July 2002 Archives

From Adrian Searle's article on Documenta 11 in the Guardian:


Iranian photo-journalist and cameraman Seifollah Samadian pointed his video camera out of his Tehran window and filmed a woman in a black chador struggling with an umbrella in a vicious snowstorm while waiting for a bus. There is only the blizzard, and waiting, her silhouette and the cawing of crows, bare trees and a menacing, barbed-wire-topped wall beyond. Nothing happens, except more of the same, more waiting. It is one of the current Documenta's unforgettable moments, of which there are many... [Not coincidentally, Samadian was the cinematographer on Abbas Kiarostami's ABC Africa.]

There are those who find the present Documenta patronising, or complain that it is like some horror National Geographic tour of a collapsing world. It is nothing of the sort. It is news from elsewhere, and news from home. We are all in it together, however impossible it is to deal with everything. Uneven, at times annoying, upsetting and even uplifting, Documenta 11 isn't a perfect show. It isn't a perfect world.

AIRPORT GIFT SHOP - MORNING

A CASHIER at the counter. She does not appear wildly over-qualified for her job. A YOUNG ITALIAN TOURIST COUPLE approach quietly with some postcards. The ITALIAN WOMAN wore her backpack on her stomach, as wary Italians are wont to do.

CASHIER (exclaiming loudly and with glee, but not to anyone in particular): That's just like Mini-Me!! HAH!!
ITALIAN WOMAN (fright in her eyes, she looks at her husband): ......
CASHIER: You got Mini-Me in there?? HAH!!

The Italians drop the postcards on the counter and rush out of the store without saying a word.

No, it's not just reciprocal link whoring, I swear: Just came back from the hotel pool, where I became transfixed by the beautiful patterns of reflections and whorls of light on the bottom of the pool, thinking to myself, "This is cool. Where are the artists examining this natural-yet-manmade phenomenon?" Well, they're on Travelers Diagram for starters, and they're named Kathleen Johnson, and they're having their first solo shows this very minute (until Aug. 9, anyway) in New York. And she turns out to have shown last year at Marc Foxx in LA. Hey, Marc!

July 29, 2002

Mesa , AZ- Just when

Mesa , AZ- Just when you think it's too stupid to go back in the air, Delta.com offers the pleasant surprise of online check-in and home-printed boarding passes. A billboard on the way to the hotel says, "Sweating for free?! Get paid to test deodorants!" A photocopied sign at the check-in desk congratulates Gregory Allen for being selected guest of the day. And rather than redo my network settings in our upgraded room, I surf happily on a wide open wireless network that' s bleeding in through the window. This is the way to start the week.

Submitted to Slamdance. We're traveling to UT and AZ for the weekend, location scouting for the Sundance/Slamdance season. Yeah, that's it, location scouting.

The route is so circuitous it bores even me, but I just came across The Essential Vermeer Lover, a scholarly yet very engaging site about, well, Vermeer.

While it'll embarass him, I have to add a quick story from shooting in France about the cinematographer for Souvenir (November 2001), Jonah Freeman. Each night, we'd review the dailies on a giant monitor in the hotel lobby. On one such evening, a French woman (presumably another hotel guest) stood hovering behind us, watching quietly. When an extended shot of the Somme landscape (fields, with some trees at a distant ridge, with shadows of clouds racing across the fields and a really complicate sky) came on, she suddenly called out, "It's just like Vermer [sic]!" She startled us, and then it took a while to figure who she was talking about. We figured the Vermer/Vermeer pronounciation thing was like Van Go/Van Gochh, something that, even if it was correct, Americans could never pull off. In any case, after that, any shots with sublime-looking light became known as Vermers. Here is Vermeer's View of Delft, which then came to mind after the woman's exclamation.

While Vermeer's remaining work is known for subtlety and serenity, he painted during a prolonged war and religiously fueled conflict which devastated his home city of Delft. Early in his painting career, in 1654, a munitions depot in the town, which held 90,000 pounds of gunpowder, exploded to devastating effect. The Delft Thunderclap, as the accident came to be known, leveled buildings for hundreds of yards, damaged nearly every building in town, and killed and wounded unknown hundreds of people. [Read Anthony Bailey's chapter about the Thunderclap, or buy his book, View of Delft.] One artist, Egbert van der Poel, painted over twenty versions of View of Delft After the Explosion in his career. Vermeer's View of Delft, then, turns out to be a portrait of a partially/newly rebuilt city, one in the midst of and recovering from disaster.

(I'm working on an extended post about Jonah's art, both his photography and installation work. Stay tuned.)

As if the Prelinger Collection isnít remarkable enough, it turns out almost the whole thing is available online. Itís a collection of educational, industrial, military and propaganda films, as well as newsreels and commercials. (via boingboing) Truly transfixing. I wasted the whole morning here. Some highlights:

  • Robert Altmanís (!) The Magic Bond (watch parts One and Two), a promotional film about the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Especially after watching some sociologically-interesting-but-filmmakingwise-mediocre films, Altmanís talent is obvious. There are ensemble shots of soldiers in combat that are both persuasive and prescient of his later work. Unfortunately, none of his industrial films are included in the collection.
  • Up In Smoke (watch it here), a remarkably sarcastic, farcical look into The Old Virginny Tobacco Company, and the sinister-but-buffoonish executives who are determined to get everyone to smoke Humbar cigarettes. The voice of conscience turns out to be the..well, I wonít give it away. Why is this so remarkable, exactly? Because it was produced by Brigham Young University and the Education Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (emphasis mine).
  • Watching the mini-documentary about the music on the second DVD for Moulin Rouge, there are several close-ups of one of the grips wearing a Terence and Philip t-shirt.
  • Re-watching Hirokazu Kore-edaís wonderful film, After Life, I didnít realize how much Iíd borrowed, stylistically and structurally, from him. While Iíd mentioned the use of natural light and low-tech, documentary-style production, itís only after re-editing Souvenir (November 2001) that I noticed Kore-edaís skilful combination of narrative and documentary technique. The appearance of handheld camera in Act III is pretty dramatic, for instance. Itís definitely a film worth watching again.
    [buy DVD's for Moulin Rouge and After Life from Amazon]

  • Rewatching Souvenir (November 2001) a dozen+ times in the last 24 hours, I'd begun to wonder what it can actually contribute to the increasing volume of the WTC memorial/rebuilding debate. There was 4,000-participant offsite Saturday (with a 200-participant makeup session Monday for observant Jews and Hamptonites, I guess). Everyone and their dog is weighing in on the lameness of the Port Authority-driven devil's choice: Memorial Office Park or Memorial Mall, but is this looming Houstonization of Ground Zero possibly the end-game of Manhattan's last decade of suburbanization?
    ("When they came for my greek-lookin' coffee cups, I said nothing.
    When they came for my independent bookstore, I said nothing.
    When they came for my jewelbox-size retailer, I said nothing...")

    bruegel_icarus.jpg

    Then I found this Auden poem about Bruegel's painting of the fall of Icarus. The opening lines:
    About suffering they were never wrong,
    The Old Masters; how well, they understood
    Its human position; how it takes place
    While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

    Visiting the site of past horrors; seeing how people live among the memories and memorials of destruction; glimpsing the differences between total restoration, preserving ruins, and monumental memorializing. There are people who certainly understand how suffering takes place; there's much we can learn from them. That's a point that Souvenir makes, and one that's still worth making.

    July 23, 2002

    Whew!: After a few weeks

    Whew!: After a few weeks of fits and starts, a full day of editing followed by a full week of output-to-video frustration, I finally got the "finished" version of Souvenir (November 2001) on tape tonight. It's not drastically different; in fact, it may be hard to spot the differences at all from the preview screening version. But it feels very different to me. Except that I'm kind of burned out on it tonight, I feel really good about it.

    One change I'm still mulling over: a new song under the first scene. It's called "I'm Coming Home on the Morning Train," an acapella gospel song performed in 1942 by the Rev. E. M. Martin and Pearline Jones. While I've had it on CD for several years, it only occurred to me recently to try it in the movie. It turns out to have been recorded--like so many other incredible artifacts--in the field by Alan Lomax, the godson of American folk music (assuming his father John is the godfather, you see). Lomax just passed away over the weekend. Here is his obituary in the NY Times.

    "The advantage of [shooting on digital video] is that nobody knows, or at least cares, that you're making a movie; the disadvantage...is that the end product appears to have been filmed through a triple layer of bubble wrap."
    - from Anthony Lane's
    New Yorker review of Tadpole, the latest from IFC Productions' InDigEnt.

    Compare this to the complicated process Steven Soderbergh used to get "enhanced graininess" on his new DV movie, Full Frontal (from an apple.com article):

    Finish
    FotoKem received the final cut of the original movie in PAL video, de-interlaced it and converted it to files using a disk array. The files were shipped across the network to their film recorder, which had been calibrated to shoot on 5298 film to enhance graininess. A two-stop push during negative processing further enhanced grain and contrast. A double chrome-reversal process was used to create the final negative and print. The 4:3 images were matted and converted to a1:66:1 (European) widescreen aspect ratio for theatrical projection. Fine-grade bubble wrap was then placed over the projector lens at the press preview.

    A nice passage from artist Anne Truitt's journal. Easily find and replace "notebooks" and "weblog":

    I once watched a snake shed his skin. Discomfort apparently alternating with relief, he stretched and contracted, stretched and contracted, and slowly, slowly pushed himself out the front end of himself. His skin lay behind him, transparent. The writing of these notebooks has been like that for me.

    An artist friend loaned me his copy of the 1968 underground classic film, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One. I'd seen clips of the film before, and it played at Sundance one year when I was partying there. But this William Greaves landmark is pretty amazing to watch. The film is a combination of "screen tests" or early scenes of a feature film and the "behind the camera" documentary of the making of the feature. As those familiar with Souvenir (November 2001) can appreciate, the contrast between scripted&unscripted, the use of documentary tools to tell a story, etc. are ideas the film explores. Well, in Symbio, Greaves doesn't just explore these ideas, he riffs on them with amazing fluency (Miles Davis soundtrack >> obligatory jazz metaphor).

    Earlier, Olafur (another artist friend) and I grabbed some milkshakes during his whirlwind US tour. He's reaching an amazing level in his work, with a sustained fluency and engagement over a daunting number of complex projects, almost all at once. Even as I focus intently on Souvenir and almost everything about it (finetuning, critical reception, marketing and promotion, the potential impact on the WTC Memorial debate), he made a really good point that it's the process, the continuous production that's actually more important. A first project is a trial/test; the second is a reaction/correction; the third is the first real coherent/comprehensive attempt; it's really the fourth project that has the greatest potential/expectation. A very useful perspective to be reminded of. And one that hits home these days when I'm regularly statuschecking myself and my longer term prospects/plans.

    July 17, 2002

    Music: Spent most of the

    Today the LMDC released its six concepts for rebuilding the World Trade Center. Visit the LMDC concepts website for details. One thing that strikes me immediately is how they're all titled "Memorial _____" (fill in the blank with Square, Promenade, Plaza, Garden Triangle, or Park). You could say this forefronts the memorial as a priority of the rebuilding efforts, but it also seems like a way to avert criticism of the process and its preliminary results. By innoculating every concept with the name "Memorial," it takes the memorial off the table, regardless of how the memorial actually plays out in a concept. (There's no Memorial Mall concept, even though I'm sure those Australians would happily build it in a second if they could. Maybe one of the concepts should be renamed Memorial Station or something? We'll see.)

    I am inclined to read this cynically because of my general disapproval of the process to date: the highly politicized nature of the LMDC itself (and its ultimate status as a Port Authority organ), the fundamental mediocrity of the (urban and architectural) talents brought to bear so far, and the artificial-seeming public participation in early decision-making. Ultimately, I have little confidence that the LMDC (as evidenced in its stated mission and in its aborted RFP process) can create/facilitate the type of resilient, rallying vision I think is critical to actually rebuilding our city, both physically and psychically. (One of the most extensively described requirements of the RFP is for a bus-idling station. Not exactly the stuff of soaring spirits, unless you're the Port Authority.)

    It's a few minutes later. Don't expect a phoenix; that's a pigeon set to rise from the ashes. The near interchangeability of the six "concepts" is staggering. I am sure that the Port Authority's fixation on recreating the WTC site's previous program is the single biggest mistake they can make. Not an entirely blank slate, not a dealbreaker. But for the PA's own political/fiefdom/leasing income priorities to so overpower all the rest of the concerns, THAT MUST CHANGE.

    In any case, the concepts are on display at the Federal Hall National Memorial, on the corner of Wall and Broad Streets (across from my gym, oddly enough).

    Yesterday on Studio 360, host Kurt Andersen lamented on the lack of risk-taking and originality in "art and entertainment," and he tarred the television networks, Hollywood, and the artists at Documenta with the same brush. [Listen to his commentary here; it's the 7/13/02 show.] While I'm a fan of both Studio 360 and Andersen, I can't help but think he's wrong, at least about Documenta. (He gets full credit on the other two fish in the barrel, though.)

    On questions of "staggeringly similar" of art in the exhibit ("serious, photo-journalistic, documentary") the curators should be identified (either credited or blamed, depending on your POV) as a moving force. Even if Alan Sekula's photographs grow tiresome after the tenth gallery or so (which it does), the show cannot be dismissed as "grim, unchallenging images full of conventional horrors and the standard villains," as Andersen tries to do. He despairs, I despaired. As I've posted before, Documenta certainly wasn't the feelgood show of the year. There was a lot to be depressed about. Or to be moved by. Documenta had plenty, including work and ideas that were both challenging and beautiful.

    Andersen yearns for the reemergence of the "contrarian genius, dreamers of odball beauty"-style artists, who he imagines are the true "risktakers" of our culture. But having been heavily involved (and invested) in the contemporary art world all through the last economic boom, I'd have to say Andersen may be the dreamer; the "art establishment" has been plenty safe, corporate- and collector-friendly for a loong time.

    July 14, 2002

    Traffic School

    I may be the newest proponent of home schooling, home film schooling, anyway. Spent the afternoon watching the Criterion Collection edition of Traffic, which--in addition to three complete commentary tracks (dir./writer; producers, consultant/composer)--has a supplemental DVD with 25 deleted scenes, piles of additional footage (Soderbergh shot everything on two or three cameras) and editing, dialogue and film processing details. [Just stop dithering and buy it now. Amazon's at least as cheap as any store.]

    1) I'd forgotten what a watchable movie it is, and how stylized it is, too. The characters are laid out with real economy, to the point that almost all the deleted scenes--even the interesting, good ones--seem superfluous. The supporting characters especially, like Michael Douglas' aide in DC, his daughters' friends, Selma Hayek's drug moll, even the witnesses in the kingpin trial, deliver these lines that successfully carry the whole weight of their characters.

    2) Listening to Soderbergh and screenwriter Stephen Gaghan was as entertaining as it was educational. There were hi-larious war stories as well as great bits of insight. In the scene where the drug dealer's going at it with Douglas' daughter, it's a wacky revelation to hear Soderbergh describe shooting from under the sweaty, nude dude. ("You're a fine-looking man, Steven," cracks the screenwriter.)

    3) Stephen Mirrione gives some really interesting discussion of editing, especially the building process for one of the most complicated scenes, the teen overdose with Douglas' daughter. In editing Souvenir, our scenes had a far less layered structure; it was more sequential. Of course, none of our scenes are as intricately edited as the overdose scene, which grows increasingly (seemingly) chaotic, but which turns out to have a complex, layered rhythm when you look at the editing timeline.

    [As I write this, there's a character--a callous, crazy robber--on The Practice named Gavin Brown, which is (coincidentally?) the name of an art dealer friend. Did the writer or director have trouble getting on the waitlist for work from one of Gavin's artists? When I was subletting my apartment from a writer for Melrose Place, a pompous, materialistic Wharton MBA named Craig turned up for a few episodes. I found out she'd changed it from Greg because she liked me. Which reminds me of another friend, Euan, who's onetime roommate turned their swingin' life into a shortlived WB sitcom. The Takeaway: be careful of befriending screenwriters.

    Here's a link about rights and a song that I'm thinking of using, a possible replacement for Zabriskie Point.
    http://www.loc.gov/folklife/cg.html

    I've collated all Documenta 11-related entries in one page, which I'll keep updated. There's been a steady/increasing number of Google searches for Documenta and participating artists; rather than add a new index ("Shows I've seen" or something), I'll try this compilation page idea.

    Rights, On: I've been digging into rights issues for both the new project (which will get a highlights list soon) and for Souvenir, getting ready to meet with a lawyer referred by a good friend at Universal (until he just busted out). The two bodies of rights I'm working on are life rights and music clearance. Here are some highlights [up front, let me point you to Michael Donaldson's straightforward book, Clearance & Copyright: Everything the Independent Filmmaker Needs to Know. It's not flawless, but it's certainly an informative reference for getting up to speed. It doesn't replace a lawyer, but it's quickly useful for working with one. And if you're serious about making and showing a film, you shouldn't go forward without at least talking to a lawyer at some point.]

    Life rights are a perpetually ambiguous aspect of the filmmaking process. I'm trying to determine the most feasible approach to life rights for the new feature project, an (at least partially) animated musical. The key benefits of life rights seem to be 1) getting co-operation and insight from a party, which could improve the accuracy and entertainment value of the project, and 2) lawsuit insurance, since a valid life rights sale basically precludes any chance someone has to sue you for making a movie based on their life.
    There are plenty of ways to make a movie without life rights, of course; the Law & Order universe clearly thrives without them. It ultimately comes down to the equations used by potential backers and distributors, who will weigh the value (or cost) of having (or not having) life rights agreements in place.
    Some execs flatly state that rights must be in place before they'll even consider a project; not having them is one sign of amateurism and a definite red flag. [Here is a Q&A with Angelique Higgins, the VP of Pierce Brosnan's production company. Go down about 60% for the answer I'm referring to.] The story of Brandon Teena and Boys Don't Cry shows however, that people are happy to move forward--even to rush forward-- without rights in place if the project is hot enough. [Here is one account of the rights race around Teena's story, but just about any of the Google results make for interesting reading.] The conclusion: you absolutely need life rights for a project. Except when you don't.

    Music clearance is at once more humorous and more grim. I don't know if advice is suddenly coming in from everywhere, or if I just think everyone's staring at me, knowingly. Whichever, the Slamdance FAQ came through twice with some good, hard advice: In Part 1, they talk about "festival rights" vs comprehensive usage agreements; a lot of short films screen with festival rights in the hope that a distributor or whoever will pony up the dough to get the full music rights or to remix the music altogether. "So what happens is that those music issues will often single-handedly preclude a film from getting distribution." Hmm. No icebox.com for you. Do not pass go.com, to not collect $200. Instead, "using original music from your uncle's Bar Mitzvah band is usually the best bet." And in Part 2, there's this great bit of advice on filling out the festival application:


    Q: Where it says music, is that the composer or what band is on the soundtrack?
    A: It can be either. But if you've got the Rolling Stones on your temp track and don't have the rights, it's best to stop kidding yourself and stick to your cousin Joey as the composer.

    And the only article from Filmmaker Magazine I haven't mentioned yet (until now, that is), talks about the dangers of "falling in love with your temp track." It's apparently too easy and too common to spot indie films that have been edited to the soundtrack of The Mission. You can buy it here. As if you didn't have it already... Donaldson's book also has a very useful, sobering read about getting rights squared away and the importance of sticking to the letter of the agreements. Music clearance services never looked so good to me as they do now.

    The Takeaway: Tracks on Souvenir where we're already making progress on securing rights will stay, but the ones I've been deluding myself on (Pink Floyd's Heart Beat, Pig Meat and Wu Tang) are O-U-T, or O-T-W (On The Way), anyway. My Zabriskie Point/Antonioni homage will have to come from the box office instead (D'oh!).

    Poking around Slamdance's website to get my submission stuff ready. It's HI-larious, obviously made by someone who pokes around dry film festival websites for a living. That led me to Bitter Films, where Don Hertzfeldt flogs and writes about his animated shorts and celebrates "107 awards, four Grand Prizes, and a rather spooky cult following." There's a production journal, which looks good, if a little random. (Pot, Kettle. Kettle, Pot. I know.) Gotta keep the random quotient high to please the cult followers.

    July 11, 2002

    Not only did I finish

    Not only did I finish all the tweak editing I mentioned earlier, the momentum picked up. I worked on the pacing of some dialogue scenes, changing some breaths/gaps and taking out a few tiny lines here and there. It makes a noticeable difference (noticeable if you've seen the movie a hundred times; otherwise, it's just smooth.) I was a little wary, though, since I just read an interview with Soderbergh Filmmaker Magazine. Talks about The Limey writer Lem Dobbs, who "fumes at Soderbergh for gutting his script to such an extent that Dobbs was blamed by critics for the thinness of the characters and the lack of backstory." [It's in the DVD commentary; buy it yourself and find out. I did.] Then I redesigned the credits, added some parentheses to the title. (It's been Souvenir (November 2001) on a few submissions lately.) For good measure, I made a few audio level adjustments, pulling up some lines that could get a little lost.

    Everything went well, smoothly. Output my new master and slave DV copies, WHICH WERE BLANK when I got them home for dubbing. Apparently, FCP didn't recognize the camera. CHECK YOUR TAPES BEFORE YOU LEAVE. Now I've gotta make an emergency run Fri. morning to re-output it. It looked good, though, and it felt good to be squarely in the "making" process again, even if it's only for a day

    July 10, 2002

    Back in March when we

    Back in March when we were editing Souvenir November 2001, we spent some grim days dealing with sound. We'd recorded audio on the DV camera and on Mini-Disc (not DAT), using slate (not timecodes) to sync the sound. Then at the last minute we had problems loading the MD's into Final Cut Pro and had to transfer them to CD. Sync'ing the audio was supposed to be easy, but it was a huge pain. Why mention this now?

    In the newest issue of Filmmaker Magazine, there's a roundtable with Steven Soderbergh's team from Full Frontal where they talk shop. Here's what Susan Littenberg (1st asst. ed.) says they did (note: they had two Final Cut Pro systems, which sounds luxe.):

  • Digitize DV in 45-60 minute chunks.
  • Digitize each DAT take separately
  • Create a FCP sequence with a starting time code set to first digitized frame of the DV.
  • Line up each DAT sound file in the sequence.
  • Create a new DV tape ("a clone with better sound") with timecodes using a Sony DSR2000 deck.
  • Then don't redigitize the clones. Edit from the sync'ed subclips; unlink and relink the files when they get screwed up; "tax the system and cause more crashes than it might have had we done it the other way."

    In the last paragraph: "Is there anything that you can think of that filmmakers should avoid? Any advice you can give filmmakers before they get started on a project like Full Frontal?"
    "Don't sync audio to video in Final Cut! Take the extra time up front to do the sync dailies and reload them."

    Two takeaways: 1) We're doin' it more Soderbergh-style than we'd imagined (or wanted to, frankly), and 2) Finish the article before you start typing your weblog entry.

  • July 10, 2002

    Hmm. At the end of

    Hmm. At the end of this Salon interview with independent director Tom diCillo, he says, "The greatest luxury is being able to get on the set. I would do it for no money. I love doing it. I love it." Right below it is a link to an older interview with diCillo "on the 'tedious, boring, painful experience' of making an independent film."

    New Project: Did I mention it's animated? Actually, yeah, I did. Indirectly, anyway. Did I mention it's a musical? Umm, yeah. Well, I've been researching anime, animation production, CG, and techniques today. Here are some interesting links I've assembled so far:

  • Animation through Virtual Studios, from Animation World Magazine. Forget posting an online production diary. These guys made an animated short entirely online, with 100+ collaborators worldwide using a production website and database.
  • Robert Breer. I was wracking my brain this morning to remember his name. Breer is widely known (among underground animation fans, anyway) for his animation, which is experimental, minimalist, and whimsical (but not in a stupid way). But I was blown away by an exhibition last year of his sculpture (think 60's minimalism, but motorized so that it wanders around the gallery floor). Turns out he worked on The Electric Company in the 70's.
  • Stephen Arthur's Vision Point: a fascinating example of pixilation, the animation of live images. (Remember Peter Gabriel?) Vision Point was made by animating 35mm photographs taken every four seconds along a western Canadian roadtrip.

  • Contrary to one writer's opinion, Gabriel Orozco is a Mexican who can make pottery. After seeing Peter Schjeldahl's misguided critique of Orozco's work at Documenta 11 cited on ArtKrush to support an even broad(er)side on the state of contemporary art, I have to call bulls*** [Sorry, Mom.] on the whole thing.

    Orozco's Documenta 11 installation, Cazuelas (Beginnings), is comprised of "thrown" clay bowls. While the clay was still wet, Orozco threw smaller balls of clay into the bowls, where they were embedded like embryos in a uterine wall. The artist left deep fingermarks on the rims of some bowls, traces of where he lifted or deformed the "finished" product. Regarding this work, Schjeldahl claims Orozco's "lively formal ideas are blunted by the artist's rudimentary skills." Zooming out, this supposed failure, then, "makes the point that in today's convulsive world everyone must learn new things. I was obliged to include myself: a New York art critic who left Kassel feeling uncomfortably marginalized." Well, if you're marginalized, please don't blame it on Gabriel Orozco, whose work is, in fact, the exact opposite of "blunted," "rudimentary," and a "first effort." Beginnings extends ideas and techniques Orozco has been working with for over ten years: the transformation of the humblest material by the touch, gesture, or glance of the artist.

    At frenchculture.org is an image of My Hands are My Heart, a 1991 work where Orozco cradles a transformed ball of clay in his hands. Here is an image of Made in Belgium, which was shown in Orozco's seminal 1993 exhibit at Galerie Chantal Crousel (which also included La DS, his famously altered Citroen). Just before these roof tiles entered the kiln, Orozco grabbed and distorted them, leaving his gesture (and even his fingerprints) on the clay. And in 1999, he showed Pinched, seductive aluminum forms cast from heavily kneaded clay. Orozco's work at Documenta is more a culmination than a first effort, and his skills are anything but rudimentary; they've been honed in the public eye for at least eleven years. So if you're looking to throw something at contemporary art, don't take aim at Gabriel Orozco; you'll wind up hitting yourself.

    Editing: After a couple of false starts, we're finally set to make the editing tweaks on Souvenir November 2001 this week. (Since I only have FCP 1.0 loaded, and the project got saved in 3.0, I couldn't open it without 3.0.) We really worked to balance the documentary "vocabulary" of the movie, that is, the degree to which the filmmaking process asserts itself: lighting quality, high-contrast exposure rates, handheld camera movement, crew and equipment appearances. Post-preview screening, we heard strong reactions to the contrast between "performed" scenes and "documented" scenes which went to the heart of the story. The two major editing tweaks deal with this balance:

  • slo-mo: The opening airport montage's smoothness needs to be equalized. There are 2-3 shots in the opening airport sequence that are a little too fast. There's also one shot at the memorial where the camera bobbles a bit; Slowing the shot down about 10-20% will smooth that out. This goes in the "performed" column, or the "in control" column, to be more accurate. Fluid and reassuring.
  • documentary "fixes": There's a shot at the crater that Jonah and I debated over endlessly. It was an utterly unscripted, unexpected incident that turned out to be one of the most emotionally charged moments of the shoot (and, hopefully, of the film). Because it wasn't blocked, planned, or anticipated, the camera just flew around for a second or two when we got caught off guard. We'd taken that section out, but I'm going to put it back in; the combination of unexpected occurrence and documentary vocabulary is what people responded to.
  • dialogue/titles: There's one exchange when the guy's asking townspeople for directions. We'd cut off the preceding question, but I think I'll add it back. A little repetition may enhance the rhythm of the sequence.
  • sound levels: A couple of audio files need to be relaid; there are some weird level changes that don't appear in the original tracks.
  • ambient sound: In one of the ambient sound loops (a 8-second clip of background sound that plays under a scene), there's just the wind. And me sniffling. Someone asked if it was supposed to be crying; since it happens every 8 seconds, it's a little annoying. And once it's pointed out, it's even more annoying. So, it'll be a 7-second loop soon.
  • music: I'm thinking about swapping out one of the tracks for another one by the same artist. And I have to add a music credits screen.

    The changes should only add 15-20 seconds or so to the film. Now that it's not constrained by the Cannes 15-minute limit, it's fine. Also, we'll output it to DVD and Beta SP for the first time--a definitive version, suitable for screening at your local film festival (local if you live in Park City or one of the places listed at left). Stay tuned.

  • Kevin Smith's irreverent but brilliant Dogma just ended on Comedy Central (albeit in highly edited form). I sat behind Smith and his posse when it premiered at the 1999 NY Film Festival, but I haven't seen it since. It really is great--a serious exploration of real issues of faith in an unexpected way (and by an under-the-radar believer). Smith is certainly an influence in terms of his career and his smart use of the net--via his View Askew site--to connect with his audience, if not in his actual films. Don't get me wrong; I love his movies, but I haven't really studied them. Here is Kevin's online production diary from Dogma. Begun in March 1998, it's the earliest moviemaking "weblog" I've found.

    When I posted on kottke.org about "Fifty Nifty United States," I gave a link with the lyrics and a Real Audio file. here is that link.

    Apropos of nothing other than the weekend: Create a South Park version of yourself We did.


    us, south park style

    There's an interesting article by Louis Menand in this week's New Yorker about Maya Lin called "The Reluctant Memorialist." He talks about her early rejection of any WTC Memorial-related requests and about her recent informal advisory work for the decisionmakers (as someone who's "been through the process.") In talking about Lin's reticence and justifiable anger at the Viet Nam memorial process (which sounds horrific, frankly, and doesn't give me too much hope for New York City's efforts), it's strange that Menand doesn't quote from or even mention Lin's own essay, written in 1982 but only published in 2000. [It was in the NY Review of Books and in Boundaries, a book published by Lin about her work.]

    As you may know (if you've seen Souvenir or read the script), Lin figures into the story as an plot point and motivation; also, the Sir Edwin Lutyens memorial in the movie was cited by Lin and her teachers at Yale as a source for her VN design. That connection is also oddly absent from Menand's article, whereas Richard Serra does get a mention, even though Lin professed to having never seen Serra's work before designing the memorial.

    For the new project (comments to follow):

  • Everyone Says I Love You(Woody Allen) - An utterly joyless, excruciating experience. I just wanted his characters to shut up for even one second. Everyone seemed to be doing a frantic, bad Woody Allen impression; the most "successful," Poor Ed Norton was possessed. Just wrong in every way. This is one of the films he sued his longtime producer over; he's lucky I wasn't on the jury.
  • Disney's Classics of the 50's (Various) - Some animated shorts (what we called "cartoons" when we watched them on Saturday mornings.), including "Pigs is Pigs" and a too-long stop-action "Noah's Ark." What I really need is "Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land."
  • Bedknobs & Broomsticks (Robert Stevenson) - Waiting to watch it on the train
  • Flashdance (Adrian Lyne) - The invention of the music video. heh. Watching this was prompted by Buffy's dread of "a workout montage" (see previous post). Pretty unwatchable, but interesting. (How is that possible?)
  • Erin Brockovich(Steven Soderbergh) - Saving grace. I thought I'd better get a crowdpleaser, in case all my other choices fell through (which they have, so far. Only Angela Lansbury can save me now.) Soderbergh's style is there for the groupie (me) but invisible to anyone who just wants "a good movie." People smiled politely at my excitement over the long early shot, the one where Julia Roberts gets in a car, drives off, and then gets slammed by a car going 50 mph. How'd they DO that? (Agent- and insurance-wise, it's impossible. Turns out to be a composited shot, although I still can't believe it.)

  • Last night was a rerun of Buffy: The Musical, Joss Whedon's annual stunt episode of the show (two seasons ago, there was the silent episode, then the "no background noise" episode. In 2001, it was the "background singer" episode, I guess.) Not a Buffy fan, but with the gushing reviews from last fall still fresh in my conscience, we sat down to watch it. [note: Stephanie Zacharek's Salon.com review is dripping with the vampire-inspired ecstasy that so scared the Victorians. You want to offer her a cigarette by the last paragraph. In the mean time, here's a site with enough mp3 files and lyrics links to restage the whole thing at home.]

    Anyway, it was pretty interesting, especially for the unexpectedness of it. Favorite lines were self-referential: "Off we go to stop the killer/ I think this line is mostly filler." And it was pretty game of the whole cast to sing. Makes me wonder, what if Catherine Deneuve hadn't been dubbed in Jacques Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg? Cherbourg is a bizarre (if you think about it) technicolor classic where garagistes offhandedly sing about fixing the fuel injector on a Mercedes. Thanks go to Agnes Varda, whose tireless efforts to restore and rerelease Cherbourg in 1992 brought the film--and her former husband's reputation--new life.
    [Chicago Reader has a looong, impassioned article from 1996 about Demy and coming to love Cherbourg. Buy Cherbourg here.]

    Even though I hate musicals (with the exceptions noted previously), or maybe because I hate musicals, I feel compelled to make one. If only to rationalize writing about Buffy, The new project I'm working on (in addition to the feature-length story incorporating Souvenir) is a musical. I guess I'd better add streaming to the site.


    To paraphrase Max Fischer: I've applied for early admission to the Edinburgh Film Festival and Cannes. Sundance is my safety.

    [wesanderson.org is a good source for active fans.]

    It may be a little overwrought ("So let's receive this Documenta as the proclamation of a state of emergency."), but Kim Levin's Village Voice review of Documenta 11 is pretty right on. I mean, she generally agrees with me, reinforcing my own innate sense of astuteness and acuity. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    This morning, I did a driveby at the Iwo Jima Memorial (there had been a big formation of Marines there earlier in the day). Whatever Americans know of Iwo Jima today, it's almost certain they recognize the statue. It was based on a photograph by Life Magazine combat cameraman, Joe Rosenthal [Iwojima.com has good background information.] Within 72 hours, the first 3-dimensional version, sculpted in clay by Felix deWeldon. The monument followed on a wave of popular sentiment.

    As I drove by, a busload of Chinese tourists was busy snapping pictures of each other with the monument in the background. Only, they were all at the "head" of the monument, on the "wrong" axis of the sculpture/photograph. At first, I smirked at their cluelessness, but then its source became obvious, and the monument's utter dependence on the photo alarmed me.

    I would bet they had no knowledge of the monument's (formal) origins. A monument that is inextricably linked to an image will eventually have to serve people who have no shared cultural experience, who haven't been "trained" through repeated viewing of an image (and through history taught with this image). It ends up serving as a monument to the WWII-era American public's media-driven remembrance; we are still living in the shadow of that memory.

    Iwo Jima is at least one or two generations closer, historical distance-wise, than the WWI memorials in Souvenir November 2001, but the separation of the memorial and the cultural memory is already showing.


    Usually, when you get googled for "I went to high school with Ben Affleck" or "
    red vines and hidden meaning," you're left to wonder who the hell that was, and what's going on in those folks' heads? So imagine my thrill when the guy searching for "Rem Koolhaas architecture and Matt Damon" sends a confessional email and includes a link to his weblog, Laughing Boy. Check it out [Mom, this doesn't include you.] Of course, I still have no idea what's going on in Laughing Boy's head, but it's pretty funny nonetheless.

    While on that search query, there's a great quote in Deborah Solomon's logically warped and implausibly generousNYTimes Magazine article about the Guggenheim and its wack director Tom Krens. Smarmy casino developer and recovering binge art collector Steve Wynn said of Rem Koolhaas, ''If his name were Sid Schwartz, no one would want him.''

    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

    comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
    greg [at] greg [dot ] org

    find me on twitter: @gregorg

    about this archive

    Posts from July 2002, in reverse chronological order

    Older: June 2002

    Newer August 2002

    recent projects, &c.


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    Social Medium:
    artists writing, 2000-2015
    Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
    ed. by Jennifer Liese
    buy, $28

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    Madoff Provenance Project in
    'Tell Me What I Mean' at
    To__Bridges__, The Bronx
    11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
    show | beginnings

    chop_shop_at_springbreak
    Chop Shop
    at SPRING/BREAK Art Show
    curated by Magda Sawon
    1-7 March 2016

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    eBay Test Listings
    Armory – ABMB 2015
    about | proposte monocrome, rose

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    It Narratives, incl.
    Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
    Franklin Street Works, Stamford
    Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
    about | link

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    TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
    about

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    Standard Operating Procedure
    about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

    CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
    Canal Zone Richard Prince
    YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
    Decision, plus the Court's
    Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
    about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

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    "Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
    Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
    about, brochure | installation shots


    HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
    Printed Matter, NYC
    Summer 2012
    panel &c.


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    Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
    background | making of
    "Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

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    Canal Zone Richard
    Prince YES RASTA:
    Selected Court Documents
    from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
    about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99

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