31 August 2008

Herzog and Lynch

Oh, weird. I had just mentioned how I am going through a mini-retrospective of Lynch films, followed by one of Herzog. Turns out that it was announced in this past Cannes Film Festival that they are pairing up for a horror film titled My Son, My Son set to start shooting later next year. The news is a little late I suppose, but it's new to me. Just a weird little coincidence. Short article here.

28 August 2008

An Interruption by Herzog

I started my Lynch mini-retrospective recently and am eager to write some things that I have found so far from the enigmatic auteur, but today I was interrupted from the world of Lynch by an even more enigmatic figure: Werner Herzog. After my Lynch mini-retrospective I planned on doing one for Herzog, another director I am very intrigued and unfamiliar with. By some strange coincidence, as I was flipping through channels today I came upon Les Blank's 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams, a documentary about the insane production of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. I happened upon the film from the beginning and watched it the whole way through.

I was instantly drawn into Herzog who described his vision for the story to the camera like someone who just awoke from sleep and was telling his dreams. The film takes place in the Amazonian rainforets of South America and involves hundreds of native indian extras, ships, tribal wars, lost hopes, death, impossibilities, delays, four years of work and waiting, and a very restless Klaus Kinski. Throughout the film Herzog takes up most of the screen time, directly addressing the camera and Blank's questions. His demeanor is seemingly calm and serene, even amongst the chaos that surrounds him. At one point, however, towards the end of the documentary, Herzog describes the Amazonian jungle as chaos, madness, and death - that it is full of "fornication and murder."

This really struck me, because many times we have a romanticist view of nature as being in harmony and part of some ideal, but really that may just be what we get from TV programs and films. Herzog goes on to say that if there was a God that he created these jungles in anger and contempt. The jungle is not in harmony; it is in chaos. The birds are not singing; every second they are crying out in pain. This is a jungle more akin to the Heart of Darkness. Even so, Herzog goes on to say at last that he does not hate the jungle despite all of that; he loves the jungle, though he loves it against his better judgment.

This theme of the madness of the jungle and remote wilderness seems to be of intense interest to Herzog and I thought that his insights were incredibly interesting. I could already see the relationship between man and nature as the central conflict in his films, even basing my observation solely on two more recent films of his that I've seen - Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn. In Burden of Dreams, that same conflict is shown to exist not just for the characters or persons in Herzog's films, but for him and his crew as well in making their films in such locations. Herzog's dedication to the film and belief in his vision and dream despite such chaos is really amazing to me. Now, of course, I cannot wait to see Fitzcarraldo and his other work, especially the work he has done with Kinski, who looks and sounds like some kind of mad genius. This quip in a Wikipedia article on him really intrigued me:

"Kinski was an extremely hard worker and strove for perfection, but was frequently at odds with collaborators and directors. On one infamous occasion Kinski hurled a lit candelabra from the stage at an audience deemed insufficiently appreciative, almost burning the theatre down. On another, while filming Aguirre: The Wrath of God, irritated by the noise from a hut where cast and crew were playing cards, Kinski fired three shots at it, blowing the top joint off one extra's finger."

I will still wait to watch the other Herzog films until I've gone through my planned Lynch films, though I am definitely impatient to get started. And if you have not seen Burden of Dreams, I would highly recommend it.

27 August 2008

New Look!

I changed my blog up a bit and picked a new template. It's one of the default ones with really minor modifications so it's not that special, but I felt I needed a change. I also changed the banner picture and the title of the blog, which I think looks much better. The picture is a modified still of one of my favorite movies, Le Samourai by Jean-Pierre Melville. NAIVE CINEMA is a play off "Naive Melody" which is the parenthetical title of "This Must Be the Place," the Talking Heads song I previously used as a blog title. I almost automatically picked "This Must Be the Place" when I first made this blog because it is my favorite song, though I had no idea what it had to do with movies or the content of this blog. Since this is essentially a movie blog, I decided to give it a movie-centered title - simple as that. "Naive" can mean a few things, but basically I think it has to do with a simplicity in thinking and in responding to things. I often feel I am very naive when watching films, and even afterward when I try to be critical or analytical, objectively I do seem a bit naive and artless. I don't think it is necessarily a negative term, but more of a reminder to myself that no matter how much I may talk about a film's good or bad points, in the end it's a matter of how it affects me in a simple, straightforward way; in the end it's more of a mystical thing. Makes sense? Of course not; it's all so naive.

25 August 2008

Excerpts from the Spanish Diary

Published: August 20, 2008
(Reproduced from the New York Times)

RECEIVED offer to write and direct film in Barcelona. Must be cautious. Spain is sunny, and I freckle. Money not great either, but agent did manage to get me a 10th of 1 percent of anything the picture does over $400 million after break even.

Have no idea for Barcelona unless the story of the two Hackensack Jews who start a mail-order embalming firm could be switched.


Met with Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. She’s ravishing and more sexual than I had imagined. During interview my pants caught fire. Bardem is one of those brooding geniuses who clearly will need a firm hand from me.


Offered role to Scarlett Johansson. Said before she could accept, script must be approved by her agent, then by her mother, with whom she’s close. Following that it must be approved by her agent’s mother. In middle of negotiation she changed agents — then changed mothers. She’s gifted but can be a handful.


Arrived Barcelona. Accommodations first class. Hotel has been promised half star next year provided they install running water.


Shooting got off to a shaky start. Rebecca Hall, though young and in her first major role, is a bit more temperamental than I thought and had me barred from the set. I explained the director must be present to direct the film. Try as I may, I could not convince her and had to disguise as man delivering lunch to sneak back on the set.


Work finally under way. Shot a torrid love scene today between Scarlett and Javier. If this were a scant few years ago, I would have played Javier’s part. When I mentioned that to Scarlett, she said, “Uh-huh,” with an enigmatic intonation. Scarlett came late to the set. I lectured her rather sternly, explaining I do not tolerate tardiness from my cast. She listened respectfully, although as I spoke I thought I noticed her turning up her iPod.


Barcelona is a marvelous city. Crowds turn out in the streets to watch us work. Mercifully they realize I’ve no time to give autographs, and so they ask only the cast members. Later I handed out some 8-by-10 photos of myself shaking hands with Spiro Agnew and offered to sign them, but by then the crowd had dispersed.


Filmed at La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. Was thinking I have much in common with the great Spanish architect. We both defy convention, he with his breathtaking designs and me by wearing a lobster bib in the shower.


Dailies are looking good, and while Javier’s idea to add a massive Martian invasion scene complete with a thousand costumed extras and elaborate flying saucers is not a very good one, I will shoot it to make him happy and cut it in the editing room.


Scarlett came to me today with one of those questions actors ask, “What’s my motivation?” I shot back, “Your salary.” She said fine but that she needed a lot more motivation to continue. About triple. Otherwise she threatened to walk. I called her bluff and walked first. Then she walked. Now we were rather far apart and had to yell to be heard. Then she threatened to hop. I hopped too, and soon we were at an impasse. At the impasse I ran into friends, and we all drank, and of course I got stuck with the check.


Once again I had to help Javier with the lovemaking scenes. The sequence requires him to grab Penélope Cruz, tear off her clothes and ravish her in the bedroom. Oscar winner that he is, the man still needs me to show him how to play passion. I grabbed Penélope and with one motion tore her clothes off. As fate would have it she had not yet changed into costume, so it was her own expensive dress I mutilated. Undaunted I flung her down before the fireplace and dove on top of her. Minx that she is, she rolled away a split second before I landed causing me to fracture certain key teeth on the tile floor. Fine day’s work, and I should be able to eat solids by August.


Dailies looking rather brilliant. Probably too early to start planning Academy campaign. Still, a few notes for an acceptance speech might just save me some time later.

AUG. 3

I suppose it comes with the territory. As director one is part teacher, part shrink, part father figure, guru. Is it any wonder then that as the weeks have passed, Scarlett and Penélope have both developed crushes on me? The fragile female heart. I notice poor Javier looking on enviously as the actresses bed me with their eyes, but I’ve explained to the boy that unbridled feminine desire for a cinema icon, particularly one who wears a sneer of cold command, is to be expected. Meanwhile when I approach the set each morning bathed and freshly scented, between Scarlett and Penélope there is a virtual feeding frenzy. I never like mixing business with pleasure, but I may have to slake the lust of each one in turn to get the film completed. Perhaps I can give Penélope Wednesdays and Fridays, satisfying Scarlett Tuesdays and Thursdays. Like alternate-side parking. That would leave Monday free for Rebecca, whom I stopped just in time from tattooing my name on her thigh. I’ll have a drink with the ladies in the cast after filming and set some ground rules. Maybe the old system of ration coupons could work.

AUG. 10

Directed Javier in emotional scene today. Had to give him line readings. As long as he imitates me he’s fine. The minute he tries his own acting choices he’s lost. Then he weeps and wonders how he’ll survive when I’m no longer his director. I explained politely but firmly that he must do the best he can without me and to try to remember the tips I’ve given him. I know he was cheered because when I left his trailer, he and his friends were howling with laughter.

AUG. 20

Made love with Scarlett and Penélope simultaneously in an effort to keep them happy. Ménage gave me great idea for the climax of the movie. Rebecca kept pounding on the door, and I finally let her in, but those Spanish beds are too small to handle four, and when she joined, I kept getting bounced to the floor.

AUG. 25

End production today. Wrap party as usual a little sad. Slow danced with Scarlett. Broke her toe. Not my fault. When she dipped me back, I stepped on it.

Penélope and Javier anxious to work with me again. Said if I ever come up with another screenplay to try and find them. Goodbye drink with Rebecca. Sentimental moment. Everyone in cast and crew chipped in and bought me a ballpoint pen. Have decided to call film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Studio heads have seen all the dailies. Apparently they love every frame, and there is talk of opening it at a leper colony. It’s lonely at the top.

22 August 2008

Woody, Oh Woody

Until roughly two years ago, around the time I started working at Barnes & Noble, I had never seen a Woody Allen film. Coincidental with and probably because of a budding "serious" interest in film (not to mention the enthusiasm of a certain co-worker) I bought Annie Hall on a half whim. The film opens with Woody - bespectacled, looking at you and then fidgeting away with quick head bobs and hand gestures, dressed in a tweed jacket and flannel button up - telling a joke which sums up his view that life is "full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness and [that] its over much too quickly." The fact that he uses a joke to describe a life philosophy that is so dim instantly attracted me - the combination of humor, intelligence, and sadness struck a chord that has had me coming back to Woody Allen time and time again.

Two years later and I have watched many more Woody Allen films, though not nearly all of his 30+ full length features, and read his absurdist prose and drama. What really draws me in is his repeated life philosophy of despair at the human condition and the inevitability of not knowing, accepting it, and taking things as they come, usually to try to find some kind of meaning in work, relationships, or love. This is succinctly summed up in the scene in Hannah and Her Sisters when Woody's character is depressed about having to think about life after a shock with what he thought was a cancer in his body. He watches the Marx Bros.' Duck Soup and reflects on how life is so sad and miserable, but that there are these moments we cherish and that give it all some meaning; watching these funny people on the screen that give us some sense of magic and that make us laugh. The way his character reflects on that Marx Bros. film is the same way I feel when I watch his films.

I am reflecting like this because I recently saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the latest Woody Allen film. I haven't seen many of the newer films - in fact, I haven't seen anything past 1997's Deconstructing Harry - but I was looking forward to seeing the film after some good press. I also wanted to see Penelope Cruz's performance and, admittedly, to find another reason to hate Scarlett Johansson.

The film was very good and it is fun to watch other people make the Woody Allen mannerisms - twitchy, neurotic speaking, vocabulary that is a bit larger-than-necessary - such as Rebecca Hall or even Javier Bardem through a very thick Spanish accent and edge of seduction. Scarlett Johansson sucked pretty bad, but I thought her character was written in an interesting way. At different times I identified with certain feelings and outlooks of different characters, usually those that reflected the aforementioned Woody life philosophy: Juan Antonio's view of the pleasures of art and culture giving meaning to a world devoid of one (though, of course, his view was much too close to hedonism for me to completely resonate with, especially in terms of sex); Vicky's attachment to academia and uncertainty of what good it will do other than enjoyment of learning itself and her desire to do the right thing; Cristina's artful artlessness and restlessness.

The last of these, Cristina's artlessness, struck me at one point. During the picnic scene in which Maria Elena asks Cristina if she plays an instrument she replies in a half-restrained, embarrassed, and flustered manner that she does not and that she does not have any talent for things, which she is sorry to have to admit. She goes on to say that she feels that it is a shame because she feels that she has a high sensibility for things and has good taste and a lot to say, but that she is ultimately talentless (or something along those lines). That confession kind of resonated with me in a way I didn't expect. I often feel exactly the same way. Inside of me I feel like I have the qualities and intuition of an artist or at least an artistic person, but ultimately I have nothing to show for it. I dabbled in different mediums growing up - drawing, music, writing - only to end up slightly above mediocre in each department. In that moment I also felt kind of embarrassed - sitting there in that darkened theatre, comfortably judging the fictional character, and then suddenly finding that I am the same.

I suppose this struck me because I have been recently struggling with the same point and was only too aptly confronted with it during the film. This deals mainly with my writing. I feel like I have some control of language and of words and have at times produced some things of artistic value - creative fiction, poetry, essays, etc. - but in the end I feel incredibly mediocre and unaccomplished. It is as if I feel I am supposed to be a creative writer of fiction, but can not produce, resigned to have output through simple-minded critique blogging and school assignments. Anyway, it is not some dreadful, morose thing that I have accepted as my fate; it is just a slight confession. I still feel that I can do whatever I really want to. Even in the film Cristina finds her creative outlet through photography through the encouragement of Maria Elena. Wouldn't it be nice to just go to some other city in the world solely to create?

In the end, Vicky Cristina Barcelona felt like the Woody Allen I was familiar with, only slightly altered in setting and in Javier Bardem being muscley and seductive instead of intellectual and nebbish. It did leave me with the same kind of feeling I previously described; I felt at once sad and satisfied, with a wry smile on the corner of my lips. Hopefully this year will be my year to produce and I will find the inspiration I've been waiting for. Until then I will continue to try and treasure the good moments and laugh at Woody Allen films.

18 August 2008

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

The new David Byrne and Brian Eno album is available now for free streaming or for paid download on their website. Please enjoy these lovely layers of electronic gospel love.

09 August 2008

Oops. Where did summer go?

Man, I've really neglected this blog. It's been over a month since I've last written anything and for that I am embarrassed and apologetic for my one (two? three?) reader(s). I usually write up a post when I have a certain theme or thesis in mind or if I'm reviewing a movie, but looking back over past posts I feel I've been a little inaccessible, uncharismatic, and, honestly, a bit boring. Anyway, in order to write more frequently I think I'll have to forgo the heavy-handed posts and bring a little more personality into this.

Summer came and went pretty quickly - my last post was towards the beginning of summer and now this post is coming toward the end! - and I've got a week left before school starts and free time becomes more restricted. What happened between that last post and now? Well, I watched a lot of movies, to be sure, but it's also been a summer of television. I started to watch the cult-phenomenon Twin Peaks and deceased HBO show Deadwood through Netflix, pretty much watching episodes back to back.

Twin Peaks
starts off with an hour and a half pilot that is so good I'm amazed to have taken so long to come around to it (I felt the same way after seeing Arrested Development for the first time). So good! For those that don't know, the show is based around a murder mystery of who murdered prom queen Laura Palmer. The more the case is investigated, the more bizarre, surreal, and unbelievable everything becomes. I had a little bit of Lynch primer before going into the show by having seen Blue Velvet, which has the same type of theme of uncovering the nastiness under the shiny veneer of small town USA. Now I am ever the more interested in Lynch's work and will be watching more of his films as I go through the second season (just finished the first).

Deadwood is a HBO series about the Old West, and particularly Deadwood, North Dakota, which relies on its depiction of realism - the grit, the violence, the nastiness - of the westward expansion and cowboy myths. Historical figures are seen in the show mixed in with fiction and pulp-like interpretations. After having finished a season I would definitely recommend it. It's worth getting to know characters like the malicious (and historical, apparently) Al Swearangen and the crudely eloquent E.B. Farnum (also historical).

Otherwise, as far as movies go, I haven't been to the theatre much. I saw The Dark Knight, but that's about it. I liked that movie a lot; it's probably my favorite superhero film so far. Enough has been said about it so I won't say much of anything except that I thought it was very good. Other summer films haven't appealed to me very much so far, but I am anxiously awaiting the fall season which usually harvests better films. I am especially looking forward to the new Coen brothers film Burn After Reading, which I hope approaches the comic absurdism of The Big Lebowski. On DVD, the best thing I've seen this summer was probably High and Low, Kurosawa's police procedural/detective thriller. The pleasant detective Nakadai, the conflicted Mifune, and the enigmatic villain are all unforgettable characters for me. I made another little banner at the bottom featuring the sunglassed villain (who, in his slender and angular ways, kind of looks like me, except handsome).

I'll update later with something more specific, maybe my Lynch mini-festival. In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of a very stylish and bearded Mifune and a nice little article in the Times about Mr. Byrne here.