Movie City Indie Archive for August, 2008

Reflections about Mike Figgis' notes on where plot's gotten us

lil-figgis--6457.jpgAt Film in Focus, Mike Figgis has shared a couple of brief journal entries, one of which burst a small light bulb above my head. First, Figgis writes: “I guess I’m in a period of thinking about film and filmmaking. I made a feature last year, it’s called Love Live Long but everything about [it] was far removed from the what cinema has become… I have read lots of scripts and written a couple for other people. The ones I read were not interesting and the ones Figgis_hor_567k3.jpgI wrote all ended up in studio type confrontations. Executives who had big ideas about character and plot and particularly the 3rd act…. [T]he main thing that strikes me is this – Plot has killed script. Back in the day plot was a slightly sketchy framework for character development. The scripts I read now, the characters are there to supply the plot. It’s all to do with a misguided idea that the function of cinema is somehow to be realistic. I think the function of cinema is to be poetic and magic and original.” My revelation: I worked a couple years on a script with a New York-based director about watching. This was while the recording industry was beginning its slow, then sudden decline. Our plot points, unless couched in a period piece, began to fall in the present moment, let alone the indeterminate future in which movies are shot and released. Still, we worked variations on watchers and watchers watched. A male musician, lost in his meld of melodies and drift from session to session, wouldn’t, at first, rp_5692.jpgeven notice his most ardent admirer, always holding herself two steps back into shadow, admiring what she intuitively saw as his embodiment of rock performance as contemporary Dionysian spectacle. Once he saw her, and was struck, and he loved and pined, what if she grew immediately bored with her cock-of-the-walk? (Gamine on.) An elegant and truthful and telling dance of point-of-view was always our intention in several rewrites. Still, it startled me a few weeks ago when I shot an unbroken take of a friend at a clandestine basement post-Pitchfork party. There, freed from plot and finance, in a single shot—an image—the emotional swells we worked and worked to write were right in front of me, there to be simply seen, captured, distilled. (All you need to make a movie is a girl and a postpunk band.) Plus, it’s a turn I never thought to write: with the implication that this was shot by a man—me—from a male perspective—the idea of fixation or staring or “stalking” is all the more distilled, and if it had been in the context of our unproduced screenplay, it would be the musician’s gaze upon his unseeing suitor—jealous at her transport, even rapture, at the band in front of them, performers of another stripe. And when she’s not looking toward the band, what face or figure is she looking up toward? Her transport is lovely, but to confabulate a context for the point-of-view is sorrowful, perhaps poignant. A simple exercise was rich with what our sustained carpentry work had failed to capture. It makes me happy I happened onto Mike Figgis’ easygoing journal. The same illumination from two different experiences: my two-minute scene is after the jump; the band is No Age.

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Musings on photobooths

2379131572_b30980c364.jpgHow over the short span of a year do you wind up with eight photobooths in stages of repair out back in your suburban Chicago garage? I’ve got a profile of a Chicago vernacular photography collector who finds himself in that situation here. “The light fires: four slow bursts to the eye, four shots. Corner of your eye, corner of the room, there’s a couple dozen places this is commonplace in Chicago. But there’s more ritual than with the now-ubiquitous self-portraits from cell phones and digital cameras: the photobooth is a foursquare, three-ring circus all its own. They’re also an endangered product, created by a fragile mechanical contraption for the age of carnivals and midways, nothing so sleek you can slip in your pocket… We all have our obsessions, large and small. A few months back at Rainbo I was introduced to Anthony Vizzari and his wife, Andrea. A mutual friend set us to talking photography and we shared stories. We sat near the front of the room where the bar’s annual calendar of previous year’s patrons is affixed to the brown paneled wall. The conversation took a spin when a flash went off in the other end of the boxy room. “What do you know about photobooths?” Vizzari asked with a smile. “We’ve got three of them in our garage.” [Full feature at the link.]

Indie is enjoying the weather [video.]

Synopsizing Eastwood's Gran Torino


Found a bunny!

Found a bunny

Career LA Times journo makes funny about apparent lousy education; Synecdoche, NY the butt of his affectation

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, the role of a journalist was to inform, educate and elevate public discourse. Now it’s to pretend you’re as stupid as the next straw man. synecdocheposter.jpgIn a rare “Big Picture” blog foray that doesn’t involve lunch with powerful people or the fear of being taken for a parking valet by powerful people, LA Time’s Patrick “P-Bloggy” Goldstein asks after a Los Angeles screening of Synecdoche, New York, “Can anyone pronounce the title of Charlie Kaufman’s new movie?” “[B]efore the screening, a gang of us grungy media types lollygagged around, like a cut-rate version of NPR’s ‘Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,’ trying to guess how to pronounce the movie’s title, a play on Schenectady, N.Y. (The only person who seemed to truly have a clue was Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer, but I think I spied a dictionary in his back pocket.)” I don’t mean to go all Mark Rabinowitz on anybody, but what the fuck does that mean coming from someone who’s over 50 and has spent their entire career working with language, on staff at the Times for a decade once of the most prestigious outlets for journalism? Aside from the de rigeur har-de-har reference to KCRW? “I think I spied a dictionary in his back pocket.” To whom precisely is the condescension directed? “Always a good sport, Sony [Pictures] Classics co-chief Tom Bernard laughed when I asked if he’d given Kaufman a list of other possible New York towns that might roll off the tongue a bit more mellifluously, like Rochester or Syracuse or even Ithaca.” Bernard’s smart enough to know that the name of Erin Brockovich wasn’t Erin Brockovich: in the real world, it was “Julia Roberts IS Erin Brockovich.” Quotes Goldstein, “We’re completely happy with the title… The whole idea is to brand it as a Charlie Kaufman film. So if it’s an issue with anyone, people can just say it’s the Charlie Kaufman movie. Maybe it will be a good thing. If people can’t pronounce the title, that simply means they’ll have to spend more time talking about it.” Frets the man, “[T]he title is a still a tonsil-twirling tongue-twister.” Tonsil-twirling… Pr0n term? Medicinal? Carnivalesque?: Have to get the Google out of my hip pocket… This is extremely silly stuff.

Carpetbagger David Carr on where the dark roads met on the way to the Media Equation

Until I have the chance to review Mr. Carr’s “Night of the Gun”…

Coming from a land without hinterland: inside baseball with Guy Maddin

Guy Maddin still hasn’t crafted a “See you at the debate, bitches!” but he remains a key konversational kut-up. Among his words to Brian Darr at Greencine: “[T]he person I became before I even considered making a movie was a direct result of Winnipeg’s isolation. I’m kind of an obsessive, and as a kid I became obsessed with baseball broadcasts from very distant American AM radio stations for a while. Listening to them maddinvirgin_5678.jpgis like listening to secret CIA short-wave ‘casts – they’re very layered with interferences from other stations, or percussive signals from satellites or something. It’s like listening to sound sculpture, and every now and then a pitch count, or a play-by-play announcer’s voice would weave in throughout all of the layers of static and crackle and give a little bit of desperately needed information before weaving off into the distance again. Since the reinforcement was so intermittent I really got hooked on listening to this stuff in my loneliest, most virginal, deepest darkest adolescent days. I sort of constructed, in the isolation of Winnipeg, this model, almost like a blind person would, of what America looked like, based on the acoustic landscape I got from these things. That would only happen in a city with virtually no hinterland. Once you drive out of Winnipeg, it’s 8 hours to Minneapolis or 6 hours to Regina which is just another Winnipeg. And so you’re far from the places. Other artists from Winnipeg, more successful ones, often say the same thing. That unlike big cities, where there are lots of things to do and warmer weather, we don’t talk our best ideas out into the cafe night air. You’re stuck inside, and there’s nothing to do but actually doing your stuff.”

Trailering Ashes of Time Redux

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Indie is waiting to cross the street

Morning glories: unstable Chicago

James Marsh replies to Godfrey Cheshire's score-bashing

At House Next Door, Godfrey Cheshire recently expressed disdain for Man on Wire because of its use of Michael Nyman’s back catalog, leading him to walk out. Marsh replied; excerpts below. “I don’t want to get into a protracted debate about Man On Wire – I think it’s right to keep some separation between critics and film makers and I also think it is unseemly to whine about perceived critical slights. So, whilst I had MOW-UK-ICON-poster.jpgno objections to [Godfrey] Cheshire’s comments, I just wanted to correct some of the false assumptions he made about the process of making the film… [I]t was a perverse pleasure to see him getting so worked up about Greenaway’s legacy and the sacred documentary tradition and protecting them both from ignorant & lazy philistines like me… Cheshire manufactured his attack on the movie (or what little of it that he saw) from a series of hypothetical speculations (you might even call them dramatic reconstructions) so for the record, I’ve attached a short essay that I’d written by way of liner notes for the soundtrack CD of Man On Wire… Like many people, I first encountered the music of Michael Nyman in the films of Peter Greenaway. No one who has seen The Draughtsman’s Contract could possibly forget the way the music defines that film – it is mischievous, eccentric, achingly melodic and it serves to make the film emotionally accessible. But it was the score for Drowning By Numbers that completely bowled me over – almost all the emotional life of the film was expressed in Michael’s music and he found an uncanny depth lurking in the chilly narratives of the movie… The idea to use Michael’s music in Man On Wire actually came from the impeccable source of Philippe Petit himself… Philippe and I had just begun working on the film and I used to go and watch him as he performed his daily practice routines on a purpose built wire in his back yard. He likes to rehearse to music and amidst an eclectic soundtrack of classical pieces and gypsy music, I was ambushed by Michael’s stunning ‘Memorial,’ originally composed for the Greenaway film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. It was familiar but I couldn’t immediately place it – it seemed so perfect for the grace and energy of Philippe’s tight rope routines that it was hard to imagine it ever had any other purpose. And for Philippe, of course, it really hadn’t. I finally realised what it was – but I didn’t care at all that it was embedded in another film. Philippe had completely dislodged that association and reinvented its meaning. It’s a testament to the music’s power and mutability that this theme has now come to define Man On Wire, too… Mercifully, but perhaps not unexpectedly, [Nyman] loved Philippe’s fairy tale story and then literally opened up his entire back catalogue – both film scores and operas and other pieces he has written over a prolific career – for us to ransack with his guidance and support… [A] lot of the musical decisions were driven by cost and budget. The film was originally being made as a documentary for British television and we hadn’t factored in the massive costs of an original score or music clearances for theatrical. Recycling Nyman (and hopefully making it our own for the duration of the film) was the most effective way of scoring the film – and given Petit’s affection for it as performing music – it felt more than right creatively… [I]t’s worth pointing out: Michael constantly re-works, re-orchestrates and re-cycles his own music without shame or embarrassment. He doesn’t feel any of it is ‘owned’ by Greenaway or anybody else.”

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Joanna Newsom, Do You Love Your Country?

My favorite run-on sentence on the week; video after the jump. From New Statesman, from a series of questions for musician Joanna Newsom (she of the wildly cloying voice): “9. Do you love your country? “I love William Faulkner, Dolly Parton, fried chicken, Van Dyke Parks, the Grand Canyon, Topanga Canyon, bacon cheeseburgers with horseradish, Georgia O’Keeffe, Grand Ole Opry, Gary Snyder, Gilda Radner, Radio City Music Hall, Big Sur, Ponderosa pines, Southern BBQ, Highway One, Kris Kristofferson, National Arts Club in New York, Ruth 21275x-news-newsomepressphoto.jpgCrawford Seeger, Joni Mitchell, Ernest Hemingway, Harriet Tubman, Hearst Castle, Ansel Adams, Kenneth Jay Lane, Yuba River, South Yuba River Citizens League, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, “Hired Hand”, “The Jerk”, “The Sting”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, clambakes, lobster rolls, s’mores, camping in the Sierra Nevadas, land sailing in the Nevada desert, riding horseback in Canyon de Chelly; Walker Percy, Billie Holiday, Drag City, Chez Panisse/Alice Waters/slow food movement, David Crosby, Ralph Lauren,San Francisco Tape Music Center, Albert Brooks, Utah Phillips, Carol Moseley Braun, Bolinas CA, Ashland OR, Lawrence KS, Austin TX, Bainbridge Island WA, Marilyn Monroe, Mills College, Elizabeth Cotton, Carl Sandburg, the Orange Show in Houston, Toni Morrison, Texas Gladden, California College of Ayurvedic Medicine, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Saturday Night Live, Aaron Copland, Barack Obama, Oscar de la Renta, Alan Lomax, Joyce Carol Oates, Fred Neil, Henry Cowell, Barneys New York, Golden Gate Park, Musee Mechanique, Woody Guthrie, Maxfield Parrish, Malibu, Maui, Napa Valley, Terry Riley, drive-in movies, homemade blackberry ice cream from blackberries picked on my property, Lil Wayne, Walt Whitman, Halston, Lavender Ridge Grenache from Lodi CA, Tony Duquette, Julia Morgan, Lotta Crabtree, Empire Mine, North Columbia Schoolhouse, Disneyland, Nevada County Grandmothers for Peace; Roberta Flack, Randy Newman, Mark Helprin, Larry David, Prince; cooking on Thanksgiving; Shel Siverstein, Lee Hazlewood, Lee Radziwill, Jackie Onassis, E.B. White, William Carlos Williams, Jay Z, Ralph Stanley, Allen Ginsberg, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk, RFK, Rosa Parks, Arthur Miller, “The Simpsons”, Julia Child, Henry Miller, Arthur Ashe, Anne Bancroft, The Farm Midwifery Center in TN, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Clark Gable, Harry Nilsson, Woodstock, and some other stuff. Buuuut, the ol’ U S of A can pull some pretty dick moves. I’m hoping it’ll all come out in the wash…”

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Kevin Kelly on the second 5,000 days of the web

Caution, this Batman tie-in might be unofficial

What makes me think that the long, long list of Dark Knight tie-ins doesn’t include the Joker’s “out the front” knife?

Movie City Indie

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon