Friday, February 29, 2008

Fighting Deep Resistance

When it comes to certain things, like editing, I can easily become inert. I resist sitting down to do it, putting it off to the extent that I currently have two features, six shorts and two woodshedding shorts to finish. Due to recent efforts at overcoming my aversion to finishing films, I am happy to report that of the aforementioned unfinished projects, all but my most recent feature are nearing completion.
I am not lazy, of that I am certain. I do, however, find myself subject to immobility when it comes to facing tasks of realization. I used to have the same issue as an actor when it came to auditions. In January, when I resolved to start editing regularly again, I was close to hyperventilating the first day. I worked through it by being gentle with myself, but sticking with it. I have been able to sit down to edit more and more often. It's been helpful that the projects I've been cutting are somewhat inconsequential - acting class and woodshedding. I want to be careful not to diminish my efforts, on the contrary I'm glad I've created lo/no pressure work for myself to revisit editing.
The longer I let projects sit, the bigger they loom, even those I deem to have little consequence. For instance I completed a rough cut of Happy New Year, our first woodshed project, quite a while ago. I just needed to go back and clean it up in order to call it finished. Granted I have been busy, but I could feel the difference between being busy and resistant to going back and finishing.
I tackled it first thing this morning. I went into the office and sat right down without distraction. I felt sleepy. Hungry tired, like having low blood sugar. I pushed on. After awhile I stopped and got something to eat. When I came back I was still lethargic. I wanted to stop. The sofa was calling my name for a quick lie down. I pushed on until I finished the final cut. It required a lot more work than I thought it would. I decided to push it to the best cut I could make which was much finer than seemed possible seven weeks ago. (Another benefit of doing more editing, I'm getting sharper at both doing it and seeing the possibilities.)
Was I really sleepy? Maybe I did let my blood sugar drop too far, far enough so that eating took a while to register. The thing that makes me think it had a lot more to do with resistance than purely physical symptoms is that when I got on my bike and started my ride home after finishing my day's work, I felt totally fine within a couple of blocks. I came home and went for a walk with the kids to the dry cleaners. After that I ironed four shirts and made a cup of herbal tea before sitting down to do a little blogging.
Of course, I don't know the answer unequivocally. And I may never know, but I definitely plan on continuing editing. As well as paying attention to my resistance to the realization of my projects and ultimately myself.

Willing and Able,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Folk Wisdom 037

Being aware is more important than being smart.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Master Says 295

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C.S. Lewis

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Master Says 294

We shall never cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Week in Review - oo8/8

Movies

Broken English - Zoe Cassavetes was once a friend of mine. I had heard this film wasn't so good, but I wanted to see it anyway. It wasn't bad. Ultimately kind of flat. It's supposed to be a comedy, but it didn't make me laugh. Mainly I saw it as a desperate auto-biographical self-justification. A sort of tongue in cheek woe is me; isn't my glamorous life tragic? Like if Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw was the daughter of Walter Cronkite.
Parker Posey was very good, as she almost always is. The rest of the acting was pretty flat. A friend of mine does a cameo that doesn't come off at all. Which from what I know firsthand of that crowd is they were sitting around feeling brilliant and cozy, thinking everybody else will think that thy are as great as they think they are. "Oh, R is so funny, I don't even have to direct him." At least that what it felt like.
I don't mean to say that Zoe hasn't had to work for anything. She certainly has worked hard as a filmmaker and in her other careers as hotelier and designer.

A Short Film About Killing - The first few minutes of this Kieslowski film are pictures of the ordinary beautifully framed. You can tell right away it's a Kieslowski film. It's like Fassbinder but the frames are deeper and don't have his melodramatic veil.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly - It makes perfect sense to me why Julian Schnabel and Janusz Kaminski are winning many awards for direction and cinematography respectively leading up to the Oscars. I love how this film looks, but I always love Kaminski's photography. I also love how Schnabel directed this beautiful but difficult to adapt story. He allowed it to be a moving story without submitting to sentiment or allowing it to become some sort of trite against all odds film. It's not perfect, but it's very very good.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 - I put off seeing this film for a long time. I didn't like the volume one at all and I liked two even less. David Carradine talks and talks and says nada. Uma Thurman used to be sexy, but now she's weird looking and alternatively pants and glowers her way through the film, when she isn't flying around doing kung fu that is. Ho hum.

Theater

A Feminine Ending at PCS
Not bad. I only felt like I was being held hostage for about twenty minutes of the ninety plus, intermission-less performance. I liked its ideas about language and feminism. I didn't like the banal plot used to convey those ideas. Ultimately I dislike realistic theater sets - wheeling in the living room set, sliding the piano in and out from behind its hidden panel - and conventions - quick exits and entrances to articulate action. We've been watching films for almost a century. Unless it's a farce, hold your place on the boards and let fly, please. We don't need to stop going to see live theater, but we are a little more sophisticated than such hackneyed attempts at representing reality. Is it going to be about ideas and language or the goddamn easy chairs moving off the stage and back every five minutes?

Books

The Eye is Quicker by Richard Pepperman - a book on editing. I'm rereading it. It's pretty good, addressing the basic problems of applying logic to making 2D images represent reality effectively.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Master Says 293

What we lack are not scientists but poets and people to reveal to the heart what the heart is ready to receive.

Joseph Campbell

Kopp Gets Spirit Award

Neil Kopp on a location scout for But A Dream

I get these news flash emails from Variety. Most of the time, I ignore them and even think maybe I should opt out of receiving them. But once in awhile it's something of interest, like today's.
Neil Kopp, a friend and a Portland producer, won the Producer award this afternoon. He's a special guy, someone that always gives me the feeling that he'll be working at a level far beyond any of us very soon. But he's so humble and down to earth that when sitting face to face with him, you forget the company he increasingly keeps and the big career moves he's making. When he's sitting in a cafe with you in Portland this week, you'd never know he was in Cannes last week.
While producing my short But A Dream and considering helping produce Made Crooked, Neil was quietly preparing to produce Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park. I had no idea, that's how close to the vest he plays it. He was about to work with a big shot yet he took meetings with a no-budget guy. Most people wouldn't have looked back once they were working with the likes of Gus.
Willamette Week did a nice little story on Neil last week.
I hope to work with Neil again someday, though I realize he's moving on to deeper waters than I hope to navigate any time soon. With just about anybody else that might sting a bit. With Neil, it's easy to forget about myself, maybe because he's as selfless as they come in this business.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Division of Labor

I spent some time yesterday with a man that's written a short film that he would like me to direct. He answered an ad on Craig's List that I posted looking for scripts. He sent me the script a month ago and I liked it. I liked it a lot more after meeting with its writer and then rereading it.
I've been thinking about it a lot since yesterday, getting ideas and starting to see it. I really enjoy this form of discovery. It's quite different than being the author of the story. It gives me a sense of freedom. As if I can be more committed to the story since I'm not pushing my own agenda as a writer. I play a tricky game with my own scripts so as not to seem too attached to them for fear of coming across as immodest. I hold myself back from swooning too much about the story. Which I admit is false modesty at best. Then there's the unconscious attachments that happen. With Jim's script, I'm like the Iron Chef, "This has got to go, why can't this be that, let's collapse these two locations, etc." He's pretty thick skinned about it all. When he told me he had written this particular script after seeing partners I was encouraged. It meant that, for one, he wasn't attached to ideas he had been laboring over for years. It also meant that he was meeting me where he was inspired by my work.
The latter is invaluable. For years I've encouraged actors and other collaborators to tell me what kind of stories they want to tell. October inspired partners by telling me she wanted to work with guns and be a bad ass, that she wanted to do something fun. Ask and you shall receive. Jordan has been a reluctant cinematographer since I've known him. He wants to write and direct. I've offered to direct or produce for him many times. So far, so nada. I think he's talented and he's been so committed to our collaborations from behind the camera that I'm willing to be patient with him. Not so with others. I always try to inspire my actor-students to know what roles they want to play. Those that are more inclined to the stage have been more forthcoming, but still more passive than I would like to see. Film actor-students seem to have a very tractable approach - "Whatever someone might want me for." Probably not much with that lack of verve.
So thanks Jim and October for bringing something to the table. I know I have a lot of energy and a strong personality. It's intimidating for some, but I realize that it's also a filter that protects the integrity of the work I'm trying to do. The more I commit to the integrity of the process rather than feeding my ego, the better. I was talking about being humble in our approach to making films yesterday. How by embracing being amateurs we have mucho freedom. Independent filmmakers need to stop trying to model our "productions" on professional sets. We don't have the resources. We don't need someone who's trying to be a gaffer lighting our stuff. He's wanting to work with more expansive equipment and setups in order to gain experience toward working on professional stuff. But it's apples and oranges. We don't have an experienced crew on hand, there's no grip and electric truck, there's no four hours or more to light one set up. And there's no room for apologies or resentments because we're not working on that scale. We just need to see the action and make an attempt at expressing the mood in shorthand. Yes, photography is about light, but the Hollywood style is just one approach to lighting films. I don't want to hear what we can't do, that's a drain on our energies in more ways than one. Artists accept limitations and challenges, many arguing that art can't happen without limitation. Technicians need more gear, which is subject to the laws of diminishing returns. "Technology is a distraction", admitted a wise gaffer (and one of the owners of Gearhead). While enthusiasts and artists only need enthusiasm and inspiration, both of which are subject to regenerative abundance.
When we're candid about what scale we're working on, we avoid letting ego cloud our productions. And when we get our egos out of the way, we have an opportunity to get to the magic that can happen when people get together to tell stories.

Pasta and Bagels,
Signore Direttore

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Master Says 292

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

Cyril Connely

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Process

Last night we had a very positive class. It was a critique night. Which can really be difficult for all involved. Ours wasn't. Why not? To start the night off, we did some close ups with off-camera partners asking how last week went. One actor-student commented on how supported she felt in a relatively ego-less environment for which she credited me as well as her peers. I'm very pleased to hear feedback like that. Not to fuel my ego, but to reinforce the work I'm doing. And it is work. It's taken a lot of work to get to a place where receiving something positive is affirming more than stroking. It was work to come around to my response to the work everyone had done the week before. Initially I wasn't happy with it. I resisted the urge to point fingers or condemn anyone until I stopped and thought of what we were working with. A four page script to be covered from at least three angles in less than an hour per pairing. A very difficult four pages I must add. That acknowledged, how high should my expectations be? Not so high. Before I could accept that, I had to check myself from beating up on myself. "You idiot, why would you think you could assign such a scene?" Shut up, ego. I looked at the work again. It's inconsistent. That's wonderful because it shows strengths and weaknesses. I decided I was glad to have assigned the scene not only because I really like it, but because I got a chance to see everyone work on a challenging scene in order to identify where they need work and what they have to build on. Sigh. So it is possible to fall down and not be doomed to humiliation and shame after all.
Before we looked at the scenes cut together, we talked about how to see good acting in a more objective manner. How to look for dramatic tension. Keeping it simple -- is it about coming together or going apart and did one of those things happen. We talked about identifying arbitrary behavior. We talked about these things in terms of preparation. We talked about coming from oneself rather than being oneself and the traps of "being natural". Then we watched it. And with the attitude of letting the work inform our work rather than stroke our egos, we experienced the critique more objectively and positively as a whole. Then each pairing picked a beat to work on in close-up for the last hour of class. I was able to help each person go much deeper and be more available to their impulses. Those with more experience required less coaching, yet still benefited from the support of having someone to catch them should they fall. Which is really the bulk of a director's job when it comes to directing actors. I really enjoy that process of going through it with actors.
I get impulses, too. Last night, E was wearing glasses and a watch. I wanted to see him more naked and exposed. I asked him to take them off. He did and put them to the side, off-camera. I told him to put them in front of him and to look at the watch. Still off-camera to start with at least, but with a more focused eye line. I don't know where I got the idea, but it worked. He held onto the watch the entire beat and it really gave him something. That's the beauty of going with impulses - they don't have to be logical, just honor them and see where they take you.
Jordan was talking about all the After Effects tips he's been finding on the web. How amazed he is that all these motion graphics pros share their techniques so openly instead of trying to capitalize on their skills. I said that in a small way that's what I'm trying to do with Finding Fellini. That's there's a part of me that wants to hoard the information that I work so hard to accumulate. But that ultimately I benefit the most from having a place to articulate the ideas and information that I acquire. Sure I have to be careful about disrespecting people, especially actors that I teach or direct. But I need to be respectful to those that put their trust in me whether I'm speaking about them publicly or privately.

¡Viva la transparencia!
Signore Direttore

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Clean Well Lighted* Place

I went to my office today at 8:30 am and left it tonight at 10:30. I went out for lunch and dinner, but otherwise I was happily working. We moved the gear and some shelves in at the beginning of the month, but it wasn't until yesterday that desks, the edit suite and the rest of it all made the move.
I love it. It's the first time in many years that I've had everything in one place. All in one location with easy access to everything. No this upstairs or that in the closet behind the things you have to move to get to what you need.
I edited, I organized, I taught class, I reviewed materials. I was hands and eyes on. Which is how I want to be. I don't want to be jumbled and disconnected from my tools and source materials. I want the tools at the ready to accommodate inspiration not drain all my energy with its clutter and confusion.
It's quiet and warm. It's friendly. It's close by. It's cheap. It's bright, but not yet well lighted. Overhead flourescent fixtures with buzzing ballasts, though not for long. I'll get some more lamps in there soon.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Master Says 292

One thing to learn from me is that everything I've ever done has been me, not something that someone calculated me to be. Originality is what lasts.

Michael Jordan

Verbs, to wit: Love and Balance

Of course they can both serve as nouns, but they are often more likely verbs that we treat as if they were passive and stoic objects rather than kinetic actions. I want to do a certain amount of work and then relax when it comes to just about everything. I want to think my way through things. You can't think your way into balancing. You can't think your way into loving. Both require action.
Often my actions are limited to thinking about what I want from relationships. Whether with actors, crew members, my wife, my family, my children's teachers, my friends. I'm alert to what I want from others but sluggish when it comes to what my own role requires. I can always find accurate criticisms of others. I'm so good at that, though I'm not sure how much of an accomplishment that really is. I confer a certain amount of status on myself for being so "perceptive". I confer another heap of glory on myself for masking my own defects so well. Ahem. They're really tied together. I am terrified to have my weaknesses exposed. As if they're successfully obscured. It's a common concern. But when it gets in the way of active and lasting relationships, where we will certainly find the weaknesses and the unattractive sides of even the finest people, there's some work to be done. Identifying shortcomings in those we are close to means little when our hope is for a good and successful partnerships.
It really comes down to loving. Loving ourselves. Loving others. I'm quick to judge. I don't care if you feel my judgment a lot of the time. Having an effect on you makes me feel powerful. I'm relying much less on this shield than in the past, but vigilant action continues to be necessary.
Practicing love is frightening. Cynicism seems a safer harbor. Letting go of fear and false perceptions is never easy. Don't think. Act.

Con Amore,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Week in Review - oo8/7

between traveling and family and teaching and editing and moving office and producing and planning nicola's birthday, there was little time or energy for media this past week. i can't easily remember the last time i went to see a movie in a theater - (the savages, thurs jan 31)

Movies

The Puffy Chair - I was groaning a lot during the first half of it. I really don't like the lead actor (the other Duplass brother). The second half was better and merited sticking with it. It's a lot like Made Crooked. I think Made Crooked is better and I hope someday soon other people think so, too.

Helvetica - It's good. The b-roll is amazing. Since I was born around the same time as the font, it was like a semiotic history of my life.

Books

nada who art in nada, nada be thy name ...

Folk Wisdom 036

Don't confuse legibility with communication.

David Carson

Folk Wisdom 035

Trying to look good limits my life.

Stephan Sagmeister

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Master Says 292

Nothing is known. Everything is imagined.

Federico Fellini

Thursday, February 14, 2008

JKM Works It

video

The thing I love most about Jordan is his solemn regard for filmmaking and his sincere dedication to being an artist.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Week in Review - oo8/6

Movies

Inland Empire - I had heard so much about this most experimental of David Lynch's films since Eraserhead. It really is like a dream which many say is cinema's highest function as an art form. It's bizarre and beautiful and inspiring and boring and mannered and frustrating. It's challenging to let go of wanting to know especially in the absence of all the familiar tropes that make us feel safe when watching films. I admire the freedom of expression. I have to admit it took me three sessions to get through the 172 minute film.

The Conformist - This film was responsible for me seeing the possibilities of cinema about ten years ago. It still inspires me. It's beautiful.

K Street - Soderbergh again. This is an HBO series he did a couple of years ago starring James Carville and Mary Matalin. Too bad he didn't get to do another season or two. It's the West Wing for people that don't need a steadycam and sensationalized drama to be stimulating.

The Magic of Fellini - Nice collection of interviews with the master and some of his cohort.

Veronika Voss - A good but not great Fassbinder. One of the BRD trilogy, it enjoyed a bigger budget and it shows.

Books

I barely had time to read the newspaper this past week. When I had any down time at all, my brain wasn't functioning.

Monday, February 11, 2008

NYC Wrap

Sitting in JFK waiting for our flight home. It's been a great trip. We finished with exteriors on a very cold and windy afternoon yesterday. It started snowing within fifteen minutes of wrap. I liked the things we found. The actor had a very strong reaction to revisiting the story that ended up changing the tenor of the ending for the better. Helping him through his difficulty, especially the loss of time that it required, was frightening. Rescheduling things stressed me out, but now that it's over I'm glad things worked out exactly as they did.
We're close to finishing Made Crooked. I'm very excited to present it to the world. We've been talking about how different the movie is from almost anything we've ever seen. And how it almost doesn't matter whether people like it or not, because it will be such a different movie viewing experience.
With this film, it seems that every time I start to feel good about it, something comes up. I don't know whether to shut up or just accept the peaks and valleys. I kind of doubt that I'll shut up.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

The Master Says 291

Everybody will try to scare you with technique. Listen to them, but don't let them intimidate you. Remember only one thing, you want to tell the story like you were telling it to a friend. Almost like telling a joke. If you're a good storyteller, then you'll be able to do it. But if you don't have any talent, all the technique in the world won't help you.

Federico Fellini

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New York City

All is well here in Gotham. We've been shooting the past two days. So far, it's been interiors. We got two separate locations from our hotel room by moving the furniture around. Getting some good stuff. It feels really good to have some of the missing pieces in the can, or on the hard drive as it were. Tomorrow we finish shooting. It's supposed to snow and we'll be outside. So that could be interesting. Nice contrast to the sunny days on Mt Hood for the primary action of the film.
I had lunch with a producer friend on Thursday. It was great to talk about film with him. He was very interested in what I've been doing. I gave him a DVD with some of the work that's in progress. Putting that together and handing it over makes me feel like I suck as a director. But I gave it to him anyway. It's not my job to figure out if I'm good or not. I gave him a script, too. He's a good guy that's always involved in something interesting. I hope to work with him again. Either way, it was a pleasure.
I've had a chance to connect with a couple of other friends as well. Which has been very comforting and enjoyable. I have some good friends here. Only a few of which I'm going to see. It's very affirming to reconnect to the city. There's part of me that wants to stay longer. And another that wishes we would have never moved. At the same time, what makes being here so enjoyable and so comfortable is that I don't really want anything from NYC anymore. I don't need to be affirmed by living here as I did for much of my life. The years I spent here run deep. I still like it -- it feels like home to me in many ways -- but it no longer is. It's as simple as that.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Master Says 290

The temptation in the beginning (it took six years to get Michael Clayton greenlit) would have been to show off, but by the time I was making this film, the urge was to do anything but show off. I had pretty much landed on the temperature of the film and had no sentimentality about it. The mantra by that point was: Beautiful but not pretty at all. Electric but very still. Those contradictions were the sort of DNA that I wanted to follow.

Tony Gilroy

Back In Action

Last night was the first class I've taught in over a year. I came home energized, satisfied and ready for bed. It felt really good to be back in the studio. Especially with a new space and a new perspective. Everybody did very nice work. When coaching was in order it was given gently and proved to be easily effective across the board. I like this group and I like the tone of the studio. I truly look forward to seeing what they're going to do with their scenes next week.
We're off to New York City tonight. Hopefully I'll get a chance to check in on the blog while we're away.

A River Dertch,
Signore Direttore

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Intellectual Jones

Oh man. It's so damn hard for me to get out of my head. I had this meeting yesterday with some Waldorf educators regarding supporting my son's growth during a time that he's struggling. I was frank about some of the things I've been saying to him to motivate him. They have been working and have been an improvement over my former tactics of overpowering him. (Just the thought of my huge physical and vocal self going toe to toe with his little physical and vocal person gives me shameful shivers. I'll accept the progress I've made, that's for sure, even if it doesn't meet Steiner ideals.) My son is intelligent, relying much on his mind to make sense of the world. With much of what he expresses, it's very easy to forget that he's just turned eight.
I was the same type of kid. People treated me with adult expectations and communicated to me in a manic mix of reason enforced by hysteria. I recall a lifelong yearning to be understood on a very basic level. Yet it seemed that I was either ignored or shut down, both of which amount to abandonment. Even though I'm not abandoning my son, I feel like I'm repeating the sins of my parents. With the further exception that I continually seek ways in which I can improve supporting him rather than putting it on him as my parents did to me. "What's wrong with you?" is something I heard very regularly throughout.
The teachers at his school suggested we use more pedagogical stories to guide Henry. Parables and fairy tales -- metaphors to stop feeding his intellectual need for control and power. I understand the wisdom in this approach. I also understand that it's not a switch I can flip and start spinning yarns about whatever challenge presents itself. Funny thing is that it's very similar to my approach to teaching acting, using metaphor as a way into the work to remove the shackles of our intellects trying to figure everything out. I recall spending half of a three hour class session discussing metaphor with nearly everyone unable to come up with simple analogies for their scenes or even just something to do as a simple unrelated improvisation. It really does speak to the negative effects of mass media on simple storytelling. We're crippled by the jingles and catch phrases of advertising and the structure of television shows and mainstream movies. It's all situational stuff related to personality. There's nothing but impressions based on superficial preoccupations. Even heavy stuff like murder or rape is rendered insincerely, mostly by its ubiquity as a plot device in the case of the former.
Before I digress into an indictment of television, I just want to say that for all my railing against such media and its mind-numbing effects, I too am a victim of those effects. I want to be less cerebral, yet letting go of the protection and comfort it offers me is daunting. As it is for my son and my students. Funny thing to accept - that by letting go of our intellects, we will become more intelligent.

Jonesing for reason,
Signore Direttore

Monday, February 04, 2008

You Can't Be Bad.

The Master Says 289

The volume of mystery in somebody makes me very curious.

Bernardo Bertolucci

The Master Says 288

Whatever I do, I don't do it to illustrate what I know, I do it to find out what I don't know.

Julian Schnabel

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Master Says 287

If you can't surprise yourself, how do you expect to surprise anyone else?

Christopher Walken

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Master Says 286

The direction of art has always been dictated by artists not critics. In music it happens the same way. However much the critics write, the other musicians decide who they're going to be influenced by. The history and the story of the music will come through the artists all the time.

David Bowie

woodshed #3 2oo8

video

For uninterrupted viewing, hit play and stop it after a second or two. Let it load all the way before hitting play.

Week in Review - oo8/5

Movies

Criss Cross - The Burt Lancaster original directed by Robert Siodmak which Soderbergh remade as The Underneath. I liked Soderbergh's version better. Siodmak's version was kind of noir lite. To tell you the truth not much has stuck with me. Interesting little trivia bit that I noticed - Tony Curtis was unbilled in Criss Cross as a guy seen dancing with the female lead. Ten years later he played opposite of Lancaster in one of the last film noirs made in Hollywood, the great Sweet Smell of Success.

This Is England - The performances and the art direction in this film are amazing. Especially the main kid. The script is a bit of a mess, it lacks a spine sending the story this way and that like some sort of fictional documentary of the director's miscreant youth. I also found the music really overbearing. The oi, soul and ska music of the period used as a source music was great. But the score was too manipulative, used to drive narrative moments to the extent that I wondered what was going on. It was obvious that a decisive moment was happening but the camera work and music made such a fuss, extending the moment to the extent that I thought something else was going on. Like hey did I miss something, no we're just staying with this moment for a while. Very strange choice.

Mon Oncle - One of those films that you see on best ever lists and you see the simple cover design on the DVD and you know it's in French and you just think, man I got to get around to watching that because I should. Like it's going to be a chore. So I popped it into the DVD player yesterday because it's due back at the library today and next thing you know I'm totally charmed. My kids who usually have no patience for subtitles, in part because two of them can't read, were totally into it. Partly because like all great cinema you could take the dialogue away and still have a great film. I was even taking notes about making a contemporary version set in Portland. I greatly admire Jacques Tati's light touch and the love he shares for those he parodies. It opened my eyes to how powerful it is when a director loves everybody in his films even if they're hateful.

The Savages - Watching this movie was like watching Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors play pingpong. Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman were so much bigger than the story. They just didn't have enough to do to fill out the overlong film. Don't get me wrong, their performances were excellent as were the supporting cast's. And I appreciate great actors taking on roles in small films. As I appreciate small films with slight stories. But this one left me bored and mostly cold. The tacked on epilogue didn't substitute for the lack of a journey. I was bored by about two thirds of the way. If I would have walked out at that point I wouldn't have missed a thing. In fact, if I would have waited to see this on DVD, I wouldn't have missed much seeing this very visually bland film on a small screen.

Port of Shadows - Now here's a small simple story that works. I adore Jean Gabin. He's one of my favorite actors of all time. His co-star is the stunning Michele Morgan. Oh la la. When it was over I wanted to watch it again immediately. I didn't but the desire is telling. The film is rough, steamy, passionate and dark. It's like the music of Edith Piaf - poetic realism. The very French idea that nothing in life is more important than passion expressed during the time that decadence and purity were polemics that divided the world. It's an amazing film.

Annie - Yeah, sure, why not. Not your typical John Huston movie. I have kids.

Books

Underneath It All - Traci Lords's auto-biography. I burned through the three hundred page book in less than two hours, so it wasn't a big investment. It's not a bad read. She's lead an interesting, and in many ways inspiring, life. I particularly enjoyed the chapters devoted to her work on Cry-Baby - a turning point for her. Her story is a good example of the forces that make us objectify one another while reminding us of the deeper things that bind us together.

The Last Picture Show - Larry McMurtry I don't know if he learned something from seeing Horseman, Pass By made into a film, but this novel is much more like the film bearing it name than his earlier novel was like Hud. I feel such a close, living relationship to the film that reading the book seems like reading the diaries of the characters more than anything else. I certainly can't think about the book on its own. There is no separation for me. Which is what it is. It doesn't even feel like I'm reading fiction.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Jumping The Line




A scene in Port of Shadows. Jean Gabin sits next to Michele Morgan's right hip, tells her she's beautiful and then lays his head on her left shoulder in the following shot. Crossing her body and crossing the line works on many levels and is a very successful instance of breaking the rules. I noticed it in passing, more into the story than thinking about screen grammar. I had to play it back to see the "error". I think Marcel Carne knew exactly what he was doing.