Monday, July 30, 2007
First Bergman, Now This

Ever live in Houston? Ever watch the news on Channel 13? This guy was a fixture of my childhood. I always wondered what the slime in the ice machine was actually made of.

Slime in your ice machine, slime in your soul. Maybe the two were spiritual brothers underneath it all.

Update: Crap, now Antonioni's dropped, too! When will it end?
12:32 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Sunday, July 29, 2007
Qu'est-ce Que C'est?

Okay, I'm home. I spent the whole weekend riding in the back of cars, walking around junk stores with my mother and her husband, listening to my grandfather's wife bitch about whatever was flitting through her brain at any given moment, and playing with their new cat.

I'm not going to go into it much here, but there was something wrong with that cat. And believe me, I know from cats -- this was no garden variety crazy kitty, and these were no ordinary feline quirks. That cat's bloodline still runs deep with an unfiltered strain of cougar. They commented on its subtle but peculiar markings -- they looked for all the world like bobcat spots to me. Fucking psycho kitty. But you kind of had to be there.

The book went down well -- that should keep him busy until Christmas, anyway. The condo we rented for the night was apparently owned by fundies. There were lots of "Left Behind" books and Kirk Cameron DVDs scattered around. I couldn't resist sneaking in a few pages -- what zany hijinks is ol' Nicolae Carpathia up to now?

I've never quite understood how it is that Christian art always manages to be so fucking bad. Kitschy, cheesy, poorly-crafted, trite, boring -- even if we assume that science and reason can't approach the ineffability of God (which I'd strongly advise against, but even if we did) you'd think the apparently intense, raw emotion fostered by salvation and direct contact with the divine would be able to produce some evidence. But walk into your local Lifeways and tell me if you sense a divine presence. I'm betting you'll leave disappointed, unless you think gilt angels are hawt.

Bah, I'm exhausted. Eight more weeks to go -- I'm starting to get little knots in my stomach whenever I think about it.
8:30 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Friday, July 27, 2007

I'm off to Hot Springs, Arkansas tomorrow to see my one remaining grandparent and his hideous hag of a wife.

Have I ever told you about Hot Springs? It's an interesting place. I lived there for a bit during high school -- I actually attended three of the local high schools while I was there, but that's another story for another time -- and it was without doubt the biggest shithole I ever called home, though not without its charms. I met my first love there, had my first kiss there, my first stepfather died there, and I spent some time there years later working at a film festival where I met some surprisingly influential filmmakers, which was pretty cool. It was a documentary fest, though, so you can take that to mean "influential among documentarians," which is to say that nobody outside that tiny, geeky world will ever have heard of them. But I figure you could say the same about a lot of the people signing books at Comic-Con this week, so let's just agree to respect each other's values and leave it at that.

Does anyone know if Chris Ware happens to be at Comic-Con? I'm not really a comix girl, but I loves me some Ware. He'd probably justify some giddy fan-spazzery. I'd be into that.

When I lived in England, my boyfriend at the time -- he was English, I should point out, which will make this story make more sense -- had this amusingly ignorant way of getting certain American words wrong. Which is fair enough, since I got a few British words wrong during my time there, too; but somehow he found it much more annoying when I snickered at him than I did when he did it to me. That seemed to be true of lots of other things, as well -- there was a definite pattern. Anyway, he got really annoyed one evening over the word "Arkansas."

Since I'm an American, I pronounce the word "Arkansas" as "Arkansaw." You do too, right? Of course you do, because that's the accepted pronunciation. My English boyfriend, however, invariably pronounced it to rhyme with its next-door-neighbor Kansas, so it became "Ar-Kansas." Whenever he did it I'd always smirk to myself because it's funny, but I wouldn't correct him -- it's just fucking Arkansas, who cares? He can pronounce it however he likes. And sometimes the British mis-pronunciation is an improvement -- like, saying "Chrysler" as "chryzler" with a really long "y": "chryyyyzler." Or saying "Maryland" as a hard "mary-land," which sounds damn close to "merry-land!" I mean, the thought of living in Merry-land and driving a Chryyyyzler doesn't sound so bad, and certainly not bad enough to kill yourself over, which is what I'd feel like doing if we pronounced it the usual way. So that's a net plus for humanity. (And if any of you bastards points out that I live in Mississippi and drive a Ford, I'll cut you, I swear.)

On the other hand, he always pronounced "Michigan" and "Mitch-igan," which still cracks me up.

Where the hell was I going with this? Oh, right, Ar-Kansas. Okay.

So one evening, over dinner, we were talking and the subject of my time in Arkansas came up in conversation. And mid-bite he paused and asked, "so how far is it from Arkansaw to Ar-Kansas?"

Um... what?

"How far is it between them? Are they close together? Because it seems like it would be confusing if they were very close together, having two places with such similar names."

Yeah, it took a couple of seconds for that one to penetrate. And then I laughed in his face -- not on purpose, it just happened. After I explained it to him, he was in a pissy mood for the rest of the night -- I tried to tell him that it was a perfectly understandable, if delightfully absurd, mistake. I hadn't realized he thought he was talking about a different place than I was. It was just fucking Arkansas, anyway, so who cares? But none of it helped -- this was a guy who was happiest when he was in a foul mood, so I just left him to it. He was British -- Japanese porn and being a bitch were the only things he had to live for, so who am I to take them away?

Did you know that Hot Springs used to be very popular among the rich and infamous? It's even mentioned in The Great Gatsby. Al Capone used to hang out there. It remains a mafia town to this very day. And apparently there's a huge S&M convention that comes to town every year. My grandfather took me into the men's room in the lobby of the Majestic Hotel once to show me their frankly amazing vintage urinal -- it was a quarter-ton slab of solid Italian marble that actually had an indentation worn in it where its users had habitually directed their streams. It was the most fabulous pissoir I've ever seen.

That's pretty much the town in a nutshell.
8:44 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Thursday, July 26, 2007
Suggestions Needed

I'm hoping you guys can help me out with something.

It turns out that this weekend my mother and I are going to visit my grandfather, who's just turned 82 (I think.) I'm the official Pappy-present-selector for this branch of the family, since I've had a good track record of getting him what he likes. And that pretty much means books.

In the past I've had hits with this one and this one among others, and the last couple were this one and this one. The point is, he's an old dude, but he still leads a fairly active intellectual life, and he enjoys being exposed to big, new ideas. Popular history and science are good bets, and philosophy or any reasonably in-depth nonfiction would probably be good, too. Probably best to stay away from politics, though, and maybe religion as well, just to be safe. I don't think he does a lot of fiction. The point is to get him something he can re-read a few times and really chew on. That's always been my guiding principle, and it's always worked well.

My problem is that this time I have only today and tomorrow to get him something, and I'm drawing a complete blank. So I'm hoping y'all could drop a few suggestions on me.

I love to give people presents, but I have to say, my grandfather is one of my very favorite people to buy gifts for. I have a long history of giving new people gifts of books -- it's my quiet little test of their character. Do they understand that books are the most awesome gift ever? Are they insightful enough to understand why I give them a particular book over all others? How do they respond? A negative response is a bad thing and predicts problems down the line; a neutral one is fine, though I'm always a little disappointed; a positive response is an undeniable sign of a kindred spirit. And my grandfather, bless him, loves getting books. And he's a cool old guy, so I always love to give him some more. I hope when I'm 82 I have someone who brings me books now and then.

I always have to fight off the temptation to give him some Hunter S. Thompson, or maybe some Bukoswki. I mean, come on, they were old guys who liked beer, too -- he might really be able to relate. But then I think of what my mother would say, and think better of it. Probably wisest just to stick to sober nonfiction.
12:08 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Monday, July 23, 2007
American Cannibals

My boss is on vacation this week, so this is likely to be either the best (most productive) or worst (most boring) week at work ever. Not like I can really complain -- I don't get paid much, but I've worked a lot harder for less. I know I should be taking the opportunity to go pester people for voluntary work, but between you and me, I think my strategy for most of this week will be to keep my head down and hope people forget I'm here. Then I can get some studying done, and continue plotting my escape. Knowing that I've only got about eight more weeks in this office kind of saps my desire to curry favor with the bosses. They already like me, and all I really need from this place long-term is a decent reference. At this point, I'd probably have to screw up pretty badly to lose that.

I read a book last week -- for me, it was probably the most compelling political book I've read since Chris Hedges' War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. It's Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War by Joe Bageant. And it's true, the reason I wanted to read this one is because it's about me -- both me, the hillbilly-descended part-Cherokee Scots-Irish southern girl; and me, the over-educated, intellectually-enlightened liberal creative classist. It's sort of the opposite of this essay by Dan Savage, if by "opposite" we mean "basically the same idea, but from a more sympathetic perspective this time."

Essentially, it's a book about how the "heartland" is eating itself alive, how those of us who flee are abandoning it to its demise, and about how ultimately it -- along with the rest of our society -- is completely and utterly fucked. As in, no hope; as in, game over; as in, welcome to the end of the American Dream. The gist of it is that working-class culture has combined with religion, an economy based on consumption and debt, a lack of education, epidemic poor health, and political manipulation to create a class of Americans who can be counted upon to fight for their own oppression, and have succeeded to the point that most of them have no hope of ever getting out from under it. Furthermore, those who claim to want to help are actually fairly content with the situation as it is, at least as far as they manage to remain at a sensible remove from it. And I live on both sides of that line.

I love the south, I do. And yet I hate it, hate it, hate it, and cannot wait to get away from it, to turn my back on it forever. You can't save a society that doesn't want to be saved, and I don't want to spend my life having to cope with its failures. And that's why I'm running the fuck away to Portland.

Not that I expect perfection up there, either (although I've been slightly unnerved by how eerily close it seems to come sometimes, even to some of my more absurd fantasies. A recent lamentation on the impossibility of buying a single cupcake anywhere, followed within days by the realization that Portland has not one but two bakeries devoted to the cupcake arts, made me begin to wonder if I shouldn't start asking the gods for true love, rock stars for friends, and a unicorn petting zoo as well.) Already, one person of my acquaintance has told me that, in her experience, Portland is "a little too PC" -- which normally I would blow off, except that she's a commune-living feminist vegan transgendered lesbian. It does give one pause. Especially with my sense of humor.

But what the fuck else am I going to do? Stay in Mississippi? A place where every homegrown artform obsesses on how much it sucks to live there, is a place you should get away from if you even remotely have the wherewithal to do so. If there's one thing I've learned in the last year, it's that I can't save the south, or even one person in it. So let Mississippi save itself. I'll be editing film in the northwest if anyone needs me.

Which is, honestly, just another way of saying, you can have your shitholes. Somewhere in Portland there's a latte -- a really, really good latte -- with my name on it, and no amount of redneck anguish is going to get in the way of my enjoying it. And that's exactly the attitude that Joe Bageant is talking about.

Anyway, if you want to read some of Bageant's stuff without buying the book (though it's a very good book and you should definitely read it if it applies to you on any level), I've put a link in the blogroll -- his essays are brilliant, too -- check this one out, for example. And it is, I promise, actually a very heartfelt book full of genuine love for the people we come from and eternally run away from, and full of sorrow at their plight without the indulgence of outright despair. He's an unabashed southern socialist and a better person that me, brave enough to stay down here and document the atrocities while I make a break for more cultured climes to cluck from afar. Read it and pretend you have a grandfather who didn't vote for Pat Robertson.
12:37 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Thursday, July 19, 2007
The Right Three

I lost another documentary subject yesterday. I'm working on this doc about five first-year teachers, right, and early on one of them left after she was physically assaulted at her school. Then a second faded away into borderline depression -- and I knew something like that would happen, which is why I chose five instead of the two or three I actually needed. Between the remaining three, one had a way of voicing the absurdity and frustration of her situation; one was passionate about his kids and about his job; and the third, now recently dismissed, was always able to give me a clear, articulate analysis. Between them they formed a multi-faceted perspective on the process they were going through, and they all complimented each other beautifully. They were the right three.

But now one of them is gone, for reasons nobody can tell me. I have to wait for him to tell me himself, and for various good reasons I've been asked not to contact him until mid-August. The program co-ordinator only told me now out of concern that it might change the film, and he wanted to let me know before I got too deep into the editing process. We discussed it for a few minutes, and I told him not to worry, I'd see how things played out. This is the sort of thing that happens while making this kind of film.

Now I've had a night to mull it over. My mission, of course, is to make the best film I can out of the material I have, and to tell the truth as best I can in the process. The organization behind it has been great about giving me free rein to make whatever film I want without interference from them. So I can pretty much use my own best judgement. I'd hate to leave all of that teacher's material out of the film -- he said some important things, his students were the most engaging on camera, his teaching was compelling. But it would be awkward to tell that much of his story without pointing out that he was dismissed from the program at the beginning of his second year.

Then again... the fact of his dismissal doesn't change the validity of anything he said or did during the year he was teaching. And technically, I'm making a film about his first year, and his dismissal came in his second year. And I already have a signed release, so I can do whatever I want with the footage I have -- not that I think he'd ever ask me to exclude him. So for the moment, while I'm waiting to find out the rest of the story (which could change things a bit), I'm leaning towards simply proceeding exactly as planned, and leaving this final unpleasantness out, unless it has a direct bearing on the film. It's not a perfect solution, but it's the best I can come up with for now.

Otherwise, I've been slowly (painfully slowly) pulling my footage onto my hard drive and logging it as I go. Last night I reviewed an early interview with the first teacher to leave. The interview was done exactly a year ago tomorrow -- July 20, 2006. I was relieved to see that the footage looked good and sounded decent (I always get paranoid about what I shot after the fact), but I was really impressed with the potential for narrative tension in that interview. She spoke several times about feeling certain that she was up to the job, about wanting "real interactions with other people," but fearing that she'd be unable to finish and ditch the program. And indeed, barely six weeks later she had an extremely "real" interaction with a student, and ditched. The incoming class she was a part of has been bad for teachers leaving -- I think they had five or six (out of thirty) during the first year, and I'm sure a few more have left over the break before their second year begins. It's as much a part of the program as finding passion in teaching, so it'll make the final cut of the film.

It's weird to think that was a year ago. Seems a lot longer.

Anyway, as of today, it's exactly ten weeks until I plan to depart this sad locale and head for what I hope will be a more suitable home. But more on that soon. Or soon-ish. Or whenever I get around to it.
3:04 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Okay, here's a topic for a blog post: people who won't shut the fuck up.

Jesus Hillary Christ, do you people have to talk every fucking minute of the day? Does your brain cease to function if the hinge on your cannoli-hole stops wagging? Is there a thirty-second-idle shutdown command embedded in your OS? Are you really incapable of just sitting in peaceful silence for more than three minutes at a stretch?

What the fucking fuck is wrong with these people? It's not conversation, it's not discussion; it's just prattle, endless, void-filling gasbaggery. They're talking to fill in the time between the talking they do for their jobs. Then other people come in, not doing anything, just showing up and talking about nothing.

Enclosed, shared office spaces are cruel, cruel places for quiet people. Sometimes they try to get me to talk, too. Sometimes I walk by, and they say, "boy, you sure are quiet!" I want to tell them to try it sometime, it really clears the mind. Instead I roll out my standard line about being a ninja in my time off. That one goes over big in an office setting, and they forget to be suspicious of my silence.

It isn't talking as such that I have a problem with -- I talk too, when I have a reason. It's just this pointless yap that people seem to use to cover up the fact that nothing else is happening inside their heads. There's no underlying thought involved; if I asked them to repeat what they said ten minutes ago, I doubt any of them could. The only apparent respite is the sweet tepid glow of the television, which does their talking for them. But TV noise is as grating as this kind of vacuous space-filling monologue.

Yes, I'm being mean; no, it doesn't literally hurt anything and I should be more patient. But when you're surrounded by noise all day, it gets harder to hear the things that matter, the sounds that have meaning. that, and my brain can't quite filter out your riveting theories about the best colors for highlighters, and it's interfering with my work. I mean good goddamn, is thirty minutes of peace really so much to ask?
2:19 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Calm Before

Apologies if things go a bit quiet here, and if when I do post it's a little boring. The thing is, often my output on this blog is the direct consequence of idleness, and I'm not very idle of late. Partly that's because I've got stuff to do -- I want to take the A+ exam at the end of August or so, and I still have a lot of information to pack into my brain in preparation for that; I have a shiteload of video to edit, and just getting it imported and reviewed is going to take two or three weeks; and I've got packing to do in between that. And then I've got work, my usual daily activities, friends to pester into spending quality time, and I have to work in a sufficient amount of introversion-maintenance time, too. The days are just packed, I tell you.

But more than that, I'm just in a strange headspace. I've got barely more than ten weeks to go before the Really Important Thing happens. And while that deadline doesn't pose any particular problems for me, it's kind of like the three days right before a major academic paper is due -- right now, every distraction is extra-compelling. I have so much to fit into a finite time that doing nothing is no longer boring -- it's kind of a relief, actually.

So my not-doing-anything time is not only reduced, it's also no longer idle time. and that means my blogging output is dropping off for a while. But don't give up on me yet. I have a feeling that before too long -- especially once I start getting some fresh material -- it'll pick up again.

In the meantime, get a load of this broad's amazing hairdo:

I want one

PS: Several people have called me out for being coy about what the Really Important Thing is. I know that I haven't actually said it out loud (so to speak) on the blog, mostly because at this point, damn near everyone already knows what it is. Or maybe it just seems that way -- I don't really know how many people are reading, so my assumption that you collectively constitute eight or ten personal friends and a hundred daily random perverts looking for "naked old man" pictures could well be incorrect.

And the other thing is, I think I'm still afraid of jinxing it. The magic is fragile. Naming it might destroy it.

So, what I'm asking is, when -- if ever - should I announce?
11:42 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Saturday, July 14, 2007
The Cleanest Cut

I've been dreaming heavily again. I know a few of the people who read this blog don't go in for the dream-as-cosmic-hint theory, and I suppose I don't either. But I do think that when the brain gets caught talking to itself, especially when you catch a snippet of something that seems relevant, it can be useful -- or at least interesting -- to consider what it might mean.

This morning I had a dream in which I was asleep and dreaming. In my dream I woke up from the dream-dream with the absolute conviction that I no longer needed my right foot and would be better off without it. And still in the groggy half-dreaming state within my real dream, I grabbed a knife that happened to be sitting next to my bed and cleaved my foot cleanly away. It was like cutting through hard cheese. It didn't bleed; it didn't hurt. I remember seeing the cross-section of meat and bone, and I remember its weight in my hand. And no sooner had I made the chop, I realized that cutting my foot off was actually a pretty stupid thing to do. I still used it a lot, and whatever had convinced me that it was no longer useful had failed to take into account that in any case it helped more than it hurt. I had barely finished cutting when intense regret set in. I wanted nothing but to put it back the way it was.

So I was faced with a dilemma. I tried to put my foot back in place with the help of a tightly-wound bandage, and had a wander around an unfamiliar city (yes, walking on my severed foot, with a minimum of difficulty) while debating whether I should call my mother and tell her that I'd cut off my foot and probably needed some medical attention. But I was uninsured, you see, and getting my foot reattached would probably be awfully expensive -- especially since I'd cut it off intentionally and all. And I thought maybe I should just wait and see if it would heal itself.

And then I woke up in real life. I spent a few minutes wiggling my toes with relief.

Cutting things away has become a major theme in recent months, and it's intensified in the last few weeks. I'm getting rid of so much. Everything has come into question: possessions, attitudes, relationships, habits -- there's less of "me" now than at any point in my adult life so far. Some of these things have meant a lot to me in the past. Some of them I'd never have thought I'd consider cutting off. All of it has been part of my life and my identity over the past few years. All of it has been part of me.

Am I going to cut too enthusiastically and regret it afterwards?
4:30 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I officially started packing today.

I still have twelve weeks to go, and it's not like I have that much stuff. But I figure if I can do a box or two a week, when the time comes to make the big haul I'll be able to take a relaxed attitude towards the endeavor. I have a list of things I need to accomplish between now and then -- reorganizing, throwing lots of stuff away, repainting a few things and framing some posters and art, that kind of thing. My goal is to have almost all of it done a week or two in advance so my last week can be devoted to final preparations.

I plowed through three boxes of books this evening, stuff that's been sitting in storage for the best part of a decade. It dates back to when I dropped out of college -- that was 1998. I was profoundly depressed, my first relationship had just broken up, I felt like a failure, I was mired in self-destructive behavior. It was the worst period of my life to date. I don't even remember most of the stuff in those boxes, but what I do remember carries visceral memories.

I found the painting that first boy gave me at the end of my junior year (his senior year) of high school, a few months before our first kiss. It's still in remarkable shape considering the conditions of its storage -- I can still read his ballpoint inscription on the back. I found a card I wrote to my grandmother and never sent. I found file folders full of papers I carefully saved and then forgot about. I found partially-written journals and old photographs, though none of the ones I wish I could find. And books -- books and books and books. Mostly academic books and a few novels I don't remember reading, nothing exciting in this batch. Every phase of my life adds a new layer of books, like the rings of the trees from which their pages were pulped and pressed. The books are some of the hardest objects to decide about -- they're not garbage, and I can always find value in a book. But still, do I really need all of these books of academic essays on European folklore? I'll never read them again (if I ever really read them in the first place), and while each is a small thing on its own, taken together they add up to a significant extra burden. Are they worth it? Or more precisely, are they worth it to me? Books are always my downfall.

And that was just three boxes -- there are more around somewhere, from London, from LA, from each of my various departures. I'm going through them, discarding at least half of their contents, trying to figure out what to abandon and what to carry forward. I'm going through everything -- I'm going through the artifacts of my entire adult life, evaluating each one's meaning and worth. Every time I've left in the past, I left most of this stuff behind, waiting to be reclaimed whenever I finally got settled. Now I'm doing a complete personal inventory. This is the first time that I've decided to take everything at once -- one clean move, nothing left behind. If I want to keep it, it's coming with me, and if I don't, I'm getting rid of it. Shifting the boxes is hard work, but not nearly as hard as thinking it all through.

And yeah, I'm talking about stuff. But I'm talking about everything else, too.
8:35 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Saturday, July 07, 2007
I Are A Serious Cineaste

I know a good film from a crappy one. I'm professionally trained, in Europe no less. I've sat through Duchamp's circles. I've studied the experimental films of Deren, Anger, Brakhage. I've written serious academic papers on Asian cinema and the aesthetic roots of semi-obscure Scandinavian art film movements. My tolerance for pain is high, and my patience with the moviegoing masses is often low. I know what I'm supposed to like and what I'm not supposed to like. But the heart wants what it wants, and sometimes I find the lines getting crossed.

Some of what I'm about to say would be dangerous in the wrong academic setting.

Five Directors I Should Like But Don't

1. Wim Wenders

Wings of Desire is right at the top of this list because there isn't anything about this film I shouldn't like. I like religious iconography, I like Rainer Maria Rilke, I like Peter Handke, I like Nick Cave, I even like Peter Falk; but this movie pisses me off every time I see it. It's hypocritical, damn it. It preaches active awareness of reality, but it's a movie for fuck's fucking sake -- watching a film and being actively aware are damn near mutually exclusive. In theory you can do it, but who wants to maintain such a postmodern pose for two damn hours?

2. Ingmar Bergman

I get it, you know? I can appreciate it, I can respect it. But for god's sake, please don't make me sit through it. My indifference to Persona is almost painful. I spent the entire film hoping those catty bitches would just STFU. Especially the one who never said anything. Bitch.

3. John Ford

Cowboys. Whatevs.

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Okay, look, I'm apologizing right off the bat. The man was a genius in a slightly pedestrian kind of way, and he did some interesting stuff, he had some good bits in there. Maybe the problem is that suspense films just aren't my thing. But I don't know -- I always thought he was kind of over-rated. It was all downhill after Rebecca.

5. Ralph Bakshi

The fucking hero of modern animation, apparently... that's what every animator I've ever met or read has said. Maybe you have to be a practitioner of the artform to really appreciate whatever it is that Bakshi did. But somewhere under the surface I sense a seed of mediocrity that I find it difficult to ignore.

Five Directors I Shouldn't Like But Do

1. Ken Russell

Cat People, Altered States, Oliver Reed as a mad, screechy priest in The Witches -- fuck, what's not to like? Salome's Last Dance is so Oscar Wilde-ish I can't stand it. The only Russell film I'm not so crazy about these days is Tommy, though I liked it when I was younger.

2. Peter Jackson

Is it okay to like him again, now that King Kong and a few years of blind grasping at cinematic straws have knocked some of the gilt off his buttcheeks? Poor Peter -- he's derivative and he can't come up with an original idea to save his damn life, but the man loves film. Have you seen Dead Alive? Have you seen Meet the Feebles? Have you seen the foam-latex glory that is Bad Taste? Along with the buckets of fake vomit and fake blood and simulated liquid feces, the man pours love by the gallon into his movies. Oh, sure, I get a little dismissive when he starts getting full of himself (though if you can't be a bit proud of yourself after LOTR, when can you be?), but any man who would dare to imagine and realize on celluloid a walrus getting a blowjob from a cat is okay in my book.

3. Tinto Brass

I know, who? Never heard of him. But one word will explain everything: Caligula. Seriously -- Malcolm McDowell and Peter O'Toole and a woman performing graphic oral sex on an enormous cock? Helen Mirrin! John Gielgud! Cum shots! Together in one film! Have I died and gone to heaven?

4. LA Public Access Television

Not a director as such, but my god, I just couldn't stop watching.

5. Merchant, Ivory

Actually I don't like Merchant Ivory films much at all; I just didn't want you to think I only like filth and potty humor, and I'm hoping you're not reading too closely. Though having people think I dig Merchant Ivory, now that I think about it, would be more embarrassing than having them think I like smut.

Five Directors I Can't Help Feeling Ambivalent About

1. Frederico Fellini

I try to get through 8 1/2 and Satyricon, honest I do. But I just fucking can't.

2. Terry Gilliam

Yes, I loved Time Bandits when I was a kid, too, and I enjoyed Brazil once I was old enough to understand it. But there's just something about a Gilliam film that I find grating. I like it, but I find it difficult to enjoy it much -- I'm always waiting for it to be over. I don't think that's a good sign.

3. Peter Greenaway

Prospero's Books and The Pillow Book are worth every bit of the effort they require. 8 1/2 Women not so much.

4. Orson Welles

One good movie that was arguably more to the credit of the crew than Mr. Welles. But damn, it really is a fucking good movie.

5. Jean Luc Godard

To tell you the truth, I have no problem at all with Godard -- not everything he's done is great (really almost nothing has been good since, oh, the early 70s), but those first few were so impossibly good that he gets to ride out the rest of his days in the glow of his old glory. But this list would've seemed incomplete without at least one Frenchman.

Related: Ten Directors You Didn't Know You Hated
1:40 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Thursday, July 05, 2007
Free Screening Tonite

I have a regular round of paperwork that I do the first week of every month, but with a holiday in the middle of the week coupled with a minor fire in my office building on Monday, everything is all out of whack, and the data I need to do my paperwork is not forthcoming. So I find myself, as usual, with some extra time to fill. Which is as good a time as any to clear out a half-finished blog post.

I've been thinking a lot about the recording industry lately. I, like you, have been watching the decline of the major labels and pondering what it means for me. Their situation perplexes me because, at least in the case of music, it all seems so clear-cut and obvious, and I can't quite figure out why the corporations are having so much trouble coping. I mean, I can -- old men with vested interests in the way things have always been are notoriously resistant to change -- but it all seems so futile. I can't understand why they continue to struggle against the inevitable.

Okay, so nobody's buying CDs anymore. So what? A CD is worthless -- it costs at most a few cents, extra for the packaging, but I don't pay any more attention to the physical object than I do to any of the other plastic packaging in my day-to-day life. It's the data on the disc, the music it carries, that has value. If I can buy the data without the disc, then that's simpler for everyone involved. Personally, I still prefer to have a hard copy, if only because the data-only version is still so often restricted, and that annoys me. But even when I buy a CD, the first thing I do is rip the disc and put the original product away. I have CDs I have never actually listened to directly; they were only the conduit that carried the data onto my hard drive. My computer is the center of my musical universe now; I expect that's how it is for a lot of people.

And I like the new economic model. I've stolen my share of music, but generally only when a) it wasn't available commercially; b) I was experimenting and didn't want to pay for something I might hate; or the most common scenario, c) I only wanted one track off an album that I would never have bought otherwise. It was never about avoiding payment or ripping anyone off -- I did it because I had no satisfactory alternative. I'm more than happy to pay for a single track if the option is available, and now that it is, it's easier and safer to buy than it is to steal. It's a good model, it works.

Giving away some of their intellectual property can be good for artists, too. Of all the music I've bought in the last two or three years, probably 80% of it resulted from having been given music for free, either by friends or by the artists themselves. Okay, so I didn't pay for the first album -- I paid for the next three, which I probably wouldn't have bought otherwise. It isn't completely legitimate, but I think it's fair. Most bands seem to think so, too, at least implicitly. Sharing music seems to be taking the place of radio play for every band worth hearing.

So I tend not to get too worked up over attacks on internet radio and the evils of DRM. It's all bad, and I'm definitely against it, but I can't really see something like DRM lasting too much longer. It's just too bad and useless an idea to survive. Information, as they say, wants to be free. It can only be good for music in the long run.

But here's where things get tricky for me: what does that mean for film?

The first response whenever I ask that question is always, "well, if it works for music, it'll work for film." And maybe in some permutation, it will. But film and music are different species, and the consumer's relationship to them is radically different. You buy an album because you want to listen to it over and over again, or at least want the option to be able to do so. You listen to it while you drive to work, sitting in your cubicle, while you do dishes, while you jog in circles around the park. You can focus on it, but it can also become a secondary activity. It's flexible, and it can fill in the empty spaces in your life. Film isn't like that. Film requires attention; it's the thing you're doing, not something to do while you do something else. And apart from seven-year-olds, few people watch a film repeatedly -- even the films I've seen most often I've seen maybe half a dozen times. The vast majority of the time, you watch a film, and then you're done with it. That's the end of your relationship.

So what's the motivation to buy a film? Obviously people do, but what convinces them to do so? Of all the films you've seen outside a cinema, how many of them did you purchase, either before or after? I bet it's a pretty small percentage; I bet the vast majority of those films were rented. And there's nothing wrong with that -- except that now where does the artist fit in to the economic model? In the standard version -- the film equivalent to the music recording industry -- the filmmaker gets a cut from the distributor, who collects a fee for every copy of a film sold to a rental company, who is then free to make as much as they can off that copy. It works fine for the majors, just like selling CDs at Wal-Mart works fine for Justin Timberlake. Smaller music artists can increasingly bypass the entire structure and sell directly to a consumer, who is hopefully happy to pay. But what's the small filmmaker's equivalent bypass?

Who's willing to take a monetary chance on a film they've never seen by a filmmaker they've never heard of? But once they've already seen it, what's the motivation to pay for it? And if there's no motivation to pay for it, then how can the person who made that film ever hope to be compensated for their work?

You see the problem.

I believe that information's need for freedom applies to film as much as it does to music. When Michael Moore says he's not worried about Sicko being distributed free online, I think he's on the right side of the argument. And I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for a lot of the money to be sucked out of the film industry -- there's no direct correlation, as we all well know, between the amount of money spent making a film and the quality of said film. If every little would-be Tarantino realized that he was never going to become rich and famous as an independent auteur and dropped out, that would be just fine by me. But even so, filmmaking is an arduous, time-consuming pursuit, and even the most long-suffering film artiste needs a little audience support to keep going. Not to say that every filmmaker deserves to find an audience, just as not every band deserves a fanbase. But bands have options that filmmakers don't have. A band selling CDs after a show is smart; a filmmaker selling DVDs after a screening is just sad and pitiful. A band giving away a few tracks can hope for some results; a filmmaker giving away a few shorts is engaging in futility.

My interest in this question is mostly theoretical, in any case. I mean, shit, I'm into documentary -- I gave up any hope of ever making money from my films a long time ago. Maybe that's for the best: I do it for the love, not the money. I do it because not doing it is unthinkable, whether anybody ever sees my stuff or not. I do it because I think I might have something to contribute to the form, even if it doesn't contribute much to my wellbeing. I do it because I'm an idealist, or a sucker. Both, probably. And I think any artform driven primarily by compulsion rather than profit is probably in the best possible hands -- leave it to the bastards who don't mind going broke in the name of their art. Then we'll finally start seeing some films worth paying for.

Update: DaveX put a few responding thoughts up at his blog. The question is, do I respond to him here, or over there?
12:34 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ugh -- the Fourth of July. I'm not such a fan.

The Fourth is the speed bump in my summer, the bottleneck in my temporal freeway. There isn't much in it that I feel very enthusiastic about -- I'm indifferent to hot dogs, I don't drink beer, I don't fish or go to stock car races or enjoy John Wayne movie marathons or get teary-eyed at Lee Greenwood endlessly, tritely singing about how he's proud to be an American. This isn't a holiday for me. It's just something to tolerate until it's over, with perhaps the small consolation of a barbecue in there somewhere. Except then you have to sit outside in the heat and listen to old people talk about lawn mowers.

And it's even worse this year because apparently it's going to last for a good ten days. I would work if I could, but my office is closed. So I'll be hiding in my room until the family supper, and then afterwards maybe going to a movie. Maybe I'll go see Sicko. Nothing like a little liberal America-bashing to celebrate a patriotic holiday.

Anyway, the good news is that, assuming things go to plan, three months from tomorrow I'll be far, far away from this red state. From next week on it's a clear shot, and I know it's going to be agonizingly slow and yet go alarmingly quickly. I am looking keenly forward to the fall. The beginning of my October is going to be epic. And all I have to do between now and then is do my work, do my editing, and mark off the days.

Come on, October.
11:47 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Monday, July 02, 2007
I'm Going To Hell

No, seriously... I'm going to Hell.

God sure is a pedantic, nitpicky bastard for an infinite being. For fuck's sake, even I wouldn't condemn another soul to eternal torment just for having the occasional lustful thought, and I'm hardly what you'd call transcendently just and loving.

It's always kind of confused me that the supreme being is even more vindictive, petulant and petty than me at my frail, human worst. Go figure.
11:57 AM ::
Amy :: permalink