yes, this

Linklater // On Cinema & Time from kogonada on Vimeo.

Huge fan of R. Linklater and nearly his entire body of work. So very excited to see Boyhood in a short time. This will do in the interim.


"...a bridge to be traversed later..."

Been digging through some old journals recently, not merely for nostalgia's sake (though I admit to having a kryptonite-like weakness for such) but for a future film project (or more specifically to aid with the rewriting of a screenplay for a future film project.) Said future movie is set in college and features characters based on some I've known, some I've been, all with the requisite amount of self-concern appropriate to that age. I was both entertained and shocked at my pages - a document of booze, coupling, aspiration, bad jobs, academia, malaise in a small college town in Northern California in the early to mid 90s - at how it captured what I was doing but also what I was feeling/thinking and primarily consumed with: getting over seismic heartbreak and navigating through new people and scenarios with a profound level of self-consumption, self-aggrandizement, self, self, self, self, self.

My opinion of my own (past) self and where I was headed and what I would do is both funny and sad from this current viewpoint, looking backwards 20 odd years, watching steam and vapor trails and abstractions of my (imagined) self coalescing, settling, and hardening even though the me of then thought I was further along and more finished than the me of now does. My behavior in several instances was not laudable - I'll spare the details - but driven by what I can only classify as a sick sort of entitlement. Who the hell did I think I was? I kept asking as I read. And then my eyes fell upon this passage, a ripple of prescience:

which says, if you can't decode my scribbling:

"It's quite conceivable that I'll look back upon 
this portion of my life, many years from now, and find myself sickened at my self-involvement. Alas, a bridge to be traversed later." 

Well BP, I'm traversing that bridge now. (Though does a person excoriating themselves for being too self-involved on their own self-involved blog mean anything?) Here I am. There you are and here I am. Don't get me too wrong, this is all wonderful for the sake of the future movie - which will share some things in common with this person/place I once was - but I do wish it didn't come bundled with shame, regret, misgivings, error, misstep. And so on. And so on. And so on.


altering landscape

Some great bits wash ashore from the internet and intersect in thematic ways. The general undercurrent is the constantly-changing-before-our-eyes-mode-of-film production/consumption and the how/what/why. This impacts filmmaker and audience alike.

first, this great interview w/ Jean Renoir about art v. technical progress, about how modernity and tech. advancement takes you further from artistic purity. (note: I drink this stuff up. sooo good)

h/t a bittersweet life

then, this excerpt from S. Soderbergh interviewing Gordon Willis

 h/t cinephilia and beyond

All of this is both enervating and depressing, the latter for (I presume/hope) obvious reasons and the former b/c cinema continues to evolve and endure. Despite the fact that you can now watch Kubrick or Tarkovsky on your ipad (read: not the intended final format) the central psycho-mythological core that impels it to exist will not diminsh.



the next thing is humming on the periphery, eager to announce itself. This is an exciting thing for me because for an extended duration - years and years - there has been nothing but the black sea. I am have always been an all or nothing person, project wise, often to my detriment. I have to put my full focus into one thing. This extends far beyond production, which has a slow decompression period as the details and hustle ebb away. Then comes the long desert of post. (note: this has all been amplified/exacerbated by a family and a day job and no budget all of which multiply durations by a factor of 10.) It's only now, on the edge of putting this movie to bed, that the space for other things starts to show itself. A muffled pulse beat, louder by the hour. Music to my ears. 


corrollary to 'on illness movies'

These are additional thoughts related to this post on illness movies b/c some things eat at me the more I consider them.

An artist doesn't have to experience everything in life to be able to present it in her art. That's why she's an artist. The ability to empathize and synthesize and repackage and repurpose. The key is really the emotional authenticity and the vocabulary/craft to express it, no matter the particulars of the narrative. So maybe you aren't a certified brain tumor participant but that doesn't mean you don't have the facility to express it artistically. I don't think any but the most crass/dim would set out to make a film about terminal illness with misguided intent.  There is a giant pool of darkness in the world and a million rivers that feed into it. You only need to understand one river to get how they all function, where they all end.

What I was really pursuing in my post, was the false usage of said trauma as cheap device, as punchline, as taking place of the actual artistic expression, or as a device to propel the plot. There are abundant examples of this in book, tv, film.

The other part of this, implied but not stated is that due to my experience, I can't handle watching these things either b/c a) they are poorly hewn or false and cheap b) they are true and resound in my bones and absolutely shatter me.

if you agree or disagree don't be shy.


Woody Allen on Bergman

the interviewer asks some very basic banal questions here but it's still worth checking out.


on illness movies

  Long story short:  In 2005 I had a brain tumor. Through 2 brain surgeries and some advanced radiation treatment and an abundance of luck (including the health insurance to treat it) I dodged the worst outcome. This is a good thing and I am grateful daily. Despite the threat of death now living in the rearview mirror the repercussions of the experience exist alongside me. I am altered in my outlook, my social interactions, my relationships, my depression, my anxiety, my isolation. I anticipate the worst-case scenario in every benign event. I see the black pulse of oblivion inside everything. (Jeez, that last sentence makes me sound like a tenth-grader who writes bad poetry. Wait, I did that.)

  For the above reasons I am unable to watch or take seriously most filmed enterprise about illness (so I probably won't see the popular one playing now.) Almost without fail* I see fiction, artifice, manufacture, and cheap design aimed at cheaper emotional response. I sense the gears of clunky devices creaking under the floorboard of the narrative. I feel proprietary about it - which is probably short-sighted since we are all on a freight train chugging toward oblivion and finality (There's that 10th grader again.) In the same way that a white director probably shouldn't direct a movie about slavery you probably shouldn't make a movie about terminal illness unless you have direct experience - as patient or caregiver. Because as skilled as you may be at writing or framing or cutting or blocking you can only cheat at showing a replica of the black emotional inner core undergirding the whole thing.**  You can only film events.

  You can film a man laying in a hospital bed holding his wife's hand after he's had his first brain surgery. You can film their faces as someone from Transportation arrives at 11 PM with a wheelchair to take him away for an unexpected MRI. You can push in on her as he is wheeled away. You can show her walking to the restroom to sob while he's silent in the hush of the descending elevator. You can show him being inserted into the machine while she makes her way to the deserted parking garage and starts the car, heading home for the night. You can cut to an hour later, him alone in his hospital bed, her alone at home, both of them wide awake, the moon through the vertical blinds.
   But these are all only event-based, only suggestive, only tiny approximations of the roiling fear, rippling through them both, because the surprise nature of the MRI must indicate something bad looms on the periphery, threatening to consume them, that things are in fact worse than they're willing to admit, that all the positivity they forced each other to maintain for weeks up to the surgery was meaningless, that the top of the dark box of unspoken possible futures resting between them unacknowledged is slowly unfolding on its own accord, that shadows are seeping out, into the corners of the room, across the floors, into the air, slowly constricting their breath and their ability to speak. It is coming they both think. But neither can say it out loud to the other. It is coming. 

This is harder to capture with a camera.

(note: some additional thoughts found here)

artifact, january 2005

*i liked The Big C, in part b/c Laura Linney is fantastic and I love Cries and Whispers because Bergman is peerless. There's probably a couple others that escape me at present.

**Or wait, is this protective ownership just another marker of my experience? Or is it valid? Can't an artist write/make anything about anything? As long as its emotionally authentic? It's all pretend so who cares, right? I don't know the answer, I'm asking.


screenplay versus direction

There is a world of difference from screenplay to production to finished film. (This is not a new thought and has been expressed/covered in multiple forums most cogently in the maxim: a film is made 3 times - screenplay, production, and in editing).  This is not to discount the primacy of screenplay because I, in part due to my background as a once aspirant screenwriter, think it's vital. But I used to think the script was at the top of hierarchy, the tree the other limbs sprang from instead of how I see it now: the embryo that grows the complex organism. Essential but not ultimate.

The screenplay for the black sea went through multiple iterations and drafts across many years until it finally was nailed down. It's a complicated, slightly dense thing - amusing since i set out to write/direct something straightforward and easily digestible for my feature debut - but after a lot of work I got it to a place where every word of prose and every bit of dialogue was to my liking as we moved across pre-production and into shooting. Overall, it worked. 

On set there were minor adjustments here and there, growing pains, adjustments and reconfigurations particular to production. A line altered here. A line ad libbed there. Bigger: A plate of chocolate (seen in the dinner table shot below), and one character's animated refusal to take any was meant to happen in the background, under the dialogue, to be a foreshadowing for later things. It's tiny and small but important to the world of the film. Further, it worked on the page. But in directing this (to me) complicated scene the plate of chocolate was subsumed by the on-set machinations of multiple eyelines and 2-shots and 3-shots and covering 5 plus pages of dialogue shooting a 4:1 ratio (on Super 16). The plate of chocolate and its import became diminished so the animated refusal was not even shot. A perfect example of how production can overwhelm/alter the screenplay. The writer in me might have fought for the plate of chocolate but the director in me cut it loose to better get through the day. Perhaps this is a case of directorial inexperience.

A bigger example of screenplay v. film came in a another scene that worked on the page. We see character 1 sitting by the window, looking at the ocean and then cut to a flashback where he meets character 2 at a bar. However the scene ended w/ jump cut to later in the night, at same location w/ Character 2 on phone w/ Character 3, Character 1 long gone. Then we cut back to Character 1 sitting by the window. Believe it or not it worked on the page in a sort of lyric poetic way, the words and prose guiding the reader's POV so that it made sense in terms of text. It had a flow and the reader could understand what the screenwriter was attempting to do. So I directed it and we shot it. But once we were in post-production, we could not make it work. All the lyric prose in the world can't shoe-horn two opposing POVs across the cut. Perhaps directorial inexperience again but I also like to think it is a remnant of my dependence on the written form instead of the filmic one.

A screenplay is made of words so it's easy to confuse with literary forms.  But the image and what it says/does-not-say is more enduring and vital than any well-turned phrase in the prose of the screenplay. It's taken me a long time to realize/admit this.

 cross-posted at northern flicker films production blog


on synchronous stingings

I've been reading and loving The Unwinding by George Packer - non fiction about the end of many precepts and certainhoods in US mythology to put it generally, which may sound dull but it's a fantastic read. Last night I at last got our (almost) 6 month old F to sleep finally and headed out to the kitchen table to read the book and enjoy a beverage, as is my wont while my wife got our 2 yr old N to sleep, prior to our nightly ritual of sitting on the futon and starting one in a cascade of endless Law & Orders and me falling asleep w/o fail 20 minutes in every time.

On page 241 I read about the ascendency of a NC congressman, seen and framed through the eyes of a NC businessman attempting to affect change via biodiesel, and came across this passage which involves said congressman-to-be being tended to by his father in a remote place after being stung multiple times by yellow jackets.

This naturally and immediately suggests to me a whole line of internal inquiry about what to do if/when my son is ever stung by a bee/yellow-jacket/hornet/other. Will he need and EpiPen too? Will he be one of those stories about allergic kids who swell up 3x in mere moments? Will the sting be his undoing? (note: don't be alarmed, these are all the healthy normal thoughts of any parent, sensing/anticipating peril around every corner). I felt blessed we hadn't encountered such yet and was somehow confident we wouldn't cross this bridge for many moons.

This morning we headed down to the river to check out the boats b/c it's Fleet Week. This is when some boats come up the Willamette River and park and allow the unwashed masses to come aboard (note: this is one of those things I would never ever do w/o a kid. It wouldn't even cross my mind. however the calculus of daily decisions is supremely altered w/ children in that going somewhere you don't have any actual interest in going trumps the catastrophe of staying home b/c at a minimum you won't have to look at the laundry/dishes and see them as some tacit reminder of your failings.)

We made it on to one boat, which was fine and neat and made me glad we went. Other boats had long 3 hour waits which we could not endure so we walked around the promenade, around the booths at Saturday Market (on Sunday) and past the not-yet-running-b/c-it's-10-AM carnival rides behind miles of chainlink.

We were standing at one chainlink bit, attempting to encourage N to walk for awhile since I'd been carrying him for probably a mile's worth of distance - now feeling it burn in my chest, arms, legs, in particular b/c I made the ill-informed last-minute decision to wear flip flops instead of the hassle of shoes upon leaving the house - and he was not interested, urging me to carry him instead.

And from nowhere, he began wailing in pain and we looked down and saw a stinger sticking out of his neck. A bee.

Moments later I am carrying him, the sun beating down, him screaming in pain, my flip-flops clap clapping on the walkway, trying to decide what to do - back to the car? find a first aid tent somewhere in the swell of the Rose Festival grounds? He can't stop crying, he can't stop touching his neck. And I am suddenly pulsing with fear - part particular to parenthood, part particular to my own stripe of dark worst-case paranoia - b/c we don't have an EpiPen. (But why would we?) And: Is this just coincidence? that 14 hours prior I was reading about stings and feeling blessed that N had never been stung? What are the odds? 

And: Will this sting be his undoing? 

We made our way to salvation, hearts slowing, N brave as hell. And I was re-presented this seeming
perpetual lesson: The lack/loss of control is a fundamental component of this whole enterprise.


on the long game

I spent 7 odd years of my life and youth in Los Angeles, peddling spec scripts w/ minimal return. I moved to Portland over a decade ago with a handful of scripts most of which I've long considered dead and untenable since they found no takers. Recently, considering what to do after the black sea is finished, I went back through some more as a curiosity than anything - some of them are 15 years old -  and was surprised happily to discover that there were actually movies in them, a pulse laying under years of neglect, even if they were obscured by bad writing.

Said bad writing is both a hazard of youthful ambition and of being an aspirant screenwriter, wherein the goal is to get noticed -- find voice to get noticed, write prose to get noticed, write something compelling and memorable to get noticed - not to serve the film. Here is an excerpt of a screenplay I wrote, one I was proud of back in the day, but one which contains some bad prose, particularly parts noted in red.

tough loss
I can feel my own 25 year old desperation in that sentence,  flailing away frantically underneath, screaming to the world "I am different, pick me, pick me". Here's the truth though,  I don't even know what that sentence means in practical terms, much less how an actor would act it or a director would direct an actor through it. Here's another chestnut:

oops! some terror just oozed out.
I found many such bits throughout this screenplay and others, which reminds/bestows a lesson I've heard a million times from a variety of sources: simple is best. This is antithetical to the aspirant screenwriter, or at least it was to me. In Los Angeles, clogged with rising writers and hoping-to-rise writers and mountains of spec scripts, the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach feels more like taking a suicide pill than time-worn wisdom. Simple is plain, is anonymous, is replaceable. Instead you have to distinguish yourself, announce yourself, separate yourself.

I don't fault myself for trying so hard, it was an essential and formative component of the person and director I became - and it's a marker of the terrain I've travelled. My focus then lay not on the movie I was writing but the career I was pursuing, and the dark underbelly that was urging it forward: my adolescent need for the world to hear that plaintive 'pick me, pick me' wail and answer it.

Not much to do about it except laugh but I do so wish bad work didn't hang around like ghosts holding mirrors that reflect back the depths of my desperate ambition.


"It's not my role to give explanations"

amazing and brief interview w/ Alain Resnais (which i discovered via film school rejects)
which touches at the start on the ambiguous inscrutability of "Last Year at Marienbad" in particular and filmmaking in general. A very good reminder for me b/c I suspect that some who see 'the black sea' will find puzzlement and want/need explication. By design a movie that starts and ends in different ways, the black sea, features a disappearance and multiple protagonists and dips in and out of several POVs and is not exactly sewn up tidily by the end. 

I need to commit this to memory start saying it to everyone*. My new mantra:

"It's not my role to give explanations..each spectator can find his/her own solution and it will in all likelihood be a good one. But what's certain is that the solution won't be the same for everyone meaning that my solution is of no more interest than that of any other viewer."

*or rather to anyone who asks about the movie. I don't want to literally say it to everyone unprompted lest I resemble that man on the bus a couple weeks ago who was sharing his concerns about socialism as relates to city hall road-paving. or something.

road, north/central WA, 2008

sometimes my desire to say things is met w/ an absence of words. are you like this too?


oblivion tour

flew to SF last week to attend memorial service for M's uncle. Marin sun and sky were warm and blue, a counterpoint to the dark finality of everything surrounding us. Travelling with 2 small children amplified all stress and discord but also small, breathing reminder of the ephemeral nature of this whole ride. a gut-punch coming and going. i didn't know him well but i knew him. enough to feel something large stir as i sat staring at his broad grin frozen on poster-board at the front of the venue, joyous to the end. later in sausalito, boats on the water and tourists with peace sign poses in front of a parkside fountain. I am in a wool suit pushing a stroller, hoping an infant will sleep, the heel of my dress shoe extracting skin and blood. Later that night, watching alcohol shake loose obscured sadness, the true fear and effect of  the ultimate pulsing right there under all our manufactured forms, tiny truth pellets falling into a dispenser one at a time.

 the next day w/ M's dad, back in Marin again warm and blue, his person and form showing signs of decline, the same but different. we go to a park she went to as a girl; we go to her elementary school pulsing with one-upon-a-time Ms; we drive through rolling hills, find the house where M was a girl 36 eye-blinks ago, the hill she rode her big wheel down. ten seeming minutes from now will i/we tour similar terrain? the morning becomes afternoon and have to leave, to cross the bridge back.
 the next day we are w/ dear friend and her son, watching him drive in a run on an elementary school field, feeling the prickled absence of his father, an absence that continues to shadow me, forcing me to confront unanswerable questions. later at their house, the last place i saw him, hugged him, told him 'hang in'. more large things stirring, more gut-punching, continuing as we board the plane, as we return, as we unpack, as we sleep, as we rise, as we go through the motions of daily routine, leading me to a conversation w/ M at the kitchen sink the next night. Why am i perpetually fucked up, why am i 9 parts dark black to 1 part graciousness and blessings instead of the inverse? why does what i dodged continue to extract skin and blood? more unanswerable inquiry. I am exceedingly lucky and I know it but I don't always feel it. I feel the potential result more than the actual. I feel the passing form of the shark that missed me instead of the relative calm blue water i laze in now. when and how will it end?