Wednesday, June 30, 2004
I haven't yet seen Super Size Me
, and I'm not entirely sure I want to either - I suspect I would end up feeling rather ill.
But I had to laugh when I read this story
in the paper today. You can't believe everything you see at the movies, y'know?
Sinking Ship - Rats = Conservatives Against The War
Even William F. Buckley is now against the war in Iraq
. William Fuckin' Buckley!
Jeez, at this rate I half expect to see Kissinger come out and declare the war a waste of human life...
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
In two and a half hours, I'm due to lead another workshop at the MeDiA Co-op; the evening's topic is camera operating, something that I particularly enjoy and like to think I'm reasonably good at.
So why do I feel so unenthusiastic?
The Co-op workshop is one of those things that sounds great, and is no doubt very necessary, and somebody out there somewhere is going to figure out exactly how to do it well. But for me, in this particular situation, I'm increasingly just feeling at a loss. A few months ago, not long after I became the workshop co-ordinator, I designed and implemented a whole curriculum, something that I hoped would keep people involved, or at least make the workshops more predictable. I based it on the production process -- first some basic concepts, then some fundamental pre-production issues, followed by production and post-production stuff. It seemed like a good idea -- hell, it IS a good idea. But at this point, it seems to be doing more to highlight the intrinsic weaknesses in our plan than to strengthen the program.
- How do you teach people who've never held a camera how to make films in two (maybe three) hours per week? I spent twelve hours a day, six days a week for three years learning this stuff to a level that's more about competence than genius; now I've got maybe 100 hours a year to work with. Sounds like a lot, but when you consider the turnover rate and the choppiness of that time, it's almost nothing.
- How do I teach anything to a meaningful degree when I rarely have people staying around for more than four months at a time? I'd love to be working on more advanced concepts now, but by the time we've covered the basics, we've got an entirely new crowd of people and have to start all over again. We never get past a very elementary level.
- How do I deal with the inherent indifference of a typical group? Our workshops are mostly made up of people who think they maybe would like to make a film (or at least would like to call themselves filmmakers), but don't, for the most part, seem to have much interest in the actual work that goes into a film. Yes, there are a few gung-ho people, but not many of them actually need anything like our workshops; they're already out there doing all we could ask them to do. So what do I do with the rest?
- Should I even be expecting people to make films? Maybe all they want to do is sit around and talk about it... and hell, maybe that's enough. Maybe the only useful role I've got in this is to facilitate discussion and educate them in the hopes of making them better film-viewers.
I mean, seriously, what's the point? That's not a hypothetical question... I really, truly want to know what the point of this is. I can't help but think that this is genuinely important -- we're at a pivotal moment in the medium, a point when the average Joe and Jane can start making films of their own, and consequently allowing us to tap all that unused potential for innovation and originality. And I would very much like, in some way, to help facilitate this quiet revolution. But how the fuck are we supposed to revolt in two hours per week?
The usual disclaimers apply: I'm sure this is more about my lack of skill as an educator than it is about those I'm attempting to teach; the people who come to our workshops are great, etc. It's still incredibly frustrating.
Monday, June 28, 2004
Don't Cry For Me, Manitoba
Just thought y'all would like to know, Paul Martin's Liberal Party (which is actually liberal... I think... I'm all confused now) barely squeaked in a win
in Canada's general election today.
Not that this means much to me personally... but if Canada went all right-winger on us, well, that would be awfully sad. (Where would we run once the draft starts up, eh?)
(What, are you surprised that I know the name of the Canadian Prime Minister? Hell... I can even sing their national anthem and name all their provinces and territories. Now ask yourself... can George W. Bush
An Important Victory
I don't have much time right now, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the major, major SCOTUS decisions
1) Prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay are entitled to lawyers and court hearings.
2) Prisoners at Gitmo are also within the jurisdiction of the United States Court System.
This is a fairly significant blow to the Bush administration, which had been arguing that as enemy combatants, none of these prisoners were entitled to legal counsel, and that since they technically were being held outside of U.S. borders, they were also beyond the reach of American courts. Basically, the Bush administration wanted them left in limbo where they could do as they pleased with them; the Supreme Court decided that was bullshit.
The point here is that, as guilty as some of those prisoners no doubt are, there are certain standards that we uphold, certain lines we don't cross. The United States does not run gulags where people can be quietly "disappeared" away, and we prove guilt in an open and transparent court system, not in dog cages and "interrogation" rooms.
Predictably, Scalia voted against human rights and in favor of the gulags. Not surprising.
Stirrin' the pot
Michael Moore is a common name: New Zealand had a prime minister called Michael Moore
, who later went on to be head of the World Trade Organisation. In a previous job I had a boss called Michael Moore (different guy). And I was at high school with a guy called Michael Moore (different guy again.) How many Michael Moores do you
Anyway, the Moore of the moment sure is causing a fuss. Even over here in Australia - where Fahrenheit 9/11 has not even been released yet! The Australian
newspaper ran a slightly abridged version of the Hitchens critique on Saturday morning, and today the letters page was full of indignant responses to Hitchens (one or two of which were by people who actually claimed to have seen the movie.)
It's no surprise that dyed-in-the-wool small-l liberals are just loving the movie, but when we have self-described "ultra-conservatives" saying things like this:
The film itself very much reflects its creator: It's shaggy, flabby, occasionally witty, and frequently infuriating. It will have a HUGE impact because Moore – his facile leftist economics notwithstanding – has nailed his case against the Bush regime flush to the plank. It will be all but impossible for anybody who sits still and watches this film to view Bush the Lesser as anything other than a petty, spiteful, dim-witted, bloody-handed little fool – and the figurehead of a murderous power elite. This explains why the Bu'ushists are threatening to go Abu Ghraib on Moore: They're busted. source
then you know something big is happening. (Now, ere you start to think perhaps the twain have met, out of fairness please go and read this post
from the same site as the above.)
One more quote, which is the one that I will probably have in the back of my mind when I eventually get to see the movie:
The theatrical poster for "Fahrenheit 9/11" (which even Moore's critics must admit is pretty darn clever) features a heavily doctored photo of a smiling Moore holding hands with President Bush above a tagline which reads -- "Controversy . . . what controversy?" It's funny enough on a superficial level but even funnier in an ironic sense, because the two men actually have more in common than either of them would probably care to admit.
You see, both Moore and Bush are masters of oversimplification. They can take complex situations, trim out all the facts that contradict one particular point of view, and then convincingly present what remains as the one correct way to view the situation.
This whole Iraq/terrorism/war/Bush thing is not black and white. It is many many nuances of grey. Earlier today I read an article in the paper
about a small businessman in Baghdad who is doing very well these days selling CDs. J Lo in particular is very popular. Lots and lots of people in Baghdad now apparently have mobile phones - there were none a year ago. (I could probably send someone a text message right now!) People talk about the banality of evil, but the sheer ordinariness of J-Lo and the mobile phones got me thinking that it can't be all
death, destruction, mayhem and beheadings over there right now.
I've periodically seen opinion polls quoted, which report that a large proportion of the Iraqi people (even a majority, perhaps) say that their lives are better now than they were before the war. I don't know whether it's actually true that people think that, or whether it's simply true that the respondents said such things to pollsters while thinking something else, or whether such polls are all complete bullshit. And that kind of sums it up for me a lot of the time. I just don't know.
On to something altogether more amusing. Ever wonder who Hillary Clinton was named after? Wonder no more
Actions That Make No Sense #1247
It was announced today that, after 15 months of hanging around, it has suddenly become absolutely imperative that the handover of "authority" to Iraq be made not two days from now, oh no... it has to be done today
. TODAY, DAMN IT!
The reason that was given for suddenly wanting to pull it forward by two desperately-urgent days when we've been putzing around for so long? Why, to show the terrorists who's boss. (How exactly that gets the point across I'm not certain.)
Does this make sense to anybody?
But hey, at least now we can bring all those troops home, right? Yep, our fighting men and women should be home by the end of the week. Right?
(But seriously, 100 points to anyone who can explain to me what the fuck just happened. CNN's reporting that the handover has already occured; there's talk of "heavy helicopter activity." Why are we getting out so fast?)
Sunday, June 27, 2004
Oh, And By The Way...
...lest anyone get the impression that only hardcore lefties are supporting this film, apparently Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was just quoted on Fox News
advising his pit crew to go see it. Apparently he said "it's a good thing as an American to go see."
The film's doing as well in red states and GOP-solid areas as it is in New York City. It was selling out screens in Fort Meyers, Florida, Houston, Texas and Ames, Iowa as easily as it was in San Francisco. Perhaps this will do something to dissipate the common misconception that this is about yankees vs. southerners, or city people vs. small town folks.
Hell, even Merle Haggard (who, of course, recorded "Okie From Muskogee" during the Vietnam War) was against this war
Suddenly I'm a lot more curious about country music and NASCAR.
Record Bustin' Daddy: Update
The weekend box office has been called for Fahrenheit 9/11
. The numbers will be confirmed tomorrow, but these numbers are usually pretty close to correct. If they are adjusted, I have a feeling they'll be adjusted upward.
This is a staggering result on a number of levels. This ain't just any old "#1 at the Box Office" opening weekend; this is something that's never been seen before.
1) Bowling For Columbine
, previously the highest-grossing documentary feature film of all time, made roughly $21.6 million over 28 weeks. Fahrenheit 9/11
just made $21.9 million in three days
2) Fahrenheit 9/11
has just become the first documentary -- in history
-- to become the #1 film at the U.S. box office.
3) The #2 and #3 films, White Chicks
, opened on 2,726 and 3,020 screens respectively. F 9/11
opened on only 868. This is the first time that a documentary film has even managed to compete with big-budget Hollywood releases, let alone beat them.
This has been a bizarre year for film marketing, proving at least that the studios and powerful distributors are not untouchable after all.
Get your numbers here
, and more information here
I think it's safe to guess that nobody saw this coming. Even the most gung-ho enthusiasts, had they been asked, would not have guessed that F 9/11
would have had such a massive impact in its very first weekend. The outlook for the film seemed to be good, but it certainly didn't predict this kind of reaction from the public... nothing said this would happen.
Wouldn't it be cool if the election turned out to be the same? Wouldn't it be amazing to see the liberals and the sane conservatives coming out to vote in huge, surprising numbers? Wouldn't it be incredible if George W. Bush turned out to be November 2's White Chicks
This just in: Karl Rove shitting his pants as we speak.
: As predicted, the opening-weekend box office for Fahrenheit 9/11
has been revised upward, to a total three-day take of $23.9M (or roughly 3.5 million tickets sold). That's $2M higher than the estimates, and $4.2M more than White Chicks
. More screens are being added for the coming weekend, and more still for the weekend after that. Video and DVD will be released by election day.
Rebuttal to Hitchens
I've already posted this link in a comment box below, but it's awfully easy to miss there. I was considering making a rebuttal against Hitchens
myself, but why bother when somebody else has already done it
The Difference Between American Journalists And Real Journalists
So, Bush's people are pissed off an Carole Coleman.
Why? Because when she did an interview with him for Irish television on Friday night, she asked too many questions. And when she asked them, she didn't just accept the standard "blah blah freedom blah blah terrorists" answers that they offer to everyone over here. She actually wanted, like, actually real answers and stuff. The nerve!
But I suppose we could excuse Bush for being miffed at being ambushed by what he thought would be a friendly reporter. You go in expecting one thing, and you get something completely different... that would be rough, sure.
Oh... except Coleman had already cleared all the questions
with Bush and his team. D'oh!
I think it's actually a much more tragic statement about the American media than about Carole Coleman. The woman clearly made some not-entirely-journalistic concessions, and was still
handed her ass when she (gasp!) expected answers that made sense. Anybody who's been watching the American media pussyfoot around Bush for three-and-a-half years, never asking him for anything more than a few minutes in which to watch him sitting there looking pretty and talking like a cowboy, knows about this all too well.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Fahrenheit 9/11, part II
(Warning: contains potential spoilers, as far as a documentary about well-known events can be spoiled.)
If you read this blog regularly, you'll remember that in this post
, I linked to a piece
quoting Godard saying of Michael Moore at Cannes, ""Moore doesn't distinguish between text and image... He doesn't know what he's doing."
Godard can be a crusty old guy at the best of times, of course, and American filmmakers are a favorite target of his crotchety-ness. As it happened, he hadn't even seen Fahrenheit 9/11
at the time he said that... if he had, he might have realized that Moore might just be a more sophisticated filmmaker than he'd given him credit for.
Moore's work has long been characterized by funny bits that taunt the powers-that-be, which normally feature Moore himself at the forefront of the action. For most of his career, Moore has relied on his chops as a fearlessly obnoxious questioner, as well as his genuinely prodigious sense of humor, to make his films compelling. (I still adore the old bit from "TV Nation" when he took a squad of racially-diverse cheerleaders to a Klan gathering to jump around on the borders of the rally site and cheer "we love you! we love you!" to the Klansmen. That was Michael Moore at his absolute best.)
Alas, as passionate and, in my opinion, correct as Moore's opinions are, when he has a position to get across, he ocassionally allows himself to fall back on techniques that are really not fair. And I don't mean "not fair" in that they don't represent the other side's views -- I don't expect him to do that -- but "not fair" in that no human being could reasonably be anticipated to respond favorably to some of the situations into which he's placed people like Dick Clark (the host of American Bandstand, not the former head counter-terrorism) and Charleton Heston. His beef with those people may indeed be legitimate; in fact, I expect it is. But ambushing people just doesn't do the argument justice... if the point is strong, you shouldn't need to rely on those tactics to make it stick.
So, Moore's films are invariably entertaining (or infuriating, if you're on the other side of the debate), but unless you're really completely ignorant of how these things work, you always come away with some reservations. "It would've been a great film, except..."
But for once, Michael Moore has managed to get over that last bit of himself, and has made a movie strictly from his soul. It's the best work he's ever done. Getting back to Godard's statement about not distinguishing between image and text, in Fahrenheit 9/11
Moore demonstrates that not only can he distinguish, but he can use images in highly subtle and sophisticated ways. The most exceptional example of this comes early in the film; it's a representation of the morning of September 11, 2001.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon are obviously frought with difficulty when it comes to documentary. On the one hand, those images are highly charged, and even now seem almost sacred, untouchable. On the other hand, they've also been used and used and used; the same four or five tapes have been seen ad nauseam
by every single American since the day they were made. By now, each of us has our own private baggage that accompanies those images; they are no longer fresh. And while they still illicit a response, it's a well-practised, familiar response, and thus unlikely to touch us on any new levels. So how does a filmmaker portray an event that everyone is painfully over-familiar with? How does he get us in that moment without risking trampling on everyone's well-guarded emotions about the event?
Moore came up with an ingenious solution: don't use the images at all.
Instead, we listen to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, while staring at a black screen. The mechanical projector goes dark, and the mental projections begin: each individual viewer sits, listening to the terrifying, thunderous booming of the impact of jet into steel and glass, spending 30 or 40 seconds watching the private images inside their heads. All those morbid fantasies you lingered over after the attacks -- what would it be like to jump? what would it be like to see the building coming down on top of you? what would it be like to be there, watching it happen? -- come back to visit you in a darkened cinema, and you're there, you're back in that moment. The black screen acts as a vessel for all your emotions, and an entirely different, and very rare, kind of projection occurs.
When the images begin to return, Moore still uses a kind of cinematic negative space to represent the destroyed towers; except for one brief glimpse of the base of one tower, we never see them in the film. Instead, we see the reactions of people watching, we see the horror on their faces, and we know exactly what they're seeing without having to be shown. We're connected to them, and we remember what we felt ourselves on that day as if we were experiencing it all for the first time. It's an incredibly harrowing and masterful bit of filmmaking. Moore definitely knows the difference between image and text.
Another welcome departure from Moore's previous work is his newfound willingness to let others speak for him. Rather than make his arguments himself -- and thus leave them vulnerable to criticism based not on their content but rather on who made them -- he uses video of other people speaking to contruct his narrative. He still speaks, but for the most part the most important words are left to others. When a grieving mother is confronted by a grossly insensitive passerby on a sidewalk, Moore does not intervene. When a badly wounded soldier has something to say, Moore steps back and lets him speak for himself. This is a Michael Moore I like, a Michael Moore I can really respect.
There are still a few of the signature Moore bits, though, and several of them are quite funny; the guy knows how to get a laugh, even if Bush provides him with a particularly easy target. Moore remains, perhaps, a bit too willing to go for the easy conclusion, and suffers from a hesitance to let things remains as complex and messy and confusing as they really are. Now and then I felt a bit of cinematic whiplash when we moved abruptly from solemnity or anger to gleeful mockery of our common foe. But I get the feeling that there will be fewer cries of "manipulator" and "liar" this time around... the material felt solid and well-backed-up, and there was very little need to set up anything. The subject and the argument are so strong that Moore didn't have to work to find a clear shot at it; the Bush administration's failures and gross corruption present a target the size of a barn door. It would have been more of a challenge for Moore to get it wrong.
I still have a few worries about how Moore's work fits into the genre as a whole, although I'm far less bothered by them in this case than I was by Bowling For Columbine
. I read a comment by someone -- I wish I could remember where, so I could link to it -- saying that Fahrenheit 9/11
isn't propaganda, it's counter-propaganda. If nothing else, the "counter-propaganda" label at least acknowledges that this is a two-sided fight; it ain't just Michael Moore and his liberal audiences screaming in the desert. But this film I think really has transcended the propaganda label (I realize that others disagree); its point of view is blatantly obvious, but that alone doesn't disqualify it as a true documentary. It's also a record of a specific place and time -- it felt like a first attempt at a historical film at times, even if technically it can't be one at all -- and of the mood of a vast group of people living in that setting. As I sat watching it, I could imagine my kids one day watching it as well and asking, "was it really like that?" And I can imagine myself saying to them, "yes, it really was." This is not just a film against one man's re-election campaign, it's a picture of what life was like for roughly half of America during a critical juncture at the beginning of the 21st century. And that picture is one I want to remember. This is a worthy film.
Dude... what the fuck?
These people, y'know, when some dumbass compares Dubya to Hitler in a poorly-made advertisement as part of a contest, they go apeshit, scream bloody fucking murder for days on end.
And then what do they do?
A new Bush-Cheney re-election video features clips of Hitler -- the same ones the campaign criticized when they were used in a Web spot that appeared on the Internet site of the liberal activist group MoveOn.org as part of a contest in January.
The 77-second Republican ad splices together video of Democrats Al Gore, Howard Dean and others, calling them John Kerry's "Coalition of the Wild-eyed." Interspersed among the clips are images of Hitler.
Record Bustin' Daddy
There isn't a free link available yet, but apparently as of this morning, Fahrenheit 9/11
is in the #1 spot for the weekend. There are still two days to go, but after Friday, F.9/11 had pulled in $8.2 million, and White Chicks
had done only $6.8 million.
"Fahrenheit" is crushing both expectations of those involved in the film as well as industry rivals.
Ortenberg said that while tracking data did not predict sales this strong, the trends had been encouraging.
"The most important thing in the tracking is the trend. Every day our numbers keep going up for awareness and interest," he said.
Sehring added, "It would be great if it held for the weekend. It could break the documentary box office record in just one weekend."
(Ripped shamelessly from Kos)
Phenomenal. Simply fucking phenomenal.
Other People's Lives
Sometimes, for no particular reason, we are afforded glimpses into the lives of strangers.
I wrote a couple of days ago about text messaging and my renewed capacity for it. Prior to writing that, I hadn't received a single text in well over a year... not a single one. Since then, I've been trying it out, but being a bit cautious since I don't actually know how much they're costing me yet.
But last night I got two I didn't understand, in the midst of several more from recognized sources. They were wrong numbers; somebody sent me messages intended for someone else:
U mean a comma so he might not live
Im going to savanna
I'm assuming "comma" is supposed to be "coma," and "savanna" doubtless refers to Savannah, Georgia.
My first instinct was to frantically go over the list of people I know in Savannah, which, as it happens, is exactly zero. Then I checked the number against every name I could think of -- who's in a coma? -- but nothing matched up. It's a Mississippi phone number, which could make sense for me, but the lack of context seemed to insist that these were just misdirected messages. I tried calling to find out who the sender was, and to let them know their messages didn't make it to their intended target, but nobody ever answered.
So somebody out there is currently sitting in a hospital Savannah, fretting over a comatose friend or loved one. And strangely, I know about it, even though I don't know who they are or what that means to them.
It's just weird is all.
Fahrenheit 9/11, part I
It's an intense experience, seeing all your anxieties, all your anger, all your disappointment and disillusionment projected onto a movie screen. It's an enormous relief, finally seeing all that you've thought finally, finally
stated plainly and publicly in a form that can't be ignored. Dismissed by some, yes; ragefully denied by others, yes. But they're going to feel it, by god; they're going to hear it whether they like it or not.
This is why American liberals love Michael Moore: he's an imperfect filmmaker, and often does things we wish he wouldn't. But more often, he's doing what we all want to do ourselves, but can't; what we all desperately need to see to be done. When others vascillate and avoid controversy, Michael Moore is there saying what we're all thinking. He's the only one of our speakers who is genuinely unafraid.
This film is without a doubt his best; I'll talk about that in greater depth in a separate post. It's not without flaws and weak spots, but finally Michael Moore is pissed off enough to (mostly) forego his usual theatrics, and finally he has found a story so compelling that it he doesn't feel the need to stand in its way as he often does. He shows us the footage that the American press has neglected, or that the Bush administration has been unwilling to release: this is what Baghdad looks like from the inside
when bombs are dropping; this is what a dead Iraqi child looks like; here's a maimed soldier to look at, to listen to. And here's your leader, chumming it up with those who really did
harbor terrorists; here's your leader sitting useless while his nation was attacked; here's your leader gloating over carnage; here's your leader brushing off his failure to capture those responsible. Do you like what you see? What will you do about it?
In Fahrenheit 9/11
Moore has finally managed to express why
the American left is so angry at the Bush administration. Does the right really think it's because we "hate America," because we don't support the troops, because we love terrorists and Saddam Hussein? Are they blind? Are they that
gullible? We're angry because after our country was victimized once, by evil men who came seemingly out of nowhere to kill thousands of people, our anguish and our faith in the man who, for better or worse, was now our leader was taken and coldly used for the benefit not of our country, but for the benefit of that same leader and those close to him. Our credibility in the world was destroyed, our freedom at home was reduced, we were terrorized not only by those who'd attacked us but by those who purported to protect us, our treasury was pillaged and our children indebted, our troops were killed, many innocents were slaughtered in our name, we were broadly maligned as terrorist-coddlers and American-haters, and our faith in everything that we had been told was good about our imperfect country was badly shaken. After we were victimized once by Osama and his boys, the Bush administration came along and victimized us a second time. The man who was meant to protect us merely finished the job our attackers began.
So, you bet your fucking ass we're pissed off, and there are more of us than you think. We will not let you get away with it.
I have no illusions that anyone who supports Bush or who supported this godforsaken war will go see this film, or that if they do, they'll change their views as a result of it. But I think it's important that they see: this is what your unquestioning loyalty has wrought. If all you watch is Fox News, you have not even begun to see the reality of this war; your John Wayne fantasies bear little relationship to the war as it actually exists. If Rush Limbaugh is all you have heard of the Bush administration, you have not faced the truth of what it is you support. This isn't about blowjobs and what the meaning of the word "is" is; this is about the failure of all that America is supposed to mean, this is about my ability to ever hold my head up in the world as a citizen of this country. This is about our collective humanity.
While you were droning on and on about patriotism and supporting the troops, while you were accusing us of not being "American" enough, you missed the point: you are speaking of being an "American," but we're talking about being human.
(Note: this post is comprised of my emotional, visceral response to the film. A more critical, intellectual post will follow soon.)
Y'know... I'm really tired of blogging about this shoot. I'm really tired of the shoot itself, too. I'm just ready to be done, to move on with my life, get on to the next thing.
So let's make it simple:
We did some shooting at the Butler Street Bazaar; it all went fine. Some lady, apparently a friend of one of the actresses, wandered perilously close to the shot, but none of us could pull her away without also risking ruining the shot. As the action came close to her, she ended up hiding behind a door. I think it all turned out okay.
An hour or so after dinner, I started feeling really, really queasy. I can't imagine what would have made me sick -- dinner was catered, rice and beans, salad, fruit, bread, brownies, nothing that seemed particularly salmonella or e. coli-prone -- but I was definitely ill. It was the last shoot of the last (official) day, and I was trying my best to hang in there, but obviously out on a film shoot is the last fucking place you want to be with a case of food poisoning, so Amber sent me home. I felt rather guilty about it, but relieved. I had a rough night, but I feel much better now.
Tomorrow we make another attempt at the second party-house shoot, and then, I believe, my obligations to this film are complete, and any further shooting will be on an as-you-can basis.
Friday, June 25, 2004
Not My Proper Post About Fahrenheit 9/11
I went to the 2:45 matinee at Studio on the Square with a cluster of others from the Co-op and the production. I found it to be a pretty intense experience, and I have a lot I want to say about it, but I'm not going to be able to until later. First, because I'm still trying to digest it all, but mostly because tonight's our wrap party, so I've got other places to be for a while. (I also still have a post to write about day 16 of the production, which I haven't forgotten... I got a bit of a case of food poisoning last night, so blogging wasn't at the forefront of my mind.)
A few quick things, though:
The turnout was phenomenal, literally. I caught a discussion of political documentaries on the radio yesterday, and the question was asked: Will Fahrenheit 9/11
be the number one movie at the box office this weekend? The answer was no, it would be beaten by White Chicks
, which is opening on roughly three times as many screens today. But I have to say, if the crowds at my cinema were any indication, Michael Moore's got a surprisingly good shot at the #1 slot. There were hundreds of people there for the 2:45 show; the noon show had sold out, as had the 7- and 9-o'clock shows when we entered. By the time we'd left, ALL the shows had sold out, including two for Sautrday. That's a staggering opening weekend for a documentary... I'd be confident in guessing that it's probably unprecedented. And there are two other theaters in town also showing it... I don't know what their crowds looked like (I'd guess not quite as overwhelming), but the simple fact that a doc feature sold out any screenings at all is incredible; I've never heard of anything like it. If there are several hundred angry liberals at just the 2:45 matinee screening at one theater here in Memphis, Tennessee, I can only imagine what the response will be on a national level.
I think I'll have to post on the film in two parts -- one dealing with my emotional response, and one dealing with my intellectual response. I also intend to see the film again sometime next week when I can watch it with a colder eye I'm sure over the next few days, weeks, and months, various conservatives will continue to decry the film, and will make assertions about falsehoods/manipulations/etc. We'll take those as they come, as we always do, and I'm sure I'll be revisiting the subject over the long haul.
Check back later for more.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Once again, I'm a little late in posting. Between you and me, it's a minor miracle that I'm still posting on this shoot at all... I lost interest in the venture at least a week ago. I'll probably be glad I stuck with it later, though.
Okay... let's see... where to begin?
I started Tuesday (if you accept 6 PM as "starting Tuesday") by completely bailing on the Co-op workshop. I was supposed to give some instruction on basic camera operating, but by the time 7:30 rolled around I was in a somewhat surly mood, and feeling only like hiding under a rock somewhere. Giving of myself and interacting closely with other people were not things I felt capable of doing, at least not if I wanted to prevent myself from bailing on the shoot later.
So I set 'em up with a DVD -- some doc on poetry slams by a workshop attendee/Co-op member that would've been good if it were cut down to about 20 minutes (the actual running time was roughly two hours) -- and once the lights were out, I retreated to an office and spent an hour or so valiantly resisting the urge to freak out completely. While I was in there, Lee (the director of the next film I'm working on) tapped on the door and asked to talk. To be honest, at that moment that was the last thing I wanted -- it wasn't about Lee, who's a great guy, but just about being spoken to about yet another film, another way to give up two months of my life. But Lee was actually helpful; he's a rather calming presence, and reassured me about where I was at as much as I hope I reassured him about his ongoing preproduction worries. Morgan's been in a rough place the last few days, and the Great Directorial Triad has been pretty inaccessible; there hsa really been nobody to vent to about this uncomfortable last stage of production, at a time when venting is good for one's sanity.
Things on the production front have continued to be tricky. We arrived back at the party house at 2:45 AM with the cast and crew(but no drunken extras), to discover that we were not particularly welcome. This is the problem with unpaid locations, especially those that are normally somebody's home... as much as you try to leave things in good order, once people realize how extensive the disruption to their lives can be, they often begin to do whatever they feel they can get away with to repel the production. It's highly understandable, and even the most well-informed hosts often don't really, really
realize what they're in for. I can't blame the home's residents for not wanting us back, but it does cause some significant problems for the shoot. For one thing, we had twenty people standing around at 3 AM not doing anything, and second, while it might be possible to scout another location that would match closely enough, it's a huge pain in the ass and not guaranteed to be successful. We don't yet know that we won't be able to use that location again, but at the very least we have to reschedule those scenes. That means the production just became one day longer at a stage when nobody wants to do an extra day.
The tension surrounding Philly continues as well... she's one of those people who has apparently decided that she has a right -- nay, a moral obligation
-- to shit on anyone she decides isn't doing enough for her. She's an interesting personality, to be sure, and I do understand why Morgan cast her; I just wonder if it was worth the trauma. We have a laid-back, adaptable, relaxed cast and crew; there are few rampant egos around, and I think that's a big part of what has allowed this to be as peaceable and smooth a production as it has been. Philly enters the scene as a raving egotist, shitting all over that easygoing vibe. (I want to underline here that this is NOT Morgan's fault; Philly is solely responsible for her own actions. I don't think Morgan realized when he invited her what a disruptive influence she would be.)
I find it amazing that text messaging is not used in the USA. Over this way, text messaging is HUGE ... I typically send/receive a half-dozen or so per day, and more on the weekends (and I'm an old fart, really old and stuff, y'know ... kids send far far more).
It's just such a handy way of communicating...
If you have something brief to say, but can't be arsed actually talking to someone, it's perfect. If it's late at night, and you aren't sure whether someone is awake, you can send a txt "r u awake" before disturbing them with a phone call. If someone is trying to find your house, you can text them the address and basic directions which they can consult repeatedly as they find their way over. If you have been asked out on a date and really enjoyed it, but are not sure whether it is you or the other person who should call first, a quick text is an ideal risk-free method for letting that person know you're interested. And when the relationship is over, a text - "u r dumped" - is a nice easy way of ending it. (I'm only partially kidding on that last point - text-dumping does happen.)
Ain't technology grand? You Americans don't know what you're missing out on.
I haven't posted for a little while - slack of me. While you're waiting, take a look at Mark Latham (leader of the opposition Labor Party) and his man boobs
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
I'm reaching the end of my endurance.
This is a common point to reach on any shoot... the moment when you hit the wall, and feel unable to continue any further. You get past it, of course; you just do what you've got to do, and eventually you either get a second wind, or the production comes to an end. In this case, the latter is likely to happen before the former.
But I haven't had a day off in weeks; I feel as though I'm "on duty" continually, people calling me up to solve little problems and answer questions. The main cause of my malaise isn't physical exhaustion, it's the simple fact that I've had almost no time for myself in the last month. And as a person who needs
a certain amount of silence and solitude, the lack of personal time can wear me down as much as sleep deprivation or hunger (if not as quickly).
We're going to get through this shoot, though -- everyone is feeling it, not just me, so I have no place to complain -- but I'm ready to be through with this.
The good thing about reaching this point is that small pleasantries become that much more gratifying... my bed has rarely felt as welcoming as it does now, for example. Also, I was very pleased to discover today that, somehow, I am suddenly able to send text messages overseas.
Text messaging was my primary mode of on-the-run communication in London; I also used it frequently to have happy little interludes with friends in farther-flung places. He who is known here as Smithers was a common text buddy. But when I got back to the US, I found I was no longer able to indulge in international text messages, and nobody here seems to use them. So I forgot about them altogether.
But early this morning turned on my phone to discover than a friend in London, Dom, had sent me a message... and it had actually gotten through. I replied, not really expecting my response to hit the other end, but miraculously it did. A later test message to Smithers confirmed: I can text abroad again. Hooray!
So if any of my foreign friends read this and want to drop me a 160-character line, let me know.
Jesus fucking Christ, what a night.
Blogging is just about the last thing I want to do right now, but I'm falling behind on these posts, and I know I've got another busy night tonight, so I figure I ought to make an effort now while I've got a little time. Last night was the big shoot at the party house, and a lot went on... I'm facing a few dilemmas because some of what's been happening is mostly interpersonal messiness and thus technically none of my business. That is to say, I fear that I might tread on territory that some would prefer I stay off of... but at the same time, all of this is not only having an impact on the shoot, but is also just part and parcel of the process. And the point of these posts is not only to document this particular film shoot, but also to provide one more case study of an independent feature film production, so it seems reasonable to include some of this. If anyone objects, I'll consider removing it... but I'm not making any promises.
The first drama involves our Executive Producer, Ginger, who's very cool and well-liked by everyone, not to mention the fairy godmother of this whole production. Opposing Ginger is Philly, the NYC punk-diva-queen-bitch who starred in a number of Todd Verow's films and previously attended the Co-op film festival with Mr. Verow; that visit went fine, which is what led to Philly being cast in this film. Ginger has been staying at Morgan's apartment; Philly is also now staying at Morgan's apartment. Ginger and Philly get along about as well as two things that don't even remotely get along... much of the friction is coming directly from Philly, though, who's making herself quite unwelcome in various unpleasant ways. At this point, nobody even really wants to talk to her; last I heard she was being written out of the film. Still, she's angry now, still encamped in Morgan's apartment, and god knows what else... at this point, neither Morgan nor Ginger dare enter, so she's essentially taken over Morgan's home.
The second unhappy episode involves the young actor who has been playing "Superkid" (the junkie fourteen-year-old) in the film, and playing it very well. His name is Adam, he's a very young-looking fifteen-year-old (he looks thirteen at most), and has been one of the most accomodating, patient actors in the whole cast. Amber and Morgan had made very clear to his father that the film was going to deal with controversial subjects -- drugs, alcohol, sex -- and Adam's father, much to his credit, took the time to get to know the crew and decided he was okay with all of that. Thus Adam ended up in a very edgy role that was written specifically for him, which culminated in an incredible scene last week (?) which was on its way to becoming one of the iconic scenes in the film.
But the inclusion of young actors always has its pitfalls, and tonight we fell into one of them. Adam's stepmother brought Adam to the designated meeting place tonight, reportedly saw some people drinking there, and decided she wasn't comfortable with the film and withdrew him entirely.
On one level, I have to grudgingly respect the decision even if I disagree with it... I'm sure she's just trying to do what she thinks is best. As a filmmaker, it pissed me off enormously... that was a shitty thing to do at the last moment, when we had made every possible effort to accomodate Adam's parents' concerns; there had been ample time to make these decisions when it wouldn't have damaged the film so badly. As someone who's had two stepmothers, it pissed me off even more... stepmothers are duplicitious creatures, and not to be trusted. I say this hesitantly, as my own mother is also someone's stepmother... but the fact remains that unlike stepfathers (who either are cool or bad, but never ambiguous), stepmothers go to great pains to appear to be "cool," while their loyalties always lie elsewhere. When it comes down to tough situations, a stepmother will fuck you every time. (Sorry, Mom, it's just the truth.) And last night, Adam got fucked.
So between Adam and Philly, we've lost two cast members in one night, and endured a lot of unnecessary stress. Combined with the usual crabbiness that goes along with an all-night shoot, things were fairly dysfunctional all night long, although not as bad as some shoots I've seen. We muddled through somehow. The rest of the party shoot was rigorous but smooth enough... we got all our scenes (with some modifications around the Adam-shaped hole), and nobody killed anyone else... so pretty laid-back, considering. Over the course of the night I was gradually coated with a thin veneer of sweat, stale beer, and insect repellant; and we got to see the less felicitous sides of some of our fellow crewmembers. But that's okay... that's all part of it.
In the morning we shot some more with Mark at Peabody Park, and then finally retired to the Co-op where Ginger and Morgan lamented not being able to go home and go to bed... I would have liked to have been able to help, but there wasn't much I could do for them.
It's shoots like last night's that really separate the genuine filmmakers from those who aren't really up for it after all... shooting, exhausted and frustrated, in a hot, dirty house, all goddamn night long, when there are a hundred other things you'd rather be doing at that moment. It's not easy, it's not always fun (though it really should be most of the time), it's certainly not glamorous, and often there are few rewards.
And if you think I've got some kind of "it's all worth it, really" statement to make after that, you're wrong... right now, at this moment, all I want is a bath and my bed. I have a vague feeling that in November, when we're enjoying the premiere in Chicago, I'll be very glad I did it, but this morning I can't imagine what I was thinking.
Day Three, Revisted
(A day late posting this... sorry.)
We re-shot Mark's stuff in Court Square, making up for the shoot when things went a bit wrong. It went much better this time, although we were still short one actor -- a much less difficult thing to deal with this time, as she wasn't crucial to the scene.
One of Mark's scenes involved another time-lapse shot, which went very well. The mosquitos were horrendous, though... the rest of us were being driven insane, and poor Mark just had to sit there, stock still, and take it while we did the shot. He sat there like a buddha while the mosquitos did their damnedest to drain him dry.
We had another encounter with a fire truck and an ambulance... nothing even remotely to do with us, but it does sometimes seem as though our little drama is attracting a lot of other little dramas.
Otherwise, it was pretty much the usual stuff... dealing with panhandlers, sipping coffee... typical movie shoot activities.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
After being paid this week, I ended up with a small sum of cash that I didn't immediately need for anything. Since even small luxuries are so few and far between these days, I went to the only decent stationer in town looking for something useful and pleasing.
I've been feeling what I hope is the beginning of a surge of creativity. I've been feeling like writing again -- I mean, free writing, not this focused blog stuff; it's been a long time since I've actually felt like it. In high school, I was a writer... I got a lot of support and recognition for it, and was convinced for a long time that writing was my true calling. Somewhere in there, though, I became disillusioned with the whole thing -- it may have had something to do with familial baggage (both my father and my paternal grandmother had authorial aspirations, and I didn't care to be like either of them), or it may simply have been that, like all teenagers, I was intensely self-critical and expected more of myself than I could reasonably achieve. In any case, not long before I left high school, I rejected writing. I think the rejection was largely about rebellion: I had little to rebel against in my daily life (my mother was very tolerant, and I was a good and trustworthy kid, so few restrictions were placed on me), so I rebelled against something in my inner life, something I'd come to take as a given.
Once I got to college I did the academic thing for a few years -- which doesn't involve actual writing so much as a kind of tortured reporting -- and decided I hated that as well, and then I made a short film for a class I took on a whim, and that short film launched an obsession.
(Vexingly, when I was writing stories in school, I was often told that I'd make an excellent screenwriter; when I started writing screenplays, I was often told I'd do well writing short stories. In the end, I wrote neither.)
But like I say, lately I've found that I'm starting to feel like it again. Maybe this blog has shaken something loose in my head? Maybe it has something to do with the people I've been in contact with lately? Maybe it's just time to start again? Dunno, but I thought the impulse should be honored.
Going briefly back to high school again... when I was younger I had a thing for writing with fountain pens. My teachers hated it, obviously; ink spreads as readily as blood, and can ruin clothes just as easily. I held out as often as I could, and a lot of teachers tolerated it; I was invariably well-liked (except in a couple of cases), and my teachers generally gave me plenty of room to do as I pleased. I was a sweet-natured, quiet girl, or at least appeared to be... which isn't to say it was a false image, because it wasn't, but it wasn't even remotely a complete image.
Anyway, I did like fountain pens. I liked the way the ink would pool up on the paper, I even liked the scratchiness of writing with one (which is something I'd never tolerate in any other kind of pen.) My fingers were often stained black (I never really did learn how to control the ink very well... I actually still doubt whether that's even possible), but that never bothered me until I was sixteen or so. A teacher I really liked made a comment about it one day -- something about it not being ladylike or some other minor, irrelevant point like that -- and suddenly I became very self-conscious about it. As it happens, this began not long before I decided to ditch writing altogether.
So as I quit writing, I also threw away my fountain pens. And now that I've decided maybe I'd like to try again, I thought I probably ought to go get a new one.
I actually ended up getting two... one cartridge-refill number to carry around, and a plain wooden stylus with a set of brass nibs, and a little bottle of black ink. Once I got them home it took all of thirty seconds to end up with inky fingers again. I think I might actually prefer them that way.
Saturday, June 19, 2004
Day... Er... What Day Is It, Again?
An easy day, but full of strangeness. We only shot a single scene, a time-delay shot at a nearby high school, and a little supplementary stuff. We had an immense need for extras, and not just any extras, but high-school aged extras. Since they would hardly be perceptible as defined shapes (much less faces) in the shot, we had a bit of room to play, but we still wanted as many as we could get. And we did okay, I suppose... we had fifteen or so. We would've been better off with fifty, but we made it work.
We returned to the Co-op to hang around a while before the evening's activities, and after an hour or so we noticed an odd smell. It was faint at first, but after a while enough other people had noticed that they began coming around asking if we smelled it, too. It was a bit like something burning, but also vaguely food-like, strangely enough... once people began to notice faint traces of smoke in the air, though, we knew something was up, and the building was evacuated. Five fire trucks came -- the same five from the false alarm last week? Who knows? -- and the source turned out to be smoldering insulation. The Memphis fire department takes church fires extremely
seriously, particularly after a rash of fires at African-American churches a few years ago. First Congo isn't a specifically black church, but it's a very mixed, very progressive, and particularly a very pacifict and pro-gay church, so you never know what might happen.
Anyway, the offending insulation as removed, a suggestion that the church have their wiring looked at was issued, and the fire trucks left.
The biggest thing tonight, though, was Morgan's surprise birthday party, which we held at Java Cabana. It was the usual kind of affair -- birthday cake with frothy white icing, and champagne. In a fit of nostalgia for my childhood, I demanded a piece with a big yellow-icing rose on it, knowing perfectly well that my adult body would never be able to handle it. I was right. I had to pawn the rose off on Brandon, who licked it off his fingers while making salacious faces.
Now I have a day or two off... we have a rescheduled shoot early, early on Monday morning (early enough to still be Sunday night for all useful purposes), but until then I've got time to rest up a bit, catch up on some stuff I've been needing to do, and get myself ready for the final stretch. We don't have much of this film left to shoot; I know once it's over, I'll be wishing we could do it again, but for now I'm looking forward to getting past this project. (Still glad I did it, though, absolutely.)
On my way to the Co-op this morning, I tuned into NPR on my car radio and caught the last half of an interview with Barbara Kopple, the renowned documentary filmmaker known for films like Harlan County, U.S.A
and Wild Man Blues
Anyway, at one point the interviewer predictably asked what she thought of Michael Moore, and she replied that she loved him. She then went on to say something I really liked: "There's room in the world for all kinds of work."
That's exactly the sentiment I do my best to maintain; sometimes I manage it, sometimes not so much. But even so, Moore bears some criticism, (as in this excellent piece by Roger Ebert)
; he attracts an especially large amount of attention, so he bears an especially large amount of responsibility... not just to himself, but to the genre.
The Ebert piece above quotes Godard making a point that I especially appreciate: "The way to criticize a film is to make another film." This touches on something that every filmmaker has to grapple with sooner or later: how do you deal with the opinions of people who, more often than not, have almost zero insight into just how miraculous it is that you've made a film at all, much less one worth watching? Do they not owe you at least the courtesy of making a similar effort in response? This is applicable to any artform, obviously, but film most of all because even a modest production is a mammoth undertaking, combining the creative process with the organizational and tactical skills of a field general and the problem-solving abilities of NASA mission control. In truth, the only way to truly respond in a valid way is to make your own film containing your own viewpoint. I guess that makes this guy
the only truly worthy critic of Moore's work, huh?
Ironically, Godard failed to take his own advice to heart at the last Cannes film festival, making some less-than-flattering statements
about Moore's work without even having seen Fahrenheit 9/11
himself. I guess he was just riding on his reputation.
I took the morning off to get my tire fixed, missing the first two scenes of the day. Although Morgan had given me complete, enthusiastic permission, I still felt vaguely guilty... apart from him, I think I'm the only person to not miss a single shoot so far. Maybe it's something like being in the army: I really, really hate to think that I'm not doing my share of the work; but at the same time, they didn't really need me this morning, and the tire did need patching. I guess it's not that big a deal.
Anyway, the third shoot (my first) was at the party house... we have a fourteen-year-old boy playing an underage junkie who's eventually found dead in a bathtub; we were shooting the bathtub scene. The house's owners have a large, friendly black lab named Finnegan, who spent most of the shoot with me. This was not so much because he loved me -- although he did -- but because the actress who finds the junkie kid doesn't care much for big dogs, so Finnegan had to be managed. I ended up covered in black hair and dog slobber, but I didn't object.
From there we went over to another actor's home -- actually his parents' home -- in a prosperous, green part of midtown. The support crew were corralled into the back of the house and spent the shoot drinking root beer and watching "Dune" (the David Lynch version). Once we were done, it was back to the Co-op... some went out for sushi, I headed home.
So, another uneventful day. Apparently the resulting footage was particularly good.
Friday, June 18, 2004
I'm So Glad The Grown-ups Are Back In Charge
Dick Cheney: Osama and Saddam are, like, totally buddies.
9/11 Commission: Bullshit
George W. Bush: Bull-true
Vladimir Putin: Dude, totally bull-true
9/11 Commission: Oh yeah? Prove it
I really should've written this post last night, but by the time I got home, the only two things in the world I was interested in were dinner and bed. So, a day late...
I got to the Co-op fine yesterday morning, but when Amber came down an hour or so later she said, "Do you know you've got a flat tire?"
"How flat is it?"
"Well, it's on the rim."
I went up to check it out, and sure enough, that was one flat-ass tire. But, it wasn't such a big deal; I've been chaffeuring people around for two weeks, and it's time for somebody to give me a lift instead, so I didn't desperately need my car until it's time to go home (which ultimately turns out not to be until after midnight). I start leaving messages for my mother at work.
As it happens, Ginger is spending the day sleeping, and has given Morgan use of her black Mercedes for the day. Normally I avoid black cars -- it's a little superstition of mine, since both I and my mother were nearly killed in/by black cars -- but I can't imagine Ginger's car wanting to kill me, so I ride with Morgan all day. I tend to be a kind of anti-snob about cars, but I have to admit, it was a nice ride... we went to Butler Street via Peabody, a path I've never taken before. It's a strange little road: the pinnacle of Memphis affluence at one end, and the lowest dregs of humanity at the other. We ride with the windows down, Morgan playing some weird Morgan-music on the (very good) stereo... I was elated with the whole thing.
The early-afternoon shoots go well, if a bit slowly. We were kicked off the sidewalk outside the Union Ave. bus station by a humorless rent-a-cop, but merely headed down the block a bit and continued as usual. Then we went out for pizza, sat around enjoying the air conditioning for a while, and got ready for the night time shoots. In here somewhere, my mom and her husband turned up at the Co-op, and Rick kindly changed my tire for me. (Yes, I know how, but those pneumatic wrenches they use at garages fasten the nuts on so tightly that I couldn't even begin to remove them.)
We did a sunset shoot on the old train bridge across the Mississippi. I didn't go out onto the bridge myself, although I would've liked to... what with the Patriot Act and all, it's now against the law to make images of bridges (among other things), and we didn't want a reprisal of the bus station problem, so the smallest possible crew went out to avoid attracting attention. Amber and I hung back in the park flirting with a beautiful, friendly, affectionate orange cat, then headed to Butler Street to collect the remaining actors. We took a bit of a wrong turn and ended up in Frayser for a few minutes (not particularly safe after dark) but soon found our way back.
The night shoot was painfully boring, for me at least; I and another crewie hung back to guard the cars while the rest walked to Main Street to do a few scenes. For two hours we sat there in awkward silence (I have never found anything to say to this guy), I playing with my hair and fending off ravenous mosquitos, he mostly fiddling with his mobile phone. A mosquito bit my left upper eyelid. Little fucking bastard.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Just Accept It
I'm sure it must be a very bitter pill for the pro-Bush crowd to swallow, but I think it's time to face reality: Saddam Hussein had no meaningful ties to al Qaeda
. Whether through deceit or simple incompetence, the Bush administration led us into a war on false pretenses. Knowing that conservatives pride themselves on their attachment to "personal responsibility", I look forward to seeing them take personal responsibility for the enormous fucking mess we're seemingly irretrievably mired in now.
(Sadly, it seems that the man who most needs to take responsibility will be the last to do so
, as usual.)
Kevin Drum makes a good point
. So does the New York Times
Also: off-topic, but important: Rumsfeld personally ordered soldiers to disregard the Geneva Conventions
. That makes him a war criminal; it's a pretty simple equation, really. Now, I'm sure that the prisoner in question was a nasty piece of work, and in this particular case I'm not shedding all that many tears over it. But we uphold the Geneva Conventions for the benefit of our
soldiers, not theirs. Too many pro-war folks seem to overlook this fundamental point.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Not much to report today... in reality, this was supposed to be a day off from shooting, but we had to reschedule an important scene, and this was the most convenient time to do it. We shot an exchange between a father and son at a Cafe Francisco downtown (there are a lot of restaurants in this movie), and it went very easily.
The film's executive producer, Ginger, turned up today; she's really more of Morgan's sugar-mama / benefactress than anything else, but she's cool and always fun. (God, the life I could live if I was independently wealthy, eh?)
Two distributors have expressed an interest in picking up Blue Citrus Hearts, which is incredibly good news for Morgan. Technically the film is a bit of a mess in places (even taking into account Morgan's Dogme 95-eque philosophy), but it's really soulful and heartfelt... it's nice to see people taking an interest in a film from an emotional perspective. If we had more soul in the cinema, even at the expense of technical proficiency, I think we'd be better off.
On This Date In Fictional History
Exactly 100 years ago today, a guy named Leopold Bloom and another guy named Stephen Dedalus took a little walk around Dublin
On this day in really-real history, a man named James Joyce
had a first meeting with a woman named Nora
, and the date became not only the beginning of an incredibly productive relationship, but also the starting point of one of the most exceptional and infamous works
of modern western literature.
It had to happen sooner or later; in this work the messy day is as inevitable as the tides.
We started shooting at the Memphis Zoo -- the scene was of a young father and his small son -- and for the most part that went acceptably well. We were a little behind schedule, but just about scraped by. It was, however, raining again... not enough rain to chase us inside, but enough to saturate clothing pretty thoroughly within ten or fifteen minutes.
It wasn't until the next scene that we started moving into clusterfuck territory... it took place in the "party house," and until recently our location was the house where Morgan lived until a couple of weeks ago, known locally as the Meda Mansion. (A mansion it ain't, but "Meda Dungpile" doesn't roll off the tongue as well.) You'll notice that I said Morgan lived there until a couple of weeks ago... at which point he and his housemates were evicted. The landlord said, however, that they could still shoot there, so the location remained as it was. That, in retrospect, was a mistake.
When the crew arrived at the house this afternoon, it was occupied by several workmen (who were busy changing the interior appearance, something that would continue over the next week at least), and the landlord, who apparently was in something of a stroppy mood. Morgan wasn't refused entry, but decided (wisely, I think) that shooting at his old house probably wasn't the best idea.
So, already half an hour late to start shooting, Morgan was off searching for an alternative location. The scene we were shooting today was innocuous enough -- a brief exchange, nothing more -- and several homeowners were willing. At least, they were willing until they heard what would be entailed this time next week: this same location also has to be used to shoot the party scenes, which will involve an overnight kegger that will be open to practically anyone, during which we'll be shooting. To his credit, Morgan was completely up-front about this, but obviously it narrowed our options considerably.
We did eventually find a house on the rough side of Midtown, but by the time we got there (in ten
cars... we're usually pretty good about carpooling, but in the confusion we just couldn't figure it out) we were badly rushed -- people had to go to work, people had to get to class. The crew was deposited outside (where the morning's rain was rapidly evolving into steam -- we got hit by the water once as it came down, and again as it went back up again), the shots were taken, and we were done for the day.
I'm still slightly wary of the situation... if this new location falls through, we'll not only have to repeat this process, but we'll also have to re-shoot what we got today. I don't have any reason to think this will happen, but it just feels risky.
After the shoot I hung around the Co-op for the workshop -- blissfully it was led by someone other than me this week. Afterwards a group of us went to the Glass Onion; all film people, but comprised largely of the "cool" kids... y'know, the people who are presumably "important" in the local film scene, but whom you don't actually see that often. The kind of people who get the few paying jobs when the well-funded features come through town.
I'm not actually very good at these gatherings. Invariably there are one or two people I'm really interested in talking to -- I mean, genuinely interested, not just networking talk -- and then a bunch of people I kinda feel like I should
talk to, just in case. Once I get there, one of two things happens: 1) I get into a conversation with one of the people I really like and hang out for a couple of hours, or 2) I don't, and leave after the obligatory half hour. The schmooze is not my forte.
It was a reasonably pleasant night in any case; it struck me on the way home that, if I were inclined to remain in Memphis, tonight would probably be the night I actually began to break into the regular, working professional Memphis film industry. On a certain level, it kinda feels like a waste not to use this, as I've been dangling here for so long... but I truly, deeply want to move on, even if I have to start this whole process over again somewhere else. Anyway, by the end of the night I essentially had a formal offer to do some work on a film by a guy named Lee... this is the one I hinted at before that would begin production in July. There's no money involved (alas!), and by my normal rules it's not something I'd do -- there's not likely to be much payoff in this for me. A little good karma, maybe, and possibly some help when I do my own short in November -- both of which are valuable things, don't get me wrong -- but this is more a stay-in-practice kind of job than a career builder. (At least, that's how it looks at this point.)
But, as it happens, Lee is a really good guy... I mean, a nice
guy, a decent guy. He knows his way around, his production is well-organized (a huge factor in convincing me), his goals seem reasonable, and frankly, of all the people I know who are currently talking about making a feature film, Lee strikes me as the one who most deserves the chance. So, my altruism has won out, and I guess I'm going to be working on Lee's film from the beginning of July through the rest of the summer. It should be interesting, the polar opposite of Morgan's film both in style (Morgan's really into a very naturalistic, fluid aesthetic, whereas Lee's more inclined towards a classic cinematic style) and content. And it'll keep me off the streets, even if it doesn't do a thing to help me save up for a much-needed new laptop.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Bill O'Reilly Hates Michael Moore, Too
Boy, the right wing sure does hate Fahrenheit 9/11
First, we've got people
running a "grassroots" (does that word actually mean anything useful anymore?) campaign lobbying theater chains not to show the movie
. They argue, technically correctly, that by doing this they are not infringing on Michael Moore's First Amendment rights. They're not forcing Moore to be silent, they'd just really, really prefer it if he was rendered completely incapable of reaching his audience. It's an entirely different thing, y'see.
Is this all technically okay as far as the U.S. Bill of Rights in concerned? Yes. Are they still complete fucking dicks for doing it? Oh yes... oh yes.
As further proof that the right can dish it out but not take it, you should also know that if you go to see this film, you're a Nazi. Not just a pop-culture "nazi" as per Seinfeld, but an honest-to-god Jew-killing, goose-stepping, brown-shirt-wearing Nazi. Says who? Bill O'Reilly, that's who... the same guy who got pissed off at Move On a few months ago for suggesting that Bush was like Hitler, which they never actually did. Not that that mattered to O'Reilly.
Anyway, here's what O'Liely had to say on the matter:
O'REILLY: So who turns out for the screening of this movie [Fahrenheit 9/11] last night? You ready? Now, here are the celebrities that turn out. Here are the people who would turn out to see Josef Goebbels convince you that Poland invaded the Third Reich. It's the same thing, by the way. Propaganda is propaganda. OK?
Billy Crystal. Martin Sheen. Leonardo DiCaprio. Ellen DeGeneres. David Duchovny. Sharon Stone. Meg Ryan. Ashton Kutcher. Demi Moore. Norman Lear. Rob Reiner. Jodie Foster. Chris Rock. Larry David. Jack Black. Matthew Perry. Diane Lane.
Look! It's O'Reilly's List.
(By the way, how do you think O'Reilly knows who showed up at the screening? Because... this is great, you'll love this... he was there, too
. Apparently his profound offense at having this Goebbels nightmare jammed down his throat didn't prevent him from accepting a personal invitation and a free ticket. How he does sacrifice himself for his cause.)
And just last week he compared "the celebrity media" to something dreamed up by Leni Riefenstahl. Now first off, Michael Moore would give his left testicle to be even half as cinematically innovative as Riefenstahl
. It's one of cinema's great tragedies (especially for women) that such immense genius was placed in such an unworthy vessel. But that's another rant for another time.
My real point is, from this moment on, Bill O'Reilly has exactly zero
right to go around pissing and moaning about other people making Nazi references. Will that stop him? It never has before.
... just to confuse any FOX News watchers reading this, check out this very positive review
from that same network. I'm sure the author of this review has political views as conservative as those of Bill O'Reilly, but he also possesses a modicum of class and honesty. Therein lies the difference.
Monday, June 14, 2004
Y'know what kinda sucks? Clicking a link to an online newspaper article and being presented with a login page. You either have to register or skip the article... annoying. Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to endlessly sign up for stuff just to read an article? Wouldn't it be great for bloggers if they could post links that wouldn't take the unregistered to an alienating login page?
Ask, and ye shall receive: Bug Me Not
Death and Music
It was literally only a few days ago that someone was telling me how secure and serene the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, TN is. Apparently their number was up
(I'd still quite like to go sometime... from what I hear, everybody
plays there. It has a reputation and one of the best little-known music festivals in the country.)
Day Eight (halfway)
We shot more restaurant scenes today... a different restaurant, and different people (or at least mostly different people.) One of the advantages of working in a city with no film industry is that local businesses are more than happy to be inconvenienced by a film shoot on their premises. In many cases, we could just turn up and start shooting, and nobody would give us any trouble; certainly nobody ever asks for a fee. Try doing that in New York or Los Angeles.
Before the shoot, at the downtown cast/crew rendezvous, Morgan mentioned how good the weather's been... he's right, we've been very lucky for the most part. It's rained some this month, but only when we were shooting indoors, or on off days; our exterior shoots have been uniformly clear and sunny. He said, however, that he kinda wished it would
rain... something odd, maybe even sorta freakish, to reflect the mood of the film.
He got his wish. Not an hour later, just as we were ready to start shooting a scene at Automatic Slim's downtown, a sudden, torrential rainstorm swept across the city. The streets outside, never able to deal with a heavy rainfall, instantly became rivers; the rain was sheeting down. It kept up clear through the scene (it'll be obvious in the final film), and then let up as we packed up to move on.
We hurried to Court Square (a location used at various times throughout the film) and managed to shoot the aftermath of the previous scene while the ground was still wet. Morgan seems to have good luck with natural phenomena... they sometimes seem to come to him when called. Case in point, the shooting star at the end of Blue Citrus Hearts. That was just bizarre.
Anyway, all went pretty well.
After the shoot we all went to Young Avenue Deli for some much-needed lunch/dinner. Ran into Doug, who said I should be more specific in these posts (hi Doug), and Josh Laurenzi, who was one of the two primary actors in BCH.
Since I've started working on this film, I've gotten three (count 'em: three!) offers to work on other people's films later this year. None of it's paid, though... when, oh when will somebody offer me some paying work? Anyway, as flattering as it is, for the most part I'm just not interested in this stuff... it comes in waves, and except under very specific circumstances, I've always turned it down. I might make one exception in July, but that's only because the director seems to have a very solid grip on what he's undertaking, and the script (what I've seen of it, at least) has been solid. The rest -- no offense to anyone -- just doesn't offer me much but hard work with no reward. I don't need much to work on a film, but I do need something; and vague promises of unlikely fame and success just aren't enough.
Anyway, I've still got this film to finish, a film festival to work in October, a short of my own to produce in November, and a life to be getting on with. I don't have time for any more than one additional long-format film this year at most, and that slot on my dance card is all but taken already. So thanks for the kind offers, but stop asking!
Happy Birthday, Queen!
No work today - it's the Queen's
Actually, the queen has several birthdays, depending on where you are. In Australia it's the second Monday in June, in New Zealand it's a week earlier, and in Canada it's celebrated on May 24. Meanwhile, the day on which the queenie actually gets her presents is, (presumably) the anniversary of her birth which is the 21st of April. I guess a public holiday makes sense in the middle of June in the Northern Hemisphere, but in this part of the world, Queen's Birthday weekend is typically wet, grey and COLD! Whatever, it's our last public holiday until November, so we've all gotta make the most of it.
I've had a huge weekend. Some friends have been down from Sydney, so a group of us went out for an excellent dinner on Friday night. We went to Mecca, on Southbank - and a mighty fine time was had by all. We've been to two dance parties - ever so self-indulgent - and today a group of us went for a long lunch at the Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder
: something that I highly recommend for any visitors to Melbourne. We're very very spoilt in Melbourne, with the sheer number of excellent and affordable restaurants, although the downside (if it could be called that) of living here is that Melburnians can be real wankers
when we're out of town. The standard of food and service at mid-range restaurants here is generally so good that when you're at an equivalent restaurant/cafe in another town, it's difficult to be satisfied. I have sat at a cafe in Sydney and spent an hour and a half basically bitching about how the waiter has over-filled my wine glass. Mercy!
Another audacious Aussie protest last night, about something that matters just a little bit more. This one was done by the latest evictee from the current season of Big Brother. Generally it's shite television, but last night it was completely hijacked in protest
against John Howard's treatment of refugee children. Ballsy stuff!
There's a very interesting article about the turmoil between the Pentagon and the CIA in Salon today
. If you're not a subscriber you'll have to sit through a short ad, but it's well worth the 15 seconds.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
We spent the afternoon and evening shooting some restaurant scenes at Tsunami. Doris was back as a pissed-off customer (for those who watch the film closely, it may occasionally appear that there are only fifteen or sixteen people living in Memphis); we had better luck with the extras today. We broke a couple of plates, we threw a little food, the usual sort of thing. A pretty smooth shoot all told.
There was a brief moment of excitement when a local transient denizen known as Bill suffered a grand mal seizure on the sidewalk outside; everyone rushed to help and to call the ambulance. He seemed to find his awakening to a crowd of people more alarming than the seizure itself. The paramedics, who were clearly very familiar with Bill, helped him up and took him to the hospital. This kind of thing is starting to become rather common... little "emergencies" that turn out to be not all that serious, but are distressing enough in the moment. First, there was the bug in Morgan's ear; then, last week, the fire alarms in the church went off, and five fire trucks showed up (it was a false alarm); and now another ambulance/fire truck call for old Bill. Very odd.
Everyone's supposed to be going to a local club for 80s dance night... I have to say, I'm not a big clubber. However, in order to show willing, I'm going briefly; I suppose it can't hurt anything, and it'll make Amber and Morgan happy.
I was standing in a field, when a big flaming ball dropped out of the sky and hit a cluster of houses a mile or so away. There was a fairly large explosion (more debris than fire), a sort of dusty-looking column of smoke. It wasn't a bomb or anything, though; more like a meteorite.
Working on Morgan's film this last week has underlined something that's been on my mind for a while... quite a while, actually, well over a year now.
If I am to be honest with myself, I have to admit one simple fact: I've been very unproductive since leaving school. I mean, not wholly unproductive: I've been teaching, I've been supporting, I've been gradually developing a personal philosophy of filmmaking. I think these are all good and worthy things... at least, plenty of other people seem to think so. But as much as I call myself a filmmaker, there's one major activity I really haven't been engaging in the way I think I should be: making films.
I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this is. It's not for lack of ideas, or a lack of basic ability; certainly I'm still young as a filmmaker and have a lot to learn, but one of the reasons I love this medium so much is that it should always
provide me with lots of new things to learn.
When I'm being hard on myself, I focus on things that I perceive to be personal shortcomings: I'm too undisciplined, too passive, I lack initiative, or drive, or something. But none of these are actually true; I'm disciplined enough to teach weekly and help manage a production; I'm assertive enough to lead other people (if maybe not yet quite bold enough to take the helm); I have initiative enough to have begun half a dozen projects (it was the finishing that got me); and don't even talk to me about a lack of drive... I've got enough drive to have kept me pushing forward with this not only when things were good and I had support, but also when it seemed that everything and everyone was conspiring againt me, and when I was convinced that all was lost. These are not my problems.
When I'm being a bit kinder to myself, I can narrow the problem down to two possible areas. One is lack of direct support. The Co-op provides ample nominal support, but I haven't yet managed to find a solid partnership... something I need very, very much to help me find the confidence to move from idea to execution.
The other is that, possibly, I'm just not ready to undertake the main role on a production. I've always looked for mentors; I often feel that at this point in my life, what I really want most is to serve as a kind of apprentice, to throw my time and effort behind someone else's (deserving) work, and in return to have a chance to learn from someone more experienced and accomplished than me.
This desire seems to go against everything I'm "supposed" to want... young independent filmmakers all want to be the next Tarantino, right? We want to hit the big time by 30 (35 at the latest) and to be seen as the new enfant terrible
of the film world. But I've just never felt like that was my ideal timeline; I see myself hitting my peak more around 50 or 55. I'm a reserved young woman, but I anticipate that I'll be kicking ass as an older lady. (And I'll wear a big floppy hat, carry a walking stick, and prowl around like a dignified noblewoman. You wait and see.)
There are few people in the Memphis film scene that I'm not at least passably acquainted with. There are people here with whom I can work, and there are people here whom I certainly respect. But there are only one or two who might qualify as being significantly more advanced than I am, and of those, none seems to be good mentor material, at least not for me. And that's been frustrating. I thought I'd found a good mentor in LA -- I actually had several possibilities there -- but events ended up working against me, and I don't really want to go back now.
My fear, of course, is that all of this is just rationalization. But I know from experience that I can do good work under the right circumstances, and I know that I'm capable of a great deal more than I think most people expect of me.
(Another weakness of mine: someone once said to me that I always hold my cards very close to my chest. I was surprised at the time -- I admit I don't advertise very much about myself, but I'm certainly not secretive; most often it's simply a matter of someone asking me the right question and I'll tell anyone practically anything, no matter how personal. But thinking about it later, I recognized that it was true... I do
tend to hold my cards close to my chest. I always have. Through some combination of having a rather denigrating father and forever being the new kid in town, I learned to guard my creativity very closely, and to relish the moment when I whipped out the best story/sonnet/paper in class and was rewarded with the look of surprise on everyone else's faces when the quiet girl in the back of the room trumped 'em all. Parading whatever I've got around for everyone to see would ruin the surprise... not to mention eradicating all of my opportunities to watch them unguarded, something I've always loved to do.)
But it's working against me these days... people don't see what I'm capable of, so they don't take me seriously. And it's been so long now... I'm starting to wonder if I am actually capable of anything anymore.
Saturday, June 12, 2004
The New American Values
The General has a list
Conservative Family Values
So, Rush Limbaugh's getting divorced again.
(For those of you living abroad and thus not familiar with ol' Rusty, he's the radio mouthpiece of the Republican party, a low-level racist, and a recovering drug addict... so, basically, the entire gamut of conservative hypocrisy rolled up into one big, offensive mass of bullshit. But I digress.)
I am not unfamiliar with divorce. Never had one myself, probably in large part because I've never been married. (In fact, my familiarity with divorce is a big part of why
I've never been married.) And I don't hold divorce against anyone, absolutely not ever. It happens, y'know? I wouldn't presume to judge.
But my not presuming to judge is largely what separates me from a great many divorced conservatives. People blow through three or four marriages -- and that's okay, again, no judgement implied -- but then, inexplicably, decide that somehow they still retain the moral and ethical right to tell other people that they don't deserve the same opportunities they've had, even if it does only turn out to be an opportunity to screw things up, too.
I'm talking about gay marriage, of course. I just can't understand how people like Limbaugh -- divorced multiple times, childless, contributing nothing to the greater good by way of "the backbone of American society," even by his own standards -- can look at 10% of the population and say, "My shitty, broken marriages? Each and every one was a sacrament. But your loving, lifelong commitment is a defilement of all that's good and holy."
If only "traditional marriages" are going to be recognized as valid and beneficial to society, than any married couple who declines to reproduce (and only direct offspring qualify, step-kids don't count) is hereby declared an abomination against God.
Just so you know what it feels like, eh?
(Atrios has some amusing/repellant quotes from Limbaugh on the subject of marriage here
In a further example of why you just can't trust the Jesus Crispies, a former official of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association has just been caught with a fistful of child pornography
. If I've said it once... whenever you run across someone who's just too out-front with their Christian Goodness, the only wise course of action is to get as far away from them as possible. These folks, well-intentioned as they may be, are more often than not using their enviable piety to distract your attention from something they find shameful. It may be something small, but it may be something big and ugly.
Kiddie fiddling: it's not just for Catholic priests and washed-up rock stars anymore.
Friday, June 11, 2004
One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other
While the Bush administration spins frantically, trying to get even a tiny bit of that Reagan magic to rub off on a flailing president, it might be worth a moment to ponder what those closest to Ronald Reagan thought of George W. Bush:
"The Bush people have no right to speak for my father, particularly because of the position he's in now... Yes, some of the current policies are an extension of the '80s. But the overall thrust of this administration is not my father's -- these people are overly reaching, overly aggressive, overly secretive, and just plain corrupt. I don't trust these people."
"To paraphrase Jack Palance, my father crapped bigger ones than George Bush."
Ron Reagan, Jr.
I'm no fan of Ronald Reagan, obviously. But even I can see that the attempts to compare Bush the Lesser to Reagan can only highlight Bush's gross failures on almost every level.
By the way, any republican/conservative who truly wants to honor Reagan's memory should do their part to assist Nancy Reagan's activism in favor of stem cell research. Putting pressure on the Bush administration on the issue would be a good place to start.
Another easy one. Up and at it early, but the shoot was very close to the Co-op, at Morgan's apartment, and not too intensive. We had a short day, and then went to Otherlands for coffee and bagels.
Morgan's off to NYC for the weekend for a festival screening of Blue Citrus Hearts. Apparently it's already sold out. I wish I could go, too. Happily, Morgan says we're all going to the premiere of the new film in Chicago in November. Not the best time of year to go to Chicago, certainly, but it'll be great to get out of Memphis for a couple of days.
On my way home, I saw something that pleased me immensely. I have few compulsive little habits, but one thing I can't help doing is rescuing tortoises. This time of year they wander out onto the blacktop roads in Mississippi to sun themselves, and invariably get crushed under the tires of the big fuck-off 3/4 ton trucks that the rednecks drive. I hate that. So, whenever I see one in a dangerous spot, I've gotta turn around, pick the little fella up, and remove him to a safe spot.
So this morning, I saw a very young loggerhead in the road, about as big as my hand. It was a good quarter mile before I could find a place to turn around; by the time I got back to the spot, a big water tanker had stopped, and I actually saw the driver get out, walk around to the tortoise, pick him up, and take him off into the drainage ditch where he'd be safe. I was thrilled! I'm not the only person who cares! Maybe the world's not so bad after all, eh?
Anyway, I have tomorrow off, so it'll be a day for laundry and, with luck, for catching up on my sleep. Next week may prove to be rather crazy, so I think I'd better get while the getting's good.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
In ya face
Big news of the day is that Peter Garrett, lead singer of the band Midnight Oil, will be running for the opposition Labor Party, in a safe seat in this year's federal election.
Those of you with long memories may remember the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, when Midnight Oil performed. This was one of the more audacious political statements of our time - although the point may have been lost on non-Australians.
Here's why: During the 90s there was a large push in Australia for the Federal Government to apologise formally to the aboriginals for what was basically the theft of their land back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Prime Minister John Howard would have none of it. There would be no apology. The very word "Sorry" took on major significance as the issue was debated.
So, at the closing ceremony of the Olympics, about the most public forum possible - with John Howard sitting in the front row, basking in the reflected glory of Australia's stellar Olympics - Midnight Oil performed their song "Beds are Burning". What's that song about? Why, it's all about aboriginal land rights! And to ram home the point even more, what did the Oils choose to wear?
tells a thousand words.
Whether you agree with their point or not, you gotta admire their balls! And this attitude of sheer irreverance
(which is not uncommon here) is an example of why I like Australia so much.
Did you hear about the blond and the president...?
and politics don't mix.
An easy, easy day, quick and painless. I sat in the lounge at Memphis College of Art, going over my notes and doing some routine planning while the the rest of the crew shot the scene. In between, Doris came down and taught me much about life. Always listen to the black grandmothers; they know what's what.
I'm so tired it physically hurts. And I've still got five hours to go.
A pretty typical day so far... mostly good, some problems. Only two extras (of fifteen called in) turned up for the second scene of the day; we had to fill in the gaps with crewies (although I was not among their number.) We managed without them... no-show extras are an inevitable risk in a production of this kind.
The actor who was missing on day three (the same one who chewed me out by telephone at five in the morning) sent us a note apologizing profusely, saying that he had realized the error was entirely his. He'd somehow corrupted the address we gave him for the meeting point while mapping it online. I admit I didn't care for the phone call -- although I've endured far, far worse -- so the apology made me feel better about things. I suppose stuff like this just happens from time to time.
Morgan ponied up for a catered lunch for everyone this afternoon... vegan Mexican food. It was okay, although I can't imagine how excluding any and all salt from the beans was necessary.
People are dropping like flies... most of the core crew has been going for 24 hours now, and that following another 20-hour day. Even those of us who are still ambulatory are getting punchy, people are getting silly, Tim's been singing these odd little songs for hours. Things that normally would not be that funny seem fucking hilarious right now... I've been giving poor Derrick endless shit about his t-shirt ("I Love My Weiner" with a silhouette of a dachshund) all day long; it's the day's running joke. Morgan, amazingly, is still going... that guy can stay awake like nobody I've ever seen.
This is all, as it happens, highly apropos for this film... it's about people staying up for days on end, each for his or her own reasons. However, in the film, these people only stay up for three days or so; at the moment it feels a bit like we're going to have to stay up for the entire month of June. I'm beginning to suspect the whole month is going to feel like one ridiculously long day with naps.
Morgan is crashing hard. We only have one more easy shot scheduled today -- something we can do another time -- so we're quitting early.
Amber, who's also on active duty in the Navy, is working on the base until Friday, so she's missing all of this. She called me earlier to check in, said she loves us and misses us.
3:20 AM, Thursday
I've finally managed to get some sleep, some decent food in me, and a long, hot bath, so I'm feeling much better now. Looking over the schedule, I think yesterday was the hardest day by far... we still have some shoots at strange hours, but nothing I think will require that we all be up for more than 16 hours straight (which I can manage, no problem). Today, apparently, was trial by acute exhaustion; I feel fairly confident that I passed. But I'm still glad it's over.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Sorry to bang on about this ... but I've just got back from lunch, where I was reading the paper and saw an interesting analysis of Bush's comments regarding Mark Latham and the Australian Labor Party's policy on withdrawing troops from Iraq. Just thought I would share. Here
How To Have Fun At My Expense
Step 1: go to the Snoop Dog Shizzolator
Step 2: in the space provided, enter "http://www.portapulpit.com"
Step 3: read Sister Novena ghetto-style.
Well, you Americans out there must surely feel privileged to have had our very own Little Johnny
visiting your fair shores over the last week. After dropping in on Arnie for a round of mutual back-slapping, the Man of Steel
went on to see his good mate Dubya. And it's all been just a little bit controversial!
First: a bit of background. Under Prime Minister Howard, Australia has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters (if not the
most enthusiastic supporter) of Bush's adventures in Iraq. It's a stance that caused major division in the Australian parliament, which is a serious matter in itself. I mean, deploying troops overseas and putting people's sons and daughters into harm's way is just a bit more serious than some arcane tax matter - so it's not a good sign if the parliament is divided on the matter. Bush was made well aware of the divisions when he visited here last year. (Here is CNN's report
of the incident.)
Fast forward to early this year, and we see the newly-appointed leader of the opposition Labor Party, Mark Latham, make a pledge
that, if elected, the Aussie troops in Iraq would be home by Christmas. I'm not convinced that putting such a deadline on a troop withdrawal is such a good idea ... it seems to me that having gone barging into Iraq, the onus is on the invading powers to not just pull out willy-nilly because of domestic political considerations. And an arbitrary deadline means that (barring a big fluke) the troops will not be withdrawn at the optimal time for the Iraqi people (whose country it is, after all.) But I digress...
As you might imagine, Latham's pledge has gone down like a cup of cold sick in Washington. And - surprise, surprise - the subject was raised when Howard met Bush last week. A journalist asked Bush what he thought of Latham's policy, and Bush was completely blunt and undiplomatic. (Well, did you really expect anything else?) According to the President,
"It would be a disastrous decision for the leader of a great country like Australia to say that 'we're pulling out,'"
This statement has caused a fair bit of outrage here in Australia. Not because anyone is in the least bit surprised that the president thinks this way - I mean, I don't think anyone really expected Bush to say "Oh that's fine, you guys just pack your bags and go, sorry to have inconvenienced you..." - but because this remark represents a quite significant foray into Australian domestic politics.
Now, to dispel any notion that the Bush Administration is not sensitive to critical public comments made by leaders of other countries, we just need to go back to the experience of Helen Clark, prime minister of New Zealand, in the middle of last year. (Click here
for a highly processed image of Helen Clark. Remember where "Lord of the Rings" comes from ... after making Helen Clark look good, the creation of Gollum must have been a doozy for the special effect geniuses of New Zealand. I've digressed again.)
Unlike Australia, NZ did not head off to war in Iraq. Quite the opposite in fact. New Zealand was firmly lined up on the side of France and Germany, and resolutely said "No" when asked to be part of the Coalition. Helen Clark (of whom I must admit I am no fan either ... is there any
politician I like, I wonder?) even went further, and in a moment of stunning frankness
, said (out loud, to a journalist) that she didn't think the USA would have gone to war with Iraq if Al Gore had become president after the 2000 election.
Whether or not you agree with the views expressed by either Bush or by Clark, I see little difference in the principles here. The leader of one country was commenting on the domestic politics of another country, with specific reference to the policies of the opposing party in that country, right? Now, I while I suspect it's unlikely that the Washington political establishment was shaken completely, to its very core, by our Helen's comments, I do think it is just a mite unfair that she was essentially forced a few days later into sending a grovelly apology
to Mr. Bush.
George W. Bush Hates America
It's 1:30 in the morning, and I'm here at the Co-op, killing time until the production meeting at 3:30. So while I have a few minutes, I want to touch briefly on a subject that I've been really wanting to mention here.
The torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was, it now appears, not merely the work of a few bad apples, but was in fact official U.S. policy. Enough so that the Bush administration had already prepared its legal rationale
for using "interrogation" methods that were in clear, direct violation of the Geneva Convention and international law.
The main sticking point -- torture aside -- is that the memo states:
To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."
The upshot of the argument? George W. Bush is above the law. ALL
law. Don't like it? Fuck you.
I say, fuck him. We've got
to get this guy out of office; this is exactly the line we must never, ever cross. Josh Marshall
states it well:
So the right to set aside law is "inherent in the president". That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means -- a government of laws, not men, and all that.
: If you want to read the memo for yourself, the Wall Street Journal has posted it online
, available for free. (pdf file)
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Every now and then, I get to read some good
news ... which brightens up this otherwise fucked-up world.
(Remember what I said about New Zealand being one of the least offensive nations on earth?)
I am so
It's been nearly 24 hours since I last slept, and I started really feeling it a couple of hours ago. The shoot today was not so smooth... one of our main actors was apparently MIA for most of the morning, leaving the other nine of us dodging panhandlers in a downtown park at 4 AM, unable to shoot anything. We're still not really sure what happened -- he called us two hours after call time, very angry, saying that he'd waited at the appointed meeting place for 90 minutes but that nobody was there. This can't have been correct; there was at least one person there, specifically waiting for him, from 3:45 AM on. At one point there were four people waiting. We're still not really sure where the disconnect occured; all I know is he was swearing down the phone at me. But that's okay... y'know, whatever.
In any case, this guy was in every shot we had planned for the morning, so we couldn't shoot any of what was scheduled. We kept one of the other actresses and had her just improvise some hopefully-useful material with Tim, but we still have to re-schedule the entire day's shoot.
I've got to do the Co-op workshop tonight, and then it's back out at 4 AM again tomorrow morning; hopefully it'll go more smoothly next time. (I knew it couldn't go that smoothly forever.)
Monday, June 07, 2004
Not a conservative!
I can't stay long - theoretically I am working at the moment. But I will drop in for long enough to strenuously deny being a conservative. Oh yeah! If that Texas Republican platform is what being a conservative is all about, then, I ain't one.
"Libertarian" is a label that sits more comfortably with me. Not 100% comfortably, but more so than being either "liberal" vs "conservative" as per American politics. I've found this test
to be very handy: whenever I've done it, I've ended up well down in the lower right quadrant. And I mean well
Attaching liberal/conservative labels in Australia is a fraught process. You see, the government of the day here is presently the Liberal Party
, led by prime minister John Howard. But, despite the name, the Liberal Party is actually a conservative party, and Howard is the most conservative prime minister this county has had in decades. In Australia you need to be very careful whether you capitalise the word: a "liberal" is generally quite a different beast from a "Liberal".
Howard's awful. Yeah, he's made some grudging efforts to reduce the tax burden, and he's challenged some of the worst excesses of the militant trade unions that have been Australia's handbrake for too long - but other than that he is just a craven, duplicitious slimeball of a man.
You should know: right now, our Little Johnny Howard is George Bush's bestest buddy in the whole wide world.
piece appeared in the paper today. The author, Phillip Adams, is basically an unreconstructed socialist so I have huge problems with most of what he says - but today he is spot on. Howard's grovelling to George W Bush, his obsequious eagerness to be Bush's deputy sheriff in this part of the world is a national embarrasment.
Both Howard and Bush are up for re-election this year. Unlike in the USA, the election date here is not fixed. In fact, provided it's called before about March next year, the prime minister can choose any day he likes. If it looks like Bush is going down, Howard will probably call the election early, to limit the damage caused by a Bush defeat. So, Bush and Howard's fates are tied together.
I gotta go. Work calls.
This Should Make For An Interesting Conversation
I think my (very Republican) mother just found my blog.
No Republican, I
Does anybody still not understand why I don't want to live in a Republican America?
You can find the answer you seek in this post from Political Animal
. Yes, this is just the Texas GOP platform, but it's unnervingly close to the National party's working platform, if not their formal, codified platform. And do remember that our current (p)resident is a dyed-in-the-wool Texas Republican.
These people literally scare me. This isn't just about fiscal conservatism or a reasonable respect for "tradition" (whatever that is)... this is about demolishing everything that, in my opinion, makes the United States a great country. If these people ever manage to reproduce this platform in our nation's laws, then as far as I'm concerned, the United States of America ceases to exist, replaced by a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, an American Taliban.
Having said that...
I want to welcome Mr. Smithers to the blog... he has been gracious enough to come aboard to help keep things rolling along while I'm indisposed (although admittedly I haven't been as indisposed as I'd expected so far), and if he decides he likes the places, who knows what'll happen?
Anyway, this guy is one of my closest friends (although geographically among the most distant), and I'm well aware of his shameful conservative leanings; I accept him in spite of it. In reality, the greatest risk I'm taking in inviting him in is that he might prove to be better at this whole blogging thing than me. In any case, we agree on the most important point: George W. Bush is a miserable failure
. For me, that's about all that matters.
What does it say about America that, in order to find a conservative with whom I could amiably, respectfully discuss politics, I had to go to the other side of the world?
Meet Mr. Smithers
Well, umm, hello folks.
Here I am, and you are reading my first ever blog post. I'm here at the very kind invitation of the owner of this blog, my good friend Sister Novena. This is all a bit of a surprise for me ... I rocked up to work this morning, feeling typically demotivated, and then I switched on my computer and discovered her e-mail giving me the opportunity to guest star here.
Well, why ever not, I thought to myself? I have warned my good host that she will only like - at most - about half of what I write here. The other half ... well ... I'm tipping ya that she's gonna hate it. But, with that disclaimer and warning out of the way, she still seems to want me to continue. I guess Sr. Novena always has the option of changing her permissions and chucking this house guest out if he turns out to be the kind of house guest who clips his rhetorical toe nails in the lounge room. But here I am!
So. First things first. Who the hell am I? Some basic biographical details.
I am what you might call a trans-Tasmanite.
I was born in New Zealand late in the sixties, and lived there for most of my life. That's New Zealand, home of Lord of the Rings, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the All Blacks and Shortland Street. I love NZ very much - it truly is beautiful and is probably a contender for "Least offensive nation on earth". But - a few years ago, it all started to feel ever so small. It really is a village. In NZ, even if you go to the other end of the country, and find yourself in a group of strangers, there is a better than even chance that even amongst those total strangers, you will find someone with whom you have a mutual acquaintance - if not a mutual friend. It's cute, but the never-ending exclamations of "Oh, isn't it a small world" gets rather annoying. NZ is a bad place to make enemies, because you're unlikely ever to be able to get away from them. If you ever quit your job there, it's imperative you resist the temptation to tell your boss what you really think, because you're very likely to meet that person again.
So, in January 2001, I packed my bags and took a one-way trip to Melbourne, Australia. That's Australia, home of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Hermitage Grange, the greatest cricket team on earth and Neighbours. I also love Australia very much. It too is beautiful (although not as beautiful as NZ), but it's too big really to be in the running for the inoffensiveness award. So what's Australia got that NZ doesn't? From my point of view, I guess it's Aussie's size. (Yes, it really does matter!) In Australia the cities are bigger ... you can drive across town and feel like you're in a completely different city. You can lose yourself easier here, the cities are more interesting, and there's a greater variety of cultures. I guess all this may seem ever so provincial... After all, the population of Aussie is only 20 million - less than one-fourteenth that of the USA - but to this kiwi boy, that's plenty big enough for the time being.
Anyway, last year I decided that I like Australia enough to take out citizenship. Which means that I am now a citizen of both Australia and New Zealand. I would never want to surrender my NZ citizenship - and fortunately I didn't have to - but I also felt like I want to be a proper participant in Australian society.
For example - I want to vote. One of the things I told Sr Novena was that I would be commenting on this year's synchrony between the US and the Australian electoral cycles. This year there are some very close parallels, so I'm going to share with what I guess is my largely American audience some of the insights that come from being able to observe both elections. Interestingly, there are also some marked contrasts between the NZ political situation on the one hand, and the US and Australian situtions on the other hand.
Amd that's what I'm going to talk about. You'll be hearing more from me!
Till next time.
We had a pretty uneventful day; Paul turned up safe and sound, ready to work. He's playing a guy who's badly strung out on methamphetamines, and he went so far as to wear clothes that he actually got from a heavy meth user. He looked like a nasty piece of work... the kind of really mean guy who wouldn't look for trouble, maybe, but would run over your dog out of spite if the opportunity presented itself.
We wrangled a couple of skater boys around the park where we were shooting in the afternoon to accost and harrass Paul's character; a third hung back and we chatted while they shot the scene. (I didn't mention my own days hanging out with the skater boys, or the skater boy I took home and lived with for six years. I imagined what I would sound like -- old and completely out-of-it, a bad attempt at being "hip with the kids" -- and I just couldn't bear the thought.) I fed ginger cookies to the squirrels... they were tame enough to come up and take them from my hand.
I've been giving Derrick, a 19-year-old friend from the workshops, a hard time of it; he's working as a PA, so he's certainly under my jurisdiction, but he still acts like a buddy during the shoot. He knows we tease because we love... even so, he's possibly going to be working on Craig Brewer's shoot in July, and if he messes around there like we let him do on ours (and which I wouldn't let him do if the shoot were more intense), he won't last long. I'm not sure when to start pulling the reins in on him... but it might not matter, since he's going to become the executive producer's private PA in a couple of days.
In the evening we went to the Two-Way Inn (a seedy-looking little box of a bar up the street from the Co-op) to shoot a scene. It was slightly iffy at first, since while the owner of the bar knew about the shoot and had agreed to it, it seems he never told the staff, so they were somewhat surprised. In the end, though, they just hung back and let us get on with it... it didn't take long.
Sunday, June 06, 2004
This is Amber... she wants to talk to y'all.
sean just called me a slut? the question is what is a slut? is it a good thing, is it even real? is it? i think that i am anything that is. sex is a joke, it is silly and nothing. it is the emoutions that i want. it is the passion that i dream about. it is the longing of ones smile, of ones smile. it is the knowing that when someone has a bad day that is even the most amazing thing. Love and sex they are nothing without truth. slut? i am not sure, perhaps i am a slut to the emoution, to the fact that i fall in love with life each and every day, i am the slut to life, the truest of all. i am not sure what i am saying. perhaps i am asking for something.
Saturday, June 05, 2004
Ronald Reagan died today
I think it would be for the best if I didn't say anything more about that.
:Billmon puts it well.
puts it even better:
You were better than George W. Bush.
The first day of the shoot went far more smoothly than any I've ever worked on before... a lot of that is probably down to the streamlined nature of the production: small crew, very little equipment, lots of preparation. If we can keep things moving this way, the rest will be quite easy.
The day started with my losing my drivers license... not in the sense that a cop came and took it off me, only in that the actual object has gone astray. I called every place I went to before I noticed its absence, but nobody had turned it in. So I guess on Monday I'll have to go to the DMV and get a new one.
Paul, who had primary roles in Morgan's last film as well as the play he produced, is missing. Nobody at all seems to know where he is; nobody at his house has heard from him, even his (ex?)girlfriend doesn't know where the boy is at. This has been going on for several days... I hope he's okay, especially since he's in a scene we're shooting tomorrow. I'm callous, I know. Come back to us, Paul.
And then tonight, while shooting a couple of scenes by the river, Morgan got a bug in his ear. We spent about ten minutes fishing around with a pair of tweezers while Morgan made really agonized sounds. Eventually it was removed, although not without some difficulty and general freaking-out (it was a rather small fly-type thingy, although admittedly quite large to be in one's ear), and we got on with the last shot. Tim had the presence of mind to film most of the incident, so I have no doubt that it'll make it into the making-of documentary.
Mike Wilson Hates Michael Moore
I ran across this article
Anybody who wants to know how I feel about Michael Moore need only click the link to the left; I can't really sympathize with him over this stuff too much... he can more than handle himself, and to an extent this kind of thing is inevitable. If you talk a lot and make controversial arguments, you're going to get a certain number of people trying to talk back. I'm sure he can still sleep at night.
But it does rather go to show that, if one side is imperfect, the other can be downright disingenuous:
"What I'm out to influence is how people perceive what he's telling them. I just want them to know documentary makers are inherently dishonest. They walk into something with a point of view," Wilson says.
He doesn't exclude himself from that charge. "I'm being very honest," he says. "I'm manipulating (audiences) with this film."
East Memphis Klan
Okay... so I was at Target a while ago, picking up a few things we need for the shoot... y'know, the one on Colonial off Poplar, in East Memphis. And as I return to my car, something catches my eye: it's a bumper sticker that says -- yep, that's right: "I Ride With Forrest." It's the same
SUV as before
, parked right next to my car.
Apparently I'm on the Klan's turf. I haven't felt this surrounded by intolerance since the year-long epidemic of anti-Catholic screeds showing up on windshields across the city, placed by some fanatic follower of Tony Alamo. (In fact, not all that long ago Catholics were as vilified in the South as Jews, and not much less than blacks.)
Who are these people? Having seen them twice now, I'm dying to know... are they old-school nigger haters? Are they kinder, gentler Klansmen who don't hate Jews and black people, but can't abide race mixing? Maybe they're the kind of people who, if you talked to them, would babble inanely about the Old South and the Confederacy, or white pride or Aryan Christian values, all in a thinly-veiled attempt to distract you from their fundamental problem: fear.
Because, as I have learned over time, that's what's really at issue: these people are terrified, absolutely piss-their-pants afraid of people who don't look or act like them. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a bigot in Memphis, Tennessee, where 65% of the population is African-American; this is a very black city. Add to that the stress of being a Klansman in East Memphis, the traditional home of one of the South's largest orthodox Jewish populations, and they must spend every waking moment trying desperately not to mix with any other human beings (apart from those at the rally, obviously.)
Running across such blatant racism is always disheartening; it's people like the "I Ride With Forrest" family that make it seem as though we'll never get past the old Southern bullshit that keeps us from realizing our potential. But even so... here in Memphis, where the original Nathan Bedford Forrest once lived and did business, we now have a black mayor. The same is true of Forrest City, Arkansas, which was named after the man. Every place where the General once lived is now overrun with happy, prosperous African-Americans.
I hope that pisses these fuckers off.
Friday, June 04, 2004
What the hell is going on in the Bush administration lately?
First George Tenet leaves
, under somewhat unusal circumstances. Did he resign of his own free will? Was he sacked? Why -- after everything that has gone wrong with intelligence over the last few years -- did he leave now?
Then today, everybody got a little morning surprise when a second high-ranking CIA official, James Pavitt, resigned as well
I find it difficult to believe that after so many obvious failures -- which, I hasten to point out, were not the CIA's alone -- the Bush administration would finally realize that the job wasn't being done well enough and fire the guy; that's been patently obvious to even casual observers for well over a year. Thus, it must be political; but the question is, is the CIA pushing, or being pushed?
Some think that Tenet was booted to defuse any intelligence-related criticism the Democrats might use against Bush in the coming election. This is possible, but it doesn't ring true for me... electoral politics in the United States, particularly among conservatives and moderate Republicans, tends to hinge more on rhetoric and "big issues" (like abortion and gay marriage) than on cabinet concerns. I find it difficult to believe that a large enough percentage of the American electorate would care about Tenet's presence or lack thereof to make any significant difference in November.
Others suspect that Tenet left in order to avoid becoming the fall guy for a growing intelligence scandal that has already appeared on the horizon. Alternately, perhaps he got the can as a preventative measure, enabling the administration to say, when the time comes, that it has already dealt with the problem. But the announcement in the Rose Garden didn't seem like an event that was that well-thought-out; Bush was clearly just winging it out there (never a good idea), which smacks of a surprise.
That incident combined with the newest departure seems to suggest that something is very much up. I look forward (with trepidation) to finding out what it is.
But that's not the end of the strangeness surrounding the Bush administration and its relationship to the CIA, oh no. It seems that Bush has recently consulted a private attorney
regarding the Valerie Plame scandal. As well he should, it's an extremely serious matter: identifying an undercover CIA operative qualifies as treason, and word is that the question at this point is not "did Bush know?" but rather, "when did Bush know?"
All of these things, it seems to me, are basically appropriate, regardless of the reasoning behind them. Tenet should've gone a long time ago, and Bush has every reason to be nervous about the Plame investigation, among other things. But it's an unusual amount of activity in a short period of time... I can't really help but wonder what's going on.
Thursday, June 03, 2004
Mark Your Calendar
The Weinsteins announced the release date
for Fahrenheit 9/11
today: June 25. They also announced that they hope to open the film on 500-1000 screens nationwide... for a documentary, that's a huge
number, possibly unprecedented. The release date is also awfully close; I have a feeling, though, that they're already well-prepared and have been working on this for a while. Why so soon? I figure, they have to push the film for the summer so that they can hit the rental/purchase market in October. A film like this has a limited profit-making (and election-influencing)lifespan, and obviously after November 2 this one becomes significantly less interesting to the general public. (And while I'm looking forward to it, and expect to enjoy it, I don't think it's going to be another "Salesman" or "Harlan County, U.S.A.")
Incidentally, Poppy Bush hates this movie
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Not Exactly On Hiatus, But...
... not blogging very often for a while, either. We're starting the production of Morgan's film very, very soon, and it'll continue through the month. I've got test shoots for the next three days, and then we launch right into the proper shoot on Saturday. Therefore, I'm probably not going to be posting as often while that's going on; my main priorities will be 1) the shoot, 2) sleep, and 3) everything else. I think you can guess where the blog fits in there.
I'll still try to get a few posts up... this blog may even serve as a release valve if things get tense. (I apologize in advance for anything untoward I might write here in a moment of desperate frustration.) But otherwise, occupy yourself with any of the numerous links found at either side of this page; they're all worthwhile. And don't forget the archives over there on the left; they actually work now (no, really... try 'em for yourself!)