Thursday, February 28, 2008

theoretical apparatus justification

so i'm thinking about Jeff Rice's The Rhetoric of Cool (as i have before), and, well, i wonder if i can develop a theoretical frame for my project based upon a summary of his book. l-a-z-y?? i don't know. time-compressed? absolutely. but i think i am able to use Clay Spinuzzi's review of Jeff's book as a way of beginning to see what i'm after for my C's project, which is in many ways both an extension of theories i've been developing and practices i've begun to incorporate in my 2nd block FYC class (which began Tuesday of this week). and it may all converge nicely with WJT Mitchell's ideas about ekphrastic hope, fear, and indifference because it is in some ways about how we imagine our words articulating (effectively or not) our experience of an image.

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

film people, independent spirit awards, mylittleplace . . .

so, i love these awards. i know a lot of these people, which delights me, because it's fun to see people you know on t.v.! (well, i've *met* many of them -- call this my gooberish form of identinformation).

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!).

and i met Laura Dunn, director of The Unforeseen, when she brought that film to Sundance.

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).

IFC Truer than Fiction Award: Laura Dunn, Director of The Unforeseen

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).

finally, i finally saw Lars and the Real Girl last night. sweet. Gosling's performance a delight. so was Paul Schneider (hey. i met him when he came to this year's festival with Pretty Bird). he has a way of pausing within his dialogue that feels so authentic. he is fabulous.

enough. right? enough. but when you're living so close to something you desire, you have to run with your "bragging rights" and this is what i've got, however sort of pathetic. and i'm okay with it.

so now, i'm gearing up for the gowns and speeches and hope and drama and longing. i'd say it's all so silly, but it's not.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Salim Baba

i can't believe i have forgotten to write about Tim Sternberg's amazing Academy Award nominated documentary short, Salim Baba. i sat with co-producer and cinematographer extraordinaire, Francisco Bello, and watched -- captivated, teary, nostaligic and hopeful . . .

see this truly lovely image from the Salim Baba press kit here (it's worth it, but i couldn't convert)

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 [1897] 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

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

"i wanna forget how convention fits . . .

but can i get out from under it?
can i cut it out of me? . . ."*

i don't do "what's playing on my ipod" (WPMP) because, um, i don't have an ipod (hint), and even if i did, i'd probably have a lot of learning to do, still. i'm thinking it's like David Foster Wallace's prescient conceptualization of Interlace Video in Infinite Jest. whatever. i don't do WPMP not because i'm an ipod snob or anything. certainly not. and you must comprehend my apprehension in sharing my ipod-deficiency, so please don't take my reluctance to share my WPMP list as crude or terse.

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

ekphrastic hope, fear, and indifference

i may have discovered what i'm trying to say about my pictures (jeez, i really should use the term "images" -- and there you have a hint of my ekphrastic fear, my fear of realizing that there is nothing to my work with images because they are "just" pictures -- somehow, "picture" conjures something far less magical than does "image. i want magic, however childish, however cool).

WJT Mitchell discusses ekphrasis in Picture Theory. Using both Erwin Panofsky's Perspective and Symbolic Form and Mitchell's work on Ekphrasis, i may have begun to discover something a C's audience might want to worry in the context of the pictorial turn. maybe.

but i'm also drawn to a brief entry on Jeff Rice's book, The Rhetoric of Cool (which i will now have to purchase and read; darn you, smart AND cool guy!) that leads me to imagine that the wandering invention i've been doing so far is potentially valid in itself (i almost always prefer the early, rambling draft over the more polished performance. surprised, anyone?). valid, as in, cool. for the reviewer, "[c]ool, [. . .] is defined through association across several different and sometimes conflicting meanings." so but it's about chora, unbounded, limitless, self-indulgent space that may speak of networked experience of (in the case of my images) the familiar PRADA logo, the Louis Vuitton logo and iconic merchandise (baggage; i criticize, but i desire it, as well. it's sad, but that's what magic/cool can do, create and sustain desire). for now, the free-associating is working for me. it's that audience i'm worrying. maybe i shouldn't. maybe i should resist my own ekphrastic fear in order to sustain the fiction of my "important" images. just wandering . . .

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

diving bell (again)

did i mention . . . another reason to see Julian Schnabel's Le Scaphandre et le Papillon is that it contains the most lush and loving food/love/sex scene i've ever seen?

bring tissues.
now, go.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

oh. my.

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).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

date results (and film review)

so we did shop. we did eat, albeit not at The Cheesecake Factory (hideously long line) but at Macaroni Grill. food tasted great, but we both felt kinda sick for the rest of the day ("prego"). maybe it was the soup, which was very creamy (but delisch). or the bread, which usually seems harmless but was apparently so infused with oil as to be difficult for a more delicate system (and i am a delicate flower, mind you).

we did not see Schnabel's film yesterday because we wanted to head home after the gigantuan lunch, and there were 2 hours to kill before the screening (we may go this afternoon). at home, we watched Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows, a fictional (albeit informed) account of a handful of characters working within the French resistance between 1942 and '44. incroyable! . . . no sexy stars, lots of dull greys and rain and mud and trodging about miserably, and so terribly captivating, moving (even given plenty of noir conventions that are by now more than a little tired -- at one point, leading a resistance fighter-turned traitor to his execution, one character admonishes "one false move . . . [fill in the blank]").

the dvd also includes the short documentary Le Journal de la Resistance (1944), a film shot by 12 different camera operators in and around "the front lines of the final days of German -occupied France". Noel Coward narrates, so there's plenty of Brit-inflected drama, but the images themselves -- and especially the text of the opening scroll -- are powerful enough.

I imagine sharing this documentary with some of my students, many of whom believe that they know something about what it means to fight for freedom; i include myself in this ignorance. i honestly don't think we spend enough/any time discussing the French resistance in educational systems. for my silly part, the film Plenty was the beginning of my education (and my love affair w/ Ms. Streep).

so maybe we'll see Schnabel's film this afternoon. if so, i'll post a review.

stand up straight & let me get a look at you

It's awards show Sunday, so i'm giving Margot. I'm through with the wishfulness and angst and regret, and Margot, more than an...