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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Four days back, still a bit out of the local time, jet-lagged.  On arrival the four years absence seemed instantly erased, which seems my usual pattern: a life of travel and constant moves has made some kind of mechanism that really puts me in the old 60’s mantra, “be here now.”   Yesterday is obliterated, and LA, however changed since my last quick visit five years ago, seems more or less the place I lived in in 77-78, and 82-83.  Instant “home.”

Echo Park Film Center

Likewise, when I entered the Echo Park Film Center the second evening in town, to do my first screening (Chameleon, 1978), I felt instantly at home.  How could I not – it reminded of the funk and space of setting up the Chicago Film Coop long ago, in 1967, or the casual Santa Monica place, Focal Point Films,  I stayed in while editing Angel City in 1976.  Though this time the audience – a virtual full house in a space with maybe 36 seats – was a mix of young people and grayed souls of my vintage.   The screening went nicely (except for an over-bright projector), and the response and discussion was lively and long.  A very nice experience all around.

Bob Glaudini and John Steppling in ChameleonGlaudini and Winifred Golden

The next day to underscore the echo of time’s gone, I met with Mike Gray, who’d let me use his editing bench in Chicago back in 1967-8, and whom I’d known in 1977-78 in Los Angeles as he worked on The China Syndrome.  We had a nice talk over beer and wine, with intimations of our personal finality just off-screen.    In the evening, I had second screening, at Cinefamily in the Fairfax, not far from where I’d lived in 1978, in the old silent cinema theater.  Showed Angel City, to another mixed-age and highly appreciative audience.   Inwardly, both these two old films, despite naturally showing their vintage in the cars, clothes, lack of cell phones and other electronic gizmos, seemed to creatively dance circles around the last decade and more of supposed “indie” filmmaking which for me is almost (a few exceptions) all a tired old waltz around utterly conventional cinema, with its only “uniqueness” being that it is about the younger generation of the day, and done by them: mumble-core and other things.  But their cinema, whatever they imagine, is a tired old dead horse showing almost nothing that can’t be seen slicker on TV or Hollywood movies.  Cinematically DOD.   It was at these two screenings a pleasure to see a clearly positive response from younger viewers who seemed genuinely excited at their rather different approaches to filmmaking.  I hope for those it might rub off a bit.

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Glaudini, Golden, Roger Ruffin in Angel City

I hadn’t seen either of these films for some time, and was – as commented by some of the audience – struck by how pertinent to our current times they still are.   Chameleon, done in 1978, seems to have foreseen the coming decades of hustle and greed, while noting the acrid sourness by which such a life eats out one’s soul.  Angel City was a critique of capitalism’s tendencies in wise-ass detective-movie lingo, and remains as pointed and appropriate today as it was then.  Nothing changes?

Adam Hyman of the LA Film Forum

The last screening in LA was of Swimming in Nebraska (US Premiere !!), at the Egyptian theater in downtown Hollywood.   The audience was very thin, as I think such work is somewhat antithetical to the local community’s interests – AG films in the heart of the US filmbiz is a bit of an affront I suppose, and I think the people who live nearby are in the thrall of Hollywood’s offerings and mentality.  I hadn’t seen the film for some time, and found it quite strong – I have the tendency to have to learn to like my own work, and it certainly is the case with this one.    The density of Swimming takes some time to absorb, but now it seemed proper.  The audience seemed to like it very much, which was nice.

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Thanks to Adam Hyman for having set up these screenings in LA, and thanks to my friend Ryan Harper Gray and his girlfriend Tiffany for putting me up and getting me around town a bit.

Smug David Brooks

Having resumed with occasionally posting to the NY Times, yesterday I received the censor stamp yet again.  Thin skinned editor for the absurd David Brooks, who manages to be about as smarmy as on can be.  Below is my response to his item of the day, The Rediscovery of Character.   David is always amazed and in wonder when he discovers new things that have been around forever.

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As usual, Mr Brooks let’s his blinders blind him. He casually dismisses the “Marxist” claim that people behave owing to “material” things. Nope, it’s some more nebulous thing called “character.” Grow up in a poor neighborhood, with lousy schools, no hope of a job, and you get bad character and broken windows. Grow up in a rock solid Republican one and you get classy schools (perhaps private), a ticket to Harvard, and then you can go on to Wall Street and bust balls and crash the entire economy with your greed: good character.

It doesn’t take a social scientist to figure out poverty begets poverty, nor does it take a Marxist to notice that in our wonderful plutocracy wealth begets wealth, regardless of the “merits” or the “character.”


Korean Drunkard Mask

As the last few weeks in Korea come up, naturally things are a crush of things-to-do:  final editing on Japanese film, which found its title finally – The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima.   Running 74 minutes, very simple and direct.   The product of a quick 2 and a half day shoot, that couldn’t have been done without the help of Moe Tomoeda, a young Japanese woman who acted as my translator and help in simple but necessary ways.    It will screen in a kind of private showing in Tokyo on Saturday, March 3.  I hope it is finished by then but I suspect some little things will still need to be done.  I’m quite happy with it – after a fashion the first film done (aside from a 30 minute short) since I moved to Korea.  I’d begun to wonder if the creative batteries were shot, but I think this says “no.”

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This film was really a pleasure to make, though I will have to see on this coming Saturday if I am way off the mark or managed to slip into something Japanese.  I’ll report back after the screening and let you know what I get as feedback.

[Tokyo Update, March 4th.]

Last night had the first screening (also for me) of The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima, to a 100% Japanese audience.  This was after the screening and talk for 90+ minutes of my workshop students’ pieces, done since December.  I was very pleased with what they did, really some very nice work.  Then my piece screened.  Aside from some marginal technical glitches, likely seen only by myself, and a few name titles with the wrong people, on that level it all went fine.  As I screened an unsubtitled version, so as not to have the distraction for an audience which didn’t need them, I couldn’t really see the film myself as while I knew more or less what was said, I couldn’t really follow the talking – of which there is a lot.  So I looked a bit at the audience members to see if I could glean anything there – bored?  falling asleep?  twitchy?   After the lights went up, I tried to extract as much information as I could – usually difficult with Asian audiences – and bluntly asked if it was boring, if my use of some Japanese poetry seemed pretentious, or other things I imagined might be problematic.  I didn’t get any confirmation of that.  What I was able to get was that they were over-saturated with things about the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and that in a way this film didn’t “fit in” to their expectations.  Instead of being rough and brutal and ugly, as apparently most the films made on the matter so far have been (exception is my friend Toshi Fujiwara’s No Man’s Zone, recently shown at the Berlinale Forum), this one is rather elegant.  I’d call it elegaic.  And this one let’s ordinary people speak on their own terms, at length.  My impression was that this almost confused the audience, and in a way they “liked” it inwardly but felt conflicted, as if they shouldn’t be liking something that didn’t slip into their preconceptions of what earthquake/tsunami films should be like.

After the public discussion, one older woman came up to tell me that she found the Japanese language of these people – a dialect for sure in their isolated situation – was very beautiful, and that the way and manner in which they spoke seemed honest and from the heart.   The latter I can agree with – they certainly facially and in their gestures convey a sincerity which is tangibly written on the screen in their personae.  If indeed the Japanese is also beautiful to listen to, then lucky me!    A few others, individually, said they very much liked and were moved by the film.  So I guess, taking everything into consideration, I can conclude that for a Japanese audience it works, and is appreciated.  Toshi liked it a lot, and some of my students, now familiar with some of my work, concluded that though it is “different” from my other films, it is, well, a Jost film.  A Japanese Jost film.

Bottom-line, I think not self-deluded, is that my personal view, if somewhat language deprived in perspective, that it works and works well, was confirmed with this screening.  For which I am very happy.   Among other things it likely will help in assuring that I return in 18 or so months to take up a modest job to oversee a Tokyo portrait, circa 2013-14.

Meantime here in Korea, I finished shooting the film on Ahn Eun me’s dance project, which was very interesting for me, if rather marred with a very “film world” experience, of which more in a a future post.  I amassed 40+ hours of material, and when the hell I will have time to look at it, much less edit it, in the coming two years, I do not know.  Likely I won’t have time to mess with it for a long time.     What I had imagined – foolishly – as a simple project that I could edit as I went along, turned out instead to be rather complex in creative terms.  And it was all my own error.  I had seen a handful of Eun me’s works, which are kitschy, flamboyant, highly theatrical – all rather the opposite of my tendencies.  But I liked them very much.  They are full of energy, sharp turns, and most of the time – if not always – she has a control over the rambunctious overload.   I thought shooting this in an austere manner would be a nice complement.  So in my mind, before hand, I mistakenly imagined her studio as a normal dance studio – spare, a mirrored wall, and little else.  Instead it was a space like her work, if more modest: rather busy with kitschy decor, anything but spare.  And in turn that altered my foolishly preconceived ideas.    Here’s some images of what I shot.

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Ahn Eun me’s troupe is in Bahrain now, putting on several performances of her fabulous piece, Princess Bari – a real spectacle in every respect.  I’ve had the luck to see it 3 times now, and I suppose it is the work that drew me to asking to shoot her process.

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Ahn Eun me

It was a pleasure and a privilege to watch her work with her wonderful dancers (who also are superb athletes and acrobats) and I hope sometime in the future I can sit down with the material shot and make a film of it – I think there’s something good hiding in there, but 40+ hours is a lot, and for the next 18 months (at least) I will have almost no time as other things will be on my front burner.

The shooting of this work entailed some extra crap of the “You’ll never work in the town again” kind, a rather absurd and silly story of how tinsel town warps people’s brains.  Because it is a nice cautionary film-world tale, I’ll tell it in a later posting, in all its comic detail.  Need I say it has to do with a wanna-be producer(ette).

Meantime for updates on the coming travel and screening schedule, see this.

And in passing, Eleanor Callahan, her husband Harry Callahan’s photographic muse, died this week at the age of 95.

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Posted from Tokyo.

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