Monday, January 31, 2011


Some thoughts on a past project whose process continues to thrive and develop...

A couple of years back, I became involved in a series of documentaries called 'Anatomy' which was being produced by Tony Ayres & Michael McMahon - the director/producer partnership behind films like 'Home Song Stories', 'Walking on Water', 'Sadness' and a wildly prolific array of projects in between.

I'd been working with Tony and Michael for a while - I had written a screenplay for a strange and (I thought) kinda beautiful sci-fi film Tony was working on at the time - long since abandoned - a gothic thriller, the current draft of which I have been nursing for an embarrassingly long time - when 'Anatomy' came up as a possible project. In this project 'Anatomy', the producers approached three directors to each direct a half hour documentary that focuses on the nexus between art and the body or art and sex. The films were 'Muscle' directed by Natasha Gadd, 'Heart' by Amy Gebhardt and 'Skin' which I directed. From the outset, Michael and Tony made clear that, from their position as producers, they wanted the works themselves to be author driven, to be as bold as we wanted, and to aspire to 'art' rather than short documentary. These are difficult times for television documentary and it's testament to their abilities that they managed to get all the funding on board for a project like this. Between Amy, Tash and myself, we each went off and found what we felt was the right way to tell each story, and while each film is very different, I think what makes them exciting to consider is that each is very clearly authored, personal and a challenge from the director to themselves and their subjects. We were allowed a position in which we could flex and feel out the ways we wanted to tell the stories or explore our content and, really, we were left on our own to determine whether these choices were right or not. In the end, my flick felt like an intellectual exploration of a very physical subject. I liked that. It was very different to anything I'd done and, as such, taught me a few things through the mistakes I made or the flaws I saw in it or the surprising successes. This can only be a good thing. And when I look at the work of Tash or Amy, I see really extraordinary films which honored the risks Michael and Tony took in the beginning.

Last year they commissioned a second series and now a third series is under way. In the second series, director Emma Crimmings made the film 'Mind' about writer Tom Cho, Adele Wilkes directed the film 'Face' about her own relationship with the Beautiful Agony website and Andy Canny and Donna McCrum directed the film 'Eye' about photographer Bindi Cole and the sistagirls of Tiwi Island.

from 'Face' by Adele Wilkes

from 'Eye' by Andy Canny & Donna McCrum

from 'Mind' by Emma Crimmings

I got to see this second series of films recently and, without exception, they're fucking sublime. Freedom it seems, is not such a terrible thing in the television documentary. I have a vested interest in that I know all these filmmakers well and love them and love what they do. But, I also had the clarity to see how great these projects are. There is no doubt that it is a beautiful thing that this is our community of filmmakers. We all know each other well and all have now taken on a similar challenge and it's been fascinating to see what each of us has done with the project. I think the films are only getting better, more bold, and more aesthetically intriguing.

ABC will be screening them as of tomorrow night and on into February and, no doubt, I'll do my fair share of spruiking starting from here. Watch them. If you miss them, watch them anywhere else they screen. They are really damned fine docos.

So, now, with these films screening now and ours well and truly under the bed, the third season is being filmed with Alethea Jones, Paola Morabito and Kim Munro directing 'Nerve', 'Hair' and 'Tissue' respectively. It will be interesting to see how far these go, and the series as a whole.

All of this is really a kinda self indulgent way of discussing what I think is the most interesting thing about this project. And that is that these series have been fueled by the faith and investment the producers have made into younger filmmakers. This is by no means a suckjob. The fact is that the energy these producers put into relatively untested and emerging filmmakers is inspiring particularly because it has become so unusual in other quarters of Australian filmmaking. I know a little story about these guys that underscores their approach: While they were in artschool and uni, frustrated at the fortresses of culture in Australia at the time - the closed doors guarded by aging bastions of what was worthy - these filmmakers made a vow with some other art and film school colleagues (including the sublime eX de Medici) that when they ended up in positions of power they would always ensure those doors were left open. Unlike so many other vows people make in times like these, they honoured it. And they continue to honour that vow through projects like these and other projects.

I wish there were clips to link to but until they premiere on ABC tomorrow night 1st February (Eye), Tuesday 8th (Mind) and Tuesday 15th (Face) there is little else to share but good vibes and best wishes for the screenings.

Favourites #2

While I have a thousand other things to finish, I keep getting sucked back into writing a new script I've had burning away called 'Lover'. It may be self evident that there is a whole lot of loving in the film. I'm a sucker for a great lovers scene - Beatrice Dalle and Jean Hugues Anglade trying to pull the couch out in '37º2 Le Matin' is one of my favourites even though there is no sex, only laughter, clumsiness and nudity - but in fact, they are few and far between. Great filmmakers become ham-fisted fools when trying to create the complexity of intimacy and sex. I only recently saw Miloš Forman's 'Loves of a Blonde' for the first time. And, immediately, this has become one of my favourite scenes, even though the sex itself is elided. Hell, it was 1965 and it still feels more intimate, frank and sexy than the overcooked sequences that seem to characterise filmmaking in the 90s and 00s.

Friday, January 28, 2011

To Market, To Market #1

Apparently there is wind in the sails of independent film once again. A report from Sundance this morning by the esteemed Mr Ted Hope was published in the Huffington Post in which he wrote:

Yes, the business of indie film is back. The rapidity, volume, and consistency of deals blossoming ($30M and counting!) at Sundance should give investors more confidence that you no longer have to rely just on foreign; the US acquisition climate seems quite robust again. Whew. But the good news does not end there.

Indie Film has been infected by a new breed that -- like those that came before them -- refuses to ask for permission. But unlike the earlier wave, their go-get-them attitude doesn't stop at production, it extends into all the pillars of cinema -- from discovery and participation on through production, distro, appreciation, and presentation. The content, the form, the plans of cinema are not only for re-examination, but the rules have been thrown out. Time to get out of the way, and let the fresh air disrupt the stale space.
He goes onto cite some specific examples of this re-energised activity - a significant counter to the marketplace misery of the last few years and concludes:
We are at time of change -- but as someone pointed out to me, what is so great about the now we are in, is that the new breed recognizes change as a constant. They will not take this moment for granted. They accept the fluidity of all.
Through this article. I relinked and was reminded of this pretty extraordinary 2008 rally cry for a "Truly Free Film" culture from Mr Hope a couple of years back. It's worth revisiting and reposting. The original is here. Check it out. Most folks are following the truly free film discussions as they develop and shift and change but if you're not, Mr Hope is the place to touch base.
A Thousand Phoenix Rising
How The New Truly Free Filmmaking Community Will Rise From Indie’s Ashes
Film Independent Filmmakers’ Forum Keynote 9/27/08

I can’t talk about the “crisis” of the indie film industry. There is no crisis. The country is in crisis. The economy is in crisis. We, the filmmakers, aren’t in crisis.

The business is changing, but for us –us who are called Indie Filmmakers — that’s good that the business is changing. Filmmaking is an incredible privilege and we need to accept it as such – and accept the full responsibility that comes with that privilege.

The proclamations of Indie Film’s demise are grossly exaggerated. How can there be a “Death Of Indie” when Indie — real Indie, True Indie — has yet to even live?

Yes, there’s a profound paradigm shift, and that shift is the coming of true independence. The hope of this new independence is being threatened even before it has arrived. Are we going to fight for our independence and can we even shoulder the responsibility that independence requires? That is: will we ban together and work for our communal needs? Are we ready to leave dreams of stardom and wealth behind us?

When someone says, “Indie is dead”, they are talking about the state of the Indie Film Business, as opposed to what are actually the films themselves. They can say “The sky is falling” because for the last fifteen years, the existing power base in the film industry has focused on films fit for the existing business model, as opposed to ever truly concentrating on creating a business model for the films that filmmakers want to make.

This is where we are right now: on the verge of a TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE, one that is driven by both the creators and the audiences, pulled down by the audience and not pushed onto them by those that control the apparatus and the supply. We now have the power and this remarkable tool for something different, but will we fight to preserve the Internet, the tool that offers us our new freedom? Can we banish the dream of golden distribution deals, and move away from asking others to distribute and market it for us? Can we accept that being a filmmaker means taking responsibility for your films, the primary responsibility, all the way through the process? That is independence and that is freedom.

Indie, True Indie, is in its infancy. The popular term “Indie” is a distortion, growing out of our communal laziness and complacency – our willingness to be marketed blandly and not specifically. Our culture is vast and diverse, and we need to celebrate these differences, not diminish them. It’s time to put that term “Indie” to rest.

Independence is within our reach, but we but we have to do what we have never done before: we have to choose.

It’s a lot like the Presidential election. And it’s also a lot like psychotherapy: we have to ask ourselves if the pain we are experiencing presently is enough to motivate us to overcome the fear inherent in change itself.

We have to change our behavior and make that choice. We have to choose the type of culture we want. We have to choose the type of films we want available to us. We have to choose whether the Internet is the corporations or ours. We have to choose whether we decide for ourselves whether a film is worthwhile or whether we let those same corporations decide. We have to choose who are audiences are and how we are to reach them. We have to choose how we can all best contribute to this new system. And as we act on those choices, we have to get others to make a choice too.

For the last fifteen years our Community has made huge strides at demystifying the production process and providing access to the financing and distribution gatekeepers. Some call this democratization, but it is not. This demystification of production was a great first step, but it is not give the filmmaker real power; generally speaking we are still there with our hat in our hands. In some ways, understanding the great behemoth that is production is also a distraction. It has distracted us from making really good films. And as it has distracted us from gaining the knowledge and seizing the power that is available to us. We have learned how to make films and how to bring them to market. We now have to demystify how to market and distribute films, and to do it in a way truly suited to the films we are making and desire to make.

Don’t get me wrong the last fifteen years have been great. The Indie Period – as I suspect history will call it — has brought us a far more diverse array of films than we had previously. It got better; we got more choices – but that is still not freedom. We are still in a damn similar place to the way it was back when cinema was invented 100 years ago. And it’s time we moved to a new term, to the period of a Truly Free Film Culture.

If we want the freedom to tell the stories we want to tell, we all have to start to contribute to build the infrastructure that can support them. We need to step back from the glamour of making all these films, and instead help each other build the links, articulate the message, make the commitments, that will turn us truly into a Truly Free Film community. We have to stop making so many films.

The work before us is a major readjustment that will require many sacrifices. We must redesign the business structure for what the films actually are. We have to recognize that a Truly Free Film Culture is quite different from Studio Films and even different from the prestige film that the specialized distributors make. But look at what we gain: we will stop self-censoring our work to fit a business model that was appropriated from Hollywood and their mass market films to begin with. We will reach out to the audiences that are hungry for something new, for something truthful, for something about the world they experience, for something that is as complex as the emotions they feel. We can let them guide us because for the first time we can have real access and contact with them.

Presently, we are divided and conquered by a system that preys upon our dreams of success, encouraging us to squander collective progress on false hopes of personal enrichment. We follow the herd and only lead reluctantly. If we want Truly Free Films we have to stop dreaming of wealth, and take the job of building the community and support system.

For the last decade and a half, we have been myopically focused on production. Using Sundance submissions as a barometer, our production ability has increased eight and half times over — 850% — from 400 to 3600 films in fifteen years.

C’mon! What are we doing? Wasting a tremendous amount of energy, talent, and brainpower – that much is clear. If the average budget of Sundance submissions is $500K, that means the aggregate production costs are $1.8 billion dollars a year. That’s a hell of a lot of money to lose annually. And you can bet the Indie World isn’t going to get a government bail out like Wall Street and the Banking Industry have.

We need to recognize the responsibility of telling unique stories in unique ways. We are frequently innovators and groundbreakers, but that brings additional responsibilities. Working at the intersection of art and commerce requires consideration for those that come after us. It is our responsibility to do all within our power to deliver a positive financial return. If we lose money, it is a lot harder for those that follow us. With a debt of $1.8 billion per annum you can bet it will be a lot harder for a lot of people. And it should be – but it didn’t need to be.

We don’t get better films or build audiences by picking up cameras. Despite this huge boom in production, the number of truly talented uniquely voiced auteurs produced annually remains unchanged. What’s happened instead is the infrastructure has rusted, the industry has failed to innovate, and we are standing on a precipice begging the giant to banish us into oblivion. Rebuilding that infrastructure, bringing good work to hungry audiences is a far greater glory than another celluloid trophy for only you to stare at.

There is a silver lining too in this dark cloud of over production that they like to call The Glut. As a young man I never found peace until I moved to New York City; the calm I found in New York, is explained by a line of Woody Allen’s: “in New York, you always know what you are missing”. What’s great about a surplus of options – and we have that now, and not just from movies, but also from the web, from books, from games – what’s great is that you have to make a choice. You have to commit. And you have to commit in advance.

The business model of the current entertainment industry is predicated on consumers not making choices but acting on impulses. Choice comes from research, from knowledge, and from tastes. Speak to someone from Netflix, and they will tell you that the longer someone is a member, the more their tastes move to auteurs, to quality film. Once we all wake up and realize that with films, as frankly with everything, we have to be thoughtful, and tastes will change. We have to make it a choice, a choice for, and not an impulse.

We are now in a cultural war and not just the red state/blue state, participate vs. obey kind, not just the kind of cultural war that politicians seem to want to break this country down to. We are in a culture war in terms of what we get to see, enjoy and make. The Lovers Of Cinema have been losing this war because the Makers have invested in a dream of Prince Charming, content to have him sweep down, pick us up, and sing that rags to riches refrain even if it comes but once a year to one lucky filmmaker out of 3,600.

So what is this TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE I am proposing? It is one that utilizes first and foremost the remarkable tool that is The Internet. It is the internet that transforms the culture business from a business that is based around limited supply and the rule of gatekeepers to a business that around the fulfillment of all audience desire, and not just the desire of mass audiences, but also of the niches.

We have never had this sort opportunity before and the great tragedy is that just as we are learning what it means, forces are vying to take it away from us. The principal that all information, all creators, all audiences should be treated equally within the structure that is the Internet is popularly referred to as Net Neutrality. The Telecos, the Cable Companies, and their great ally, the Hollywood Motion Picture Studios and their MPAA are now trying to end that equality. And with it you will lose the opportunity to be TRULY FREE FILMMAKERS. But they are not going to succeed because we are going to ban together and organize; we are going to save the Internet, and keep equal access for all. Right?

A TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE will respect the audience’s needs and desires as much as Indie currently respects the filmmakers. A TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE recognizes film as a dialogue and recognizes that a dialogue requires a community. Participants in a TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE work to participate in that community, work to get others to participate in that community. We work to get others to make a choice, to make a choice about what they want to do, what they want to see. We all become curators. We all promote the films we love. We reach out and mobilize others to vote with their feet, vote with their eyes, and vote with their dollars, to not act on impulses, but on knowledge and experience.

A TRULY FREE FILMMAKER — be they producer or director — recognizes their responsibility is not just to find a good script, not just to find a good cast, a good package. A TRULY FREE FILMMAKER recognizes that they must do more than find the funding, and even more than justifying that funding. The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER now recognizes their responsibility is to also find the audience, grow the audience, expand the audience, and then also to move the audience, not just emotionally, but also literally: to move them onwards further to other things. Whether it is by direct contact, email blasts, or blogging, whatever it is, express what you want our culture to be. And express it to all you know.

The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER also recognizes that knowledge is a true power, and that ownership is a false power. The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER recognizes that others, as many others as possible, sharing in that knowledge will make everything better: the films, the apparatus, the business, and the just plain pleasure of participating. We are walking into new territory and we best map it out together.

The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER is no longer bound to just the 5 or 6 reel length to tell their stories. The TRULY FREE FILMMAKER is no longer bound to projection as the primary audience platform and is not stuck on the one film one theater one-week type of release.

It is this thing that we once called the Independent Community that is the sector that truly innovates. The lower cost of our creations allows for greater risks. It is what we used to call “Indies” that has innovated on a technical level, on a content level, on a story telling approach, and it is this, the TRULY FREE FILM CULTURE that will innovate still further in the future of distribution.

With the passion that produces 3600 films a year, with just a portion of those resources, we can build a new infrastructure that opens up new audiences, new models, and new revenue streams that can build a true alternative to the mainstream culture that has been force fed us for years. We are on the verge of truly opening up what can be told, how it is told, to whom it is told, and where is told. We can seize it, but it requires that we embrace the full responsibility of what independence means.

Independence requires knowing your film inside and out. Knowing not just what you are choosing to do, but what you have chosen not to do. Independence comes with knowing that you have fully considered all your options. It is knowing your audience, knowing how to reach them – and not abstractly, but concretely.

I can assure you too, that this work of slowing down on our projects, learning their possibilities fully, finding their audiences, owning our audiences, not only will make our films better, but it will also get them made; for it will create that evasive air of inevitability around your projects that gets films financed. It will also lead you into the real challenge of reaching that audience and earning directly the reward of true interaction with them.

Let’s make the next ten years about seizing our independence, killing “indie” film, and bringing forth a Truly Free Film Culture.

Thank you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wonder #2 - digitalia

Probably best not to sit too close... you may fall off the edge of the world.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Circuit Breaker

Slowing down when you've spent a long time at full throttle is tricky.

Lucky we have friends who can throw on the handbrake.

A weekend away. Lazy light. Deep dam swims. Afternoon drinking. Beautiful song. Damned foolishness. Dawn dancing. Acting like kids. These are the circuit breakers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Fellow traveller Eron Sheehan left our little hub a few years back to take up a residency in the Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany where he went to develop the screenplay and project for his feature film 'Errors of the Human Body'. If you've seen any of his shorts (like Fish, Bing and William), you'll know he is a freakishly talented man with the unique quality of deep emotional and narrative understanding and a truly WTF mind capable of generating ideas from out in the furthest reaches of the ether. It's a crime that he has not been able to get this film up in recent years - attempting to work both with agencies and investors from here and his collaborators and investors in Germany. It speaks volumes of our local industry that he has not been supported in this project. Extracting it from Australia, he has raised the money solely within Germany and is now three weeks away from shooting. There is, as always, a shortfall, and Eron is using kickstarter to raise some funds. I know the readership of this little blog is kinda tiny but do check out this project and seriously consider supporting Eron's filmmaking. More and more, this is the only way it is going to be possible to support the work of filmmakers who want to keep us excited about what cinema can be.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To The Snow

Fellow travellers - hailing from the fine state of South Australia, the insanely prolific and lovely Closer Productions - Matt Bate, Sophie Hyde and Brian Mason - are winging their way over to Sundance to premiere their new feature doco SHUT UP LITTLE MAN - an Audio Misadventure. It is one of three new films they will be releasing in the coming months. These are damned fine filmmakers and damned fine folks. So, with big love, all the best of luck over there. Dig on the twisted, weirdness of their flick:

Clip 1 - Family Fun

Clip 2 - Eddie Can't Sleep

Monday, January 17, 2011


This is a link to a lazy afternoon piece I cut together for friend and collab Stefan Duscio who shot all the beautiful images. It is one of an ongoing series* of skate atmos pieces Stefan has been working on; films about those blissed out, sweaty, aching mornings, afternoons and nights you can never get back, particularly if, like me, you're getting too old and crusty to hit the concrete. Cutting this together, albeit with stolen tracks from Eluvium and Broken Social Scene, was a great escape...

Sunday from Stefan Duscio on Vimeo.

You can see more of Stefan's beautiful work here. He's got a couple of new features coming out this year so I imagine 2011 will be a busy one.

*we hope... there is an unfinished one of a Brooklyn skate session currently sitting on the hard drive... sorry Stef'

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wonder #1

Increasingly, the world is an open book. A rough draft of life as we'd like to live it. We now trade in the betrayal of people's secrets, modesty and privacy. Creativity is visible as it evolves, people's diaries lie open on the web, and social sharing demands a continual spill of information.

So, the story of Vivian Maier is a beautiful thing. Vivian was an intensely private woman who worked throughout her life as a nanny in Chicago. When she died in 2009 she left behind over a 100,000 negatives of photographs taken throughout her life. These images were prescient of 20th century photographic movements and her street photography is beyond belief. John Maloof, who discovered her negatives publishes them in a blog and is now working on a film about her life.* Spend some time with them. Although she may never have allowed the post-humous rupture to her privacy, her images are a world of their own that invites the deepest exploration.

The wonder of it...

An authorial glimpse...

all the above images are by Vivian Maier and are copyrighted under Maloof Collection.

*John Maloof, author of the blog and champion of her work explains:
"Some have suggested that I add more information on the story of Vivian's work and such. Here is what I know.

I acquired Vivian's negatives while at a furniture and antique auction. From what I know, the auction house acquired her belongings from her storage locker that was sold off due to delinquent payments. I didn't know what 'street photography' was when I purchased them.

It took me days to look through all of her work. It inspired me to pick up photography myself. Little by little, as I progressed as a photographer, I would revisit Vivian's negatives and I would "see" more in her work. I bought her same camera and took to the same streets soon to realize how difficult it was to make images of her caliber. I discovered the eye she had for photography through my own practice. Needless to say, I am attached to her work.

After some researching, I have only little information about Vivian. Central Camera (110 yr old camera shop in Chicago) has encountered Vivian from time to time when she would purchase film while out on the Chicago streets. From what they knew of her, they say she was a very "keep your distance from me" type of person but was also outspoken. She loved foreign films and didn't care much for American films.

Some of her photos have pictures of children and often times it was near a beach. I later found out she was a nanny for a family on the North Side whose children these most likely were. One of her obituaries states that she lived in Oak Park, a close Chicago suburb, but I later found that she lived in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Out of the more than 100,000 negatives I have in the collection, about 20-30,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960's-1970's. I have been successfully developing these rolls. I must say, it's very exciting for me. Most of her negatives that were developed in sleeves have the date and location penciled in French (she had poor penmanship).

I found her name written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope. I decided to 'Google' her about a year after I purchased these only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She passed only a couple of days before that inquiry on her.

I wanted to meet her in person well before I found her obituary but, the auction house had stated she was ill, so I didn't want to bother her. So many questions would have been answered if I had."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Face Review

The most excellent Andrea Distefano who works with me here at Daybreak switched me onto this new blog that one of her peeps has just started up. Face Review. After you've seen a film, take a photo of your face and send it on to the blog. They'll post it as the review. That is all. Ace.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Resolutions #1

Scott Macauly has written a great blog for Filmmaker about some 2011 resolutions for filmmakers. Here is a quick summation (but definitely check it out if you have a soft spot for lists and resolutions like I do):
1. Amplify your voice.
2. Improve your social.
3. See the Essential 100.
4. Work for a friend.
5. Make more than you did last year.
6. Make one piece in a different form.
7. Read more.
8. Review your productivity and alter your creative behavior.
9. Learn a new skill.
10. Change your viewing practices.
I've taken the liberty of thieving the inspiration behind his note and combined it with some of my more recent personal vows (of which there are many and varied scattershot pledges most of which involve bars and late nights but which I've not bothered to put up here).

1. Pursue Distillation. I am inherently scattered and spongelike in the way I pursue things. I get very excited very easily about projects and can easily veer from the foundation blocks of the things I'm working on.

2. Make More Drama. In work and in life. Drama is hard. It couldn't be more out of vogue in film, but character drama, humanism, the everyday of sex, love, laughter, lust and desire, and, above all, the secret, sublime stillness in those moments of connection within our lives is what I really give a fuck about. It's hard to make people believe in this. So I plan to make more noise, make more drama, about making more drama.

3. Make More. Just make a hell of a lot more.

4. Find Stillness. In images and in life. It's there to be found.

5. Honour our poets.

6. Declutter my viewing, listening, reading. And watch, really watch. No books open, phones flickering, laptops humming.

7. Invite other people in. Always.

8. Make more dumplings, stews, paellas and curry pastes. (not film related but one of the best ways to get the hell away from the world every now and then is to cook something slooooowly.)

9. Move swiftly with the appearance of moving slowly. Like some kind of ninja. Yup. I said it.

10. Take time to watch and dig and pass time with all the work friends are doing.

That is all. Forgive the earnest approach in recent blogs. It's that kind of year.

Monday, January 10, 2011


"If you don't risk yourself and the people with whom you're working in almost every shot you make, it's not good, it's useless, it's just another film"
Pedro Costa

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Taking Up Arms #1

There are always periods of productivity in past eras that it's easy to get lost in or obsess over. Nostalgia. False memories. Naive desire. When I was just out of school and trying to impress girls, be a better human and read literary heavyweights, I got all excitable about the writers and salons of the 20s in Paris, in London and then in New York. Then, later, as I formed cinema obsessions with neorealism and later, the New Wave, I romanticised both Rome and Paris in the 50s and 60s. I had no interest in the cities, just in the fervour of the period. Later it would be Mexico City and Barcelona in the 70s, or Granada in the 1910s or Manchester in the 80s. It's foolish and absurd when you're a thousand kilometres away and displaced by several decades but wherever there was a cluster of activity - where writers and filmmakers and artists and ex-cons and hustlers and critics and musicians and pretenders gathered and made noise and mess and great, wondrous things - I wanted to be there.

Through all these obsessions I've never been one to obsess over late 60s and 70s New York, even though so many of the musicians and artists and filmmakers I love were shaped by, or part of this era. Just these past days, however, I read Patti Smith's lovesong to Robert Mapplethorpe 'Just Kids' and I think I've found the romantic view of this period that I was looking for. This memoir - a distillation of a period of time in which Smith and Mapplethorpe were finding their shape and life as artists, while deeply in love with each other and their view of the world - is such a beautiful, dense and simple expression of the desire to make, to be, to do. And, through Smith's eyes, it seemed it was everywhere around her.

Perhaps because I've been lost for a while in projects in which individual voices are suspended in honour of the collective, in which the shape and importance of the whole is diminished by a lone voice, it is a beautiful thing to read these voices trying to find the right form for their internal language. It was sometime before Mapplethorpe found his photography, and some time before Patti Smith found her distinctive sound, but all along was the purity of their form and their belief in that. As a writer and poet and artist, Smith took some time to shape her lyrical, poetic rock but when she finally did, this is what she found:
"We imagined ourselves as the Sons of Liberty with a mission to preserve, protect, and project the revolutionary spirit of rock and roll. We feared that the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation. We feared it losing its sense of purpose, we feared it falling into fattened hands, we feared it floundering in a mire of spectacle, finance and vapid technical complexity. We would call forth in our minds the image of Paul Revere, riding through the American night, petitioning people to wake up, to take up arms. We too would take up arms, the arms of our generation, the electric guitar and the microphone." (p245)
And only a few pages earlier, while searching for the ghosts of Rimbaud, Smith visits Jim Morrison's recent grave - already showing signs of the graffiti, tributes, mementos, desecrations - and an old French woman calls out to her,
"American! Why do you not honour your poets?"
Perhaps these periods of fervent creativity are romanticised because of the purity of vision expressed by the boldest voices of the time. In this contemporary era, art is above all else, collectible, film, above all, commercial, music, above all, popular. Each of these elements working always to diminish the purity, boldness, concentration of a practitioner trying to find the perfect form for their voice, their vision, their ideas and ideals. It is a romantic view. And it is precisely this romanticism that has been beaten into submission by the devaluing of an individual artist at the same time as individual celebration of sports, celebrity or pop identities has surpassed all previous eras. I don't pretend to have any idea how this happens or why, only that in film at least, to be as arrogant as to position your world view as separate from commercial concerns is a hangable offence. Yet, always it's been those people brave, dumb or stubborn enough to honour these simple yet ephemeral ideals of what it is 'inside' us - the voice, the spirit, the heart, the mind - who make the art that allows us to see differently, to live freely - if only for a moment - and to glimpse more closely the elusive interior.

Since long before I read about Patti Smith, music infused with the spirit of punk is still my only lasting saviour - that can be made amid solitude or poverty or geographic isolation, without tools and resources and connections - and somehow find it's way into peoples hearts if not in to their wallets. If only film could rediscover that spirit.
"We feared it losing its sense of purpose, we feared it falling into fattened hands, we feared it floundering in a mire of spectacle, finance and vapid technical complexity."
In 'Just Kids' Smith honours poets that I had never previously been interested in, she makes them live in a way that is thrilling and idealistic and romantic and a perfect antidote and an anti-manifesto to the creative cynicism that pervades our era.

Girls and Cigarettes #4

Dominique Sanda in '1900'. Seriously.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Me and Her #1

"The her that lived in her looked out through her eyes, through my eyes and at the me that lives in me."
David Mitchell, 'Ghostwritten'

Words: David Mitchell
Images: Pedro Meyer

Resolutions #1

I'm superstitious in the following ways:

I always knock on wood.

That is all.

However, I am kinda superstitious about the way I start the year. I have this sense that the films I watch or albums I listen to or books I read in the first hours of a new year will affect the year to come. I don't usually engineer what I do watch I just try and avoid any shit that might give me bad luck or bad vibes or bad juju for the year ahead. So this year, I started my January 1st with a windowside session reading Patti Smith's 'Just Kids', a screening of 'I Am Cuba' (Mikhail Kalatozov) until the DVD froze, when I switched to a screening of Kelly Reichardt's 'Old Joy', and I listened to a collection of what I always think of as brawl music - Daughters and Pissed Jeans - although, my brother and I also played some Katy Perry at one point in the day for a quick dance-off before we hit the beach.*

So, whatever the fuck this all means for the year to come, I'll let you know.

*I know what you're thinking but, hell, we were staying in a massive white walled glass and mirrors beachside penthouse which we received inadvertently when the real estate agent made an error and was unable to provide our much more modest booking. They had no other places available and were kicking and screaming at having to provide a druglords penthouse to us but my step-dad caused an almighty ruckus until they did. Consumer victory! So what choice did we have but to play lots of Katy Perry? Really. I am sure druglords play her all the time.