1979 Star Trek, or The Thin Line Between (Punch-Drunk) Love and Hate

punch-drunk love poster

I’m watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture right now, and it’s blowing me away. It’s the first movie, the one with the original crew, the bald chick, and V’Ger, a cloud-like alien vessel with the Voyager space probe at its core. Anyway, wide swaths of the movie are a nearly psychedelic trance, which I never remembered. There’s an incredible 10+ minute abstract FX sequence of the Enterprise entering the vessel. It’s similar to Jeremy Blake’s digital work and the passages he did for Punch-Drunk Love. Or, it’s as abstract, at least. A very unexpected place for such a confluence.
Syd Mead's rendition of V'Ger

[The visual effects on STTMP were originally led by Richard Taylor, then Douglas Trumbull took over after overruns in the chaotic production’s budget. So far, I think the V’Ger sequence was John Dykstra‘s and Trumbull’s realization of Syd Mead‘s concepts. An interview with Taylor survives for now in Google’s cache: page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. Charles Barbee wrote about lighting and shooting the V’Ger Flyover, including accounts of 10-pass in-camera composited shots and finding just the right “glare angle.” Syd Mead discusses creating V’Ger.]
While I mentioned before that elements of the Star Trek IV story inspired the latest script for the AYUAM, it turns out that several ideas from this Star Trek worked in as well. I’m not unaware that these are considered two of the lamest Star Trek films made (“The V’Ger flyby was interminable.”). Combine this with the fact that I don’t like musicals, and I find myself deeply engaged in something I should be hating, but instead, I’m loving it. Can someone explain this to me?

Porn (‘n Chicken) on the Internet? What’ll they think of next?

James “Sweet Jimmy the Benevolent Pimp” Ponsoldt was a co-founder of Porn ‘n Chicken, a Yale timekiller-cum-media spoof-cum-Comedy Central movie. (If that sentence doesn’t get this weblog banned by your corporate firewall, it’ll at least get you a reprimand at your performance review.) Tad Friend’s New Yorker piece contains Jimmy’s description of his latest project:

“It’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ set in rural Appalachia,” he said, “with themes of rifts between generations, loneliness, becoming a man, and OxyContin addiction.”

Sound familiar? It took me a second, but it’s Cyan Pictures’ Coming Down the Mountain. Despite what the title may lead you to believe, it has nothing to do with Porn or Chicken. [For fun, try and match the other porny aliases in the article with the crew at Cyan!}

Great Minds, etc etc

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Arnolfo di Cambio et al, Basilica di Santa Croce, 1294-1442 [img via]
As the Artforum.com discussion of Nico Israel’s Spiral Jetty travelogue turned from my smug fact-checking to the romanticisation of contemporary art, E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View popped into my head. Just as Forster’s English followed Baedekers around Italy–from this altarpiece to that fresco, from Firenze to Rome to Venice to Ravenna–a Contemporary Art Grand Tour has taken shape where Artforum pilgrims can demonstrate their faith.

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Donald Judd, Untitled, 1982-6 [image via]

In addition to Spiral Jetty, the CAGT includes: The Rothko Chapel; Walter deMaria’s Lightning Field; Michael Heizer’s Double Negative; Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation; James Turrell’s work-in-progress Roden Crater; the Guggenheim Bilbao; and my own heretical favorite, Richard Serra’s Afangar.
With Merchant/Ivory’s version of ARWAV firmly entrenched in my own movie worldview, I saw a vision of a hipster artist roadtrip remake. Sort of Basquiat meets Thelma & Louise, with Reese Witherspoon as Helena Bonham-Carter, Josh Hartnett as Julian Sands and Daniel Day-Lewis as, well, himself.
ANYWAY, it turns out the fashion world’s own Forster, English Vogue-er (and faux twin) Plum Sykes, may beat me to the intersection of Art & Film. Hintmag.com leaked the outline of Sykes’ book, Bergdorf Blondes (which just got picked up by Talk/Miramax Books for $625,000, not including movie rights).
The hot narratrix (calls herself “Moi”) dates, gets engaged to, and breaks up with the hot it-boy painter “Dan” (“Our heroine consoles herself that there is one thing worse than being disengaged to a person in a GAP ad, and that’s being married to someone in a GAP ad.”) [NB: Sykes dated, etc. painter/Gap ad star Dam(ian) Loeb.]; receives confidence-boosting advice as she pines for the hot LA filmmaker (“You are not superficial, you just look like you are because you wear a lot of Gucci.”) ; and hightails it home to En-ge-land, perchance to marry the Earl-next-door (“after bonking at the SoHo Grand”). Sounds pretty much like my movie idea.
Should I go ahead and develop it? Or would it be like when there were those two Dalai Lama movies out at the same time?

keep the curvoisier, pass the maker’s mark

Congratulations to the guys at Cyan Pictures for getting their rough cut fedexed to Sundance just in time. [Technically, they could’ve eked out a whole other day by flying the tape to the festival office in person, so they had a huge time cushion, but hey, that’s enough dramatic tension.]
Their short film, Coming Down the Mountain, is set and was shot in/around Hazard, Kentucky, which is near Troublesome Creek. Last night, on plasticbag.org, I read about the Fugate family, aka The Blue People of Troublesome Creek. John Stacy married into the clan and said of his father-in-law:

[Levy Fugate was] part of the family that showed blue. All them old fellers way back then was blue. One of em – I remember seeing him when I was just a boy – Blue Anze, they called him. Most of them old people we [called] by that name – the blue Fugates. It run in that generation who lived up and down Ball Creek.

What you really want to do is direct??

Dateline, Malibu: Directin’ ain’t easy, even for Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Traffic, a man who has Steven Soderbergh on his Buddy List (and IM’s him for advice on “Super-35 blown up to anamorphic” or not). He writes about his unblinking-but-not-too-pity-inducing directorial debut in the NYTimes. Gaghan also tells a good story (ahem, surprised? He’s an O-winning screenwriter.) on the Criterion DVD for Traffic.

On Robert Smithson, film, and finding the way

The Spiral Jetty is back. Although it was submerged when we checked in July, my college senior sister said it was visible from the hill above it when she took a first date out to see it a couple of weeks ago (talk about a litmus test; it’s a 3+ hour drive one way, half on rutty dirt paths.) Sure enough, the SL Tribune has an article about it (Thanks, Artforum.) Read Smithson’s own comments on making the Jetty here.
Underwater or not, Geocachers have logged Spiral Jetty; it’s not surprising, given its off-the-mapquest.com obscurity, limited-but-not-prohibitive access, and non-mainstream nature. Geocaching would suit Smithson fine, I think:

After a point, measurable steps…descend from logic to the “surd state.” The rationality of a grid on a map sinks into what it is supposed to define. Logical purity suddenly finds itself in a bog, and welcomes the unexpected event…The flowing mass of rock and earth of the Spiral Jetty could be trapped by a grid of segments, but the segments would exist only in the mind or on paper. Of course, it is also possible to translate the mental spiral into a three-dimensional succession of measured lengths that would involve areas, volumes, masses, moments, pressures, forces, stresses, and strains; but in the Spiral Jetty the surd takes over and leads one into a world that cannot be expressed by number or rationality.

Geocaching examines the gap between the natural and the rational worlds, too, coming at if from the grid side. Spiral Jetty is locatable in grids, of course, including USGS satellite photos and via latitude/longitude coordinates, translated from GPS orbital data. But for geocachers, getting there is more than half the fun; the rush comes from “mapping” the “distance” between the two worlds.
Back in New York, Smithson sat down with friends to make his film about the Jetty.

Film strips hung from the cutter’s rack, bits and pieces of Utah, outtakes overexposed and underexposed, masses of impenetrable material. The sun, the spiral, the salt buried in lengths of footage… And the movie editor bending over such a chaos of “takes” resembles a paleontologist sorting out glimpses of a world not yet together, a land that has yet to come to completion, a span of time unfinished, a spaceless limbo on some spiral reels…[Editor Bob] Fiore pulled lengths of film out of the movieola with the grace of a Neanderthal pulling intestines from a slaughtered mammoth. Outside his 13th Street loft window one expected to see Pleistocene faunas, glacial uplifts, living fossils, and other prehistoric wonders. Like two cavemen we plotted how to get to the Spiral Jetty from New York City.

Smithson uses the road, going forward and backward (in time as well as place) to tie his film together. “The disjunction operating between reality and film drives one into a sense of cosmic rupture. Nevertheless, all the improbabilities would accommodate themselves to my cinematic universe.”
When I went to Spiral Jetty in 1994 (it’s first reappearance in 24 years), I was overwhelmed by how different experiencing the work in person (glistening salt crystals, cotton candy pink water, and that drive…) was from seeing it in pictures (aerial B&W on the last page of the art history text). Now it seems that that was the point. Mapping the distance between two worlds is what filmmaking’s all about.

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?

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):

Finish
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.

Traffic School

I may be the newest proponent of home schooling, home film schooling, anyway. Spent the afternoon watching the Criterion Collection edition of Traffic, which–in addition to three complete commentary tracks (dir./writer; producers, consultant/composer)–has a supplemental DVD with 25 deleted scenes, piles of additional footage (Soderbergh shot everything on two or three cameras) and editing, dialogue and film processing details. [Just stop dithering and buy it now. Amazon’s at least as cheap as any store.]
1) I’d forgotten what a watchable movie it is, and how stylized it is, too. The characters are laid out with real economy, to the point that almost all the deleted scenes–even the interesting, good ones–seem superfluous. The supporting characters especially, like Michael Douglas’ aide in DC, his daughters’ friends, Selma Hayek’s drug moll, even the witnesses in the kingpin trial, deliver these lines that successfully carry the whole weight of their characters.
2) Listening to Soderbergh and screenwriter Stephen Gaghan was as entertaining as it was educational. There were hi-larious war stories as well as great bits of insight. In the scene where the drug dealer’s going at it with Douglas’ daughter, it’s a wacky revelation to hear Soderbergh describe shooting from under the sweaty, nude dude. (“You’re a fine-looking man, Steven,” cracks the screenwriter.)
3) Stephen Mirrione gives some really interesting discussion of editing, especially the building process for one of the most complicated scenes, the teen overdose with Douglas’ daughter. In editing Souvenir, our scenes had a far less layered structure; it was more sequential. Of course, none of our scenes are as intricately edited as the overdose scene, which grows increasingly (seemingly) chaotic, but which turns out to have a complex, layered rhythm when you look at the editing timeline.
[As I write this, there’s a character–a callous, crazy robber–on The Practice named Gavin Brown, which is (coincidentally?) the name of an art dealer friend. Did the writer or director have trouble getting on the waitlist for work from one of Gavin’s artists? When I was subletting my apartment from a writer for Melrose Place, a pompous, materialistic Wharton MBA named Craig turned up for a few episodes. I found out she’d changed it from Greg because she liked me. Which reminds me of another friend, Euan, who’s onetime roommate turned their swingin’ life into a shortlived WB sitcom. The Takeaway: be careful of befriending screenwriters.

Welcome to the party! This

Welcome to the party! This week, another weblog launched documenting the conception, birth and life of an independent film. Cyan Pictures is the brainchild of two guys, Joshua Newman (aka “a veritable Doogie Howser”) and Colin Spoelman (aka, a veritable Vinnie Delpino, I guess). As Newman notes on his personal site, self-aggrandizement.com, their’s is the “the web’s first moviemaking weblog.” [of the week, I guess. I added them to the short list.]
They, too, are starting with a short and a film festival target (Sundance for them, Cannes for Souvenir November 2001). and have just posted the first public version of their script. I wish them all the best. Stay tuned. (via Kottke.org)

Director’s Headshot

One of the reasons I’d delayed submitting to some festivals was (of all things) my lack of a “director’s photo (B/W),” which some festivals require. Last week, Roe Ethridge, a friend and artist whose work I’ve collected for three-plus years, took some photos of me. In the pinch, I scanned in a Polaroid and printed it out for the submission packets, but there are real prints on the way.

Roe works as a photographer for a huge pile of magazines. While the photos he took with Julian Laverdiere to develop the Towers of Light/Tribute in Light may be more widely seen, his extremely smart style shows through much better in the photo he took of Andrew W.K., which is everywhere, including on the cover of I Get Wet, and on T-shirts.

As if that weren’t enough, he’s got a show of his work at Andrew Kreps Gallery which got great reviews in Artforum, The New Yorker [note: time sensitive link], and The Village Voice[inexplicably, there’s no link to their picks].

As if that weren’t enough, the show’s selling like crazy. I even got smoked when I was too slow to commit to a photo; the last one sold to the Mexican billionaire collector (you know the guy). Check it out until June 01.

Since I made the decision

Since I made the decision to actually go forward and shoot this film project (rather than just ruminate over it and periodically outline it), I’ve been watching films in slightly changed light. Now, I’m much more conscious of really parsing out:

what a director’s intentions were,

when something was executed (i.e., writing, acting, directing, setting, editing, etc.)

how he/she did it (i.e., technical processes, decisionmaking process).

I basically have gotten into full “influence/tool/idea absorption mode. The result so far is a list of films I’ve seen or re-seen recently that have an impact on me and this project in some way (all links are to imdb and/or amazon):

  • Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners – a simple, powerful movie–shot on DV–that basically pushed me over the edge to make this film.
  • Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – Bizarre if you get right down to it, but an essentially unique film that I’ve fixated on. I’m not making a bittersweet, technicolor french musical, though. [DVD]
  • Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life – unassuming, thought-provoking, frankly touching, and carefully made (Kore-eda interviewed over 500 people for the film and included some of these non-actors in the production). [DVD]
  • Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge – What is it about me and unconventional musicals? I was heartened that such a singular vision of a film could be realized, even if it’s not completely successful. It blew me away in some ways, though. [soundtrack]
  • Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (Redux) – We saw it last night, first time on the big screen. Yow. Overwhelming. Whether it was just me, or the re-edit, or the big screen, it was definitely better than I remembered it. But basically, it’s the diametric opposite of what I’m trying to do with this film. In so many ways. [DVD]
  • Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line – I can’t seem to stop watching this movie, whose release got so overshadowed by Saving Private Ryan (it seems silly to put them side by side for anything now…). It makes me want to shoot quavering fields of sun-dappled grass, though. [DVD]
  • Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue – a 10-part made-for-Polish TV masterpiece of subtle, yet extremely deliberate storytelling based (somewhat thematically) on the Ten Commandments. Kieslowski’s sense of narrative and of portraying the inter-related nature of individuals’ lives and actions is an inspiration. [DVD]
  • Some links I’ve found as

    Some links I’ve found as I familiarize myself with to-date research and thought on how culture, worldview, personality, and behavior patterns develop or are transmitted:

    Faces of Culture [via PBS.org]

    this appears to be an introductory anthropology course comprising a series of films/tv shows. Interesting-sounding episodes include 204 Language and Communication, 205 Psychological Anthropology, and 206 Alejandro Mamani: A Case Study in Psychological Anthropology.

    Developmental Theories of Crime and Delinquency: Advances in Criminological Theory

    A dense but intruiging-looking essay on the theorized difference between people who demonstrate temporary/situational and repeated/persistent antisocial behavior. It showed up in a google search for cumulative continuity.

    Resource list of Margaret Mead’s work [from the Institute for Intercultural Studies]

    Syllabus for Margaret Mead and Cultural Relativism [from Swarthmore.edu]

    The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead : A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research, by Derek Freeman, is a refutation of Mead’s highly influential study of adolescence in Samoa, Coming of Age in Samoa. Both her theories and the controversy that emerged only after her death are interesting. (Of course, if these weren’t interesting to me, I guess I wouldn’t spent the time logging them.)