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Last night was the screening of Coming to Terms here in Berlin, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.   Was a decently sized audience, and a very very positive response to the film.  Back when I lived here in the late 70′s, this structure – a modernist swooping concrete American gift to Berlin, ironically collapsed, and was rebuilt, hopefully with both design and construction improvements.  The setting in which it sits, along the Spree River, is now utterly transformed, as is the entire city.  The Wall is gone, the dingy grey world of East Berlin now glitters with new buildings and renovations of old ones, and it is as if a magic wand had waved, and everything seems completely reinvented.  Tourists swarm the city center, the old Reichstag building with its Foster cupola, beside it the new Federal governmental buildings, the Brandenburg gate and the totally revitalized Unter den Linden.   It is really another city, morphed from an isolated cell of the capitalist West nestled in the faltering collapse of the socialist East, into a humming magnet of late Euro-capitalism, a grand illusion awaiting the literal flood of the future – while at 114 feet above sea-level it is not at risk of inundation this century, in some more distant future, when and if all the world’s ice melts and the sea level rises to a projected 216 feet, well….

 

IMG_6023The HKW after its collapse; below with its architect.IMG_6024

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When I lived in Berlin – 1979-80, and later in 83-5 – the Wall, and the political and economic world it represented, was an active and vivid part of the psycho-social, and economic, landscape.  After I’d been there a brief while I concluded that it – a thin concrete veil maintained with armed and deadly force, and representing a very recent, short-term ideological squabble – would soon be gone.  It would be overcome by the far deeper historical roots of the culture it had temporarily bifurcated.  So I thought.  My Berliner friends were of a different mind, 100% sure it would remain there throughout their lifetimes and beyond.  It was, so they felt, a permanent fixture.  And they had a financial incentive too – as a glittering outpost of the West imbedded in the drab East, it was heavily subsidized, and housing and transportation and many other things were relatively cheap. And there was something romantic about being trapped there.  So until the day the wall was being chiseled down and Honeker threw in the towel as the Soviet empire dissolved in the fog of glasnost, they were sure it would remain.  Not many years later I visited the USSR for a few weeks, in the company of rosy-glassed British left-winger film people, and I drew the same conclusion regarding the Soviet Union – that it was due for imminent collapse.  My traveling companions thought this ridiculous, as did my friends in America, along with the CIA.  Nope, the great Soviet monolith was forever.  It formally collapsed in 1991.  So much for the permanence of things.  Of course in Germany I was in a country which had not much earlier seen itself as in the early stages of a Thousand Year Reich, and I am the child of a country which allows itself a starry-eyed “exceptionalism” and seems to have imagined until very recently that it was exempt from the lessons of history (or telling itself truthfully its own history.)

 

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As an habitual transient, even within my own country, I have over my life become a perpetual outsider.  In a manner it is a privileged position, allowing one to see past the curtains of ordinariness which those who live a stable life accommodate.  Inside such a life – one of a job, home, a circle of friends and associates, and social/economic conventions everyone accepts  -  the horizon of one’s experience leads to a kind of certitude:  the walls will never fall.   Whereas from my constantly shifting vantage point, nothing appears fixed and stable, and the givens of another’s  life seem not at all so firm.  Be it assumptions about a pension, about the economy running along just so, or whether a vaunted empire will last another 1000 years, or 10 days.  To most of my friends a life with a thorough-going absence of “security” seems an impossible nightmare, and they often wonder out loud to me just how I can do it.  But for me, since my life has repeatedly shown me that such certainties, small and huge, which they entertain, nearly always fall apart, it confers a kind of psychological protection:  I am not surprised when the rug zips out from underneath, and I haven’t really placed many bets on it not doing so.   For me, whatever happens happens, and I will cope with it rather than panic at seeing my word-view shattered.  For some people this seems cynical; to me it is just realism.

 

volkshalle_by_teslapunk-d340iupAlbert Speer’s design for the glorious 1000 year 3rd Reichimage4Berlin, not many years later, in 1945

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These days, crossing Germany, as in the United States, one can see vast wind farms, the pristine white blades turning slowly (harvesting among other things, birds and bats).  Germany is one of the European countries seriously attempting – or so it thinks – to Go Green.  Berlin is busy with bicycle lanes, mini-car rental shares, well-insulated buildings, and, at least within the context of modern capitalism, an effort to be more efficient, all in the name of concern for the environment.  Of course these quite “aware” consumers of the feel-good ideology of “doing their part” to keep the coming flood at bay, hardly think twice when it is time to pop into an EasyJet or AirBerlin flight and run off to Majorca or Bangkok, nor do they really understand their massively mis-proportioned draw on the world’s material assets.  Of course they can always point to the United States, and say how its “carbon footprint” and consumption per capita is so much bigger.  And while the richest squabble over these matters, China, and, less successfully India, race to catch up – in exactly the same manner Europe and the United States did when they industrialized, spewing massive wastes and poisons into the environment.  Caught in the alluring material enticements of late-stage capitalism, all are too eager to have more.  Some “more” with a do-(feel)-good ecological bent, and some just plain old more.  Within the penumbra of the Capitalist Religion (one decisively demonstrated to be superior to Communism when the USSR collapsed), the concept of doing with less, a lot less, in the name of a future, is simply alien.  Nope, whatever the problems, the techies will figure it out, and we can continue to have more and more.  And we will have the Thousand Year Reign of Technofixes.

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Perhaps it is the extravagant history of Berlin which provokes such thoughts – to think that the culture that gave us Bach, Beethoven, and myriad other sublime cultural gifts, could have, in the same breath given us the mass frenzy which brought Mr Schickelgruber to power under his stage-name Hitler, and led this most sophisticated society over the cliff of the mass killing of Jews, gypsies, gays, and other suddenly (if also historically deep) anointed non-humans.  Under the sway of their Fuhrer Germany initiated the chain of events which led to the killing of over 72 million people in a single decade.  Towards the end of the war, German citizens mostly obeyed, as their whole world was pulverized before their eyes.  As they had done with the deportation of their neighbors, they firmly stuck their collective heads in the soft sands which Berlin is built upon.   And today, despite the best of liberal intentions  – the bicycle paths, the mini-cars, the farmers markets, the wind farms and all the rest – they are in deep delusion as the Spree slowly encroaches on this currently most civil city.

Flying here from Dusseldorf the view out the window looking down on the NordWest-Rhineland was of massive chimneys and cooling towers, (along with the windfarms) all the way to the horizon.  Germany’s economy is the best in Europe, and it is hurtling down the tracks to its own oblivion, with the rest of Europe looking enviously on.

 

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Four months ago, towards the end of November, I pulled into Stanberry, (pop. 1,185) to stay with Blake Eckard (actually at his Mom’s place), and as circumstances looked OK, shot a film.  I was headed, along with Blake, to the St. Louis Film Festival, each of us to show new films, at the end of the month.  I’d shot and acted in Blake’s Ghosts of Empire Prairie back in May of 2012, and while around had soaked up a bit of the local ambiance.  Just happened to make a jig-saw fit with some things I’d scribbled down some decades earlier, and those things, along with some local tales which Blake knows well and tells with a natural story-teller’s ease, just seemed to leap into each other’s arms.  I asked Roxanne Rogers, who had been in my long ago Slow Moves, and then the newest, Coming to Terms, to make a little detour on her way from LA to her home in Istanbul.  We met up at the airport in KC on the 18th, and headed to Blake’s Mom’s house.  A few days later I went back to the KC airport to get Frank Mosley, who’d also volunteered to come be in it and then went on with us to St Louis.  We were joined in Stanberry by Tyler Messner, a friend of Blake’s since childhood who’s been in almost all of Blake’s films.

 

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GENTRY CO. .Still018Roxanne RogersGENTRY CO. .Still023Roxanne and BlakeGENTRY CO. .Still027Blake and Arianne MartinGENTRY CO. .Still029Frank Mosley and BlakeGENTRY CO. .Still024

GENTRY CO. .Still030Blake and Tyler Messner

In the next 6 days we shot the film in a simple relaxed way – natural light, a handful of simple set-ups against a black cloth, with Blake telling “real” stories (names changed to protect the innocent) from around Gentry County.  On returning now, Arianne Martin, who was in Ghosts, was here to be in Blake’s new film, Coyotes Kill for Fun, and plays in my film as well.   While I was traveling in Europe Blake wrote a few new scenes and did 10 shots of locals which will get slipped in.  On getting those few one shot-sequences tomorrow I should have it pretty much done, with only some music to record (my own C&W) and a few other small things to add.  Hope to have it done in May or so.  About 75 mins.  I think it’ll be pretty damn good.

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The film is a kind of play with literature, story-telling, reality, all with a deep mid-west footing.  Of course, it’s one of my films so it is for the usual audience of (n)one, sure to be seen by extremely few, and ignored by the film biz, large and small.   Nothing to do with making a buck.

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Broken down on the highway, broken down on the road

My car’s runnin’ fine, it ain’t a problem of mine,

It’s my heart that’s in pieces, you know

     Broken hearts, and busted up dreams,

     All decked out in faded old jeans,

     It’s a story, it’s a story as old as time.

Standing there at a far edge of town,

There’s a broken young man with his head hanging down

And he’s calling,

And he’s falling in front of your eyes.

(partial lyrics from song of mine, circa 1988)

Here in Stanberry, Blake is shooting his new film which I’d intended to shoot for him but I arrived with a nagging cold/flu and have had to lay low here, trying to recuperate.  On the road in two more days, headed to O’Hare to drop Roxanne off for a flight to Istanbul, and then I spend a week and some visiting old friends in Chicago.  Then slowly back to Butte for a summer of work and rest.

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COMING TO TERMS BASIC EDIT_29SMRoxanne Rogers in Coming to Terms

 

Here’s the schedule for screenings of Coming to Terms in Rotterdam, commencing this Wednesday:

 

 

 

28-jan-2014     19:30     20:59     Cinerama 2    

29-jan-2014     22:15     23:44     LantarenVenster 2    

31-jan-2014     11:30     12:59     LantarenVenster 6

 

 

 

Roxanne Rogers, who was kind enough to do so, along with husband Alp, had me as their guest in Istanbul in Dec-Jan.  Great time for me.  She will also be in Rotterdam for the first two of the screenings and will take part in Q&A, interviews, etc.

 

Meantime Coming to Terms is now subtitled in Turkish and Spanish, thanx to some really tedious hours on my part, and translations on the part of others.  It will show in Madrid at the Spanish Filmoteca and in Lisbon at the Cinemateca Portuguese in February.  I am hoping I can round up some South American screenings thanks to the subtitles.

 

Anyone in Rotterdam – festival directors, filmmakers, or just plain old people, don’t hesitate to contact me at the festival.  I’ll be in the new CitizenM hotel.  I’ll be there Jan 28 – Feb 1.

 

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The last time I’d visited the Grand Canyon – I don’t really remember how long ago, but at least 20+ years ago, it was already showing signs of the times: mass tourism.  Back then one had to get a permit to go down Angel Trail to the bottom, whereas in 1969, my first time, you could just go.  Now caravans of rafters can be seen as distant yellow dots going down the rampaging rapids, the parking lot at the visitor’s center is vast, and buses take you along the rim to the west of the old center whereas before you could drive yourself.  Outside the gate of the park sits an opportunistic town with motels and fast food places, along with a new “Western” steak house or two.   They all come to see the Canyon, or perhaps to have their pictures taken in front of it after a quick glance.  They stay a few hours, and one can overhear them as they mention having seen Zion, Bryce Canyon, and a few other places, “done” in the last few days.

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I came to do a “re-make” of a film I did in 1970 in 16mm, Canyon.  It was a five minute single camera viewpoint passage through a day, from sunrise to sunset.  It was very good, and garnered comment from Amos Vogel in his book Subversive Cinema (he died recently, some months ago), and laid the groundwork for much later work, from Muri Romani, to a passage in the most recent, Coming to Terms.  I decided to return, to shoot again in wide-screen HD, and with financial and temporal limits removed, make what may be a 60-90 minute version.  I certainly shot enough to do so – actually two of them since I shot with two cameras, looking in different directions.

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Given the new mass-tourism set up I was able to spend the night unnoticed, sleeping in the ’91 Subaru, in the parking lot of a large apartment rental complex, just a walk from where I could catch a 4 a.m. bus to set up some minutes before the dawn sky brightened.  Meant arousing myself at 3:15.   I stayed until sunset, around 8:30.  The price was a burned upper lip, conversations with a handful of kind people (who offered water and more), and a lesson in patience.  I was tempted to stay another day or two, and do it again from a different viewpoint, but the general haze discouraged me and I think I will apply for an artist’s residency of two weeks which the park offers – no pay or travel, but a place to stay and I imagine some assistance if needed.

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I moved then back northward, passing through the Navaho reservation to the east, up into Utah, and the towns of Junction and Circleville, where I’d spent an autumn in 1989, preparing and then shooting Sure Fire.  Like many, and perhaps most, of the small towns I’ve passed through in travels this last year, these places appear to be on their last legs.  Buildings for sale, collapsing; boarded up houses, and a general air of decay and abandonment.  The cafe I’d done the opening shot in Sure Fire was no longer there (though a new one was), some buildings I’d wanted to take shots of were gone, and everything seemed shabbier than 20+ years ago.  The spiel which Wes, the lead character in the film, had laid out to his banker, of cheap houses selling well to So Cal refugees had not played out – though it certainly did some 150 or so miles to the south in St George.  There a small city is now dwarfed by the upscale housing tracts of gated communities, in turn surrounded with the mandatory corporate big-box shopping malls.

I managed to find a space by an abandoned house to park and spend the night unhassled.  Awoke early in the morning and returned to Circleville for a breakfast and to take a mess of shots there and then in Junction.

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DSC02036SMCircleville, Utah

Back in 1989 when shooting the film, I’d noticed one house which seemed as if a minimalist had moved out West, having taken his house and simplified the facade to a blank white, and making everything on his property white with red trim.  Since he’s punched a window in the facade and put on a few little decorative items – patriotic American flag butterflies – and the place bears the wages of time.  Previously he had some seeming Kelley-like abstract panel sculptures in his yard; they’re not all there and those that are now sit outside, by his fence.  And on his car was a license plate which hints at the mindset.

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As I left Junction early in the morning I noticed chem-trails being laid out in the sky above, and as I drove northward, these same “clouds” drifted, with new parallel ones after them, on northward me, nearly to Provo.  I’d seen the same in the valley around Redding, Ca., though there they were criss-crossed carefully, like an overhead quilt.  These are not jet contrails,  which normally disappear by evaporating in a few minutes and are from 30-35,000 feet, normal cruising heights for commercial jet traffic.  These chem-trails last all day, widening as the wind moves them, ending the day as a smudgy sun-killing haze.  They appear to be more in the 10,000-15,000 foot altitude range.  Something is “up.”

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DSC02317 SM CHEMChem-trails over Junction Utah, and later in the day, more and dispersed, 150 north

And having spent enough time at this Sun Valley Starbucks to recharge batteries, clean up and wash hair, and do other internet chores, I’ll wrap up for the moment and head on up to the Sawtooth range.

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DSC00257smThe Jeonju Hanok Village outside the hotel window

Jet-lagged from the journey from Portland to Seoul, I arrived in Jeonju for what is maybe my 5th or 6th visit – I forget and don’t want to look it up.  I was here in 2000, with their first issue, a spanking new eager young festival out to put this small provincial Korean city on the map.  I recall that one, charmed by what seemed a modest provincial university town, suffering an inferiority complex which found them constantly inquiring of me if all was going OK, were they good enough.  They were. (I had experienced the same thing in my first visit to the Yamagata Documentary festival in Japan, in 1989).  Now it is 14 years later, and Jeonju has exploded, along with most Korean cities, with the standard issue concrete residential highrises (Lotte, Samsung, Hyundai, or another cheobol name signifying the brand painted on the side, along with a number – capitalist workers housing akin to the old Soviet ones of the USSR and eastern Europe, though built a bit better), stretching out from view, snaking up the nearby valleys, a version of soulless Seoul stuck in the midst of rice paddies, industrialized agriculture, and rural factories.   The modest charms of 2000 have pretty much vanished.  Similarly the festival ballooned, now a much bigger affair which takes over the downtown area,  has its own building, and after some kind of palace coup a year or two ago, is run by other people, and seems a little less organized than before, though the ticketing policies seem draconian now.

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Follies:  in a little error of idiot festival politics, I let Jeonju program both my new films, a failure on my part to think ahead and realize I was squandering one of my glorious “world premiers” by letting them show both.  So 120 or so people, off in little Jeonju, will see my films, and a large number of festivals will hence decline to show either of them because it isn’t a fkn premiere, a matter that no one except film festival directors/organizers could give a shit about.  So they trade a good film for a virgin of  dubious qualities.  Real smart…   While I know the ropes of the festival game I guess I find it all pathetic and indicative of some kind of warped cultural BS that those running these things should give another think.  There are a handful of larger festivals that show films that have shown elsewhere, but not many.  Those that insist on world premiers and such are merely slitting their own wrists, assuring that they fulfill my cynical view that festivals are by and large an institutionalized system for screening of a lot of mostly rather bad films under the least ideal circumstances for seeing good ones.

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So on Tuesday I showed The Narcissus Flowers of  Katsura-shima to an audience of 50-60, and got a look at the DCP of it and confirmed that the process only inflicts some damage on it (conversion from 29.97 fps to 24 fps). It was marginal damage, but visible and stupid, done only at the behest of Hollywood and its desire for a single uniform system for projection.  I am 100% sure the equipment here and any place that can show off computers could have as easily shown my original h.264 file and spared the motion quirks, color shifts and other crap the DCP conversion brought into play.  And spared me a $300 expense.  Put it this way: assuming the next audience is the same size, I had to pay about $2 per viewer to make their experience worse.  Ain’t that grand!

Even so, not having seen it for some time, and never having seen it on a good big screen projection, with good sound, I must say it is an impressive work – minimalist, beautiful, of measured (slow) pace, and intelligent – qualities which assure it will hardly be seen at all, and naturally I will never see a dime from it.  Which, after 50 years of doing this, draws from me some doubts – about the world I live in, about my sanity or at least my intelligence, about at this late date in my life persisting in this.  I recall a few years back seeing Raul Ruiz wandering the lounge space of the Rotterdam Film Festival looking inwardly lost, as if he were wondering the same thing I am: what’s the point? (Though Raul managed to make a decent living from what he did.)

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On May 1st I was present at the second screening of Coming to Terms here (hadn’t arrived for  first screening).  Packed house of 150 or so, which was a nice surprise, though as the film came up it was painful for me to see the damage inflicted in the DCP conversion: slow fades turned into digital waves of light jumps, all lateral movement (cars going by) now juddered in little jumps, even relatively slow human movements became jerky.  As I watched felt as if I’d been raped – another $300 to severely damage my film because the festival bought the Hollywood DCP con.  They will be getting a pretty harsh letter from me (and perhaps a request to pay for the stupid conversion they required though I told them before hand what it would do.)   Setting all that aside, and  some remaining sound tech matters, I was very happy with the film – certainly as good as anything I have ever done.   So coming full circle to Jeonju, where at a screening in 2006 my Yonsei teaching  job offer began and subsequently found me wondering if, after nearly 4 “dry years” of not making any new films when teaching  (I did edit previously shot ones) , I’d lost the creative moxie.   The two films here, made immediately after I quit in August 2011, seem to suggest the well is not yet dry.  Though I should hasten to state that it would be perfectly OK if it were dry – creative work is like that, and when the source runs out, it is fine.   I intensely dislike the critical view that  there is something wrong when an artist hangs it all up, or when, pursuing their work, it falters.  We get old.  We deplete our energies.  We curl up and die.  And that is as it is and as it ought to  be.

However, though I am happy to feel that this work can go on, I must say I am rather fed up with the other end of it: festivals, getting things shown.  And I think I will likely write an open letter to the festival and exhibition world, letting them know that while I continue to make films most likely, I won’t be sending in entry forms and jumping through all the hoops and idiocies required, and if they want to see my work, they can contact me.  Or perhaps I will post it on a private Vimeo channel and they can request to see it that way.  Meantime, given the nature of the cinema business these days,  in a few months – once I have the time to do so – I will be placing all my work on a Vimeo channel, to view for pay per the new Vimeo set-up.  However miniscule in the “real world” I do know there’s an audience for my work, and this will make it available for those who do wish to see it.

DSC01201smHeroic USSR-style sculpture of cinema-workers on Jeonju “Cinema Street.”

In another week and some I’ll head back to the USA, greeted more or less by a blank slate:  having called off the American essay film, and having screwed up the festival politics of a ticket to Europe, it appears wandering the west, or perhaps hunkering down to catch up a a large backlog of footage, fotos, and other things is in order until (and if) some screenings in the east draw me there, or an invitation for Narcissus Flowers, flies me to Japan (to stay a month).  Wait and see.  Though now that I think of it I did set in motion the wheels to shoot a feature in Port Angeles in September….  silly me!

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Hell’s Gate, near Missoula MT

The last two months have been hectic with preparing and then shooting one longish (80 mins?) and complex film, Coming to Terms, and then, on a whim, another, Dead End.  (See www.jonjostcomingtoterms.wordpress.com for a diary on these.) These wrapped up a few days ago, and I’m in the mixed process of catching my breath, slowing down, and preparing to hit the road for 3-4 weeks in Wyoming to take video and still pics of nature, human mucking around (strip mining, fracking), and to try to get into the frequency needed to draw and paint.  See how that goes.

Kate Sannella and Steve Taylor in Coming to Terms

This film was a very serious one, about, well, dying.  It involved some demanding acting, and a lot of technical stuff with green-screens, tight shots, and, said the actors, it was difficult.  I may try for Sundance with it, or if not that, then Cannes.  Wishful thinking, I know.  It has zero to do with present day art/film fashions.

Roxanne Rogers and Ryan Harper Gray in Dead End

This one was done a kind of lark, impromptu, as we finished the other a week earlier than anticipated, and since they were here, and we had the time and stuff, we rolled the dice on another.  Totally different thing.  Actors did a great job, though I am not (yet?) sure it’ll add up to a film.  Maybe with some editorial magic of some kind….

Now it’s on the road to let it all go away for a while before getting into the final editing (both were rough edited as we shot).  Autumn has arrived in Montana, with brisk nights, and for the moment very smokey skies thanks to a mess of forest fires.  Hope they soon subside.  I’ll be going to Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Devil’s Tower, and many places between, shooting nature and man’s assault on it – strip mining, fracking, and all the rest.

Walkerville, MT.Butte, MT.The Berkeley Pit

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