Depeche Mode on Relationships

I remember at college in 1989 a friend proposed to his girlfriend my singing her Depeche Mode’s “Somebody”. At the time this seemed supremely lame to me, mostly because it was from like 1984, three albums earlier. It was a high school song.
Now, though, and for several years, I’ve found “Somebody” to be quite a touching song. Touching, but not unaware that overly romantic notions of love can “make you sick”:

…But when I’m asleep
I want somebody
Who will put their arms around me
And kiss me tenderly
Though things like this
Make me sick
In a case like this
I’ll get away with it.

Of course, this is on the same album as “Master and Servant”; I guess what Martin Gore is trying to tell us is that relationships can be complex.

And when I’m awake
I want somebody
Who will put a ball gag on me,
whip me mightily,

Depeche Mode on Relationships

I remember at college in 1989 a friend proposed to his girlfriend my singing her Depeche Mode’s “Somebody”. At the time this seemed supremely lame to me, mostly because it was from like 1984, three albums earlier. It was a high school song.
Now, though, and for several years, I’ve found “Somebody” to be quite a touching song. Touching, but not unaware that overly romantic notions of love can “make you sick”:

…But when I’m asleep
I want somebody
Who will put their arms around me
And kiss me tenderly
Though things like this
Make me sick
In a case like this
I’ll get away with it.

Of course, this is on the same album as “Master and Servant”; I guess what Martin Gore is trying to tell us is that relationships can be complex.

And when I’m awake
I want somebody
Who will put a ball gag on me,
whip me mightily,

Geezers, Screenwriters & Directors

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

Nabokov’s Library–and Butterflies– Sold

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Vladimir Nabokov’s son and translator Dmitri has sold his collection of his father’s books and memorabilia at auction. The Times has a poignant story about it. Many books contained marginalia from the author himself; most prized were those containing Nabokov’s expert and beautiful sketches of butterflies.
A few years ago, Roth Horowitz, a rare book dealer in New York, exhibited part of this collection. I bought a personal paperback copy of Pale Fire, one of the greatest books ever. No butterflies, though.

Reading Quentin, my New Bestest Friend

After a night of hanging out with The Man, and sipping from the firehose of his conversation (hey, whatever it takes to get the movie made, right? ahem.), it’s no surprise at all that there are fansites dedicated to picking apart the film references in Quentin Tarantino’s own movies. Now there’s a festival, too: The Kill Bill Connection at London’s ICA.
The Guardian‘s Steve Rose is at first fascinated, then typically put off by QT’s virtuosic-bordering-on-pathologic quoting, but his look at Kill Bill-ism makes for interesting reading nonetheless.
[update: With barely any overlap–and a lot less judgmentalism–David Kehr charts some of Tarantino’s references in the NYT, in case you can’t fit reading a UK newspaper into your shedule (sic). ]

Learning at Errol Morris’s Knee

errol_morris_foot.jpgLast week, in the Sony Classics offices on Madison Avenue, I sat down to talk with Errol Morris, whose current documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Morris’s films are best known for the intensity of the interviews he conducts. He invented the Interrotron, a teleprompter setup that gets the interviewee to look and speak straight into the camera. I, in the mean time, didn’t have a digital recorder, so I decided to use a DV camera, the Sony VX-1000, to record our discussion. (Plus, that’d give me a chance to drop it off at the Sony Service Center downstairs to get the viewfinder fixed when I was done.)
I set the camera on the coffee table. Not only did I not get Morris looking directly into the camera, I ended up with an entire tapeful of Morris’s bouncing sneaker. Just as he did in The Fog of War, I structured our discussion around eleven lessons. [OK, fine. I went through the transcript and stuck eleven smartass lessons in as an editorial conceit. Close enough.]
Lesson One: Start an interview with an Academy Award-nominated director you’ve admired for fifteen years by sucking up. Big time.
Greg Allen: First congratulations on the film and the nomination. I should tell you, seeing Thin Blue Line in college was one of the reasons I wanted to become a filmmaker. It was so powerful and so not what you’d expect a documentary to be, especially at that time. So, thank you.
Errol Morris:
Thank you.
GA: With The Fog of War, a great deal of attention has been focused on the interview footage itself and what McNamara did or didn’t say, and was he going to take responsibility for the war or were you going to grill him about this or that. But your films have such a strong aesthetic and dramatic sense, which you achieve with other elements. I’d really like to hear more about how you go about making a film and what your process is for the putting those other elements together.
Lesson Two: I am a babbling sycophant.

Continue reading “Learning at Errol Morris’s Knee”

Umbrellas of Cherbourg at Film Forum

Vintage poster for parapluies de cherbourg, image:zeitgeistfilms.com

Ever since 1992, when I stumbled, completely ignorant and unprepared, into a screening of the restored version introduced by Agnes Varda (“she does documentaries or something, right?” was all I had in my head), I’ve been transfixed and fascinated by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
It’s an unabashed-yet-triste story of young love, set in a color-saturated fantasy French town, about a girl left pregnant and alone when her mechanic boyfriend gets shipped off to the war in Algeria. And the whole thing is sung, to music by Michel Legrand. Cherbourg made Catherine Deneuve a star, even though her voice was dubbed. What the hell is this thing? I still don’t know, but I love it.
Go to Film Forum by Thursday to find out. Zeitgeist Films has struck a new 35mm print for the movie’s 40th anniversary. You could buy the old DVD, or wait until April for a new release, but seriously, go see it in the theater. Read Jessica Winter’s tribute to the film.

19th Century War Reports from Harper’s

Since relaunching their website, Harper’s has been posting selections from their 140+year archive. For example, “Battle Gossip,” an 1861 column by Charles Nordhoff. In addition to vivid accounts of women in combat, Nordhoff writes about Napoleon III’s use of balloons for battlefield surveillance; correspondence with the enemy; and animals in war:

There are many instances of worn-out cavalry horses, sold out of the army and used in menial employments, remembering and obeying, years after, the sound of a regimental trumpet. At the battle of Waterloo some of the horses, as they lay on the ground, having recovered from the first agony of their wounds, commenced eating the grass about them, thus surrounding themselves with a circle of bare ground, the limited extent of which showed their weakness; others were noticed quietly grazing in the middle of the field, between the two hostile lines, their riders having been shot off their backs.

John Cage Weekend at Barbican Centre

Score for John Cage's 4-33, image: guardian.co.uk[via Kultureflash] John Cage Uncaged is a weekend of performances, films and discussions (“and mushrooms!”) at Barbican Hall.
Cage symphony performances are rare enough to make them not-to-be-missed events. Highlights: Friday’s BBC Orchestra concert, “Cage in his American Context,” (which will include the first UK radio performance of Cage’s most famous work, 4’33”) and Saturday’s Musiccircus, a happening-within-a-happening which gets an annoyingly giddy description “Bassoons in the bars, flutes in the foyers and, who knows, you might even find a tuba in the toilet!”
You can buy tickets or a weekend pass, but for my money, I’m sticking to the radio. Here’s BBC3’s program schedule for Friday (that’s GMT, don’cha know):
19:25 John Cage Uncaged: Cage In His American context, Part One
20:20 Cage on Cage, interviews from the BBC Archives
20:40 John Cage Uncaged: Cage In His American context, Part Two
21:30 A discussion of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story
22:00 John Cage Piano (including works by Feldman, Wolff, Schoenberg)
12/16 update: The Guardian collects Cage-related recollections and discussions by composers and artists, including Martin Creed’s very Cage-y “I want what I want to say to go without saying.”

On “In What Language,” a Different Kind of Airport Music

I’m listening to the composer Vijay Iyer and poet/rapper Mike Ladd discuss their collaborative song cycle, “In What Language,” on WNYC’s Soundcheck. It explores the inner lives and thoughts of people in international airports, and it rocks.
Iyer and Ladd composed the multi-layered, improvisational music/vocal suite in response to the experience of an Iranian filmmaker who was detained, harassed and deported at JFK a couple of years ago.
The first scene of my first short, Souvenir (November 2001), is in Charles deGaulle, where the new security rules spur the story into action (such as there is). Clearly, I’m pre-wired to like “In What Language,” which was first performed in May at the Asia Society, and is out on CD, the launch of which is being celebrated at Joe’s Pub Jan. 20.

Gus Van Sant’s Go-to Guy

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Gus Van Sant, Elias McConnell, and Dany Wolf
at Cannes 2003, image: festival-cannes.com

There he is, scorched in Death Valley and on the Saltflats of Utah; in a mold-closed school with a barebones crew on scooters; and on the Palais steps of Cannes, where he accepted the Palme D’Or this year for Elephant.
Gus Van Sant? Sure, he’s there, too, but I’m talking about Dany Wolf, the producer. The guy who actually has to figure out how to make the movies Gus sees in his head.
While I’ve been a fan of Van Sant’s since Drugstore Cowboy, I’ve been very interested in his recent bold filmmaking experiments, which coincide with my own entry into the field. I wanted to find out Wolf’s on-set experience and insight on making the films that are remaking film.
Below, read my November 2003 discussion with Wolf, an exclusive feature of greg.org.
[Note: No underage Filipino data entry workers were harmed in the transcription of this 3,000-word piece. Special thanks to Dany Wolf, Jay Hernandez and Jeff Hill, who aren’t doing so bad, either.]

Continue reading “Gus Van Sant’s Go-to Guy”

Agnes Varda Speaks (and shows film, of course)

[via GreenCine] Doug Cumming’s got an account of Agnes Varda discussing a screening of her latest short film in Seattle. Also, an earlier bonus Varda discussion at Filmjourney.
My Google Ad, which used to read, “Damn you, Agnes Varda/The Gleaners made me make a film/it’s showing at MoMA next month,” wouldn’t be allowed under Google’s prissier, clean up for the IPO-style terms of service. feh.
Today, though, Doug’s tells of an Errol Morris performance at a Fog of War screening. I disagree with Doug’s negative read on the conclusions Morris draws (or doesn’t, depending), but he’s worth reading. I found the movie extremely revealing of McNamara’s steel-willed self-delusion/preservation, and I think that self-righteous aggression rules the day in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon. Long story short: If you’re planning on feeling thankful for not having to relive the Vietnam war fiasco, I suggest you get a backup plan.

Ennio Morricone, The Movie Music Man

In a Guardian interview, Ennio Morricone talks about composing music for films. My favorite of his theories: “The music in a film must enter politely, very slowly,” like an uninvited guest at a party. [Guess they raise a more genteel breed of gatecrashers in Italy.]
I’m the first to cop to being influenced by Morricone. While still on location for Souvenir (November 2001), I considered using some of his music for our soundtrack. Once the post-production party got underway, though, it was obvious that the beautiful, loaded track didn’t fit in at our gritty little party.
With a new 4-CD set, Io, Ennio Morricone, the composer’s not only looking to come in, he’s planning to stay for a while.