Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Languor #1

In the dark of the edit suite, poring over hours of film, while outside, summer languor has descended and Melbourne has become a ghost town of hot bitumen and dead summer air; except in the small enclosed hustle of the beer gardens, pools and backyards. It's impossible not to get distracted and to dream up other places and wanderings...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Our Way Home

John Cassavetes has the gift of the gab. I mean that to in no way diminish what it is that he is saying as compared to the way that it is said. So many people have lost the ability to express themselves verbally in ways that are as revealing, thoughtful and playful as the ways that we use the written word in the modern world; to use the gifts, the techniques of rhetoric as a way to tease out what we think and to challenge and provoke those around us. Ray Carney's book Cassavetes on Cassavetes, a good contender for a bible for indie filmmakers, reveals, in its transcription of endless interviews and dialogues between Carney and Cassavetes, a humanist artist as insightful with oration as he is with his films. I flipped to a random page this morning and this is where I landed:
When a scene plays awkwardly or something goes wrong, I don't criticize it, change it or call 'cut'. I look at it and say, all right, it's not exactly the right reading, but life doesn't always have the right meaning. We stutter, we stammer through life. We sometimes say things we're sorry for later. We make fools of ourselves constantly. In life this is frowned upon, but in a movie this is revealing. The mistakes that you make in your own life, in your own personality, are assets on the film. So if I can just convince somebody not to clean themselves up, and not to be someone they're not and just be what they are in a given circumstance, that's all that acting is to me. (p. 167, Cassavetes on Cassavetes, Ray Carney, Faber & Faber)
Amid many similar gems in this book - which, to my slight embarrassment, I use as points for reflection as if it was Aurelius' 'Meditations' - there is one small thing that Cassavetes says that has been a constant touchstone for me. Make of it what you will. It is this: 
People patrol certain streets, patrol their house, and they know their way home. You somehow, drunk or sober or any other way, always find your way back to where you live. And when you cease to know the way home, things go wrong. And then you get detoured. And when you can't find your way home, that's when I consider it's worth it to make a film. Because that's interesting. People are interested in people that are really in trouble. Not pretending to be.

What culture is capable of...

"...It comes from a deep-rooted conviction that if there is anything worthwhile doing for the sake of culture, then it is touching on subject matters and situations which link people, and not those that divide people. There are too many things in the world which divide people, such as religion, politics, history, and nationalism. If culture is capable of anything, then it is finding that which unites us all. And there are so many things which unite people. It doesn't matter who you are or who I am, if your tooth aches or mine, it's still the same pain. Feelings are what link people together, because the word 'love' has the same meaning for everybody. Or 'fear', or 'suffering'. We all fear the same way and the same things. And we all love in the same way. That's why I tell about these things, because in all other things I immediately find division." - Krzysztof Kieslowski

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gentleman Scholar

How can you not love this guy? I want to write haikus using his words and screen print his face on my pillow.


JAN KORNUM LARSEN: (Truffaut) was definitely one of those children who refused to grow up.
LARS VON TRIER: Absolutely. That he eventually wasted his talent is another thing. But then again, they've all done that...


JANS KORNUM LARSEN: That (child thing) applies to Hitchcock, as well doesn't it?

LARS VON TRIER: No. but he was such a pig. I admire that tremendously.


JANS KORNUM LARSEN: Is that what you're trying regress back to, the stone age? Are you trying to "fuck yourself back to  the stone age"?
LARS VON TRIER: No, I just think that the monkey is more interesting than the film consultant on whose shoulder it sits.


JANS KORNUM LARSEN: Would you prefer to be a monkey?
LARS VON TRIER: Well, monkeys are to be pitied, too, but I do think that human beings are to be pitied even more.
JANS KORNUM LARSEN: In that they're not allowed to sit around in public places playing with their sexual organs.
LARS VON TRIER: That's exactly what they're not allowed to do.


excerpts from 1984 conversation between Jans Kornum Larsen concerning 'Element of Crime' from Kosmorama #167, April 1984. Reprinted in Lars Von Trier: Interviews, University of Mississippi Press

Yearning #5

Yearning #4

Yearning #3

Attractive Friends

Your friends might be a bit too pretty, but I like your photos:

Lina Scheynius

Cass Bird

Linus Bill

Yearning #2

Yearning #1

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mr Cohen

Some years back, I was working for the inestimable Mr Ross Gibson at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. At the time, I was obsessed with Instrument, a feature length film directed by Mr Jem Cohen about Washington band Fugazi (about who, to this day, I am still an obsessive nutjob). To me, it is one of the great music documentaries if not one of the best films about creativity, resistance, independence and defiance. One day, Mr Ross Gibson asked me to track down and acquire all of Mr Jem Cohen's films for the ACMI collection. I knew at that point that Cohen had directed a whole bunch of other flicks as well as Instrument but I had not, at that point, seen any of these flicks. Over the following weeks I would receive little boxes of VHS goodness from Video Data Bank, one of the unsung heroes of truly independent film and video. During those days, my mind was blown wide open by films like Buried in Light (Eastern Europe in Passing), Blood Orange Sky and the enigmatic and brilliant Lost Book Found.

(Below is a dodgy 10 minute excerpt from the film that some connoisseur has posted on Youtube. If you dig, please hit up VDB and get a DVD or VHS of it. You won't regret it.)

In addition, one of the more beautiful things I discovered during that time was his compendium film 'Just Hold Still' featured on VDB's 'Early Works'. 'Just Hold Still' includes a collection of ephemeral but precise works like 4:44 (From Her House Home), Drink Deep and this one, Never Change.

(As above re: dodginess and digging.)

His other short works around this time include numerous musical collaborations with folks like Chan Marshall, Butthole Surfers and Jonathon Richman. Among these is the performance/portrait/film Lucky Three with the late, great Elliott Smith which, to me, as a film about the wonder of distilled songs in their entirety, is only matched by Wim Wenders' incredible early short, Three American LPs.

(Again, apologies for low resolution youtube shittiness and, as above, re: dodginess etc) -

I would be lying if I said that all of these films, as well as The Hundred Videos by Steve Reinke and the work of other filmmakers like Sadie Benning and Matthias Muller didn't influence me in wanting to make smaller, personal film and video works (hence, The Buoy Archives). Suffice, to say, when Jem Cohen finally arrived in Melbourne for a screening of Benjamin Smoke and to preview some of his work installed in the ACMI gallery, I descended on him like a rabid, sycophantic maniac. The good side of it was that I ended up driving him around in my old 1982 Blue Urvan* (expansive wide windows for excellent camera coverage) while he filmed some local material for the film Chain and I also got to do this essay and interview for Senses of Cinema:

Just Hold Still: A Conversation with Jem Cohen

Anyway, the point of all this is not that I am a complete fanboy, which I am, but that, if you've seen the film Instrument, you'll recall some of Fugazi's killer onstage banter ("we smashed that damn monkey", "ice cream eating motherfuckers" et al.) Over at Chunklet, there is a great little blog and a link to a 45 minute recording of onstage banter from Mackaye & Picciotto.

Having Fun with Fugazi on Stage

*This beautiful piece of auto-machinery has since been stolen by someone with a clear interest in rust, baby blue duco or bald tyres. I dream of it every day and wish it back. Muthafucka.

Titles #1

It's a tricky thing thinking up a fine title for a flick or a piece of writing. Film titles, in particular, are always so freaking sensible and informative. I've always thought a title should add a whole new layer to a film. A little mirror that reflects light onto the film from somewhere outside the world of the story. I think there is a lot that the record sleeves of post rock and p-funk albums can teach us.

Here are some of my favourites:

"Bill's Mom Likes to Fuck" - A Minor Forest
"Vanish in our Sleep" - Bootsy's Rubber Band
"You Drink a Lot of Coffee for a Teenager" - Don Caballero
"(You're A Fish And I'm A) Water Sign" - Parliament
"When in Doubt: Vamp" - Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns
"A Tender History in Rust" - Do Make Say Think
"You and your folks, me and my folks" - Funkadelic
"Hang onto Each Other" - A Silver Mt Zion
"Never buy Texas from a Cowboy (Part 1)" - Brides of Funkenstein

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lists #1

I have been completely (intentionally?) overlooking the fact that we are at decade's end until all of a sudden blogs and critics and peeps everywhere started compiling best films of the decade lists. I love a list but I can't even imagine where to start on such a mammoth task given my generally poor memory for what I liked or didn't, loved or didn't. Over at Fin de Cinema, Joe Bowman has been writing and reprising critiques of what he thinks are the films of the decade and his lists are killer.

Decade List

I am loving spending far too much time getting lost in his listings, if only because it's making me wish I was seeing many of these films for the first time again (he also links through to the great top tens of the year from John Waters and Chrissie Iles). I'm sure there are many more bloggers doing the same decade long thing but I'm afraid of looking further. As it is, time is slipping away and with gargantuan observational doco edits to complete and years to finish and new decades to start, so things are looking a little frantic for repeat viewings of old favourites.

Felllow Travellers #4

Warning: Shameless but well deserved promotion of fellow travellers ahead...

Some damned fine peeps have just released outrageously good looking DVD releases of their films with sexy booklets, lots of additional lushness and a thousand extra reasons to buy, watch and rewatch films that are already infinitely worthy of watching.

Compañero Glendyn Ivin's feature drama Last Ride (which scored him a best director award - and props from Abbas Kiarostami, no less - at the recent Abu Dhabi Film Festival) has been released by Madman. I have to declare a conflict of interest as I photographed the poster art for Last Ride.

I also took some other behind the scenes snaps, some of which have snuck into the booklets and promo releases for the film, which allows me an excellent dose of reflected glory without really doing anything at all.

You can also see, as part of this release, the great behind the scenes doco made by the most excellent Tim Mummery and Jono Hill of Yeah Right. Here, you can see a short vid of G's own excitement at the DVD release. Also at his blog, Glendyn has heaps of great process based stuff on the making of the film as well as numerous lush pics taken during the production by people like Greig Fraser, Ari Wegner and Glendyn himself.

Compañero Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Compañera Philippa Campey have also just released, through Siren Visual, the DVD for Bastardy, one of my, and many other folks, favourite flicks of the year.

Again, it's insanely desirable with a lush booklet and lots of additional goodies. Amiel is one of those filmmakers with a thousand projects under his belt and a thousand more on the go so, not surprisingly, it includes two additional films by him, 'Steal Away Home' and the Cannes short 'Cicada'. Finally, the booklet includes a great essay by Compañero Christos Tsiolkas. Many folks have read Christos' novels but if you haven't read his essays - including the book length The Devil's Playground (the first few pages of which you can see here) or Jump Cuts with Sasha Soldatow, you may not be aware of what a formidable intellectual he is, along with an incendiary storyteller. So, good times for us all. Now, just gotta find some cold hard cash to pick up a few copies.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Gifts #1

Many years back I made a small Buoy Archive (which shall forever remain hidden) with a one chip video recording of a high school performance by a punk band that my brother had formed which was killing it in the youth clubs around Canberra. They were having so much fun just creating together, as kids, as fellow musicians and playing to other people as a gift, expecting nothing in return, that I was completely reinvigorated and inspired. It felt, in that high school moment, something like this overused old quote from Lester Bangs:
"Good rock 'n' roll is something that makes you feel alive. It's something that's human, and I think that most music today isn't. ... To me good rock 'n' roll also encompasses other things, like Hank Williams and Charlie Mingus and a lot of things that aren't strictly defined as rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll is an attitude, it's not a musical form of a strict sort. It's a way of doing things, of approaching things. Writing can be rock 'n' roll, or a movie can be rock 'n' roll. It's a way of living your life."
It is so incredibly hard to find this attitude in filmmaking, and in Australian filmmaking specifically. There is so much expectation of what the film (the product, the content) will bring back to the filmmakers that the actual act of offering up a joyous creative experience as a gift to your audience has been deadened. Why can't a film be an immersive sensory or pleasure based experience in the same way as seeing your favourite band in your favourite venue is? Why can't there be enough attitude, joy and generosity in the act of making the film that the audience can't help but be buoyed by the experience of watching it? Instead, we strategise how a film will take us, the filmmakers, somewhere else - status, reputation, critical acclaim, Hummers. What the act of making the film will return to us. It is no surprise that the local discussion of film has become totally hijacked into a discussion of financial 'returns'.

On the other hand, there is another approach to film, which is all about giving. I don't know if generosity is necessarily Bangs idea of rock'n'roll but, strangely, in this day and age it feels like it. What if you make something in that spirit of offering up an experience for the joy of the people sitting in the room with you... the room being any audience and you being the film itself. I love to watch a band play and love those moments when you know that they are sharing the experience as intensely as the audience is. Their songs come alive in the eyes of the people who love to experience them in the flesh. Films don't often give you that buzz that comes from a filmmaker knowing they are giving it up to you, inviting you in, letting you be a part of the creation. Instead films are bigger, flashier and smarter (or dumber) than us and we can't give them anything back except for a ticket price. We certainly can't give them our fanaticism or our hearts.

I loved the anthropologist Marcel Mauss' book 'The Gift'. In it he explored the ways that many preindustrial societies relied on the gift as a form of expanding their social and intercommunal relations. A gift given was a complex thing which metonymically embodied social, communal, emotional, spiritual and economic relationships with the recipient. The gift encouraged reciprocity which strengthened the ties between the giver and the recipient both individually and culturally.

Apologies to Mauss and anyone who has studied ethnography but, to my mind, the communal arts like music and film can and sometimes do work in this way. Of course, commercialism kills this, but so do filmmakers who don't think of what they do as offering a gift to their audience. A film can be an offering of enormous complexity that invites the recipient to reciprocate, either through inspiration, through high expectations, through inserting themselves deep within the film experience, through love of the experience or through taking the film out into the world with them. It communicates something of the world it comes from and embodies values and experience and philosophy as well as the emotions, narrative and character insights that sustain any storytelling form.

It would be a beautiful thing to see a film and feel it is a gift. Recently, in domestic cinema Samson and Delilah felt like this. Bastardy, too. Internationally? 35 Shots of Rum. Ballast. I'm struggling here.

One of the reasons T and I have spent much of the past few years making two enormously demanding feature music docos is to extend the gift of what the music and the musicians give to us. I sometimes think I should be spending more time on writing and making fiction but it is so hard to resist making these flicks when there is so much joy to be had in them. I am kinda snobby about the music I listen to but I have a much looser love of any music that is made with generous creativity. One of the reasons we made Words from the City was that, at the time we made it, Australian hip hop MCs were in this incredible period of making music that was an open, evolving form. It had more punk attitude than any of the punk I was hearing but also expected the audience to give back, to demand more, to expect more. Likewise, we have spent three years making Murundak after first seeing the Black Arm Band play together and realising their gathering, their songs, were an invitation to be a part of something. Those songs were a gift. We hope that the film will be our reciprocity.

DIY #1

There's DIY and there's DIY. I'm not much for bangs and whistles at the best of times but in shooting a music video for Kempsey's new DIY ep - recorded in the basement, mastered in a back shed - I like to think we took our production to a new level of 'stripped back'. T and I flew to Canberra for 3 consecutive night shoots with two 50mm lenses, two 5D bodies, two cheap on-camera LED lights and shot the living hell out of the city and a raucous crew of cohorts. It was exhausting but about as much fun as the lumbering juggernaut that is filmmaking can be. Messy, impulsive, joyous. Seize the night.