EROS, on the other hand

30 04 2005

A few days ago, we went to see the triptych movie EROS, which was (allegedly) three movies tied together by the common theme of sex.

Actually, it seems to be three short movies tied together by the common theme of “How The Hell Did I Get Sucked Into This Mess?”

Of the three films the first one, by Wong Kar Wai, is the only one that doesn’t seemed phoned in from a phone booth with a bad connection. It tells the 1960s story of a tailor who has a long-term relationship with an influential prostitute. The relationship, though it starts with her demonstrating her sexual power over the man, it generally completely professional — he fulfills her clothing needs. As time goes on, however,
she begins a gradual downfall that ends with his unfulfilled love for her being all that’s left of her life (I don’t think I’ll give anything away by mentioning that she coughs a lot during the film — a sure sign that
Mysterious Movie Disease is in the wings — see FINDING NEVERLAND and a slew of other films).

Done in Wong Kar Wai’s usual beautiful story, told in a languid style that is appropriate to the subject matter, the film almost avoids feeling inconsequential. Almost, but not quite.

But that’s a hell of a lot more successful than the Steven Soderbergh film, in which Robert Downey, a neurotic ad executive in the 1950s, has trouble differentiating between his dreams and his reality, as he describes a
recurring dream to his psychiatrist, a cliched Alan Arkin (could he BE any more cliched Jewish shrink?). Somewhere early in this film my brain began to mull over whether I had left the oven on at home and, if so, if I should run home and stick my head in it. The film is overly clever, with a plot line that veers from the predictable to the who-cares.

But, if that film has its problems, the Michaelangelo Antonioni film made me want to crawl into the oven, shut the door behind me, and put a bullet through my head. Unbelievably pretentious, it involves a couple who spend a lot of time walking through a series of Italian landscape until they discover a pretty young woman who has been living near them “in the tower” though neither of them know her name. Several pretentious minutes later, the man goes to the tower where he and the woman proceed to make anonymous
love. Then we leap forward in time (though this doesn’t appear to be in the fifties or sixties like the earlier films, the movie itself feels like it should have been made back then, rather than now) and the two women are on the same beach and their paths, and shadows, cross.

That’s it. This one wasn’t only phoned in, but it came from an old phone, with a bad connection. It had more problems in it then many of my students’ short films.

The trouble with the short film form is that it’s NOT just a shorter version of a long film. It has many of its own rules in terms of revealing plot, attracting interest and showing a through line. Each minute is the same as ten minutes in a feature, which means that everything must be more concise, more concrete in its feelings (with more of a direct access for the audience), and better acted and constructed. Each moment is precious and cannot be wasted. Emotions cannot be hinted at, they must BE THERE. I am not advocating a classic Hollywood storytelling structure (look at Stan Brakhage’s films, or the short films of Chris Marker, for instance) I do think that there is a responsibility of the filmmaker to forcibly connect with the audience early and often. The films in EROS, plot driven though two of them are, forget some of these things. Cute sight gags in the second film, elliptical allusions in the third, do not replace audience contact.



RAGING BULL returns

28 04 2005

The new branch of the American Cinematheque out here in Santa Monica just ran RAGING BULL this evening and the film has even more impact now than it did in 1980. There was an amazing crowd there — many high school students (my daughter who is graduating high school this year came along with us and was completely swept up by the film), as well as the Upper West Side New Yorker types.

It is still an amazing character study, done with subtlety and understanding. It is wonderful and I wanted to let you know that it wiped everyone out who was there tonight. Seeing it on the big screen is the best way to get into it. I hope DVDs don’t take over the world!!



Hearst Castle

28 04 2005

I was recently chatting with someone who jokingly asked me whether they actually displayed Rosebud at Hearst Castle and I spent a few minutes thinking about the last time I was there — many moons ago. [For those of you who don’t know what Rosebud is, feel free to go ahead and click on your Drudge Report bookmark right now.]

The last time I was at Hearst Castle they took you out to the back 40 (though, actually, they have a back 4000) and kicked the living shit out of you if you mentioned Rosebud. Or anything having to do with CITIZEN KANE. They absolutely have forgotten to have a sense of humor about that. Wandering the grounds, you realize that they’ve forgotten to have a sense of humor about ANYTHING. Everything is overdone. You know about nouveau riche, right? Well, this is nouveau abso-fucking-lutely-stinking riche. I think they laid our bear rugs with the bears still in them. Lots of paintings and cabinets and statues and art pieces that were purchased without much sense of a unifying style beyond “Hey wow. This shit looks expensive!! Let’s buy it and put it next to that other expensive shit!” Because, obviously, the idea is that simply having rich-looking stuff, is a style in and of itself. Forget rococo or Art Deco.

That having been said, it’s a rather awesome place to wander around, especially after having seen the aforementioned, unmentionable film, several times. There’s the Getty “Castle” Museum here in Los Angeles that, before being replaced by the Getty “Hugeness on the Hill” Museum, was open to the public as an art museum and was patterned after an Italian mansion. Too small (compared to ol’ Hearst’s abode) to get really absurdly gaudy, but it does remind me a bit of the place. And it certainly is a pretty place to wander through.

Hmmm, I seem to have drifted horribly off topic with no possibility of rescue from the “Topic Police.” Oh well, I never much liked the police anyway.



LIVE from The Weirdest Place On The Planet!!

21 04 2005

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usWell, I actually haven’t been to every place on the planet, but Las Vegas certainly qualifies as the weirdest places I’ve ever been to.

I’m here for a few days, speaking on two panels at the Broadcast Educators Association, a conference which overlaps with the last day of NAB, the huge (I mean H-U-G-E) convention for radio, television and film nerds.

I spent some time at both the Avid and Apple booths, chatting about the latest developments. I actually no longer think that Soundtrack is the most evil software package on the planet. It’s turned into a very nice, low budget, sound editing tool. It’s no longer just about creating music or sound loops for video (a practice which made me worry for the future of intelligent film music). Avid is behind on the move to HDV, but were showing some really cool ways of moving from low to high end seamlessly. They are also the neatest people at the show who also sell geeky software toys. Ask me about the “splodge vectors” someday.

So, then I needed to get to the Hard Rock Hotel to meet some of the people on my panel. I left the convention center with about an hour to spare getting over there. I waited for fifteen minutes on the taxi line and it had barely moved at all. I then trotted over to the monorail only to be told to take the busses because there was a “suspicious package at the station” and they shut everything down. Needless to say, the busses were also not running, so I got back on the monorail which was running by then. Only to wait forever at another station. The coolest thing about waiting in the station was that, after about ten minutes of waiting, a recorded bing-bing-bing musical sound was followed by a cool female voice telling us that there were delays and she hoped that we weren’t being inconvenienced.

No, I felt like telling the recorded voice. I actually wanted to sit at monorail station as part of my Las Vegas sightseeing plans.

And then the bing-bing-bing came up again (immediately after the voice stopped talking). And then the voice repeated the same announcement. And then, bing-bing-bing, and the voice again. And again. And again.

I fled the monorail in pain and grabbed a cab to the hotel where I arrived fifteen minutes late, after a 75 minute ride.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe panel was very interesting… Joe Byron from the LA Film School, Fritz Gerald from NYU and Tim Merigan from Frontline (the PBS news show) and I talked about the New Directions in Teaching with the New Technology. Merigan said a few very interesting things, including the statement that most editors who he interviews aren’t trained in the fundamentals – how to black a tape, for instance, but that he would rather take someone who knew how to tell a story and then he could teach them the rest. A degree is very useful for him.

He also does an internship program for those willing to relocate to Boston for a semester. It sound great.

And now, I’m back in my hotel, blogging. In a few minutes I’m going to step out onto Las Vegas Blvd and join the throng of overweight Americans, the impossibly skinny and blond women just in “for a short break and a little fun” (as one claimed on the monorail today), and the under minimum wage guys (and one woman) handing out the postcards for strip clubs and “escort services.”

Hmmm, maybe I’ll eat in the hotel. That’s possible since it looks like the hotel (the Monte Carlo), like all of the major hotels here, was designed to prevent people from ever leaving. There’s everything in this hotel except an airplane landing strip. Restaurants, overprice shops, a food court, a spa, and – oh yeah – enough gambling to fill three or four Las Vegases.

Oh well, wish me luck.

Norman