Friday, November 30, 2007

A Childhood Hero R.I.P

When I was in the second grade I absolutely adored Evel Kneivel. I was thoroughly obsessed with him. There was a whole line of toys that I wanted and asked for for Christmas. My mom warned me that money was tight. Not wanting my mom to feel badly about being broke I waited a few weeks and told her that I didn't really like Evel Kneivel that much anymore. I still got a bunch of stuff for Christmas that year. Both of our deceptions came out and Evel Knievel was forever after part of my own little Oscar Wilde story.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peter, Steven and Mary Ann

Steven Soderbergh is the hardest working man in show business. My god, what doesn't this guy do? He shoots his movies as Peter Andrews. He edits them as Mary Ann Bernard. So he often works all day wearing many hats - producer, director, writer, DP, camera operator - then he cuts it together at night. All this after going out for dinner with leading man and producing partner George Clooney. The guy is tireless.
I've been watching K Street, a tv show he made a few years ago. I hadn't even heard of it until I came across it in some obscure way. It's pretty good. It's too subtle and raw for network television. James Carville and Mary Matalin play quasi-fictional versions of themselves. They also co-produced with Soderbergh and Clooney. It's all improvised and many Washington politicians and journalists make guest appearances.
Soderbergh is one of the main guys that I've long wanted to emulate in terms of being a very hands-on filmmaker, the kind of guy that does it all. And I can do it all pretty well, not anywhere near as well as him, but better than many of my peers. Recently I gave up on editing and turned a lot of it over to others. They're even slower than I am. I'm not slow, I just put off doing it. But even the few people that I've paid have been super slow about putting assemblies and rough cuts together. Then when I see it, I'm frustrated by it. London Calling has been about five total cuts from final for over a month but I can't get together with that editor for some reason. I'm debating taking it over again, not just LC but all of them. I'm thinking of buying a new MacBookPro and doing it bit by bit on a daily basis instead of surfing sports and other internet distractions. I have a nice editing suite but the minute I go in there, my kids are underfoot pulling stuff off the shelves, climbing into my lap and attacking the keyboard. For some reason they leave me alone when I'm on my laptop. So we'll see. I'm over thinking any of my films are going to be very good, so at this point I just need to experience putting them together and moving on. Maybe I can be more like Steven/Mary Ann afterall.

Signore Editore

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Master Says 249

There is a certain combination of anarchy and discipline in the way I work.

Robert De Niro

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


My daughter Maisie turned five today. Our home was filled with sweet little girls this evening. I'm so so very grateful and proud. My heart is full.


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Master Says 248

Life is an unanswered question, but let's still believe in the dignity and importance of the question.

Tennessee Williams

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'm Not There ... I'm In Your Head

You know when you're watching television or a movie -- you see pretty pictures, you hear the opening chords of a great song and for a moment you're like wow this Iggy Pop song is on tv. Then you realize it's a commercial for a gigantic insurance corporation or some other such exploitation. That's how I felt in the opening acts of I'm Not There. I'm not accusing Haynes of commercializing Dylan. I'm sure he wants the film to make money, but it's not busting any blocks so far due in large part to Haynes making the film he wanted to make, which I admire greatly. Okay so he's not selling anything, but it still feels a if it's capitalizing on Dylan's music. That Haynes is exploiting the allure of Dylan the man and the power of his music to exercise his own intellect.
Which results in some fine filmmaking to be sure. He thoroughly breaks the mold on bio-pic conventions. Nearly masterfully from a technical standpoint. The film looks great as it transitions from one palette to the next and back again. Haynes heavily quotes two of my favorite films, 8 1/2 and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Haynes is an ardent recreator of classic films. Far From Heaven was a replica of the look and tone of Douglas Sirk's 50s melodramas. Like Tarantino, his re-imaginations are imprinted from the outside, lacking a real pulse of their own. This is especially true with regard to Fellini. Fellini made films from his heart, Haynes makes them from his head. In 8 1/2, the passionate dreaminess of the externalization of Guido's inner life is sublime. It's absorbing. The beautiful surfaces leading inward much like the beauty of a cathedral leads the faithful into both the building and themselves. This does not happen in I'm Not There. Which is part of the point, I realize, but for me it's also a major impediment to giving myself to the film.
As far as the acting goes, Cate Blanchett as Jude-Dylan performs many moments splendidly, but overall there's a disconnectedness to her characterization that is more of a distraction than a revelation that Dylan is not there. That's really it, I think. Haynes says, "Hey, Dylan isn't Dylan. He's not there in the way we project." Which makes him a passive character. Passive characters can be quite problematic if you want the story to move forward. I'm not sure six characters standing in for one passive uber-character makes it any easier. Christian Bale plays Jack-Dylan well. As does Heath Ledger perform Robbie-Dylan. The young kid playing Woody-Dylan is uneven, but hey he's a kid. I liked Ben Whishaw as Rimbaud-Dylan the best. Richard Gere as Billy the Kid-Dylan was all wrong. I liked the look and feel of the sequence but Gere is too much the polished pretty leading man to convey the depth of what Haynes is trying to say. Julianne Moore never vexes me more than in collaboration with Haynes. Her part was like Waiting For Guffman but without a sense of humor. As CoCo, Michelle Williams was just blah, she's a pretty good actress usually and she's certainly cute, but she's just not sexy enough to carry off an Edie Sedgwick-type role.
While I'm on some of the little things that bothered me, there are some period prop and wardrobe errors that distracted me. Like the Ray-Ban logo on the Wayfarers that Jude-Dylan wears. That logo didn't appear on Wayfarers until the 90s. The stiff, unseasoned clothing on some of the extras early on took me out of the film as well.
There's no doubt that Haynes is very smart and this film is perhaps his most intelligent. And in spite of my criticisms I don't think this is a bad film or a missed opportunity. It's Haynes's vision and it's fully realized. I just didn't happen to connect to it as much as I liked how it looked and some of its ideas.

Dalla mia testa ed il mio cuore,
Signore Direttore

Friday, November 23, 2007

Composite Preview

A preview of Lumberjack Storytime

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Folk Wisdom 036

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.


Thanks Giving 2oo7

Dashing off a list of all that I am grateful for doesn't come easy for me. There are many things of course seemingly requiring little thought. However I don't do much with little thought. So for nearly every expression of gratitude for a person, place or thing in my life an "even though" or other contracting modification rears its ugly head.
I've heard it said that an attitude of gratitude is one of the sure ways to work through life's challenges. Since that attitude is not my prevalent way of being I think I'm somehow absolved from working toward it. I don't like baby steps. I'm resistant as is evident by my blathering lead-in to a simple list.
I suppose first off I'm grateful to be alive. That goes for any of us, but I've definitely pushed the limits of my mortality. Thinking back on my life, the expression "you don't get here from there" couldn't be more appropriate.
Next off I'm grateful for my wife and children. From each I receive love in ways that I feel ill equipped to accept let alone reciprocate. Being a father and a husband present very real challenges that ultimately can't be avoided, manipulated or responded to with anger. I thank them for their patience in letting me learn how to love and care for them as a husband and a parent. Here's a very real case of the gift being in the giving for as I go through my children's various stages of development with them I learn of my own developmental deficiencies and heal in the process.
I'm extremely grateful for my son's new school and his new teacher. Miss I is one of the most fully realized human beings I have ever met. Finding her in our lives is a graceful joy.
Next I want to thank my many friends far and wide that have helped me understand the world and myself to the extent that I do. So many people have encouraged and supported me. So many have listened to my whining, my genius and my bullshit. I especially want to thank those that have stuck to their principles and have thus helped me develop and respect my own.
I'm grateful to live in a city such as Portland. That I've been able to come back home to create a new life and new memories with my family.
I'm grateful for my daughter's wonderful school and teachers.
I'm grateful for all the wonderful people we've met through our children and for the little friends of our children.
I'm grateful for my love of writing and storytelling.
I'm grateful for my ability to make films and for my love of directing actors. I'm grateful to have had the experience of making so many films with so many wonderful people. I'm grateful for all those that continue to help me make more films in spite of not having seen the last thing they helped me with.
I'm grateful for the diverse natural beauty of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
I'm grateful for our home. For its beauty and its strength. For its memories. For its versatility. For its value and the security it provides. For its height and its windows all around allowing us a clear 360 view in spite of its being in a dense urban neighborhood. I'm grateful for the three mature cedars in our parking strip providing us privacy and protection from the East wind as well as a habitat for squirrels and birds, giving us a view onto our own private forest.
I'm grateful for all of our material wealth and comfort. For the many tools for making films. For our cars. And bicycles. Our books. For my watch that I bought the day before Thanksgiving in 1986. It's been with me a long time, through thick and thin. I'm glad I had the vanity and foresight to buy it. I reasoned at the time that I would easily go through $625 worth of Timex', Casios and Swatches before a Rolex would give out. I'm grateful I have been able to hold onto it.
I'm also thankful for the debt that has allowed us to enjoy some of the above in a more expedient manner than otherwise possible.
I'm grateful for the experience of travel and of living in so many interesting places in the world: Germany, San Francisco, Mexico, New York City ...
I'm grateful for my experience as an acting coach. For all the friends I met in doing that and for the joy and challenges of running a studio for five years.
I'm grateful for the internet and the ease of communication it provides.
I'm grateful for my first set of orange Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias, my first information superhighway. As I'm thankful for my life-long love of books, reading and learning.
I'm grateful for all the music, film and art that touches me deeply and for all that simply entertains me.
I'm grateful that I can grow and change. For P and all the help and guidance he's provided.
I'm grateful to my family for giving me life and for teaching me how not to live. As I'm grateful that they keep their distance now.
I'm grateful for this blog and its readers. For the record it provides, but more importantly for the challenge of getting my thoughts and experiences out of my head on a regular basis. There is often magic in it. So thanks for reading.

Signore Direttore

The Master Says 247

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.

William Faulkner

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Folk Wisdom 035

When you do all the talking you only learn what you already know.

The Master Says 246

Self-interest is but the survival of the animal in us. Humanity only begins for man with self-surrender.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stills from Recent Shoots

October Moore as Clio in Clio Tells His Story

Tara Piccolo and Christy Hernquist in a workshop scene for Back To Baghdad

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Than A Car Crash

We all want to look at a car crash. I'm not sure what we're looking for. Do we want to see that everyone is safe? Are we hoping for evidence of the vulnerable unpredictability of our mortality? Do we want to see real life instead of television? Do we even know why we look or is it some sort of reflex?
I've seen some gruesome things while rubbernecking. As well as some astonishing things like a guy with his feet in the air and his upper body inside of the car that just hit him as he was walking across West Burnside. He crashed head first through the windshield and was suspended for almost an hour while firemen and paramedics prepared to remove him. He walked away from it with a few scratches on his face.
I don't know if it's another bad Brian DePalma film, but Redacted bombed at the box office this weekend. My suspicions are that Iraq is a wreck that we don't want to look at anymore. I've been reading Riverbend, a blog by an Iraqi woman. I link to it under All Things Human.
Some of the things she writes stab me in the heart. She avers that the continual gaffes by the U.S. are actually strategic policy made to look like incompetency. It's the one thing she says with which I disagree. Sadly, I can pretty much guarantee that our Iraq policies and their implementation are plainly incompetent.
I recall one of this blog's reader talking about "the mission". I wonder; is "the mission" about dividing a people along sectarian lines that coexisted peacefully prior to the war? Is the tolerance of masked border guards and militiamen a result of the valiant and heroic effort by the soldiers that carried out "the mission" of occupying a country that was invaded under false pretenses and contrary to international consensus? Before anyone gets their panties in a patriotic twist, please read Riverbend. Take a walk in her shoes. Lower your eyes from the masked militiamen with her instead of looking away from the living hell that we've created in her country.
I'm disgusted by our role in Iraq. As I'm disgusted at our unwillingness to look at it. Perhaps the greatest thing about the electronic hyper-connectivity of the 21st century is that we can no longer exist in the vacuum of fatuous ideology. If only we can take a break from celebrity gossip and other pornographic tripe and exercise our empathy from time to time.

Cantando nella nerezza,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maybe I'm Getting Soft

The softness I speak of is my growing inability to laugh off nihilistic violence in movies that claim to offer something more than a genre film. A lot of people are singing the praises of No Country For Old Men. I, too, have some high opinions of the film, but I take issue with comments such as "indisputably great". Foremost on my mind is the fact that I found little humor or wit in the film as I thought I might based on the interview with the Coens I listened to yesterday. There was a time that I laughed at wicked violence in films. Often it was a lone laugh in a crowded theater such as the scene in the Scorcese Cape Fear remake where Robert DeNiro bites off Illeana Douglas's cheek. Or the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. I even went as Mr. Blonde for Halloween that year, carrying a blood stained rubber ear that I took out of my pocket to talk to during the course of the night. But in the dark of the theater last night I found myself shuddering at the moment of impact most of the time things got violent. The Coen Brothers are good at letting you know just about exactly what's coming yet somehow they add a distinctly quiet suspense to it and then they hit you with what you saw coming all along. Bam! It's visceral.
I admire the quiet in this film. It's part of what makes those suspenseful moments work so well. Hardly any music. No goofy sound design. Technically, this film is a formalist's wet dream. The photography, the editing, the sound design and the production design, including wardrobe and squib effects and especially Bardem's hair, are all brilliant. Overall the writing is excellent but there are some crucial gaps regarding the money. Maybe. They may be gaps or they may underscore my suspicion that the gaps are meant to let us know that what we think this film is about isn't what it's about. I'll get to that later. Another thing that might be minor, but no error however small seems minor in a film as well-crafted as this one. Anyway there's a reference that's anachronistic to the period of the film that happens in the third act that I can't ignore.
I also admire the acting a lot. Javier Bardem is someone else -- he's just out there in a way that we don't need too talk much about. Josh Brolin is a movie star. I love that guy. He was by far the best thing in American Gangster. And I wanted to be with him every second in No Country, even though he wouldn't really let us get close to him. Even Tommy Lee Jones manages to not be so Tommy Lee Jones, though I think the film would be better if someone else played his role. I won't spoil anything, but when he's sitting at the kitchen table late in the movie I recommend listening closely. You have to because what he says might be the key to what this movie is about. As I've said, what you think it's about turns out to not be what it's about. I can't rightly say with any certainty because I didn't listen closely to Tommy. I've learned over the years to throw his lines away, because he never does. (An aside to Tommy Lee Jones: Mr. Jones, I know you probably don't give a rat's ass what a nobody like me has to say and your five million or so you banked off of this film is more money than I'm likely to see in my lifetime, but I'll say it anyway: sometimes it's what isn't said in a film that speaks the loudest.) That's the reason I think he was miscast. And it's part of the reason that I think this very good film isn't a great film. I'd like to see it again. I have a feeling or maybe just a fond hope the Coen's knew exactly what they were doing, but I can't help but doubt it just a little. It's the anachronistic bit about green hair and bones in noses I mentioned earlier that undoes their credibility. Because as the film suddenly shifts to a decidedly more literary telling in the third act I need things to be as tight as a drum for it to work. My ear says that drum needs some tuning. Then again nobody ever accused me of having perfect pitch.

Cantando nella nerezza,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Real Americans

Writing the title of this post made me reflect on the absurdity of arrogant racist and patriotic paradigms in the United States. Not just because most of us are from somewhere else or that there are a lot of people on both continents in this hemisphere that have the right to call themselves Americans. Because most of us shouldn't be throwing stones. It brings to mind an indelible moment in my life. I was in the fourth grade. My mom was married to an outlaw biker and we lived in a trailer in Scappoose at the end of Smith Road where the asphalt stopped and turned to gravel. We shot our guns from the side of the mobile home into a mound of dirt. I stole Marlboro's from the drawer in the kitchen where Grubby kept his carton. Just down the road, there was house and barn that seemed forever covered in mud. I had a Huffy bmx bike that was always getting flat tires. When my bike was up and running I rode down the hill past the muddy house to the Turner's where I lost my front tooth or to other kids' houses that weren't covered in mud. When I had a flat I would walk down and play with the kids that lived in the muddy house, but always felt superior to them. Because they had a huge cow tied up in the barn that didn't have any doors or a floor. Because there was always mud everywhere. Because they seemed like little muddy urchins. I gave them Marlboros and we smoked while slogging around in the mud. One not-so-beautiful Saturday morning my mom and step-dad got into one of their brutal fights. One thing led to another and soon my mother was running down the road. She collapsed in the middle of the road in front of the muddy family's house. Paramedics came. The sheriff. It was a big scene. My mom regained consciousness. I don't remember much else. But one day not long after that I was riding my bike down the rode and as I was passing the muddy house, the dad came out onto the porch. The kids hid behind him. He told me he didn't want me coming around there anymore. He told me I was trouble. I didn't really care about not going there anymore. And I didn't know anything about irony. But I was very surprised that he of all people, a guy that lived in mud up to his ankles, thought I wasn't good enough to play with his kids.
I didn't sit down to write about that proud moment of my past and I'm a bit short on time now. What I've had in mind are the millions of Americans out there skulking around the parking lots of fast food restaurants wearing dirty slippers and tank-tops with strange little bruises and sores all over their bodies and with little brown nubs for teeth. All those people that are either gigantically obese or thin but flabby living in trailer parks and cheap motels watching hours of television, drinking gallons of soda pop. I am thinking about those racist and patriotic Americans thinking that they're too good to play with their neighbors, living hopeless lives where the asphalt runs out.
Come to think of it, my step-dad Grubby was a Native-American, though he may have been a real American, he didn't exude earthy joy and compassion any more than the rest of us.

Signore Direttore

Those Iconoclastic Coens

Just listened to a podcast interview with the Coen Brothers by Creative Screenwriting editor Jeff Goldsmith. Lots of questions about outlining, beginning, middle and end plotting, research, writing habits. The blanket answer: "We don't do that. We nap. We don't work too hard. We take long lunches." Writer's block?: "If we get stuck with something, we put it aside and work on something else." How's does co-directing work? "Distinctions between what we each do are artificial whether it's writing, directing or editing." What is your process for writing an adaptation?: "We didn't know or realize we were tapping into Homer with Oh Brother Where Art Though until we were well into it." Theme? Joel: "That scene was taken from the novel. (Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men) Ethan: "Theme?" Goldsmith: "Let's move on. You guys have always had a bit of the macabre mixed with humor, but violence in this film is more brutal and doesn't seem to be tongue in cheek." "Really, I thought it was pretty humorous. People laugh. I don't know why. It's visual. It's absurd. There's something funny about it."

If you listen to the podcast you might find my quotes may not be transcript accurate. I just jotted my impressions down from memory.

Starving for a long lunch,
Signore Direttore

Friday, November 16, 2007

Revisiting Odets, Mackendrick and January oo7

I'm rereading Alexander Mackendrick's book on filmmaking. The main thing that sticks with me is his discussion of the opening scene in Sweet Smell of Success. Except the only thing that sticks with me is that it's something really poignant about making sure all the characters in a scene need something from one another. I still haven't gotten to that elusive wisdom in my rereading. But I am struck by some other discoveries as I reread On Film-Making. Mackendrick learned a lot from working with Clifford Odets, who rewrote Ernest Lehman's original script. While reading I came across a quote from Odets urging actors to play heavy dialogue fast. It seemed a good thing to share on the blog, but I had a feeling I'd shared it before. So I did search this blog for Odets and sure enough Playing It Fast (and Sappy) popped up.
What's interesting about reading something from the past, even just this past January, is how much I've learned. I don't say that in a boastful manner, especially since a lot of what I've learned is how much I've needed to learn to get somewhere in the vicinity of competent. I'm glad I write from where I'm at at any given time for it gives me a better perspective later on. For instance I was talking about trying to shoot Klepto in an operatic manner a la Sergio Leone. I have to laugh about that bit of pretense. I haven't seen Klepto on a big screen, but Leone it is not. In fact I should revisit it now that I've been reminded of that intention to learn where it fails to achieve that kind of scale. I think part of it has to do with the use of long lenses, something I didn't have the resources for with Klepto. Another thing with Klepto was that the main lesson seemed to be about working with a hostess tray in traffic and on an unexpectedly sunny day. We got going the morning of the shoot and I realized for the first time that my brand new ten thousand dollar camera package was hanging off the side of a truck. Just as Chris relieved my anxiety by handling the driving very well, I realized that the route I had meticulously planned for the driving sequences put the camera rig between the actors and the big bright sun, casting a very distinct shadow on Chris's shoulder. I also learned that we needed more batteries and P2 cards for the HVX if we were to shoot run and gun efficiently. So even though the film is not the film I hoped it would be it served its purpose of getting us familiar with the camera and testing us under fire, so to speak, in some new situations. And it's a finished project. I need some of those. One of these days I'll get to see it on a bigger screen in the dark which is how all films that don't depend on rapid-cutting eye candy want to be seen.
What else did I find interesting in the old post? The whole 35mm adapter debate which I've avoided this year. I think I'm at a place where making things look pretty is less a priority than making things work on a storytelling and performance level. I'm working with editors on two films that I directed that were shot on Super16. Both are beautiful. Both were very expensive to make. Both have problems. When I was in Maine last year, one of the hot-shot DPs up there called the HVX "film school in a box". And it is. You get an image that isn't distracting like DV can be that's closer to what a film camera can do for you like variable frame rates and the P2 media works kind of like film in that you don't want to just let the camera run like people do with tape. You can shoot a lot of stuff for cheap once you have the camera and P2 cards. When you shoot a lot, you learn a lot of lessons.
The other main thing that caught my attention was the corporate gig that I did. It paid very well and I was able to pay off a large chunk of my camera package nearly right out of the box. I did quite a lot of work on commercial projects as a technician last Winter and Spring. I thought that might be the way I would go. As it's turned out, I've moved decidedly away from doing anything like that, ever. It's helped me deepen my focus on the stories I am committed to telling and it's brought me much much closer to my family, especially my son. At first I felt the void of the activity of freelance work and wondered what would fill it. I didn't have to wait long before a major crisis in my son's young life came along that demanded my full attention. Being there for him has fulfilled me in ways that I believe will prove to be more lasting than anything else I could have done. Reading where I was at at the beginning of 2007 underscores just how much I value my development as a filmmaker and as a father.
I'm off to do some letter recognition teaching at my daughter's school.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Farmer's Market Gossip

Rumor has it that the The Pumpkin Patch's proud new owner is Gus Van Sant. Nothing scandalous about it, but it strikes me as very strange. He's been seen in Los Angeles wearing a t-shirt advertising his new venture.

Believe it or not,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 245

I think you start to prepare the minute you read something.

Sean Penn

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Joy Division You Cunt

Last night in the dark of Fox Tower theater number ten things happened for me that don't happen as often as I'd like. But when they do, I'm a happy man. During the first thirty or forty minutes of Anton Corbijn's Control there were at least four times that I was close to exclaiming aloud, "This is brilliant." My foot was tapping away during the music scenes and my entire being was engaged throughout. Control is not a passive experience, even in its excruciating quiet moments. Sam Riley is fucking fantastic. He'll get nominated for a BAFTA and should do for an AMPAS Oscar as well, but American Gangster will probably suck up two of the nominations for the pedestrian work of Denzel and R. Crowe. That's the last I'll sully this post with negativity regarding Hollywood.
So yeah, Riley was top notch. I'll see anything that this guy is in until further notice. Not a moment that his performance didn't entrance and delight me. How many times have you read such lofty goo-goo here at FF? To top it off, he sang all the Ian Curtis songs for the film. I really liked what Joaquin did with Johnny Cash and his songs in Walk the Line, but I wouldn't buy the recordings. Here's another one of those unique reactions to a film, I want the soundtrack if it includes the cast performances. I own the soundtrack to very few films: Collections of Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota (can't go wrong with the compositions from Leone, Fellini and The Godfather), Buffalo 66(Vinny made more off of the soundtrack than the movie, and rightfully so. Prog-rock and Sinatra, anyone?), Grease (I could say for my kids, but that wouldn't be entirely true), Traffic (Really disliked the film overall, but the music was genius), Jesus's Son (Samantha Morton is in that, too) and the Vietnamese film Three Seasons (I can listen to it over and over, check it out). There are few that I'd like to add. Maybe some Lalo Shifrin. Most stuff like John Williams or Henry Mancini I don't want to hear out of context. That's another thing about the film, it makes me digress. It fills me with interest in all the things that intrigue me.
Samantha Morton is solid as always. Her role is pretty narrow in its focus, but she makes you feel the ordinary pain of losing someone on a daily basis. She isn't some cipher that gets left in fame's wake. Her on-screen rival for Ian's love is played by Alexandra Maria Lara. Corbijn and the actors navigate the love triangle beautifully. Like Ian Curtis, you never know who has your heart. Lara played Hitler's secretary in Downfall, another gripping film.
I want to see the Joe Strummer biopic playing at Cinema 21, but I chose Control last night because it seemed more worthy of the big screen. Velvety blacks, creamy whites -- oh the joys of black and white. It made me want to shoot a film in black and white. Which brings me to another unique movie-going experience regarding Control - I wish I had made the film. I admire the experience of making it as well as its making.

Signore Direttore

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Informing Ourselves To Death

I don't plan on joining the Luddites any time soon, but I am doing some research on the ill effects of electronic media. I read a respected essay by the late Neil Postman. You all know how much I like quotes, aphorisms and bits from history. There's some gooduns in the essay. Here's a nice slice of historical irony for you:

The Benedictine monks who invented the mechanical clock in the 12th and 13th centuries believed that such a clock would provide a precise regularity to the seven periods of devotion they were required to observe during the course of the day. As a matter of fact, it did. But what the monks did not realize is that the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours but also of synchronizing and controlling the actions of men. And so, by the middle of the 14th century, the clock had moved outside the walls of the monastery, and brought a new and precise regularity to the life of the workman and the merchant. The mechanical clock made possible the idea of regular production, regular working hours, and a standardized product. Without the clock, capitalism would have been quite impossible. And so, here is a great paradox: the clock was invented by men who wanted to devote themselves more rigorously to God; and it ended as the technology of greatest use to men who wished to devote themselves to the accumulation of money. Technology always has unforeseen consequences, and it is not always clear, at the beginning, who or what will win, and who or what will lose.

Signore Direttore

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Master Says 244

In order to be a great writer person must have a built-in, shock-proof crap detector.

Ernest Hemingway

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Master Says 243

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.

Claude Monet

Sunday, November 04, 2007

American Letdown

Saw American Gangster last night. Pretty lame. Not bad or horrible or unwatchable, but disappointing all the same. Like if you go on a date with your friend's kind of cute cousin that's in town and she throws up in your car; that's a bum deal. If, on the other hand, she is really funny and turns out to be a good kisser; that's a very good date. But if you somehow manage to land a date with a Victoria's Secret model and she neither vomits in your car nor is very funny but lets you kiss her but doesn't kiss you back, then the date was a letdown. I would rather go out with my friend's cousin anytime.
My long-winded metaphor is actually pretty apt, for American Gangster is very long on exposition. My favorite bit is talking about how pretty the wife is. And they kind of need to tell us she's very beautiful four or five times because the actress is nothing special to look at.
Based on a true story is not always a good thing for a film. I would have rather watched a 25th anniversary release of Scarface on the big screen last night. Staying however true to the facts they did in AG crippled the film for me. Nicholas Pileggi wrote it, and he's done well with stories adapted from real life before, namely Goodfellas. Of course that was Scorcese and this was Ridley Scott. I'm not a fan of Ridley Scott directing anything of substance. He's a surface man, great with trifles like Black Hawk Down and Blade Runner. Don't get your knickers in a twist about my calling Blade Runner a trifle. Admit it, it's a tour de force of a visual confection, but it is not a powerful story by any means.
Denzel Washington was Denzel. He's an amazing presence on the screen, but I never forget who I'm looking at. And Russell Crowe, even though he's a multi-millionaire and a reputedly arrogant prick, I still want to give him a hug and say keep trying little fella. Ruby Dee has a moment of power, but mostly serves as window dressing like the rest of the huge cast.
We saw it at Lloyd Cinemas at 10:30pm. There were a number of gangsters and wannabes in the audience. Some Portland Police were stationed in the lobby of the theater. This being liberal and progressive Portland, of course. Wouldn't want the darkies to get riled and bring a ruckus. Anyway the cheering for the particularly brutal beatings and killings was chilling.
It's because of that type of reaction coupled with the lack of artistic merit that makes me feel that not only do I wish I hadn't seen this film, I would prefer that it was never produced.
By the way, I like going to films with an urban crowd. Purple Rain was an interactive experience that puts dorky Rocky Horror midnight romps to shame. My favorite was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger in downtown Brooklyn. In the end when she was walking slowly up those steep steps and the film was all quiet and solemn, someone in the audience shouted, "Why don't you just fly your ass up there, bitch?"

Signore Direttore

Light and Shadow 012 - Corot

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Media Heresy

We attended a meeting at my son's new school this morning. Being a Waldorf school, the school discourages computers, television and video games in the home. This attracts families that readily reject electronic media. While I see the wisdom and the attraction of such a paradigm, it strikes me as a form of willful ignorance. Certainly there is a lot of emptiness in much media. There is a lot of violence and commercial manipulation as well. There are also many instances where discriminatory perspectives are perpetuated, especially when it comes to the objectification of women. All the more reason to practice discernment rather than avoidance. How does avoiding something as invasive and omnipresent as media further understanding of the world we live in? Isn't it a bit naive to think that one can be media free in an urban environment?
Last year we went to a forum of parents of young children on media. Most of the parents in attendance were of the no tv household type. I didn't really know why they were there. To toot their own horns? It seems to me that refusing any form of electronic form of media in your home is a form of moral laziness and hypocrisy akin to pious church attendance. If going to church gives one the strength to weather life's moral dilemmas on a daily basis that's wonderful. But my experience is that many church goers thinks it buys them some clemency. It's a band-aid of sorts. Like they don't have to worry about things because they go to church. We don't do media so why is little Billy pretending that stick is a g-u-n?
He must have learned it at school.
Or maybe there's a thing going on called the collective unconscious.
I heard a wonderful story today about a little girl that was never allowed to watch Star Wars but all of chums at school told her all about it. So she played Star Wars for a few years without ever seeing it. Finally she was allowed to see the film and she was totally disappointed because she didn't feel like they got it right. Her imagination took the archetypes and made them her own. Which says a lot about the little girl as well as George Lucas.
What do I know about it all anyway? I make films that deal with incest, alcoholism, madness, inappropriate relationships, moral bankruptcy and other decadence. I spent the last week writing a mixed martial arts treatment for a notorious Republican lobbyist that is running a nascent film production company from prison. If the Rudolf Steiner folk only knew that such a wolf was in their midst.

From a glass house,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 242

What the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you.

Jean Cocteau

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Master Says 241

If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing.

Kingsley Amis

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Two Things I Already Knew

An appointment was canceled at the last minute today so I went to the movies. I did a sneaky double feature -- two first-run movies for the price of one. I wanted to see Michael Clayton again. And I was right in doing so as it was as good the second time around. I said as much the other day in my post Not So Pretty As You Please. A couple of scenes seemed slowed by my foreknowledge, but overall I was maybe even more interested in the film. The scene between Clooney and Wilkinson on the street in Tribeca is amazing. Were I still teaching acting I would assign that scene. Hell, I might even shoot it as an exercise. It was interesting to watch and see where Gilroy played his hand, especially since there's an elliptical flash-forward scene. Like did he slip stuff in knowing we might not notice it the first time around. Not so much. He steered well clear of clever. And Tilda Swinton, once you know what she's doing, is even better. Anyway it's a solid film, one worth seeing and then seeing again. So that's one of the things I already knew.
I saved the second viewing of Michael Clayton for dessert. I suffered through the liver and onions of my entree first aka The Darjeeling Limited. I've surmised in this blog that I think I might hate theater. I might just have to admit that to myself and save my whining and my money. As a side note, my friend David Millstone issued a call for help on finding monologues for some upcoming auditions. He asks what roles we might like to pay $75 to see him play. Taking nothing from David, but I wanted to leave a comment stating that I don't want to pay $75 to see him in any play, though I would gladly pay $20 for a movie ticket, a soda and some popcorn to see him in a film. I didn't leave that comment as such a thing might be misinterpreted in a blog which a lot of theater people read.
Getting back to my horrid entree, it might take Wes Anderson casting Millstone for me to sit through another of his films. It's torture. It's all surface. I like his high-key art direction -- it's super cool. Entirely too cool. It's a movie about luggage meant to be a metaphor for emotional baggage that remains a movie about luggage. None of it rings true; the unifying element is self-consciousness. All it does is draw attention to itself while underscoring the monochromatic, shallow and very mannered storytelling. The opening short film with Natalie Portman and Jason Schwarzman was awful. I read somewhere recently that she regrets a scene she'd done in the past year because it was in poor taste. I couldn't help but wonder if this was it. I've had many interactions with Waris, the dude that plays the head steward. He's cold, smug and obsessed with the surface of things. I never liked him much and it didn't seem at all surprising that Anderson cast him. I'll bet they love each other. I'm willing to temper my piss taking by saying that I'm sorry Owen Wilson is so troubled that he tried to off himself. Unfortunately, I don't think I want to watch a film with him in it again. Honestly. I can see why Anderson loves Wilson. He hammers away at his assigned single note in earnest from titles to end credits. Ultimately, and like all of Anderson's films, it's an affected film about disaffected people, and no cast in the world could save it. It was all I could do not to sigh and moan and groan. Especially at all the musical slow-motion interludes. At one point I flipped the bird at the screen. I kept it low, but I had to do it. So that's it, I'm not seeing another Wes Anderson film or a film starring Owen Wilson.*** And the trouble is I already knew all of this going in.

Not as grumpy as I sound,
Signore Direttore

***Unless David Millstone or another of my friends is in it.