Category:features

I, of all people, should like a sponsored roadmovie featuring an Audi, and a Handspring. Go figure.

Another GreenCine find, Wim Wenders has directed a The Other Side of the Road, a 6-minute filmmercial for the introduction of the Audi A3. See it at Audi's Germany site. Like most Wenders work, plot takes a backseat to scenery (and since the A3 is a hatchback, it's a very small backseat). Some grungy couple, a sleek couple, a lot of desert driving, cleverly placed signs with the ad agency's slogans: admire me, push me, love me, etc.

Wim Wenders Photos, image:wim-wenders.com
There's a Making Of montage, too, which I found more engaging. The whole thing's wordless, with a repetitive porny soundtrack. And there's an interview with Wenders in German. The film takes a lot of visual cues from Wenders' photos (above), which he exhibited in 1995-6.

I won't reveal it here, and I can't verify it until I see the movie again, but Clark Kent has put out an annotated transcript of The Architect's explanation to Neo of The Matrix. And before you get into any heady arguments over the philosophy of Matrix Reloaded, read Ken Mondschein's excellent, spoiler-filled analysis at Corporate MoFo. Enjoy, and keep coming back.

April 25, 2003

Nude Scenes At BYU

Originally titled, "One reason I decided to become a filmmaker: Nude scenes at BYU"

Cinema Paradiso, dir. Giuseppe Tornatore, 1989, image:splicedonline.com Alfredo taking out the bad parts in Cinema Paradiso, which had more than 50 minutes cut for its original release. Image:splicedonline.com
You know how, in Cinema Paradiso, the priest would sit, bell in hand, and pre-screen that week's film? And when an indecent scene came along (in post-war Sicily, all it took was a kiss), he'd ring the bell with great seriousness, and a sighing Alfredo'd insert a scrap of paper into the reel to mark the print for "temporary" censorship? And how Alfredo never really got around to putting those racy scenes back into the movies before returning them? And how Toto watched the whole thing, and how those censored and powerful film clips helped make cinema Toto's lifelong passion/profession?

That was my job in college (the scene-cutting, not the bell-ringing). During my last two years at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, I was a manager of the International Cinema, an on-campus foreign film program that screened recent and classic films under the auspices of the College of Humanities. [The program's still running. Apr 7-12, the last days of their winter schedule, they screened Chris Marker's excellent 2000 Tarkovsky documentary, One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich; when I was there, we showed The Sacrifice.]
Prof. Don Marshall was the advisor/programmer. He had the best job in Provo, although no one else realized it; he'd spend his breaks roaming film festivals and arthouses, spotting new films he could conceivably bring to a conservative religious campus. His own tastes probably ran to Wajda, since Man of Iron and some other one were among the very few prints he'd actually bought (or finagled from his friends at New Yorker Films and other exotic distributors) for the program. Since he'd seen the pictures, and knew roughly what'd fly, nudity- and language-wise, he could sometimes quote reel and scene what needed to go. If he had unclear notes or the vaguest recollection, we'd screen the movie, Cinema Paradiso-style on Monday, and he'd tell me and/or the projectionist what had to go. We'd then be expected to cut the scenes and be sure to mark them with tape on the edge so we could replace the threatening genitalia, too-graphic sex, or too-foul dialogue before shipping the print back.

manon_of_the_spring.jpg

As for what had to be cut, it was pretty much what I just listed. Nudity per se was not automatically censored, though. The IC is part of the curriculum, not just entertainment, and so it was assumed by the institution (the School, not the Church; there IS a difference) that the seriousness of the students and the artistic merit of the films were best-served by a lighter touch. Damn, hell, even shit might stay in. Long shots of Manon bathing at her spring were fine, but closeups must go. Nipples and breasts, were examined [sic, heh] case by case. A flash of genitalia? preferably not. A lingering, prolonged, or too-recognizable view of genitalia? Cut it [sic]. Sex, only if it's subdued, but usually not, thanks. Butts, for the most part, could stay.

[It's worth noting that the Varsity Theater in the student union, which showed mainstream first-run (or close to it) movies had a zero-tolerance policy on all of the above. I remember seeing Top Gun there, and in a shower scene, the projectionist laid down thin black tape to cover the merest hint of buttcheek. This wasn't done frame by frame, though, but vertically. Three guys'd be standing in the shower, when all of a sudden a huge black band would obliterate one of them (except for his arm or something). They'd also bring all language to a G-rating by taping over the optical soundtrack, resulting in bursts of complete silence where cursing and adult comments once existed. Occasionally, these practices would clear the "Risque Miss Piggy greeting cards banned from BYU bookstore" bar and make it into USAToday. After a run-in with Steven Spielberg (who demanded Schindler's List be screened unchanged), and more importantly, the proliferation of multiplexes in Utah Valley, Varsity Theater went dark. Now it's the home of the IC.]

My deep, dark secret, though: I only rarely took out everything Dr. Marshall directed. Only if, during the run of the show, someone complained about being exposed to a breast or a coupling of some kind, would I go back and take out a few more frames. For language, I'd almost always leave it in, unless it was something that would clearly give offense. For the most part, then, the films ran unaltered, and if Dr. Marshall or someone in the department heard a pained plea now and then, they knew that they'd been sensitive to peoples' highly sensitive sensitivities.

International Cinema was a haven; by quietly refusing to pre-emptively sanitize these films, I defined myself against Standards bearers who'd just as soon have you learn a hymn in Spanish, if all you wanted is some language practice, right? This steady stream of incredible movies was like a pool in the desert, culture-wise. From learning at 17, when a roommate dragged me to Ermanno Olmi's quietly momentous Tree of the Wooden Clogs, that films don't have to be flashy and have a happy ending, to scouting out Imamura Shohei's 1989 Black Rain, at the barely opened Angelika on a road trip. International Cinema set me up for a lifelong love of cinema. Then, during my last year, Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies & Videotape broke at Sundance next door (so near but yet so far). I brazenly saw it (the title alone was enough to guarantee it'd never screen on campus), and I became one of the million or so people who followed in his wake. Films were no longer made by middle-aged Italians or grizzled Russians, but by the guys driving the Festival vans.

[In the mid-to-late 90's, I heard through the grapevine that a handful of zealots began a campaign against IC and the smut it poisoned the Lord's Campus with; people "from the community" (i.e., not related to BYU, except by common religion) would attend the films, write up detailed lists of incidents of offensiveness, and demand to the Dean or someone in the Church hierarchy that the program be stopped. Apparently, it nearly drove Dr. Marshall to close it down and retire. It's still going, but he did eventually retire.]

All this came back to me when I wandered across Brian Flemming's extremely compelling post on the escalating legal battle between the major studios and the DGA on one side and some Utah-based movie editing companies on the other. Clean Flicks, ClearPlay and others use various arguably legal means to enable consumers to mute, skip, or edit out nudity and/or language from DVD's they watch at home. Brian picks apart the tortured arguments of the DGA and several directors named in the legal action, including Soderbergh and Spielberg.

The assumption that everyone in BYU's Utah Valley is Mormon was so solid, my not-Mormon San Diegan roommate devised a fool-proof way of shutting people up in movies: he'd turn to me and say, "Greg, I'd really like to join your church, but I can't the people are just too rude." As someone who wielded a splicer in the service of that audience, and as an impressionable four-year resident of that community, let me argue the worth of slightly fitted movies; a little Emmanuelle BČart goes a long way. If I hadn't seen a partially denuded version of Manon des Sources, I may never have known to see La Belle Noiseuse (which more than made up for the scenes I cut in Provo).

To my fellow [sic] directors and their zealous DGA/MPAA spokespeople who are heckbent on dictating how everyone watches their films, I say: shizz, guys you need to flippin' lighten up a bit. You sound much too much like the self-righteous, oh-so-sure-of-themselves zealots who tried to shut down International Cinema.

I swear, I wrote this on the train, before seeing Jason's latest post. If only I'd waited till I got home, perhaps I'd just switch to Movable Type/TypePad and forget the whole thing:

Sometimes, my posts get a bit long. (Usually, I notice this when a reader--invariably not from The New Yorker--asks if I'm auditioning for The New Yorker.)

Sometimes, actual interviewing, research, reporting will yield far more information than will fit in a post.

Sometimes, there may actually be a lot to tell.

Sometimes, a topic or theme stretches across several posts, and it makes sense to group them together.

Sometimes, I'll start with a simple link, and before you or I realize it, I've got an 800-word...something.

It used to bug me when such too-long posts would break up the flow of greg.org. Fortunately, this era of renaming your problems away offers the solution: now, on greg.org, a too-long post is not a bug, it's a Feature.

February 26, 2003

Night Of A Thousand Film Geeks

alexander_payne_moma_comp.jpg
clockwise from top R: UA's Bingham Ray and honoree Alexander Payne
David O. Russell, last year's honoree, still in a euphoric daze
"special friend"/screenwriter Jim Taylor, freezing on way to afterparty
John Waters and sycophantic fan, photo: David Russell
crowd shot, which captured the supposedly elusive cracked-me-up international man of mystery

Last night at MoMA, Alexander Payne and Bingham Ray talked about Payne's career and films (including Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt). The Museum's Film & Media Department gave Payne its Work In Progress Award, to honor filmmakers as they transition from "promising" to "proven." Ray, who's an independent film legend himself, and who heads United Artists (which picked up Pieces of April at Sundance), studio headed the conversation.

In my secret socialite life, I co-chaired the benefit. I'm working up my notes from Alexander's discussion (and will try to score some audio clips, too) and will post a page of pictures soon. In the mean time, here is a composite pic, and the highlights of my speech:

  • "Thanks to the creative family at Vanity Fair and W Hotels (the sponsors). They don't give traditional gift bags; they make them. Graydon Carter was up late writing poems for each of us."
  • "Smile! It's for my weblog."
  • I decided to cut the bit about the after-party being potluck ("Manhattan brings the entree; Brooklyn, a salad; Westchester, the mixers; LA, the herb..." Like last year, LA was the only one who brought what they were assigned.)


  • The Surgery, Bris soap commercial, dir. by Ingmar Bergman image:bizprocessdesign.com
    The Surgery, Bris soap commercial directed by Ingmar Bergman

    See, if you stick with it long enough, recognition will come. When his commercials for Bris soap were shown in 1951, Ingmar Bergman seemed to be living the admaker's dream: "He had final cut, he had free hands, he could do whatever he wanted," says director Anders Roennqvist. Inexplicably, though, the promising young director soon vanished into ad-biz obscurity; I searched Adwik Svenska's 80-year archives using my mobile phone, but found nothing.

    Well, thanks to Mr. Rosennqvist, you can see all these forgotten classics in Bergman's Commercials Preceding the Play, a documentary which provides an "aha-feeling of why and how Ingmar Bergman made soap commercials" (and without that annoying abba-ring around the tub!) The collection is screening this weekend at London's National Film Theatre, along with a bunch of other Bergman-related junk. (At least it is according to the Guardian; I can't find it on the NFT schedule. Why don't you all stop texting for a minute and figure out what the hell's going on?)

    In addition to the aha-feeling, seeing it will "make you feel free, well and fresh," just like the Bris brand itself. (Frankly, those were not the qualities I had previously associated with bris, but then I live in New York.)

    earthrise.jpeg.jpg earthrise [image via]
    Had a man been always in one of the stars, or confined to the body of the flaming sun, or surrounded with nothing but pure ether, at vast and prodigious distances from the Earth, acquainted with nothing but the azure sky and face of heaven, little could he dream of any treasures hidden in that azure veil afar off. - Thomas Traherne, The Celestial Stranger, mid 17-th c.
    Effusively compared in this Guardian article to the Apollo astronauts' first views of the earth from space, Christian mystic Thomas Traherne's writing "can turn your understanding inside out, thrill, surprise and exhaust you" with his revelatory view of the world.

    This is a review of Ronald Weber's 1986 book, Seeing Space: Literary Responses to Space Exploration (Amazon Sales Rank: 2.2 million. Let's help the guy out.) which wonderfully uses the last line of Thoreau's Walden to identify the greatest impact of space travel: " 'Our voyaging is only greatcircle sailing.' This is to say that the most important aspect of our travels, whether inward or outward, is that they bring us back to our point of departure with a new appreciation of that beginning place."

    Norman Mailer begins with a complaint that the whole space thing is closed to him: since he can't talk the techno talk or get inside those astronauts' heads, all he can do is watch dumbly "from the visitors' bleachers." He has an epiphany at the crassly commercialized Plymouth Rock (where only "an immense quadrangle of motel" marks the hallowed spot), and sees the Moon Rock anew. The whole adventure represents "the...reawakening of an older and non- mechanical view of life, one in which we are brought to 'regard the world once again as poets, behold it as savages."'

    These ecstasy-riven testimonies-- utterly self-contained, yet reaching out to (potentially) affect us all, something we must accept in imperfect transmitted form (unless you're John Glenn or Lance Bass. Actually, being Lance Bass doesn't do any good, either.)--may help in understanding Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle.

    This seriously ecstatic Guardian review (What IS in that tea, fellas?) attempts to affix Barney's work in the heavens. It is an omniscient, mysterious creation myth, ultimately incomprehensible to mere mortals. It is at once "dense," "rich yet fragile," "of our time," and "aspiring to be eternal."

    Like the "great American novels" (Moby Dick and Gravity's Rainbow are mentioned), Cremaster embodies the "desire to reawaken the language and imagery of ancient, organic patterns of thought [which is] central to modern American art and literature." Heady stuff. And there's Norman Mailer again, right in the thick of things, starring as Harry Houdini in Cremaster 2 (the most successful of the series, IMHO). But for all the praise and allusion heaped on it, does Cremaster take us "greatcircle sailing?" What does it say about the place we return to after seeing it?

    In Artforum, Daniel Birnbaum argues that "no one makes a stronger case than Matthew Barney for visual art today."

    All that the world most needs today is combined in the most seductive way in his art: Barney's work is brutal and highly artificial, as Nietzsche came to think Wagner's was, yet it also offers up the pure joy of the beautiful--which is, I think, not unrelated to what Nietzsche meant by "innocence."

    Whatever Barney's goal, his achievement is notable. But at what price? Buzz Aldrin wrote candidly of his most significant challenge: dealing with life after returning from the moon. His goal accomplished, his life suddenly lacking direction, his marriage unravelling, he grew frustrated that "there is no experience to match that of walking on the Moon." For Barney's sake, I hope he doesn't mimic Aldrin too closely, cursing his own hairy moon on the screen, "You son of a bitch, you're the one that got me in all this trouble."

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    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.

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