Movie City Indie Archive for September, 2006

Like, four people said they had a degree in semiotics: Gyllenhaal on H'wd IQs

In the Observer, Gaby Wood talks at length to Maggie Gyllenhaal as a quartet of her pics hit the UK: “Gyllenhaal’s closest friends are not in the movie business. Two of them are academics, and one is a photographer, which is, she says, ‘very nice’. mg_sb_71-6.jpg‘At first I didn’t like mixing those worlds, but they’re so understanding of the weird stuff I have to do in my job, and having someone come over with three racks of clothes, and I get to pick whatever I want to wear to a premiere. I used to be so embarrassed, and I just realised: my friends love me, and they understand that silly stuff.’ … I’m sure that if anyone can keep the silly stuff from encroaching, she can, but I wonder if in the end she’ll feel that Hollywood offers her enough that’s more than silly. She laughs, and… tells a story. ‘My friend, who is very smart and is a producer, told me that he was sitting at a table at some silly award lunch and someone got up to introduce someone who was getting an award. She said: “This is the only person in this room who has a degree in semiotics.” And, like, four people at my friend’s table said: “I have a degree in semiotics!” So yes, there are some unintellectual people in Hollywood… but there are some really interesting, smart, thoughtful people making movies, too.’

We want the finest wines available to humanity: Withnail, once more

Time Out London returns to the well for more Bruce Robinson on one of the great singularities of UK cinema, Withnail and I as it ripens into its twentieth anniversary: “The night before we were due to start shooting, I’m sitting in the bar of this hotel in Penrith with a bottle of vodka. It’s three in the morning, and I’m smoking myself silly, drinking myself daft to try and get arseholed so I could get to sleep—anything to escape or somehow navigate this fear that was coursing through my veins. And I couldn’t get drunk. I couldn’t get anything out of it and [co-producer] David Wimbury… Bruce_12344robinson.jpgcame in, sat down with me in this empty bar and had a couple of glasses and said something to me that is so true about the film industry. He said, ‘The thing is Bruce, it doesn’t matter how good your script is, how good your actors are, how good you may be as a director, if you haven’t got luck, you’re fucked.’ The thing about Withnail is that we had luck. That’s why the film worked. Can you imagine how obscenely horrible a film like Withnail would be, if it didn’t work? Goddamn… I have sometimes sat in pubs when I used to booze and hear these old bastards talking dialogue as good as anything by Pinter – and I love Pinter – or Beckett. It is absolutely phenomenal and so funny, but if you told them it was funny or copied it down and gave it back to them and said, ‘Do it again’, they couldn’t do it. The moment they knew it was funny they would fuck it up.” At a New York preview, he recalls, “We put the film up and they start laughing. Not immediately, but ten minutes in… There were two girls in front of me. By about 30 minutes in, they were standing up to laugh, hanging over the seats in front of them. I thought they were going to choke to death and it was the best noise I’ve ever heard. I’m staring at their arses as they’re rolling on these seats and the whole theatre was screeching, so that was one of the best experiences of my life, because that’s what we were all about. [More teling tales of fuck-ups at the link; Kevin Jackson wrote a BFI Modern Classic on the film; promoting the as-told-to “Smoking in Bed,” Robinson told Rachel Ong “What I think it does do is touch that moment that we’ve all had where we’re all broke, all starving, all aspiring and all knowing that it might not work in our lives. For one of them it does not definitely and for one of them it might. I really think audiences love good dialogue. Brilliant photography costs a lot more than crap photography, whereas good dialogue doesn’t cost any more than bad dialogue, so even a cheap film can have great dialogue in it.”]


FoxNewsCorpGlobalBigConglom is peddling potentially free 20 September tickets to screenings of Borat in “Twenty Five Cities. Six Countries. One World. One Borat” via their new “Black Carpet” MySpace account; MS members click for more liking.global_017_45.jpg

Noting Gondry: Sleep's traces

A feverish chat with Michel Gondry at Zoom-In with Reid Rosefelt: “I don’t want to mix my current work with my blog, but in this case I’ll make an exception. I recently wrote the production notes for Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep… I met with Gondry for an hour. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about our conversation… Gondry has often said that he gets his ideas from his dreams. awww.jpg But I was fascinated to learn more about Gondry’s idiosyncratic approach to interpreting dreams. When you wake up from a dream, you can write it down and look it up in a dream interpretation book… If you are a Freudian you can use his symbolic language; if you’re a religious person, you can make connections to the Bible or the Koran, etc. … Gondry doesn’t see why everyone can’t have their own mythology. He believes you can find the secrets of your dream life by exploring your memory… [I]f you have a dream about a snake, why is the only interpretation the obvious Freudian interpretation? In this case, he suggests you search for the answer in all your memories of snakes, not in communal symbols. More to the point, by probing your mental landscape, he believes you can find out who you are… One dream that regularly turns up in Gondry’s work is some kind of “misplacement”: the bed on the beach in Eternal Sunshine…, the bathtub in the office in The Science of Sleep… Gondry thinks our brains are normally in a passive state, where everything makes sense. But when we see something that’s incongruous, we have to work to reconstruct it. As it isn’t something normally see, you question your reality. And he call this “a very creative moment.” [Further ado at the link.]

UK docmaker John Pilger on why millions of Americans display such a chronic ignorance of other human beings

In the midst of a retro at London’s Barbican, UK journo and doc maker John Pilger rues the televisual corporate lack of interest in politidocs the public would want to see in the Guardian: “The political documentary, that most powerful and subversive medium, is said to be enjoying a renaissance… This may be true in the cinema but what of television, the source of most of our information? Like the work of many other documentary film-makers, my films have been shown all over the world, but never on network television in the US. That suppression of alternative viewpoints may help us understand why millions of Americans display such a chronic ignorance of other human beings,” he writes. pilger_124_345.jpg “I learned my own lessons about the power of documentaries and their censorship in 1980, when I took two of my films, Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia and Cambodia Year One, to the US in the naive belief that the networks would want to air these disclosures of Pol Pot’s rule and its aftermath. All those I met were eager to buy clips that showed how monstrous the Khmer Rouge were, but none wanted the equally shocking evidence of how three US administrations had colluded in Cambodia’s tragedy; Ronald Reagan was then secretly backing Pol Pot in exile. Having bombed to death hundreds of thousands of Cambodians between 1969 and 1973 – the catalyst for the rise of the Khmer Rouge, according to the CIA – Washington was imposing an economic blockade on the most stricken country on earth, as revenge for its liberation by the hated Vietnam. This siege lasted almost a decade and Cambodia never fully recovered. Almost none of this was broadcast as news or documentary.” A PBS senior exec “proposed that PBS hire an “adjudicator” who would “assess the real public worth of your films”. Richard Dudman, a journalist with the rare distinction of having been welcomed to Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, was assigned the task. In his previous Cambodia dispatches, Dudman had found people “reasonably relaxed” and urged his readers to look “on the bright side”. Not surprisingly, he gave the thumbs down to my films. Later, the PBS executive phoned me “off the record”. “Your films would have given us problems with the Reagan administration,” he said. “Sorry.” More worthy fear and loathing at the link, including recommendations of current films and filmmakers; details on the retro at Barbican website.

Mick LaSalle: the long answer

At SF Chronicle, cricket Mick LaSalle ventures re: the future of moving pictures to a reader: “Dear Mick: With the large majority of today’s movies aimed at the minuscule mentalities of puerile teenagers and immature zombie-heads in their 20s, do you think we’ll see many movies of high quality and thoughtful worthiness in the foreseeable future? —Delbert Shofner, Blue Lake (Humboldt County)

Dear Delbert: The short answer is no. The long answer is nope.

RES in piece: more old media expires

2006-julyaugust-cover.jpgAnthony Kaufman gets email: “It’s with great sadness that I must inform you of the fact that this next issue of RES will be the last edition published in 2006… Most importantly, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you for your contributions to RES. Whether we worked together once or many times, your work has made RES one of the smartest and most beautiful magazines around.” After almost a decade, Kaufman queries, “Is it a victim of its own success? Do the fringe artists they once championed no longer need championing? Or is it simply another nail in the coffin of alternative print publications?” While believing that for owner Chris Blackwell, “RES was probably always a [loss] leader… you have to wonder what’s happening now that made [him] finally pull the plug.” Kaufman recalls, “As one of the earliest contributors to the magazine (and I was just starting to write for them again), I’ll miss the [illuminating] profiles of experimental artists that no one else was writing about and the free DVDs that accompanied every issue…. While teaching, I’ve found these DVDs invaluable tools to widen the imagination of my students, allowing them to see what is possible in today’s era of new media making. Alas, another one bites the dust.”

Rapeland: LA Times swims with the leeches

When you were little, did you aspire to the fame, glory and spiritual avoirdupois of Harry Knowles? Not me, but it seems one Jay A. Fernandez, in a ” Special to The Times” column called “Scriptland,” wishes to become Hollywoodland’s next red-headed stepchild. In a vile column of pointless corporate espionage, Mr. Fernandez begins by rationalizing his potential revelation in the pages of the TribCo’s ever-faltering daily, the contents of the latest intellectual adventure by writer Charlie Kaufman, then doing so with alacrity. Taking_charlie's_mind_235.jpg Unproduced scripts circulate throughout the bottomlands of Hollywood; like gossip, they’re a component of what makes the community tick. Information? Power. [And there are SECRETS for a reason.] “I feel a bit like Frodo palming the One Ring,” Fernandez geeks to start. “The last two weeks have been a grueling cacophony of real and imagined voices—other journalists, producers, publicists, Kaufman, myself—trying to convince me either of my righteousness as a journalist or of my complicity in possibly hurting one of the greatest screenwriters in history… On a personal and professional level, I thought reading his latest script would bring me great joy…. [M]any people, beginning with Kaufman, do not want me to have the script, do not want me to read the script, and without question do not want me to write anything about [it]. Words like “super-sensitive,” “invasive” and “freaked” have been cautiously leveled at me as I’ve reached out to those involved with the project to get their thoughts on it.” So why not fold? “Ambitious doesn’t even begin to describe the sublime and scary head-trip that is ‘Synecdoche, New York.'” Assuming his readers are stupid and that Fernandez can flag his superiority to them or to anyone who is smarter than he, he geeks further: “For all those who aren’t AP English professors, a “synecdoche,” other than a clever play on Schenectady, where some of the film takes place, is a figure of speech in which a part is used to describe the whole or the whole is used to describe a part… Yes, I had to look it up. Several times.” He parcels a plateful of spoilers, of which I offer but one: “Page 1 features a 4-year-old girl having her butt wiped.” “No one has ever written a screenplay like this,” Fernandez avers. “It’s questionable whether cinema is even capable of handling the thematic, tonal and narrative weight of a story this ambitious.” He also covers the perverse sexuality in Scorsese’s The Departed. Disingenuously, Fernandez types, “But the script I have is only the backbone of the story, because the director apparently encouraged and used a significant amount of improv during filming.” [There’s a review of Fernandez’s rave over at the Big House of Charlie, Being Charlie Kaufman: “It’s all rather cryptic… but he gives the screenplay a mind-bogglingly big rave…. Not afraid of making a big call is our Jay. Kind of a hesitant relief to me, actually, because I had been thinking… another story about a writer, and about folks having problems dealing with their own realities?” Let’s see… a major metropolitan daily decides it’s a blog and… Paging Michel Gondry… Paging Michel Gondry…]

Reports: Borat no big to Kazakh powers

ABC’s Asa Eslocker writes that Kazakhstan’s oil-agarch’s trip to the US isn’t about Borat. The September 29 presidential audience between Mr. Bush and the authoritarian 66-year-old Kazakh head, Nursultan Nazarbayev has its own logic trailing the Fatherland party candidate, re-elected with a remarkable 91% of the vote, contested by observers worldwide. [Bloomberg reported at the time, “Kazakhstan has never held a free and fair election during Nazarbayev’s rule, according to Freedom House.”] borat_57_3.jpg“The reports were strongly denied by Roman Vassilenko, the Press Secretary at the Kazakhstan Embassy. “The meetings have nothing to do with Cohen… The whole premise of the story in the Daily Mail is actually misplaced…” The White House also [said] three different times to ABC News… there is “no truth to it.” Of its oil reserves, ABC says, with masterful reserve, “Kazakhstan is a stable secular country located in a very strategic region with major energy and investment opportunities for the United States.” Nazarbayev, sitting on one of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, will not only be feted at the White House, but will also trek to former President and present power broker George Bush’s Kennebunkport compound, the library to which, one must not forget, New Yorker writer Brendan Gill observed was stocked with but one title: “The Fart Book.” Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan opens November 3. Another freewheeling election may or may not take place in Kazakhstan in 2012.

Hulk smash: next gen P2P blockers emerge

A long piece at the FT looks at new strategies for preventing digital piracy and peer-to-peer sharing. Writes Joshua Chaffin of the notorious bootlegging of The Hulk: Poster_19993.jpg“As the premiere approached, Universal executives were brimming with optimism. The final print was in the can, and they had the weekend of June 20 all to themselves for an opening on more than 3,600 screens… But nobody had counted on Kerry Gonzalez, then a 24-year-old insurance adjuster and film buff from Hamilton Township, New Jersey. Through a friend who worked at an advertising agency in Manhattan that was creating a campaign… Gonzalez received an advance copy… [T]wo weeks before [the] premiere, he posted the film to a file-sharing service in the Netherlands, making it available to anyone with a computer and a broadband connection who wanted to download it from the internet. “We freaked out,” a former Universal executive said… [B]ased on estimates of lost ticket sales and other revenues compiled by one consultancy, Deloitte & Touche, the hacker may have cost Universal between $60m and $90m… Seeing Jonathan Friend in the conference room of a midtown Manhattan law firm, you might easily imagine that he is one of the partners’ school-age children who has strayed into the wrong office… Yet on a recent afternoon in one such conference room, Friend was the star attraction… With media executives and entertainment lawyers gathered around him, he was showing off the culmination of six years’ toil: a new computer program designed to help the media industry in its fight against piracy.” [The cogent overview follows at the link.]

Synergery: AOLTimeWarner clips Death of a President

DOAP_gwb_927.jpgWhile Newmarket—the company formerly helmed by Bob Berney, who is now boss at TimeWarner subsidiary Picturehouse—acquired the bold what-if mockumentary, Death of a President, about what draconian measures might be meted in America if President George W. Bush were murdered in 2007, TimeWarner/AOL subsidiary gives away the money shot, clipping the apocryphal killing for the edification of idle gossips everywhere. Does it help or does it hurt? Writes a Chicago observer: ” I was outside the River East [movie theaters] when they shot that assassination scene at the Marriott hotel a block south. I remember hearing the screas and the police cars and ambulances rushing by, doing take after take. I was told they were shooting a TV pilot, but there were DOAP signs everywhere for the crew parking and extras.”

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Come and see: Meirelles' Blindness

constant_2357-1.jpgBlindness is looking good for City of God‘s Fernando Meirelles, reports Adam Dawtrey in Variety. It’s courtesy of Canada’s writer Don McKellar and producer Niv Fichman. It’s a $25m budgeted Brazilian-Canadian co-prod, an English-language pic adapted by McKellar from “the 1995 novel by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago… a philosophical thriller about an epidemic of blindness that sweeps through an unnamed contemporary city and pushes society to the brink of breakdown” to be shot summer 2007 in Toronto and Sao Paulo, Meirelles’ hometown.” Of course, McKellar’s in the cast; Fichman produces with Simon Channing-Williams and Gail Egan of London-based Pot Boiler Films, who produced Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener.

Getting away from mad fact: Toronto 2001

indieWIRE linked to an article I wrote for them from Toronto on September 11, 2001: “Pure joy, pure bliss: I saw a movie called “Amelie” on Monday night that may make my fictional year. Little tears sting my eyes throughout this dream of a dream world. I am sated. toront2001s.jpgI join friends from New York at a party for a pseudo-documentary about youth and ambition set in Los Angeles. We talk about what we have seen. I think of questions to ask the director of “Amelie.” I wake a little after 10 A.M. on Tuesday to the voice of my festival roommate. CNN is on in the living room. We watch the footage from New York. We’re kibitzing in a void, not really listening to each other, just commenting and theorizing so gravity does not pin us to the ground. Toronto local lines work; I can get on-line. Cell phone, forget about it. I have to presume my New York friends are fine. None live or work near the World Trade Center. He and I watch the footage, ash-covered emergency vehicles slaloming between pedestrians, spilled into the street, faces mostly blank, some bloodied, all urgently getting away: from danger, from cameras, from mad fact.” [More at the link.]

Communications breakdown


Caption, please: The Departed

depart_this_5120.jpgFor a moment, I mistook cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (right) for the actor Jack Wallace, known mostly for roles in saloons in David Mamet‘s movies and plays.

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch