Sunday, January 24, 2010

Road #1

Tomorrow, T and I will hit the road with everfresh cinematographer Katie Milwright to shoot a music video in Nambucca Heads, along the mid north coast of NSW. It's a beautiful landscape, subtropical and dense with heat, colour and noise. The last time we went there was to do some film workshops on the Nambucca mission with Wire MC who we had filmed as part of the feature doco Words from the City. It'll be great to go back up there and even better to hit the road.

I'm in the midst of finishing two separate drafts of two separate screenplays. As we are in the middle of the doco edit, it has been hard to get an ordered mind to finish the work on these projects. I always find, though, that a long stretch of road does the job of sifting and sorting ideas. If I sit behind the wheel and lose myself to a good album, something about that long straight line of road ahead does all the unconscious work. Ideas begin to sort. This. Then this. This then this. Then this and this. Until I arrive at the destination and know what work needs to be done. So, as always, much of the appeal of this job is in the getting there.

The clip is for Emma Donovan, one of the incredible voices of the Black Arm Band who sings a lot of her songs in her guymbayngirr language from the Nambucca region. So, we'll be filming in and around the community there, making the most of a handful of good lenses and the eye of Ms Milwright. The last time we worked with Katie was on a couple of commissions for the National Portrait Gallery. When we travelled to Canberra for the opening we were blown away to see another commission - a portrait of Cate Blanchett - that Katie had shot for artist David Rosetsky. It has such a great natural lilt to it - Godard rhythms, a cool little walking dance sequence, and one of the better stolen moments of watching someone beautiful put on a leather jacket - that we spent a long time in the darkened gallery space with it.

So; a car, a road, a camera and some nice folks to work with. Should be bliss. Back in a week or so.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


To my shame, we are still editing the music video for Kempsey's song 'The Weather'. I've been trying to fit in a few late night and weekend edits out of hours while the suite is tied up with Murundak but it has been tricky to squeeze in the hours...

The problem is:

To me, the rushes look so damned fine, that I've got an overly inflated sense of self-satisfaction that is neutralising the urge to edit it down. I just like trawling and selecting and trawling some more and never having to whittle it down. I haven't had this feeling since I made the mini-doco project Firestorm which we also shot in Canberra and which took forever to edit despite the epic final duration of 11 minutes. (The good and very inspiring people at Rooftop Films in NY recently played Firestorm which was great as it has been gathering a lot of dust on the shelf. Little fella needed a bit of fresh Brooklyn night air).

In any case, the solution is:

To finish the fucking thing so the poor guys in the band don't have to keep asking when it will be done.

In the meantime:

I wanted to reprise a few of my favourite screen grabs from the shoot. Although I have already posted some of these, I can't help myself. It makes me happy and it creates the illusion that I have done more than I have. Apologies to Kempsey. I promise it will be done soon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Brown Envelope Excitement

Like a package delivered from a seedy website, a little brown envelope containing Ramin Bahrani's great film Chop Shop arrived in my letterbox last night. A little tremor of excitement. The sweet smell of excessive plastic packaging and the earth burning beneath my feet. A gleaming untouched DVD case.

Come to my pad and we'll watch it again together...
"To be as simple as possible. To erase myself and the camera. To direct without directing. To control everything, but be open and honest to life. To make everyone think it was "just happening" when in fact it was all planned out to the very last detail. For our camera to judge nothing and no one, be unflinching, and still find compassion and love in such a harsh location." - Ramin Bahrani

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Songs that should be films #2

This posting should be titled songs that could be films... I would hate to think that these songs may only have come to being as little seen films and never been the achingly great songs that they are.

And, sheesh, okay, they'd mostly be intimate, fucked up, darkly romantic character dramas full of yearning, long nights and sweat but who can afford to make anything else... and I've never really heard a song that sounds like Avatar unless you count the meandering nonsense they play in health spas or something by Enya...

"You Came To Me Like A Cancer Lain Dormant Until It Blossomed Like A Rose" - My Disco
"The Way" - Bonnie "Prince" Billy
"Mistress" - Red House Painters (or the sweet, breakable version by Holly Throsby)
"Vapour Trail" - Ride
"Kangaroo" - Big Star
"Love's Gonna Get Cha (Material Love)" - Boogie Down Productions
"The Outer Banks" - The Album Leaf
"Monsoon" - ...and you will know us by the trail of dead
"Glamur" - Amiina
"Kreuzberg" - Bloc Party
"1969" - The Stooges
"We Could be Kings" - Gene
"Such Great Heights" - Iron and Wine (after Postal Service)

Friday, January 15, 2010


I'm out of touch.

In the last few years, I've taken a first semester class at the film school here in Melbourne, introducing the concepts and ideas behind narrative cinema. It's a nice gig, really. Watch and talk about films that I love. Films like Battle of Algiers, Shadows, 400 Blows, Sunrise, Vivre Sa Vie, North by Northwest, Imitation of Life, The Bicycle Thief. Nice.

What is strange in this class is that over the few short years that I've taken it, when I show Andrei Tarkovsky's Zerkalo (Mirror), the students, who are mostly in their late teens, early twenties, seem to get unreasonably angry. And the anger has increased, semester by semester.

This last year was a surprisingly funny peak of fury with one film student almost beside himself when the room lights came up. Strangely, this anger seems to be impossible to articulate, other than stammering expressions of frustration at the lack of 'story' - fucking Robert McKee has a lot to answer for. I am no closer to understanding why it seems to get the students so riled. For me, it's impossibly beautiful. And, I distinctly remember the day I was shown this film by Sydney filmmaker Jackie Farkas. A sense of wonder. Losing my breath at this opening sequence as it cut to the title:

Does this make you angry? Not me. How about this beyond sublime camera move?

I'm not saying it's the perfect popcorn flick, but why the rage? I'm bewildered. Out of touch. Any hints much appreciated.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I don't particularly dig on horror films. But... these photographs of the 'plus house' in Izusan, Japan, make me want to make horror. Haneke horror. Austrian horror. Let's raise the budget.

The Logic of Space

A couple of weeks back now, I watched Three Monkeys by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. I have been pretty crazy about Ceylan since I watched his first film Kasaba (Small Town) back to back with a making of film that showed him making the film with a crew of two and sometimes three people and with only a turtle and a leaf blower as his sole means to create some seriously transcendent onscreen sequences. I then watched all of his films back to back. Not long after he released the sublime Iklimer (Climates). Then, a not so long wait and Ceylan releases his first 'thriller', Uc Mayman (Three Monkeys). Certain elements in this film - particularly the haunting of the elder son and the ways that the surrounding light, air, space, place make incursions into the lives of the characters caught in webs of their own lies and desires - are modestly executed but precise and pointed in their ability to take the viewer to a place beyond the world of the film. While he reverently talks of the influences of Kiarostami, Tarkovsky and Ozu, his films, perhaps because they are so defiantly personal - he frequently, shoots, edits, produces and acts as well as writing and directing - are like nothing else. Even while his films reveal the austerity of his influences, they suddenly revel in the physical, the sexual, the comedic or the terrifying in ways that never betray the intense, unflinching quiet of his approach. But it is always the sense of place, the landscapes through which the characters move, that reveal so much of his narratives.
"In my films the landscapes connect the characters to a sense of something cosmic. I try to recapture those moments in life where you suddenly feel that connection to a wider universe." Nuri Bilge Ceylan, The List, Issue 571
In his anamorphic photographs, his emphasis on space and place, seems perfectly expressed as he both captures the expansive and austere beauty he sees, but also distorts and twists the way that we look at it, both in terms of simple perspective, and in terms of the heightened artificiality of the light.

all photos above - Nuri Bilge Ceylan from his website

I recently read a great interview with filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (here is another great interview with him), director of Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo in which he talks about the importance of place in his filmmaking process, from conception to completion. He says:
Unless you’re doing a space movie or something it makes no sense to sit alone in a room and write. You go to the real location—you write. You go the real location—you rewrite. You go to the real location—you reconceive. You meet the real people, you add them into your script, you change them a little for your fictional means. You cast, either from the real location or outside the real location, and based on those people you rewrite again.
In the films in my head, I am definitely not one for interiors. Place and landscape always play a dominant role in the things I have and hope to make. I spoke with a friend recently about a film we are hoping to shoot late next year. We have been having difficulties in financing because (among other things) where we want to shoot it falls between all the funding gaps, being based in one of the territories and not being eligible for 'remote' financing. A friend said, why not just set it here in Melbourne. My heart dropped. Although it's a fine question - if the story is the thing, why shouldn't it be transportable - I knew that for some inexplicable reason, it had to be filmed in and around the landscapes that I had first conceived it taking place in. It is not that these landscapes are impossibly singular or that this story could not take place elsewhere. It is simply that this landscape has a floating quality that I can't imagine really understanding until I see it unfolding in a fictional cinematic landscape. That will help me to understand it. It is also that the landscape itself has always been so stitched into the experience of the film that I don't know what the film is without it. More often than not, a script for me comes from a place or an experience of a landscape. When I move through a place or see photographs of a location, stories come. The characters never exist prior to that.

The South of the World

Sometimes, we are far away, down here in the south of the world.

It seems, that there is a helluva lot going on in North American filmmaking at the moment that is of great interest to us in our little pea-sized industry. All that talk about Truly Free Film can make you a bit lusty to be where the action is...

Some films I wish I could see if I was up there, in the North.



Medicine for Melancholy

Children of Invention

Treeless Mountain

The Exploding Girl

Goodbye Solo

(I only have myself to blame for a these last three as these were on at MIFF but I was elsewhere working...)

Lists #2

The last weeks of the last decade saw a frenzy of lists flying around the place. I was too slow, too preoccupied in the edit suite, and too terrified at the thought of trying to cast my mind back over ten years of life, let alone ten years of film/books/music, to compile a list of any damn thing.

I did write one of the only top 5 film lists I've ever successfully completed*, back in the first year of the decade - a year I remember, for me, as one of those years of film that change your life.

This is what I thought in the year 2000 were my top five filmy things of the year:
1. Viewing David Gordon Green's George Washington and Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher within days of each other at the 49th Melbourne International Film Festival 2000. Although, sadly, neither of the films will appear on theatre screens here, it was a glimpse of two modest, beautifully flawed, individually distinctive, staggering and inspiring films from two new filmmakers. 

2. Stumbling across Peter Tscherkassky's brilliant, equally joyful and melancholic film Happy-End. This short film, a reworking of found footage of a couple's celebratory Christmas toasts through the years, is a seductive jaunt through memory, domestic theatre and drunkenness.

3. Seeing the hardcover book "Jonas Mekas: Just Like a Shadow" on the bookshelves of several bookstores. Each page reproduces several consecutive frames from Mekas' personal works filmed on his 16mm Bolex. Lush, warm, intimate images with the heavy textures of aged film stock.

4. Catching Tsai Ming-Liang's The Hole and The River during late night screenings on SBS Television (Australia) throughout the year. SBS is without compare (Bollywood favourite Raja Hindustani is the midday movie as I write this) and ventures into territory that the cinemas, to their disgrace, have given up on all-together.

5. Listening to the following dialogue in Cassavetes' Love Streams:

- Do you sell?
- What?
- Anything. Love, drugs, poetry.
Also, in the year 2000 I saw a handful of films that I've carried with me ever since. Rosetta, The Wind Will Carry Us, Blackboards, the above mentioned George Washington & Ratcatcher, Spring Forward, The Circle, My Best Fiend, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, American Movie, Platform, In the Mood for Love and Dancer in the Dark. I also watched a retrospective of Claire Denis' films which was probably the single most impressive cinema going experience of my life. Back to back: Nenette et Boni, Beau Travail, US Go Home, Man No Run, S'en Fout La Mort, Chocolat, Je Pas Sommeil. A large number of the greatest films of my life were backed into a few short months over the winter of that year. Riding through the city, hoodie catching in the wind, eyes wide, mind racing.

So, now, 2010. Nothing blew my mind wide open in the way that the films of 2000 did and, to be honest, I have long since stopped being able to think in 'best of's' or 'favourites' or in lists that don't veer into Borges-like catalogues of strangeness** or the melancholy lists of Jonathon Safran Foer***. Life is too oversaturated to work out the good from the bad, so, inevitably, my favourite films are mostly films of stillness or focused intensity. In this past year, which has been a year mostly devoid of cinema, those films have been:
35 Shots of Rum, Three Monkeys, Samson and Delilah, Steve Carroll's short Kin which I saw a couple of years too late, Blissfully Yours (again, a few years too late), The Savages, Synechdoche, New York, Gomorrah,  and Julia.
As for the whole freaking decade, I don't know even know where to begin. There was consolation, though, in the fact that when IndieWire put up their vote-based best ofs for the decade I had managed to see almost every film. Some of them had completely altered me. And I think some kind of alteration is required for these lists. So, along with the aforementioned George Washington and Ratcatcher, my films of the decade with errors of memory and omissions acknowledging the fading of time:
Divine Intervention, Le Fils, Millenium Mambo, Beau Travail, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Stevie, Tropical Malady, Last Life in the Universe, Reconstruction, Punch Drunk Love, Oldboy, Battle in Heaven, What Time is it There?, Head On, Capturing the Friedmans, Unknown Pleasures, In the Mood for Love, Still Life, Adaptation, Elephant, Climates, Three Monkeys, 35 Shots of Rum, Yi Yi, Turtles Can Fly, Pan's Labyrinth, Lost in Translation, Code Unknown, In Praise of Love,  Deliver Us From Evil and Three Times.
And my scene of the decade comes from the Dardennes Brothers 'Le Fils' in which the carpenter and his apprentice, 'the son', measure the taut physical distance between them by eye and then again by carpenter's ruler. Incredible.


*The only other I can recall is this long superceded Top Ten list of all time that I wrote for Senses of Cinema:
"Lots of first films, lots of films about childhood (something about urgency, impatience and the urge towards recklessness). The list, significantly influenced by a number of staggering films seen in the past year, as of this moment, and with equal parts frustration and joy, is: (in no order)
My Childhood        (Bill Douglas, 1972)
My Ain Folk and My Way Home could equally be listed here but for the sake of economy one will have to be enough.

Seventeen        (Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines, 1982)
Mouchette        (Robert Bresson, 1967)
Cyclo        (Tran Anh Hung, 1995)
George Washington        (David Gordon Green, 1999)
Masculin Féminin        (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
Kes        (Ken Loach, 1969)
Ratcatcher        (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)
Ivan's Childhood        (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)
Il Posto        (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)

(I would like to have been asked to compile a list of films with my all time favourite impromptu dance or musical numbers. Tsai Ming-liang's The Hole, Claire Denis' US Go Home, Bertolucci's Il Conformista, Hal Hartley's Surviving Desire, Godard's Bande à Part, Anthony Michael Hall in John Hughes' Sixteen Candles, and any number of scenes of drunken song and dance combinations in any number of Cassavetes' beautiful, brilliant films. Some other time, maybe…) "

**"These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies."
John Wilkins' Analytical Language, Jorge-Luis Borges included in Selected nonfictions: Jorge Luis Borges

***The following encyclopaedia of sadness was found on the body of Brod D. The original 613 sadnesses, written in her diary, corresponded to the 613 commandments of our (not their) Torah. Shown below is what was salvageable after Brod was recovered. (Her diary’s wet pages printed the sadnesses onto her body. Only a small fraction [55] were legible. The other 558 sadness are lost forever, and it is hoped that, without knowing what they are, no one will have to experience them.) The diary from which they came was never found.

SADNESSES OF THE BODY: Mirror sadness; Sadness of [looking] like or unlike one’s parents; Sadness of not knowing if your body is normal; Sadness of knowing your [body is] not normal; Sadness of knowing your body is normal; Beauty sadness; Sadness of m[ake]up; Sadness of physical pain; Pins-and-[needles sadness]; Sadness of clothes [sic]; Sadness of the quavering eyelid; Sadness of a missing rib; Noticeable sad[ness]; Sadness of going unnoticed; The sadness of having genitals that are not like those of your lover; The sadness of having genitals that are like those of your lover; Sadness of hands…..
SADNESSES OF THE COVENANT: Sadness of God’s love; Sadness of God’s back [sic]; Favourite-child sadness; Sadness of b[ein]g sad in front of one’s God; Sadness of the opposite of belief [sic]; Sadness of God alone in heaven; Sadness of a God who would need people to pray to him….
SADNESSES OF THE INTELLECT: Sadness of being misunderstood [sic]; Humor sadness; Sadness of love wit[hou]t release; Sadne [ss of be] ing smart; Sadness of not knowing enough words to [express what you mean]; Sadness of having options; Sadness of wanting sadness; Sadness of confusion; Sadness of domes[ti]cated birds; Sadness of fini[shi]ng a book; Sadness of remembering; Sadness of forgetting; Anxiety Sadness…
INTERPERSONAL SADNESSES: Sadness of being sad in front of one’s parent; Sa[dn]ness of false love; Sadness of love [sic]; Friendship sadness; Sadness of a bad convers[at]ion; Sadness of the could-have-been; Secret sadness….
SADNESSES OF SEX AND ART: Sadness of arousal being an unordinary physical state; Sadness of feeling the need to create beautiful things;…Kissing Sadness; Sadness of moving too quickly; Sadness of not mo[vi]ng; Nude model sadness; Sadness of portraiture…

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Songs that should be films #1

"Skeletons" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"The Summer Ends" - American Football
"Shark Fin Blues" - The Drones
"Silver Stallion" - Cat Power (after The Highwaymen)
"A Little Soul" - Pulp
"Fairytale of New York" - The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl
"Rhine and Courtesan" - Rachel's
"One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead)" - Stars

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


"Plans are all right sometimes," I said. "And sometimes just stirring things up is all right - if you're tough enough to survive, and keep your eyes open so you'll see what you want when it comes to the top."
"That ought to be good for another drink," she said.

Dashiell Hammett, 'Red Harvest'