On Scripted vs Ad-libbed or Improvised in re Full Frontal and the President of the United States

This weekend, after seeing Full Frontal, we discussed the dialogue at length. My (grew-up-on-the-stage) wife spotted a lot of weak improv, or weakly directed improv–actors left to figure it out for themselves and, more often than not, not pulling it off. Besotted Soderbergher that I am (nothing like three DVD commentaries in the last two weeks to make you feel like you know the director.), I’d argued that surely Soderbergh knew what’s up; he’s shooting a script that’s written to sound like this. It’s all artificial, after all. Get it?
Rather than address the fact that I was just wrong [Fine. I’ll address it. Nerve.com has an excerpt of the script which differs notably from the scene in the movie. The actors seem to have recreated and expanded on the type of conversation written in the script. A FoxNews interview with Blair Underwood settles on “workshop” as the best way to describe the film.], I’d rather deflect the whole issue toward something “serious.” Here’s Joel Klein in a New Yorker column about Hilary Clinton’s strong showing at that Democratic meeting in NYC last week:

But political deftness and ease of delivery were not the most impressive things about the Senator’s turn: Clinton was the only speaker who didn’t make an advance text available to the press. Apparently, she winged it. A day later, in response to a call to the Senator’s office requesting a copy of the speech, a press aide said, “Sorry, but it’s still being transcribed.”

Don’t contrast this with the seemingly adlibbed (and immediate Moment of Zen) George Bush comment I mentioned yesterday. Contrast it with the most distracting thing about listening to Bush read his speeches, the way he always pauses at what seem to be linebreaks on his index cards. It’s almost like listening to Christopher Reeves on a respirator or to a lighthouse keeper who’s conditioned to pause every five seconds, whether the foghorn’s on or not. I mentioned this several months ago to a friend with very close ties to the Bush speechwriters, but I haven’t been detained yet. All the same, I couldn’t find any articles online talking about this Cageian Bushism. Am I the only one who hears this bomb’s tic?

On flashbacks and the As-yet Unannounced Animated Musical Feature

Did a few walkthroughs this weekend on the story & structure of this project. It’s a crime story (whether it’s a “based on a true story” story or “any similarity to real persons is entirely coincidental” story depends on how we proceed with the rights. I’ll discuss this subject in some detail later, as I did with Lolita: The foreword Nabokov appended to his novel nominally sets Humbert Humbert up as an unreliable (and hence, seemingly unsympathetic) narrator. here is an article about various similarities between Nabokov’s and Alfred Hitchcock’s use of unreliable narrators and other devices attributed to the influence of 19th century literature.

  • The Princess Bride: a slightly post-modern version (it was the 80’s, after all) of the classic “once upon a time” storytelling frame, with Peter Falk. William Goldman actually wrote The Princess Bride as if he had remembered his own grandfather reading “just the good parts” of an otherwise unremarkable tale to him. Check out SMorgenstern.com, a fan site named after the fictitious “original” author.
  • Interview with the Vampire: Interview-driven flashbacks. Christian Slater’s journalist provides a skeptical-yet-vulnerable entree to Louis’ story. Works well when your characters don’t age. Ever.
  • Cannibal! The Musical: This is a courtroom musical drama comedy, where an enterprising young reporter sweet-talks Alferd Packer/Trey Parker to tell his tale. Voted “Movie Most Like A Mormon Roadshow” by me. [A brief article about roadshows. A representative roadshow script.]
  • On a well-placed friend’s unusual emails, including that Leonard Nimoy/Bilbo Baggins video

    John must have his comment settings at +5 or something, because his mass emails are rare-yet-always-awesome. Since he works for the media giant that made both LOTR II and Austin Powers, he was vague/suspicious of Leonard Nimoy’s Hobbit “music video”. I dug around online (well, I just Googled “‘leonard nimoy’ and hobbit”, really). The first result is “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” on this site. [note: site appears to be in Elvish.]

    On giddy, embarassing glee derived from movie log lines

    On the plane this week, I made myself laugh (and my wife nervous) by coming up with the pitch way too quickly and unabashedly for a half-rewritten script I’m…rewriting: It’s like Monster’s Ball meets Memento. It pales in comparison to “Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate” and “Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman,” though. (Too many of these log lines, and I’ll screw my movie/director index up.)

    Praise for Artforum.com and blurbs re Richard Serra

    Let me offer unqualified praise for the editorial acuity of Artforum’s links recommendations.
    Two quotes from Calvin Tomkins’ good Richard Serra article in the New Yorker:

    According to Richard Serra:
    Abstraction gives you something different (from figuration). It puts the spectator in a different relationship to his emotions. I think abstraction has been able to deliver an aspect of human experience that figuration has not–and it’s still in its infancy. Abstract art has been going on for a century, which is nothing.
    About Richard Serra’s usually high degree of professionalism and realistic approach to commission negotiations (from his longtime European dealer, Alexander von Berswordt): When he calls someone a motherf***er, that doesn’t help, of course. But he rarely does that without a reason.

    From Adrian Searle on Documenta

    From Adrian Searle’s article on Documenta 11 in the Guardian:

    Iranian photo-journalist and cameraman Seifollah Samadian pointed his video camera out of his Tehran window and filmed a woman in a black chador struggling with an umbrella in a vicious snowstorm while waiting for a bus. There is only the blizzard, and waiting, her silhouette and the cawing of crows, bare trees and a menacing, barbed-wire-topped wall beyond. Nothing happens, except more of the same, more waiting. It is one of the current Documenta’s unforgettable moments, of which there are many… [Not coincidentally, Samadian was the cinematographer on Abbas Kiarostami’s ABC Africa.]
    There are those who find the present Documenta patronising, or complain that it is like some horror National Geographic tour of a collapsing world. It is nothing of the sort. It is news from elsewhere, and news from home. We are all in it together, however impossible it is to deal with everything. Uneven, at times annoying, upsetting and even uplifting, Documenta 11 isn’t a perfect show. It isn’t a perfect world.


    A CASHIER at the counter. She does not appear wildly over-qualified for her job. A YOUNG ITALIAN TOURIST COUPLE approach quietly with some postcards. The ITALIAN WOMAN wore her backpack on her stomach, as wary Italians are wont to do.
    CASHIER (exclaiming loudly and with glee, but not to anyone in particular): That’s just like Mini-Me!! HAH!!
    ITALIAN WOMAN (fright in her eyes, she looks at her husband): ……
    CASHIER: You got Mini-Me in there?? HAH!!
    The Italians drop the postcards on the counter and rush out of the store without saying a word.

    No, it’s not just reciprocal

    No, it’s not just reciprocal link whoring, I swear: Just came back from the hotel pool, where I became transfixed by the beautiful patterns of reflections and whorls of light on the bottom of the pool, thinking to myself, “This is cool. Where are the artists examining this natural-yet-manmade phenomenon?” Well, they’re on Travelers Diagram for starters, and they’re named Kathleen Johnson, and they’re having their first solo shows this very minute (until Aug. 9, anyway) in New York. And she turns out to have shown last year at Marc Foxx in LA. Hey, Marc!

    Mesa , AZ- Just when

    Mesa , AZ– Just when you think it’s too stupid to go back in the air, Delta.com offers the pleasant surprise of online check-in and home-printed boarding passes. A billboard on the way to the hotel says, “Sweating for free?! Get paid to test deodorants!” A photocopied sign at the check-in desk congratulates Gregory Allen for being selected guest of the day. And rather than redo my network settings in our upgraded room, I surf happily on a wide open wireless network that’ s bleeding in through the window. This is the way to start the week.

    The route is so circuitous

    The route is so circuitous it bores even me, but I just came across The Essential Vermeer Lover, a scholarly yet very engaging site about, well, Vermeer.
    While it’ll embarass him, I have to add a quick story from shooting in France about the cinematographer for Souvenir (November 2001), Jonah Freeman. Each night, we’d review the dailies on a giant monitor in the hotel lobby. On one such evening, a French woman (presumably another hotel guest) stood hovering behind us, watching quietly. When an extended shot of the Somme landscape (fields, with some trees at a distant ridge, with shadows of clouds racing across the fields and a really complicate sky) came on, she suddenly called out, “It’s just like Vermer [sic]!” She startled us, and then it took a while to figure who she was talking about. We figured the Vermer/Vermeer pronounciation thing was like Van Go/Van Gochh, something that, even if it was correct, Americans could never pull off. In any case, after that, any shots with sublime-looking light became known as Vermers. Here is Vermeer’s View of Delft, which then came to mind after the woman’s exclamation.
    While Vermeer’s remaining work is known for subtlety and serenity, he painted during a prolonged war and religiously fueled conflict which devastated his home city of Delft. Early in his painting career, in 1654, a munitions depot in the town, which held 90,000 pounds of gunpowder, exploded to devastating effect. The Delft Thunderclap, as the accident came to be known, leveled buildings for hundreds of yards, damaged nearly every building in town, and killed and wounded unknown hundreds of people. [Read Anthony Bailey’s chapter about the Thunderclap, or buy his book, View of Delft.] One artist, Egbert van der Poel, painted over twenty versions of View of Delft After the Explosion in his career. Vermeer’s View of Delft, then, turns out to be a portrait of a partially/newly rebuilt city, one in the midst of and recovering from disaster.
    (I’m working on an extended post about Jonah’s art, both his photography and installation work. Stay tuned.)

    Souvenir (November 2001), Bruegel, Houstonization, The WTC

    Rewatching Souvenir (November 2001) a dozen+ times in the last 24 hours, I’d begun to wonder what it can actually contribute to the increasing volume of the WTC memorial/rebuilding debate. There was 4,000-participant offsite Saturday (with a 200-participant makeup session Monday for observant Jews and Hamptonites, I guess). Everyone and their dog is weighing in on the lameness of the Port Authority-driven devil’s choice: Memorial Office Park or Memorial Mall, but is this looming Houstonization of Ground Zero possibly the end-game of Manhattan’s last decade of suburbanization?
    (“When they came for my greek-lookin’ coffee cups, I said nothing.
    When they came for my independent bookstore, I said nothing.
    When they came for my jewelbox-size retailer, I said nothing…”)
    Then I found this Auden poem about Bruegel’s painting of the fall of Icarus. The opening lines:
    About suffering they were never wrong,
    The Old Masters; how well, they understood
    Its human position; how it takes place
    While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
    Visiting the site of past horrors; seeing how people live among the memories and memorials of destruction; glimpsing the differences between total restoration, preserving ruins, and monumental memorializing. There are people who certainly understand how suffering takes place; there’s much we can learn from them. That’s a point that Souvenir makes, and one that’s still worth making.

    Whew!: After a few weeks

    Whew!: After a few weeks of fits and starts, a full day of editing followed by a full week of output-to-video frustration, I finally got the “finished” version of Souvenir (November 2001) on tape tonight. It’s not drastically different; in fact, it may be hard to spot the differences at all from the preview screening version. But it feels very different to me. Except that I’m kind of burned out on it tonight, I feel really good about it.
    One change I’m still mulling over: a new song under the first scene. It’s called “I’m Coming Home on the Morning Train,” an acapella gospel song performed in 1942 by the Rev. E. M. Martin and Pearline Jones. While I’ve had it on CD for several years, it only occurred to me recently to try it in the movie. It turns out to have been recorded–like so many other incredible artifacts–in the field by Alan Lomax, the godson of American folk music (assuming his father John is the godfather, you see). Lomax just passed away over the weekend. Here is his obituary in the NY Times.

    The Look of DV: Tadpole vs. Full Frontal

    “The advantage of [shooting on digital video] is that nobody knows, or at least cares, that you’re making a movie; the disadvantage…is that the end product appears to have been filmed through a triple layer of bubble wrap.”
    – from Anthony Lane’s
    New Yorker review of Tadpole, the latest from IFC Productions’ InDigEnt.
    Compare this to the complicated process Steven Soderbergh used to get “enhanced graininess” on his new DV movie, Full Frontal (from an apple.com article):

    FotoKem received the final cut of the original movie in PAL video, de-interlaced it and converted it to files using a disk array. The files were shipped across the network to their film recorder, which had been calibrated to shoot on 5298 film to enhance graininess. A two-stop push during negative processing further enhanced grain and contrast. A double chrome-reversal process was used to create the final negative and print. The 4:3 images were matted and converted to a1:66:1 (European) widescreen aspect ratio for theatrical projection. Fine-grade bubble wrap was then placed over the projector lens at the press preview.