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December 31, 2011

The Ross Brothers on the River

One of my sheerest pleasures these past two months has been the weekly installments of the Ross Brothers' series about their adventures on the Mississippi. Bill and Turner, who made the wonderful 45365, set out with their other brother Al and friend Kyle and sailed down the Mississippi, more or less, all the way from their homestate of Ohio down to New Orleans over three weeks in October.

Perfectly paced, bite-sized but never too brief, these episodes will be a treat to anyone who loved 45365, and with a combined running time of over two hours already, this is in effect an amazing feature film in and of itself. It is gorgeous nonfiction filmmaking, although there are some moments that stray from strict documentary form in strange and funny and wondrous ways. There's also a scene with some impersonations and a random tree limb in the most recent episode that delighted me to no end.

Here is the first episode.

The Brothers Ross will be returning to the big screen in 2012 with Tchoupitoulas, their portrait of one night in New Orleans. Let's all join hands and look forward to it together.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:30 PM

Best of 2011

This year I celebrated ambition, regardless of whether it was directed inward or out, and so the films whose experiences, messy though they may be, remain affixed most firmly in my head should but one come as no surprise. In the order that I saw them:

1. The Tree Of Life (Terrence Malick)

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2. Margaret (Kenneth Lonnergan)

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3. Open Five 2 (Kentucker Audley)

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Three movies in my top ten - that's one more than last year. Things are looking up! In truth I could easily list ten more, which could beget an additional ten or twelve, but I'll quit while I'm ahead.

That last one has yet to officially screen anywhere, but the night I sat up in bed watching it until the wee hours remains one of the very most affirmative cinematic experiences I've had this year. Hopefully you'll have a chance to see it in 2012, and until then use it as a proxy for all the low-to-no-budget films that were released in 2011, of which I loved a great many. But during Open Five 2, I actually pumped my fist, which says a lot.

P.S. Honorable mentions to the skyscraper sequence in Mission: Impossible 4 and to my wife for making sure I got to the first screening of Melancholia on time the day that it opened.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:11 AM

December 29, 2011

Lookbook 1

Reference images, these ones from one of my top-five favorite movies:

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Posted by David Lowery at 8:05 PM

December 22, 2011

When a delay isn't a delay

They say you won't get an agent in Hollywood until you don't need one, which when you're first starting off is a truism that is difficult to accept. By that same token, I sent one of my first scripts off to the Sundance Writing Labs back in 1999 and when I got the phone call that I'd made it past the first round and they wanted to read my entire script, I told a friend that if I didn't get into the program, I'd just make the movie myself. Implicit in that declaration was a disordered set of priorities, but also an assumption (correct) that when setting out upon a life of filmmaking, you need any leg up you can get.

Now, 12 years later, as this next movie I'm making rolls towards an uncertain but inevitable start date, the script has been invited to the same Screenwriting Labs this coming January. It's an honor and a bi thrill, and implicit in all that is the comfort of knowing that this film is already moving forward, and that the legs up it took to get it there were our own. I don't need the stamp of validation that I thought I did back then (although I'm very happy to have it). What I need is to weather some more creative feedback, now, before we shoot, from every angle, just so that I can walk onto set confident that the material is where I need it to be.

When I'll actually walk onto that set, I cannot at this point say. Six months ago, I'd hoped that we'd be shooting the movie right now. Three months ago, I had my heart set on February. Last week, after meeting with our line producer and going over our budget, we decided to push it. I look forward to sharing the reasons why, and also the wonderful people with whom I'm making these decisions. What's happened is that a particular avenue has opened up, and we've decided it would be a shame not to explore it, even if it takes us right back to where we started a six months ago, which itself was fine place to arrive at the first time.

* * *

It's funny to think back to that phone call twelve years ago, which actually wasn't from Sundance at all, nor was it even a phone call. It was a message from my mom, recorded to the voicemail on my pager, telling me that Sundance had called. I was at work in the projection booth, probably tending to The Phantom Menace or something. When I got home, I saw that my mom had jotted down the pertinent info on a piece of paper and tacked it the board above the home phone. Some months later, when I was ultimately turned down, the rejection came by post, on heavy stationary, and was signed by hand. I still have that letter; it's most recently served as a bookmark in my copy of Down And Dirty Pictures, where it still resides.

I stayed true to my word, and did make that movie. You'll never see it.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:52 PM

December 12, 2011

Fortnight Journal, pt. 1


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I was invited not too long ago to contribute to the new issue of Fortnight Journal, a quarterly online compendium of millennial talent. There are all sorts of fascinating people featured here - beekeepers, cartographers, morticians - and I'm honored to be included amongst them.

I'll be contributing six pieces over the next few months, one every two weeks. The first is online now. It's a short film I drew about my daily routine, inspired by this old website.

You can view the film here.

I wrote an introduction to it that included the following sentence: " If one considers the interpretation of quantum mechanics formulated by Hugh Everett in 1957 which suggests that every outcome of every possible situation results in the creation of an alternate universe as grounds for the decentralization of the ego, then one can likewise ascertain that the rigor of daily routine constitutes a profound defense of the same. " It's better off without it.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:29 PM

December 9, 2011

House Of Pleasures

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The above split-screen is probably my favorite frame from Bertrand Bonello's House Of Pleasures, formerly and more appropriately titled House Of Tolerance. It's an easy one to pick, although hard to call the best when a film is as overflowing with lush and stately chiaroscuros as this one. Misguided by critical reception from Cannes, I sat down expecting a predictably romantic, predictably male portrait of prostitution. What I received instead, right out the gate, was one the most invigorating uses of time I've seen in a film in quite some time. The sequence in which the Jewish whore named Madeline goes to her fateful rendezvous darts in and out of a dream, forward and back through time, skipping freely but never lightly as it all circles back towards a single inevitable outcome, just as the film on the whole does, as per its actual subject, the advent of history.

If only because of the proximity of their premieres and subsequent releases, it's difficult not to compare the Bonello's film to Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty, another elegant film about, at least on a superficial level, the oldest profession. I prefer this one, not because I sympathize with my own sex but simply because Bonello's intentions have a greater degree of exactitude, and he executes them likewise. There's plenty of room for symbolism, but not much for ambiguity, and I've reached a point when I see a woman weeping tears made up of a particular bodily fluid, I'm happy to know what it really is I'm looking at.

The film was much talked about at Cannes because of that image, and also because of its use of anachronistic diagetic music. In one key scene, the women slow dance to the Moody Blues' Nights In White Satin. This was once to me one of the greatest of all songs. I was seventeen or eighteen, and its grandiosity rocked my world. It wasn't the first Moody Blues song to do so; one night, I was driving home from work and heard the last half of Question on the radio and pulled into a parking lot to jot down the lyrics before they escape me. "It's not the way that you say it when you say the things you do" - this was a great song! Google was a year or two away then, and I couldn't look up a snippet of lyrics the way I would now; I didn't even find out that the song was by the Moody Blues for quite some time. Eventually I did, and eventually I bought some of their records, and eventually I became less enamored with their bombast, and then one day came to the conclusion that this amazing band was in truth quite silly. I was talking about this to a friend earlier in the summer - how music that can mean so much to you at some point can suddenly become terrible.

So in addition to its other wonderful qualities, Bertrand Bonello's House Of Pleasures managed to make the Moody Blues un-terrible to me once more. Which, when you see the film, which you should, you'll understand to be an incredibly appropriate and telling propensity.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:23 AM

December 5, 2011

Marathon

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One of the few later goals for which I've ever had an age-related time limit was to run a marathon before I turned 30. Given that I've had that same number of years to come to terms with my chronic procrastination, the fact that I was 11 months late in achieving this watermark isn't too big a deal. I crossed the finish line of the White Rock Marathon yesterday in four hours, thirteen minutes and eight seconds. I'd never made it past a nightmarish 16 miles in my training, but I crossed that same point yesterday and then found most of the miles after melting away with relative ease. No walls in sight. It was freezing (almost literally) and raining the entire time. I ran it with my partner in crime, Toby Halbrooks, and Augustine was there to cheer me on, and it was one of the best days of my life. I try not to expound too often on personal achievements, but in this case I'm allowing myself a few sentences.

Now it's over, there'll never be another first one and it's on to making this movie.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:40 PM