration and envy that I discovered this incredibly close reading of The Tree Of Life by Niles Schwartz. I didn't know how deeply considered it was until I'd reached the point at which most online writing reached its maximum word count, but Schwarz had scarcely even begun. It was long, and it was good, and reading it reminded me that works with both qualities, when read within a context redundant with the exact opposite, can actually be physically satisfying. Like a good deep stretch. As for the essay itself, it is as much a study guide as it is a critical analysis. Schwartz has illuminated the source and possible meaning of nearly every image and sequence from the film, opening up the potential latent within it while concurrently revealing just as much about its author. His selection of quotations at the beginning corresponds with my own suspicion that what Malick has embarked upon with this film is a cinematic analog to In Search Of Lost Time. I don't know anyone who's loved the film who wouldn't have been happy to keep watching the story of the O'Brien boys as they grow up, and I take solace in the fact that Malick's next film is, by all accounts, going to be just as autobiographical as this one: the next volume of his Proustian stroll down memory lane.

Schwartz's piece is preceded by equally extensive takes on Malick's previous films (not to mention other current cinema), which I'm about to dig into; in keeping with his affront to modern means of input, he suggests in the sidebar that his essays will be better enjoyed if it's printed out and read on paper. I embrace the spirit of that one, if not quite the letter.

2. I've spent the last two months cutting a new feature film. We're not quite done yet. My editors' pass was 92 minutes and, since then, working with the director in LA, the running time has fluctuated between 87 and 90. One of my favorite blanket statements is that the best movies are always over three hours or under ninety minutes, which isn't true at all but does say something about my fear of commitment. Said phobia kicks in vehemently during the editing process, particularly when faced with the prospect of having to watch the various edits from start to finish over and over and over again. It conversely abates when the movie starts working, and the matter of running time falls by the wayside entirely. A good movie is as long as it needs to be to be good, and this one's definitely getting there.

3. When I moved back to Texas two years ago, I moved straight into my wife (then girlfriend's) apartment. When her lease was up last May, we got a bigger apartment in the same building. I'm not a fan of apartment complexes, but this one was nice enough, with a lovely creek view that spread through the boxy white walls and made them feel all our own. When our lease was up for renewal in April, we debated moving somewhere else, maybe to Austin or even Los Angeles, but decided that we were both too busy (and lazy) to worry about it this summer, and this place was good enough for another year. We signed another lease. Exactly one month later we got a notice that our building was going to be demolished, and we had to be out by the middle of July. So much for staying put. So we're moving into a beautiful old house with creaky wooden floors and room for a big garden out back. It won't be ready until the day before they begin tearing this complex down. Almost everyone else has already vacated their homes, and within a week we'll be the only humans left in this little gated ghost town. I'll enjoy that while it lasts.

4. It's been a long time since I've mentioned what I hope will be my next movie. I'd say it's due for an update soon.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:22 PM

June 23, 2011

Goodbye Engineer

I had the pleasure of meeting documentary filmmaker Robert Green at the Maryland Film Festival last month. A few days ago he posted this father's day present to the film world - a beautiful short biography of his late grandfather.

I watched this right after I saw Beginners, which also made me lose it.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:30 AM

June 22, 2011

"Impossibly adult"

Our LAFF Pioneer screenings have wrapped up, our Texas Filmmaker Showcase screening at the DGA Theater is coming up, and through our stay here various events of escalating degrees of merit have transpired. We also got accepted into another festival, which in a unique turn provided for filmmakers feedback from the selection committee. This one was particularly interesting:

"This film felt extremely creative and the high resolution picture (filming in red) combined with close-ups made it almost impossible to look away. The young male actor has a rare beauty that is realized fully in close-up. The “bedtime story” that begins during the taming of the old west is very intriguing—lines like “let’s not worry about the science” and “You have to find out why you’re still alive” point to a strong writer combined with a highly visual thinker. However, the clarity and close-ups that make the film fascinating also contribute to a certain “creepy” factor when applied to the adult male actor. His handlebar moustache and narration of impossibly adult graphic details to a small child made me uncomfortable as I waited anxiously for the end. Though it has some great qualities, I cannot recommend it be considered further for the (name of festival redacted)."

That's the kind of pan that would make me want to see a movie! Luckily, we still got in.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:16 PM

June 9, 2011

Keeping Things To Yourself

In days gone by, when I saw a film my immediate response was to go write about it. I enjoyed sounding off. Later on, during that brief period in which I developed my voice in the burgeoning world of online film criticism, I not only enjoyed it but felt a responsibility to make sure my two cents were heard as they fell into that increasingly gaping change jar. I'd watch a movie within the context of writing about it later; phrases would form as the film played, I'd know my angle before it was over. I'd go home and write about it.

I was watching a film last Friday (okay, it was The Tree Of Life), watching and recognizing grand gestures drawn from quotidian detail, and thinking that the vast majority of people in the world live their lives and experience the same swells of feeling and trembling of spirit that have emboldened or shaken me or made me crane my neck higher from time to time, and they don't go home and take those intangible things and write them down in novels or poems or lyrics for songs or make films about them or compose symphonies or paint paintings encapsulating the breadth of their empathy. I see something writ large and think that every person on earth must understand that, and it frustrates me to think that they have not expressed it to me. Not because I want to have their confidence but because I can't imagine any single person simply containing themselves. Is stoicism so prevalent? How does one go through life keeping things to oneself? Does not the urge to express the depths of one's experiences proliferate us all? Or is the profundity of such experience such a rarified and personal thing that the most common reaction is to simply have them, and not purloin them through expression?

I can't do that; whether this compulsion was inherent in me or ingrained over time, it exists and I act upon it. These pages here are indicative of that. But I've decided to try and approximate a sense of containment, to hold something close and keep it to myself and see what happens to it then. If I see a film or read a book or hear a symphony or song and respond to it in a personal way, it's because it expresses something for which I have a high degree of sympathy. It is not my own experience but a mirror of it; recognizing that reflection is an experience in and of itself, and it is this refraction that I will not try to express, nor compress with objectivity. At least for a time. At least in this one case.

We'll see how long it lasts.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:20 AM

June 3, 2011

James M. Johnston, Fort Worth TX and Sailor Bear

James M. Johnston is the subject of this week's Fort Worth Weekly cover story, and a damn fine profile it is. It's so satisfying to see him get the recognition he deserves, especially from the town where he's staked so large a claim.


There's one big piece of news missing from the story that unfortunately can't be spoken of publicly for another month, but suffice to say, James's career is on the precipice of getting that much cooler. On the other hand, this article does mark the first mention of Sailor Bear, the new shingle that James has started with Toby Halbrooks. Retroactively, Pioneer was the first production from this partnership, but we're counting the days until we can announce the second...

Posted by David Lowery at 1:33 AM