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 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.

November 29, 2002

Dateline - Kauai

Doing the family thing in Hawaii for a while. implications:

  • I wrote a script on the plane, a new short tentatively titled Souvenir January 2003, which'll be a one-day shoot when I'm at Sundance.
  • (No, that's not an early indication of anything, but I figure it's high time to go anyway. And besides, the snow prospects in January are already pretty good.)
  • The third act of the Animated Musical gets attention in the mornings, 5-7:00, thanks to jet lag. Made real progress on one of the characters, who makes his crucial appearance at the end. It's very interesting, in a Hayao Miyazaki demon boar (Princess Mononoke)/bathhouse demon (Spirited Away) animation tour-de-force kind of way. Miyazaki portal,
    Tatari, Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki,
    Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki, image

  • Reading Scorsese on Scorsese collected interviews published in the wake of Last Temptation of Christ, the scandal for which sets too much of the editorial tone of the book. Also in the queue: Thucydides (as soon as I finish Gravity's Rainbow). That reading list not pretentious-sounding enough for you? Wait till I do the animated musical version of Finnegan's Wake.
  • Gauging which north shore hike to go on, my wife said, "That's like walking from Columbia to Times Square and back," which amused the locals.
  • Posting will be a little spotty for a few days.

  • Poetry was the reportage or weblogging medium of choice for the British in WWI. "Anthem for Doomed Youth" is an exhibit of 12 WWI poets at the Imperial War Museum in London. [Alan Riding wrote about it in today's NY Times.]

    From Siegfried Sassoon's "Prelude: The Troops":

    DIM, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom
    Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals
    Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots
    And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
    Haggard and hopeless...

    November 26, 2002



    November 26, 2002



    [off the bus] It dawned on me the narrative structure of Twelve Monkeys may be the closest to the Animated Musical, closer than Citizen Kane and other flashback-movies. There's a similar post-apocalyptic element in the story, too, but no crazy characters. Of course, Twelve Monkeys without the questionable mental stability is like Top Gun without the latent homoeroticism: i.e., not much. Check out David Morgan's extensive on-set and post-production interviews with Terry Gilliam & Co.

    La Jetee, production still, 1962, Chris Marker La Jete, 1962, Chris Marker
    If you head toward Twelve Monkeys, you have to keep going to La Jete, Chris Marker's seminal New Wave sci-fi short which is the jumping off point for Janet & David Peoples' script. The post-apocalyptic story explores the essence of memory, time, and our ability to attain transcendance. While they're not influences per se (I haven't actually seen La Jete yet...), they're clearly antecedents. I think I need to look into this a bit more...
    video still, 1997, Guy Richards Smit, Team Gallery Video Still, 1997, Guy Richards Smit, Team Gallery

    Just got back from a screening of Guy Richards Smit's video works at MoMA Gramercy. Guy's been making funny Fassbinder-esque musical-esque shorts. He also showed a trailer from his current work in progress, an imaginary Sartres sequel, Nausea 2. Very smart, entertaining stuff. Small worlds being, well, small, Nausea 2 co-stars Rebecca Chamberlain, who stars in Souvenir November 2001. (She sings, which isn't surprising, because she's a performer, and she's quite good.) And I was also surprised to see Souvenir's DP, Jonah Freeman turned up on a boat in one of Guy's earlier works. Hey, sailor!

    A very promising gig for those interested in the editorial and creative process: James Danziger, former 20th-century photography dealer and current editor of the cool culture zine The Mixture, is speaking December 3 at the Apple Store in Soho as part of their "Made on a Mac" series. We're in Hawaii on the 3rd, so I hope someone will patch me in via mobile. Anyone want to burn through your Cingular minutes for me?

    And apparently never coming to a theater near you, if you live in the USA, that is: 11' 09"01, the compilation of short films related to September 11. I wrote about the Toronto screening in September. Now in Salon, Sarah Coleman writes about a recent screening of the film at Columbia. Coleman: "By not listening to what the rest of the world has to say about [Sept. 11], Americans run the risk of isolating themselves in a cocoon of self-righteousness and arrogance."

    A negative example of precisely one of my main motives for making Souvenir November 2001, which follows characters from a city that's habitually open to the world at a time when it seemed like America could suddenly relate to a suddenly sympathetic world. When we could transcend a chronic exceptionalism and connect, realize that terrible things have happened before, and that we can learn from the horrors and tragedies that others have gone through. I'm sorry, but I refuse to believe that the only way to read and process and remember September 11th is as a sympathy-shaped cudgel a self-righteous US swings to clear a path for itself.

    The last couple of days have been pretty productive, and I've managed to get out the second complete draft of the As-Yet Unannounced Animated Musical (AYUAM or AM for short) script. It's probably even less fun to read about an unannounced than it is to write cagily about it. Sorry. Here on the weblog, I've been trying to come up with thematically consistent and entertaining links and clues over the last few weeks, creating a scattershot mosaic of references that, if pieced together, should amply prepare you/pump you up for the actual story. In fact, though, I count on the short attention span-weblog format to keep the dots unconnected. (For better or worse, I don't have an army of decoding gamer/readers, a la that secret A.I. promotion a couple of years ago).

    Where it stands: The story, plot and action are all in place and pretty tight. The present/future/flashback narrative structure makes sense, too. At least as much as it's gonna. In addition to our (anti-)hero (it's based in part on a true-crime story, remember), there are 3-4 other major characters, depending on how you count. Of these, I'm still only fully satisfied with the characterization of two of them. The other three are close, but not done. It's a combination of action/reaction, dialogue, and how they change/reveal themselves over the course of the story.
    Global issues:

  • Dialogue overall needs some attention, but that'll be the case until we finish shooting, I imagine. There are still some artifacts from when everything that happened got explained. There is still some dialogue that I can tell will be acted away, too (i.e., made unnecessary by the actor's performance).
  • Pacing I feel like I need to take a pass through the whole thing, finetuning the pacing, and imagining how the music will fit in. This will be the the last step to get it in good enough shape to take it to the songwriters. And I expect the whole thing will change/improve once the songs come in.
    [For an example of how a script can change by bringin' in the big musical guns, check out this draft of South Park, which predates some of Marc Shaiman's contributions.]

    "Mormon cinema on a mission for profits", an article that causes me a crisis of faith, frankly. Like to know more? Check out, a good old-fashioned portal, with Mormons I knew/knew about (Aaron Eckhart, Neil LaBute, Walter Kirn) and Mormons I didn't know about (Tom Hanks, Matthew Modine). No obligation, and no one will visit your home.

  • Tertn Chungdrag Dorje, alias Steven Seagal "The Action Lama"

    "This is part of an unrelenting campaign to disparage Mr. Seagal and reads like a bad screenplay."

    -- A disciple/attorney of Hollywood Buddhist and (how'd we miss that miraculous birth?) reincarnated lama Steven Seagal denies His Holiness was behind threats against an LA Times reporter. Lama Seagal is in a strictly-business dispute with some Mafia-linked partners.

    "...mostly he talked about his buddhist practice, 'penis moments' re: bilbao..."
    NY Times architecture critic (and Hollywood-style Buddhist) Herbert Muschamp apparently parodies himself at a recent Columbia Univ. Architourism conference.

    "They are astoundingly innovative, creative and exciting."

    -- Roland Betts, LMDC, praising the new round of designs he commissioned from star-architects for rebuilding the WTC site. Apparently, the LMDC's parent entity, the Port Authority, is proceeding independently and looks forward to "combining the best elements of the seven design teams" with the plans it's developing on its own.

    Since 2001 here at, 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 that time.

    comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
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