Saturday, June 02, 2007

I just love this scene with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. There's a double entendre woven into it: Frances Stevens somewhat mockingly acts out the allure of her diamond necklace to former "cat burglar" John Robie but the scene is really about her seduction of him. The fireworks in the background emphasize this throughout the scene, but Hitchcock sort of blows their beautiful subtlety by cutting between increasingly close shots of the display and, as they become more intimate, Stevens and Robie.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

It was a such a pleasure to see Into Great Silence at the Chez Artiste in Denver yesterday. It's long. "Three hours, with trailers," said the guy at the ticket counter. At some point after the two-hour mark I bobbed in and out of wakefulness a few times. With the exception of some popcorn munchers (myself included) and a man across the aisle who kept talking (not whispering) into his wife's ear (who, to her credit, shushed him), the audience was as quiet as the monks on the screen. It was so quiet that at times we could hear the soundtrack of the movie playing in the theater next to us.

Most of the people there were elderly. A white-haired woman with a mobile oxygen supply was in the audience with her white-haired friend. I think I was the youngest one, and I'm thirty-seven. It's sad that apparently one's interest in otherworldly things exists generally only in proportion to one's proximity to death.

Jim Emerson's review of the movie is worth reading if you're wondering what the movie is about. Gröning spent six months living in the monastery, a film crew of one. His compositions of the monks and the monastery are masterful and gentle. Some of the lovely outdoor footage of the French Alps is presumably the work of the credited second crew.

If you have a chance to see this while it's playing in a theater, do so. Like Playtime, this is best experienced on a big screen – the bigger the better. Without that, the sense of the film being like a monastery, not just about a monastery, may not seize you.

Update: a load of Into Great Silence links, including one to an interview with Gröning, at GreenCine.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

The farm house was gone long ago, lifted on beams and towed off to some other lot. The barn is next. They're disassembling it now, day by day, board by board. When the last red rib of this empty rib cage is taken down, they'll dig up the land, cover it with cement, and when it's all done, they will have replaced the old homestead with rows of storage for all our extra stuff. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Light and lines.

One thing I failed to say the last time I mentioned Truffaut is that Claude Jade is extraordinarily beautiful. A shot of her from Stolen Kisses:

What a woman.

My favorite exercise in macro photography so far. I think I'm actually starting to understand aperture.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I went into the mountains with my step dad Bob this morning. On the drive up, it started to drizzle....

Then it started to snow....

Bob is a volunteer with the US Forest Service. He goes into the Roosevelt National Forest in northern Colorado and does various things that I normally would think that only a retired guy would have time to do. But Bob has been volunteering his whole life. When he was young, he volunteered to go to Vietnam. Twice. On his second tour he was in a LRRP unit. At some point the unit's mission changed from conventional LRRP stuff (being dropped by helicopter into hostile territory with a small crew, sleeping outdoors, radioing in coordinates for bombing missions, hightailing it into helicopters in fields of elephant grass while being shot at by NVA, and so on) to rapid deployment support for other units in distress. He was wounded in an ambush in one such mission and lost his right calf. When he returned home, he met a man who taught him how to ski on one leg. Since then he's been helping handicapped kids learn out to enjoy the outdoors. A few years ago I remember being blown away when my mom told me on the phone that Bob was out showing a blind kid how to hunt with a bow and arrow. Unbelievable. And that's just one example.

We stopped at some Forest Service facilities and Bob shoveled their walk ways and made sure they weren't out of supplies. We went snowshoeing. At one point he stopped in his tracks. I stopped, too. "What do you hear?" I listened. He listened. We listened. "A bird chirping...." "The wind through the treetops...." "A car's tires on the paved road an airplane above."

After a while we walked back down the trail to the truck. Bob recorded information about the trek — what the trail was like, the number of people he saw on the trail, the number of cars in the parking lot — in a Forest Service log book. We stopped at another USFS facility on the drive down. A little Boy Scout troop was digging a shelter in a snow bank near the parking lot.

Further down the road, Bob told me about the three ways to hunt an antelope. Spot it and loop back through a dry creek bed or other stealthy means. Set up a blind and wait. Wave a flag over a ridge to attract the animal, which is naturally curious. He offered a fourth possibility, which he'd heard of but was skeptical about: make a cardboard cut-out shaped like a cow, paint it black and white, and hide behind it while you walk at an angle towards the antelope. He also told me the reason birds eat pebbles. Being toothless, they need something to grind the food in their bellies. All this stuff I don't know. Thanks, Bob.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Monster House has something for all ages, so much so that it can be seen as being about different things depending on the age of the viewer. (BEWARE: Spoilers ahead.) For the growing-ups, there are the three protagonists (two boys and a girl, in classic Hollywood fashion). Their coming-of-age adventure happens in the absence of anyone past puberty; the parents are gone for all of the action, and the teenage babysitter disappears right when things get going. For the grown-ups, there's a fairly conspicuous theme about real estate, which fits nicely with the gluttonous housing development of the past eight years. Connecting the adult and adolescent themes are the ideas of change and constance (or Constance, a character who appears late in the movie). The movie opens with a shot of a yellow leaf falling from a tree, a symbol of natural change. In the background is another symbol of change, man-made this time, a large construction crane.

The leaf floats to the ground and follows a little girl riding her tricycle along a sidewalk. She gets stuck in Mr. Nebbercracker's lawn. The old man emerges from the house and (in the movie's first line of dialogue) screams "Get off my lawn!" Then he confiscates her tricycle. This, it seems, is a man in love with what he owns.

Later, the male protagonists DJ and Chowder lose a basketball on Nebbercracker's lawn, and we get this startling shot exposing the underbelly of the property (the ball is center and the boys are to left).

The view of the pipeworks below ground sets up something that the house does later, so it's not gratuitous. Nebbercracker comes out of the house again and, after shouting at DJ, has a heart attack and apparantly dies. That night DJ becomes convinced that Nebbercracker is seeking revenge from beyond the grave. He calls Chower and arranges to meet him at the nearby housing development where we saw the crane in the opening shot. The sign outside the development cheekily boasts "Mayville Luxury Towers ... Coming Soon ... We've Drained the Lake!"

The kids decide on a scheme to destroy the house, which they now believe is possessed by the soul of Nebbercracker, but they're stopped by the local police, who "arrest" the kids. "We're supercops," says the rookie, feeling emboldened by the arrest. The old-timer responds, his head down: "Yeah, that's why I live in a condo."

In a sense the dual aspect of the movie (it's one thing for kids and another for adults) derives from a play on the word possession. For kids, it's a scary and funny coming-of-age movie about a house that's possessed by the soul of a human being. For adults, it's a tale about being controlled by your possessions. However you watch it, it's a damn fine film.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sometimes at basketball games the spectators are more interesting than the players.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A frame from Truffaut's Bed and Board.

It pretty much sums up the way I feel about his films. Their gentleness and unsentimental simplicity stupefies me.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

My friend Wendy edits for an online zine called Mental Contagion. Last fall she asked me to write a short story for it. After a few false starts, I finished it in time for the December issue. It helps to have a deadline. Don't be fooled by the title.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The first movie Alan Arkin directed was Little Murders. It's based on a play, so it's somewhat talkie, but the dialogue itself is very entertaining. Take this scene in which Alfred, a nihilist, meets the family of Patsy, his optimistic girlfriend.


Exactly what sort of work do you do?


Oh, it's very complicated. You don't really want to know.


You may as well....


Well, I began as a commercial photographer.


He began as a painter.


Oh, I was a bad painter.


Says you!


Jesus Christ, would you let the boy finish? (Looking at his wife.) Well?


I began as a commercial photographer and was doing sort of well at it.


Sort of well? You should see his portfolio. He has work in Holiday, Esquire, The New Yorker, Vogue...



KENNY NEWQUIST (with mock excitement)

Woo! Woo!

It's an overrated business. But after a couple of years of doing sort of well at it, things began to go wrong. I began losing my people. Somehow I got my heads chopped off. Or out of focus. Or terrible expressions on my models. I'd have them examining a client's product like this.

Like that. A face would be really ... The agencies began to wonder if I didn't have some editorial motive in mind.

Suddenly the apartment shakes from a small earthquake, as though expressing the anger that the Gods of Advertising harbored against Albert.

ALBERT (cont.)

Which was not true, but once they planted the idea.

The lights in the apartment go out.


Oh, I didn't mean to interrupt, dear. How far better it is to strike a match than curse the darkness -- my mother always told us that ... Go on, dear.


Well, my career suffered but there was nothing I could do about it. You see, the harder I tried to straighten out, the fuzzier my people got, and the clearer my objects. Soon my people disappeared entirely. They just somehow never came out. But the objects I was shooting ...

... brilliantly clear. So I began to do a lot of catalog work.

The lights come on again.

ALBERT (cont.)

Pictures of medical instruments -- things like that. It was boring but it kept me alive. (Takes a deep breath.) I suppose the real break came with the SEM show. They had me shoot thirty of their new models. They hired a gallery and put on a computer show. One hundred and twenty color pictures of computers! It got some very strange notices, the upshot of which was that the advertising business went thing crazy and I became commercial again.


You must be extremely talented.


I got sick of it. Where the hell are standards? That's what I kept asking myself. I mean those people will take anything. Hell, if I give them a picture of shit, they'll probably give me an award for it.


Language, young man.


So that's what I do now.





Take pictures of shit.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ah, the Presidential Inauguration of 2001; I remember it well. It was a new beginning for a nation. The Mall hummed with hope and good cheer. So much potential! So many possibilities!

If only George W. Bush had the vision and courage at the time to give the following speech:

My fellow Americans, the United States of America is and has always been the land of opportunity. From all over the world, immigrants come to America full of hope, looking forward to a future that exists in their hearts, a future that America will allow them to create with the determination of their hands and the ingenuity of their minds. The people of our beloved country were blessed with that opportunity at the birth of this great nation, thanks to the wisdom of our founding fathers and the Grace of our Lord. It is my wish that we will continue to enjoy this opportunity. Therefore, I will not take the Oath of the Office of the President of the United States of America. I'm just not cut out for it. I was thinking, maybe I'll shoot for Baseball Commissioner instead. Thank you and God bless America.

Monday, January 01, 2007

There were different things about Christmas this year. It was Mom and Bob's first Christmas in their new house in Loveland. And for the first time I met Heather, my first step sister (first sister of any kind, actually, and who happens to have wicked Scattergories kung fu, so watch out), and her daughter Katie. Without further ado, the photos....

The cute and imaginative Katie looking adorable in front of the tree.

Looking even adorabler.

With her excellent mom, Heather.


And all of the above plus Mom and Bob.

Happy New Year, everybody!