It's my guess that we cling to the harsher bits of the past not just as a warning system to remind us that the next Indian raid or suddenly veering, tower-bound 757 is always waiting but as a passport to connect us to the rest of the world, whose horrors are available each morning and evening on television or in the Times. And the cold moment that returns to mind and sticks there, unbidden, may be preferable to the alternative and much longer blank spaces, whole months and years wiped clear of color or conversation. Like it or not, we geezers are not the curators of this unstable repository of trifling or tragic days but only the screenwriters and directors of the latest revival.-Roger Angell, "Life in rerun, now playing near you." >The New Yorker, Issue of 2004-06-07
Category:the souvenir series
May 31, 2004
March 30, 2004
In the last couple of weeks, I've decided to shoot a fourth short film, which may be part of the Souvenir Series, or may not. We'll see. It was not in the original outline of the series, and it's out of the order I'd planned to shoot them, but the opportunity and idea presented themselves so clearly, I've decided to at least get it shot, then see where to take it.
Long story short, it's a reconceiving of the baptism/massacre sequence from Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. The scene is a classic, not only of storytelling and dramatic contrast, but of editing as well.
While it has the immediate feel of intercutting--jumping back and forth between simultaneous events--as this Yale film analysis site where you can watch (most of) the sequence points out, it's unlikely that all the other mafia dons in NYC were actually assassinated at the same instant. They call it montage.
Frankly, I always thought they were concurrent events. The baptism scene provides a sense of linear time that is utterly absent from, say, Jennifer Beals' rehearsal/welding scenes in Flashdance. (Gimme a break, she was on The Daily Show last night.)
Anyway, Seeing as how the baby in that scene was a weeks-old Sofia Coppola, and seeing as how I have a weeks-old baby myself now, and seeing as how I'm gonna be hanging out with the Coppolas tonight at a MoMA Film Department benefit, I thought I'd better start shooting.
July 23, 2003
"In 1960 I began to experiment with the idea of constructing stories whose subject matter would consist of disparate elements and unrelated characters taken directly from life and fitted together as in a mosaic." That's Paul Bowles, in the preface to his collection of 1962 short stories, A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard, which Anne Galloway heaped praised on recently. [Anne also posts Bowles' complete preface.]
Bowles' stories were intended as bridges or intersections between the "two worlds" spoken of by Moroccan kif smokers: the world of "natural laws" and the kif world, which each kifhead perceives "according to the projections of his own essence." To a nascent filmmaker, reading "projections of his own essence" is like a gateway drug for the rest of Bowles' ideas. Now I ever smoked kif--never had kif brownies, even--but I think I get what Bowles is saying here, man.
As we rushed to edit my first short, Souvenir November 2001, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog became an inspiration for a series of shorts exploring some aspect of memory. I'd need some thematic connection or other--Ten Commandments? Opera? Rooms in a hotel? All about Glenn Gould? Each one's 11:09 plus one frame long? Opera? Use the LumiËre's original camera?--right? As the title of my second short suggests, I'm settling on months. Does that mean there'll be twelve? In addition to the two, I've got six written or outlined. We'll see if the conceit holds up.
For some of the compilations above "uneven" is the best thing that can be said about them. For a one-director project (that's not Animatrix), it may not have to. Slacker's apparently random daisy chain reads as a Richard Linklater monologue (or the voices in his head). And Jill Sprecher's excellent Thirteen Conversations About One Thing shows a mosaic of stories can be successfully, er, interwoven.
In any case, though, Bowles' kifworld experiment sounds most like the serendipitously revelatory approach I've been not quite able to articulate. So now I'm bogarting a hundred camels for my wannabe Chekhovian slices-of-life film? I must be high.
January 10, 2003
"I had a professor once who said that as Chekhov got older he lopped off the eventful beginnings and twist endings of his early works and that quivering middle was the mature short story." -David Edelstein, SlateHere's to you, David Edelstein. Geez, I love you more than you could know. This sentence (the phrase "quivering middle," actually), in a movie discussion I'd already posted about, convinced me to some changes in S(J03). Ch-ch-ch-changes? Well, I lopped off the ending, for starters. And there was that schmaltzy, obviously un-quivering scene with the clock radio. Gone. At first I was afraid, I was petrified. But when I heard Chekhov'd done it, well, ain't no stoppin' me now. [I have stopped the...cheap trick...of making insipid oldies music references, though. Boston, Chicago, you may proceed.]
So while I must confess to not having read much Chekhov, I have read several articles about Chekhov, and they have alternately inspired/influenced/condemned me. There's John Bayley's NY Review of Books. Review. And those previously untranslated short stories in Harper's, the ones where a friend I'd lost track of turned up in the translated byline. And a few more here and there. Cart, Horse. Horse, Cart, I know, but if I'm going to continue making naturalistic short films, I think I'd better study Chekhov a little more carefully. And I hear he wrote scripts, too. (image: nybooks.com)
December 2, 2002
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.
June 5, 2002
When I saw an hour and a half on Sundance Channel blocked out for Meet Mike Mills, I couldn't figure out how interesting he could possibly be. 90 minutes with Scorsese, sure. But 90 minutes with Mike Mills? Naturally, I HAD to watch it.
Turns out they showed the entirety of his shorts, Architecture of Reassurance and my favorite, Paperboys. It's one of the most unassuming films in a long time, and it's got a really engaging, smart view of a world many adopted New Yorkers have fled. (Architecture is actually about a girl who longingly wanders around an oppressively homogeneous suburban subdivision.
Paperboys figured into my first documentary project, adding to my conviction/hypothesis (depending on the day) that a studied look at rural life could be interesting.
Mills also directed the some of my favorite Gap ads (did that phrase just chase you all away? hello? ...hellooo?), the ones inspired by West Side Story, which is one of only four musicals I can stand. (For your purchasing pleasure, the others are Moulin Rouge, South Park and Umbrellas of Cherbourg.)
Mills' videos, commercials, and some shorts can be seen in the archives at The Director's Bureau site, which has one of the only Flash intros I don't mind watching. Work and info from his partners, including Roman and Sofia Coppola, is also available on the site.
October 23, 2001
Still too distracted in the aftermath? Project in turnaround? The terrorist subplot deemed inappropriate for our new entertainment environment? No, no, and no. Just the rest of life--including work-related stuff, shuttling between NYC and DC, planning to build one house and to find another in the mean time, on and on--constantly impinging on my time and mind.
Also, recent travel has kept me somewhat out of touch with people who regularly ask, "how's the movie coming? I haven't seen an update on the web." Cue the friends in NYC last week, including one blog coach and sounding board who cracked the whip and told me what I needed to hear: block out the time for working on the movie, to the exclusion of other things.
Somewhat unexpectedly, this weblog is functioning as a catalyst to keep this project moving forward. Not even cart/horse, really; practically harness/cart/horse. [as it turns out, he had his own motivations, too; his thought-provoking entry that mentions this site was in danger of getting stale if I didn't update more frequently. Win-win, Chad. Thanks!]
Screening and logging: another reason it's been easy not to work on the movie is that right now (since the first location in July/August, actually) I'm screening the footage we shot, logging the contents, taking notes, taking stock. This process--time-consuming under standard practice shooting-- is even more consuming because of 1) DV profligacy and low cost ("just shoot 'em all and let the director sort 'em out."), and 2) the Maysles-inspired fly-on-the-wall, unscripted approach.
During the two hours I blocked out yesterday, I screened "Utah 7: LW Follow," a tape shot at my grandmother's house.
Activity: chatting around the table; searching for recipes; starting to make biscuits shucking corn; continuing to make biscuits; negotiating with my young CT cousins for the day's schedule; reading the paper; getting food for one, then another, cousin. It's extremely mundane activity, but my grandmother--who was a schoolteacher for many years--has an unconscious habit of gently narrating almost everything and punctuating her narration with aphorisms, observations, recommendations. "Sometimes it's better to listen silently across the room than to be the one asking all the questions." (a paraphrase).
[note: it's 10:30 AM as I write this, and someone is smoking a fatty right outside my slightly open window. Uptown. Off Park Avenue. They're hanging around, too, not just walking by. It's like it's 1994 or something.]
Image: It's generally pretty static, cleanly framed shots. Enclosed setting is a factor. Not a lot of movement by the subject, really. Also, the almost-impulsive decision to buy-not-borrow a tripod made it a favorite of the crew.
The crew being just me and Jeff, who did most of the shooting, also factored in. Ideally, it'd be more flexible with one more person to focus on sound, mikes, lighting, etc. I remember trying to corral my almost-16 year old cousin into being the boom mike guy, but he successfully evaded us for most of the time.
Technical: The sound sucks regularly. Our new XLR adaptor had a short in it, and there are long stretches where the popping and scratching are so bad, I almost had to mute the monitor. It would've been nice to test everything before getting out of reach of B&H. [note: the replacement's fine, though.]
Light is great. A southfacing kitchen window is all we used. Nice contrast. Some unhappy moments with the wideangle lens. And the graduated filter (for reining in the contrast between sunlight and interior, for example) had a smudge on it. Only for a few minutes, though.
Equipment: This so clearly falls into the, "but it's for the movie project" school of rationalization I shouldn't mention it. Actually, if I'd posted about it two weeks ago, it'd give a too-clear portrayal of how I was avoiding screening tapes. I bought a bag for the tripod at Jack Spade, a store near my old office. Cool store, nice folks. The pitch for the bag was, "it's for carrying blueprints. Or maybe a yoga mat." They can safely add "or a video tripod" to their rap. Here's a review.
Here's a puff piece about the premiere of Jack Spade Films' "Paperboys," directed by Mike Mills. Mike makes Moby videos, too.
There's an authenticity of the actual people and the store and the movie that I greatly admire, which is rendered cringingly fatuous in store reviews and movie premiers co-starring Tina Brown. How susceptible am I, is this project, to being "jaded Manhattanites [getting] a little nostalgic for suburbia?" I'd better make my grandmother executive producer. Back to work.
Actually, I'm leaving for a crazy two-day trip to see some friends whose work is in a show in London.