Thursday, December 15, 2005


I finally got around to seeing "Capote" last night. Very good film.

It was a fairly astonishing performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, first off. There are almost no scenes in the film he's not in, and he definitely carries the weight of the movie without a problem. Really good work. I also always like the woman who played Harper Lee, Catherine Keener. Anyway.

What knocked me off my feet about Capote was the sheer range of issues it brought forth, without being preachy or overly arty. The most obvious thing the film does is create a portrait of Capote himself. This is done in a painterly fashion, with a natural feeling but very calculated selection of details and incidents, showing how Capote treated people close to him, strangers, and those who thought they were in one group but actually were in the other, which is a larger number than realized it.The only scene in the whole film that set off my "SUBTLETY VIOLATION" alarms is toward the end of the film, when an unknown audience member makes his way backstage to share his opinion of Capote's reading. I don't feel like I learned anything about Capote I didn't already get from this particular scene, but in the horse-trading that goes on to make a film, it may have been kept to insure some other more quiet moment was left alone. Overall, the point-counterpoint shown in his relations with others was in fact a genuinely nuanced bit of storytelling, and very human, and humane.

The film (for those who've not already seen it) drops into Capote's life during the four years in which he researched his big book, "In Cold Blood", a kind of non-fiction novel. This has a lot of resonance for me as someone who's worked on a decent number of social issue documentary films. So to wrap up a little here, there's a bit of meditation on the subject-observer relationship in art, on whether it's proper to affect the lifes of those portrayed, some small observations about the nature of justice in America, concerns of profesional jealousy, issues of balance regarding the lives of a man versus the good of Man, and also a few good tips on outfits and mixed drinks. 10 thumbs up. Go see it.

(Incidentally, before he wrote In Cold Blood, Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffanys, which is one of my favorite movies and a book that was even better - a bit sharper and less broad.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

Chroncles of Narnia, Episode IV: A New Hope

In preparation for the holiday movie viewing, I started re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia. I didn't know this as a kid, but the books were written out of order- that is, Lion/Witch/Etc was written first, and then after that Clive Staples Lewis wrote the creation myth for Narnia, The Magician's Nephew - incidentally the creation myth for the actual Wardrobe in question as well.

Finishing that first book reminded me (sadly) of several moments watching Star Wars after having seen Revenge of the Sith - lines that were throw-away before suddenly had at least a little more resonance. Anyway, I got quite a kick out of the situation both Lucas and Lewis were in; the unexpected success of their pet project ended up putting a lot more focus on the work than they had anticipated, and there were some things they didn't do right the first time. So you write a bunch more stuff to explain away the things that bugged you about the successful piece. Lewis published The Lion, The 1950;Prince Caspian in 1951 (episode 3), Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 1952 (episode 4), The Silver Chair in 1953 (episode 6), The Horse and His Boy in '54 (episode 2), The Magician's Nephew in '55 (prelude), and The Last Battle in '56. It makes Lucas' 29 year cycle seem pretty slack.

Re-reading this stuff also explains why right wing Christians tend to go nuts about Harry Potter....before that, the fantasy world had a pretty dominant, Christian myth to feed the youngsters. It's kind of nuts actually - there's original sin in Narnia by page 79 - Aslan, the Lion: "You see, friends" he said, "that before the clean, new world I gave you is seven hours old, a force of evil has already entered into it; waked and brought hither by this son of Adam".

In spite of those overtones, it's very funny in many places, and definitely holds a few chuckles for the grownups. At one point in the Magician's Nephew, the speaking animals decide to call the old man/Magician "Brandy" as that's the only word he keeps repeating...

The film of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opens today; I thought I had a couple more weeks. Luckily these books are written for like, fourth graders, so they go by pretty quick. I'm fairly sure my outlook wasn't unduly influenced by swallowing 800 pages of Christian Fantasy writing whole as a child, and I'm looking forward to the film, 'cause I like spectacle movies and this promises such in spades.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Documentary - Boys of Baraka

The other day I went to see an interesting film at the Film Forum. I'm pretty sure I didn't actually learn anything I didn't already know from Boys of Baraka, but maybe I didn't entirely understand what I knew. If you get the chance, I'd recommend taking a look at this film. Boys of Baraka is about a few African-American boys who attend middle and high schools in Baltimore, MD, and are selected to attend a sort of 2 year-long retreat/boarding school in Africa. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

The footage makes the conditions in Baltimore public schools a lot more visceral than just hearing someone tell you that things there are bad, and demonstrates a great deal of hope as well. There is no shortage of memorable, light moments along the way, and the movie is filled with engaging characters. It's also shot pretty well. Probably just on DV, but by folks that knew what they were doing

In documentary films, often times there's a tricky section at the beginning, where the characters are introduced...and introduced...and introduced...(see: Spellbound). Boys of Baraka manages to avoid this by just getting started with the story after we meet the first character or two, and then introducing new ones as they come in to the story, rather than all at once.

But I think rather than any particular brilliance of editing or filming - though both are very good - the direction is really what hit home to me about this doc. It sucks you in quickly, isn't gimmicky, and tells an important story without being preachy. Though we are seeing a bit of a renaissance of general interest documentary right now, much of the work still consists of putting sunlight where there isn't any; so managing to both illuminate and not make the viewer feel as though they're in school is the challenge.

(If by some random chance, someone reading this doesn't know me personally, I spent a great deal of time editing the orientation film for a museum in Baltimore, the Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History, so I learned quite a bit about African American history in Maryland. Boys of Baraka still managed to be surprising on some details.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Times is changing.

This morning, Apple announced that they've made a deal with NBC to put quite a bit of content online through the Itunes store. It's amazing to see the media landscape actually changing right in front of your eyes. When Apple started selling videos, there were only a half-dozen shows from ABC and some Pixar shorts, but the cash has apparently been good enough that other networks are following.

I have small concerns about the technical quality of the files, but, as with MP3s, the compromises are good enough that a substantial new amount of flexibility comes from the smaller files. I can say that dealing with non-technical/non video-industry people, they seem to find the image quality not only acceptable, but pretty good. More on that later, most likely.

If we ever get to the point where IndieFlix will put your movie on ITunes like CDBaby does now, it will be a very interesting day. You might actually make the money back on a documentary without having to be in theaters.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Is that irony, comeuppance or just bad luck?

So yesterday I sat down to write a little essay on media management that was going to find it's way onto this blog at some point.

While editing video quite successfully for the previous 5 hours, 120 words of unmediated brilliance on that topic (media management) were enough to completely blow the hard drive away. Damn machine thinks it doesn't even have a drive installed. Tekserve (local computer repair shop) has it now, and think it needs a completely new drive. I'll have lost about 3 days work on a short film, most likely. Otherwise, the hit isn't too bad.

(p.s. why does the spell checker on blogger not know the word 'blog'?)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

hello world.

this is a new blog whereupon I intend to share my opinions on sundry matters. I also hope it will help me make my writing better by practicing.