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.

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

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