Saturday, September 30, 2006

THE REELER (has a new face!)

So, if you live in New York City and love film, or hell, if you love film and live pretty much anywhere, you should bookmark this site:


The site's editor, S.T. VanAirsdale, is a real film lover, insightful as hell, and best of all--he's a great writer. It's a joy to read good film criticism that seems to cherish the medium (including its history and potential), and The Reeler always champions tiny gems--and occasionally aims a bit of vitriol at deserving targets.

The Reeler is about the culture of film, and it's just plain fun to read.

So when VanAirsdale announced that he was unveiling a brand new site, with a spiffy design and bright ambition, I was sure to check it out as soon as I woke up. I imagine I'll do the same thing tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that.

You should too.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Release dates for "OFF THE BLACK"!!!

So, I'm sure this might change, but it sounds like we've got the release dates for the film. It'll be opening in a limited release, which basically boils down to this: if we make enough money in the opening weekend, other theaters/cities will be added. If not, well...there's always DVD.

But I'm very excited about the film's release, I'm honored that THINKFilm is putting it out, and I hope everyone I know (and folks I don't yet know) are able to see it in a theater. 'Cause Tim Orr (our cinematographer) did a damn fine job of shooting the film. And everything looks better on the big screen.

But anyway. Here are the dates. I'll add more info as we get closer to the release:

December 1st-NEW YORK

December 8th-LOS ANGELES

December 15th-SAN FRANCISCO

December 15th-BERKELEY

December 15th-SAN DIEGO

December 15th-CHICAGO

December 15th-MINNEAPOLIS

December 15th-WASHINGTON D.C.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


So, I've read a few blogs recently that reference the Onion A.V. Club Blog, where Scott Tobias talks about "Old Joy" and "Mutual Appreciation." What seems to be interesting to most folks is the discussion/comments that've followed...essentially, some people either bashing "Mutual Appreciation" or just scratching their heads. And some other people seem to be quite fond of it.

Well, I was at a special screening of "Mutual Appreciation" a few weeks ago, and writer/director Andrew Bujalski did a post-screening Q and A. Which I enjoyed quite a bit. The first question was from an older gentleman who said something along the lines of, "'Mutual Appreciation?' Seems more like mutual frustration! I couldn't tell what anybody was talking about--they kept mumbling!"


Bujalski gracefully answered the non-question by smiling and saying, "Well, if that bothered you then you probably won't like my other film either."

Which is true.

I for one am a fan of both "Funny Ha Ha" and "Mutual Appreciation." I've seen them both several times now, and while no, they're not "about" all that much, they so resemble my life and the lives of people around me that I'm astounded by Andrew Bujalski's insight and ear. I guess I am a hipster guy in my 20's, like the characters. Whatever. Perhaps it's vanity, but seeing something that looks like you on a big screen causes a unique, pleasurable (and occasionally uncomfortable) sensation. Bujaski's films are too blessedly modest (thank you!) to try to teach us anything about the world, but in depicting the world he knows, the director has managed to reflect and, yes, help people learn about themselves. Or at least laugh at themselves, which is much more than most films.

*A note: I'm writing all this as an objective observer of Bujalski's films, not as his friend. We don't know each other--though I am friends with the former drummer of Bishop Allen (which is the band that Justin Rice--the star of "Mutual Appreciation"--fronts). And yes, I'm a fan of Bishop Allen. They make music that is just at modest as Bujalski's films (again, thank you! In their fine and ambitious intentions, bands like U2 and Coldplay make me want to drink bleach) and is a rather wonderful confection of bouncy pop-rock. Great lyrics, too.


At the screening, I had a question that speaks to my own predilections (those being that I'm not all that interested in people in my own demographic--I much prefer writing about the lives of the very young or old--and I also like stories set in more rural and less-represented areas).

I asked Andrew if he was interested in making a movie about people who are of a different age or socioeconomic class than him.

He seemed incredibly honest in his response, which was something like: "Sure. But right now I'm making movies about what I know and feel like I can do a good job at. I make movies with specific friends in mind to play parts, and they happen to be close to me in age." Bujalski also added that he made a short film (with the actors who played the father and older, bald music exec in "Mutual Appreciation") that will, I believe, be included on the DVD.


If you loathe people that you'd define as "hipsters," you'll probably have a chip the size of a boulder on your shoulder when you walk into the theater to see "Mutual Appreciation." You'll probably leave in a pissy mood. But if you don't mind spending an hour or so with young, creative, sensitive, mumbling, and hyper-educated (perhaps too much for their own good) folks, you might want to check out "Mutual Appreciation." They mean well. And they don't bite (or make fun of your musical taste).

Because let me tell you this: as someone who's lived in Williamsburg and has friends all over Cambridge/Jamaica Plain, Austin, Athens, Chapel Hill, Chicago, Madison, Berkeley/San Francisco, and Silverlake/Echo Park, "Mutual Appreciation" plays out less like a low-budget scripted film and more like a documentary.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

After the Crash

Sometimes it seems like the best way to describe traumatic events is briefly and directly. Better to get it over quickly and start dealing with the "what next?"

Well, last weekend my Seagate external hard drive crashed.

People say that all the time, right? "My hard drive crashed..."

But it's never happened to me before, so it didn't register until it happened to, well, me.

And in this case, the documentary that I shot in April, and have been editing ever since, was saved on the hard drive.

I didn't back it up on DVD's, CD's, or another drive. I'd been lucky before. I'm an asshole, I know.

The documentary, "MY GRANDFATHER'S BODY," is very personal, because it's about my grandfather's art (he was a surrealist artist who made a living painting Agatha Christie's book covers), and it's about the Parkinson's disease that afflicted him for 15 years, but more to the point, it's about my grandfather's cremains.

Yes, my grandfather's remains, which still sit on a bookshelf in my grandmother's home, are the main character. The rest of my family--aunt, uncle, mother, cousins, grandmother--are the people who tell the story, and it's sort of about their collective indecision over what to do with the ashes.

It's also about grief, mourning, and our crippling, overwhelming fear of death.

Oh yes--it's also very funny. Really. I'd consider it a comic documentary (if that's a category).

But I digress.

The hard drive crashed.

I freaked.

Went to the Apple store's "genius bar," where they told me, after inspecting the culprit hardware, that I had three options: "Shoot yourself in the ear, the eye, or the heart."

Nice. Thanks.

I took the hard drive to a store that specializes in data recovery, and they were kind enough to inspect it for free. After the 45 minute inspection, the technician scratched his head and patted me on the shoulder. "No dice," he said.

I've been told that if I send the hard drive to a place called "Drive Savers," they might be able to recover the past five month's work.

And it could cost me as much as THREE THOUSAND MOTHERFUCKING DOLLARS!


Right now I'm still stunned. Not sure how to proceed.

When I started working on this doc it was spring. Now it's almost fall. Working on something, anything for several seasons has a way of making you nostalgic, a bit sad. At least for me. And now all that work is being held prisoner in a plastic box that cost about four-hundred bucks.

Briefly and directly, briefly and directly...okay.

That's that.

Had to write something about the incident.

Now I have.

"THE LETTING GO"... Bonnie "Prince" Billy is now in stores. It's gorgeous--the album I always wished he'd make. It has the directness and packs the emotional wallop of "Master and Everyone," but it's a lush, complicated album. However, "The Letting Go" has its surprises, and for me, those are the moments when the lushness vanishes, like muscle and fat being torn off to reveal shiny, white bone.

The album seems like it's engaged in a battle against an inevitable entropy, and while the album won me over with the thick, semi-orchestral first track ("Love Comes to Me"), it's the moody, haunted, overdubbed, exhausted, pre-dawn final track (appropriately named "Untitled") that gave me shivers.

If you get the album soon, you'll find that there's an 11 track(!) bonus CD called "Little Lost Blues" included for free. And while there's less polish on the bonus CD, there are some absolute gems, like "Southside of the World," which is as infectious as any track Will Oldham has recorded since "New Partner."

Listening to these wonderful new songs, with Will Oldham's voice possessed by the same dusty ghosts (and perhaps a few new ones), I have one question: what will his voice sound like when he's an old man?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"OLD JOY"...

...opened today in New York.

Please, please, please go see it--there isn't a dishonest frame in the entire film. I'd go so far as to say that on its own minimal terms, "Old Joy" is flawless.

And if you're interested, I did an interview with the film's director, Kelly Reichardt, a week ago. I really enjoyed talking to Kelly--she's sharp, articulate, and has a rare, uncompromising integrity.

The interview will be in the next issue of "Filmmaker."

But right now, go to the film's website and find out where it's playing:

That man could make light dance!

"The Silence," "The Sacrifice," "Cries and Whispers," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Winter Light," "Celebrity," "Fanny and Alexander," "The Tenant," "Autumn Sonata"...know what these films have in common?

They were all shot by SVEN NYKVIST, whose name is synonymous with the work of Ingmar Bergman, but he worked widely with many other fine directors. If you like moving pictures, it's hard not to admire the gorgeous cinematography of Nykvist. His camera offered a view into the souls of the characters he filmed--and never, ever seemed to pass judgement.

And Sven Nykvist has passed away.

He was an amazing cinematographer--one of the reasons I love movies. I saw "Persona" with my mother when I was around ten--I think it was playing on PBS--and I didn't understand what was happening, but I couldn't stop staring at the images. They were so precise, intense. I felt like I was being hypnotized. It was a rush. I still look for that same charge when I go to the movies.

Very sad. I think "Fanny and Alexander" is the film I'll re-watch this weekend...but there's such a massive list of great films he shot, it's tough to choose. Maybe I'll watch a couple. Hmmm...

Friday, September 08, 2006

"PREMIERE," "ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY," "AP"..., if you picked up the fall preview issues of "Entertainment Weekly" or "Premiere," or saw the "Highlights" of the autumn according to the Associated Press, you'll notice brief but nice mentions of "Off the Black"...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

R.I.P. Captain Crazy..., I still can't believe Steve Irwin is dead.

I mean, it was perhaps the most poetic and befitting death I've ever heard of, but it was tragic and came far too early.

I loved watching Steve Irwin because he had movie star charisma, he lived without fear, and mostly because in a world run by corporations, where most entertainment seems tidy, bland, and safe, Mr. Crocodile Hunter was FUCKING INSANE!

Really, he was a bug-eyed, lovable madman. We need more people in the world like Klaus Kinski, Rick James, Timothy Leary, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Hunter S. Thompson, Moondog, Howard Finster, and Steve Irwin...but sadly, they're all long gone. Where are all the crazies?

I would trade one Steve Irwin for a dozen Kelly Ripas or Carson Dalys.

Anyway. I have nothing but fond memories of watching Steve Irwin. He had a passionate love of life and nature that was inspiring. He was incredibly knowledgeable, and as cartoonish as his persona was, his message was always positive, educational, and rooted in a deep sense of humanism. There was no question that Irwin LOVED animals.

And I used to get wasted on cheap beer with friends in college and laugh at crazy Steve until three in the morning. That was fun.

Ah, crikey...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


So, in addition to acting in the occasional film ("Old Joy," "Junebug," "The Guatemalan Handshake," "Maetwan"), Will Oldham also records music. Tons of music. Under different names, like Palace, Superwolf, and most famously, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.

He also happens to be my favorite musician. I can't think of many young artists who seem to merit--as far as quality and amount of output--a comparison to Bob Dylan, but Will Oldham is absolutely worthy. In his own way, Oldham transcends the comparison. I'd argue that his music is more, well, spectral that Dylan's. While many people remarked that the young Bob Dylan sounded both new and old at the same time, I think Will Oldham exists more out of time...perhaps not even in our reality. If I had to compare Oldham to a film director, it would have to be Werner Herzog, because both seem obsessed with haunted men, and their demons are ancient, having very little to do with cell phones or cable TV or glossy magazines. That's not to say they are old-fashioned--far from it. They're thoroughly immediate in the way that a photograph of a bleeding wound or burning martyr will never cease to give you the shivers. Will Oldham, like Herzog, is fascinated with (credit goes to Faulkner for this phrase) "the human heart in conflict with itself."

And...that all being said, the wonderful DAYTROTTER magazine scored a major coup: they got Will to record some songs especially for them, then talk about their origins.

They're right here:

BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY (Daytrotter sessions)

Also, Will has just completed his second weird "commercial" for his new album ("The Letting Go") with ridiculous potty-mouth faux-lounge comedian, Neil Hamburger.

Check it out:


Sunday, September 03, 2006

BOB DYLAN video directed by BENNETT MILLER... stars Scarlett Johansson.

Here it is:


Friday, September 01, 2006

Pan and Scanning..., I've been writing a lot recently about OTHER people's films, concerts, books, etc...

It's far past time for me to write about "OFF THE BLACK."

Well, I spent the past couple weeks dealing with the color timing for the video transfer as well as the pan and scan.

Exciting, huh?

If you don't know what these things are, I'll explain. If you do, you can understand why I've gotten so little sleep recently.

All of our post-production has been done with TECHNICOLOR, and they've been wonderful. We made the initial print for the film in New York, but we decided to do all the video work in Los Angeles--because our cinematographer, Tim Orr, was here finishing a film shoot (Mike White's film, which I'm really excited about, called "Year of the Dog."

On Tim's off-days, he and I met at Technicolor to begin the color-timing process (for video/DVD) with the brilliant MIKE UNDERWOOD. Mike's a colorist, and worked with Tim on both "All the Real Girls" and "Undertow." The two of them have a short-hand and trust between each other, and that's invaluable when you're paying by the hour.

The way the timing worked was like this: in a suite at Technicolor, the three of us watched each scene of the film, and discussed the look of every shot--whether it was too dim, too green, too bright, not warm enough, etc. Then, when Tim had seen the entire film and given extensive notes, he went back to the set of "Year of the Dog." And then it was just Mike and I.

I spent a couple weeks with Mike, watching him work at his craft, and I was pretty much in awe. I probably sound stupid, but this is how I felt: Wow. You're making my film look really, really pretty.

Color-timing is interesting...'cause if the cinematographer didn't shoot a good looking film, it's never going to look good. But because Tim Orr is such a damn genius, and he works his ass off to make every shot seem natural, resonant, and honest to the story--the work can be jaw-droppingly good. And then when you're doing the color-timing, the DP's work is simply enhanced. It's really a wonderful collaboration between the cinematographer and the colorist: they mutually benefit from each other's fine work, and seem to be genuinely respectful of each other (that's assuming they're both really good).

The color-timing process was slow, but actually seemed like "movie magic." I know that sounds geeky, but it really felt that way. We were creating something beautiful with fun tools, and there's something a bit scientific--but also a bit magical--to the way it works.

Now, the pan and scan process wasn't nearly as pleasurable. I sort of wished I had some morphine for that part.

Here's a simple explanation of a pan and scan, as it related to "Off the Black":

We shot our film in anamorphic 35mm (a 2.35:1 aspect ratio). That means gorgeous wide-screen, perfect for movie theaters...when you see it you feel like you're having a slightly epic experience, perhaps dreamlike, certainly different than everyday life.

But...when the DVD of the film comes out, it will offer several options: one will be be letter-boxed, and that's the ONLY way a film should be watched at home. If you're not watching that version, you're not seeing what the director/cinematographer intended.

Unfortunately, many people don't get to see a film like that.

They see it on a plane, a bus, or most likely, on cable television. The aspect ration for television is 1.33:1 or, as it's often referred to, 4:3. Which mean, in a nutshell, if you watch at 2.35:1 film on television in a 4:3 format, you're LOSING ABOUT 45 PERCENT OF THE IMAGE!

That's incredible. It's a completely different film.

And what has to be done to achieve that, is, basically, the director sits in a suite with a pro (and Mike Underwood was a complete professional), and watches the film with a digital matte box over it, and "re-directs" the film. Believe me, it's painful. I like wide compositions with the actors spread across the frame, as well as long shots without cutting. But when we did the pan and scan, I suddenly was forced to chop up the film so that you could see everyone (ie. a long, wide conversation scene had to become two close-up's cutting back and forth between each other).

I wanted to cry at times. I mean, I know EVERY film has to do this process, so I'm not alone. And I think audiences are pretty savvy and understand what they're getting on TV. Really, when you watch a film on cable, the visual experience you're getting is compromised--it's less about cinema and more like, well, TV.

Luckily, Mike had done hundreds of pan and scans, and while I was glad to be there for the entire arduous process, I'm grateful that he was there to walk me through the steps with wisdom, patience, and genuine creative insight.

And then, after we finished the 1.33:1 pan and scan, we had to do it all over again--this time for HDTV (which has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1). This process wasn't as dramatic, but still a bit frustrating.

In some rare cases--I'm thinking of Woody Allen's "Manhattan"--the director has simply refused to do a pan and scan, and the widescreen version is the only one that exists. And now with better television/DVD technology, pan and scans may go the way of the dodo.

Personally...I hope so. 'Cause the next time I do a pan and scan, I'm going to be sure to bring a bottle of Evan Williams with me...


The other night I went to a reading at the incomparable Skylight Books.

There was a buzz before the reading for one simple reason: the flashy, newly released book, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," written by a young, first-time novelist named Marisha Pessl, has already gained universal praise and its author has earned comparisons to novelists like Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, and Jonathan Safran Foer. Some reviews have even compared the novel to Nabokov.


I guess I went with a healthy bit of skepticism and interest--this kind of hype is usually counter-productive, though I was curious as's also worth noting that many folks expect "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" to be turned into a film. When asked that exact question, Ms. Pessl said she'd love to see a movie adapted from her novel.


The reading was relatively short, and Pessl is charming--her prose is flamboyant and witty, though to be honest, I wasn't sure I could tolerate 500 pages with her protagonist, the precocious teenager, Blue Van Meer. Blue is verbose and a bit of a show-off, but the reviews of the novel have all suggested that the pyrotechnic writing soon settles down into an old-fashioned murder mystery and relationship story between a girl and her father. Okay, sounds good.

So I bought the book (but I'll keep the receipt, just in case). 'Cause I take Nabokov comparisons very seriously. Though it seems that every year or two there's a "new Nabokov." Whatever that means. But with reviews like this, I can't help but be interested. And here's the thing: I want it to be good. I really do. Who buys a book and doesn't want to be wowed? But how often does that happen...?

Well, anyway--it's the literary season of Marisha Pessl, and I wish her the best of luck with her next novel (which she said she's already writing), and I hope that my twenty-five bucks was well spent...