Thursday, February 28, 2008
it's about image and how we teach (with) it. a lot of what i see (in textbook assignments, in syllabi i've studied from various courses at various institutions) is frontloaded. *we* set up some frames for thinking about image, give a few design principles, and ask students to write (words) about the images (we do this with film, too). not bad, but why not begin with images? begin with film-composition? and, especially, why not drop the move of frontloading and begin with what students bring? . . . because our students know a lot about design. they may not be ideally aware of their skills sufficient to call upon them as "strategies" . . . but maybe they are just so disposed. our courses can be(come) spaces in which we work with students to enhance and refine their design/composition skills (and, for many of us, we will learn).
and. rather than *merely* writing *about* images, images are design, compositions. the key problem for me is that in our writing classes, we so often want to use the image as a way of getting after written discourse. i keep wanting to resist this move (even when i see it as valuable). and i suppose that for some compositionists, this is trouble. correction: i know it's trouble. i've been publicly excoriated for suggesting such a thing, publicly taken to task by a high profile comp scholar at a conference. i did not have my defense available for articulation . . . then. i've been working on it ever since. and i'm still not sure that i'm able to argue my position effectively *for an audience* . . .
...but so what i think i've gotten after is that the argument (against words as necessary for the rhetorical efficacy of the image-event) gains momentum in ways that are contingent upon the image-event we are experiencing. i've watched films that were "set up" by a filmmaker prior to spectation, and it's sometimes quite awful. i think,"can you trust your audience to have a brain cell, please?" because often, what they say is so obvious, and they sometimes destroy certain aspects of spectation because of what they give away. BUT. in other scenarios (at screenings for both Bill Morrison's spectacular Decasia, and Amy Redford's first feature, The Guitar), i imagine that had they shared the information they shared in the Q & A that follows the screening prior to the screening, i might have enjoyed the film more than i did. i might have suppressed my criticisms (in the moment of spectation) in light of the contextual information that necessarily explained things i was left to wonder about during the event. for example, at Amy's screening, had i known that her film was based largely upon a true story, i might have embraced it more fully (however, when i discovered that it was based upon a true story, i realized the extent to which Amy had reformulated the story, and i was ultimately let down by the revisions she'd made because of how they manifested a "moral" i couldn't fully get with . . . and much of this involves execution. but, it was a first effort, and there was beauty in the film, to be sure). so, who knows? maybe it was best that Redford said little to intro the experience, after all. hmmmm . . .
at PSU this summer, i argued that we should embrace the image/expression-event as the composition itself, absent contextualizing discourse (that is articulated in words). in some cases, this is possible and even desirable. in others, not. how do we determine when it's necessary? maybe this is the rhetorical work with written discourse that is valuable in a class producing image-events? rather than simply assuming that the end goal is a written, academic essay, maybe the work is deciding if written discourse is the most effective mode for expressing the argument?
there's more. but i've got to get ready for class. if you've read this at all and especially if you've read to the end, thanks for listening. i'm really struggling to pull these many concepts into a "presentation," and while i'm happy to vibe out in all directions and just talk about film and image and teaching writing, i don't think my C's audience will tolerate my polymorphous engagement (chora; this is the link to Jeff's work) with myownlittlemind.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
i gushed like a schoolgirl when i met Philip Seymor Hoffman a couple of years ago at the Sundance Filmmaker's Labs. i told him, "you are the sh*t, the absolute sh*t! did you know that?", and he said, sort of laughing even as he wondered if he maybe shouldn't call security, "well now i do."
i met Dan Klores, producer of the winning documentary Crazy Love, at the Sundance Film Festival a few years back, when he and his producing partner brought Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. the first few seconds of the film suffered technical difficulties (sound) and they came storming out of the theater demanding with great fury and bluster that we start the screening over. Sundance does not do this, as a general rule -- it's often more distracting than simply playing through -- but the decision always belongs to the theater manager (me, in this case) and, mainly, to the projectionist. i went to ask Brad, our projectionist extraordinaire, what to do, and he said that we should not stop the screening. but the two angry producers barged into the booth, stood poised to strangle poor Brad, and i had to step physically between them because they were near to blows. it was so ugly, and it was our first screening at that year's festival. nightmare. but so when Klores came with Crazy Love, he was lovely (and, to be clear, he had not been the main aggressor on the previous occasion). i'm happy for him; Crazy Love is a good documentary, about a famous case in which a lover throws acid into the face of his beloved after a breakup; the film follows their long time "relationship," which is p-r-i-t-t-y bizarre.
at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, i met Dawn Hudson, Executive Director for Film Independent (she accompanied the filmmakers of Secrecy, a fabulous documentary, and i got to chat with her). so it was fun to watch her deliver her short presentation (and she looked lovely). and i'm going to join (darn it!).
there are others. and while it's a little goofy, i enjoy knowing (and knowing that i know) people in the independent film community; it used to feel like another world, but i'm happy to be a tiny little part of it. it is a creative and giving group of artists (so those speeches are not pure b.s.).
so, moving on: if you missed the show, you can go here to see a detailed list of winners (and links to video and other stuff). but for the basics:
best feature: Juno
best male lead: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages -- remember? i told you to go see it in my PRE/TEXT review of Sundance 2007)
best female lead: Ellen Page (Juno)
best director: Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
fest cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski (The Diving Bell andthe Butterfly)
best screenplay: Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)
best supporting male: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Talk To Me)
best supporting female: Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There)
best first beature: The Lookout (i met lead actor Joseph Gordon Leavitt at the Sundance Filmmaker Labs, where he delivered an incredibly powerful performance in a reading of the Hany Abu-Assad's screenplay-(then)-in-development, Paradise Now. Leavitt is a delight and a true talent).
best first screenplay: Diablo Cody (Juno). come on. DIABLO CODY? and you guys get angry with me for wanting to change my name? i may have to take up an earlier suggestion (Andelora Kyburz ?? who suggested that? i love it). anyhow. very cool name. but, dear Diablo (who clearly does not need my advice): maybe give up the move of pushing your hair behind her ear every time the camera is on you because, Dialbo, you have a supercool bob . . . let it hang (says the former hairdresser-turned English prof-turned actor/writer/filmmaker [ha] who won 2 major awards for her bob-cutting technique).
best documentary: Crazy Love
best foreign film: Once (i told you about it in October 2007, even then coming late to the party).
John Cassavetes Award: August Evening
Robert Altman Award: I'm Not There
Acura Someone to Watch Award: Ramin Bahrani, Director of Chop Shop
Piaget Producers Award: Neil Kopp, Producer of Paranoid Park and Old Joy (the latter starring the amazing Daniel London, with whom i worked in a little scene at the labs. i know; i'm a little "Kevin Bacon'ish" here, but it's my small joy to feel somehow connected to all of this creative energy).
okay, so you have the winners. what do i think? . . . Juno is a lovely film. a little precious, at times, but the dialogue is fun and the performances quite good (Page channels Cody's infectious spirit, to be sure). Diving Bell is the more deserving "best film" for me, but maybe "independent spirit" belongs to Juno. i'm no expert. but so, if the winners for Diving Bell had only charmed us as Diablo Cody has charmed all of Hollywood -- and me; she's lovely and clever and delightful. but no. i mean . . . oh, my. first, Januz Kamiski wins his award for cinematography for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and he -- hopefully in some "i'm freaking out in the moment" mode -- proceeds to complain about the low pay he got while working on the film. then, he less-than-graciously (although surely intending humor) tells all the other young filmmakers in the audience not to approach him with lowball offers. acch. but . . . the things he could have said . . . the magic of that film . . . lost in his delivery (and hey, awards shows provide opportunities to promote a film further . . . to gain a wider audience and to further enchant its existing fans . . . ). so, i mean, fine. you win, you're excited, and you say whatever is on your mind. but ayiee . . . this beautiful film, this amazing story, and the fabulous work of screenwriter Ron Harwood and director Julian Schnabel (who took the best director award and also, sadly, spaced out on his speech). Kaminski's q & a in the press room is a bit more interesting. one reporter asks about the potential for/future of avant garde film in Hollywood (or in mainstream cinema), and Kaminski reminds them of the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan (which he shot), arguing that avant garde work is possible in Hollywood but that good stories supporting new approaches are few.
so but then, Julian Schnabel happily and more-than-deservedly receives his award for Best Director. Javier Bardem delivers the award (you recall Bardem from Schnabel's soul-wrenching film, Before Night Falls). and so because 1/2 of the Independent Spirit Awards featured loving references to Javier (i'm going with the first name basis. it's a fantasy), Schnabel takes time to talk about how mind-blowing was his experience working w/ Javier. so, nice, but he never once mentions Jean-Dominique Bauby, whose memoir the film lovingly shares. not one mention of Bauby's imagination and courage and sadness and inspiration. i found this tragic and rhetorically unwise; again, the awards shows provide a stage . . . and Bauby is the thing. buuuu-u-u-t, Schnabel is a grand autuer, and ego has got to figure into his presentation, and so i suppose it made sense, and maybe he spaced it. still, i wish . . .
listen, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly more than earned and deserved its award(s). it's easily the best film. but, to be fair (that is, i have not seen all of the feature nominated films -- now, we're talking Academy Awards), subject matter and childish fear keeps me from No Country for Old Men, and, my love of Paul Thomas Anderson's ingenious body of work notwithstanding, i don't think i can watch Daniel Day Lewis' bulging forehead vein on capitalism for 2 1/2 hours (i will honestly wait for the dollar theater viewings, which is probably lame, but there you go). or, i'd been so busy with holiday and family stuff before and then fighting my post-festival flu after the releases of these films that i simply have not made time. i still have a little. look for me to talk about these films soon (i know. you. can. not. wait).
Monday, February 18, 2008
the 14 minute short shares (from rv films site) " [. . . ] a portrait of travelling bioscope projectionist Mohammad Al-Salim, a true living link between the birth of cinema at the dawn of the 20th century and the digital age of today."
The Ropa Vieja site also provides the following synopsis: "Salim Muhammad is a 55-year-old man who lives in North Kolkata [India] with his wife and five children. Since the age of ten he has made a living screening discarded film scraps for the kids in his surrounding neighborhoods using a hand-cranked  projector that he inherited from his father. A pragmatic businessman as well as a cinephile, Salim runs his projector with his sons in the hopes that they will carry on his legacy of showing films to the local children" (emphasis mine).
the filmmakers have created a way to give charitably to Salim Baba at justgive.org.
because the film is up for an Academy Award, the trailers and teasers have been removed from the web; there has been some controversy regarding their former existence and Oscar availability. there is controversy -- read the comments and links -- as well, regarding the release forms signed by and financial arrangements made with Salim Baba; i am still researching this latter controversy, but the director has issued this statement, arguing that the accusations found in the original Calcutta Telegraph piece were/are false. i'm inclined to want to believe the director and hope that the earlier stories are false.
Friday, February 15, 2008
but can i get out from under it?
can i cut it out of me? . . ."*
so but i can share this video; i'm big into this song, "the underdog" by Spoon, the cd of which i did not get for valentine's day (hint). the nifty licks, the supercool set design, the clever and oh-so-timely-and-appropriate (for me) lyrics . . . i'm surely waaayyy behind in learning to dig this song, but life is hard, . . . blah . . . so but enjoy . . .
* the lyrics as i hear them. online lyrics sites have it as "i wanna forget how conviction fits/but can i get out from under it/can i gut it out of me? . . . " but i like how i hear it anyhow. someday, i'll tell you about how i once listened to the 45 of Jethro Tull's "Bungle in the Jungle" about 4 million times with my friend/neighbor Ronnie Meyers, who transcribed as i tried to piece together the lyrics. or, well, i've told you, sans much detail, but there you go.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
it is a masterpiece.
i had been concerned about how the film would be handled, but Julian Schnabel 's painterly eye crafted a loving and aesthetically magical cinematic experience from what is the soul-wrenching true story of former French Elle Editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man trapped in a paralytic state. the film is based upon his memoir of the same title, "written" by using a code his speech therapist developed. calling upon his only form mobility, his blinking left eye, he would indicate the letter he desired -- as his translator dutifully and tirelessly read off the letters of a "most commonly used" alphabet.
the set design . . . the colors . . . the flowers . . . the perspective . . . the scene that depicts a doctor sewing shut Bauby's overly-dry right eye (from Bauby's vantage point!!!) . . . incroyable!
moments of unspeakable sadness bleed into brief, intense scenes of immense joy . . . when Bauby's translator tells him "you are my butterfly" (in the far more lovely French), i gasped and choked and spit my pitiful tears more than audibly. it caught me by surprise, although i'd read the memoir. the timing. the delivery. . . breathtaking.
it's beyond words. maybe i will some day find them. for now, i recommend that you go. see. this. film.
Schnabel won Best Director at Cannes 2008 for his unspeakably beautiful work on this film.
see also the American trailer, for a study in contrasts (hint: the French is wayyy better).