Friday, May 29, 2009

On Quiet

All my work is about the renditions of love. And sometimes the most important moment is when everything becomes quiet.

Albert Maysles

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Popularity and Making Film in Sackcloths

"I have nothing against popularity but if the only yardstick for whether a film is good or not is the box office numbers, then you're barking up the wrong tree. If you only gave people what they wanted, then they'd still be eating sugar because it's sweet. But it's empty calories. It's good to have pioneers who have dared to serve us something bitter, which then turns out to be one of those great experiences - like alcohol, something intoxicating. We need more intoxicants in cinema. Just a few people who dare to serve us something bitter."

"Cinema isn't something you pack up at four o'clock - the ideal thing would be to make films together with a group of tonsured people in sackcloth and ashes, in penance outfits. Art does not come out of industry. It's important that art arises from an inner urge, and to this some people will surely say, "yes, sure, but we all have to live." But for God's sake, in that case you have to live from something else! Cinema is so close to me that I can't stand it getting a bad reputation, you know, on account of all these dumbasses."

Lars Von Trier, interview with Lars Schwander, 1983

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A single song

I'm in a state of perpetual awe and wonder when it comes to music and musicians. You would think it would be easier to learn to play an instrument than try and be a filmmaker but, for me, the attempt to make films is an attempt to get as close as possible to what I imagine - naively? - to be the purity at the heart of music. I don't seem to hear lyrics as easily as many people do and so songs as stories are not as powerful for me as others. But I do love the rhythm, swagger or strut of music and, at it's best, the rhythms of cinema, through editing, performance style, dialogue or movement, hits these rhythms and struts in the same way. Yet, also, like good cinema, a song suspends time, stops that shitty urgent acceleration of life, for a handful of heartbeats and lets you feel stillness in a way that, I think, most closely approximates the immensity of nature. For this reason, I find myself either lured into music that is, in itself, stillness, or music that is so chaotic and urgent that it also stops time in it's midst. One decelerates, the other accelerates, but both take you out of the actual rhythm of life.

One song I return to again and again for deceleration is the song 'Cruiser' by Red House Painters. I've written a scene around this song in one of the films I am labouring away on as the first moment between two lovers unfolds around the duration of the song (8 mins). It is really just one chord progression played over and over (and over) while Mark Kozelek mournfully sings over it, but something about this song is so profoundly cinematic in the way it gently, repetitively, eases you into a dreamstate of narrative. Likewise, the song 'The Way' by Bonnie Prince Billy or any of the late 90s tracks by the Perth band Blue Tile Lounge. There is a gentle violence to these songs that simmers like any good film narrative. They all make me hungry for cinema. And strangely, in the same way, Cat Power's cover of The Highwaymen's 'Silver Stallion' just makes me want to make moofies so bad it hurts.

On the other hand, there is the jagged lilt of songs like 'Pentagram Ring' by Chavez or 'Do You Like Me' by Fugazi or the stupidly youthful joy/melancholy of songs like 'Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)' by Taking Back Sunday, 'Travel by Telephone' by Rival Schools or 'Not Turning Off' by Spoon. These songs make you want to run with any bolt of energy you can grab hold of... So rarely do you find a similar thing in film - perhaps the aforementioned 'Head On' by Fatih Akin - in which the loud/quiet/loud of these songs and the same pulse-quickening abrasive impulse is translated into cinema.

A band who decelerates through abrasion is My Disco. In my mind, I have an entire film set to their album 'Paradise'. Song by song. I don't quite think it is the kind of film I will be able to get up any time soon, however, so it is sitting very firmly on the backburner.

In the meantime, as I work on the script with 'Cruiser' at it's heart, I can only hope the band will ultimately let me use it in the flick.

A piece of dialogue currently in the script (who knows where it will end up) goes like this:

What? Is it a Scottish song?

Shona laughs and shakes her head. She presses play. A slow, plaintive song begins to play. Toby looks at her and adjusts the headphones. He bows his head and listens intently. Shona watches him. A man’s mournful voice sings out in Toby’s ears.

“Purple nights and yellow days
Neon signs and silver lakes
LA took a part of me
LA gave this gift to me...”
Toby looks up at her.
S'about LA?

Singers never sing about what they seem
to be singing about. And this song, though
he would have never knew it, is all about
me. Listen...

Friday, May 22, 2009

On Staring #1

The point of this blog was to post up some old film and video works and to place up works in progress as they happen. Only problem is that I've finally taken it upon myself to start the blog while I'm away from the studio and the edit suite as I try and wrestle a screenplay for a film called 'The Warmth' into shape, life and order. So, all I have are some old bits and pieces of photographs, fragments and pages from some old zines that will have to do as the blog content for the moment.

A long time ago, I made a photocopy of a great picture of JLG looking down from a building (I think it was his production offices) like some snappily dressed sniper. I made the copy on a fax machine and while the picture hung over my desk for a few years, I noticed it fade and bleed and blur over time. It was a haunting...

Around the same time, I watched a film called 'Blind Grace' by US Indie filmmaker Adam Cohen (whose brother, Jem Cohen, I had written a bit about for a local journal) Apart from being an incredible piece of filmmaking he relayed a Walker Evans quote in the titles that I had never come across. It always reminds me of the sniper/JLG photo for the reason that it seemed the longer I looked at that image hanging above my desk, the more it twisted and changed and evaded me.

Walker Evans:
"Stare. It is the only way to educate your eye and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."

This simple quote has done more to lock my mind onto a path than just about anything. When I hear someone being clever about a way of thinking, or their way of approaching their work through a particular theoretical framework, I find it very easy to be influenced, to test their ideas against my own... but almost at the same time as this happens I find myself falling slackjawed back to this mantra and mumble... "stare... it is the only way to educate... etc." Feel free to back away from my glassy eyed stare, hands raised.

But this idea, of seeing things anew by really studying them, whether it is the everyday street life of Walker Evan's photographs or the intricacies of human relationships, there is something incredibly exciting in allowing cinema to do what it does best: to transform how we experience time and allow us to stare, to pry and eavesdrop on the things that surround us. I don't want to show things that are clever or new or thrilling. I want to look at the smallest things around me until they become new, clever and thrilling because we are able to see them in their truest form. Or at least, by using the illusory form of cinema, we can approach what is real more closely. As Slavoj Zizek suggests in Sophie Fienne's brilliant documentary 'The Pervert's Guide to Cinema' through cinema we find "there is something more real in the illusion than in the reality behind it."

Thursday, May 21, 2009


some old photos from old travels. neg cross processed within an inch of it's life. photos trying to make sense of the compression of space that is nevada.

Cinema loves cinema

Cinema loves cinema. It's never more apparent than when a film comes to a halt for a dance scene that revels in stopping time. There's nothing better to my mind.

from: A Bande a Part (d: J-L Godard)

from: The Conformist (d: B. Bertolucci)

from: Surviving Desire (d: Hal Hartley)

from: The Ordeal (d: Fabrice du Welz)

from: Incredible Rumour (d: Kin-Yip Ho)

aside: This stream of thought reminds me of a recent conversation where a filmmaker who had been responsible for making some of the coolest films of the 90s was lamenting the lack of 'cool' in films these days. There is nothing as cool as a killer dance scene that is not an inherent part of the narrative but simply a precise expression of the rhythm or emotion or swagger of a film.

These are three of the coolest:

from: Head-On (d: Fatih Akin) - one of my all time favourite films - "punk is noooot dead"

from: Vivre Sa Vie (d: J-L Godard) - also one of my all time favourite films. incredible precision in exploring hope, ambition and misery.

from: Beau Travail (d: Claire Denis)

(nb - Denis also created an amazing dance scene in 'US Go Home' but this only seems available on print and there are no DVDs etc... it kills me... I'd love to see this film again...)

On Time

'samson and delilah' at cannes.
'the slap' wins christos tsiolkas the commonwealth writers prize.
new Australian films in the pipeline by filmmakers who know they need to provoke, push and strive for audacity.
will this be a new time?

From Deep in the Drawer #2


sonny's blues.

the seed of things.


Originally, in a break from the furious and usually misguided and occasionally terrible short filmmaking of my early 20s, I started the Buoy Archives, a series of small film and video sketches as a form of consolation for inactivity and a yearning for that elusive something - voice?- that I didn't seem able to quite find in the films I was making. I kept wanting to make films that somehow had in them a swagger, a vulnerability, a musicality, a restraint and a deep sense of the human that I didn't seem able to harness. Possibly this was and is because these things are often contradictory and probably it was and is a matter of craft. In any case, I came close to finding that elusive thing in a half hour 16mm film called 'Charm' - which had a humanist storyline, a musical swagger (in as much as the soundtrack was courtesy of Yo La Tengo, June of 44, Chavez and Blue Tile Lounge) - and with some later shorts and documentaries. But the way that I dealt with performance and visual style in the beginning was far too interested in it's own cleverness. And therefore the balance between vulnerability and strength in a human sense dissolved in the face of self-conscious style. It was a visually self aware approach to the form rather than an emotionally responsive approach. That is, each moment of emotion, performance or action emerged from a desire to stage for the formal elements. What I wanted and what I saw in the films I loved, was a form that emerged from a more intuitive grappling with human interaction and human emotion and a visual and formal approach that read like an evolving curiosity rather than a predefined realisation of something already established in the filmmakers mind. At this time, I became inspired by the ideas that I heard articulated by filmmakers who made films without necessarily knowing how or why the film would take the narrative or formal or stylistic course that it did. Of course, this is an almost impossible path to justify in making films here and now, where market end points, targeted narratives and broad appeal seem to be the main concern.

So then, the sketches of the Buoy Archives, as clumsy and brief as they are, are safe in their role small moments of curiosity. Moments in which an image suggested an idea without a place, or a narrative without a scenario, or an emotion or impression without any sense of context. As I worked on them in spare hours, they were forming a dialogue with the photos, notes and fragments of writing that were emerging alongside any longer pieces of film writing or any other films. These were the bits that slipped into the cracks. Some will always remain unseen. Some I'll post up here as I get to them.

In beginning this page, though, I am trying to reinvigorate myself into working on them again and into approaching my other work with their intent in mind. At it's heart film is a yearning art. An art fixed on desire and the need to connect... mostly with our inner lives, sometimes with others, sometimes with the world. But the process of trying to make or successfully making films is also one of yearning. When I look at the images or fragments that hang around the edges of my studio, they do all speak of yearning... trying to intellectualise beyond that is difficult. But I do think they all strive, whether unsuccessfully or not, for the cinematic - where yearning is made active, where stories are propelled by desire, images by beauty, sadness, seductiveness or thrills, performances by human connections or moments of transcendence. How to make sense of all this? By archiving and looking for patterns or trends or signs as the work progresses.

Monday, May 18, 2009

From Deep in the Drawer #1

some pages and notes from the late 90s"what do you sell?..." - cassavetes

the perfect film

i'm a good kid

super8 from 'the buoy archives'

images from 'the buoy archives'

The Reasons Why

the point? to keep things afloat.
to write about film as it happens.
to archive the things that fall through the cracks...
to find a place for the fragments of film that don't fit anywhere, or to anchor thoughts that float freely.

A Fever is a Secret Thing

A fever is a secret thing - Don DeLillo