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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.'