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Monthly Archives: February 2015

we-are-going-01We are going to record

Yesterday I went with Marcella and comps to MoMA’s film series, Documentary Fortnight, invited by friend Peter Snowdon, to see a new short film of his, We Are Going To Record.  This was a nice piece, shot by his collaborator, Juan Javier Rivera, in a small village in the Peruvian Andes, where a large copper company has its sights on local deposits.  Thwarted by lack of adequate funding to make the film they intended, Peter culled many hours of footage to make this droll commentary, which it is suggested is a metaphor for the indigenous people’s struggles with the copper company.  I read it rather otherwise.  The shots, in a small improvised studio are all static, of a handful of people brought in to record their memories, some music, some poems.  What we see is the process of professional sound recordists from Lima setting up.  We never hear a note played, the intended words said.  Rather we get the complete failure of those doing the recording to be conscious of themselves and what they are putting these people through.  As the film, 11 minutes long, plays out, it becomes a rather comic collision of cultural and social mores.  Discreet, funny, sad, it has a hint of Pedro Costa in the simplicity with which it is done, though while the film itself is respectful of those who were to be recorded, it shows the curious failure of the pro’s to respect the natives.  Very nice film.

The rest of the program was for me a surprising melange of near amateur “experimentalism” of a quality that I was surprised was being shown in the hallowed space of MoMA, and struck me as the kind of things I get from students, and a ghastly slickness in a 3D portrait of a prison in Norway, part of a Wim Wenders conceived package of films about “the souls of buildings.”  This one was slick, the 3D meaningless and irritating, the voice-over grating, and the over-all thrust utterly wrong-headed.  The audience responded with tepid applause.

Controversies

There was though one film which was quite good, Controversies, by Winnipeg filmmaker Ryan McKenna.  Using archival tapes from a famed radio show, McKenna drolly shoots, in gorgeously done extreme wide-screen b&w, portraits of people in their homes, and some out of doors, tossing in a few actors (naked), and cityscapes, as we listen to comments phoned in for the show.

 

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controversies1Controversies

Owing a touch to Diane Arbus, and to Guy Maddin, McKenna makes a somewhat surreal and down-beat portrait of his home town.  A bit on internet research suggests there is a whole school of Winnipeg filmmakers working in a vaguely similar tone.

In both cases, if chance let’s you have a look at these, I suggest you grab it.

On another level, in the NY Times read a puff piece on a Sundance favorite, so they said, English filmmaker Yann Demange.  In it he is quoted this way:

“I saw images of the streets, and it was something like Cormac McCarthy’s descriptions in the book ‘The Road,’ ” he said. Sidewalks were torn up; burning cars filled the air with black smoke. “It looked like the apocalypse.” His film, he resolved in salty terms, would treat the scene as a moody thriller. “Every frame,” he said, “should have an element of mystery to it.”

The production still posted with the article, from his film about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, looked like this:

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Boy, look at that grit, the uniform just out of the costume department, not worn 3 hours.  And the spic and span kid.  Yep, movie folks really know what real is.  Like the glossied up botox brigade on last night’s spectacle in Hollywood.

 

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Down by train from NYC, arrived to a frozen Philadelphia, a state joined by many others, dipping deep down into South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and other places where a drop to freezing was a rarity, but now our wobbly New World Weather has let things plunge to zero F.   Brittle cold, enough to force one indoors – so no visits to historical patriotic sites here in The City of Brotherly Love, which for shooting would have been nice.  However a stroll to downtown was enough to put the kabosh on further such things.  Marcella’s Southern Italian mien turns mean as her toes turn to ice.

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Was here for a screening of Muri Romani, tucked into a series of films shown at the International House Philadelphia, the de facto cinematec here, and which I’ve visited a number of times before, going back to Linda Blackaby’s time. For some time now it’s been programmed by Robert Cargni-Mitchell, who greeted us and spilled out a long and fascinating personal history, perhaps prompted by the Italian blood running in Marcella’s veins.

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After a long little talk with a “fan” (had seen Last Chants for a Slow Dance, which had me wondering if such a drastic shift as the film he was about to see would change things), was introduced and cautioned the audience of 30 or so – a number which given the weather and my sense of a much diminished existence, seemed large – about the nature of the coming film.  I had anticipated 5 or 10.    I checked the first few minutes and went to do internet stuff while it screened.  Having given the viewers a spiel that when I had finished making this film I concluded I’d finally made a work that would clean out any cinema, and was in its first public screening at the Jeonju festival much surprised to find that it didn’t work that way, I was maybe not quite so surprised to find virtually all the viewers were still there when I came back at the end.  I was told a couple left.  Ensued a long and interesting discussion, at the end of which a handful of people who’d seen clearly a number of my films, who said they loved this one, came up to talk more and bought some DVDs of other films.   The kind of thing which tempts one to slog on.

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Muri Romani

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Over a lunch the next day had a nice long talk with Peter Rose, commiserating over a compendium of seeming geezer complaints – about the dumbed-down state of students today (not their fault, but the fault of a purposeful mal-education imposed by our Market Economy system), and the fractured curiousity that seems to be prevalent among them; 3D (which he is working in these days); the demise of “the circuit” – that tiny little space where one’s work could be shown, and, if not a living, at least something could be “earned” for that work.  The places shrink, as has the modest pay, along with the audiences.  The grave beacons, so it seems.  Along with these parochial matters, we slipped in broader interests dancing around the state of the nation and the world.  The vista, matching the brittle weather outside, was grim.

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The White Dog Restaurant

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A few very modest matters came along to underline the precariousness of my existence.  Like going out to a recommended place to have some cold-weather soup, so following Robert’s suggestion we went down the arctic street to The White Dog, which on entering clearly smacked of fancy, and ordered ourselves two soups.  Marcella also had a plate of 5 oysters, nada to drink except nature’s nice water.  Leaving = minus $40, which I can indulge in once in a long while, but….   Ditto the “let’s have a coffee” at which the tab ends at $10 for two.  Marcella immediately noted that in Italy better coffee and cornetto would have come to 3 Euro.  As we hit the road in the coming month, we’ll have to tighten our belts.

In a few more hours, back to NYC for another week and then, weather permitting, on the road.   Hope to come back to shoot some when things are more amenable.  And Robert has invited us back for a screening or two, likely in autumn.  And may show a few other films in the interim.

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Here’s a note, just in, from Bill Ackerman, the fellow I talked with before the screening and about whom I wondered how he’d take the shift from Last Chants to Muri Romani.  Posted here with his OK.

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Hello Jon, You asked me to email you with my thoughts on MURI ROMANI. Well, I have to say, it took a while for my mind to stop racing, to settle into the trance that’s intended. And that lead me to reflect on how one’s mind can do that. I also noticed how often I thought I *almost* saw specific images and shapes in the patterns, and thought how that must be how many of us are wired. At some point, music drifted into the soundtrack, maybe from a passing car, and it occurred to me how different, how much more conventional, the film might be if it featured a musical score. I listen to a lot of different types of music, and ambient/experimental music is one I return to at different points in my life. MURI ROMANI reminded me of ambient music moreso than, say, LAST CHANTS FOR A SLOW DANCE. Your comments about the sound being too loud and the dissolves coming a little too quickly make sense to me. I loved TANTI AUGURI too! I’m trying to imagine how it might have played without your explanation of how it was created, and I’m not sure how it would work at a much greater length, but it served as a nice opening act to the main feature. Best, Bill

And, purely by coincidence of the nicest kind, is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci, that I bumped into quickly scanning FB posts yesterday.

“Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colors. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles and figures in action, strange faces and costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose clanging you can find every name and word that you can imagine. Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of wars, the battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honor, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks (Trattato della Pittura, Codex Urbinas)
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Here’s a little film made a few days ago with Stephen Lack, in Upstate New York, while snow fell.  Steve wrote the monologue some years back, and it lingered in his mind, something as often happens with me. For example, the opening monologue of They Had It Coming is something I wrote 20 years or more ago, and when conceiving the film, it drifted forward in my mind.  Steve and I seem similar in this process.  We also both have filthy minds.

For this he did a little re-write to fit the mode of presentation and he knocked it out in one take.  I did little aside from setting the shot, and, if you look carefully, maybe you will see what I did on the computer to intensify it.  Steve and I are thinking of some further things along this line, and I have an essay film cooking in the back of my cranium, which would use his drawings and thoughts.

https://vimeo.com/119403439

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