Monday, March 31, 2008

The Master Says 303

Everybody has to know for themselves what they're capable of.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Un Poem 005

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Lord Alfred Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

- Tennyson

I learned this poem in high school in World Lit. and have remembered it ever since. Rather than recite it for its modern interpretation about the folly of war, I've often taken the lines "not to reason why, ... but to do and die:" as a rallying cry for quitting the debate team in my mind and getting on with it. I've always lived in my head. While I'm grateful for my intellect, I can become distracted and even paralyzed by thought and reason. Sometimes I just need to show up and put one foot in front of the other.
Due to my schedule becoming intensely busy with moving and remodeling, active filmmaking, especially in terms of woodshedding, is taking a back seat to everything else. Last week I made time to try to get But A Dream to picture lock and to work on getting some of the new shots/scenes into Made Crooked. So it would be misleading to claim filmmaking is not a priority. The time I was spending writing, planning, shooting and editing woodshed projects had been recommitted elsewhere. That is certain. As I change direction, my mind begins to rationalize.
It isn't easy for me to change direction, however temporary it may be, without trying to etch things into stone. I get so involved that I take it to be the thing I'm going to do forever. For instance, most of the work I need to do on my building is pretty simple and straightforward. A lot of painting and prepping. No special tools or training required. Just lots of showing up. And showing up means only 6 - 8 hours per day. It doesn't have to take over my life - neither emotionally nor intellectually.
It absolutely doesn't require that I rethink my commitment to filmmaking. It just means that I'm going to be doing some other stuff for a couple of months. Friday I was pretty exhausted from a physically and mentally demanding week. There was still a lot on my week's agenda, but I didn't have it in me. I was in physical pain from a pulled hamstring and I couldn't shake a mental fog. I got called into work at DTC to answer phones. Don has been extremely helpful to me and I try to help him when he asks, especially since he only asks me when he's in a jam. It turned out to be a good thing. I did a little work for him, which was far less demanding than what I had planned for myself. I wasn't in bed feeling guilty for not getting anything accomplished and yet I was getting some rest and some perspective on my expectations. After that I met with Jordan to do some editing. I was not looking over his shoulder, but laying on the sofa in my office. I just let my mind wander for awhile about the ending of Made Crooked. Then I got up and did a paper edit with some index cards. As I did that I wished that life could always be like this.
It was a funny thought. It is like this. It's my life. Yet I sometimes feel as if I'm on the outside looking in, particularly when I have things like moving or painting to contend with. I'm not so clear on this. Which is why I'm writing about it. It's interesting to me that I think the filmmaking won't last but the painting and moving will. Like I can't enjoy having a lazy day around the office - shit I have to call it a lazy day! Off on another tangent here - I wonder if this difficulty I have in accepting the life of the mind has to do with my family's socio-economic history. Everybody has been farmers or laborers for the most part. My Greek grandfather owned a diner, where he was often the cook. My other grandfather was a crackpot itinerant preacher. I never knew him. Anyway I can't help but think it must be difficult for someone to do something for which he has had no model. There are others that face the same challenge of course, which affirms that is it is indeed a challenge. I have this habit to automatically deny that something is difficult if other people are faced with it. It all points to an unhealthy degree of self-reliance and isolation.
I started this post thinking I would debate the law of diminishing returns regarding woodshed projects. But I exposed that idea to be based in fear and an attempt to destabilize my ambitions. I was going to argue not to question it but to go ahead with it and see where it leads me, hence the Tennyson. In mounting that argument I discovered some other things about myself. Like how we all face challenges and that we're in this together. We are the Light Brigade.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

¡viva!
Signore Direttore

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Week In Review - oo8/13

MOVIES

Unfaithfully Yours - This 1948 Preston Sturges comedy was quite splendid for the first hour. The dialog razor sharp, the performances crisp and the black and white images perfect. Then there was a series of bizarre fantasy sequences cued by a long dolly zoom directly into the main character's eye while he conducted an orchestra. The first was gripping, the second not so much and the onset of the third lost me. The remainder of the film is dedicated to undoing the elements of the fantasies.
Sturges was know for his slapstick comedies sending up society. This film is absurd slapstick romp filmed as if it were film noir. In spite of claims that it's a masterpiece, I think it's an experiment gone painfully awry.


McCabe and Mrs Miller - see earlier post.

Paranoid Park - see earlier post.

L'Atalante - Regarded as one of, if not the best films ever made. I see its mastery and liked it, especially the first half. It seemed very primitive compared to other films of its era. Its magical elements were indeed that, but they didn't seem connected to the whole.

Breakfast on Pluto - I grabbed this Neil Jordan film off the shelf at the library thinking I needed a break from the stack of black and white, subtitled films on my nightstand. It didn't waste my time. Nor did it annoy me outright. Cillian Murphy is a little waxy and waifish for me. And the whole thing, though it was set in Ireland and England during the Troubles, never had any gravitas. I suppose maybe that was the point -- that a tranny had so much to contend with that she let the Troubles roll right off of her back. In the end, I would describe it as a cheap, homosexual take on Amelie. So give me the poetic realists, the neorealists, the German Expressionists and the Poles anytime.

The Sound of Music - Can you believe I've never seen it before? I liked it. It seemed a bit slow and laterally moving. Some of the songs are beautiful and some of them are like, oh here they go again.

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler - Interesting film. More or less the source for all villainy conventions in films and comic books. It moves along at quite a pace and then becomes incredibly slow. It's like reading a children's book. Like you've become more grammatically sophisticated and can see what's coming as they plod on with the unfolding of the story. Shows how far we've come in eighty years of watching movies.
When it comes to movies like this I realize I'm a filmmaker and a fan of cinema more than I'm a film historian. In other words I don't like something because it has a hallowed reputation and I'm supposed to appreciate it on that basis alone.

Umberto D. - In this simple film DeSica creates agonizing drama out of the lack of communication between people. The solitude of the main character is suffocating. All done without affectation or effects. Beautiful.

BOOKS

Love Is Colder Than Death by Robert Katz - A Fassbinder biography. I've only read a couple of chapters. RMF was incredibly decadent. That I knew, but this book makes it more specific. In 1987 I was living in Germany, hanging out in Munich from time to time. My friends took me to an artist's collective that Fassbinder was a part of to hang out one night. He died five years earlier in '82, but his spirit and the awe it commanded were alive in that place.

The Master Says 302

The urge to tell the truth stirred in us. Without knowing it we were thinking of neorealism, or rather we were creating neorealism. Rossellini on the one hand, Zavattini and I on the other. Many say that neorealism rose from our need to save money, but that's not true. It was really a need to tell the truth, to have the courage to tell the truth, and to take the cameras not into the old studios at Cinecitta, made of papier-mache, but out into life, into reality.

Vittorio DeSica

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Master Says 301

It's hard enough to write a good drama, it's much harder to write a good comedy, and it's hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is.

Jack Lemmon

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Master Says 300

There's no difference between being behind the camera or in front of it, except that it's easier to be in front of it.

Jean-Pierre Melville

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Exciting Times

My days are very full right now. Yet I find that if I just show up a lot gets accomplished without a lot of fuss. I've long been prone to asking too much of myself, thinking that to get anything done I need to work myself into a frenzy. I'm very relieved to put that manner of doing things behind me. Instead, I set out to do a little each day, taking care not to overwhelm myself thus assuring that I show up in the first place.
We locked picture on But A Dream today. It's a very beautiful film. The sound mix happens in the coming weeks. I'm very proud of it and I look forward to submitting it to festivals later in the year.
We have also begun making selects and dropping the new material into the cut of Made Crooked. It looks like the new scenes are going to work as or better than expected. Having things to cut to allows us to use some better takes of the original material because the locked-off, tranquil shots serve as counterpoints to the hand-held, frenzied shots of the original material.
Today I prepared my taxes while Jordan made the final edits on BAD. I stopped to review the changes when he was ready to show me. We went back and forth like that until we finished it.
There were times that the day seemed just right and others when it seemed like I'd never get through it. My head is full of all the details of our upcoming move and the remodeling of the apartment building. And money issues. and, and, and ... When it gets to be too much I try to breathe and stay focused on what's immediately in front of me. So far, so good.
Tomorrow it's our CPA in the morning, prep some rooms in the new house for painting midday, show BAD to the DP that shot it and more work on Made Crooked in the afternoon. Then some time with the family in the evening.

Grazie,
Signore Direttore

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Master Says 299

I think the more the actor lets you know what he thinks of the character, the less the audience cares - like a comedian who laughs at his own jokes.

Neil LaBute

Monday, March 24, 2008

Paranoid Park



So much is brilliant about it. The photography, of course. I'd expect nothing but lyrical, saturated images from Christopher Doyle, who also has a small part in the film. The editing, the sound, the music and the acting were all great.
I loved the acting, even the awkward moments of some of the performances were perfect. I really loved the morphing of electronic, atonal music into the melodramatic Nino Rota stuff.
It's not a whodunit, or a psychological portrait. It's an emotional journey told in a manner as unique as the non-linear manner in which we experience things in life. There are no conventional hooks to snare your attention - you either slide into its stream or you don't. I'm glad I was able to go with it.
It's an incredibly beautiful film. Thanks Gus.



The one thing that sticks in my craw about Paranoid Park is the reappropriation of the name from one infamous downtown park (O'Bryant Square, below) to rename the infamous Burnside skate park famously built without city funds by some old friends of mine (above).



Having been a punk rocker in Portland in the early 80s, the dissonance is deafening. It's Blake Nelson that's responsible for that.

¡Viva GVS!
Signore Direttore

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Color of Ambition

The Color of Ambition

A short film that I wrote and acted in a few years ago. I never got a copy, but someone recently informed that it was online. It was fun seeing it again.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller



This film has long been one of my favorites. I finally saw it on a big screen. Though the Whitsell is a terrible theater in my opinion. The screen is surrounded by white acoustic panels that reflect the light bouncing off of the screen which lowers the contrast of the projected image. The closer you sit you see this milky haze around the edges of the screen. And you ahve to sit kind of close becuase the floor isn't pitched enough to see over the person's head in front of you. The person that introduced the film claimed it was a nice print. I wish she hadn't created that expectation. One reel was pristine, but the rest were in average to poor condition. A faded print in combination with the haze made for frustrating viewing. And the blue-hair art museum members that always show up at Whitsell screenings do a lot of shifting in their seats and are quick to loudly admit that they didn't get it as soon as the credits roll. There were moments in which I longed to be at home watching a DVD.



So all my griping aside, the film is truly a masterpiece. Nuanced and poetic storytelling - it really seems like a story told rather than written, which in my mind is a high compliment. Amazing acting from the principles and the ensemble both. It's Warren Beatty's best performance by far. I've heard he didn't like it, too unpolished for the Hollywood prince. Julie Christie, who was Beatty's lover at the time, was absolutely beguiling. I'm not trying to use a fifty cent word for any other purpose than to describe her performance in deserving high-fallutin' terms. Beautiful art direction and photography. You really get a sense of the place - one of the few films you can actually smell. (Another reason the Whitsell is a bad place to see repertory films - the place is more sterile than Regal Cinemas, making it hard to become synesthetically involved in films, since it doesn't get dark enough to forget you're in a wood-paneled, carpeted institutional theater surrounded by a bunch of bourgeois assholes that support the arts out of social obligation rather than true interest. Where did I ever get the idea that museums had anything to do with artists?)
Down from the soapbox I step. Have I ever mentioned my paternal grandfather was a preacher? And that my father was too as a child? He literally passed out bibles and soap from the trunk of his dad's car. Speaking out about what I feel strongly about is in my blood I'm afraid.
Another anyway is in order. I want to see more films like this one. Hints that what you think is the truth isn't. Quick little looks and raised eyebrows in the background that probably raise more questions than they answer if you even notice things like Julie Christie in the Bearpaw whorehouse early in the film. Altman uses zooms during long takes to direct our attention, but it's more like, "hey check all this out, it interests me", rather than "look here! right now! quick! the whole story rests on you seeing this now!" Instead he puts it all in there and lets it be discovered. Or not.

A fan,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Week In Review - oo8/12

MOVIES

My Kid Could Paint That - Mildly interesting. The child's paintings are exceptional, if indeed she independently painted the canvases. The dad seemed pretty suspect to me. The local art dealer was a creep, politicking and retrofitting his perspectives at every turn. In the end, I think the filmmaker declined to make a very strong argument. There are a lot better films to spend 75 minutes with.
I thought they missed a pretty common idea for which Picasso is famously quoted - "Every child is an artist until he learns not to be." If I could see and render as effortlessly and clearly as my children, I would be quite pleased.

Pepe Le Moko - This 1936 Julien Duvivier film starring Jean Gabin is one I have seen beforeand hope to watch again and again. It's a gangster film with virtually no crime, focusing instead on atmosphere and emotion. Since I was a child I always paid more attention to milieu than plot. I love to enter worlds and this film takes us into the Casbah of Algiers. Jean Gabin is, as always, irrepressible. My favorite film star of that era and one of the all-time greats. In one scene his jacket opens and reveals a monogram on his shirt pocket - J.G. I never noticed it in previous screenings, but found it charming in so many ways.
There's a scene in the end where Pepe finally leaves the Casbah. He walks on a treadmill and they rear project street scenes blurring past at a different pace than his. They're tilted in Dutch angles, very expressionistic. Finally he arrives at the sea, another projection. These representational elements were emblematic of the poetic realism movement. I'm a huge fan not only of the pre-war French films by Renoir, Vigo, Carne and Duvivier, but of the two movements French poetic realism inspired - Italian neorealism and Le Nouvelle Vague.

La Maitresse - Awesome. Once again, atmosphere. I'm getting so all I want to watch are French films. The art direction and wardrobe are amazing. But it's the simple acting of a simple story of complex emotions that I most appreciated.

Serpico - Sidney Lumet was a master of putting the old gritty New York City of the 70s on the screen. Not just the architectural textures, but the whole vibe of the city. And Pacino really goes for it without chewing the scenery back in pre-yelling days. Seems like back then he let his emotion come through his pores rather than his mouth. I would really like to work with an actor that brings so much someday.

Army of Shadows - Another amazing French film, this time from Jean-Pierre Melville. The acting was phenomenal. Both heightened and nuanced. Talk about mood and tone! Personally I could have happily spent more time with the Underground operatives doing more mundane tasks like procuring German vehicles and uniforms - I love that Hogan's Heroes stuff. Melville renders the heroes larger than life and at the same time very ordinary. The sound is amazing. The opening of the doors at Gestapo headquarters and the sound of shoes on the sidewalk running away are still very clear in my ears.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot - I first saw this film at a drive-in with my dad and his girlfriend back in 1974. I was in the back of his station wagon and was supposed to be sleeping. I was watching Dumbo on one of the other screens and sneaking peaks at the Michael Cimino caper film starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. It was pretty sexy to my seven year old eyes and ears. I've always been partial to irreverent and flippant buddy movies. I loved it. I have the same sense of nostalgia for it that I have for the first Playboys I saw. I found the DVD on sale several years ago and watch it every so often. It never disappoints.

BOOKS

I don't think I even read the newspaper last week. I've been insanely busy with securing our new home, obtaining financing, preparing taxes, teaching, woodshedding, editing, recording the Made Crooked song, preparing to move and to remodel our building - all while Nicola worked 15 hour days on Twilight up in Kalama. Where I found the time to watch movies is beyond me. Oh yeah, I didn't sleep much this week.
I'm sure I sound like a bitter old fart when I say this, but I really love it when single people in their 20s tell me how busy they are. Because included in the above are lunches and coffees with friends, meetings with colleagues and shopping, cooking and cleaning for three kids. The one thing I didn't do was laundry, which is going to happen today - everybody's laundry baskets are overflowing.

Fiction, where are thou?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Serendipity

Today I recorded the vocals for the theme song for Made Crooked. I'm working with an old friend that I had lost touch with for many years. He was one of the few people I was happy to reconnect with at my twenty year high school reunion a couple of summers ago. He's a musician and a producer and has agreed to supervise and compose the music for the film. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I wrote a song that expresses some of the themes of the film. I sang it into my phone just to have something to work with before I forgot it all. I transcribed the lyrics and sent them to Mike. Then I ran into him one evening on Hawthorne and played him what I sang. He in turn played a song for me on his iPod that he had recorded with one of his bands that he thought might fit. He suggested that I sing the song. My wife had said the same thing when I played it for her.
He wasn't sure what key I was singing in from the crappy little recording on my phone. In the studio today we discovered that both the music he wrote and my singing were in the same key.
We were expressing our joy over that coincidence when he asked, Oh you want to hear something even more coincidental? He showed me a cassette with a handwritten logo on it spelling Virtue. He said he had just found it a few days ago and had forgotten that he even had it. It was a tape from his first band that I managed Sophomore year back in 1983. It was recorded at Cathedral School's 8th grade graduation dance. I did some MC'ing fueled by the half gallon of vodka that I sneaked into the dance to share with the band and the more daring 8th graders. My drunken valedictory exhortations on the mic between songs were a bizarre cross between William F. Buckley and Jerry Lewis.
Anyway, it was a great experience. Today, definitely not the dance. Jordan asked me yesterday if I was nervous. I really wasn't. I'm not a singer. Admitting that in spite of some praise I've received for this particular song is the key to my freedom from anxiety over this. If it turns out well, great. If it's bad or just kind of boring, we have something to work with until we find a real singer. Either way it was fun to stretch and to explore. I tried to really let it come from me, not what I thought it should sound like. It reminded me of acting in a lot of ways. But also like playing sports. Like shooting free throws - if I didn't sit the same way and hold my head in the same way it didn't feel right. I tried standing when I rehearsed but I found that I tried to sing it too much when standing up, instead of just letting it come out. So I sat on an amp in the studio and it worked. When I sang the first version of it into my phone I was lying down. It was totally effortless as I never planned on playing it for anybody. I tried to bring that same lack of self-consciousness to the session today. Surprisingly, it was pretty successful. I look forward to hearing it mixed. Mostly I sang unaccompanied, but we stopped recording for awhile and Mike played guitar while I sang. Singing along to his playing was so exciting. I was like, "Fuck I wrote this, it sounds so beautiful. It's a theme song for my film and I wrote it. The chords really are a theme just by themselves!" That was all inside though, because I was singing and Mike plays it pretty close to the vest emotionally. I was listening to him play and singing and not really having to think about it. I started to, then i was like who cares and kept singing. Maybe some of the joy came out in my voice.
It was also wonderful to interact with a very old friend doing what he loves to do.

Satisfied,
Signore Direttore

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Master Says 298

What people often assume to be imagination in my films is really memory, things I have noticed walking down the street or being with people, transposed of course because I have a horror of showing things I have actually experienced.

Jean-Pierre Melville

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Knot

I'm full of anxiety this evening. I have been since about four o'clock today. Part of it is due to my skipping lunch after a very light breakfast. Another issue is having taken steps toward addressing something I've been contemplating for over a year. Once the final decision was made and change was set in motion, I haven't been able to breathe very deeply. I think it's just fear and a release of all the stuff I've been storing up in my indecision about where our family should live.
We found a great house in North Portland just a block off of the Willamette Blvd. overlook. It has a big yard and a beautiful inground pool. The inside is nice and spacious. Not perfect but very suitable. We'll know by Tuesday if we got it. We're going to keep our building for now. All should work out. There are trade-offs. Maybe a little more driving to and from schools overall. And a lot of upheaval and energy put toward moving, remodeling and finding tenants. In the end, I think being in a more conventional home will be best for all of us. I'm hoping it has the same effect on us that getting the office has had on my work.
That's not all the good news of the day. We shot another woodshed project tonight. One actor misunderstood the schedule and couldn't make it after saying they could. So we came up with another idea. Then one of those actors canceled a few hours before we were to shoot. So I put some calls out and someone stepped up. Through all of the aforementioned hubbub, there was no resentment or anger. Just a calm acceptance that things don't always work out as planned and that if I want to work I have to adjust accordingly.
We shot it. I had the knot the entire time, but I just did the work in front of me. I wasn't particularly inspired. It didn't matter. I just kept working, paying attention to all the things a director needs to pay attention to. I offered suggestions and direction where I thought it was needed. I felt disconnected and doubtful yet I kept at it. I didn't panic. Sometimes I think that's more impressive than kicking ass on something. I've told myself I couldn't do so many things so often because I didn't feel like it or so and so let me down or it didn't turn out as expected.
I know we got enough to cut this thing into a coherent little short. It reminds me of something I heard a marathon runner say long ago - I don't always feel like heading out the door, but the showers always feel great. Well, I don't know about the great part. In fact that might be part of the reason for the knot - I don't easily allow myself to feel good about showing up and being average. I've always been the all or nothing type. Swinging for the fences or taking the day off. There's not a lot of heroics in hitting for average. Oh well.

¡viva!
Signore Direttore

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Folk Wisdom 039

Failure is impossible.

Susan B. Anthony

Week In Review - oo8/11

MOVIES

Chloe in the Afternoon - I want to make movies like this. So incredibly simple. A married guy is faithful aside from taking an active visual interest in the women all around him on the streets of Paris. Chloe, an old acquaintance, shows up and wants to have a relationship with him. Their courtship is protracted and candid. He asserts that he won't leave his wife but that he's crazy about Chloe. Chloe admits her attraction but doesn't buy the bourgeois nature of affairs. And that's it. I won't spoil the not so dramatic ending of this beautiful Eric Rohmer film that was photographed by the great Nestor Almendros.

Spare Parts - A Slovenian film about smuggling refugees into Italy and the EU. Very unsentimental and practical. There's rape and death, none of which happens on screen, yet it's all presented as in life, neither black nor white. The so-called bad guys are likable. It's kind of a spokes in the wheel thing. The film is well worth seeking out. It looked great and the acting was very good. I want to make movies like this one as well.

The Bank Job - I was hoping to be entertained by a cheeky, stylish caper set in the early 70s. The latter was the only thing that came across, albeit poorly. The hair and makeup was mostly wrong. London was spotless as were all the vintage cars and clothing. The acting was okay to poor. The story failed to quicken my pulse for even a moment. Why "based on a true events" excites people on the big screen, I have no idea. Again and again the plot is hampered. True stories seem right for television, which I watch hardly at all these days.

A Short film about Killing - Watched it one more time before I had to return it to the library. The acting was amazing. It's the thing that strikes me about Polish cinema in particular, but also British cinema as well, the character parts are so solid. The workers and the bureaucrats. Maybe it's a function of living under Communism. Though more likely it's due to traditions of craft and dedication to it. Richard Lester says that many British journeymen would come in and do their business in one take.
I stole at least two shots from the film for the short I did last week.

Twin Peaks episodes 23 & 24 - Speaking of the little screen ... The friend I went to Klickitat with has been working through the box set when he goes up there every week. I've always loved David Lynch but was never a huge fan of the show for some reason. I always thought it was trying too hard to be quirky. I thought the first episode was very slow and dull. The second was a little more interesting, Lynch was in that one. he looked so much younger that I didn't recognize him. Part of me wants to watch the entire series. And part of me wants to keep working on my absorption of the great films, with emphasis on my continued close study of Woody, Kieslowski, Tati, Antonioni, Fassbinder, Hou and Rohmer.

Lawrence of Arabia - I took a nap during my children's pick for movie night - The Aristocats. After that I gave them the choice of going to bed or watching David Lean's epic masterpiece. Henry looked at the box and said, "It's looks exciting." Which tickled my heart. Maisie was out before the overture finished while June wailed for more cats.
Even though there's not any big action going on the film really moves forward at an astonishing rate. The first hundred minutes was over before we knew it. Yet the editing is nearly invisible.
I've watched this film before, but I wasn't available to it for some reason. So I didn't even count seeing it and wanted to try it again. I love everything about it, even the distracting resemblance between Peter O'Toole and Macaulay Culkin.


BOOKS

I read the rest of Soderbergh's bio on Lester this week. When I wasn't working this week, I was watching films or futzing with hard drives and importing all the stuff we shot for class and this week's woodshed.

I went through the fiction section at the library yesterday but came up empty-handed.
I'm staring at Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex on my bookshelf at the moment, but I don't think I'm ready to commit.
Better luck.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Back on the Grid

I went off grid for a couple of days. Not entirely I suppose as I made one purchase on a card at the store in Klickitat yesterday. Big Brother surely took notice.
It was nice to get away. I move around a lot when I sleep so a sleeping bag doesn't provide the best night's sleep. But not having phone service or internet was good.
I was inspired by the scenery for the stuff I shot while there and I'm kicking some stuff around to shoot in the future. There's a script I wrote about five years ago that would work. I read it for the first time in about as long last night. Needs work, but there's plenty of good stuff there. We'll see.
I've been thinking about spending money all day. Money I don't have on stuff for which I have no immediate need. Whenever I'm shooting a lot I get pumped up to optimize my tool kit. I priced it out and let it sit. Telling myself no makes me more impulsive somehow. So I'll let it sit without judgment and see what happens. I made about sixty percent back last year on my investment in my camera package. I don't think I'll have such a strong year in oo8. Of course I didn't put all that money I earned toward the debt I took on to buy everything. Some, but not all. Had I applied all of it to the debt maybe I would have returned to the grid in a consuming frenzy.

If ... ,
Signore Direttore

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Monday, March 10, 2008

It All Seemed So Far Away

For so long now the idea of ever finishing some of my projects seemed far off in the distant future. Moving forward has been a slow trudge. It seemed at every turn there was something in the way of making forward progress. It would take so much effort to get down to doing the work and then it would disappoint me, making getting on with it all the more difficult. Of late there seems to be movement of the very satisfying variety.
We spent the day making fine cuts on But A Dream. The opening beat seemed impossible. We didn't shoot very much coverage. Then sitting in front of it something happened. Walter Murch talks about listening to the film. That it will tell you what it needs. There's this bit where Joey cries. It seemed out of the blue. I kicked myself. I berated my crappy directing. What was I thinking? I've been having those deprecating thoughts for almost two years. Today I stopped letting those thoughts in and just sat very open in front of the film. I didn't worry about solving the problems. I just listened to that first beat. The answers came relatively easily and they're all pretty damn simple.
I can't tell you how good it feels to see it come together. I really felt that I had a strong directorial vision as I prepped that film. The experience of shooting it was painful with relation to dealing with some of the crew. That coupled with the difficulty of finishing it made me doubt myself over the past two years. I wondered if I wasn't just a big fat phony. I might be, but But A Dream won't be the film that proves it.

Ciao,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Deadly Bedfellows: Pride and Fear

Lately I've felt the joy of success regarding the woodshedding projects. It feels great to finish things. I've received compliments ranging from polite to superlative. I've even sensed a bit of envy. I've parleyed the momentum into more work, a return to teaching and reaching out to a slew of new actors. Which gives me pause. In an appropriately modest manner as well as a literal stopping of making any further woodshed projects. It seems I've become somewhat egotistical, which makes me first proud, then arrogant, followed by precious, which quickly morphs into fear and its inherent immobility.
I've been workshopping and rewriting a script called Controller with a writer that I met based on the woodshedding momentum. It's ten pages long and is begging to be produced with care and attention to art direction and lighting over the course of a couple of days.
Fearing falling into this trap, I wrote another new short script Friday night. I really like it as well. It's much simpler and can be shot in a half day. Or longer if I start to like it ...
Which brings me back to getting precious. I started this woodshedding thing with the idea that failure was an option. This teacup is already broken type of attitude. But after three hits, it's like I can't fail now. Even though I don't think any of the stuff is brilliant, it's gotten enough praise as to not want to do anything worse. There are two more woodshedding pieces. Neither have been cut yet, and both were more like exercises because the other actor for both had something come up at the last minute. Woodshedding momentum was broken by a couple of things besides pride - going to New York, starting class and shooting a scene here in town for Made Crooked. The resolution was to work with actors on-camera weekly. Which I've done. The woodshedding thing was a, not the, framework for meeting that goal. So if there's any egoism, and surely there's some, the cure may be to fail really hard.
I'm going up to Central Washington for a couple of days next week. I'll be with a non-filmmaking friend that has some property up there that basically wants some company for the drive. Other than that I'll be mostly on my own. I'm planning on bringing my camera and shooting some sort of short. Which sounds like a perfect opportunity to make something not so great since I'll be a cast and crew of one unless I recruit some of the locals, which I don't plan on doing. I'm trying not to think of that one. I'm looking forward to the experience of surprising myself.
For the other stuff I start thinking about Fisher dollies and HMIs. I think of Greg, who is busy as a camera operator on Twilight, a studio picture shooting in town. Which is all great. It's coming up on a year since I've done something on a bigger scale. At least I should have the two shorts Greg shot for me finished by the time he wraps the movie. I want to take at least three films off the board above the red line before I get into another production. I'm not in a hurry. Working on the script for Controller is making it better and better. There's always a fear for me that the magic will wear off if I don't jump in. I do think it's all too easy to lose sight of the story when engaged in pre-production. But woodshedding is helping with practicing the storytelling, ultimately the most important part of it all.
I went on a scout yesterday for the second script I mentioned, Piles Of Gold. I had Forest Park in mind when I wrote it, but it might be too crowded. So I went to an interesting and accessible section of Johnson Creek. Then I started thinking about casting too much. I really like working with Eric S. a lot, but I need more males 25-35. I met with one the other day, Sean McG. I think he's going places and I'm flattered that he wants to work together. I sent him Piles of Gold, but I think I want to ask this other guy that I've seen around in some local indie stuff. His name is Eric R. He did childcare at Andrew and Susan's wedding, so I've met him. I really liked him and he's right for the part. I'm going to wait until Sean gets back to me before I go stalking another unwitting actor on the internet.
The fall out of all this thinking reminded me that woodshedding is about keeping it simple and using the ensemble. So I wrote another short last night, tentatively called Debaser, that definitely falls into the not so precious category. It's for two new members of the ensemble, so it's going to be great to get them baptized.
What strikes me most as I read back over this post is how much I've been working so far this year. We're only ten weeks in and I've been kicking ass. All the woodshedding, teaching, meeting new actors aside - we've also been closing in finishing some films in the edit stage. And I'm going into a recording studio in a week to sing a song for Made Crooked that I wrote. What the f**k have I gotten myself into?
On top of it all, things must be balancing out a bit, because I noticed my movie total for the week was back up. And I read two books.

¡viva!
Signore Direttore

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Week In Review - oo8/10

Movies

I Heart Huckabees - I like it. I've seen it before. It has an amazing cast. It looks like they're having fun. The story is kind of whatever ultimately, but if you think of it as a quasi-intellectual version of Ocean's 13 it's very satisfying entertainment.

The Wild Bunch - I used to really love movies like this. I don't as much anymore. The archetypes get to be a little much for me - he's the stoic, he's the practical one, he's the irreverent one and so on. Even if this was a huge departure from the black hat white hat dialectic. I like the fact that Peckinpah ad libbed what came to be some of the signature scenes in the film. But I think I might have permanently shifted my paradigm away from finding poetry in a resolute march to one's death in a very literal sense. The "blood" is just too bright red.

The Tin Drum - What a strange film. I kept saying that as we watched it. It operates on a lot of levels - emotionally, historically, psychologically, developmentally. For me it never really fused together. I found myself going in a lot of directions with it thereby more distracted than engaged. I read a brief history of Danzig/Gdansk afterwards and it made a lot more sense. I'm sure than in 1979 the WWII era was much more part of our cultural consciousness than it is now.

Julia - I assumed this film would be a tour de force of acting based on the fact that it stars Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, Jason Robards and a young Meryl Streep. The story is really about Lillian Hellman, her best friend Julia is almost incidental. The movie doesn't know what it wants to be - political thriller, bio-pic, buddy picture - which is it? The structure is really stagey and stilted, making it hard for the performances to be grounded. When Jane Fonda is good she's good, the timbre of her voice serves the story. When she's bad, she just sounds like she's whining. As Lillian, Jane Fonda was at her worst.

The Valley of Elah - The first hour and twenty minutes of the film is very good. Much like Haggis's previous effort Crash, it renders the contemporary world with precision. Then in the third act, out comes the quiet but smug moralizing and sentiment. Charlize Theron impressed me, as usual. Though as the movie went on, she had less to do behaviorally and it seemed like she or the camera was trying to squeeze something out of her face that wasn't there. Tommy Lee Jones did some fine work. It's not easy for me to like him and I certainly did in this film. In the end, I just didn't buy it. Okay, so a big military scandal wasn't responsible for his death. It was simply a result of the scandal of sending soldiers to an unjust war. Jones's character sends a distress signal up the flagpole in the end. So did I, but for very different reasons.

Diary of a Country Priest - Robert Bresson's 1950 film was waaaay ahead of its time. It combines the best of Italian neo-realism with a penetrating psychological portrait of the main character. I was completely absorbed by it.

Books

Berlin Childhood Around 1900 by Walter Benjamin - I'd read that this was a superlatively beautiful book. Exhaustive poetic impressions of the author's youth. It's impressive that one could submit oneself to the process of allowing those impressions to resurface. Absolutely. Reading it was more meditative than intellectual, requiring reminders that that was okay.
It's a memoir. Which isn't fiction, but it's getting closer.

Getting Away With It - Steven Soderbergh's post-modern journal/slash biography of Richard Lester. Soderbergh comes across as much zanier than Lester. Which makes me wonder if he was playing off of his impression of Lester, much like one starts speaking in a drawl after a couple of days down South. It was written in the days after Schizopolis and details seeking its distribution among other things. Clearly Soderbergh was a little barmy in the mid-90s.

Fiction, anyone, anyone

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Happy New Year pt. 1

Christy, October and I shot this ten minute improvisation on January 5th in about two hours. The premise of our first woodshedding project of the year was based on something I read in the New York Times the previous Sunday. I knew the proposition and how I wanted it to end, otherwise the three of us worked together to make it a reality in very short order. Single camera over-the-shoulder's is a very challenging way of shooting an improvised scene. It made editing lots of fun. I did the rough cut way back in January but didn't get a chance to get back to finishing it until this week. It's ready to be seen, better late than never to be sure. Sorry it took three installments to meet blogger's media file size restrictions. It's a very imperfect way of watching something like this. If you make it through all three, thank you and a belated Happy New Year.

video

Happy New Year pt. 2

video

Happy New Year pt. 3

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The Master Says 297

Sometimes accidents happen that aren't happy, but you have to work with those as well. You throw out this thing, and you throw out that thing and throw out another thing. but if you stay true to the original idea - stay true to that - it's surprising how, at the end, even the things that were accidents are honest. They're true to the idea.

David Lynch

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Folk Wisdom 038

He who requires urging to do a noble act will never accomplish it.

Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Master Says 296

Life is a wonderful, wonderful opera. Except that it hurts.

Joseph Campbell

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Week in Review - oo8/9

Movies

Pather Panchali - I can't believe it took me this long to get around to Satyajit Ray. It was beautiful. I marveled at the simplicity of every element. I look forward to seeing the other two films in the Apu trilogy.

Golden Compass - I enjoyed it. I almost always enjoy it when I take my kids to the movies. It's like a freebie of sorts, like how many expectations can I possibly have as long as my kids like it? And Henry and I saw this one at the Bagdad for four bucks total. All qualifications aside, I liked the story and the effects. The acting was good. The ending/slash sequel set-up was the only weak link as far I'm concerned.

The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again - The straight-forward humor and comic timing was a pleasure. Too bad it's becoming a lost art.

Lola - The third of Fassbinder's BRD trilogy. Genius. I didn't know they shot the whole thing in single takes until after I enjoyed its grand gestures and flawless performances. Fasbinder knew what he wanted and he knew himself. He was so irreverent. He sexed up everything, knowing we like ideas and politics but that we're all whores and whoremongers at the end of the day.

Books

Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson - A quick read. Interesting as both sports memoir and spiritual journey fare.

Fiction is still eluding me.

Crying for a Vision

Ten years ago I went through a profound change. On March 3, 1998 my mother killed herself. She didn't leave a note. She did leave me some money. I immediately recognized a few things as a result. I resist saying learned, because I set off on an unsteady journey toward reaching my ill-defined goals. The things I became aware of were that life doesn't last forever, there is an edge that one can go over and that I should use that knowledge and the financial resources my mother left me to get out of the club business and back to my ambitions of being a storyteller.
Since then I've been pursuing the storyteller dream along a path that has been quite convoluted. I would like to have a metaphor at the ready, something along the lines of capillaries lacking an artery.
At the time, I had a business associate and friend who went by the name Mr. Gerard. Jerry questioned by abandonment of my impresario successes. He asked, "What if this is your calling? What if you're just a guy? A guy lucky enough to have accomplished this much. A guy that should be happy with what he has." When I replied I wasn't happy doing what we were doing and that I had to try the other thing, he pulled out the big guns. He told me I was a lost soul. He said it was okay, because he was, too. I remember the conversation very clearly. It was in the early morning, we were driving in the silver Mercedes that my mother had given me, but I had sold to him, down Avenue A near Tompkins Square Park on the way to my apartment. Jerry was drunk from the night before. I was sober and behind the wheel. It turned out to be one of our last conversations.
In a way, I think Jerry was right. I was a lost soul. But I was crying for a vision and he had stopped looking. Which isn't to say that wasn't the right thing for him. There are many who wisely just try to get through life with as much pleasure and as little pain as possible. I've never been the type to stick with that for long.
Of late, my inner longing for clarity has taken a new course. It's far more internal than ever. Yet it's becoming apparent to me that its outward manifestations are of the utmost concern. I don't need to reinvent myself so much as represent myself (long e on that re, I forego the hyphen to underscore the core kinship of re-present and represent).
I've been in a tug of war with my cynicism for a long time. It is time to let go. I haven't as yet because I've intuitively known that a vacuum would result. I must prepare to allow the void to be filled by something greater. I need not only to keep my eyes on the prize, I need to identify the prize I seek with greater clarity.
For the past year, I've wisely made the prize the work. I've detached my ego from results to a great degree. I've become process oriented, concentrating on the journey rather than the destination. As I continue to joyfully trudge this road, it's becoming apparent that there can be landmarks, points of interest and roadside attractions along the way. That part of the work of making films is showing films and interacting with the world in that pursuit.
That's all I can say right now. I'm not sure how public I'm going to make the details of my developing vision. In any case, I don't have much more clarity than this right now.
"Crying for a vision" is the literal translation of Hanblecheyapi, the Lakota term for vision quest. Though I'm well past puberty on the outside, my emotional life is quite immature. Maybe because I started doing drugs when I was nine. Could be a connection. In many Native American cultures if a child has not vision quested by puberty, the child is thought to be lazy. Very interesting. I've wrestled with the lazy label for a long time. Maybe unfocused or unrealized, but not lazy.
I don't know if I'm going to go draw a circle on the ground in the wilderness and stay there for three days. Maybe. I do know that my need for clarity of mind and purpose is growing.

Gridando per una visione,
Signore Direttore