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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Text of the Year

The Text of the Year, received from a friend/colleague before the start of a recent show where I'd unexpectedly be working a position I'd never worked:

"No panic, kiddo. We're in it together. We're not gonna let you get buried."

And with that, I submit: there are people out there who do and will believe in you. Who will stick their necks out for you.
You will find your opportunities.
Go and seek them.

Artists and aspirants:
Keep faith. Believe in yourself.

And My 2011 Roundup:
Most (positively) salient of 2011:
1) A friend asked for one of my eggs ... if I was amenable. [This did not disturb me.]
2) I got to work Electric under Vance Trussell, chief lighting technician of Pulp Fiction, twice. [He clearly loves gaffing and got to do some beautiful, genius work on that 2nd show. It's remarkable to watch and be involved with inspiration like that.]
3) I learned I was selected to volunteer at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards.
4) Like every year, I saw new things, met great people, and had some good laughs.

Here's to welcoming the great new of 2012.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lights & Camera

Mole Stage
© Jennifer Anise 2011

I ventured to LA not too long ago to take a Cinematography course in Lighting through UCLA Extension, held at the Mole-Richardson soundstage. It ended up being an invaluable experience. [Despite Extension not allowing me to change to taking the course for letter-grade credit--but that's another story.] How often does an independent get to consistently have $1Mn worth of lights and equipment at his/her disposal (insured by UCLA)?

Last week we shot on the ARRI ALEXA Plus (owned by this house: Bertone Visuals) and one of the few Alexas currently upgraded to shoot up to 120fps. A wonderful camera (98% of U.S. TV shows now shoot on it). And ARRI thoughtfully provides an online simulator for users to get familiar with its onboard menu (though the menu is rather straightforward).

Give it a spin:

Bertone's ALEXA
Photo by Marlon Duarte

More to come ...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

You Do It For You

"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself." -Soren Kierkegaard

This, you do it for you. You do not do it for "them." I was just telling one of my friends this. He decided to quit music. Out of frustration. Out of lack of . . . recognition.

It's hard. I have said it over and over: it is hard to do this. It's hard to do anything, but it's hard to do something so personal, put it out there, and be forever judged for it. Even if it's not ideal to you. But especially when it is. Like standing naked in the middle of Times Square asking for a physical rating for a living. In art, it's all a bit like talking into the ocean. Or standing waiting to be egged.

To create can be like a death.

But good, bad, or ugly, you put what you have out. You don't grow by being silent or unseen.

"Quand on prend des risques, on peut perdre. Quand on n'en prend pas, on perd toujours."1 -Joueuse (Queen to Play)

Character: "If any sound can be music, how can you differentiate between sound and noise?" Adrian: "Because noise is unwanted sound. It could be Beethoven's 5th if that's not what you want to hear."

Saturday, July 09, 2011


You know that song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"? Well, it's hard out here for anyone. I try to stay thematic and impersonal, but I'm imploding. Constantly. Regardless of what may seem to be.

It is hard. It is hard to stay focused in a vacuum. Encouraged in a desert. With the loom of bankruptcy around you. Human, artistic, societal, financial--pick your pleasure. With everyone hedging their bets, offering little support, giving you no outlet, being political. Or just plain unmoved or uninterested. Even your own friends, acquaintances, collaborators. It's like having the oxygen cut off on your breathing tank. All I get is the air of "What can you do for me?" Or worse, "Can I get into bed with you?" Agendizing. Networking. Strategizing. I don't feel the personal in it.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Conquest Without Contribution

"Great ambition and conquest without contribution are without significance. What will your contribution be? How will history remember you?"

*The Emperor's Club* was on this weekend and I was reminded of this quote. Rarely do I see a film so explicitly state its premise . . and so early out of the gate. But it's a great line. In a pleasant enough movie. And this is essentially what I mean when I say "If you have nothing to say, you have no business making art." And why I lament the death of story.

Behemoths of film may be impressive, but if all you have to offer is that--grandiosity, scale, engineering--what have you really presented? Technology is a tool, not an artistic goal.

Existentialism may be engaging, even engrossing, but if all you have to offer is moments, glimpses, with little underlying or overarching universal, unifying expression, voice, or goal to them, what are you really offering?

What is the inspiration? What is the end design?

All conquest, no contribution. Or worse, no conquest and no contribution.

Which leads me to another film I saw this weekend. . . .

When One Inspired Moment Catches Your Attention

Sometimes you watch a movie and wonder: how did this come to be and why? Watching *Burlesque,* I had that feeling. The best parts of it are like a sumptuous extended music video and a fashion show mashed together, though with some spotty lip-synching. That appeals on a certain level, but the rest just kills any graces it's earned. The story's a pitiful excuse for stringing together a lot of high production-value numbers and lovely costuming, the first protagonist "revelation" being particularly ridiculous: we can only suspend disbelief so much.

Pittance pittance, number number, eyerolls all around, and then * BANG *, one jaw-dropping moment that opened my eyes: this magnificent pearl outfit, so incredible that all I could do was gasp and lust.

The numbers got better from that moment. More inspired, more glam, more coquette; more amazing costumes, better choreography, better staging, more to act.
How can an artistic endeavor be so uneven? A lot of thought and care clearly went into the production, the talent, but almost none went into the foundation: the story. *Burlesque* could have been Fosse level had there been more to it, anything. As is, I can only believe the movie exists in service of these splendid splendid outfits.

And for that glimmer of inspiration, I say thank you to the wonderful Costume Designer and Department. For giving me something to take away from this viewing experience. I fully wish these pieces could have appeared in a more complete movie where they could garner a more lasting appreciation. Regardless, this pearl costume remains so beautiful it took me beyond body and style: all I wanted was to wear it. To be in it. I would bet many a woman felt the same. And that is magic. Artistic magic.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Morally Reprehensible Media . . . Beyond Your General Threshold

Let me start with the bottom line: Image is not the person. Your worth does not come from it.

Here's the backdrop:
I happened upon a Today Show spot last week for NBC's upcoming Kate Middleton-Prince William wedding coverage. Not having caught the bug, the media manipulation's been coming off rather heavy-handed. Even desperate. In an ever-growing world of inputs and outlets, those of us with [nearly] fully developed frontal lobes know to shift focus elsewhere as needed. But even from a position of primary indifference, things in the media can still hit like a slap in the face. And this particular promo slapped me.

The scene: a little girl, 7-9 years old, in the lap of her (perhaps) grandfather, narrating to him from a large print, childlike fairy tale picture book about Kate & William and the Royal Wedding. An unnatural light, a purple-magenta cast tinged the scene, and then a star wipe transitioned it out, Disney magic style, leading to the real pomp & circumstance commercial.

Media saturation? Fine--expected. Targeting children, trying to sell little girls an interest in this wedding? Beyond the pale.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Grin and Bear It: Film Is As Film Does

I really feel for actors. It's gotta hard out there for them. Having extraed in some post-Katrina productions while in La. to get set experience years ago, when back in NY, I signed up to receive casting notices with the same idea in mind--set exposure. However, with a full-time day job and only being suitable for about 1% of the already demographically filtered notices, it was never going to work out. I turned off the NY notices when I left the coast, but in March-April, the Middle States breakdowns started coming in heavier than in the previous several months combined.

In following with my Death of Story, it doesn't escape me that casting notices, as brief as they are, can tell a lot of about the writing, characters, and mindsets behind the scenes. Those at the helm.

As a sample, demographically filtered (i.e. female, post-college, pre-motherhood, ethnicity open):

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I read of review--no, a talk piece for the authors triggered by the latest news broadcast movie Morning Glory. It starts: "Morning Glory is no Broadcast News, but . . ." The first part is correct. The rest, inconsequential. You can fill in your own "but." Morning Glory is no Broadcast News.

. . . But . . .
it's a story about an underdog fighting for a pursuit she believes in when few do.
But it's a story about a man caught between his sense of principle and legacy and the fluff of modern "news."
But it's about compromise. Making choices.
But but but . . .

Within the first 10 minutes, the writer plants this seed: "You had a dream. Great. When you were 8, it was adorable. When you were 18, it was inspiring. At 28, it's officially embarrassing. And I just want you to stop before we get to heartbreaking." From mother to daughter. This is your main character's obstacle. The hook.

Within a few scenes of this, you'll know everything that's going to come in the movie. Actually, you already know from the trailer alone. But these lines were so simply poignant that I couldn't help but want to go where the story wanted to take me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I'm Not Here

I created this as a sort of video version of a redirect script from my defunct YouTube channel.

I think it's totally cute.

I've decided on the name O for my stick figure character ("O" the letter, not zero the number).

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Death of Story: Part 2

It shouldn't be any surprise that Story is dead. We live in a time of soundbites, not communication. Of informing, not sharing. People only care about page rank, not whether their content warrants it. Unbalanced paltry fragment-writers consider themselves Journalists. Or Writers. It's as clear as day that Story is dead.

Contrary to what the internet may present, Writing is not just an effusion of thoughts without any sense of structure or cohesion or completeness. Writing and Story have a theme that is supported by all its component parts: character or fact and events.

Imagine a 5-minute scene of a family merely filling a dishwasher and talking about just that and only that: filling a dishwasher. Now know that this scene actually appears in a movie. A drama. An "indie" drama. What story does this scene tell you? What overall story do you imagine it's in the aid of telling?

Picture a slow-motion hot dog bikini fight. In a film about robots or Mars or baseball. What story do you imagine that's meant to tell?

The story I get from both of these is that the filmmaker/writer lacks self-editing. A) Your life is not a film. B) Your boyhood or adult fantasies are tangential filler.

Monday, April 04, 2011

In the Era of Snooki, Perhaps I Expect Too Much

The Death of Story

Everything you know and love, going the way of the dodo . . .

In the era of Snooki, perhaps I expect too much. Nothing against Snooki. I wish anyone who happens to find success continued success--as long as it's not to the detriment of others. The insidiousness of celebutants might be debatable, but I find it hard to begrudge anyone's *moment* in the spotlight. Not even the Olive Garden brand of performers out there: Enticing packaging, Insipid product. (Yes, Olive Garden is the epitome of big scale American commercial mediocrity. I said it.)

Where substance is lacking, I quickly stop paying attention. So, yes, let them all have their day in the sun. They are just a symptom, not the problem.

My lament is not about Snooki nor the current breed of pantless figurehead songstresses who are selling nothing substantive, just their legs. No, my lament is that . . . Art is dead. Entertainment, on its death bed. Writing, moribund. And I find it all to be terribly depressing. The way a Vaudevillian in the 1920s and 30s must have found watching everything he/she knows and loves die a slow death.

Vaudeville theater, c. 1900

I've pondered it and I reject the idea that I expect too much. I expect exactly what any consumer or artist should: quality and richness.

"A depressed guy smoking a cigarette is not a film." –Family Guy
90 minutes cobbled around 1 stellar scene is also not a film

My friend Steven Boone has had a beef with film editing of the past decade: e.g. start a film in the midst of an event and then progress with standard storytelling AFTER that scene (prime example: *The Dark Knight* or the currently airing *Kennedys* miniseries which follows this schema to near incoherence). He describes modern cinema as feats of engineering, spectacles of technology. My beef is MUCH more basic than that though on the same continuum. My beef is with the loss of writing. The muddling of storytelling.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

If Loving You Is Wrong, Well, I Don't Care. I Still Do. AKA Awesomely Bad

The world is a real horrorshow. And in times of feeling overwhelmed, I like to see movies that don't ask too much of me. My interest in film blossomed out of watching a lot of international/foreign-language cinema and drama. I watch a lot of films. 9 times out of 10 if the TV's on, it's tuned to a film. And the more films I see, the more I want to watch silly films, light films, charming films. The more I crave comedy. Counterbalance.

So, recently, I saw Beastly. Let me rephrase that. Recently, I paid money to see *Beastly*. The trailer looked like the gift of awful. I had hoped it would be a hilarious mini-mental vacation. And it was. *Beastly* was the sort of to-the-max all-around bad that mystifyingly passed every stage of production: from greenlighting to actual *theatrical* distribution. But that's one of the wonders of commerce. And somehow, ineptitude can be fun to watch. Like bumbling physical humor minus the physical.

In "honor" of my recent bad but funny encounter, I compiled a list of 10(ish) movies I love despite themselves. And I don't feel guilty about enjoying them.

Innocuous Awful, aka Bad But Fun1

1) National Treasure 1 & 2 - These were just on TV again recently. They are thin and borderline embarrassing. Even Harvey Keitel comes off as a cheeseball here. But it's a formula done with all the elements I can't help but enjoy: location-hopping mystery, puzzles and clues, unassuming cute sarcastic tech-geek straight man, flexible voice of reason scientist type, and hammy lead to amp up the camp factor. Nic Cage can be as over the top as he wants in these. It just makes them more fun to watch. These might be his only films of the last decade where I wish he'd turn it up even more.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

And Here's Where I Comment on "My" Films

Or films I've worked on that you may actually be able to find posted of me.
(As of 3/2011)

Personal assessment time

At some point, you've done all the work you can on a piece and can't do anything more. You accept it for what it is and move on. Like Michael Bay recently has with respect to Transformers. Sometimes things come out exactly how you wanted. And the results are great. Oftentimes they don't. Film is a collaborative art. For everyone to come out satisfied is a major feat.

To the audience, all that matters is the end result. Rightfully so. You want the wheel; you don't care how it was created. From the Creative's view, here's what I can personally offer on/to early filmmakers:

Monday, March 07, 2011

More Isn't Better. It's Just More.

Stop the presses: *Transformers 2* was bad. Michael Bay admits it.

WENN: Transformers was 'no good' Director admits

Just in time to promote the next installment in the *Transformers* franchise. --The NEXT installment.-- (This is where we collectively disregard that the last one was awful and the first one little better. =Capitalism operating on audience optimism.1)

For better or worse, I commend Michael Bay for stating what many will not. Fans and filmmakers alike. About their own work and that of others. [I've done this with mine here.] "That was cr*p. [...] It's a B.S. way to make a movie."

Quote of the Article has to go to Shia LaBeouf, however, and his "You lost a bit of the relationships. Unless you have those relationships, then the movie doesn't matter. Then it's just a bunch of robots fighting."

by Andrew Wippler
. . . Perhaps a memo got lost in the shuffle of shooting without a script, but I believe this *was* a Transformers movie. When I go to see Transformers, it's precisely to see big robots fighting. Not empty clichéd human backstory for cardboard cutout characters. Had the first one been heavier on the robots, lighter on . . . everything else, it would have been far less embarrassing.

Cutting To The Chase

If you decide to go ahead and make a movie where you aren't going to bother with character, why not take a page from Luc Besson's School of 5-minute plot set-up followed by 80 minutes of action à la *Taken*. Full of its own ridiculousness, Besson makes no pretense about what his film is: formula action needing minimal plot set-up. Daughter is kidnapped + Dad is former CIA = Dad goes in search of kidnapped daughter, i.e. Heads will roll.

Besson cuts to the heart of what his film is about (and what the viewer wants to see): badass hero setting bastards ablaze. Not down-trodden father with 30 minutes of weak human interest development. Not slow motion hot-girl car-washing scenes or silly eBay-user tracking plotlines or animal cracker on belly moments (yes, I liked Armageddon (I did), but that scene comes off awkward every time).

No bait and switch. No dillydallying. No showing a gun and never using it.

Context is king. As always.

Clash of the Titans
by Hans van Bentem
Exhibit *Clash of the Titans* (2010). COT couldn't entertain (me) even on a cheese level. I understand the why of the remake: bigger, grander, newer effects. Theme: Man on a mission. Man vs. God. But once you've reduced the premise of the original to a mere revenge plot, why then muddle the goal with a nonsensical, everpresent pseudo-love-interest demigod character and story? This isn't an Odyssey. This is a Clash of the Titans: a story where gods battle. That is what we want to see. Release the Kraken!

Trying to be everything to everyone often just comes off as convoluted. Pick one through-line and stick with it. Decide and accept who your audience is. 2010's *Clash of the Titans* tried to soften its chosen blind revenge angle with (a creepy) romance. The 1981 *Clash of the Titans* knew what is was doing in this respect. The Andromeda love story [unattainable and captive love] as motive was both a more sustainable character motivation and a clean way of including a romance (and pretty, young lovers) in an action film.

More isn't better. It's just more.
Why not focus and aim for enough?

"The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection." -Goethe

[6/21/12 Edit] 1 My optimism on this front ended with the first *Transformers*. I ventured no further than that. I can't even fathom that they made a second *Clash of the Titans* movie.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Art is a Love Supreme

Sequins just suit some people. Like living legends. Like Diana Ross.

I recently got to see Diana Ross in concert. She was decked out in sequins and beading. I’d never liked sequins. But when she stepped out, they made perfect sense. What else would befit a woman such as her? A glowing living legend. She started with "Where Did Our Love Go?" sounding just like she did nearly 50 years ago. Just like the records we’ve all heard on the radio so many times over the course of our lives. By the third song, I felt overwhelmed. And for the rest of the show I just wanted to weep. At the sheer magnitude of the impression this woman has made on so many lives. At feeling something I didn't know I would feel. A woman who doesn’t know me and doesn’t know anyone in the audience. Who's not acquainted with the people shouting out "I love you, Diana" as if she's been a lifelong friend. Ms. Ross has her own story. 50 years ago she wanted to sing. And now her story touches others around the world. Through space and time. Her music lives. Her spirit continues to reach.

Photo by Harry Wad
Nobel Concert | 2008
Sequins are impressionistic. They need to be seen from a distance under bright light. Ms. Ross is a woman who was meant to be in the light.

With the closer "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" I couldn’t hold it in anymore. The person next to me handed me a tissue without pause, as if there was nothing out of place about crying at a Diana Ross concert. As if she shared my sentiment.

And that is the power of art. To touch that continuum through history, that thread within and amongst humans, of all backgrounds and ages and stories, and relate. We all relate.

"Before my time"? No, I don't believe in that. I believe in Timeless.

Sometimes people say that film or art doesn't have to say anything. In "defense" of some film/art. "Sometimes films just are." "Not all films have a 'moral.'" As I see it, the point of art is to say something, something about the human condition. To incite something. Be it horror, which touches on a primal instinctive level: live or die? Be it perceptual or experimental, à la Un Chien Andalou. Be it a song that makes you want to dance, laugh, cry. Reducing art to or expecting nothing more of it than simple event presentations takes the art out of art. Removes the story from story. That is the definition of history: a presentation of "facts" as they are, with no interpretation.

Anise takes Mondrian
Art Institute of Chicago | 2010
Art is about Representation—about perception of some event or moment. Even documentaries have as a goal the presentation of some subject to open your eyes to something.

The best of art affects you. I often marvel during films at just how good they are. Sunset Blvd. incites this in me every time. Gods and Monsters as well. Chinese Roulette’s dance of blocking & camera movement continually blows my mind. And by the ends of both Tony Kushner's Angels and America and The Wire I thought, "If I had written this, I could just die."--My contribution to humanity would be complete. These moments are electrifying. Someone’s art going beyond, making me stir, making me shudder.

Few films have made me truly breakdown. Not just tears at an emotionally effective scene but an uncontrollable outpour. A full-on destruction (and rebirth) at a personal core level. Rabbit Proof Fence destroyed me in the last 10 minutes. 3 Women rendered me catatonic for nearly half a day. Les Misèrables (du XXeme siècle) left me in a daze upon walking out of the theater, transported to another world where "Cheek to Cheek" had become a lullaby.

These moments of feeling something greater and unifying in the universe are the peak of what art is.

This is the magic of film. The magic of music. The magic of poetry and painting. This is the beauty and the role of the artist.

It is not romanticism or impracticality or silliness; it is a necessity to the human spirit. It is like the food we eat. Expressing, sharing, communing, empathizing--that is the human experience.

So, my friends who create, you are doing something sublime, not trivial. --Do not ever be swayed to think otherwise.

Art is a Love Supreme. Incite. Evoke. Art=Voice.

Diana Ross | 2011

Your Voice.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Love Robert Duvall! . . . & Type is Unnecessarily Maligned

This is Acting
I love Robert Duvall. Let me say it again. I love Robert Duvall. He was phenomenal in *The Apostle*, wonderful in *The Godfather*--where he even speaks some spot-on (standard) Italian--magnificent in several other films. Has he ever not been good? A few days ago, I saw him in *Get Low*, where at the end, he breaks your heart with a story he tells. And that moment made the film come together. In all of actordom, he is one who constantly blows me away. He and Katharine Hepburn [The Lion in Winter--I don't know that there *is* better acting than that. Stage Door, calla lilies--wow].

Montgomery Clift in I Confess
Yes, Pacino is great; he was superb in Serpico and The Godfather films and so many others. Clift is great. Judgement at Nuremburg alone is proof of that. Lemmon is great. Wonderful in so many films with Wilder and Mathau, phenomenal in Costa-Gavras' Missing. But Robert Duvall is really the pinnacle for me. Yes, he has his ticks (the outbreath "woos"), but how can he not? Who doesn't? Acting doesn't exist in a vacuum. Some of you has to go into the role. As with any job. What marks great acting or a great acting performance or a great actor for me is not the ever-touted Range but Depth: believability. It is not a character, it is you. You have to be present & present as whoever you are portraying.
Jack Lemmon in The Apartment

When Whoopi Goldberg stabbed a knife into that table in The Color Purple, that moment felt thunderously real. When Beatrice Straight gave her 8-minute monologue in Network (for which she won an Oscar), those emotions felt genuine. [Faye Dunaway and Marlene Warfield were also superb here.] This is the deepest sort of acting. It is not us watching your acting. It is us not even realizing you're acting. It is us believing you feel the things that you are showing us. That's what makes it real. [cf. Robert Duvall!] Much much easier said than done.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2010 Film Roundup: Best & Worst Viewed in 2010

Chronicling the highs and lows of the 300 films & series I watched over the last 13 months. All new to me (though not necessarily new).

Most Abysmal Viewing Experiences:
Most Annoying (Characters): Madeo (2009)
Most Embarrassingly Bad: Macgruber
Most Campily Bad (& Annoyingly Fake Accented/Overall Faux-->
     your movie-making is showing): Daybreakers
Most "Plain Bad": Legion
Most Insipid: Killers, Sorry, Thanks, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Most Insubstantial: Sex and the City 2, Amelia
Most Uninspired: Videocracy
Most Ridiculous: The Spirit (2008), Eyewitness (1981)
Most "WHY?": Repo Men --> Best thing to come out of this viewing: This SONG:
     William Bell "Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday"
Most Nonsensical (Assemblage of Scenes): Bestia nel cuore [Don't Tell] (2005),
Death in Love (2008), Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Most Unwatchable: Lovely Bones (2009), My Dinner With Andre (1981),
The Killer Inside Me
... Special Mention: Antichrist (2009) (I've actually yet to finish it. It's been that hard to stick with. Many have told me if I ever want to enjoy sex with another human again, not to continue.)
Special Category: Jonah Hex -- It was bad, yes. But mostly, it was only half a movie. Or several different movies mashed together and still under feature-length run time. Either a massive amount of material was edited out or they didn't have enough to begin with. The screening I saw only hit the 70-minute mark thanks to 10 minutes of credits.

Most Memorable, Well Acted, Well Made &/or Cinematically Satisfying:
Winter's Bone -Just all around wonderful: acting, photography, tone, screenplay
The King's Speech -Quirky, nicely acted feel-good story. Rush was a gem.
The Social Network -Well made, sobering film
The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) -Touches that human-in-all-of-us note. Argentine cinema has been magnificent for several years now.
Crazy Heart (2009) -Actually saw this during 2009's voting rush & it just totally won me
A Single Man (2009) -Despite the end, beautifully lyrical
The White Ribbon (2009) -The film that makes me believe Haneke's finally reaching his potential and making whole films, not just fact/event presentations of sadists
Everlasting Moments (2008) -Quiet with an ethereal quality, touching on those human moments/needs
The Milk of Sorrow (2009) -There's almost nothing there, but it's executed beautifully. Lovely photography
Broken Embraces (2009) -Watching a filmmaker who is so clearly inspired by film is like watching passion on parade. Almodovar's sheer love of cinema is indelibly woven into this film. Only Tarantino rivals him in this respect. They know exactly what to do to get a desired result.

Lola Montès (1955) -Ophuls and his wonderful camera movements
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) -Leone, master of this genre
Forbidden Games (1952) -Crushing, real, and full of amazing child acting
The Prisoner (1967) -Despite some lulls & the end, incredible idea
Harakiri (1962) -Social dissent in the guise of ritual
Red Beard (1965) -Life lessons, though a bit meandering
The Warriors (1979) -A subtle odyssey. Tonally perfect. Restraint with an over-the-top theme. A film relevant then & now that I'm not sure could be made today
Bigger Than Life (1956) -Despite the third act. Great looming staging & photography
The Magician (1958) -I'm not sure I get the larger analogy of the artist from the film itself, but Bergman is a master of atmosphere and images from his films imprint in my mind. I can still see moments from this months later. That's remarkable.

Babies -Babies are universal. Pleasing presentation, beautifully photographed
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World -So clever and cleverly done
Me and Orson Welles -Complete and well acted
Io sono l'amore -Though not terribly satisfying, has something intangibly seductive
Mother and Child -I disagree with how it ends, but there are some really strong elements to this film, not the least of which is Naomi Watts.
+ 2009 special mentions: Gomorrah, Sin nombre, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Yes, only 8 of the "best" were actually from 2010.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lensbabies, Tilt-Shift Photog, Vacuum Commercials, Oh My!

So, when you've covered the basics of theme, character, beginning, middle, end all the way up to blocking, what else can you do? Hmm, create atmosphere! [Cue jazz hands] But "Can" Doesn't Always Mean 'Do.' Snazzy camera or visual effects can be great, but context should always be the measure.

Lensbaby photo of Dresden Hauptbahnhof
by Sven Storbeck
The Lensbaby seems to be trending of late (Lensbaby examples at PP Magazine). Maybe it's because of the Lensbaby's recent portability to film cameras. Maybe it's because filmmakers *in droves* just like the look. Maybe it's because cool visuals is all some narratives have to offer in the end. Relying on the look of a film definitely has its place. The look helps to set tone. Just like music helps to set mood. But with selective focus now showing up in major vacuum TV commercials and USA Network shows like *Fairly Legal*, something seems to be in the air.

Sometimes these things work for a film. Sometimes they're one of the few things working for a film. E.g. Noé's *Enter the Void* had some highly engaging digital/post visual work though potentially disorienting for some. Rachel Ward's *Beautiful Kate* uses extensively what appears to be a Lensbaby for dreamy flashback scenes . . . to good effect. *Fairly Legal* is a sort of pastiche show and the selective focus+time lapsed insert shots of San Francisco somehow mesh with its light charm tone. In these cases, the look suited or made the piece endurable.

Tilt-Shift Photo of Sibiu, Romania
Wikimedia Commons: cc by-sa Amorphisman
But we've all seen movies where we wondered why the camera lingered so long on X (*Solaris* highway scene--why?) or why that shot of a rocking chair was there--what does it have to do with everything else you're showing us? How does it fit? *The Social Network* provided a moment like this for me. The film was primarily dark scenes and tonally restrained. Then in the middle of the film appeared a Tilt-Shift Photography1 scene: the rowing scene. Definitely remarkable. Definitely caused me to perk up. And just as soon as it was done, I started to wonder why--why now, why this, where is *this* coming from and where is it going? It was jarring.

Being a good cinematographer or a good singer or a good anything doesn't mean having to throw in everything AND the kitchen sink. You listen to Ella Fitzgerald and know she could sing runs around 90% of the world's singers but doesn't. --Jeff Cronenweth, I've thought you were wonderful since *One Hour Photo.* Why that shift of look for that one scene?

5-minute drum solos can be amazing. They also run the risk of becoming irritating or seeming self-indulgent. Shots and edits and styles need context. Except when randomness is intentionally at play in a work. Continuity, cohesion--these are in the pantheon for characters, stories, and film look.

1See examples of real Tilt-Shift vs. a post "Blur Mask" (Mask + Gradient Lens Blur) at The Cleverest.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Post: Awards Voting Season & Movied Out

Just rediscovered this blog yesterday. Opened it 5 years ago, posted once about an arduous (first) cattle call, that is, *casting* call adventure, then forgot all about it. Self-talking isn't really my thing; self-talking into ether even less. But I'm going to give it a go. My preference is for ideas, topics: technology, films, society. . . . I('ll) try to keep the narcissism to a minimum.

So, first post: The Grueling Film Awards Voting Season: A Sort of "About Me"

I am a filmivore. And it's voting season. So, I'm rushing to go watch some final nominated films right now to be able to cast my Spirit Awards votes before the deadline. [Independent filmmakers, how can you not champion independent film?] After a tally last week, in the last 13 months I've watched about 290 films, all new to me. Previously watched films weren't included in the tally, but I also don't usually actively rewatch films. Excluding *The Devil Wears Prada*, which I feel compelled to watch every time it comes on TV. (I think I relate too closely to the Andy character.) And the first 4 Chapters of *Inglorious Basterds*.

I love film, but I treat it a bit like poetry: impressionistic. Films are experiential and about what general reaction they incite in you. I remember that, my general overall impression. A (hopefully sweet) memory that you don't need to *relive* to relive.

This viewing scrambling is a bit like an endurance test. Last year, I recall dashing all over town to hit several theaters to see *A Single Man*, *The Last Station*, and . . something else all in the same day. For some reason, I missed every sponsored screening and had to go the commercial viewing route. This year, I'm not in NY so IFP screenings weren't even an option. This crunch time, I'm trying to squeeze in *The King's Speech* and *127 Hours*. As well as *Never Let Me Go* (I really like Mark Romanek, so I have high hopes for him). I managed to catch *True Grit* (2010) and *The Fighter* last week (as the lone person in the theater). For a film fan, this season is just an excuse to kick into hyperfilm drive.

After ~300 movies in one year, I'm approaching a February movied-out stage. Few new-runs of interest playing in theaters and at the point of having run out of things to watch on Netflix again (I've seen too much), movie-watching's sliding into feeling like a chore. And when the thrill is gone, it's time to put things on hold.

On the positive side of this, the impatience I feel when watching certain movies continues to make me a different kind of editor and shooter. I like slow, I like contemplative, I like fast, I like it all, but what I don't like is dead weight == > dead air. Anything that is not meaningful to the whole should be cut. Non-thematic repetition is just excess. And there's little that's more unappealing than watching wanton filmmaker excess on film. Anything that gets in the way of cohesion is a detriment to the experience. That bowl of fruit or sky or rocking chair or pretty girl might provide a beautiful frame, but unless it fits the overall tone of your film, 5 langourous cutaway shots of it serve no one any purpose.

"Can" doesn't mean 'do.'