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August 30, 2011

The Robber (2011)


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Benjamin Heisenberg's The Robber is, at least for this viewer, the most ecstatic crime picture since Revanche, with which it shares a lead actor. It's based on the true story of Johann Rettenberger, a champion long-distance runner whose other pastime was robbing banks. It doesn't aspire towards the gently revelatory quality as Götz Spielmann's masterpiece, and perhaps could be perceived as more generic (in that it follows the structure of a traditional thriller), but it's every bit as masterful a study of character, just as beautifully photographed and in possession of some formally astounding chase scenes.

It's also the most astute look at the running mentality I've ever seen on film. By running mentality I mean the compulsion to push one's body to increasingly greater perambulatory limits, the primary benefit of which is the satisfaction of achieving an escalating set of goals. Official races are competitive but, at least for this runner (who has not yet but will soon run a full marathon for the first time), their superseding purpose is almost entirely singular. When one finishes a run, the overwhelming satisfaction of having completed it is quickly overridden by the statistical query of How did I do? which naturally leads to: What can I do better? It is not an achievement one rests upon.

The Robber captures this mindset, and thus we understand that the protagonist's compulsive running not only aides him in his compulsive criminal activity but justifies it. Not morally, of course, but when we're intended to side with a sociopath, morals are not the grounds for empathy required. Why does he rob banks if he has no interest in financial gain? For the same reason why someone might run a grueling race. What do you get out of it? You want to to quit, or you want to run another. That this character keeps running is as far as the film needs to go in explaining his motivations. It's a beautiful, symmetrical method of exposition by Heisenberg and co-writer Martin Prinz, and it makes for a rich, moving and appropriately breathtaking experience. No need to be a runner to love it.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:58 AM

August 29, 2011

Beyonce + Clouzot

Beyonce's new video for 1+1 is her best since Single Ladies (which remains one of the most exuberantly photographed dance performances I've ever seen).

It also has an instantly recognizable cinematic pedigree:

I apparently wasn't the first person to notice this. As I was getting ready to post this, I did a quick google search and found that there was already a mashup.

Some may cry foul, but I'm just glad to see that Clouzot maintains enough cultural significance that audiences are aware he's being referenced at all. That, and I love this Beyonce video. I've had a soft spot for her ever since the video for Irreplaceable (which isn't great) made me cry while on an airplane.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:55 AM

August 24, 2011

Love Torn In A Dream

I was watching a film at the theater the other day which, fifteen minutes in, was approaching a point of such rapturous quality that I considered walking out. Why not go out on top, especially if, all things being equal and statistics being what they were, the chances that such quality could not be maintained for the remaining 70-odd minutes were fairly high? It's a turning of the tables on the passive viewing experience that I don't necessarily disapprove of, but in my case I haven't suffered such an egregious loss of faith as to enact it. That ain't what I'm in this for. The movie dipped, as some movies do, and then rose back up. The one I saw the next morning hit a similar early high and then kept getting better. You just never know.

Last night, I was getting ready to turn in when I saw a link to a film by the late Raoul Ruiz. It was his 2000 feature Love Torn In A Dream, in its entirety, on YouTube. I'd never seen a Ruiz film (I had high hopes of catching The Mysteries Of Lisbon at the LA Film Festival a few months ago, but they never came to pass). All the same, I found his profile in the New York Times a few weeks ago immensely beguiling, and its timeliness retrospectively moving in light of his passing last week. So the whim seemed nothing if not appropriate, and I sat up until the sun was about to rise watching this marvelously droll parlor game of a film, whose pleasures seem to function an almost synaptic level.

I need to find a copy of Time Regained.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:27 AM

August 18, 2011

Upcoming

This weekend, James is heading to the Nevada City Film Festival to present Knife and Pioneer. This festival is particularly notable to me because it's the hometown of Joanna Newsom, whose music has given me multiple new leases on life.

Sadly, I won't be going. Other travel plans interfered, fell through and then were replaced by a trip to Tacoma, WA for the second annual 25 New Faces Series at the Grand Cinema, a weekend event featuring the work of all 25 of the filmmakers featured in the most recent issue of Filmmaker Magazine. I'll be there through Monday, and am thrilled that I've seen almost none of the films being showcased there. Panos Cosmatos' Beyond The Black Rainbow is one I'm particularly intrigued by.

The weekend after that, Toby and I are taking a Southern road trip to the wonderful Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, which I can't believe I haven't attended since 2008, when we all gathered in Joe Swanberg's hotel room to watch the Presidential Debates and eat french fries.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:19 AM

August 9, 2011

My Year Of Being Unidentifiable


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Do I begin this admission in a dryly informative manner, relating the helpful fact that a US Citizen can travel domestically with a passport up to one year past its expiration date? I suppose I just did. My other option was more anecdotal: around the time Greenberg was released last year, there was an interview with director Noah Baumbach in the LA Weekly. It began by noting that he had just received his first driver's license, prior to which "for years he made do by bumming rides."

"The idea of just getting in the car by myself — it's very difficult for me to think that way," Baumbach says. "It's some kind of immaturity, it's holding on to some kind of dependency from childhood."

I read that and felt a rush of equal parts sympathy and vindication, rising like pylons around me and pushing aloft a ceiling of justification for poor life choices. Here was a director who'd made movies I admired, whose apartment I'd been in, whose shelf of books on filmmaking contained many of the same titles in my library, and whose transportational challenges mirrored my own. For I myself then - and now, still - had no car and no driver's license and relied on the kindness of friends to get from here to there.

This was my segue into the story of My Year Of Being Legally Unidentifiable, which as I wrote it and write it still keeps turning up full of holes. To begin with, it actually wasn't quite a full year. More like 2.5 trimesters, at the end of which I was dragged kicking and screaming, if not back into full on adulthood, at least partially out of the irresponsible caul in which I'd ensconced myself.

Here's how the story originally began. My driver's license was the first to go, I wrote. Right before it expired at the tail end of 2009, I was pulled over for motoring (in another person's vehicle) with an outdated inspection. I was flat out at that point and couldn't afford the ticket, nor could I pay for the two I got a month a later, in a different vehicle, this time for an outdated registration and also for my now invalid license, which I wouldn't be able to renew until I paid all three accumulated fines. One of those cart before the horse situations. The tickets turned into warrants, I shrugged and donned the mantle of a mild-mannered outlaw, and started carrying my passport as means of identification.

This worked just fine, for traveling, until it too expired, on my wedding day last October, said coincidence sending its renewal to the very bottom of a large stack of things demanding my attention. It remained a peripheral issue until a month later, when I was about to take my first trip as a married man. I was on my way to the airport, in fact, when I mused aloud about whether or not I had what it took to make it through security. I was hoping on the one hand that I could count on a provisional grace period to get me through the door and making plans on the other to sit out this particular jaunt and chock it up to the proverbial Hole I've Dug For Myself.

That Hole is my fallback. When I say that this story I'm trying to tell is full of holes, I'm talking mainly about that one. And the story isn't full of it. It's eclipsed by it. When things go poorly, it allows me to shrug my shoulder and blame myself, which I've luckily rarely had to do because, as it turns out, there are always grace periods. For example, when I presented my expired passport that day, the friendly TSA agent told me not to worry, that, as mentioned above, it'd be good for a year as long a I was traveling domestically. That's what he told me, and what other agents echoed over the ensuing months on ensuing flights, because if I had a full year of unchecked travel ahead of me, renewal could wait! Especially as my slate was just busy enough that I couldn't quite afford the four or five week turnaround time. I had places to get to, all of which were fortuitously within the country lines.

For the most part, traveling without legal ID was a breezy process, one which opened my eyes to a few particulars about TSA screening routines. A few times the agents didn't notice that my ID was expired at all. Sometimes they'd spend an extra 30 or 40 seconds examining the photo of the 18-year old me, who looked not one iota like I do today. One officer gazed deeply, mysteriously into my eyes, to make sure they were the same baby blues peering out of that stamped photo. This must be something they're trained to do - parsing particular constants out of awkwardly dated photographs. The ten-year expiry standard on identification is convenient in all instances but those linked to national security and one's own illusory belief that no, you didn't look that awful ten years ago.

Twice, the last page of the passport was checked - "for an extension," which wasn't there and which I didn't know could be obtained, and, upon failing to find it, a supervisor was called. On one of those two instances, I had to furnish my social security card, expired license and my ATM card to boost my case that I was indeed David Lowery. As cavalier as I pretended to be about the whole process, I must admit my sense of self was shaken by not being able to legally prove that I was myself at a moment's notice. Henceforth, I felt increasingly guilty handing over that wellworn passport. I apologized profusely when questioned about it. In truth, I longed for validation, which is what inspired me to write about these exploits in the first place, which in turn saw a superficial exploration into the ties one has to a plastic card (sample sentence: "it is the bureaucratic counterpart to one's ego") superseded by the realization that I was constructing another facetious firmament in support of a pointless structure balanced atop that aforementioned pit, directly to the left of the real issue at hand.

To be sure: there are travelers out there who might be happy or relieved to know they can continue using their passport after its expiration date. By the same token, it's worth noting that Noah Baumbach spent most of his non-driving life in New York City. And he can certainly afford a new car.

I don't have a car, and haven't for two years, since I gave my last one away. There are times in the past twelve months when I could have bought a new one but didn't, just as I could have paid off my warrants and renewed my license but thought better of it. Better being a questionable word - but it made sense at the time, and still does when I'm selective about the light in which I view my choices. All that being said, when I finally wised up and went to the DMV, I borrowed my wife's car to get there and procured a provisional state ID instead of a new license. They gave me a temporary inkjet copy printed on a flimsy sheet of 8 x 11 paper, which was enough to get me through security when I went to LA a few days later. Once there, I took my old passport and mailed it off for a new one. Which I now have, and which, unlike all the temporary shelters I've constructed for myself, feels ever so slightly like a piece of something permanent.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:57 PM

August 8, 2011

Notecards


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I made it through Act 1 with these suckers, and took advantage of their naturally segmented form to reckon with each scene over its import which, once determined, merited its spot up on the wall (symbolically, because I couldn't find the scotch tape or thumb tacks) or in the dustbin.

Then I got impatient and jumped back into the script.

Posted by David Lowery at 9:11 PM

August 4, 2011

Reconvergence trailer


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Last summer, I traveled to Peru, Harvard, South Carolina and Virginia to photograph a documentary, at the time untitled, directed by Edward Tyndall and produced by Patrick Weaver. Afterwards, especially after word got out about the ayahuasca ceremony on the Amazon that we'd been filming, I was often asked what the movie was about and would have trouble coming up with a succinct answer. I'd bluff some response about how it concerned life or achieving immortality or something like that, all while trying to convey my enthusiasm for how strange and amazing it was ultimately going to be.

Now there's a title, and trailer to do the work for me.

There's also an official synopsis:

"Reconvergence offers an intriguing exploration of mortality, consciousness and identity in the modern age from the perspectives of four distinct characters: a naturalist, a neuroscientist, a poet and a historian. The combination of their separate journeys creates a rich tapestry that weaves together several complex facets of the existential dilemma."

I've seen a very rough assembly of the edit, and it's amazing. Edward is pretty visionary in his approach to storytelling, and I can't wait to see all the sweat, vomit, snake venom and chicken blood that went into the production of the film wrapped up in the final cut. I think it's going to be epic.

Stay tuned to the film's Facebook page for more announcements. And if you ever have a chance to talk to Edward or Patrick or myself about the shoot last summer, boy do we have stories to tell (a hint of them can be found here).

Posted by David Lowery at 2:12 AM

August 3, 2011

Kentucker Audley's Holy Land

It's been a long three years since Kentucker Audley started shooting his sophomore feature, Holy Land. I finally saw the finished cut about six months ago, and wrote about it here. It's a great film, I'd wager to say, one of the best of the year, and it's thankfully available to the public now that Audley is releasing it himself. It can be rented for 3.99 here - or right here, for that matter.

If you've seen Audley's other films and enjoyed them, you'll naturally want to check this out; but even if you haven't enjoyed them (or don't, as the common criticism goes, believe they qualify as films at all), I'd suggest taking a look at this picture. In spite of its ambling nature, Holy Land is anything but lackadaisical. This is some serious moviegoing.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:33 PM