My video equipment’s out on loan for a music video, and I’ve been location scouting in DC for the last few days and haven’t been able to work on the movie at all. For cheap thrills, I’m flying out of National Airport this afternoon (good old Delta Shuttle), and will report any happenings of note.
This article from the NY Times about Verizon looking into how to preserve voice mail messages from people who died reminded me of this extended article from the Washington Post this summer, which I’d saved:
“Once, many months after my father had died, we had an electrical storm that knocked out the power in my house,” writes Lisa Valentine of Reston in an e-mail. “The answering machine in my room was blinking furiously when the power finally went back on. I hit the ‘play’ button and heard my father’s voice:
” ‘Lisa, it’s Dad, give me a call.’
“Needless to say, I kind of freaked out until I realized the tape was playing old messages that I thought had been erased forever.
“It was nice to hear from my dad again. But he didn’t leave a number where I could reach him.”
[NYT by Jayson Blair. WP by Joel Garreau]
The Sundance Channel currently has a “Cinema Verite” month, including this documentary history, “Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment,” by the National Film Board of Canada (gotta love those Canadians). Finally, I found this page on Sundance’s site with information on the whole series and some relevant links. Time to call the web usability experts.
ANNALS OF AVIATION/ Malcolm Gladwell/ SAFETY IN THE SKIES/ How far can airline security go?
LETTER FROM WASHINGTON/ Nicholas Lemann/ THE OPTIONS/ After the morning of September 11th, the Presidency changed, too.
DEPT. OF NATIONAL SECURITY/ Joe Klein/ CLOSEWORK/ Why we couldn’t see what was right in front of us.
LIFE AND LETTERS/ Louis Menand/ HOLDEN AT FIFTY/ “The Catcher in the Rye” and what it spawned.
DISPATCHES/ Jon Lee Anderson/ A LION’S DEATH/ The assassination of the Taliban’s most important Afghan opponent.
More poems, this time from W. H. Auden, whose work also turned up with noted frequency. These lines, set a few blocks from my house, could have been written last week, not in 1940:
The unmentionable odour of death/Offends the September night.
“The Smoke of Thought”: For the third night in a row, at around 10PM, the wind shifted, and the faint but unignorable smell of burning reached the upper east side. Searching on Google for “smoke” and “smell” brought up two interesting poets: AE Housman and Philip Larkin. I’ve seen Larkin quoted several times in the past week. Here’s an excerpt from Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad”:
Today while I am master still,
And flesh and soul, now both are strong,
Shall hale the sullen slaves along,
Before this fire of sense decay,
This smoke of thought blow clean away,
And leave with ancient night alone
The steadfast and enduring bone.
Larkin’s poem, “The Building”, contains a description of people in a hospital waiting room that could just as easily apply to New Yorkers lately: “They’re quiet. To realise/This new thing held in common makes them quiet…”
For the record, I hardly ever read poetry and know basically nothing of poets or poetry. I guess I considered it superfluous–irrelevant, even–to the practical, “real” world I saw. Sometimes it steps up to the plate, though, and nails that same reality more cleanly than 150 hours of continuous media ever could. Economy of expression.
Like other friends who regularly add to their websites, I’ve been reticent to post during the week. From the standpoint of this site, it was a fairly easy decision; this journal is meant to document a film project I re-started in July. From a personal standpoint, it’s been more difficult. After the quest to find out whether people you know are alright or not, the events of the last few days gave me pause, causing me to question the value or importance or priority of the things that occupied my time and attention. An architect friend wrote of being told architects weren’t needed right now; Fran Liebowitz just mentioned on NPR that she’s a “luxury item,” unneeded in a situation like this. How needed is a documentary about farmers and rural small businessmen? Finally, the reality of the last few days made the question of posting moot; any idea of watching my footage was displaced by watching the news. Any attempt to think about the film was thwarted by thoughts of more immediate surroundings, people, and things.
That said, architecture, writing, filmmaking, art–these are inextricable elements of the culture and civilization we live in; the desire to participate in this culture, to contribute to it, to create something that will connect with others and extend/live beyond us doesn’t change in a day. In the Times this week, more than one image of the rescue operation reminded me of the work of photographer, Andreas Gursky. The ephemeral work of Gabriel Orozco also came to mind, specifically this photo of the NY skyline. [Note: read the review linked there, too. interesting] The types of activities that may momentarily seem superfluous may also be the ones that gauge the health of the civilization we enjoy and (now) defend.
The primacy of family, friendships, inter-human relationships also survived the events this week. Exploring these ties and what shapes and forms personal relationships take both subject and object of the film project I’m working on. If anything, the experience of searching out friends and colleagues, of responding to messages and emails from concerned people around the world, and the unexpected generosity and awareness New Yorkers show each other on the streets all steel my resolve to continue the film project. Stay tuned, and thank you again for your concern, feedback, interest and questions.
11:00AM (EST) I’m fine, family in NYC are fine. my wife’s stepmother was at work on Broad Street, and is fine, temporarily out of contact.
Email now set to download every minute. the last people we had on our first list from church- the ones who live in Battery Park City and work at the WTC- turned up in New Jersey. Most of the afternoon spent coordinating blood donors and helping set up a shelter at the church gym; it seems under-used, as most people have found a way home or a place to stay. I’ve read it in other places, but AIM was the lifeline for us to find out who was alright and to let people know we’re alright, too.
Other than that, the thing I don’t hear or read is how odd it was that everyone was walking all over the city today. Few cars, and every street looked like a concert or major event had just let out down the block. Very civil, yet somehow very unsettling; something was definitely not right.
While on vacation, we took a weekend trip to Venice to see the Biennale, a sprawling exhibition of contemporary art. With some exceptions, the art was a tremendous disappointment. Chicken & egg, I don’t know, but most of the work either strained to stand out and provide some immediate, breakout, experience right then and there; or else it required time, consideration, and contemplation which the festival format inexorably discourages. In this oppressively large exhibition, the apparent subtlety and understatement of two installations appealed to us greatly: Robert Gober’s installation in the American Pavilion and a cafe project/installation credited to the artists Olafur Eliasson, Tobias Rehberger and Rikrit Tiravanija. Understatement is problematic, though, and in ways that concern me as I try to make a documentary that is, itself, unpretentious yet affecting and lasting. Also, these works made me even more aware of how important/complicating are the expectations/experience a viewer brings with him. Let me explain a bit:
In each room of the Jefferson-esque pavilion, Gober carefully places a few objects or assemblages that appear to be found or flotsam, but which turn out to be meticulously hand-crafted re-creations: styrofoam blocks, plywood, an empty liquor bottle. In the corner of each room, there was a white, plastic-looking chair. Were they part of the piece? Gober’s certainly done chairs before. [see an image] [read an essay] We debated, looked for evidence of the chairs’ handmade-ness (which we found), but decided they weren’t. (Clue: they weren’t lit like the other objects. Sure enough, they were for the guards.)
After walking ALL over the two main exhibition venues in Venice’s August heat, we took refuge in the “Refreshing Cafe,” which was credited to the three artists above. The cafe was a series of tables, some white lacquer columns/stools, and a counter/bar under an overturned swimming pool-like form propped up by pistons. It was a rare and welcome retreat from the heat and from the overwrought video art of the show. It wasn’t really clear what the contribution of the artists was, but an improvised cafe with a few mod-looking furniture pieces certainly seemed in keeping with the other works of these artists. Just last night, though, I ran into one of the three and complimented him on having made one of the few pieces we liked in the whole show. Turns out that not only did the three of them not really do anything with the piece, what they did do had been completely altered by the exhibition authorities, calling the existence of the “work” into question.
SCENE: Bedroom. Night. Streetlamp right outside the window prevents total darkness. Awareness of my feet piercing the plane at the end of the bed. No comforter? There’s a sheet, and it’s tucked in. Something alights on my toes. Brushes against them. A butterfly? No, of course not. Damn you, Vladimir Nabokov… No, an Other’s toes. We’re sleeping close enough to brush toes. The mattress doesn’t have a giant seam running right down the middle. Time? Four o’clock in the morning. I’m wide awake. The role of the Bad Dream in this scene will be played by a thirteen-hour trip from normally-six-hours-away France. Well, at least there’s a DSL connection here. Vacation’s over.
Greetings from France. I promised at the start of this log that I would generally avoid travelogues/journals and stick to documenting the process of making a documentary film, but since I ended up not bringing any tapes with me on our vacation in France, the project is on vacation as well. That said, it’s not out of mind. There are a few things that we’ve seen here that stick in my mind and will probably find their way into the project/story in some way:
[Just ignore the dates. There’s so much going on, I’m more than a little behind on the log.] On location, day 3 – We spent most of the day following around Chad, a 32-year old farmer in Mapleton. Along with his father, he works several hundred acres of land around town, including the fields he leases from my grandparents’ farm. Here’s what we spent the day shooting:
On location, day 2 – Email still is spotty, dialup is only AOL. And it’s hot as heck (as they say around here in rural Utah). Shooting’s going well. We were up and out at 7 yesterday (Tues.) to pick up additional sound equipment (add a Sennheiser boom mike to the list of required gear.) and to find hay fields being cut, baled and loaded. (Note: It takes 3-4 days for cut hay to dry before it’s baled; hauling is a couple of days later, so to get the entire process, we have to shoot several different fields.) About 80% of the fields in Mapleton were cut and baled a couple of weeks ago, so it took a little longer to find fields in process. Everyone we asked was very accommodating, letting us shoot with no reservation; the first field of guys (hauling) also pointed us in the direction of other fields being cut that day. Everyone knew my grandfather, so they were happy to help out. Jeff, my friend on camera, is pretty good at assimilating, while I basically looked like a tornado had picked me up off the street in NYC and dropped me in the field. (Note to self: leave sandals at home.)
Today, (Wed.,) we’ve been shooting work on irrigation ditches, the network vital to farmers as they move water around the valley. There’s a water co-op here, which schedules each farmer’s allocation and timing. Sometimes, a farmer’ll have to be out in the middle of the night to route water through a series of locks across the valley to his field at a specified time. Today, though, the farmers we were shooting were working in the 100+ degree afternoon. We didn’t need our light kit, which is a plus… the camera’s rubber eyepiece cap fell into the fast-moving current of the ditch and shot away. We got it on tape. “That run right in front of your uncle Juan’s house [two miles away], so you could get it back,” chuckled the 80-something farmer we were following.
Tonight we’re off to shoot the workers in my other grandfather’s dry cleaning plant, then maybe going to the drive-in to see Planet of the Apes. IF we can log the tapes in time. Also, we’ve got to check the sound on one of our two mikes, so the levels sync up. Recording sound straight into the camera is easier and cheaper, but it gives you less flexibility when making changes later.
We’re here in Utah, shooting. Got in last night. Two points:
1) Having been on DSL at home for so long, I didn’t realize what a pain a dialup connection could be. Right now, I’m logged in through my grandmother’s AOL account. This can’t last.
2) It’s freakin’ hot (you can’t swear in Utah without turning major heads). Been running around picking up sound equipment, testing filters, fixing the eyepiece on the camera. If you don’t have a full time equipment person, it’s going to always take extra time fixing, adjusting, and finding missing pieces of stuff.