22 January 2009

more brain hijacking

my brain is continuing to be hijacked and rewired.

i'm still full on into my david lynch obsession. i've started watching twin peaks. i am very sad that i missed this when it was originally was on television.

i am also in the midst of another obsession:

the music of scott walker.

his music is sublime...i can see a lot of connections with musicians and songwriters that i have been in love with for many years (brian eno, roxy music, david bowie, david sylvian, etc.). i finally watched the documentary that david bowie produced about him called "30 century man"...AMAZING. if you've seen wes anderson's equally sublime "the life aquatic with steve zissou", then you've heard scott walker...his song "30 century man" is featured prominently on the soundtrack.

and now, time for medication, a bit of reading ("lynch on lynch") and bedtime.

14 January 2009

Number 6 Has Left The Village and Khan Has Spit His Last Breath At Thee

We in geekdom have lost two titans. Today, both Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalban passed away.

Patrick McGoohan was perhaps best known for his role as Number Six on the British TV classic "The Prisoner", a show that he co-created. Viewers first saw him as secret agent John Drake when CBS imported the show "Danger Man" from Britain. He went on to write, direct and co-star in a few episodes of "Columbo", for which he won an Emmy. The last major role that he played was King Edward Longshanks in "Braveheart". On a more personal note, he portrayed Doctor Paul Ruth in David Cronenberg's "Scanners", a film that I've mentioned quite a few times in this blog. When I watched this again last week and McGoohan walked on stage, I couldn't help but think "When will someone have the good sense to cast him again?"

Ricardo Montalban is most famous for his role as Mr. Rourke on "Fantasy Island". However, for me, Ricardo Montleban will now and forever shall be Khan Noonian Singh, a product of twentieth century genetics and the best villain that the Star Trek universe has ever seen. I have rewatched Star Trek II recently and it still stands as the best of the Star Trek films. Montalban also played a key role in the "Planet of the Apes" sequels.

Farewell, gentlemen. You definitely made the world a better place.

11 January 2009

The Two Davids

During my prep work for editing our first short film, I determined that I needed to get inside Chris' headspace as much as possible. When I told Chris my plan, he stated that his headspace is, in fact, a trap. The plan was to read the work of Jorge Luis Borges (still a work in progress, as I've only read one of his stories thus far), read film criticism and see as many of Chris' favourite films as humanly possible. This would help me establish a common vocabulary between Chris and myself.

In regards to film criticism, I have a few books in my collection that I've been meaning to get to for awhile but just haven't found the time until now. One example is Dr. Mark Kermode's in-depth analysis on "The Exorcist", which was released through the British Film Institute. "The Exorcist" is a favourite of Chris' and mine. After reading the book, I watched the film and documentary on the making of the film (also written and hosted by Dr. Kermode).

After completing my "Exorcist" cycle, I read a book about the work of David Cronenberg, who has been a touchstone for me since the eighth grade (when my parents started to let me watch "R" rated movies). I started with "The Dead Zone" and "The Fly". These films were both very accessible and easy to grasp. As time passed, I began to see more of his films. My friend Jerry had copies of "Shivers", "Rabid", "Scanners" and "Videodrome". When I was in college, I rented "Dead Ringers", "Naked Lunch" and "eXistenZ". After I graduated and was gainfully employed, I added Cronenberg's films to my DVD library.

Over the past few weeks, I've been revisiting his work, starting with "The Brood", "Scanners" and "A History of Violence". Most of Cronenberg's films share an economy of storytelling. His films very rarely go over 90-100 minutes in length. Furthermore, all of his films have sophisticated narratives. However, he uses very simple methods to convey his ideas. A prime example of this is in "Scanners". As mentioned in my "12 Movies Meme" essay, telepaths are fighting in the streets of Toronto. Telepaths "read" other human beings (and each other) by joining their nervous systems with their subjects. A normal Hollywood blockbuster film would invest a lot of time and money in eye-popping special effects to convey this concept. Not Cronenberg, though. He uses a very simple crossfade editing technique. We start with a close-up on the telepath's face and slowly fade into a close-up on the face of the telepath's subject. He repeats this a few times to convey the idea that their minds are joining. This is simple, to the point and VERY effective.

That's not to say that Cronenberg is against using special effects. Many of his films are known for their ground breaking visual effects. However, he uses them only when appropriate. The most famous examples of his visual effects can be found in "Scanners" (the exploding head at the beginning of the movie), "Videodrome" (the bulging television and the stomach VCR), "Naked Lunch" (the bug typewriter and the Mugwumps) and "eXistenZ" (the bone gun). (Incidentally, CGI effects did not appear in a Cronenberg film until "eXistenZ". They were used for a brief scene that lasted a few seconds.) Cronenberg has been the subject of many discussions between Chris and I, a common obsession.

Another of Chris' obsessions is the work of David Lynch. If memory serves, this is one of our first topics of discussion when we met. Lynch is a filmmaker that, until recently, I have only had a brief experience with. My first exposure to Lynch was his adaptation of "Dune". His TV show "Twin Peaks" was popular when I was in high school, but I never watched it. My next Lynch experience was when I rented "Lost Highway" during college. I liked it. I was impressed with its nightmarish feel. I didn't really understand any of it, though. Finally, I rented "Mulholland Drive" a few years ago and fell in love with it.

I would describe my experience with and knowledge of David Lynch's work to be fleeting at best. I decided that I needed to change this if I was going to work with Chris. I asked his advice on where to start and he suggested "Blue Velvet". After work on one early December night, I turned off the lights and popped it into my DVD player. At first, I was impressed with the actors' performances, but not with the film itself. It felt dated to me, a derelict of the eighties. Then, I came upon the Dean Stockwell scene. This is where our hero Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle Machlachlan), is kidnapped and forced to go on a nightmarish roadtrip with the deadly Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) and his crew. They visit Frank's friend Ben (Dean Stockwell) and drink beer. Jeffrey is roughed up by Booth and company. The tension is palpable. Then, just when I think that Jeffrey is going to be murdered, Booth shouts the phrase "In dreams!". Ben puts a cassette in the stereo, picks up a construction lamp and starts lip-synching to "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison. I couldn't move. I was mesmerized and couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. I finished watching the movie. I liked it but couldn't put my finger on why, especially given my initial reaction before "In Dreams". That scene stuck with me for days.

Without giving it more thought, I decided to go with my gut and watch more Lynch. I dove into the deep end and watched his latest film, "Inland Empire". This is three hours of exposure to David Lynch's Id, his unfettered psyche. This took me a little longer to digest , about two days to sift through. I didn't understand it, but I liked it. Again, I couldn't put my finger on why. After "Inland Empire", I watched his documentary "Lynch One" (filmed during the making of "Inland Empire"). This is a peak into Lynch's film method, which heavily involves transcendental meditation.

Over Christmas break, I took the plunge and purchased the newly released box set collection of his work called "The Lime Green Box". A few nights ago, I watched his debut "Eraserhead" for the first time. My experience with this was the same as "Inland Empire" and "Lost Highway": I don't understand it, but I really like it. Last night, I watched "The Elephant Man", which is one of the most moving films that I've seen. I cried several times throughout. I texted Chris and finally declared "I LOVE David Lynch".

Lynch and Cronenberg both came up in films at around the same time. At one time, they both shared a surrealistic narrative style. Surrealism is very present in "Videodrome", "Scanners" and "Naked Lunch". Over the past few years, Cronenberg has gradually left surrealism in favour of a narrative that is more straightforward. His last two films, "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises", are prime examples of this straightforward narrative. It is important to note that he is using this to deal with the themes that he has spent his entire career exploring. In contrast, Lynch has delved even further into surrealism. "Lost Highway", "Mulholland Drive" and especially "Inland Empire" eschew straightforward storytelling. Lynch uses symbolism, metaphor and dream logic to convey his ideas. However, Lynch has also, on occasion, told very straightforward stories. Examples of this include "The Elephant Man" and "The Straight Story".

Another common thread between Lynch and Cronenberg is that they have influences outside of cinema. There are no obvious references to other filmmakers. Cronenberg pulls his inspiration from literature. Philip K. Dick can be seen in "Scanners" and "The Brood". (Cronenberg also worked for over a year developing the Dick short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". Due to creative differences, he left the project. It eventually became "Total Recall".) William S. Burroughs is a writer that still heavily influences Cronenberg. "Naked Lunch" is an adaptation of Burroughs' seminal novel. Finally, Dostoyevsky was an influence on "Eastern Promises". In regards to Lynch, it is my belief that he is primarily influenced by art and music. Furthermore, Lynch has stated that he gets ideas from transcendental meditation, which he has practiced twice a day for the last 32 years.

This is in no way the last time that the Two Davids will be mentioned in this blog. I plan on revisiting more of Cronenberg's films and I still have a LOT of Lynch to watch.

Ever onward.

More later.

Brief Update

My analysis of "Apocalypse Now" is on indefinite hold. Not to worry, this is due to the fact that my brain has been hijacked by two master filmmakers. I'm currently working on an essay that will discuss this. Hopefully, it'll be ready to post within the next day or so (fingers crossed).

For now, I'll give you the essay title and let you ponder who I am referring to:

The Two Davids

In other news, still waiting for my chance to show Chris the rough-cut. In the meantime, I've started work on another short. This one will be shot and conceptualized by me. It's still in the early stages.

More later.

03 January 2009

big doings

i have finally completed a rough cut of the short film that chris and i shot back in october. it is 4min-20sec long. chris and i are tentatively scheduled to get together to go over the rough cut. once he has had the chance to see it and give me notes, i will refine the rough cut into a final cut. chris and i will then decide the best way to exhibit the film. most likely, we'll upload it to you tube or other similar sites. i wouldn't be opposed to starting our own website (i still need to discuss this with chris). once we get all that figured out, i'll post a link here so that everyone can see it.

the process of editing has been eye opening, to say the least. based on my first experience with i-movie, i think i'm ready to move onto the big behemoth of non-linear editing: final cut pro. that'll also be part of my discussion with chris.

chris has more footage for me that'll be the basis of another short. hopefully, he'll bring his camera so that we can shoot more. (i would really love to have a LOT of footage in the can...enough for a few short films.)

in other news, i am having a severe case of writer's block. i have been trying to start my essay about "apocalypse now" (emphasis on the word "trying"). all i have are random notes and an outline. after giving it careful thought, i think i've figured out what's causing the block. "apocalypse now" is a BIG film. i have a lot to say about it. the problem is that the film is so big, i don't know where to start. so, i'm going to write and post the essay in several installments, based on my outline. this way, i can focus on one thing at a time and stay on task. however, before writing, i need to watch the original cut of the film. i haven't seen it in over ten years and i want to be as thorough as possible. once that's done, i can finally start writing.

vacation has been a breath of fresh air so far and i still have a week to go. this doesn't happen often and i want to take advantage of it while i can.