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.

Whereas, Ten Hours of Polish Film is NOT an Ordeal…

I came to Kieslowski for the fateful mystery of La Double Vie de Veronique, but I stayed for the unassuming, naturalistic power of the Dekalog.
This seminal ten-part series of films is playing this weekend at Symphony Space in NYC. POV has an excellent write-up, with good links to get you in the mood.
The Decalogue was one of the greatest unwatchable works of film, ever. For years in North America, the series, which Kieslowski and writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz originally made for Polish TV, was kept off of video and DVD by weird rights disputes. But it’d turn up at film festivals and cinematheques, and you’d suddenly have to figure out how to shoehorn ten hours of moviegoing into two or three days. It was an experience prewired to disappoint, or, more precisely, leave you wanting.
By 2000, I’d only managed to see half of the installments, when an odd one-year distribution agreement brought a bare-bones 2-DVD set to the market. I snapped it up, and since then I’ve been steeping regularly in some of the most engrossing storytelling around.
This year, The Decalogue reappeared in a far superior 3-disc format, complete with several Kieslowski interviews and other real supplementary material. So get up to Symphony Space for at least a couple of episodes, then watch and rewatch them at home. Of course, GreenCine rents them one disc at a time; it may be better, emotionally, to pace yourself.
[related: the effects of watching Dekalog on an impressionable new filmmaker]

“Kieslowski Season!” “Tarantino Season!” “Kieslowski Season!”

To explain how I came up with my Souvenir series of ultimately inter-related short films, I went into an extended discussion of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog with someone recently. Now it turns out Riverside Studios in London is screening the entire Dekalog starting Sunday as part of its Krzysztof Kieslowski Season.
It’s not like it used to be, when you could only see Dekalog in festival screenings. Now there’s a 3-disc DVD version available, marginally better than the 2-disc set released briefly in 1999. There’s also a boxed set of Three Coleurs out now. Still, Kieslowski’s films can be visually mesmerizing; see them on the big screen when you can. [Unfortunately, I’m getting to London on the 15th, three days after the Season ends.]
At the opening of his discussion of Kieslowski‘s work, the Guardian‘s Derek Malcolm reminds us that Pulp Fiction closely beat out Three Colours: Red for the 1994 Golden Palm at Cannes. What kind of world would we live in if Kieslowski, not Tarantino, had won? Hint: Tarantino describes his latest films, Kill Bill, as a “duck press of all the grindhouse cinema” he’s ever seen. If it’s all the same, I’m going with wabbit.

When four Soderbergh links in a week are not enough:

Schizopolis by Soderbergh, image:

Get the e-commerce fire hose ready*. I’m wrapping up Soderbergh’s book, Getting Away With It, and I’ve rather liked it. Makes me want to see Schizopolis, one of the movies he angsts over in his journal entries. Trouble is, it’s only been available on VHS, until now. According to Amazon, Criterion will release Schizopolis on Region 1 DVD October 14.
* Just an update on the pressure the e-commerce fire hose exerts: Amazon showed three copies of Soderbergh’s book when I called “dogpile!” Now they show four. My endorsement appears to have caused someone to return the book. Now let’s see if we can strangle this DVD in its crib.

KST:3K, KiaroStami Theatre: 3K

The Guardian‘s Lee Roberts reports on Iranian film godfather Abbas Kiarostami’s debut stage production of the Ta’ziyeh, a compilation of classic tales of the death of Mohammed’s grandson, Hussein. The plays are a traditional part of fervent religious festivals in Iran, but are often considered vaudeville in the West.
Kiarostami lets a troupe of Ta’ziyeh players do their thing on stage, while synchronized images of Iranian audiences’ reactions to the same play are projected behind them. The result: the Roman audience sees both the play and the Islamic audience’s more unabashed reactions to it.

That Elephant in the room just won the Palme d’Or

Gus Van Sant, protege and DP accepting the Palme d'Or,

Swearing may be better in French, but teen shooting? That’s best en anglais, mon ami. Gus Van Sant just won the Palme d’Or and Best Director awards at Cannes for his latest film, Elephant, which is Columbine-esque, but actually based on the late Alan Clarke‘s last film, a 1989 short about killings in Northern Ireland.
Check out a review from Elvis Mitchell, wild, anti-american reports from those lushes at the Guardian, and an interesting theory of Cannes’ gunloving esprit at the GreenCine weblog.

On Why We Should All Go To Austin, Texas

View from the window at Le Gras, 1826, Joseph Nicephore NiepceView from the window at Le Gras, 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
image: Ransom Center, UT Austin

Or specifically, the Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin:
1) to see the world’s first photograph, a view out his window taken by a Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, in 1826. Jim Lewis writes about it on Slate.
2) to read the unpublished manuscript of Minstral Island, a futuristic musical by Thomas Pynchon and Kirkpatrick Sale, which they recently acquired. [Fill out your research application before you go. Oh, and get Pynchon’s written permission if you want to make a copy. I’m sure he’s listed.]

Places Where It Feels Odd To Be Reading Gravity’s Rainbow

My cheap-ass copy of Gravity's Rainbow It’s not quite like whipping out your copy of Lolita at the playground, but it sometimes feels weird to read Gravity’s Rainbow “in public.” Can’t say if it’s the book itself, which is rather unsettling and is shot through with Strangelove-ian absurdity; my used paperback copy (which I sought out for instant authenticity, as if I pulled it off that cinderblock bookcase I apparently had in apparent grad school); the conspicuous tape job (I was clearly the first person to crack the spine. Documenta packing tape ROCKS, by the way.); or general marginalization anxiety (Anthony Lane, quoting and reviewing Mason & Dixon: “‘What we were doing out in that Country was brave, scientifick beyond my understanding, and ultimately meaningless.’ He sounds like a reader of Thomas Pynchon.”).
1. In the middle of a crowded contemporary art auction at Christie’s. (Just during the lulls, the Bleckners and the Basquiats).
2. At Singin’ In The Rain, which I found to be kind of corny. Or is it just me? Wendy Wasserstein loves it and claims it’s not “cloying or campy.” In some moments, the saturated colors and weightlessness prefigure Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I like much more (and which turns out to be anything but weightless).
The Comden & Green “Moses Supposes” song is pretty good, though, possibly because it tries even a little to fit into the story. And I came away really admiring the long, near-stationary takes during the musical/dance numbers, the “master-master”, if you will. It’s the diametric opposite of Moulin Rouge (110+ edits/min in songs). I’d like to reference/adapt this in the Animated Musical, and I think it can work well, as more than just historical homage.
Long choreographed shots of musical scenes live on in the auteur-y crane/steadicam shots directors show off with (cf., The Shining, Touch of Evil, The Player, Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, Bonfire of the Vanities even).

The Search, 2002, by Noam Sher

Video games have turned this symbol of technological virtuosity, literally, into child’s play: first-person shooters are long, unedited takes by definition. Machinima takes advantage of the game “camera” to turn a programmable/alterable game engine into a virtual movie studio. Somewhere in between Scorcese, Anderson Lara Croft is my story, Singin’ in the Rain meets Quake III.

And I Felt A Little Paranoid Before Learning Pynchon Wrote A Musical

Mistral Island Manuscript acquired by Univ. of Texas”
According to this report from last week, Pynchon collaborated with Kirkpatrick Sale in 1958 to create a musical set decades in the future, where IBM controls the world. Sale gave “Luddite” its contemporary meaning and “wrote extensively on the political, economic, sociological, and environmental impacts of technology.”
I’m backing quietly out of the room…
Pynchon and animation: “Except maybe for Brainy Smurf, it’s hard to imagine anybody these days wanting to be called a literary intellectual, though it doesn’t sound so bad if you broaden the labeling to, say, ‘people who read and think.'” (from “Is it OK to be a Luddite? in the NYTimes.)
And Pynchon and comic books: Charles Bock’s loong, engaging ArtKrush rumination on Tolstoy, Great Art, and growing from the X-Men to, yes, Gravity’s Rainbow.)
And some (non-Pynchonian) animation links: Toon Shader, a software tool for bringing hand-drawn cel animation and computer animation together, created by Michael Arias, a CG Guru who works with Hayao Miyazaki, called the greatest animation artist ever (people at the Mouse think so, too, you know).
A Village Voice article by Anthony Kaufman about cinematographer Ellen Kuras’ ability to make beautiful DV.

‘Well, you have to be a nut, kid.’

image of Isabella Blow in Yoshiki Hishinuma, by bill cunningham, via nyt 2002
“To be contemporaine de tout le monde–that is the keenest and most secret satisfaction that fashion can offer a woman.”
The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin
Apparent egalitarianism is the great appeal of the Street Fashion concept, especially in New York, and especially in the street photos of Bill Cunningham in the NYTimes. If you just be yourself –and that self is someone who’s got a bit of the trend radar that puts you in cargo pants about six weeks before it shows up in Cunningham’s Sunday street collages– your embroidered jeans-wearing booty may just surprise you by turning up in the paper. Bill never put your name under your photo, not even if yours is recognizable; credit goes to the man with the camera, and your just appearing is reward enough.
But when someone like Isabella Blow –who’s got “Muse” printed on her carte de visite –walks down the street, it’s the street fashion equivalent of George Bush making a speech in a national park: the setting says “See, I < heart > nature,” but be surprised if the clearcutters wait till FoxNews cuts back to the studio before revving up their chainsaws. Blow’s not on just anyone on any street any time. She’s a Muse. In Paris. During The Shows. Walking (or wafting, in this case) amidst photographers, designers, editors, stylists, and groupies. Fashion industry types. Just like her.
One of the designers Blow muses for is Jean-Paul Gaultier, who I once sat next to on the Concorde [that was totally uncalled for, I know]. Nice guy. And a brilliant miner of both the street-as-walkway and the street-as-runway. The Mixture, a new culture site with an old-school appreciation of editing, is streaming Gaultier’s latest show in its entirety. It’s worth watching.
Benjamin called the flaneur “a spy for the capitalists, on assignment in the realm of consumers.” If so, in the lead of France’s fashion industry (an “occult science of industrial fluctuations” if ever there was one. The Arcades Project is like a can of Pringles: once it’s open, you can’t stop at just one.) is just where Gaultier belongs.
France’s fashion week definitely has an industrial air, with trade associations, official this and that, and weighty government sanction. It’s like the Expositions Universelles that made Paris the center of the 19th century world, where innovations were unveiled: things like “electricity” (“The City of Lights”) and “Photography,” which debuted there in 1855. Benjamin again, on the group that re-defined the term, avant-garde:

The Saint Simonians, who envision the industrialization of the earth, take up the idea of world exhibitions…[They] anticipated the development of the global economy, but not the class struggle…World exhibitions glorify the exchange value of the commodity.

Nice work, if you can get it. Nobody knows better than Benjamin that the image and (the street) reality have a very complicated (business) relationship. When Bill Cunningham takes Isabella Blow’s picture on the street in Paris, we have to know that the image is manufactured, constructed in a myriad of ways, some obvious and some not, by all parties involved. (Isabella, even the panhandling woman in my neighborhood changes into her garbage bag before starting work.)
And I found the same issues face the filmmaker, even/especially the documentary filmmaker. To what extent do you just “let something happen” and you “happen” to film it? To what extent to you “make something happen,” or stage it? Can’t stage it? Wouldn’t be prudent? Wouldn’t have street cred? Well, how about if you just go to the spots where you know what you want to shoot is gonna happen? Then, you can just “happen” to film it. It all involves choices; editing before, during, and after the fact; having an eye (and a camera), and deciding what to do with it. All things being equal, then, some things just look better. And that can make all the difference.
The Age of Street Fashion [nyt]

Weblogging from the Pop!Tech Conference

“Great web philosopher” David Weinberger weblogged several talks at PopTech 2002, which had the theme of Artificial Worlds. From his posts, it sounded like a lot of thought-provoking fun. But what’s in it for me you ask? (Me meaning me, of course, not you.) Some speakers addressed stuff that matters to the Animated Musical (which now has a future-based flashback-to-the-present structure, as noodled over here):

  • Ray Kurzweil spoke about the future (of computing), where human brain power and computing power intersect in 2029 (he didn’t give a date, so keep your calendars open).

    Bonus Weinberger question: “I said last summer I stood in a wheatfield that 100M stalks of wheat. If we take left-leaning is on and right-leaning as off, for 5 minutes, that wheatfield completely represented Casear’s brain state when he was stabbed. So, I asked, it seems to me that hw-sw is entirely the wrong paradigm for the brain, intelligence, consciousness. (Unfortunately, I chose not to draw the explicit connection, in order to save time, and thus sounded like a lunatic.) “

  • Alvy Ray Smith, co-foundar of Pixar, presented the case against digital actors. Acting is founded in consciousness, and would be impossible to model/program without conscious computers. [And even if computers achieved consciousness, how many do you have to make to get one Emily Watson? -ed.] Oh, and Pixar’s still at least two orders of magnitude away from modelling real humans satisfactorily.
    Bonus outside reading assignment: Dr. Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

  • Warren Spector, game god, said games are “part of the real world.” Games as a story-telling medium, or a story-facilitating medium, really, with the explosion of continuous multiplayer games.
    Bonus video game-as-research:The Sims, duh, and Grand Theft Auto 3 (“reprehensible” but “revolutionary”).

  • Mystics, Astronauts & Filmmakers, or Is Becoming Jodie Foster in Contact The Best I Can Hope For?

    contact_jodie.jpgPalm recharging at home, I had a little red notebook with me on the train last night, and, still stuck on the entry from the other day, I wrote “Who are such mystics, astronauts, filmmakers, ?, people with a Knowledge, but limited means to convey that knowledge/experience?”
    Film technology and technique go so far in “accurately” communicating/realizing what is in the director’s (realisateur, in French, you know) mind, but how long does it remain effective? Early filmgoers reportedly jumped out of the way when they saw an image of a train chugging toward them. The War of The Worlds usurped the medium of radio news reporting and scared millions of less alert listeners. Yet by 1998, the spare-no-CG-expense afterlife in What Dreams May Come had all the impact of a rendering demo at Macworld.
    There may be many paths to the top of Mount Fuji, but the techno-theocratic path seems to be leading off somewhere else. Seeing the earth from space may be a transformative experience for the engineer/colonel/astronaut, but their flatly telling us so doesn’t change us that much. In Contact Jodie Foster’s character is “reduced” to pleading for faith after her $600 trillion, globally engineered space trip appeared to go nowhere.
    So as I wrestle with how to realize my own vision, the simplest means seem the best. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s brilliant film, After Life [DVD] not only portrays the next world as a shabby but genial bureaucracy, it contains documentary-style segments that celebrate theatrical geniuses who use the humblest means to re-create the happiest memories of the dead. For all Matthew Barney’s baroque dazzle, a single Felix Gonzalez-Torres photo or a lightstring (components bought on Canal Street) strike a deeper chord. The vision is more perfectly realized/transferred.
    Three tidbits that I couldn’t fit in:
    I thought it was scary enough when Alec Baldwin was the one saying, “I am God.”
    On a Harper’s panel about film/literary adaptations, Todd Solondz “defended” James Cameron when someone decried the soulless banality of Titanic: “Oh, I believe that Titanic did come from deep down inside James Cameron.”
    The first book I read on my Palm was the 1841 Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds, by Charles MacKay, which we all should have read 3-7 years ago.