Sunday, April 30, 2006

TFF: burke and wills

low budget, b&w 16 mm film about two losers passing each other, one going lower and one going higher. Lots of things I liked - open editing (not cutty at all), a few very thoughtful setups, some decent music and some decent performances from the leads. But they wall to wall used music, sometimes to good effect, but often just to fill up the empty space. also, the story had a million title cards which I didn't like very much. And frankly the story kind of doesn't make a huge amount of sense upon reflection. It was, I will say, pleasantly non-commercial. Very dark. - Robert
I have a blog now:

Friday, April 28, 2006

Tribeca Film Festival is ON!

The title says it all. I've got tickets for 8 screenings over eight days. I have one day off, so that means on saturday I get to see two movies. A bizarre turn of the scheduling is that both the first and last film I've got tickets for are documentaries about Turkey.

My opening film,37 uses for a dead sheep, is an inventive documentary about an ethnic group called the Kirghiz...they lived in that part of asia around afghanistan and pakistan and china where the twentieth century borders have never really had much to do with the actual lives of the people there. In recent times, (ie the turn of the 20th century) things have been particularly difficult for them, and they've ended up migrating a preposterous five times to different countries to try to eke out an living; they end up in Turkey, no longer nomads but with small homes provided by the turkish goverment, and living in a primarly kurdish part of the country.

The film's director, Ben Hopkins, had a fairly brilliant solution to a common problem with documentaries - how do you show it if there wasn't anyone around to take pictures at the time? What he did was have the actual tribesfolk re-enact significant moments in their own history. In effect, he got them to colloborate with him on making a film about themselves. It's a really neat twist on the typical form of a documentary - as he said in the Q&A - in the 70s & 80s a documentary tried really hard to pretend that the film-makers didn't exist, which is patently absurd. So, the tribesfolk help art direct, talk about what should go into the film, and show up on certain days to shoot the scenes, which are filmed on 8mm and 16mm, and end up looking fantastic. The 'historical' footage was shot with a real early cinema style - not much camera movement, silent, so many grand gestures and title cards. The doc is thus a mix of info about the tribe through interviews and voice over, behind-the-scenes of the movie-within-the-movie, and then the re-creations. It's a neat mix, and it works pretty well.

The director has a good sense of humor, and he brings out humor in the Kirghiz he interviews as well, so the film is frequently funny, as the title suggests. It turns out there was one old man interviewed who came up with about 63 uses for a dead sheep, but he wasn't as good on camera as the the elder dude with 37, so 37.

My one complaint with the piece is this...I think in his homage to the cinema of the early twenties, the director uses a lot title cards and many sections within the film separated by black. I think this really drags the film's pacing down a bit. It's a small thing, and almost certainly intentional, from hearing the director speak about his influences and ideas about documentary; my preference is still to have the film-maker knit the story together a bit more rather than handing me so many fragments.

I also think that the re-created footage could have been used to greater effect somehow; I wonder if a reprise of the whole story towards the end might have worked. The stuff just looked so great I wanted to see it all together.

If you can get the chance to see this, I'd go for it. There are two more screenings during the festival, and Ben seems like a super nice & intelligent guy. By the way, the still at the top of this blog is a shot of the guys playing polo with a dead sheep for the ball.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

web - magazine - thing

I've just discovered the escapist. it's a weekly magazine about the video game industry. the writing is interesting; they're really trying very hard to do a good job. Also interesting is the layout - they've decided to mimic a traditional magazine layout and not just through the articles onto a long page. Each article page/screen is layed out like a real magazine, with artwork, photos, whatever. It looks good. I just read an interesting article about some game designed by the guy who originally wrote Prince of Persia (Jordan Michner I think) ; the distributor fell apart just as the game was finished and it only shipped like 30,000 copies, but it sounded amazing. I grabbed it off of amazon for about $20, and will have a report on it eventually...anyway, sad to think that an amazing game can disappear the same way an amazing film can due to some many issues not actually having anything to do with the content directly!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another Blog

I've started a new photo oriented blog over at I may or may not mention here when I've added things over there; I will put a link to it in my links over on the right side of the page.

There's a few pictures up there now.

Book Corner, April 23 2006

I've picked up a fun little book called A short history of the movies; by Gerald Mast. A cursory bit of research indicates it's out of print;I guess that means I got a good deal on it at 75 cents in a used bookshop in nyc.

It's always fun to read a history by someone with an axe to grind, and Mast definitely has a strong point of view. What's so amusing is that's he's completely unafraid to call a film,(or even a director) crap.

I'm only about a third of the way through right now, but the early part of the book covers the creation of film as an industry in very thorough detail. It's a story that should be pretty familiar to anyone who pays attention to the development of the internet, and I'm sure many other industries...essentially, the early years are characterized by numerous attempts to control the entire market - monopoly, patent battles, collusion, vertical integration, industry "coalitions" designed to keep everyone else out. Big players spending years locked in court battles while small players eat their bacon and leave them behind...

[I work for Paramount, indirectly, and the Paramount Corporation was there right in the very beginning, a descendent of a company called "Famous Players in Famous Plays" - an "independent" company, not a signator to the "trust" which required theater owners to only get films from trust members..... so whatever complaints we may have at the office, the staying power of the company can't be denied.]

I've been reading a lot about D.W.Griffith in the last fifty pages or so...I knew about Birth of a Nation and Intolerance but I didn't realize Griffith had worked as a hired hand for Edison pictures for a few years, first as an actor and the director. As a director he made a new, single reel film EVERY WEEK. He used that time essentially as a lab to figure out how motion picture storytelling worked, and in the process created many of the conventions we still use today. One of his features was called Broken Blossoms. The title is extremely similar to Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, but just from the descriptions I've read I don't immediately cotton the connection.

I'll add more once I finish the book, right now it's just making me want to line up everything made before 1930 you can get from Netflix.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Saturday, April 01, 2006

I heart Jersey City

Today, two very amusing things happened.

First, while sitting around reading and eating breakfast, I heard a loud noise that sounded like a gang of children being dumped off a schoolbus directly into a playground. And it started get closer, and closer, and closer. Eventually, I realized that the noise was not in fact coming from the playground a block away behind my apartment, but from the street in front of the apartment. Running to the window, I was greeting by an amazing sight: the little league parade. As far as the eye could see, small gangs of children were wearing their team jerseys, chanting team slogans, and marching down the middle of Montgomery Street. Truly a suburban paradise.

Later, after stopping in to our local tea shop to pick up additional loose black tea and 'oaties', we were crossing the street. From out of nowhere, a tall, coffee colored gentleman appeared...he was running, but he didn't really seem to be in a huge hurry. It was more like a race walk. As he dashed in front of us, we could hear him singing to himself.


and he was on his way.

This actually really did happen.