5 reasons why I wish I had attended the Orphan Film Symposium

I've been reading reports of the 6th Orphan Film Symposium, by Elise Nakhnikian on The House Next Door and by various contributors on the NYU Orphans blog, and I have to admit to a little envy. Here are five excerpts from their reports that have me especially wishing that I had been there:

#5 (from Nakhnikian): The orphan film world is a pretty small one. Most of the people at the symposium are part of a network of crisscrossing professional connections and friendships... Dan limits attendance to just 300, and the spots sold out early this year, most of them going to people who’ve attended past symposia... The full-immersion experience also fosters a sense of community, as the group gathers from 9 in the morning to 11 or so at night, and heads out for lunch and dinner in a series of small clumps... The result is a lighthearted, mutually supportive, DIY vibe, like a Michel Gondry film come to life, or an extended family whose members genuinely like one another.

#4 (from Peter James Sebeckis on the NYU blog): Paolo Cherchi Usai from the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia... addressed the state of State AV archives and suggested that we are now entering a new era where analogue archives are viewed as "pre-digital." He predicted the core mission of archives switching emphasis from preservation towards accessibility. Digitization and internet availability is the current ambition of funders. Digital ingestion and de-accessioning is separating the responsibility of preserving. Usai saw de-accession as a new battleground, creating a new community of orphan films, and he proposed exercising selection in order to redefine what should be collected.

#3 (from Sebeckis): Ross Lipman of UCLA gave a talk entitled Order, Disorder, and the Point of Order! (The Cropping of the Spectacle). In this fascinating presentation, Lipman utilized Debord's Society of the Spectacle to cross-examine de Antonio's film Point of Order with the fictional film Anatomy of a Murder and with the cultural zeitgeist of the McCarthy hearings era. Here in Lipman's examination, cinema verite, nightly news, Hollywood narrative film, and the ridiculous circular logic of the McCarthy hearings overlap in a web of realities and fictions.

#2 (from Tracy Joan Bunting on the NYU blog): To sum up Howard Besser’s presentation in one sentence: “If we really want to do our jobs responsibly, we are going to have to break the law.” Howard, Director of the MIAP Program at NYU, described the problematic nature of current copyright law and the importance of copyrighted material to the creative process. In terms of the Orphan Film Symposium, Howard explained that it would have taken months and an extensive budget to fully adhere to the copyright for all our screenings. He used some of this year’s Orphan films, La Venganza de Pancho Villa, Noticiario de Laya #3, and Sunday, to emphasize the complicated underlying rights embedded in each work. As a small silver lining, Howard presented a report released Friday from the Section 108 Study Group of the Copyright Office. The report stated that it “may be possible” to expand copyright exemptions to librarians for audio/visual material. In other words, the flexibility that librarians have in reproducing and distributing textual material may be expanded to include media. (The key words in all this are “may be” as the report stated further evidence was needed to implement the change.)

#1 (from Nakhnikian): One of the symposium’s highlights was a newly restored print of the film that Sam Fuller called his first, V—E+1 May 9, 1945. Beautifully composed and paced, the 22-minute film documents what the young soldier saw after his unit liberated the Falkenau concentration camp. People from the nearby town had claimed not to know what was going on at the camp, although, as Fuller’s panoramic pans clearly establish, they could not have failed to see it. To make them come to terms with their complicity in the Nazis’ crimes, Fuller’s commanding officer ordered the townspeople to bury the emaciated corpses his men found at the camp. Fuller’s magisterial film documents the process as the townspeople gingerly clothe the bodies, load them onto covered wagons, and pull them through the town to bury them in a mass grave.

(and from Gabriella Hiatt on the NYU blog): Sam Fuller’s liberation footage of Falkenau stands in great contrast to the genre of amateur liberation footage. For one, the film is so extensively edited that it tells a story (a fact that contradicts his claim that he ignored the film for years), and it operates on multiple experiential levels—witnessing, filming, remembering, and revising... In her paper, [Fuller scholar Marsha Orgeron] writes that “Fuller’s panning movement and walking-in reminds us of the cinematographer’s guiding hand, his presence as witness and in some ways, as judge.” The controlled camera is impressive given the horrific content, but also allows for a different kind of witnessing freed from the jittery effects of shock and disbelief, and toward a place of reckoning, remembering, and understanding.

Elsewhere, some tortuous examples of academic taxonomizing that remind me why I could never cut it as a grad student:

Elvira Pouw used the case study of films by the Sander family to raise a problem related to the classification of amateur media and proposed a possible solution. She argued that amateur film has typically be classified as either family film, with images of domestic spaces, or as hobby film, with images of domestic and non-domestic spaces that are shot to look as professionally as possible.

But the Sanders film screened, which featured the wedding of their cook, are not family films, as they do not show their immediate family, and are not made with professional shooting in mind, and thus are not are hobby films either. Pouw argued that they should be considered “extended family films,” offering a new category of amateur media that accounts for such films.

and

Nico de Klerk, who has now attended all six Orphans, presented films made by a wealthy ethnically Chinese family living in the Dutch East Indies. Where many people have focused on the value amateur films may have for other disciplines, such as history, de Klerk suggested that this value may be minimal, and we may learn more by applying the work of other disciplines to the study of amateur film.

Citing an article from a sociological journal, de Klerk suggested that the debate about whether observation affects people’s actions may be useful for the study of amateur film. One camp argues that film evidence suggests being filmed has a marginal effect on film subjects. People often act as they normally would in home movies, and quickly forget that they are being observed by a camera. The other camp suggests that the presence of the camera distorts social situations, producing interactions and moments that might not otherwise occur, such as posing for the camera.

In the end, de Klerk suggests that the real distortion takes place at our viewing of home movies, which were often produced under carefree conditions but when they are seen now they are treated much differently.

Which may be a long way of saying, "It's only a movie?"

Finally, here's the perennial favorite of the festival, Ro-Revus Talks About Worms, which due to popular demand was brought back to Orphans for the third year in a row:


Online Videos by Veoh.com

Why "Country Mother Love Happy War" will be the next Indie film sensation

Just found this interesting post written by someone at the Lathiros Film Festival Database where he was able to extract the top 50 most common words of film festival titles.  To wit:

  1. war
  2. country
  3. love
  4. mother
  5. happy
  6. son
  7. blue
  8. broken
  9. now
  10. princess
  11. everything
  12. body
  13. day
  14. black
  15. story
  16. up
  17. park
  18. pool
  19. wild
  20. daily
  21. cant
  22. la
  23. run
  24. high
  25. innocent
  26. requiem
  27. august
  28. night
  29. amour
  30. crazy
  31. four
  32. hope
  33. dark
  34. daughter
  35. trouble
  36. bell
  37. color
  38. full
  39. dance
  40. it
  41. dust
  42. want
  43. super
  44. eye
  45. sex
  46. hotel
  47. go
  48. legacy
  49. she
  50. river

Notes from the NYU Film Conference, Pt. 5 - Q&A hosted by Girish Shambu

Before I wrap up this report, I must express gratitude to Paul Grant and Martin Johnson, the organizer of the NYU Film Criticism workshop, for permitting me to live blog from the workshop. This has been a very exciting and informative event and I hope the reports will help bring public recognition to the efforts of them and the NYU Cinema Studies department to foster a serious dialogue on the practice and the future of film criticism. the following are some summarial notes on the open Q&A session between Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and moderator Girish Shambu.

GS: The blogosphere offers unique forms of film criticism that can't be found in traditional formats (print, etc). They can take on a remarkable variety of lengths, approaches and insights, from the fleeting, pithy remark to an extensive study. Girish subscribes to over 130 film blogs and utilizes blog digest software to stay abreast of them - not a day goes by that he doesn't find a fascinating remark somewhere on his blog network.

JR: People on the blogosphere seem to write before they think, and get into family spat-like exchanges with others.

JR: Recounting experiences from Reader film blog. Was heckled by at least one visitor but noticed that others would come in to chastise hecklers and regulate conduct. Interesting sociological phenomenons and culture formations emerge on internet.

AM: Shared experience of finding a website called adrianmartinisa*******idiot.com,contacting the administrator of the web, who expressed surprise that Martin had even found and read the site. Strange experience of a cultural hierarchy collapsing within the space of the internet.

AM: Quoting Daney: "I want to militate cinema for cinema." - cinema activism on behalf of cinema itself as a political or social movement, as opposed to being a function of political or social purposes.

JR: Reflecting on the book co-written by Martin, Movie Mutations - when they started it, email wasn't a common fixture - they began through postal correspondences but was finished by the time email began to be widely adopted.

JR: Film as criticism - distinguishing homages between superficial references vs. critical commentary "it needs to be more than just showing a baby carriage going down the steps" - what does it mean in this film, or how might it illuminate something new about this reappropriated image or moment?

JR: Recognizes the Cinematheque Francais programs of Henri Langlois that revolutionized film culture by juxtaposing films of different origins and eras together such that they generated a running dialogue on film history and aesthetics.

AM: Describes the blog The Art of Memory which creates a visual essay out of dozens of still captures showing frames containing light flares, such that it resembles its own experimental photo montage. Points out how online critics are eager to extend the art of "writing" to incorporate images and film clips.

GS: Poses question about the seeming “gulf” between journalistic writing and academic writing about film.

JR: By and large there's a lot of mutual antagonism between these two camps. Attributes it to the forces that helped engender a formal film studies curriculum in the '60s and '70s. Literature departments were antagonistic to film studies courses as the latter were extremely popular yet perceived as light. Film studies had to prove itself as a discipline as rigorous as other academic fields of study. Theories needed to be adopted. Agee and Farber were less adopted than Kracauer and Warshow. Recalled AM's earlier remark that criticism ceases to be interesting when it reinforces a familiar way of thinking. JR cites a popular academic essay, Counter cinema by Peter Wollen, as an example of a systemic, institutionalizing text. Opposes both academic and journalistic writing that is too specialized and fixed in its own interests.

AM: Wants practice of journalism as striving to be more intellectual, and academic writing to be be more accessible. Agrees with JR that both academic and journalistic writing are under tremendous institutional pressures. Journalistic writing is under pressure to cater to film industry interests and dumb down to lowest denominator of readership; individual expression is subject to the authority of editors. Academic writing seems to lose sight of an intended audience; individual expression is subject to the authority of peer review; discourages experimental writing approaches. Some of the best work these days seems to come from outside institutions, "hobbyistic" practices by retired professionals or non-professionals.

JR: When he wrote his first book Moving Places, he took a stint writing for the magazine American Film make a living, which he considered to be "alienated labor." Expresses admiration for Ronnie Scheib, who is able to flourish as a writer within the unlikely auspices of Variety.

GS: On his experiences gleaning the blogosphere on his RSS reader, Girish has learned to glean his readings to hone in on choice passages to highlight. Regarding DVD commentaries, he finds he tends to bail on the first 10 minutes. Girish praises Jonathan's commentary track recorded with James Naremore on the Corinth Version of Welles' Mr. Arkadin on the Criterion DVD.

JR singles out Criterion's Elizabeth Helfgott in the crowd to comment - EH shares that these days Criterion staff deliberate the necessity of a commentary track on a release-by-release basis.

AM: When you think of the number of words that someone speaks on a commentary track, that could constitute a book's worth of material.

Manoel de Oliveira, 99 going on 65

Photo taken last Sunday at the Brooklyn Marriott, following our interview of Manoel de Oliveira for the Belle Toujours DVD coming soon from New Yorker Video.  I can't elaborate too much on the details of the interview, since it wasn't conducted in English.  We had Emilio (center left) and Dave (center right), both Portugese speakers, on hand, but at the last minute de Oliveira insisted on speaking French.  At 99 (turning 100 in December), his wit and energy are nothing short of miraculous. He's in better shape than my 85 year old grandfather.

Notes from the NYU Film Conference, Pt. 4 - Nicole Brenez (as told to Adrian Martin)

 "The Explosion of Cinema and the Responsibilities of Criticism" Adrian Martin presented on behalf of Nicole Brenez, who was unable to attend.

Brenez's article begins by citing several statements made by early 20th century French social theorist Georg Simmel, whose aim was to disrupt conventional notions concerning society's acts of charity and welfare towards the lumpenproletariat.  These statements include: 1. The act of charity concerns the giver, not the poor. It amounts to a narcissistic act of reassurance on the part of the giver.

2. Social aid concerns society, but not the poor. Same issue as #1, except broadened to the level of society at large.

3. The lawful eviction of the poor. The state has the right to assist the poor, but this means the poor only have the right to be assisted. There is a schizophrenia between false and true ends - between individual losses and gains and the preservation of the social order. Ultimately society reveals its merciless order.

4. The poor reveal the negativity of collective behavior.  Aid to the poor makes the poor person into a thing.  Social aid preserves the physical survival of the poor person but fixes them in their poverty.

5. Society needs poverty. It is the welfare that determines the status of the poor person. One is poor because one is aided.

6. Good conscience matched with bad visibility. Normal daily life cannot bear the sight of poverty. Society is more and more obliged to hide the poor from view.

7. Bad visibility and the weakening of the poor. This tendency to isolate the poor from each other keeps them in their own social strata. The class of the poor, particularly in modern society is a peculiar synthesis. Their essential position in society is easily labeled, yet their individual conditions are unique. They are a  people of diverse and extraordinary experiences but they are leveled into the same invisibility in the view of society. They are the sediment of society.

What does this have to do with cinema?

Avant garde cinema refuses this blindness to the lumpenproletariat. It tries to find a frontal, body-to-body view of the poor.

The avant garde, faced with the challenge of representing the "invisible poor" has adopted four approaches. The first is criticism; the second, to identify and to differentiate; the third, interrogation; the fourth, transformation - to change itself to no longer be positioned as a social intermediary for discourse on poverty.

Criticism: Screening of film example, Rien que les heurs by Alberto Cavalcanti.

Second example: Music video for Rage Against the Machine's "Sleep Now in the Fire" directed by Michael Moore.

Identification and differentiation : Excerpt from Sergei Eisenstein's Strike.  Cinema must go beyond the aesthetic equivalent of charity giving.

Second example: excerpt from Oskar Langenfeld. 12 mals, by Holger Meins. Depicts a rag-picker in fragments of varying social contexts. Unsatisfied by the limitations of cinema in enacting social change, Meins joined the West German Red Army Faction and became a terrorist.

Third example: excerpt from La Douceur dans l'abime, Jerome Schlomoff and Francois Bon.

Fourth example: Peter Weiss' Faces in the Shadow.  A film that sticks to the simplest level of representational forms.  Non-individuation of figures jams the compassionate reflex of the viewer, generating a broader social context.

Interrogation: Excerpt from Embargo, Mounir Fatmi.

Transformation: Final clip: www.webcam, Lionel Soukaz

Can we make any conclusions about this topic?  These clips constitute a "third world" of images.  Any representation of the lumpenproletariat is indispensible if only because they are so few in number. No one of them is correct, there is no correct way to represent the poor. These clips however "save the honor of cinema" even if they can't save the people they show.

What can the cinema do?

1) The cinema can make an "unbearable image."

2) The cinema can attack the lines between material domination and symbolic/cinematic domination.

3) The cinema can melt itself in a "social acid."

4) The cinema can interrogate its own limits and means.

There are two paths one can explore further. On the one hand there is an individual salvation of a filmmaker exploring this work, or there is a collective salvation.

Notes from the NYU Film Conference, Pt. 3 - Adrian Martin

Martin opens by sharing his thoughts on teaching Rossellini's Germany Year Zero, a film which typically baffles his students. Cites Bazin's writings on the film - in most films involving children, adult viewers will project something emotional or sentimental onto the child. With this film you cannot make that projection, you cannot penetrate the child with your own associations. This constitutes a new cinema. Even within the radical movement of Italian Neo-realism, what is truly radical is the face of this boy. The film dis-articulates cause and effect.

Nicole Brenez has also written about the film and the child's performance. It doesn't register the conventional pathos of film acting. For Brenez the film poses the question, "How do we somatize, internalize and act out the evil of the world?"

Martin then moves on to Alain Bergala's take of Farough Farrokhzad's The House Is Black, in which Bergala asserts that the film is great from the first shot - in fact one only needs to see the first shot to know it's great, because the first shot disrupts the viewer from their space of comfort.

Martin recalls his teenage screening of Bergman's Summer with Monika. He rhapsodizes on the film's achievement of "an eternal present" in the scenes between lovers on the island. Bergala has also written about this film and how it struck him like an arrow. Bergala asserted that the film's island location revolutionized Bergman's understanding of space and cinema. Bergala also asserts that Bergman was so jealous of his actor's proximity to his leading lady Harriet Anderson (whom Bergman was having an affair) during the love scenes that Bergman placed the camera to be even closer than the actor to the actress. Martin cites Bergala's writing as an example of powerful criticism, writing that both describes the sensual experience of watching the film while eliciting a profound, startling thought. He distinguishes this writing from the mundane criticism that attaches synopsizing with general like/dislike responses to the acting and story.

Martin recalls an anecdote by South African musician Abdullah Ibrahim. Ibrahim listened to a scratchy but complex recording made on a single instrument by a humble musician and was moved to tears because he could hear the musician's aspiration to have a full orchestra. The musician's spirit was transmuted to Ibrahim and he decided to fulfill the musician's dream. In the resulting recording Ibrahim plays the musician's arrangement simply for his orchestra to build on, then lets them free to improvise and improve on the composition. Martin uses this story as an allegory for criticism. Martin recalls his experience writing the monograph for Leone's Once Upon a Time in America. He had become exhausted with the film and ran out of interest. But when he sat down on a keyboard and and played out a simple melody from the score, the film re-opened itself to him. Martin's recurring point is that one needs to maintain a freedom of mind when elucidating a work, and be unafraid to try new approaches to get into a film and understand it in different ways.

Martin discusses a certain strain of film criticism that assumes a condescending, pugilistic stance towards films, which he finds counterproductive.

Martin discusses the art of "giving an account" of a film, whether it means giving the synopsis of the film or discussing how the reviewer experienced and approached the film. Martin mentions David Bordwell's "Making Meaning," a smart but discouraging book that he thinks saps the joy and enthusiasm out of film criticism. He mentions Bordwell's dismissal of interpretation as a "rigged game" where a critic can find any meaning he or she sets their mind on in a film, but finds this to be an oversimplistic dismissal that disparages the genuine illuminations to be found in interpretation. Martin cites an article by Shigeko Hasumi on the act of throwing things in John Ford films, which, Martin claims, after reading this article, a new world for understanding John Ford is opened. Martin also mentions the late Raymond Durgnat and the issue of free-association. It was Durgnant who observed that free-association is not really free, as the materials being associated are all drawn from our existence and as such reflect our relationship to our existence.

Discussing logical structures of arguing. Serge Daney invented three distinctions a day ("there are two kinds of offscreen space: space generated by sound vs. space generated by image") and would incessantly play with different distinctions. Martin celebrates this illuminating play while warning against becoming too wedded to any given distinction or logical structure to understand a film.

Parting thought - Martin cites Rosenbaum's description of film criticism as the art of creating desire. He mentions how his film students typically want to write about films by Wes Anderson, P.T. Anderson or other directors who are readily accessible to them. He also sees this in academia, where he's encountered a couple dozen academic papers on Michael Haneke's Cache in the past year. He urges writers not to be pushed by the zeitgeist but to be pushing it, and the way to do that is by writing persuasively and passionately to generate desire.

Q&A: Rosenbaum expresses appreciation of Martin's argument for film criticism as an art. JR discusses Manny Farber as someone who would probably fail a film writing course because he doesn't thoroughly support his arguments.

Martin asserts that two items of description that can be most revealing of a critic's mind is sex and music. Example: in describing a sex scene in an 80s film "Love Letters", Robin Wood describes actress Jamie Leigh Curtis as being degraded and subjective to male-dominant patriarchal authority. Martin and his wife watched the scene and couldn't relate it to what he had just read of Wood.

Question raised about Serge Daney's famous essay "The Tracking Shot in Kapo" on affirming insights on cinema by discussing a film he hadn't even seen, based on a comment by Jacques Rivette that to some extent mis-remembers the shot being criticized. Martin defends the valuing of a critical ethos expressed by Daney, but acknowledges the problem of inaccuracy that risks diminishing the full power of Rivette and Daney's remarks.

Martin discusses David Walsh of the World Socialist Website, whose criticism he both admires and dislikes. Walsh's political framework for approaching any given film is so rigid that Martin claims to be able to guess correctly what Walsh's take is on any film.

Martin posits that two of the most limiting and mechanical means to discuss film are through genre or auteur. He finds these frameworks to be a blocking mechanism that prevents films from being fully explored in new exciting ways. In response to a question Martin also adds nationalist frameworks for generalizing films and cinemas: "films should be liberated from their nation" in order to invent new ways of appreciating them.

Notes from the NYU Film Conference, Pt. 2 - Jonathan Rosenbaum

I apologize for the relative brevity of this entry - I guess I wasn't fully functioning until Adrian's afternoon presentation, as you might gather from my notes.  Anyway here's some excerpts from Jonathan's presentation. I might flesh this out more when I review the tape as it uploads. Rosenbaum's presentation was titled "The Future of FIlm Criticism--Film Criticism, The Internet and the Circulation of DVDs"

One highlight was his recounting of a couple of personal experiences with movie publicity materials, which I recalled from an end of year review article he wrote back in 2003 for the Chicago Reader:

21 Grams, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu's hyperbolically grim art movie, has been receiving an inordinate amount of mainstream exposure, apparently because of its cast -- Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro -- and because of its huge advertising budget. In an offscreen speech at the end of the film Penn says, "They say we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death . . . everyone. The weight of a stack of nickels.The weight of a chocolate bar. The weight of a hummingbird." Many critics have pointed out that this pseudopoetic claptrap isn't true. But that didn't prevent Focus Features from sending journalists, on consecutive days, express packages containing a stack of five nickels, a chocolate bar inside a wrapper advertising 21 Grams, and a made-in-China hummingbird. I doubt many critics were persuaded to have a better opinion of this difficult and unpleasant film by this obscenely stupid advertising scheme. The Jesus freak played by Del Toro gave me a few things to ponder, but I was much more spooked by those three packages -- what they must have cost and what they were trying to do to my head.

There doesn't seem to be any limit to what promotions departments will try or any evidence that they care whether they succeed. Dreamworks hawked Peter Ho-sun Chan's 1999 The Love Letter by sending anonymous love letters to critics. Each appeared to be written on an old-fashioned typewriter with a faded ribbon, and I'm ashamed to confess that I was fooled into thinking it was a real letter until I saw the same letter on-screen.

Rosenbaum used these anecdotes to expound on the broader issue of the experience of cinema, challenging the notion that the movie starts and stops in the movie theater. He finds this notion more tenuous than ever especially given that a fewer percentage of people than ever are watching movies in the theater as opposed to DVD, online or other new formats.

Rosenbaum sees this development in film culture not as something to mourn, but to actively embrace in such a way as to develop our society as we would like to see it.  He gives the example of private home group screenings he attended of Roberg Greenwald's movie Uncovered: The Truth about the Iraq War, which were organized by the political activist group Moveon.org to encourage citizens to take action to stop the Iraq War.  At the time some attendees felt that it would be effective to get the film released in movie theaters to reach a broader audience, but Rosenbaum disagreed, seeing the private party venues and ensuing group discussions as being more effective in generating a grassroots activist movement.

Rosenbaum went on to cite a cinema club in Argentina that had a membership of nearly 1,000 cinephiles.  The club has organized small theatrical runs of obscure films by the likes of Pedro Costa or Kira Muratova, projected off DVD.  Given that these directors can't even secure a theatrical run in New York City, Rosenbaum sees these grassroots venues as being a step in the right direction by providing a venue for non-mainstream films and building a solid film community in the process.

Rosenbaum compared this phenomenon with the sort of film community of his childhood, as recollected in his book Moving Places, where his neighbors would all would go to the same movie that played at the local movie house, not caring what it was, and spending time discussing it amongst each other, such that it became interwoven in the fabric of their lives.  As fond as he is of that type of small town cinephila, he acknowledges that that kind of film culture can not exist as he knew it in today's society, but instead of mourning the past he prefers to look for the present opportunities available to promote cinema.  He cites the website www.extremelowfrequency.com which makes alternative, politically minded films available via digital download - the site features a manifesto that argues "The cinema's in crisis... suffocated by anachronistic conventions... aided by agents of commerce." The site dedicates itself to the "propagation of new cinema waves" and in doing so "is not concerned with technological debates... refuses to identfy wth national borders... and strives to return popular culture to people."

Rosenbaum argues that to think more radically about film culture means we can think more radically about global culture. To do this we must think of more creative or radical ways of using film media.  There is already a structure in place - namely, the internet - and a community within that structure, but these have yet to be fully utilized to their full socially progressive potential "We can do more than trade gossip."

From the NYU Film Criticism Workshop

Just got back from this, an evening of screenings intended as a prelude to Friday's full day of sessions led by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and (in absentia) Nicole Brenez.  The theme of the workshop is "The Responsibility of Film Criticism."  As elaborated in the winning NYU grant proposal submitted by Paul Grant, "As the technologies of filmmaking and distribution continue to proliferate, criticism must also develop in ways that are commensurate with its object in o9rder to effectively respond... In a series of workshops, these critics will address the ways in which their work attempts to be responsible through their respective methods and perspectives. The workshop will close with a round-table discussion using as a starting point the question that begs to be reposed continuously: what is to be done?" Rosenbaum and Martin took turns making remarks to preface the films they had selected for the opening screening.   Rosenbaum's presentation touched primarily on the issue of history as being in constant re-vision, with the '60s being his object lesson.  He presented two short films, Farough Farrokhzad's The House Is Black and Charles Burnett's When It Rains - the former exemplified a '60s masterpiece that went largely unheralded for decades, demonstrating how assumptions of a set historical cinema canon can and should be left open to new discoveries; the latter, Rosenbaum asserted, exemplifies the how the spirit of the '60s (communalism, anti-capitalism) can be enacted in a contemporary film to reflect its viability in contemporary times, rather than being consigned to a shrine of nostalgia.  Both films also demonstrated innovation in synaesthetic forms: Farrokhzad's film is a masterful interweaving of cinema and poetry, while Burnett incorporates jazz and blues structural elements in his narrative and dialogues. Rosenbaum concluded by observing that both these films are available on DVD,  two among innumerable treasures previously unavailable to most audiences that are now accessible under a revolutionary culture of DVD and digital film distribution that would have been inconceivable in the sixties.

Martin built on Rosenbaum's argument while focusing it more on the responsibility of the film critic.  He emphasized the value of diversity within film criticism, using as a negative example his recent findings that among about 20 film magazines he had recently surveyed, the majority had an image of Daniel Day Lewis and There Will Be Blood on the cover.  He found these tokens of hegemony lamentable (at this I couldn't resist giving a consoling pat on the shoulder of the man seated in front of me, Richard Porton, editor of Cineaste, whose current issue has you-know-who on the cover).  Martin recalled a recent exchange with Andy Rector, intrepid critic and host of the Kino Slang blog, who wondered if he had been shirking his responsibility by not covering There Will Be Blood.  Martin's response was that a critic only thing a critic needed to write was to write bravely - not necessarily to see new things, but to see things anew.  Martin's screening selection illustrated these principles brilliantly - it was Jean-Luc Godard's Origin of the Twenty-first Century, a montage of footage taken from as wide a range as war newsreels to porno flicks, mixed with a healthy serving of film clips, including some from his own films, all chopped up and thrown into a bold and poetic remix of the past 100-plus years of violent co-existence between image and humanity.

I'm going to bring my laptop and camcorder to tomorrow's sessions to see if I can simultaneously blog and film as the day progresses.  One way or other I'll have some (hopefully multimedia) reports to share either throughout or at the end of Friday.  Stay tuned.

The End of an Era

The Chicago Reader has posted a tribute page commemorating film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who is retiring from the Reader after 20 years of providing some of the most thoughtful, erudite and purposeful film writing out there. Those who've gleaned his list of 1000 essential films posted on my site may already have seen what I've written about him. The tribute page has culled together Jonathan's favorite reviews of the last 20 years - from that list I highly recommend the ones on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, M, Rear Window, and Taxi Driver. There's also a two part video interview in which Jonathan discusses his retirement. I've embedded them here as well. (And what's witht he cathedral framing?)

Part One:

Part Two:

We love Bae Doo-na; how 'bout you?

Michael Kerpan informs me that the 2006 article he and I had hocked unsuccessfully around the film magazine circuit before finding a home at Subway Cinema is no longer on Subway's site. So I'm re-adopting it here for anyone's enjoyment This article dates from before the release of The Host (which didn't offer the big breakthrough role we were hoping it would for lovely Doo-na, but was a thrilling movie all the same). Michael can probably fill us in on our lady's career since then (I haven't seen or heard anything in the past year)...

We love Bae Doo-na (even if Korea doesn't)

by Kevin B. Lee and Michael Kerpan

 

Like a rat I want to be beautiful

Because there is a beauty that cannot be photographed.”

- the opening lines of The Blue Hearts’ “Linda Linda Linda”

 

It may sound offensive to describe Bae Doo-na – possibly the most talented young actress in the world – as being beautiful like a rat. It certainly does nothing to capture her obvious charms: expressive eyes seemingly stenciled from a manga comic, supermodel-length limbs, a moon-shaped face poised to blossom into a smile with enough electricity to light up the Inchon peninsula. But beneath her beguiling exterior lies a persona that’s as paradoxical as a beautiful rat. In her newest film, Nobuhiro Yamashita's Linda Linda Linda (2005), she's a Korean exchange student recruited as a novice vocalist for a Japanese high school band. On the day of the big show, she performs the title song with hair bedraggled by a rainstorm from which she just escaped, her pale, unadorned face squinting into harsh auditorium lights. Her hands clutching the microphone like a lifeline, she belts the song out awkwardly yet defiantly, straining to project each word in an alien tongue. And yes, she's utterly beautiful.

If this triumphantly gawky spectacle defines Bae's rat beauty, it may also explain the allure she holds for an ever-growing foreign fanbase. With its Korean protagonist fronting a Japanese girl group, Linda Linda Linda attests to the reverence for Korean pop culture that in recent years has lit upon Japan (not to mention the rest of East Asia and beyond). But how did Bae get to be chosen as ambassador? Lovers of world cinema, their eyes adrift in fascinating spaces they can't quite claim as their own, may identify with this kindred soul who so confidently brandishes her bewilderment before a world of perplexities. Bae, an ex-model, has carved a career out of beautiful rat roles: a hapless young mother in Saving My Hubby (2002), an aimless high school graduate in Take Care of My Cat (2001); a left-wing outcast in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002). Bae's artistry, still precocious at the age of 26, rests in her ability to bestow these workaday roles with a beguiling inner beauty. Invested with Bae’s poise, her characters transcend their inability to comprehend the world in which they find themselves disenfranchised.

Unfortunately, Bae’s embrace of the plebeian may render her as beautiful as a rat in the eyes of Korean movie audiences. Long a fixture on the Korean TV soap scene (she won the Korean Broadcasting Service Most Popular Actress Award in her debut year), she has yet to score an unqualified domestic hit. The unglamorous parts she plays, while acceptable for television, are not conducive to box office success. Especially when they call for a distinctively frumpy look; she was recruited for her breakthrough role in Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) for her willingness to go without makeup. It was a potentially career-wrecking choice that has haunted and distinguished her in a country where facial augmentation is common practice among women. It was the also the role that convinced Yamashita to give Bae her international debut.

While pretty faces flash and disappear on Korean cinema screens within a matter of months, Bae has cultivated a persona that subverts her physical endowments by testing the conventions of a young woman’s behavior. This trajectory began with one of Bae’s first major roles, in the teenage male rite-of-passage flick Plum Blossom (1999), which features her engaging in full frontal nudity and explicitly simulated sex. Scandalous as Bae's appearance was, it was in fact her mother, the accomplished stage actress Kim Hwa-young, who encouraged her to take the role despite Bae’s own misgivings.

Another veteran actress, Yun Jeong-hee, has said that Bae on screen owns her world, and Bae proves this point best when she does the least. Her performance in Take Care of My Cat is the most unobstrusive among a turbulent quintet of high school friends whose post-graduate lives are spinning beyond each other’s reach. Bae has only a handful of scenes to herself; even in two-shots she is staged facing others as they speak towards the camera. But in the act of listening, she serves as more than merely the viewer’s onscreen proxy. Her half-concealed profile, interrupted by an occasional glance to an undefined distance, suggests a realm of private thought. Despite having less screen time than two other actresses, her performance walked away with the Korean critics' best lead actress prize.

The dual persona of empathy and introspection that Bae demonstrates in Take Care of My Cat is present in many of her other roles, presenting an interiority whose detachment from its surroundings provides is enough to hold a viewer’s rapt attention. Fans of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance may remember a topless Bae using sign language to encourage her character's deaf-mute boyfriend while in the throes of vigorous sex. But she is at her most compelling in an earlier scene on the same bed, rationalizing plans to kidnap a rich executive’s daughter to a mirror as her boyfriend reads her lips in the reflection. The spatial imbalance caused by these multiple layers of looking mirrors Bae’s uncommon ability to establish intimacy and distance at once.

Her naturally lanky frame is another vehicle through which she conveys her character's unwieldy relationship with the world. An otherwise routine comedy such as Saving My Hubby is single-handedly carried by the spectacle of Bae’s physical exertion, as she spends much of the movie carrying a baby on her back while dodging through a neon-lit maze of gangster-infested alleys to rescue her derelict husband from evil extortionists. But her ungainliness is not always in the service of reinforcing conflicts. In Sympathy her physicality makes credible the disjunction between her character's beguiling innocence and its absolutist ideological streak, by linking both to an animated set of childlike mannerisms, notably in a scene where she subversively sings an anti-Communist anthem to the girl she has kidnapped, her exuberant cheerleader kicks menacing yet playful. In a film that alternates between compassion towards loved ones and cruelty towards all others, Bae’s custody of her abductee exhibits both impulses at once. Her impulsive aura gives a much-needed spark of genuine warmth to Park’s clinical execution of his misanthropic treatise on humanity.

In Barking Dogs Never Bite, Bae's Hyeon-nam, a Plain Jane clerk languishing at a housing complex, is given more close-ups than her appearances in other films, despite the unmade landscape of her visage. Scattered with pockmarks and lightly shimmering with grease, her face enhances her character's guilelessness. While her complexion is explicit, her awareness is foggy -- in her first scene she wakes up from a subway nap and offers her seat to a woman carrying a baby, not realizing that it's a beggar seeking money from passengers. Bae's character stumbles through a series of misapprehensions and faux pas, as she tries to uncover the mystery behind the disappearances and deaths of dogs around her complex. For most of the film she plays ambivalently with the level of her character's intelligence -- her eyes seem to absorb everything they come into contact with, though they repeatedly misperceive the darker motivations of others.

The critical moment comes when she drunkenly and playfully pursues a neighbor whom, unbeknownst to her, she had chased through the high-rises after spotting him from a distance tossing a dog from a rooftop. The man admits his guilt in the canine crimes, but both Bae and director Bong play ambiguously with Hyeon-nam's tranquil, open-eyed reaction. Is she bestowing a Buddha-like forgiving gaze, or is she too drunk to catch what he's saying? Her face exhibits ignorance and grace simultaneously and challenges the distinction between them. This moment exemplifies the drama of Bae's openly expressive acting style: its collisions against the confining codes that society imposes to define one's character and social standing. To borrow Gilberto Perez’ description of Buster Keaton, Bae is a bewildered equilibrist whose blank, open-eyed expression harnesses the thematic incongruence swirling both within and around her.

Again, this resilient ingenuousness in a world of estrangement may explain Bae's international appeal. In Linda Linda Linda, sharing her character Son’s limited command of Japanese, Bae's performance is relegated to a modicum of gestures, the physicality of which is enhanced by Yamashita's enigmatic framing of her. In contrast to the extreme frontal close-up that introduces her in Barking Dogs Never Bite, our first look at her in Linda Linda Linda is a medium profile shot, half of her face hidden. When the band asks her to join them, she's positioned so far in the background she has to shout her dialogue. Again she is in the background when she first listens to the title song, the back of her earphone-adorned head turned to her bandmates. In these opening shots Yamaguchi understands how much Bae’s hunched shoulders and angular posture readily identify her, whether from behind or from a distance. Yamashita's visually oriented appraisal of Bae is doubtless one of a foreign admirer; Bae's first international performance takes on an iconic quality reminiscent of a Keaton, Chaplin or Lloyd.

In Son’s frequently awkward verbal exchanges with other characters, there emerges a willful obstinacy, such as in her misunderstanding of a karaoke bar’s requirement to buy a drink in order to sing; or her emphatic use of Korean to coach a lovestruck bandmate, for which she's chastised for “talking gibberish.” Bae's performance conveys a pleasure in sticking out; as nerve-wracking as it is to be a misfit, it also seems to energize and define Son (who has very little backstory - we only see her interacting with bandmates, other people at school, and the daughter of her host family). Near the finale, she inexplicably walks out of a rehearsal to visit the auditorium stage. There she simulates introducing her bandmates, surprisingly prefacing each with a criticism while subsequently expressing her admiration for them. Son defines her persona in relation to others – an absence in the process of finding a presence, and in asserting what she is not that she defines what she is.

As Son, Bae distills her own onscreen persona into an essence, her identity a matter of pure physicality. A shot of her framed in a doorway while clutching the mike in a punk rock power stance has the makings of poster art. In the last image we see of her, she channels her bodily energy into the microphone singing "let's sing an endless song for this asshole of a world” with utter conviction, but her eyes still glare out as if to guard their owner's space, not fully accepting the gazes bestowed upon her. This is the beauty of Bae Doo-na: like a rat, it restlessly explores the crevices of the moment; and its disappearance into the cracks it finds only makes its presence more fully known.

I'm not sure if I should link to this...

but if you want to hear what I'm like on Oscar night after three cocktails, a beer and three bourbon shots, here's a sampling from a post-Oscar roundtable podcast conducted at Keith Uhlich's pad. I don't think I could sustain a thought beyond two sentences... though I remember making an insight on Robert Elswit and the cinematographic integrity of the long shot in There Will Be Blood, that, sadly, didn't make the final cut of the podcast... It was a lot of fun at the moment, but listening to this now, with this in the back of my mind, makes me cringe at what a film geek I am...

This film critic actually gets paid to flaunt his film illiteracy?

I grew up in San Francisco reading the film reviews of Mick LaSalle. He's reviewed films for The Chronicle for the last 20 years, writes in a pleasing, conversational tone, and his taste in films is respectable if not adventurous. At least that was my opinion until recently, when my brother forwarded me this rather embarrassing article cum confessional in which LaSalle admitted to having not seen several canonical American films and then proceeded to review a few of them for the first time. In light of the project of this blog - as well as the fact that LaSalle was one of the film critics I looked up to in my youth - I felt it necessary to comment. First, here's a couple of key paragraphs from the article in which LaSalle defends his having not seen recognized classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey (all of which I had seen by the time I graduated college):

Film critics see a lot of movies. But most film critics actually like movies, so that's not so bad. In my leisure hours, I often watch movies, but those leisure hours are precious, so when I do watch a movie, it has to be something I really want to see. There are plenty of classics that I want to see, plenty that I'm excited to see, but then there are titles that seem merely obligatory - and it's very easy to postpone seeing the obligatory ones, and to keep postponing them indefinitely.

There's another thing. Everyone who watches movies prefers one genre or actor over another. Critics are no different, but just in the course of doing our work, we end up seeing movies in all genres. I'm not particularly fond of action movies, but I've given lots of good reviews to action movies, simply because I can tell a good one from a bad one. But that doesn't mean that, in my leisure time, I'd put on a "Stone Cold" Steve Austin picture. Likewise, if science fiction isn't a favorite, you could easily end up going years before strapping yourself into a seat to sit through "2001: A Space Odyssey" - especially if you've been warned by just about everyone (including people who like it) that it's the most boring movie on earth.

His arguments here strike me as fairly reasonable - it's safe to say that every cinephile has their own blindspots. Last summer, in the wake of the brouhaha surrounding Jonathan Rosenbaum's diss of the late Ingmar Bergman, Rosenbaum admitted to not having seen one of Bergman's most lauded works, Fanny and Alexander. (He later corrected that oversight, though he was unimpressed by the film). There were definitely phases that I've experienced where I would avoid - consciously or unconsciously - a certain film or a director's work as it seemed that I had already absorbed all that I needed to know about it from second hand sources. But sooner or later I'd get around to seeing it, whether out of a sense of completist duty or compulsion, a feeling that many cinephiles out there know too well. I'm just surprised that Mick LaSalle isn't one of them. When we think of our favorite film critics, how much do we assume that they have a certain breadth of literacy, that they've seen all the films we think they need to see to have an informed opinion on any given film? And just what are those films and how many of them are there? Would it be the AFI 100 American films? Or the top 100 from They Shoot Pictures?

And if breadth of movie viewing is an issue, then how about depth? LaSalle picked five classics that he neglected to watch and review for the first time. Here's a sampling of his comments:

"To Kill a Mockingbird" strikes me as a movie classic that has outlived its shelf life and is maintaining its classic status based on false memory and reputation.

"Young Frankenstein" (1974): As is typical of Mel Brooks, this movie is a mix of dumb jokes that aren't funny, dumb jokes that are funny and brilliant, inspired bits that are classic and nothing can diminish them.

"An Affair to Remember" (1957): I liked this a lot more than I thought I would, and it was not quite the sappy indulgence that I expected.

"Blade Runner" (1982): I never saw "Blade Runner" when it was in theaters because I wasn't much of a sci-fi fan, and I didn't see it later because I didn't know what version to see. Having consulted aficionados, I decided to watch the latest version, which people tell me is the best. It's an excellent movie, and if I were reviewing it I'd have to give it the highest rating. At the same time, it's not what I look for in entertainment, and I didn't particularly enjoy it so much as intellectually appreciate its virtues. It's eerie, beautiful to behold and an impressively realized imaginative universe.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968): virtually unwatchable, a boring, impenetrable experience that I'm glad to finally have behind me.

His opinions notwithstanding, what strikes me is the level of insight - these look like comments one would typically find left by users on the film profiles of IMDb. Really, anyone can perform this level of film criticism. So what's to distinguish LaSalle as a leading film critic in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the U.S.?

It's sad, because there are lots of great critics around the country who are losing their jobs in this current wave of mainstream media consolidation and syndication - and a critic like LaSalle is not helping their case. What's just as sad is that, while you can find thousands of amateur film reviewers on the web who could give you as interesting a review as LaSalle's, there is also a much smaller and more outstanding number of hardworking and thoughtful young critics whose writings you can find by the bushels online, who have seen these and probably dozens more films than LaSalle had at their age (doubly sad given that by my calculation LaSalle wasn't even 30 when he got the Chronicle gig), who are more than willing to watch anything and everything (and give a damn about it) and are therefore more qualified to do his job. I'm sorry to call LaSalle out on this, but frankly he did it to himself with this arrogant confession.

Graphics are of the "Little Man" whose various states of reaction accompany each film and theater review in The Chronicle.

20:07 contest winner - and one more chance to win

Congratulations to Nicholas R., Michigan's finest, for guessing all but one of the screen grabs correctly! He gets a copy of Criterion's DVD of The Vanishing. Nicholas was unable to guess one of the screengrabs - no one else could guess it either. First five people who can guess the following screengrab correctly will receive an mp3 package of the Village Voice Pazz n Jop Top 40 Songs of 2007.

Send answers to alsolikelife@gmail.com. Here it is:

The rest:

#17: The Vanishing

#16: La Haine

#15: The Official Story

#14: Inferno

#12: My Brilliant Career

#11: Sugar Cane Alley

#10: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

#9: Louisiana Story

#8: Land of Silence and Darkness

#7: The Heiress

#6: And God Created Woman

#5: Evil Dead II

#4: War and Peace

#3: Hail Mary

#2: Quadrophenia

#1: Van Gogh

Bonus images (for tiebreaker purposes): These aren't from the 20:07 mark, but nonetheless they are from some of my favorite films seen as part of the SDP project: a) The Reckless Moment

b) La Ronde

c) Ceddo

d) Still

e) Pixote

Today's cinephile hero: Travis Mackenzie Hoover

 The thing about powerlessness is that it tends to make you an asshole. A life of total denial makes every disagreement into a vicious affront, and every disappointment into a crushing blow; it also engenders a wicked sense of entitlement that only someone held back from participating in life can justify to oneself. Plus, film criticism was a substitute that could never give me the full gratification of saying that I was doing what I wanted to do on my own terms; and my dependency on help from the government didn’t exactly improve my outlook. Very often, I took people for what I could get, unwilling to believe I could get anything more fleeting immediate satisfactions, and this happened with Bill as it did with anyone else. I don’t know if that was self-criticism or self-exoneration, but whatever: I could be a prick.

 This is a passage from a stunning entry, and possibly the last, by Travis Mackenzie Hoover for the Film Freak Central Blog.  I've admired Travis' writings for Reverse Shot and The House Next Door, and I featured his comments in my Shooting Down Pictures entry on My Brilliant Career.  It's an incredibly thoughtful piece on how a life-changing personal discovery triggered a radical reassessment of the role that cinema and film criticism had played in one's life.  Reading it caused a lot of reflection on my part along those lines.  But first, here's the key passage:

 Ten years of unsalaried work pass. My uber-quack finally does me the honour of retiring, where it’s revealed that he had diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder without telling me. This meant that I was referred to a clinic that specialized in schizophrenia- a place of dedicated, caring professionals who were uniformly puzzled by my diagnosis. Half a year goes by with the doctors trying to figure out why the hell I had been sent there, with me half-wishing I was schizophrenic just so I’d have a name for the unnamable thing that had gripped me. And after ten years on the dole, and thirty-four years of stunned incomprehension at the world around me, It was finally decreed: Travis Mackenzie Hoover has Asperger’s syndrome.Plunk. The pieces finally fall into place. My narrow obsession with one subject, my series of fidgety mannerisms and “stims”, my inability to decipher social situations, my tendency to blurt things out without considering the consequences, my problems with empathy in situations that really demand it, my difficulty, my alienation: there was name, a face, and an assurance that none of this was my motherfucking fault. The syndrome wasn’t bad news, it was the key to understanding my behaviour and the behaviour of everyone around me, which before had been humiliating mysteries and which now revealed themselves to be the neurochemical luck of the draw. I wasn’t a victim of Asperger’s syndrome, I was a victim of not being told I had Asperger’s syndrome, and the information lifted my depression and shredded my fear and gave me the first proof that maybe this once-nightmarish world might not be such a bad place after all...

By some strange serendipity, I inherited a small amount of money recently. Not enough to change my life, but enough to get me a DV camera and a computer powerful enough to edit the footage, and it’s here that the next chapter of my life begins. I’m going to try and make something about my experience, and maybe some stuff totally unrelated- in any event, the diagnosis has finally given me the sense of emotional cause-and-effect I need to write convincingly. I’m going to put my theories into practice, and I’m going to see if I can claw my way out of the ghetto and put Aspie culture on the map. And that means I have to clear out certain distractions.By the end of ten years criticism had sort of become a soporific drug to numb the pain...  I can now only do the stuff I want to see and write about, to make room for the other things I need to do; and it has to be more occasional, meaning I have to stop anything that keeps me on a grind, that has me doing soul-deadening things I don’t want to see on a treadmill. And that means, after ten years running down that road, I am hanging up my typewriter at Film Freak Central.

Wow.  You have to be amazed at how one personal discovery can so radically realign one's values, self-image and interests. 

One one level, Travis' essay has me thinking about what cinephilia and criticism (and blogging specifically) mean to me, and what value I place on all the time I spend watching, thinking about and writing movies.  Especially because, like Travis, I have grander designs to be a filmmaker and I wonder a lot if the film writing encourages or encumbers the filmmaking.  For now I've made a kind of reconciliation of the two through my video essays for the Shooting Project -- they've been an opportunity to experiment with expressing my thoughts and defining my voice as both critic and filmmaker while engaging with a wide swath of cinema (sometimes I wonder if it's too wide, to the point that I can't proceed to consolidate my own vision amidst all this eclecticism).  For now, I am content with the nature and extent of my participation in online cinema culture, though its constant evolution no doubt will keep me wondering... 

But on another, deeper level, Travis' essay really touched me on the level of self-esteem, and what effect certain events and choices can have in steering your self-image and self-esteem upward or downward.  I was depressed for a good stretch of last year after I accepted a promotion at work, one that seemed related to my filmmaking ambitions (at least more related than my previous stint of answering calls and managing databases). It was the practical move, resulting in a 25% salary increase and a chance to hone some of my multimedia and editing skills (put to good personal use with my vid essays).   But something was just not right... to the point that I started taking antidepressants.  I had no time to work on my documentary and was putting in hours working on the script for my feature, whose shooting date seemed so far away from my humdrum everyday reality.   Then around last month I finished the 7th draft of the script, the money was coming together from my partner (who will direct) and suddenly it was time to seriously start looking for our cast.  I put out a casting call for our lead actress in New York, to play a South Asian high school girl. Because of my previous documentary work with the Desi community, I got a tremendous response, it was really a trip to be recognized as a brand name filmmaker in the South Asian American community.  And these auditions have been an exalting experience -- directing people in these readings makes me wonder what the fuck I've been wasting time with for the past few years, but that's neither here nor there.  This was all part of a process I had to go through, to experience, to learn, and to grow.  Once you know, you go, and there's no turning back.  

There is nothing more valuable than feeling that you have the power to do what it is that you set out to do.  I've known what it's like not to feel that way, and don't ever want to go back there.  2008 is going to be an awesome year.  Hearing stories like Travis' only encourages me more to keep pursuing that truest sense of who you are and act on that emerging understanding of inner truth.

I sure hope you make that movie, Travis, and make it brilliantly.

Happy 30th @ the Voice, Jim

"Reading his reviews makes me wish I had a bigger brain." - overheard at a house party circa 2002 I feel bad that we planned milkshake night the same evening that J.Ho is getting feted at the MoMI, esp. as I haven't yet seen Day Night Day Night.

Wish I had a collection of his reviews handy so I could pick a favorite -- but you can't do much better than the two that are in this book, especially "The Film Critic of Tomorrow, Today" (once you've read the Arnheim piece it riffs on).