Movie City Indie Archive for January, 2008

A side of the Ledger

brokeback460.jpgAt David Thomson’s perfunctory musing at the Guardian, this from commenter “fishcake”: “His performance in Brokeback Mountain cut me like a knife. Mumbling and inarticulate, I thought he epitomized the man that hated his crappy life and was only happy with his one true love. Ledger and Gyllenhaal will go down as one of cinemas greatest screen couples. The scene with the shirts broke my heart, I didn’t think there were any more tears I could cry after watching it.”

Oscar noms: Best Original Song, "Falling Slowly," from Once

369243099_1d82f12546.jpgSometimes it’s nice when what seems inevitable (but somehow unlikely) actually happens. [Sundance 2007; Photo © 2007 Ray Pride]

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S08: Having words with Howard A. Rodman (Savage Grace; August)

500xRodman.jpgCAN SUNDANCE MOVE ON FROM “IT GIRLS” TO “IT SCRIBES? Howard A. Rodman passes for the “it” scribe of Sundance’s opening days, as writer and co-producer on two debuts at Sundance, August, directed by Austin Chick (XX/XY, Sundance 2002), and Savage Grace, the welcome return of Tom Kalin to feature-making. Rodman is a screenwriter, Writers Guild activist, USC screenwriting teacher, and an artistic director of the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Labs, among other pursuits. His name has surfaced as the nom de brute of bad guys in Steven Soderbergh pictures, such as a lawyer in Traffic. When Rodman’s double-dip was announced, I dropped a line, teasing, “Type, type, Eh Mr. Kerouac,” to which he replied with an observation from Marx’s manuscripts, “At a certain point, changes in quantity become changes in quality.” A suitable citation, I suppose for a busy writer whose first original credit comes with August.
Premiere’s “10 Best Unproduced Screenplays” included Rodman’s F {PDF download]; his also-unproduced 1989 Daddy Empire is an unlikely lark, a pre-9/11 surrealist provocation about a young man whose oneiric misadventures in Manhattan include the belief that his father is a very tall, iconic building Skylines and clocks and fur-lined bathtubs sluicing the waterways beneath Manhattan ensue. (Here is a now-anachronistic musing as his Guy walks beneath the World Trade Center, “I began to think about the people who worked in the office buildings I’d been walking between. Their families. How they had been manufactured to become the kinds of people who could work in those kinds of buildings. I saw the office buildings sending out messages, by cable, underground, always underground. The messages said different things, but they said the same thing. We have these offices. Build us some people to fill them…. It would be easier just to take a job, an office job, in one of those large towers, my place in the grid, week in, week out. A place to live out my days. I was very tired.” August, which is set amid the dot-com detonation in the weeks before 9/11, makes judicious use of the iconography of the standing Towers, and the process-specific dialogue sounds keenly of the era, as well as sometimes gleaming with rhythmic eruptions like an emerald inside a toad. (Do note Rip Torn’s enunciation of the word “O-re-O.”) Rodman’s crisp 1999 novel, “Destiny Express,” one of the few ever blurbed by Thomas Pynchon—”daringly imagined, darkly romantic–a moral thriller”—charts the hours in 1933 as Fritz Lang plots his escape from Nazi Germany after Goebbels has asked him to run “a new program for the cinema.” While his two scripts at Sundance 2008, August and Savage Grace suggest a greater accessibility than these projects, do consider the gorgeous forebear, Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil, which Rodman cites as an influence on August. While little-seen, it remains one of the great tone poems of American urban striving.
PRIDE: Tell me how these two movies came to be and how much you’ve hung on during the process.
RODMAN: August started with me and some imaginary friends playing in my basement in 2000, was revised extensively in 2003-2004, when what was not quite current became interestingly period. It’s the first original screenplay of mine to be filmed, so I’m thrilled. I’m also an executive producer, with a financial as well as aesthetic stake in the film. August is a kind of free verse adaptation of my favorite film ever, Abe Polonsky’s Force of Evil, except instead of being set in the numbers racket, the brothers’ story is played out against the wild heyday of the dotcom bubble in lower Manhattan. I always like it when you can take a couple of characters with small differences, and watch those differences become large and larger as the world collapses around them. The pieces of the casting and financing took a long time to coalesce, but once they did, the production followed very quickly thereafter. Another very strong influence was The King of Marvin Gardens. Another brothers’ story, set against a world on the verge of collapse. I like Romulus and Remus stories—two brothers build a city. But mostly I like what comes after…
PRIDE: How did you happen upon Polonsky’s amazing work?
RODMAN: I fell in love with Body and Soul when I saw it at the Thalia [in Manhattan] soon after college, and then someone told me there was another film by the same guy, even better. It took a while to find it. I remember seeing it for the first time, if memory serves, at the Bleecker Street Cinema. Oh my. I’d grown up among leftists (Abe Polonsky was a family friend, and my father was one of Walter Bernstein’s fronts) but never knew they had, in McCabe’s phrase, “poetry in them.” So I was about 24 when I saw it. Great politics, to be sure; but even better as a dream poem.
PRIDE: And Savage Grace, for the no-longer-M.I.A. Tom Kalin?
RODMAN: Savage Grace was an adaptation I began slightly after I started in on what became August. But it was never an “assignment” in the cynical sense of that word. I wanted to realize the astonishing world that was chronicled in the book, and, far more, wanted to come through for Tom Kalin. He’s the most intensely collaborative director I’ve ever worked with, and I can’t count the number of drafts I did for him. The good and bad news is the same: I was in on the conference calls, discussed each piece of casting, was on the set in Barcelona, saw six or seven versions of rough cut. I’m an executive producer of this one as well. The financing fell apart several times and we commenced the film in Barcelona (doubling for New York, London, Paris, Cadaques, and Mallorca) on our third start date. Both films are personal projects and feel as such. It’s made it hard to go back to a more industrial model of the screenwriter’s involvement (or, to be more accurate, non-involvement).
PRIDE: While fact-checking, I discovered Amazon has four new and used copies of “Destiny Express” listed, starting at $51.74. [Just before posting, the figure had changed to six copies, starting at 68 cents.]
RODMAN: You can get “DXpress” for far less than that, my friend. Alibris has at least six copies at $1.99. Don’t be fooled into paying more for a first edition. There ain’t any other kind. [The novel was just republished in Italy as “Destino Espresso”.]
PRIDE: I know I’m one of the few people who’s read “Daddy Empire,” but after seeing Savage Grace with its period, cosmopolitan settings and August, there does seems to be a concerted fixation about cities and buildings and streets in your work.
RODMAN: As for buildings, all I can say is that I’ve been wandering urban streets, cityscapes, dwarfed by large buildings, all my life in my dreams. Mostly it’s New York, or a version of New York; but about once a month it’s Buenos Aires, a city to which I’ve never been. I think what I know about B.A. I know from Cortazar, Borges, Piazzolla, Happy Together and Apartment Zero. But somehow it seeped down into the brainpan where the dream set designers live.
PRIDE: Here’s something you said over at John August’s blog: ” My mother was a script supervisor, so I spent my childhood knowing, intimately and on a daily basis, just how many people it takes to make a film, and just how essential is each person’s contribution. For that reason if for no other, the phrase ‘a film by’ sets my teeth on edge.” Can you expand on that?
RODMAN: I don’t know if I could say it any better than I said it for John’s blog. Lautreamont famously said that “poetry must be made by all, not by one”; and films (pace, Mr. Brakhage) can’t be made by one. They’re at once intimate and social. Like lying on a couch and trying to catch the thin tendril of last night’s dream, only the couch is situated right next to the information booth at Grand Central Station.
Additional reading: Rodman’s “Authorship in the Digital Age,” a paper presented at the 2007 Rencontres Cinématographiques de Dijon, on the panel “Copyright and Droit d’Auteur in the Digital Age,” which ends with the citation, “As William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” [Photograph © 2008 Ray Pride.]

Chapter and worse: overheard

tinycricket.gifIn Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh at Sunday’s “Film Church”: “‘Director': It almost sounds like something you’d say to a girl in a bar to get her to go to bed with you. Whereas ‘I’m a writer’ is something you say to a girl to get her to leave you alone.” … “I thought they said the movie was called ‘YouTube 3-D.’ That was confusing.” … “You’ll never lose a dime on a film you don’t buy.”

Sundance on Ice (day four)

Joe Swanberg is looking for a party

Joe Swanberg is looking for a party. [Main Street.]


Ronald Bronstein, director of Frownland, covering Sundance with Joe Swanberg. [Main Street.]


Greta Gerwig, from Baghead, observing Mr. Bronstein and the snow art behind him.


Marina Zenovich, hours after selling worldwide rights to Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. [Sundance House, Heber Street.]

Controlling the lives of non-white people

“Controlling the lives of non-white people.” [Balcony, Wall Street Journal cafe, Main Street.]

Trygve Allister Diesen

Red director Trygve Allister Diesen and a pair of his actors. [Premiere party, Main Street.]

Ben Berkowitz, Effie Brown

Director Ben Berkowitz, producer Effie Brown. [Black House, Main Street.]


Uncle Jer. [Air France display, Wall Street Journal lounge, Main Street.]


Veit Helmer is cartoonish; Absurdistan more so. [Premiere of Absurdistan, Egyptian Theatre, Main Street.]

Mia Trachinger, Rebecca Sonnenshine

Mia Trachinger (director), Rebecca Sonnenshine (Producer), Reversion. [Sundance House, Heber Street.]

Sundance on Ice (day 3.5)

George Romero

George Romero. [MCN house, Park Avenue.]

George Romero's watch

George Romero’s watch. [MCN house, Park Avenue.]


David Poland preps a “lunch” with George Romero.

Press rules

Press rules. [Filmmakers Lodge, Main Street.]


Film cricket John Anderson. [Yarrow Hotel lobby, Park Avenue.]

Sundance next gen

Sundance next gen: Rama Dunayevich +1. [Gateway Center, Swede Alley at Heber.]

Every time I see you falling

Every time I see you falling I get down on my knees and pray, I’m waiting for that final moment, You’ll say the words that I can’t say. [Premiere party for Red, Queer Lounge, Main Street..]

Sundance on Ice (day three)


Stapling. [Wild-posting, Main Street.]


Schedule grids. So many choices. Such finite time. [Filmmaker Lodge, Main Street.]

Blank grids

Preparing to inscribe a virgin Moleskine. [Yarrow Hotel bar.]

Traffic, Swede Alley.

The festival’s volunteer crossing guards are given light sabers. [Swede Alley at Transit Center.]


Laptopping. [Filmmakers Lodge.]


Slamdancing. [Treasure Mountain Inn, end of happy hour.]

Sick sex

Sick sex. [Filmmakers Lodge handout table.]

Sundance on Ice (Friday night blackout, Main Street)

Seeking power

The lights fail. For about half an hour on Friday night, the power went out on Main Street. (One DJ too far?) For another ten minutes, the power along the fairy-light-strewn street flickers cartoonishly on-and-off.

Main Street blackout

One DJ too far

Main Street blackout

Egyptian blackout

Main Street blackout

Lights on

I set the exposure for a shot looking down the hill in the darkness. The instant before I click, the lights come back on to the cheers of dozens of dozens of dozens of voices, whose moan is just as spirited forty seconds later when the illumination sputters away again.

Sundance on Ice (day 2.75)

Gleeson VIP

Gleeson. [In Bruges premiere party.]

Jens Jonsson

Jens Jonsson, director of Ping Pong kingen. [Swedish party, Main Street.]

Swedish buffet

Buffet. [Swedish party, Main Street.]

Swedish buffet (ECU)

Buffet, ECU. [Swedish party, Main Street.]

Swede, Stella

Swede, Stella. [Swedish party, Main Street.]

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Tesla blesses the fest


Sundance on Ice (day 2.5)

Roman Polanski

Party for Marina Zenovich’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired [Microsoft HD-DVD House, Main Street.


Premiere party, In Bruges.

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Sundance on Ice (day one)

Getting the shot

Getting the shot. [New Frontiers on Main launch party.]


Bob. He’s talking about change. [Opening day press conference for Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges.]


Virgin red carpet. [Slamdance, Treasure Mountain Inn, Main Street..]


Incomplete signage. [Yarrow Hotel, Park Avenue.]

Behind this door

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Sundance on Ice (day zero)

8 degrees

Password: Wasatch.


More ladders than people. [Main Street, Park City.]

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Toronto plays itself: What's Egoyan on?


The Torontoist surveys movies that take Toronto for itself, starting with Mr. Egoyan’s Exotica and Where the Truth Lies.

Going globular: a choice Golden vignette

In the Times, David Carr carpetbags a cherce vignette from Sunday’s demise of the Golden Globs in L.A. “A few hours after the event, the Focus Features Afterprivate dinner was winding down. James Schamus, that company’s chief executive, spent the afternoon cooking homemade pasta dishes at a bungalow for the crew from Atonement. He busied himself fetching a glass of wine for Diablo Cody, the screenwriter of Juno, who had stopped by and seemed very happy to be among the mentioned. Just outside the bungalow… Joe Wright, the young British director of Atonement, swam under the reflected neon of the chateau sign, a big victory stogie in his mouth. “We just tried to keep the spirit alive in Bungalow One,” said Mr. Schamus, who counts as one of his eccentricities a love of the Golden Globes.”

Movie City Indie

Quote Unquotesee all »

“We’re all going to die so it makes it very easy. I haven’t always thought that way but I’ve realized it’s the truth. I think age gets you there, questioning your mortality… When you realize that, it’s so liberating, it’s so free, you can fly! There’s no need to hold on to anything. Like, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you; it’s probably happened to 500 million people as well. Who gives a shit!”
~ Steve McQueen

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom. Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God–a God who calls us ALL—His children.”
~ Stan Lee, 1965