The Black Hole of the Camera

Me And You and Memento and Fargo

 

Mumblecore and Four Eyed Monsters

In terms of Andrew Bujalski, the subject of my last post, one significant change that has occurred in the meantime has been the fact that his work has become associated with a number of other regionally-based young indie filmmakers, now generally referred to by the term “mumblecore.”

There’s a diagram that charts the various connections of this group on  Cinephiliac, and even David Gordon Green turns up as a cousin in the familiy tree. (I wonder whether that also makes Terrence Malick a cousin once-removed. I did notice that both settlers and naturals seem to mumble their dialogue in The New World, making it nearly impossible to decipher.) Other than the two films by Bujalski, Jay and Mark Duplass’s The Puffy Chair (2005), and Joe Swanberg’s Kissing on the Mouth (2005), most mumbelecore films have not been available through the usual commercial channels. Instead they can be purchased directly through the filmmakers’ Web sites, or some of the smaller Web-based companies such as Austin’s B-Side Entertainment (bside.com), which distributes Arin Crumley and Susan Buice’s Four Eyed Monsters (2005).

Andrew Grant, the film critic who runs the popular film blog Like Anna Karina’s Sweater and Aaron Hillis of Cinephiliac have also created a new DVD distribution company, Benten Films, whose first release (available shortly) will be Swanberg’s LOL (2006). Mumblecore is very much a Web and festival-circuit phenomenon, which has been able to gain surprising traction outside of regular commercial distribution channels. Several of the films have had limited theatrical runs.

In any event, there have been two recent articles on mumblecore that deserve mention here. There’s a rather lengthy one by Alicia Van Couvering entitled “What I Meant to Say” in the Spring 2007 issue of Filmmaker. And a second by Andrea Hubert recently has appeared in The Guardian, causing SXSW’s Matt Dentler, the biggest promoter of the movement, to write: “In the UK, The Guardian has decided to hop on the ‘mumblecore’ bandwagon, with a recent feature introducing the American indie film movement to the Brits. It’s really cool that they chose to do this article, especially considering that most of these films have never officially screened in the UK.”

Besides Bujalski’sFunny Ha Ha (2002) and Mutual Appreciation (2005), the only other films I’ve seen from this group are Jay and Mark Duplass’s The Puffy Chair, Todd Rohal’s The Guatemalan Handshake (2006), Joe Swanberg’s Kissing on the Mouth, and Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s Four Eyed Monsters (2005). Alicia Van Couvering writes in her Filmmaker piece: “If we were going to generalize, we might say that generally these films are severely naturalistic portraits of the life and loves of artistic twentysomethings. The genre’s ultra-casual, low-fi style has been simmering for the last decade, made possible by the accessibility of DV and inspired as much by reality shows and YouTube confessionals as by earlier American independent cinema.”

Based on what I’ve seen, broad generalizations are indeed difficult to make about a number of these films, which are clearly as different from each other as they are similar. Rohal seems to be mining territory similar to David Gordon Green, while Swanberg seems more influenced by cinema vérité and reality TV. The Duplass brothers appear to be more interested in creating dramatic arcs than the others, while Crumley and Buice employ an art-school aesthetic and elements that derive from digital media. There are other differences as well. Swanberg’s Kissing on the Mouth includes lots of graphic sex, Four Eyed Monsters talks a lot about sex, but depicts it sparingly and poetically, while Bujalski’s two films are remarkably chaste by comparison.

Mumblecore films are a manifestation of the current twentysomething youth culture, much like the works that dealt with the beats (Ron Rice), or punks (Beth and Scott B), or slackers (Richard Linklater) previously. So there’s that. Even Aaron Hillis’s desire to chart the interconnections of these filmmakers on Cinephiliac comes from the impulse behind social networking on MySpace or Facebook or even on Amazon.com, where even putting books you have no intention of buying on a wish list becomes a form of identity and camaraderie for cyberspace friends. This is a clearly a generation obsessed with personal relationships, and how people connect to each other, which is reflected in these films.

Van Couvering quotes Swanberg as indicating that personal relationships are really the only subjects he feels qualified in addressing. He insists: “I don’t feel I have anything to say right now about the Iraq War.” Of course, an obvious question might be: Why not? His remark seems puzzling for someone who cites Dziga Vertov as one his major influences. On the other hand, Hubert quotes Mark Duplass as conceding, “Sometimes I see films like ours and I think ‘Fuck off, dude, there’s a war going on, who cares about your relationship?’”

Hubert’s article on mumblecore in The Guardian begins: “The ‘mumblecore’ movement has been credited with reviving the US indie film scene.” Frankly, I think that remains to be seen at this point. Hubert also concludes her piece by indicating that “Jay and Mark Duplass, and Andrew Bujalski now make money writing for big studios, which goes directly into financing their own projects.” She further quotes Bujalski as conceding that he might someday make a studio movie and remarking, “It would be good to turn naturalism into a crowd pleaser.” Despite this, Hubert still insists of mumblecore that “these guys are the real indie deal.”

There is no question that the studios always have their eye on the youth market, which is why they scout major film programs in search of young talent, much like the major art galleries in New York and Los Angeles have been raiding MFA programs. In the case of Bujalski and mumblecore, this has the potential threat of turning their alternative aspirations into mere industry calling cards, which is something we have witnessed before. I should mention that Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s Four Eyed Monsters can be viewed for free this week as part of a special promotion for Spout.com, an online film and video community. For every person who signs up for the Web site’s free service, Buice and Crumley will receive $1.00, up to a maximum of $100,000. Touting the free screening of Four Eyed Monsters as the first feature to be shown on YouTube, Spout claims the subsidy is for Buice and Crumley’s next film project, while the two filmmakers indicate it will be used to retire credit-card debt on the last one. Buice and Crumley have proven themselves to be extremely adept at exploiting the social-networking possibilities of the Web as a marketing and self-distribution tool for low-budget indie films.

I highly recommend Four Eyed Monsters, which is easily the most formally inventive of the mumblecore films I’ve seen. Four Eyed Monsters deftly mixes autobiography with fiction in telling the trials and tributions of a love affair spawned by Internet dating. Played by the two pasty-faced filmmakers, Buice and Crumley play two artists who decide to turn their budding relationship into a Fluxus-inspired performance piece – a potpourri of emails, hand-written notes, photographs, drawings, animation, and videos. Their lovemaking is depicted through a montage of shots: a flock of pigeons taking flights from a rooftop, black moving clouds, fragments of their naked bodies, shadows being cast on a building, and a shot of pigeons eventually landing.

Crumley’s monastic desire to avoid talking provides one major obstacle in the story, but the possibility that he’s contracted a sexually transmitted disease from Susan takes up pretty much the entire middle act, and includes a hilarious rotoscoped sequence involving Crumley’s experience with a doctor at a free clinic. The complication is drawn out by the fact that Buice has left New York City for an artist residency at Studio Vermont (a place that sounds as crazy as Wrenwood in Todd Haynes’s Safe), and the test results take a couple of weeks.

The two eventually get back together, but not without additional issues; the result turns out to be the film, the ending of which is deliberately left open for purposes of serialization. In terms of their more free-form style of visual storytelling, Buice and Crumley have a natural instinct for what’s important and when to cut, which turns out to be frequently – something that differentiates their work from the extended-take realism of other mumblecore films.

The film has already made $16,059 from its YouTube screening, and can be viewed directly on the Four Eyed Monsters Web site.

Postscript: The special promotion has been extended through August 15.

Posted 12 June, 2007

Mutual Appreciation + Old Joy

Last September, Scott Tobias on the A.V. Club Blog pleaded for audiences to support the theatrical runs of Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation (2005) and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy (2006). He wrote: “If you care at all about American independent films, you’re required to see these movies.” Tobias concluded his post: “So vote with your dollars, people: If you want to see more movies like Mutual Appreciation and Old Joy, you have to create a viable market for them. Otherwise you’ll be left to hold out for Little Miss Sunshine 2.”

Tobias’s impassioned call-to-arms was met with equally spirited resistance. One lengthy comment from a suburban exhibitor responded that Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha (2002) and Mutual Appreciation simply weren’t very good. He wrote: “On personal level, it depresses me how much critical attention these two films are receiving considering their level of mediocrity.” The Reeler chimed in on Old Joy: “In her readings of landscape and faces, Reichardt captures spatial and structural dynamics that her story just cannot support; even at 76 minutes, the film exhausts its premise and tension less than halfway through.” Despite such harsh criticism of Bujalski and Reichardt’s work, Mutual Appreciation and Old Joy wound up on many Top Ten film lists for 2006. In the indieWIRE national critics’ poll, Old Joy placed number 7, while Mutual Appreciation came in at number 20. Unfortunately, though, neither film did very well at the box office. According to boxofficemojo.com, Mutual Appreciation took in $103,509 domestically and $121,292 worldwide. Old Joy faired a bit better. It made $255,923 in its U.S. release, and a total of $301,047 worldwide.

One reason for being interested in Bujalski has to do with a resurgence of realism in recent American independent films. Realism often has been conceived of as an alternative to the staged contrivance of Hollywood film. One just has to go back to read Jonas Mekas’s early writings in Film Culture and the Village Voice to see that he championed the first version of Cassavetes’ Shadows, Frank and Leslie’s Pull My Daisy (1959), Ron Rice’s The Flower Thief (1960), and even the work of Andy Warhol precisely on these grounds. In my book, I cite numerous examples of the realist impulse providing an alternative strategy of narration in indie films, such as Jarmusch’s eschewal of plot, Haynes’s fractured dialogue in Safe mirroring real-life speech patterns, Van Sant’s use of real time and non-professional actors in Elephant, Slacker’s collapse of the relationship between performer and role, and Harmony Korine’s associational structure in Gummo. The rationale for realism always seems to be that it more closely mimics real life.

At the end of his Village Voice review of Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, Hoberman writes: “Coming in the same year as Andrew Bujalski’s similarly understated and character-driven Mutual Appreciation, it attests to a new strain in Amerindie production – literate but not literary, crafted without ostentation, rooted in a specific place and devoted to small sensations.” Given Hoberman’s remarks, it might be interesting to compare Kelly Reichardt’s film about thirtysomethings with Mutual Appreciation, especially in terms of their use of realism. Like Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (1985), Old Joy is largely an accumulation of artfully composed visual images and sounds held together by a slight narrative. The film, for instance, begins with shots of nature. After the sounds of a meditation bell, a bird on a gutter flies off. We see Mark (Daniel London) meditating outside his house, followed by a shot of swarming ants.

The tranquility to which Mark aspires is punctured by the loud grinding of an electric blender and the sound of music indoors, as his pregnant wife, Tanya, makes some type of green smoothie. The phone rings. The film cuts to Mark still meditating with the sounds of neighborhood kids in the background. The answering machine plays a message from his old friend Kurt, who announces he’s in town. Tanya comes into the room and stares at the answering machine. A pan over telephone lines to a bird creates a transition to Mark’s conversation. As Mark talks with Kurt, Tanya paces back and forth in the background. When she sits down, there’s obvious tension between them. Tanya resents Mark seeking her permission to go camping with Kurt, and the two of them argue briefly, suggesting either they have marital problems, which have become exacerbated by their impending baby, or that it’s directly connected to the message from Kurt. In general, Old Joy is all subtext. Everything that occurs in the film happens underneath the surface, which provides the narrative tension.

Although Old Joy is imbued with subtext, it’s not a film that’s strictly about personal relationships in the same sense that Bujalski’s films are. As Mark drives to meet Kurt, we hear Air America on the radio, which situates what transpires within a political and cultural context. Old Joy provides us with a sense of nature and physical place, not only as indicated by the opening scene but through long tracking shots of neighborhood and later extended shots of the natural landscape that convey the texture of the Pacific Northwest. As Mark reads the newspaper on the porch, Kurt yells: “Hey, man!” We see a wide shot in which Kurt (Will Oldham) pulls a red wagon holding a TV, as he walks toward him. Old Joy is at heart a portrait of two former buddies who represent a striking contrast in character. Oldham communicates through the awkwardness of his herky-jerky bodily movements, whereas we register Mark’s feelings largely through the anguish on London’s expressive face – he’s virtually a walking reaction shot. There’s not very much plot in Old Joy. The two friends go camping, get lost, spend the night camping in a garbage-strewn site, and eventually wind up in the hot springs in the Cascade Mountains. While Mark lies blissfully in the hot spring, Kurt gently massages his shoulders, the meaning of which (sexual or fraternal) is left open to interpretation.

Old Joy is ultimately about small moments. For Kurt and Mark, their camping trip represents a last-ditch attempt for these two old friends to try to reconnect before the trajectory of their lives sends them off in separate and irreconcilable directions. It’s about how people change (or don’t change) over time. Mark, for better or worse, has settled down into conventional responsibilities – job, marriage, and a family – whereas Kurt has chosen to remain a pot-smoking free spirit with no job or relationship or much in the way of a future. He represents stasis in a world that’s rapidly changing, as represented by the fact that Sid’s record store has closed and migrated to Ebay, countercultural values have been replaced by careerism, and even nature itself has become transformed into a cultural construct. Kurt is rapidly becoming an anachronism. Old Joy can be read as a look at this cultural transformation. It depicts a world view that’s being replaced by technological changes and by a new generation of young people, who are represented in Bujalski’s films.

Mutual Appreciation also has very little plot. Like the shared intimate moment between Mark and Kurt, Ellie (Rachel Clift), however, verbalizes her fantasy to kiss Alan (Justin Rice), the Beatle-haired, band-member protagonist of the film, despite the fact that she’s in a relationship with Lawrence (Bujalski), a nerdy graduate teaching assistant. The film begins with Alan lying on the bed with Ellie after arriving in town to make it in the music scene. Alan goes on a radio show with an Asian-American DJ named Sara to promote his music. Sara aggressively puts the moves on him afterwards, but he politely resists, especially when her brother becomes a possible drummer for his band. After his band plays at a local club, Alan lets Sara know that he’s not romantically interested in her during an awkward scene in the kitchen. It seems that he’s still hung up on a previous girlfriend. Very drunk, Alan later allows three women to dress him in drag. Otherwise Alan has conversations with his father about his need for money, while his father worries that Alan’s not trying hard enough to find some type of real job that will enable him to pay his credit-card bills.

Even though Alan is the film’s protagonist, it is actually Ellie who has the dramatic conflict. She flirts with Alan throughout, often playing the role of interrogator in their conversations, largely because Alan is often too busy flashing a huge grin to initiate very much conversation on his own. Together they discuss creating a cool people club, and Alan even asks Ellie to be his band manager at one point. Ellie also counsels Alan to be less of a rock star and to be straight with Sara about his lack of interest in her. Ellie later decides to stay at her own place rather than Lawrence’s one night under the guise that she has to get up early for work the next morning. After driving Alan home, Ellie maneuvers her way inside to get a CD of his music, and then, as they sit on his bed, tells him her fantasy about wanting to kiss other guys, including him.

Nothing happens, but Ellie deliberately skips attending the wedding of Lawrence’s old girlfriend. Alan shows up at her work place. As they drive together, she confides that she feels excluded from the special bond that exists between Alan and Lawrence. The two share some type of intimacy afterwards. Ellie tells Lawrence what happened when he returns. Lawrence wonders why Ellie couldn’t have left it as an unspoken fantasy rather than bringing it out into the open. It also disturbs Lawrence because he saw it coming, but he instantly forgives her. Lawrence later brings up the incident with Alan, who insists that nothing really happened between him and Ellie other than the fact that they experienced a shared moment together. The three of them eventually have a group hug and collapse on the bed before the film abruptly ends.

Whereas Old Joy’s realism is both visual and poetic and concerned with landscape and place, Mutual Appreciation focuses almost exclusively on verbal interactions of its young characters. Although he has an interesting and varied way of staging scenes, Bujalski is not a visual stylist like Reichardt. Despite Hoberman’s suggestion that both Old Joy and Mutual Appreciation are rooted in a specific place, I don’t find that to be true of Bujalski’s film. New York is talked about, but the film could have been shot anywhere. Most of it takes place indoors. There are very few exterior shots, and the ones we see don’t evoke New York in any specific way. Like Old Joy, Bujalski’s film also operates through subtext. It takes awhile to figure out that Ellie has an infatuation with Alan, even though the clues are there from the very opening scene, in which the two lie on the bed together before Lawrence arrives home and plops himself between them.

It takes more than ten minutes of viewing to grasp the subtleties of Bujalski’s work. Like Warhol’s films, duration is important somehow. Bujalski’s performers are extremely charming and engaging as characters. No matter how inarticulate they might be, they all have a unique and idiosyncratic way of expressing themselves, a way of syncing up with each other’s body language that communicates to the viewer. Bujalski’s work, like Reichardt’s, gets better upon multiple viewings. The nuances become more apparent. Scenes unfold at their own leisurely pace, but Bujalski has a DJ’s sense of abruptly terminating a scene, just at the point where it gets most interesting. Even though his work is scripted, Bujalski’s non-professional performers have an ability to seem unpredictable in how they will say something, of making it sound like their own thoughts and words. They also have great sense of timing in terms of line delivery and reactions.

Bujalski’s cinema is one that’s centered on performance, but he also has the ability to create complex characterizations. One is often unclear of the ultimate direction of various scenes, but that unpredictability is what keeps us watching. There’s not the calculated arc to his scenes, nor does Bujalski seem very interested in dramatic situations, but he’s the master of creating very awkward or embarrassing ones. Obviously, this type of cinema, like Reichardt’s, may not be for everyone, but Bujalski has made two impressive features to date, and that’s no minor achievement.

Posted 11 June, 2007

Gus Van Sant and American Indies at Cannes

On some level, I’m happy that a Romanian film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. After all, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was on every critic’s list of prizewinner favorites. Looking at the composition of the jury, I actually thought that it would be hard for an American filmmaker to take the top prize, despite the fact that the Coen Brothers and Gus Van Sant were also listed as frontrunners throughout the competition. So it went to the underdog, a filmmaker from a small country that recently produced the likes of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest.

 

I secretly was rooting for Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, about a teenage skateboarder who inadvertently commits a murder, especially after reading Matt Dentler’s description of it. He had it listed as his second favorite film of those he’d seen at the festival. His first choice was Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, about a paralyzed writer, for which he received the prize of Best Director. Voice critic J. Hoberman credits Schnabel for giving the awards ceremony’s “most loutish performance.” He writes: “His anger barely masked behind outsized sunglasses, the bearded, heavy-set artist insisted on shaking hands with every member of the nonplussed jury.”

In her Filmmaker Blog, Erica Abeel offers a “mildly dissenting opinion” over the top prize, writing that Van Sant’s Paranoid Park was more justified in winning his special jury award. Paranoid Park was also listed on indieWIRE’s list of 10 films to watch. Hoberman calls it “superlative.” In addition, it was reported that the French company MK2, which financed Paranoid Park, sold the U.S. distribution rights to IFC First Take and the foreign rights to 72 different countries. It’s clear that Gus Van Sant has been on an incredible roll with his last three films: Elephant, Last Days, and now Paranoid Park.

In addition, a restored and re-mastered 35mm version of Van Sant’s debut feature, Mala Noche (1985), opens at the IFC Center in New York City tomorrow. Nathan Lee gave it a very positive review in the Village Voice yesterday. Since I showed the film at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) this spring, I’ve already written about it at great length in my very first blog entry of April 25. Walt, the obsessive protagonist of Mala Noche, is a character straight out of a Hubert Selby Jr. novel, and the episodic film about Walt’s fixation on a young Mexican illegal immigrant creates a stark poetic realism out of an accumulation of striking visual details. If Paranoid Park turns out to be as good as people say, it’s hard to think of another American indie director — other than perhaps David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch — who has made six films that rival the quality of Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Elephant, Last Days, and now Paranoid Park. The simultaneous success of Paranoid Park at Cannes and the theatrical re-release of Mala Noche solidify Van Sant’s status as one of the top American indie directors.

Most people seemed to consider Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely to be one of the weirdest films at Cannes. Dentler had it as his seventh favorite film and indieWIRE also had it listed as one of the 10 films to watch. Korine’s Gummo (1997) is one of the most reviled films for all the wrong reasons, as I tried to argue in my book. It’s a stunning first feature, even if Janet Maslin and other critics didn’t get its associational structure and “in your face” aesthetic. If Korine had only shot the scene in Gummo of Bunny Boy and the young redneck cowboys, in my opinion, he’d still be a great filmmaker. Who wouldn’t want to see a film with characters that include celebrity impersonators such as Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Charlie Chaplin, the Three Stooges, the Pope, and Abe Lincoln? And don’t forget there’s also a subplot involving Werner Herzog and a bunch of flying nuns. Korine is heir to the tradition of American vaudeville. Dentler describes Mister Lonely as feeling “sort of like Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, Freaks, as made by Harmony Korine.” Much has been made in Cannes reviews of the disturbing imagery in Korine’s previous two films, but that’s been overstated as well.

My favorite quote about Mister Lonely comes from Ray Bennett, who begins his review in The Hollywood Reporter: “There are probably people who will find Harmony Korine’s ragged fable ‘Mister Lonely’ enchanting, but you wouldn’t necessarily want them as neighbors.” That alone would be enough to make me want to see the film. Meanwhile, Premiere’s film critic, Glenn Kenny, is still trying to figure out who would sink money into such a project (try French fashion designer and film patron agnès b, for one), or who on 68th Street in Manhattan would be willing to fork over ten bucks for the experience (other than me). Hey, where are those marketers from Fox Searchlight when you really need them?

Posted 31 May, 2007

Postscript: Waitress

Steve Ramos reports in indieWIRE this morning that Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress expanded to 510 theaters and took in an additional $4 million at the box office last week, bringing the four-week total to $6.5 million. It will expand to 605 theaters tomorrow. “We are at a loss to compare another film that plays so broadly and so deeply as ‘Waitress,’” says Steve Gilula, Chief Operating Officer at Fox Searchlight. “This film is attracting audiences everywhere. I suppose the best comparison is ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’”

Posted 31 May, 2007

DVD Commentary and Special Features

johncassavetes5.jpgWilliam Speruzzi at [This Savage Art] asked folks to cite examples of the best commentary or special features on a DVD. I confess that I almost never rewatch the film with the director’s commentary, and only occasionally bother to watch the special features, including interviews with the director or actors. Why? Because they are usually boring, or I don’t learn enough new information to make watching them worth my time.

Obviously a company like Criterion excels at creating interesting commentaries and special features as part of the packaging of their DVDs, and even publishes accompanying pamphlets for certain films. The added features on Shadows in their boxed set of five films by John Cassavetes, for instance, has a fascinating interview with Lelia Goldoni on what it was like to participate in this now legendary indie film as an eighteen-old acting student. She talks about Cassavetes’ method, which was to have the actors hang out with each other outside of the production in order to develop their characters and relationships. Goldoni claims that Cassavetes was busy experimenting with various improvisational techniques, but that no one (herself included) really had a sense of what he was doing at the time. She talks about one of the key scenes, the bedroom scene, and her negative reaction after making love with Tony. Goldoni talks about the scene being scripted, and suggests: “I wouldn’t have the nerve to say that line. The line being: ‘I never thought it could be so awful.’ Because it was in the ’50s and there was an entire romantic thing about – which I thought was captured brilliantly – about your first experience at sexual encounters. You know, it was supposed to be wonderful. I, as a human being, would not have dared to say anything except for the convention. And that line was not the convention, and John wrote that. And I think that was John’s brilliance.” She discusses the inspirational aspect of Cassavetes, saying he kicked people’s butts to make films their own way. Goldoni concludes, “He was always in his films, in every one of his films, he was looking for how to express the truth – the truth of this moment, and the truth of this character, and the truth of this circumstance. And, man you can’t do better than that.”

I also liked the interview included on Thumbsucker (2005), even though it ultimately goes on much too long. Mike Mills, the director, and the novelist Walter Kirn obviously have incredible admiration for each other. Mills reads a long passage from the novel about Justin’s obsession with his mother, Audrey, and his oedipal rivalry. Mills comments: “I love the grandiosity of that in little Justin – you know what I mean? – so needing to be her peer, her suitor, her everyman. And it’s so hugely ambitious for a kid, and also terribly tragic when the kid drops the kidness and tries to become the adult to the mom. That was the part I could so grab on to. Kirn responds by discussing the autobiographical elements of his book. Mills talks about the difficulties he had raising financing for the film because of the “repulsion” factor. Kirn adds that it was no different in trying to get the book published. He explains: “But this [thumb sucking] was a genuinely uncomfortable behavior. And I think it immediately brings out that side of everyone they want to hide, which is the soft , gooey, dependent, unformed self.” In trying to obtain financing, Mills indicates that once the “soft” element in the film would be raised, it became a signal to him that the meeting was over.” Mills also has some interesting things to say about improvisational techniques he used in the film, some of which obviously mirror what Goldoni describes Cassavetes as doing. For instance Mills had the main actors live together as an actual family for several days in preparation for their roles.

239737.jpgI’d say the best interview on a DVD that comes to mind, however, is by the Turkish director of Distant (2004), Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who also did the more recent Climates (2006). Strongly influenced by Tarkovsky, Ceylan makes a positive case for low-budget filmmaking. He talks about the benefits of utilizing a small crew and non-professional actors. He also offers great insights into casting, dialogue, and performance. Ceylan indicates, for instance, that he chose the lead actor, even though this person gave the worst performance in the casting session. The casting session involved line readings of dialogue, but because Ceylan’s film involved very little dialogue, he decided to go with his intuition. He shot a great deal of the film in his apartment. Ceylan also discusses how he was able to utilize what was available around him: the weather (snow), the huge shipwreck in the harbor, and the city of Istanbul itself. Ceylan provides a rationale for using long takes and for a more minimal style. He says he loves to edit, and talks about getting up in the middle of the night and editing. Ceylan discusses how the actual film changed from the script, and how he came to eliminate things that he felt were not necessary to the story. Most insightful are Ceylan’s insights into the characters. He discusses the implications of key scenes, such as when Mahmut falsely accuses Yusuf of stealing, and then hides the evidence to the contrary. In terms of Mahmut’s former wife, Ceylan explains that Mahmut goes to see her before she leaves for Canada with her new husband because he’s hoping for a miracle. Ceylan talks about people doing things even when they know they’re not really viable. In other words, even if Mahmut and his wife were to reconcile, their relationship still wouldn’t work. Ceylan observes that people don’t really change, which becomes a rationale for the kind of naturalism he employs.

Posted 30 May, 2007

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