30 April 2011

À nos amours

Brutal and ultimately beautiful movie about a girl who uses sex as a way to rebel, to distance herself from her family, and, perhaps, from herself.

Now, as I read that sentence over it could be misconstrued to make the movie sound like some cheesy softporno flick. It's about as far removed from, say, Emmanuel, as you can get. Instead, it exposes the brutality and viciousness of family life and of the pleasures and imprisonment of being the object of male desire.

It goes deep. It's also one of the few films that shows or speaks not only what you may have thought, but also the thoughts you try to hide from yourself.

And Klaus Nomi is on the soundtrack, singing Purcell in a bizarre and exactly right juxtaposition.

And from the same film, the Cold Song written by Purcell and sung by Klaus Nomi

29 April 2011

Debbie Harry and Nancy Spungen

The Selvedge Yard has found nearly every great picture of Debbie Harry ever taken.

Klaus Nomi

22 April 2011

A kick in the ass from Seneca

The largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose. What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years be behind us are in death’s hands.

 “The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live.” Reflect, my esteemed Lucilius, what this saying means, and you will see how revolting is the fickleness of men who lay down every day new foundations of life, and begin to build up fresh hopes even at the brink of the grave. Look within your own mind for individual instances; you will think of old men who are preparing themselves at that very hour for a political career, or for travel, or for business. And what is baser than getting ready to live when you are already old"

C-Jam Blues/Duke Ellington

19 April 2011

Santa Fe

We stared, dutifully, at the Mysterious Staircase in the Loretto mission church. 
The church is now a private museum. No more holy water flows there and the stench of incense has long been cleared away. Now we take in the marvelous staircase -- no visible support! -- as a tape loops through telling a fairy tale story of the mysterious carpenter who built it.

In any case, the stairs rise in a spiral, if not Yeats' beloved winding gyre. They seem to float and to suggest that yes, one should follow the curve upward, this single helix that floats, by illusion or craft.

Later, we enjoyed a large lunch a few blocks away, as local and authentic as you can wish for. Dignified Latina aunts and grandmothers on the left, a new west lesbian in front and, to our side, a very stylish and surprisingly effeminate father with his daughter who goes to the arts high school and manages to send 120 text messages a day.

Real life, such as it is.

We finished our enchiladas and headed to the Pecos pueblo ruins, about 30 minutes out of town. It was late afternoon, nearly the golden hour. We were nearly alone among the cinnamon-colored stones that the Pueblans and put into place a thousand years ago. 

A kiva had been restored. I learned from a pamphlet  that kivas were used for religious ceremonies. This was was round, and underground. You descend a ladder. The ceiling then represents heaven, the center of the room a sort of navel of the world -- a portal from the depths where men emerge, the round room stands for the world itself. You'd have to go down to rise up. Joseph Campbell would have something erudite to say about this, and connect it with other traditions in other times and places. The one story under it all. Part of it right there, the nuns and the Pueblans, rising and going down, like the angels in the patriarch's dream.

But it only made me wonder:  Maybe I need a ladder of my own.  I'd like to get the hell up and out. Crawl out of my skin, my skull, my tired opinions, and my flaccid habits.

I guess I'll have to look around and scrounge up a rail and some rungs, put a ladder together somehow and hope there'll be a place to lean it against.

And something worth climbing to.

photos (c) me

14 April 2011

Kieslowski: First Steps

 (image from The Double Life of Veronique)
I keep persuading younger colleagues to whom I teach scriptwriting or directing to examine their own lives. Not for the purposes of any book or script but for themselves. I always say to them, Try to think of what happened to you which was important and led to your sitting here in this chair, on this very day, among these people. What happened? What really brought you here? You've got to know this, That's the starting point. 
The years in which you don't work on yourself like this are, in fact, wasted. You might feel or understand something intuitively and consequently, the results are arbitrary. It's only when you've done this work that you can see a certain order in events and their effects. I tried to fathom out what brought me to this point in my life, too, because without such an authentic, thorough and merciless analysis, you can't tell a story. If you don't understand your own life, than I don't think you can understand the lives of the characters in your stories, you can't understand the lives of other people. 

Kieslowski on Kieslowski, edited by Danusia Stok

13 April 2011

"What's wrong with these pictures?"

The first image above is of the character name Meek, in Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” just released – I suspect to a fast BO swoon, to speak Varietese. In the story he’s a grizzled guide, wild-man of the west. However in the image, he is fresh out of something like Hollywood costumes, with a thin patina of showbiz “dirt” gracing his buckskin outfit, though we notice his purse is untainted with anything so vile. As someone who lived “rough” for five years in rural Oregon and Montana (no electricity, no running water, no money) I can assure you, out of experience, that a mere week or two of such living makes your clothes a lot dirtier than those seen in these images. Meek is an ostensible frontier mountain-man and his purse should be dark with oil and fat as well as smoke from fires and just plain dirt, all well attracted by the greasy base, as would be his buckskin clothes (which one doesn’t wash). In the next pictures the clothes are so spick-and-span they look incongruous next to the theatrical “dirty faces” make-up job on the actors (which, again, for anyone with experience reads false as to how faces and skin really get dirty – dirt is most visible in wrinkles, where it gathers and stays).

Which then makes one wonder about the rest of the matter at hand, a “story” set in the out back of Oregon’s Eastern desert, which apparently weaves in supposedly true-grit Americana, echoes of “cowboy” movies (which were often shot on transparently false Hollywood sets, or conversely set in real western places, like Monument Valley, where no one lived except for the weakest Indian tribes, forced by circumstances to such inhospitable climes), and then sub-textually of present-day concerns about just how we are. Meek’s Cutoff is a so-called “independent” film, relatively low-budgeted, and yet it persists in the usual historical drama of getting all the gritty details of history wrong while purporting to set itself in that reality. Sounds like it also has a sort of feminist angle. Why not just admit one doesn’t know a damned thing about this and either go Kabuki, a totally obvious theatrical falsity, from which curiously truth can emerge, or just stick to contemporary which one might have a clue about. The images above (confirmed by a few glances of clips from the film) just underline that movie people know very little about the real world, and in turn any truths they might seem to uncover become suspect.

Brando in 1965, brought to you by the Maysles

The Maysles brothers -- unfortunately uncredited -- put together a series of scenes from promo sessions Marlon Brando submitted to. Even though it amounts to found footage, you learn more about Brando as a man and an actor from these fragments than from nearly any other source I've come across. 

Above all, he seems startlingly alive. Wary, observant, playing a 3-D game in a 2-D frame, alert to the possibilities of sex. A guy, for sure, but as rawly sensitive as an open wound. 

No wonder he later grew fat and baroque; he probably needed the insulation.

11 April 2011

Thirty Years of Russian History in Four Commercials

Back in the Andropov era, the Motherland meant team sports and Olga on a tractor:

But, things change. Now Russia is the source of scary movie villains, supermodels and, of course, oligarchs:

03 April 2011

Edward Burns makes a movie for $6K

(This is from the blog, Notes on Video. Edward Burns broke out with The Brothers McMullen, and has made some larger budget Hollywood standard movies. Fed up with begging for money, he's experimenting with new methods for making and distributing movies. Now, Burns has the advantage of an established -- a reputation -- which helps his work find an audience. It's also why we're paying attention to this; he has a choice between studio financing or self financing. This make it both braver and worth examining.
And, unlike most of the no-budget work I've seen, his scripts are well written.
Still, it's instructive, inspiring and completely admirable for him to do his work his own way. It's incredibly liberating to learn about and makes me think I've been too fussy about some elements of my work -- and maybe not fussy enough about developing scripts
Also, check out his interview on the Creative Screenwriting podcast. in which he discusses Nice Guy Johnny, his previous movie)

Edward Burns, the Writer/Director/Actor who makes "those small talky New York movies about the Irish guys from Long Island," conducted an informal Q & A about his latest indie project via Twitter yesterday.

Burns first came to fame with the film The Brothers McMullen, which was shot on a shoe-string budget of $28,000, and though he's produced films on much larger budgets since then, he is now focused on very low-budget indie films; "I went hat in hand to the money guys for years. Just couldn't do it anymore. Decided to write smaller stories and never looked back."

The latest movie,  Newlyweds, just finished shooting, and is now in post-production. It was shot with a budget of $9,000 and a tiny crew; three guys rotated responsibilities. The plot of Newlyweds he describes as "they think they have a nice easy marriage. Then reality hits."

What follows is most of the tweets from last night (he also posted some photos from the production.) I've reordered the posts and made some slight editing changes to make it more digestable. But follow him on Twitter and you may learn other things about film making - and the film - like how the title Triangles of NY lost out to Newlyweds. He's also been soliciting poster ideas for the film's showing at the Tribeca Film Festival.

"Anybody can make a movie now. There are no more excuses."

Newlyweds started as workshop. Some scripted pages. We shot improvised scenes, rewrote, then reshot. then cut some sequences...Story then showed itself. Wrote more scenes, shot more scenes. Wrote the rest of the script over three months with actor input. Hard but fun

When we started shooting back in November, we didn't have a script and were thinking it might be a web series.

Our first day of shooting was a camera test a few days before Thanksgiving. Half that days footage made the cut. 4 months and 12 shooting days later we finally wrapped.
Ultra low budget filmmaking. Behind the scenes of Newlyweds. Indie film lives! This is the whole crew: http://yfrog.com/h0luahrj
Newlyweds shooting budget: 5k for actors, 2k insurance, 2k food and drink. 9k in the can. We only shot 12 days. That's how to make an independent film.

Got all locations for free, wore our own clothes, no hair and make up, no lights, no sound mixer, owned our Canon 5D.
Another behind scenes picture: http://yfrog.com/h8pduirj
Actors are all friends I've worked with before with the exception of Caitlan Fitzgerald - who is now a friend - and are all SAG. [You've] got to work with friends when you have very little money to pay them.

For audio we used these flash card recorders by M-Audio? I think that was the name. Set the levels and used lavs. Wish the digital revolution extended to location sound recording. Somebody know something I don't?

Lighting was mostly available light and practicals. On a few scenes we used a china ball
Here's another Newlyweds behind the scenes shot. Take notice of what you don't need. http://yfrog.com/h8sxnpvj
No boom (most days), no AD, no script supervisor. Three guys, rotated responsibilities. And a great DP.

We own the camera, sound equipment, and use Final Cut on my Mac.

Sound is important but don't let it slow you down. The Italian Neo-realists didn't and they made some pretty great films.

No disrespect to soundmen and women, but on these shooting schedules (12 days) you can't be precious. When I have a budget, I have respect
Shooting on the streets: http://yfrog.com/h2avnbwj
Anybody can make a movie now. There are no more excuses. True, you do need a few grand. But you used to need a few million.

Budgets for past movies: The Groomsmen 3 Million, Purple Violets 4 Million, She's the One 3 Million, Sidewalks of NY 1 Million, No Looking Back 5 Million, Brothers McMullen 25K. Looking For Kitty 250K, Nice Guy Johnny 25k, Newlyweds 9k

Now [comes] the tricky part. Keeping the post production cost down.