December 2002 Archives

Sifting and digitizing footage for S(J03) until the batteries in my camera ran out, when I watched two DVD's back to back, XXX and Don't Look Now. At a stretch, I can say XXX is research for the Animated Musical. Nicolas Roeg's 1973 thriller, though, is a concentrated course in editing in general and intercutting in particular.

Julie Chrystie in Don't Look Now

When I cited the seduction scene in Out of Sight as inspiration for intercutting scenes 1 and 2 in Souvenir, a couple of readers suggested seeing the similar Donald Sutherland/Julie Chrystie love scene in Don't Look Now, "one of the subtlest, most affecting erotic sequences in the history of cinema." Similar? Apparently, in the Out of Sight DVD commentary,Soderbergh cops to copying this scene; frankly, I think he improved on it.

Roeg's a cinematographer-turned-director, and it shows. Venice looks awesome in the dark (blown out sunlight at the end of a long alley) and the light (endless boats crossing shimmering canals). And Roeg never met a mirror or semi-transparent surface he didn't like (or shoot); when the unsettling Scottish sisters confront Christie's grieving mother in the ladies' room, there are so many reflections you wonder where the camera was.

The love scene is unexpectedly intense (think twice before watching this one with the in-laws), and not just because I went into the movie thinking Julie Chrystie was the one in The Belle of Amherst. The intercutting is quite effective and interestingly different from Out of Sight. The differences between Roeg's and Soderbergh's scenes are both consistent and convenient. Don't Look Now: impassioned married sex between people who know each other well is intercut with the aftermath, stolid scenes of getting dressed for dinner. The sex is guaranteed, just part of the fabric of life. Out of Sight: Self-conscious flirtation between pursuer and pursued is intercut with the payoff, uncertainty banished and anticipation building to a striptease and one hot night in the sack.

Roeg packs his film with foreboding cuts; pay attention, because everything seems intentional or freighted with meaning. Handheld camerawork (a church accident and late-night chase along a canal, in particular) crops up unexpectedly and with great emotional effect. Some of the love scene cuts are a bit obvious, though; a shot of Julie Chrystie rolling over cuts to a shot of her turning around and putting on lipstick, and there's a silly pelvic thrust as Sutherland puts on his pants. Even if it feels a little heavy-handed or self-indulgent sometimes, Roeg's is an expressive style of filmmaking that's largely dropped from sight these days.

Except, of course, for the "exciting faux-documentary style of Bloody Sunday; the feverish intercutting in Adaptation, Chicago, The Hours, Solaris, even The Two Towers!" which Slate's David Edelstein points out...

December 29, 2002

On Fame. Not Fame, Fame.

Kevin Spacey and John Cusack in a movie I won't name. image:reelcriticism.com

If you thought the best thing in this Guardian story about Kevin Spacey's popularity in London is the phrase "pashmina intelligentsia," you're too easily pleased:

On one occasion, the actress Sienna Miller was sitting next to Spacey at a bar. She had just seen The Usual Suspects and was excited to find herself close to one of the film's stars.

Approaching him she said: 'I just wanted to say I can't believe I'm sitting in a bar drinking champagne next to Kevin Bacon.' 'Spacey,' said Kevin. 'Yeah, it is, isn't it?' said Miller.

Which reminds me, I saw a part of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil the other night on TV, and I realized its similarities to Adaptation haven't been mentioned anywhere. [Of course, my mentioning them here isn't going to help me get ahead at Spacey's online film company, Triggerstreet. What the hey, here goes.]
  • Both are adapted from very popular books, which were in turn adapted from magazine articles (Okay, Midnight just seemed like a 400-page Vanity Fair article.)
  • The writer, desperately inserts himself into the story. Hilarity ensues. We then experience a melange of fiction, fact, imagination and multiple levels of reality. (Okay, Charlie Kaufman was upfront about it. To a fault. John Berendt's been much cagier. No pun intended.)
  • John Cusack is in both films. But he's much better in Adaptation (Okay, I'm guessing, but he can't have a worse role than he did in Midnight, etc.)
  • And most significantly, Midnight director Clint Eastwood is Adaptation director Spike Jonze's father. (Okay, I made that one up, but I had to finish big.)

  • December 28, 2002

    S(J03): Tape Logging Complete


    Just finished logging in the third and final tape for S(J03), and I'm pretty relieved/excited. At first, three hours of footage for a 5-minute film seemed daunting, like we'd never be able to cull it down, but after watching it all, it's won't be a problem. That makes it sound like there's only 5 minutes of usable footage in the whole day, which is not the case at all. With a lot of long takes and exploring, there is more extraneous stuff; it's just that there are some shots which are so clearly good, you can flag them right away.

    When we shot the ironing scenes at the hotel, for example, we went start-to-finish on three shirts. (Ironing? Huh? Read the script.) By the third shirt, Patrick, the cinematographer, had really gotten a feel for it; his intimacy and comfort with the camera come through as he shot the entire shirt in one continuous take.

    As soon as I get the Powerbook set up for editing, I'm off. Detailed logging means I'll probably only capture about 20 minutes of video, which is very manageable.

    December 27, 2002

    The Best Boxing Day, EVER

    New New Yorker Jason Kottke made my Boxing Day by including greg.org on his weblog's "not recommended at all" list. It's right under Gawker (who I'd come to imagine as a top, so that's unsurprising). Thanks, Jason! (And unless you're just a single clone hitting reload, welcome, all Kottkeians, to greg.org.)

    View from the window at Le Gras, 1826, Joseph Nicephore NiepceView from the window at Le Gras, 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
    image: Ransom Center, UT Austin

    Or specifically, the Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin:
    1) to see the world's first photograph, a view out his window taken by a Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, in 1826. Jim Lewis writes about it on Slate.
    2) to read the unpublished manuscript of Minstral Island, a futuristic musical by Thomas Pynchon and Kirkpatrick Sale, which they recently acquired. [Fill out your research application before you go. Oh, and get Pynchon's written permission if you want to make a copy. I'm sure he's listed.]

    December 27, 2002

    Just One. Last. Shot


    This morning, I ran off to shoot one more pre-sunrise shot of the mountains and highway for S(J03), a cold, dark 2.5 hour round trip from SLC.

    With the sweet Powerbook that Santa brought me, I'll get some stills up this weekend or next week, depending on the editing schedule. Stay tuned for a rush course in short filmmaking!

    What a way to spend Boxing Day. I logged two of the three hours of footage we shot Monday for S(J03), which took most of the afternoon. Now that I know what we have to edit, the question is, how can I best tell the story in the script? Technical issues and changes on the ground complicate things a bit.

    Technical issues: Unstable monitor settings which we didn't solve until about 11AM means that some really good shots from the morning are just too dark to use. Others are too good not to use, even if they are a little dark. The solution: work the lighting into the story, using it to mark the passage of time. As it works out, this jibes well with the daily routine in the cleaners, which is staggered half-a-day from the dry cleaning process. (i.e., they do the first steps (cleaning and pressing) in the afternoon/evening and the last two steps (bagging and sorting for pickup) the next morning.) The light/shadow/darkness in our footage maps onto the process well.

    Changes on the ground: In the script, the main character spends a day working at the dry cleaners. Rather than negotiate and explain this to Joe, the cleaners owner, over the phone, I just asked if we could shoot without disrupting their routine. Joe was nervous because Monday is their busiest day. Looking at the footage, an arc emerged: we started exploring the facility, then observing the people, then asking questions. After building up a degree of familiarity and trust, the man quietly and naturally offered to help. This evolution from observer to participant, and the growing trust it entails, was more satisfying than what I'd originally intended, so it became an organizing principle for the film.

    Out of Sight, dir. Steven Soderbergh, image: georgeclooney.orgFinally, the J-Lo Factor. Watching the footage, there are so many wonderful details and vignettes, it feels like I'd have to make an hour-long documentary to include them all. Not gonna do it. With the basic structural principles in place (light>>dark, start>>finish rather than just day>>night, reticent observer>>trusted participant) a rigid narrative, sequential arc seems less imperative. The film is more reflection than narrative, we decided, especially in the dry cleaners. Pushing this forward, we came up with the idea of intercutting between two timestreams: ironing and driving, getting ready and going.

    Steven Soderbergh, in what I still feel is one of the sweetest examples of this technique, just brings it home in the seduction scene in Out of Sight. I've mentioned this before. If my repetition bores you, by all means, clue me into other great scenes.

    This all relates to notes I made on the table today at lunch. Check out a transcript here.

    Mom's house, those chocolate cookies with powdered sugar on them, embarassing family pictures, elaborate meals. For several fleeting moments, you're ten years old again. You actually feel it. Why? It seems like every other year, but those visceral feelings of actually being back in time... What could be different?

    Then, as you surf the news at Google [sure didn't have that when I was a kid!], and as you read the Times and the Guardian [that, either.], it breaks on you like a dawn. Something extra this year. It's a clock, alright, but not as in "clock, turning back the," more like "clock, doomsday."

    What really makes you feel like you're ten again is the Doomsday Clock, the one your uptight Viet Nam vet civics teacher told you was inching perilously close to midnight. [Uptight? He'd blink hard a few times before answering a question, trying to hold it all together.] Go figure. Hadn't thought of that for a while.

    Thank you, President Bush. And thank your friends. For a Christmas just like the ones I used to know.

    December 24, 2002

    S(J03) Shooting, Day 1/1

    Synopsis: A man travels to Springville, Utah to hang out in a dry cleaners owned by Joe, a Korean immigrant.

    Cast & Crew: I directed. Artist/photographer Patrick Barth starred as cinematographer. Producer/assistant camera/astrophysicist Jean Cottam did everything else. Joe (presumably) makes his onscreen debut as himself. Patrick, a longtime friend, is working on his own film-based project for the Spring, and was interested in getting a feel for the Sony VX camera and the logistics of shooting; when we found out that we would all be in Utah for the holidays, I rushed together this one-day shoot.

    Travelodge Provo, image: utahvalley.orgLocations: The simple script calls for just three locations: a hotel room, the man's car, and the cleaners. The Provo Travelodge served us well; we didn't spend nearly enough time in the richly appointed lobby (see left). Faced with such breathtaking mountain views, the Travelodge decided not to compete; their room decor is very pared down, which fit the aesthetic needs of the story. I'd known about the cleaners in Springville; you might say I'd location scouted it before.

    Equipment: For this rather impromptu shoot, I kept equipment at a minimum. Probably too minimum, but any more'd mean more crew, more time, next thing you know there're unions involved, Della Reese wants a cameo, you get the idea.
    Actually, I'd planned to mooch equipment from a friend in SLC, but schedules didn't match up, so at the last minute, I brought my old Sony VX-1000 and package from New York. It worked great, except when it didn't work. Overdue for its factory service, we had inexplicable outages, which we at first thought was the monitor (battery or cable). As they say in Provo, oh my heck, this thing is a piece of shizz.
    Lighting, with a 2-live crew , we had to go with natural light; from my intense study of Soderbergh DVD commentaries (see Traffic School), I learned about replacing light bulbs. (Note to Travelodge: If you're wondering why room 217 uses 10x as much electricity as the others, check the bulbs.) What we didn't figure out until it was too late is to use natural wavelength or tungsten bulbs. As a workaround, I rewrote the script so that the golden hues of the small hotel room pay homage to Soderbergh's Mexico scenes. Option 2: Heck, we'll fix it in post.
    Sound, we were screwed. I didn't get DAT/MD and a mic before coming out, so we ended up shooting all camera mic. This should be ok, since there's hardly any dialogue in the 5-min. film. The solution here: fix it in post. We took ample room tone in each location, and then did some scenes purely for sound, as if the camera were just a mic. The idea is to clean up these tracks as much as possible and construct the sound once we get the rough cut.

    I've got some last minute Christmas shopping to do, so check back for some amusing anecdotes.

    Greg.org got quoted in The Juice, MSNBC entertainment polymath Jan Herman's weblog, for my post about the Peter Eisenman & Co's (aka the Gang of New York) "stealth deconstructivist memorial" proposal for the WTC site. Why "stealth"? Because what they pitched as the most humble building turns out to be the most massive of all monuments. So, why stealth?

    Anyway, I have changed the title of my next movie to celebrate The Juice: henceforth, it will be called Souvenir (Jan 2003).

    I haven't posted much about it at all, but I wrote a new short script, S(J03), which I'm going to do a rough shoot of Monday in Springville, Utah. If it goes well, we'll come back and shoot it in film during Sundance. It's about a guy who takes quiet pleasure in ironing. I imagine it'll be about 5 minutes long, and we'll try to get a rough cut ready to show the folks at Lincoln Center's New Directors/New Films by Jan. 8. Another self-imposed, ridiculously short deadline, which we have no reason to believe we'll meet.

    Here is the location schedule for the one-day shoot. Check back for a blow-by-blow account.


    I'm quite behind, obviously. Thursday went very well, as I wrote earlier. Souvenir (November 2001) screened last in a program of four short films which, in the words of Festival Director (and MoMA curator) Sally Berger, were "different from all the Sept. 11-related things we've been saturated with...These 'makers use a more essayistic, and in one case [mine, -ed.], narrative form to explore issues and ideas." The other three films were:

  • Encounters of the WTC Kind, 2002, dir. by Kristin Lucas, in which the artist and friends wandered the empty halls of the WTC speculating about ghosts, a whimsical idea at the time (it was shot in 2000) which now has a painful, prescient resonance. The film is part of Lucas' Invisible Inhabitants Network.
  • WTC: The First 24 Hours, 2001, dir. by Etienne Sauret. Sauret essentially slipped into Ground Zero and got images and sounds that were otherwise unavailable and captured the raw, dazed, and unregimented rescue efforts.Sauret and producer David Carrara's film has already received widespread attention; it was in Sundance 2002 and other festivals. Their site is thefirst24hours.com.
  • Scenes from an Endless War, 2002, dir. by Norman Cowie. A still-growing collection of critiques of the methods, manipulations, and messages of war in the US media, Cowie's sharply crafted video re-presents the news and its apparatus in an eye-opening way. Watch a clip at normancowie.com.

    Before the screening, I met David and Etienne in the theater, when we were caught off guard by the opening music from Souvenir; the projectionist was checking the levels. Family showed up, a wave of people I didn't know, then a couple of familiar faces. The whole thing was more nervewracking than I'd imagined. Sally Berger got up to introduce the films, then we were off.
    I was very interested to see the other three films, which were very different from each other and very good in their own ways. Inevitably, I was caught up, trying to anticipate what kind of context the program was creating for my film. (The only line I remember from Beaches: "But enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think of me?") The various settings, pacing, tone and styles worked well, though, and people seemed to take Souvenir in quite readily.

    Watching it on the big (did I say big, I meant HUGE) screen was intoxicating; repeatedly, self-consciousness would build ("oh no, this shot'll be too long!"), and then a gorgeous image or a nice cut would come. People reacted to lines I worried were too obscure. A couple of shots were kind of dark, but if you look back to the location notes, lighting was one of our major challenges then, too.

    Then, it was over. Lights came on, the woman in front of us bolted, I knew no one'd stay for the Q&A, and they did. Norman and Etienne both took questions, Sally talked about putting the program together, and then people asked about Souvenir, how memorials change over time, what French people thought, what should happen on the WTC site, about repeated references to emptiness and voids in the film (something I hadn't really considered), and then it was over. People came up, we got shooed to the lobby, we talked and talked, there were hangers on, it was very, very cool. Just like you'd see in a movie. theater.

  • December 20, 2002

    So Now I Know

    Coatcheck So you're at the Annie Liebovitz party, where even the Christmas trees are tall and skinny, and there's no coatcheck. The safest place to leave your things: next to the bag containing $1,000 worth of marijuana, watched nervously by its owner.
    Finally, the voices in my head have a name, and that name is Gawker.

    Thanks to all y'all (as we'd say in NC, at least when our parents weren't around) who've sent your kind wishes and congratulations re Souvenir. Since 1) You mailed from work, 2) you mailed from outside New York, and 3) there were far more of you than bodies in the theater, I conclude most of you weren't actually at MoMA yesterday. So thanks for the vote of confidence, too, I guess.

    So far, the winner of the farthest-away-wellwisher goes to Aussie Matthew Clayfield, who writes about his prodigious film production activities on his weblog, Esoteric Rabbit Films. According to his site, he has yet to graduate to wearing pants. He's 16.

    I'm beat, but I have to mention one experience from the premiere that caught me totally offguard. My film, Souvenir was shown with three other short films, including Etienne Sauret and David Carrara's haunting WTC: The First 24 Hours. Sauret captured the empty shock and silence of Ground Zero, images of a time and place otherwise closed to the media, like these fragments of the Towers' trademark steel columns.

    WTC: The First 24 Hours, 2001, dir. by Etienne Sauret Still, WTC: The First 24 Hours, dir. by Etienne Sauret. Image: thefirst24hours.com

    Then in Souvenir, this MIT webpage briefly flashed across the screen during the Google search. Professor Helene Lipstadt had helped students build the Reflecting Wall, a painted wooden replica of these columns, which went up within three days of the attacks.

    mit_wtc_wall.jpg MIT's Reflecting Wall, Sept. 14, 2001 Image: Donna Coveney, MIT

    My mind went immediately to the the WTC proposal put forward yesterday by Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Steven Holl, and Peter Eisenman.

    Thumbnail image for dream_team_memorial_sq.jpg Meier, Gwathmey, Holl and Eisenman WTC Proposal image: LMDC

    There's no mention of such a reference at all in either their presentation or their written proposal. Instead, they refer to "a new typology in the tradition of innovative skyscraper design...quiet abstraction...screens of presence and absence...[and] interlaced fingers of protective hands." So this "Dream Team" never imagined their proposal for rebuilding closely references the wreckage of the Twin Towers? You must be dreaming.

    eisenman_muschamp_wtc.jpg "Partly collapsed" office towers, by Peter Eisenman. NYT caption: "...the buildings would echo the devastation wrought on 9/11 and offer a striking memorial to the fallen towers."

    In September, Eisenman contributed a design for office buildings on West Street (facing Ground Zero) to NY Times critic Herbert Muschamp' ambitious exercise, "Don't Rebuild. Reimagine.". In the Magazine's Flash presentation, Eisenman describes the buildings:

    You get the effect of ...a moment of frozen time, where the buildings are collapsing, and what we tried to do was record in the buildings that moment, a moment of impact on the surrounding buildings that would be recorded as part of the memorial.
    Even though they avoid mentioning it, the "Dream Team" has proposed to freeze a different moment in time, the first 24 hours.

    Post Script: A reader (from Eisenman's Yale, by the way) pointed out another connection, one that I didn't make yesterday: the formal similarities to Steven Holl's just-finished building, a dorm at MIT.

    Three-line synopsis: It went amazingly well; about 60 strangers(!); a couple of media, and interest from one critic; three very interesting companion films in the program; chuckles in the right places; thoughtful questions afterward; and supportive friends, crew, and family. Oh, and Sally Berger, organizer of the Festival called it "wonderful and moving."

    We're going to dinner now, then I'll return to earth and give more details.

    LIVE@WTC DESIGN PRESS CON. PIX ETC 2 FOLLOW


    If the 3+ hour multimedia press conference for around 25 brand name architects to present their proposals for the World Trade Center site were Saks, I was the chick selling hand-beaded mittens from a card table on the sidewalk. Actually, as a media event, it was more wholesale than retail; press and
    LMDC staffers outnumbered Invited Guests about 3:1. So rather than just spam the (presumably interested in memorials) crowd with cards for tomorrow's screening, I switched to providing background and "context" to the media folks and sharing thoughtful opinions and quotes on the designs. (ex. "They sure don't build 'em like they used to," opined Greg Allen, a New York filmmaker whose documentary about a WWI memorial opens today at MoMA...")

    So, how are they? Well, compared to the first round of designs announced in July (which sucked), things are looking up. As one juror told me, the overall high quality of these designs just makes him realize how depressing last summer actually was, and I have to agree; some of the designs are quite impressive, inspiring, even. Here are some action photos from the event; It was a real scrum for a while.

    WTC Bathtub wall under construction, 1968. Image: mcny.org WTC Bathtub wall under construction, 1968. Image: Museum of The City of New York
    Daniel Libeskind's memorial proposal, titled Memory Foundation, includes the "bathtub" as well as the towers' footprints. The bathtub--a watertight, concrete, underground structure designed to hold back the Hudson River--should be recognized as a symbol of strength and resilience, says Libeskind. The New Yorker re-published a fascinating 1972 account of the bathtub's construction by Edith Iglauer.
    Foster and Partners joined towers. Image: LMDC Foster & Partners, "tallest, cleanest" etc.. Image: LMDC

    Lord Foster's presentation shows why he got the upgrade (from Norman and Sir, for that matter). He was smooth, his images were clear and seductive, and he dropped references to his work so lightly ("The Reichstag is a memorial itself, really..."), that selecting his two towers "which kiss and touch and become one" seemed inevitable.

    In an unexpected train wreck of a presentation, the "Dream Team" (Richard Meier's opening words), sought to shun ego and it's evil progeny, "architecture." At least they avoided the architecture. Meier's unfortunately morose presentation matched the missed opportunities of their proposal.

    I say missed, because in the most impressive presentation and proposal of them all, United Architects, another team effort, nailed the incredible potential of ideas the Dream Team had right in front of them. Even though it appeared in other proposals, too, UA made a Sky Memorial a reality by showing that it already exists; Greg Lynn talked of the team members' early and overwhelming visits to the families' viewing room, which overlooks Ground Zero. They proposed one memorial 60 stories in the air, atop the first building to be constructed at the perimeter of the site. Gradually, four more towers would join it, forming a "cathedral-like" arc around the memorial in the footprints.

    United Architects, view of towers from footprint memorial United Architects, view of (1620') towers from footprint memorial. Image: LMDC

    The towers would angle toward each other across the restored street grid, forming a massive, new urban space, 60 stories up and five stories high, contiguous across all five towers. To drive their proposal home, they showed an extremely effective film, which alternated views from within the buildings with repeated shots of people on the street looking up, like they used to do. It was surprisingly impressive. See their flash presentation on their site.

    As for me, well, I did a fair job of working the crowd, chatting up anyone I saw with a green sticker on (ie., media) and then handing out quotes, reactions, and the cards for tomorrow's screening of Souvenir (November 2001). There were some very nice responses, and no one seemed to equate this kooky project with the scattering of amateur memorialists and professional World Trade Center groupies who crowded the periphery of the event. Combined with the encouraging replies from the mailings that went out, tomorrow could turn out alright.

    December 17, 2002

    As I Lay Typing...


    Scorsese's
    Kundun is on, and it occurs to me that this is his most beautiful film. The opening, a sequence of details from a Tibetan sand mandala, is entrancing. Roger Deakins (cinematographer) rocks. Here's an interview with him and 13 other great DP's. If you've never watched Tibetan monks make a sand mandala, seek it out. There should be a Mandala Aggregator site, like PublicRadioFan, where you can find mandalas in process anywhere in the world. [Is this what Larry King's column'd be like if he knew XML?]

    I stayed up too late last night watching that sycophant on In The Actor's Studio suck up to Mr. Scorsese (Oh, sorry. Marty.) for two hours. He had to mention their dinner together at Cannes three times. Anyway, I imagine a movie about the Dalai Lama'd be a little weird for a Christmas gift, but Amazon can't ship it in time anyway.

    Blue, directed by Derek Jarman
    An embarassingly bad collection of operatic shorts just ended on Sundance, including one by the late Derek Jarman. That, in turn, reminded me of Blue, his last feature. Blind from persistent chemotherapy treatments, Jarman had an unexposed reel of film printed as azure blue (apparently, there are no frames). For eighty minutes, dialogue, sounds, and music wash over you; by about half way through, you'd swear there are distortions, shadows, movement on the monochromatic screen. It's wonderful (and available on CD). Reading it is nice, but it doesn't do it justice.


    Irish Hunger Monument, by David F. Gallagher, lightningfield.com

    On his photo weblog lightningfield, David Gallagher published some photos and reviews of the Irish Hunger Monument which opened this summer in Battery Park City. The Monument is designed by artist Brian Tolle, whose idea was to create a 1/4 acre plot of Irish farmland in Manhattan. This patently artificial landscape recalls the British land policies which exacerbated the Irish potato famine of the 1840's. Critical response to the monument has been mixed, but I have to appreciate the work's solid conceptual basis. There's a cautionary tale here, though, about how to deal with constituent and political exigencies; according to one reporter's account, Tolle argued against several elements which have come under criticism. (When a monument brags about having "nearly two miles of text," feel free to worry.)


    Last night was the filmmakers' reception for
    Documentary Fortnight, which followed a screening of Family, by Sami Saif and (So)Phie Ambo (see below). The film was pretty good; the nervous Sami's emotionally high-pitched quest to find his Yemeni father. Arriving in Yemen, Sami tells one of many "uncles" how he, his brother, and his Danish mother suffered after his father ditched them in Denmark. With girlfriend Sophie behind the camera, the film has an uncomfortably intimate feeling, well suited to its raw subject.

    Danchizake, dir. Satoshi Ono At the party, I met several of the other filmmakers, and we traded notes on the festival, the audiences, Sundance, and PR stunts (more on this later). One standout: Satoshi Ono, whose film Danchizake (Homemade Sake) screened last Friday. It's a contemplative story of his family's relationships which reveals itself as his father brews sake. Jeff Hatfield, friend/cameraman on my documentary/artist, came with me, and, wouldn't you know it, he's exhibited a fully functional moonshine still in a couple of museums, so they had a lot to talk about.

    Ono's next film will be about his grandparents, (similar to my first project) so we definitely had a lot to talk about. When the Festival folks heard us speaking Japanese, they freaked out, wondering why I hadn't mentioned it before. (Apparently, there was only budget enough to get a translator for one day, and they'd been doing a lot of sign language.)

    Anyway, when I told a couple of other directors about my film and the upcoming presentation of architects' designs for Ground Zero, they invariably suggested passing out cards for Souvenir at the World Financial Center event. Sounds good to me, so watch for the Kozmo.com jacket again. Remember: Souvenir is screening Thursday at 2PM...


    Family, production still, dir by Sami Martin Saif and Phie AmboDocumentary Fortnight at MoMA is underway. The first event I'll be attending is tomorrow (sun.) night, a screening of Family by Sami Martin Saif and Phie Ambo. After the deaths of his mother and brother, Saif travels from Denmark to Yemen to find his father. There's a filmmaker reception after that. I'll give you a report. Let me know if you're going, or look for me there. That's me in the orange Kozmo.com jacket.

    Blocking out the production schedule for Souvenir January 2003, the next short, which will be shot in Springville, Utah (aka "Art City"). Here's the script. For reference, check out the documentary in the Projects column at left.

    In the Guardian, Duncan Campbell reviews 11"09"01, the collection of 11 Sept. 11-related short films produced by Alain Brigand, and loudly laments its lack of US distribution prospects. [The film's site has interviews will all eleven filmmakers. In French.] Frankly, I'm still pissed that I missed a screening last month at Columbia.

    Ernest Borgnine, 11 09 01, dir. Sean Penn
    image: bacfilms.com

    Campbell mentions the Sean Penn installment I wrote about earlier (starring Ernest Borgnine, the new greg.org poster boy). Penn remembers that loss "occurs every day, and the suffering that follows." Here's the Read Google translation of Penn's director statement.
    Still, 11 09 01, dir. Mira Nair
    image: bacfilms.com

    In her short, Mira Nair tells the true story of a Muslim New Yorker's unexplained disappearance on September 11. [Read about her latest feature, Monsoon Wedding, in Filmmaker Magazine.
    Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's segment has repeatedly been singled out as the most powerful in the film; sounds and voices over a black screen punctuated by fleeting clips of people jumping from the towers. A question appears on the screen at the end, "Does God's light blind us or guide us?" It's a question Inarritu intends for both sides, since both invoke God in a battle of good and evil.
    Kissinger and protege/war criminal Aug Pinochet
    Kissinger sharing the spotlight with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet

    Ken Loach must have found Henry Kissinger's brief appointment to a September 11th commission to be a cruel joke. His segment deals with the one of Kissinger's pet projects for Nixon, the bloody 1973 overthrow of the civilian government in Chile, which cost over 30,000 lives. [Read Seymour Hersh's <1982 Atlantic article about Kissinger driving the coup.] It took place on Sept. 11.

    Nobody's Perfect, indeed. If Anthony Lane can't get beyond Jack's celebrity, fine. He saw the movie at the NY Film Fest opening. His unabashed pinky-extended criticism almost always gives an enjoyable read. (Need some holiday cheer? Get his collected reviews, Nobody's Perfect, today Don't even think you can stuff a stocking with it or take it on a plane, though.)

    But Salon's review by Charles Taylor seems to be such a bitter, willful misread of the film, it defies explanation. So let me explain: Taylor actually misunderstands the audience, or more precisely, large swaths of the population of the US, including the hundreds of millions of excruciatingly normal people who fail to "delight (movie directors as) eccentrics and kooks and small-town oddballs" and who would never consider themselves "vulgar and naive and tacky," just the opposite.

    In About Schmidt as well as his previous films, Alexander Payne proves that excruciatingly normal doesn't automatically mean boring. Just the opposite. In a long Times article, A. O. Scott tries to place Payne's (and Nicholson's) Schmidt in a grand tradition of the "mythic cinema hero, The Regular Guy." This tradition extends from the creations of Clifford Odets, Sinclair Lewis, Arthur Miller, and John Updike to "just about every movie cop and sitcom dad." (Sitcom. Remember sitcom.) Although Scott cites Jimmy Stewart and Fred "My Three Sons" MacMurray, the only actual movie he cites is Marty, which Delbert Mann had originally directed on television. Mythic, indeed.

    Marty is the classic immigrant affirmation story, which won Oscars in 1955, for its star (Ernest Borgnine, nee Borgnino, an Italian), writer Paddy Chayefsky, a Jew from the Bronx) producer (Harold Hecht, a Jew from Poland), and director (Mann, from...Lawrenceville, Kansas). Beset by his loud Italian mother and family and feeling fat an unattractive, Marty falls for a teacher; the mismatched couple overcomes the family's objections and their own insecurity on their way to their fairytale marriage. Sound familiar? It should, since it's the same damn plot as My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.

    David Denby rightly called Greek Wedding on its big, fat sitcom roots, and the story of how its unexpected success among The Ignored caught Hollywood and the culture capitalists off guard is now accepted wisdom; Denby's own New Yorker review didn't even appear until September, six months after the film's debut, and presumably, after Denby's aunts and mother wouldn't let him off the hook for ignoring it any longer. For The Ignored, it's their own story, told in the style they were trained by television to expect. About Schmidt is a remarkable film about The Ignored that tells their own story in a powerful, serious way. It may never achieve the box office success of Greek Wedding, which is too bad. For the first time in fifty years, there's actually a good film about a Mythic Cinema Hero.

    December 12, 2002

    Here Comes The Sun

    Score one for the little guys. Scrappy upstart NY Sun shows a knack for reporting, scooping the Liberal Establishment with news of the Souvenir premiere. (auteur paparazzi photo included)

    You need movie ideas? Julian Dibbell writes in Wired about the physical world economies of online games like Ultima Online and Everquest.
    The messy complex of characters and possessions that had been Troy Stolle's virtual identity was broken down into parts far more valuable than the whole. The priciest items were listed on eBay within a day or two, and one by one they went off to the highest bidder.

    But the most valuable of all was the last to go. Not that Kiblinger lacked for house buyers in the month that Stolle's tower stood at auction. He sold one property to a single mom in Colorado, another to a manager for a database company in California. Yet another went to a woman in Virginia, who bought the house for her mother, an Alzheimer's sufferer whose last link to reality was her Ultima sessions with her daughter...

    At first he thought the previous owner was a character named Blossom. She handed off the deed. But Blossom turned out to be one of Kiblinger's avatars - and not even Kiblinger at the keyboard but his cousin Eugene, who gets $10 an hour to run around Britannia doing the deliveries that used to take up most of Kiblinger's workday.

    Wired must have a news bureau in Britannia. They also report on virtual Christmas parties and spontaneous post-Sept. 11 candlelight vigils. [party on, Travelers Diagram]

    December 11, 2002

    An Idea, If Ever There Was One

    Steven Johnson writes about an idea he's had, how to do a movie about nanotechnology right. Turns out Michael Crichton had wondered the same thing, and wrote a book about it. Turns out that book, at least the good parts, are similar to ideas Johnson has been mulling over (and writing and publishing on) for a while, too.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, "how'd that be as a movie?" is a question I'm always asking myself, too. Tonight on Dublog, was this sentence which captured one idea I've been wrestling with lately. From Jennifer 8. Lee's NY Times article about Google's Live Query display:

    people who shouldn't marry

    "she smoked a cigar"

    mr. potatoheads in long island

    pickup lines to get women

    auto theft fraud how to.

    Stare at Live Query long enough, and you feel that you are watching the collective consciousness of the world stream by.


    You want to come up with some movie ideas, too? See how many movies you can make from this: The Weekly Standard's engrossing report from a Christian retailers' convention. There's a lot more to Church Merch than just the Prayer of Jabez brand family, after all. (You thought it was just the best-selling book of 2001? You need to repent, brother.)
    The enlarge-my-territory prayer [of Jabez] also appears on wristwatches, bumper stickers, pens, candy bars, Jabez: A Novel, and much else. "It's from the Bible, so I guess they couldn't copyright it," muses one CBA exhibitor. Several others tell me that editors are scouring the Bible in search of another nobody with star quality.

    Louis Begley spoke before a screening of About Schmidt last night. An extremely genteel guy, he explained why he's quite pleased with the film, even though it differs significantly from his novel. For Begley, "write what you know" means Schmidt ("known as Schmittie to one and all") is an Upper East Side lawyer, recently retired to Bridgehampton, something, presumably, a vast majority of the screening audience knows well, too. Consistently for Alexander Payne, "film what you know" means a studied exploration of the middle of Middle America: Schmidt is an Omaha actuary whose retirement plans involve a Winnebago.

    Kathy Bates lettin' it all hang out in About Schmidt, from the official site image: aboutschmidtmovie.com

    The only disappointment Begley voiced was the elimination of his saucy Puerto Rican waitress character who (brace yourself) teaches Schmidt to love again. Or, more precisely, she "teaches Schmittie the transformative power of sex. [audience titters] You laugh. It's true. Maybe you're just too young to understand." But then he gamely allowed that Payne may have been poking fun at this idea with Kathy Bates' hand-painted clothing-shedding hot-tubber. Um, yeah.

    While I've heard it described as a comedy, the laughs were all at things that are quite real outside the culture capitals; if you've been there, or are honest about being from there, your laughter is slightly embarassed and at yourself. (I'm not talking about my own proto-mullet here.) Begley sounded a little resigned when he said he couldn't see the future holding anything good for Payne's Schmidt. As I did in September, I have disagree and side with Payne. If taken at the most superficial level, you could argue that Schmidt's transformative experience at the end is a pretty meager reward for all that preceded it. Why, it's practically a, um, a money shot. What it may be is the difference between sex and love.

    [12/12 update: Alexander Payne will be on Studio 360 this weekend. AND he will be given the Work In Progress award by the MoMA Department of Film and Media next February. Stay tuned.]

    December 9, 2002

    On Productive Passion

    viewing Rothkos at The Tate Modern

    In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones takes a while to get to an interesting story of Mark Rothko's masterful series of paintings, originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant. It seems Rothko painted them in contempt and withdrew them in disgust after checking out the Cafeteria of Power and deciding the moguls would be insufficiently cowed by the art. Two of Rothko's overt influences: the "bricked up windows" of Michelangelo's Laurentian Library vestibule, and Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries ("strange," "luxurious and hellish," a Dionysian attack on Mies/Johnson's rational order ) [12/12 update: The Times reports Vivendi Universal is preparing to sell the Seagram collection, which would have included the Rothkos in the Four Seasons.]

    On another note, Laura Winters, long the NYT's and Washington Post's go-to journalist for a new generation of independent and foreign filmmakers (and Harvard alum), gives Vogue's celebrity coverage an upgrade with a profile of plays-a-writer-in-Adaptation Meryl Streep. Problematically, Ms Streep and the two actresses I'd pick to play Laura in the movie--Ms. Danes and Ms Foster--all went to Yale.

    December 8, 2002

    Some quotes

    Back from Hawaii, and finalizing the press release, invites, and guest list for the Souvenir screening on the 19th. Drop a line if you'd like to be added to my guest list, otherwise, check out MoMA's site for times, etc. I'll obviously post more about this.

    Some quotes that caught my attention, except where noted, from the NY Times (Sun. Times in HI: $7.50)

    "Design demands observation," Mr. Castiglioni would explain, Ms. [Paola] Antonelli said, as though there was easily a life's work in seeing, in the commonplace, what others couldn't.
    - William Hamilton's obituary for Achille Castiglioni

    ...Even Americans of modest means have had a tradition of keeping an unused room as a carefully decorated stage set for a play that is rarely, perhaps never, performed.
    - Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners), quoted in the review of her new book
    It was sort of like one of those moments when it seems like a good idea to invite a hillbilly to dinner. Then the hillbilly comes and ends up ruining the carpet.
    - Although it's so good it could be from anywhere, it's an anonymous celebrity aghast at Richard "Survivor" Hatch's horrible behavior at a Broadway show. Quoted in the NY Observer 15th anniversary edition.
    We all have opinions about almost everything, and the temptation to toss them in is great. To air ones view gratuitously, however, is to imply that the demand for them is brisk, which may not be the case, and which, in any event, may not be relevant to the discussion. Opinions scattered indiscriminately about leave the mark of egotism at work. Similarly, to air one's view at an improper time may be in bad taste. If you have received a letter inviting you to speak at the dedication of a new cat hospital, and you hate cats, your reply, declining the invitation, does not necessarily have to cover the full range of your emotions. You must make it clear that you will not attend, but you do not have to let fly at cats.
    - William Strunk and E. B. White's Elements of Style, excerpted in Jack Spade Quarterly, which, with two issues in two+ years, would be more appropriately titled Jack Spade Nonchalantly
    Usually, the magazine Architecture observed in 1903, "the engineer makes the design, hands it to the architect to add a lantern or two, makes it fancy, and the artistic conscience of the interested community is at rest."
    - Christopher Gray's Nov. 24 article on building the Queensboro Bridge
    ...Stanton Eckstut, a principal of the firm hired by the Port Authority, said that while the development corporation's seven teams of architects might be working on pretty building designs, he alone was preparing substantive plans for the site's streets, transportation facilities and underground infrastructure.
    - plus a change. Edward Wyatt's Dec. 1 article on the WTC site rebuilding process.

    Early in the editing of Souvenir November 2001, I decided to eventually expand the short film into a related series of shorts, all ultimately interconnected a la Kieslowski's Dekalog (See the movie index for more references).

    A couple of weeks ago, it became clear that the original documentary project which spawned greg.org could fit in this Souvenir series in some way. The result of this confluence: Souvenir January 2003, a short film about a man's quiet appreciation of ironing. Look forward to your comments.

    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 December 2002, in reverse chronological order

    Older: November 2002

    Newer January 2003

    recent projects, &c.


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    Social Medium:
    artists writing, 2000-2015
    Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
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    Madoff Provenance Project in
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    TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
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    Standard Operating Procedure
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    CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
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    YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
    Decision, plus the Court's
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    Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
    about, brochure | installation shots


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    Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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    Canal Zone Richard
    Prince YES RASTA:
    Selected Court Documents
    from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
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