Monday, October 31, 2005
The Rumored Death Of Cinema

I'm supposed to be writing today, not blogging. But then, if I were writing, I'd only be writing about the changing nature of filmgoing and film exhibition -- and miraculously, this post is about -- yes!-- the changing nature of filmgoing and film exhibition. How synchronous is that? Bird, meet other bird. Two birds, meet stone.

M. Night Shyamalan's not happy:

ORLANDO -- Director M. Night Shyamalan threw down the gauntlet Thursday night at ShowEast, appearing at the exhibitors convention to speak out against shrinking theatrical windows and rejecting the notion of simultaneous day-and-date releases of new films in theaters and on home video, cable and video-on-demand.

(...)

Speaking from his Philadelphia-area office shortly before leaving for Orlando, the director said: "I'm going to stop making movies if they end the cinema experience. If there's a last film that's released only theatrically, it'll have my name on it. This is life or death to me.

(source)


My initial response to the idea of no more M. Night Shayamalan movies, ever:



(Oh, the humanity.)


But seriously, this very issue is what I've spent nearly the last year of my life thinking about. The entire filmgoing experience is changing -- or, more accurately, the cinema experience is still the same (only better, mostly thanks to vastly improved sound), but people can't seem to be bothered to go much anymore. That's putting enormous pressure on the industry -- their dirty little secret is that Hollywood is barely profitable these days (at least in any of the ways we normally assume it would be), and so relatively small decreases at the box office hurt. So they look for various ways to staunch the bleeding -- aggressive anti-piracy measures, and unbelieveably fucked-up marketing strategies like releasing a given film in theaters and on DVD on the same day.

To be blunt: the industryy doesn't give a rat's ass about the cinematic experience; they just want to move product. My problem is, I do care about the cinematic experience. I regard the cinema as a kind of secular church -- I take it quite seriously -- no, I revere it -- and as glad as I am to be able to watch movies at home, I really, really like watching them in theaters. And I think other people like that, too. But as we all know, going to the movies is no longer strictly necessary, no longer always an option, and often too expensive to do often. It has its problems.

But it's also at the epicenter of film art. You can't really experience any worthwhile film without seeing it in that setting -- you can get close, but it's almost impossible to replicate the full experience at home. The screen's not big enough (no, not even the biggest ones)and the room is rarely dark enough, the isolation from the non-film world isn't complete enough, and you lack the subconscious social influence of sitting in a dark room, sharing a sensory experience with dozens of strangers. These things are important; these things are what give film much of its power. Watching a film at home is always at best a half-neutered, compromised version of the intended experience.

Am I a film snob? Fuck yes, I am. I rue the day we create a world in which theatrical filmgoing becomes regarded as superfluous.

At the same time, though, I recognize that everything's changing -- these changes aren't just limited to film, either; all art of every description is being thrown into flux. I had a heated argument with a younger film student a couple of weeks ago in which I argued (in so many words) that film festivals were bullshit, the film industry as we know it is doomed to wither, and that this is the worst possible time to invest yourself in the old way of doing things. We're setting out across terra incognita, and that's a scary thing, but I can only have hope that we use the opportunity to create something that's better for everyone. My current efforts are rooted in my wish to navigate that terrain a little more smoothly (and in the best interests of myself and my associates.) I disagree with Shyamalan when he says that:

"If you tell audiences there's no difference between a theatrical experience and a DVD, then that's it, game's over, and that whole art form is going to go away slowly... Movies will end up being this esoteric art form, where only singular people will put films out in a small group of theaters."


Well, actually, I don't completely disagree, and frankly, that sounds like an improvement to me; you're not likely to find me weeping over the demise of the Hollywood blockbuster (although clearly Shyamalan feels he has something at stake... I wouldn't be so sure if I were him.) But I do suspect that theatrical filmgoing will persist for the time being; I can't really foresee a world in which The Village can't find an audience (sadly.) What concerns me more is the potential failure of film culture -- that thing that only arises when people communicate with each other about what they're seeing. Filmmaking and filmgoing are both team sports -- the whole thing becomes shallow and meaningless without thought and discussion and interaction. If cinemas continue to wither, where will film culture be built?

I love the fact that I can go online and rent obscure foreign art films for tiny sums and have them appear at my door the next day; I look forward to the day when people can make and distribute high-quality films with small budgets, interacting directly with an engaged audience; I'd love to have a big, impressive home theater with a digital projector and THX-quality sound. But it's not really the same, is it? You can buy high-end audio equipment and have a near-perfect musical experience in your living room, but nobody would ever claim that it's the same as going to see a live band. If the art-loving, film-going public doesn't understand that the cinema is at the heart of every movie, it's only because we who devote ourselves to its existence haven't done a good enough job of convincing them. Hollywood hasn't lifted a finger; people like Shyamalan talk a big game (when they think their Malibu homes might be on the line), but what has he done for the cinema lately? (Besides abuse it, I mean.)

It's a confusing mess; I can't claim to have drawn any coherent conclusions except to say that what we have now will be unrecognizeable within a matter of decades (at most), and that whatever follows, while almost unimaginable now, will seem obvious when it finally comes to fruition. I'm as anxious as anyone about what that all means for me and for my adopted medium, but I know it's pointless to rail against the demise of a foundering status quo when the alternatives can hardly be worse for people like me.

Maybe my failure to sell out in Hollywood will prove to be a blessing in disguise -- at least I don't have a Malibu beach house to lose.
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Advice, Please

What the best way of asking someone -- nicely, of course -- to shut the fuck up already?

There are these two guys with whom I share a wall, y'see -- they're nice guys, and I get along well with one of them in all ways but music appreciation (apparently). But Jesus Fucking Christ in a chicken finger basket do these guys generate a lot of noise. It starts in the morning with the endless Jessica Simpson (up to eleven, baby!) while they get ready for class, continues throughout the day in bursts just long and intense enough to completely fuck my concentration and focus, and trails off most nights in the form of rumbly bass from movie soundtracks, often lasting until 1 or 2 in the morning.

The crux of the problem is that their noise-making equipment sits exactly on the wall that separates their room from mine. Their speakers are, for all intents and purposes, about six inches from my head when I lie in bed at night. I hear every note they play, every syllable of every karaoke performance, every episode of Fraggle Rock -- if it happens in their room, I'm an unwitting party to it. It's like I'm a third roommate, except that I get no say in anything that happens in there.

I've tried to be cool. This is a college dorm, not part of the civilized adult world, and so most nights I stuff my ears with earplugs, grit my teeth, and mutter obscenities until they STFU and go to bed. Then I have a couple of precious hours in which to work before I pass out, and then I get five hours of uninterrupted sleep before Jessica Simpson starts knocking out her mediocre cover tunes again.

This has been an exercise in zen-like patience and tolerance on my part. You try waking up out of peaceful dreams to the same shitty pop song (on repeat) every morning for a month and see if you don't feel like buying a semi-automatic and shooting some shit up. So while I doubt anyone under the age of 25 would see it this way, I have been more than generous and giving in this situation -- and only because, as I said, these are basically nice guys. They're just nice guys with expensive speakers and intensely bad taste in music (which is one of the most socially dangerous combinations in western civilization).

But now things are different. Now I've got less than a month to finish the most in-depth academic work of my life thus far -- and in response it seems like these two are just getting louder. They're not technically breaking any dorm rules, but they are genuinely fucking with my work. And that has to stop. So I ask again: what's the best way of asking someone -- nicely, of course -- to shut the fuck up already?

Anyway...

Last night after the late van run I hung around the maintenance parking lot and gawked at Mars for fifteen or twenty minutes. I counted up my very modest repretoire of constellations, clearly saw Scorpio for the first time ever, and made exactly the same wish on no less than five shooting stars. Back in Mississippi I have a telescope but there's always too much light pollution to see much through it; here, the visibility is great, but I have to content myself with leaning against the car and craning my neck up. Of all the astronomical wonders I've seen, most of them have been here -- I saw a great lunar eclipse here, I saw Hale-Bopp here, and now I've seen a close Mars approach. When I was a kid, I always wondered how anyone ever made any visual sense out of the night sky -- I couldn't understand how some people could tell the difference between a star, a planet, and a satellite just by looking up. As I get older, though, I'm finding the differences easier to pick up on, and I'm learning my way around the constellations even without trying. If I'd spent my life looking up at night instead of watching TV, I'd probably have been this familiar with the night sky by the time I was ten years old -- but I'm happy enough to be getting there by thirty.

Oh, and Happy Halloween.
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Friday, October 28, 2005
Restoring Honor And Integrity To The White House

You're doin' a heckuva job, Bushie!



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The Big Push

This is it: now or never, sink or swim, do or die. Over the next three weeks, I'll be cranking out the paper that gets me out of this joint -- and yeah, I can do it, no sweat. All I really want to do right now is hunker down and get this thing over with -- fortunately (at least, it's something of a relief right now), the New York trip is probably off. It's not that I didn't want to go, it's just that the logistical headache was more than I wanted to deal with this close to my deadline. In the end, though, the New York media community proved predictably indifferent to my cause, and only one person granted me an interview. That interview, of course, will still take place -- it'll just be via telephone and not face-to-face. But it's really not worth schlepping to NYC for a 30-minute interview, y'know? Not unless somebody's paying me... which they're not.

But that's okay. This increases my chances of getting this thing in the bag before Thanksgiving, which would be ideal. Then I can spend the holiday with a weight off my mind and nothing hanging over my head, and then piss off back down home to throw a party. And all that stands between me and happiness is fifty solid pages of writing.
10:52 AM ::
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Knee-Mail This, Fucker

If there's one fucking thing I hate in this world, it's the platitudes that appear on church signs. You know the ones -- they say sub-moronic "clever" things like:


CH__CH
WHAT'S MISSING? U R!


GOD ANSWERS KNEE-MAIL


Those signs fucking annoy the shit out of me. And after seeing the same rancid one-liners appear on church signs across the country over years, you inevitably start to suspect that they're all tapped into some heaving motherlode of inane Xtian drivel. If you could only find the riverhead from whence all the simplistic, narrow-minded, faux-witty bullshit springs, you could kill the brain and kill the beast.

I knew it. I fucking knew it.

Fortunately, there's an antidote: the Church Sign Generator.








Nod to Mat.

PS: Check out the impressive collection of real church signs and find out why I loathe them so.
11:08 PM ::
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Roger the Shrubber

Before I start, I want to make one thing absolutely clear: I am NOT a prude. There's not a prudish bone in my body, nor a prudish thought in my head. I'm down with folks gettin' down, I wish them love and joy (or lust and depravity, depending on their bent), and beseech all humans everywhere -- within the obvious bounds of consent, responsibility, and safety -- to strap up, tie down, bend over, and let the fluids land where they may.

But there is, well, one thing that kinda bothers me; it can best be summed up in the word "exhibitionism." It's not the idea of exhibitionism itself that bothers me -- like I said, I'm cool with anyone doing anything; I'm not one to judge. In fact, I love knowing about what people are getting up to, even when it's stuff I personally have no interest in -- the diversity and breadth of potential human experience is represented so beautifully in the microcosm of sex. I just don't want to have to watch. This has always been my one real hang-up -- hump away, wonderful people, but don't do it around me, please. Walk around naked all damn day -- I have no problem with nudity -- but not in the kitchen, and not with a hard-on. It just bugs me.

I mention it because there's something in my little world that's causing me some vexation, and I'm not sure what, if anything, I should do about it. To put it simply, my across-the-hall neighbors (three girls) have decided to post a large poster of some naked guy on the wall outside their door. Not in their room, no, but out in the hall, where nobody but them and me ever see it. The first couple of days I was cool with it -- heh, these crazy kids with their rampant in-your-face sexuality -- but as a week or more has passed, I'm starting to get tired of seeing it. I'm not sure whether the situation is made better or worse by the fact that it's only partially-full-frontal nudity -- there's no visible tackle (which extends southward below the edge of the poster), but that only serves to emphasize the visibility of the surrounding pubes. I'm just, y'know, getting a little tired of stepping out of my room every morning and being faced with an eyeful of some dude's shrubbery collection.

Am I being unreasonable? Should I just get over it? I'd be embarrassed to ask them to take it down -- not because the picture embarrasses me (it doesn't), but because the idea that it bothers me embarrasses me.

Anyway, it's "snowing" again today -- I put "snowing" in quotes because the stuff that's falling from the sky only barely qualifies as snow. It's a little more than sleet, coming down in wads more than flakes, and making the roads all greasy and nasty. But at least I get to bring my snowboots out again -- I love my snowboots.
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2000 Plus Rosa

US death toll in Iraq hits 2,000

Civil Rights Pioneer Rosa Parks Dead at Age 92


I just hope we get some indictments soon to put a little balance in our collective karma.
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Monday, October 24, 2005
CSS Done Me Wrong

I wish I understood HTML better. I've spent the best part of an hour trying to replace the current dull blog title banner with something a little more interesting, but I just can't get the image to work right on the page. I've been pretty good at deciphering everything within the style sheet and tinkering around with it, but the structure itself is a mystery to me.

I have every intention of getting some modest training in basic web design after I get done here -- and not just web design, but I'd like a better understanding of straight-up graphic design (just enough to be competent for my own uses; I wouldn't really like to do it for a living), desktop publishing, DVD authoring, maybe even a little bit of computer animation (just enough to manipulate simple images, that kind of thing.) These are all well within my intellectual capabilites, but until one has had some systematic instruction, they can be tough subjects to penetrate.

Seems weird to be sitting here in a college dorm, waiting to graduate from school so I can finally start learning stuff. But isn't that always the way?
6:31 PM ::
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Sunday, October 23, 2005
People Do Weird Things

Like, for example -- just off the top of my head -- they might construct a scale model of the beautiful city of San Francisco out of Jell-o.



Why anybody would do this I cannot fathom, but I'm incredibly grateful that someone did.

Add your own "fruity" joke here.
9:48 AM ::
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Saturday, October 22, 2005
Snow Watch

We've got our first snow watch for the season. The current advisory warns of snow "up to four inches" at elevations of 2000 ft. and up... my little town sits at 1735 ft. So we're a bit below -- but not much. And if it's 4 inches at 2000 ft, it's not unreasonable to think that we might get a little here, too.

Goddamn it, it's not even Halloween yet. Apparently the only thing that'll stop the rain is enough cold to turn it into snow.

At least I've got new tires.

Update: We have snow. The first of the season... maybe as much as an inch. I'm not sure how I feel about that -- it's not enough to be pretty, just enough to require an extra ten minutes warming up the car and scraping down the windshield before I can go anywhere today.

Signs you have irrevocably grown up:

1) you like the cake part of cake better than the icing part of cake

2) real estate and insurance sound like good things to spend your money on

3) the first snow of the season only leads you to ask, "now where did I put my ice scraper?"
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Friday, October 21, 2005
Six Weeks

That's about how long I've got left here. Maybe a little more... but not much. And between you and me, I'm counting the fucking hours. Got big plans, friends, plots and schemes to take over the world. But more on that as it happens.

For the moment, I'm just revelling in the fact that, once again, it seems my timing was exactly right:

Legislation working its way through Congress would offset Katrina recovery and Gulf Coast reconstruction with $50 billion in spending reductions, including higher-education cuts of anywhere from $7 billion to $12 billion, largely from student loan programs.

(...)

Even though the typical graduate already faces $15,500 in college debt, lawmakers look to cut federal subsidies to lenders and raise fees and interest rates on student loans - changes that could add more than $5,800 to the cost of repayment.

(source)


$15,500? Pfffft, don't make me laugh. I openly mock your pathetic student debt; MY student debt would eat $15,500 as a light mid-morning snack, a little something to carry it through the post-coffee, pre-lunch blahs. Like the financial equivalent of melba toast (maybe with a little cheese.)

Still, as far as financial aid is concerned, I'm barely scraping by this term; I expect that if the federal loans were cut back, I wouldn't have been able to come back at all. I mean, I completely support reconstruction spending on the Gulf Coast, but surely there are other places we could cut back first? Like -- oh, hell, I don't know -- maybe bridges in Alaska? Or maybe Halliburton could overcharge us slightly less? Or maybe we could blow up 10% fewer little brown kids this year? I mean, I'm just throwing these ideas out there... tell me if I'm getting ridiculous.

But still, I know a few good kids who wouldn't be back here if major cuts were enacted. And that would be a shame, because the really interesting kids are already a dying breed on this campus. Originally, this school was founded for the really interesting students -- it was started by WWII vets who had GI Bill money coming, but who didn't want to join the niave youngsters at the traditional universities. It was very much a do-it-yourself kind of place, and there are still vestiges of those origins -- for example, the tutorial structure, in which upperclassmen get an hour per week of a professor's undivided attention (and most of us have at least a couple of tutorials with different professors every week.) It's more intense than a typical college classroom -- lots of pressure to keep up with your work -- but there probably aren't many schools in the US where I could get a BA based on work in Haitian Vodoun, ritual structure, Asian cinema, documentary film, an obscure 50s avant-garde filmmaker and an equally-obscure film exhibitor. No matter how you look at it, that's pretty cool.

But this place is changing. I was talking about it with one of my professors just yesterday -- I told her that, having gone away and returned after seven years "out there," I was dismayed to find that the student body had changed so much. A lot of the most interesting people I attended with the first time I was here, I don't think those people are even possible here anymore. The farm kids from Maine and Vermont can barely get their foot in the door; the people from complex and unusual backgrounds are gone; the students with terrible grades but obvious talent just can't compete in admissions. We once had some students with interesting stories -- the guy who'd been homeless for a few years, the middle-aged foreigner with a wife and a baby, the mulletted, furry-boot wearng, Kool-Aid sipping asshole who'd worked in a furniture factory before going back to school, discovering that he loved art, hooking up with a Classics professor, and living in Italy for two years studying art restoration -- where the hell is that guy? (The specific guy I'm talking about is a school teacher now -- and who wouldn't want someone like that teaching their kids? -- but I'm asking, where's his 2005 equivalent?)

I seriously doubt that I'd be possible here now myself. On applying, my grades were good (if patchy in places), and my test scores were stellar, but my educational background was a fractured mess... and then, of course, there was that whole drop-out issue. At the time, this college was as good a match as any I'd have found, but now, I don't think I'd even get an interview. My imperfect, frustrating, no-frills, DIY college has become a Patagonia fleece-wearing, ski resort-frequenting, microbrew-swilling boutique college. Rumor has it that "need-blind admissions" has become a joke -- they're really only interested in students whose parents can foot the whole bill (unless the student in question is brown-skinned, in which case they can trade in their tuition by tacitly agreeing to serve as a prop for college brochures and prospective student visitors.)

I'm something of a hermit here these days. I'm grouchy, it's true -- I don't have anything against the kids who surround me every day, but I just don't care to interact with them much. There are a few exceptions, oddballs who've managed to worm their way into my favor, but for the rest -- no offense, but I don't want to know any of you. I didn't come here to make friends, I came to tie up the loose ends of my twenties; now, please, leave me alone. I'm happier in my solitude than listening to you babble.

Bah. Humbug.

I do miss my friends, though. And hey, soon I'll be going back to them (or some of 'em, anyway), freshly launched into my fourth decade with a whole new agenda and a tidy foundation on which to begin building something for myself. I've got student debt, sure, but otherwise I'm clear; no obligations, no baggage, no entanglements, no worries, no regrets. Seems to me that's a pretty promising place to be.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Happy Birthdays

I just want to say happy birthday to my lovely mother, without whom I would not be possible. I've always felt pretty lucky to have a mom with whom I'm so compatible -- we've never been one of those mother-daughter pairs who fight and snarl at each other all the time. Unlike a lot of women I know, I have no fear of becoming "just like my mother" -- I wouldn't mind being like her at all. Apart from that whole "Bush Republican" thing, I mean.

I love you, mom. :)

Also, happy birthday to my far-flung friend Dominic, whom I haven't gotten to see in years but of whom I still think often and well. And I still look forward having another pint with the guy someday, whether that turns out to be in London, New York, or LA.

Happy birthdays to everyone.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Greensmile's Request

A couple of nights ago, faithful reader Greensmile put in a request to hear one of my purportedly "great" stories. Normally, I just write whatever I wanna write, and people can read or not. But sometimes, y'know, I try to make my readers (all six of you) feel appreciated and welcome here -- not like those big, multinational blogs (it's only cheaper because they can buy in quantity) that lack the personal touch. This is a small operation, and I try to keep customer service in mind. So, to that end, I'm going to try to fill the order.

Deciding exactly which story to tell was tricky, though -- normally these things flow naturally from a particular situation and context. Maybe we'd be sitting around talking about the south, and I'd mention the time I was serenaded by a mentally-disabled busboy of indeterminant gender at a barbecue restaurant in Hattiesburg (the song, incidentally, was Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" -- the busboy knew the lyrics to every single Marvin Gaye song ever, that was his schtick -- and the barbecue was hands-goddamn-down the best I've ever had, ever.)

Or maybe we'd be talking about music and I'd mention the tiny West Indian guy who used to busk on the banks of the Thames, and how I could happily stand around and listen to him sing "Linstead Market" for hours, and how late one night, walking home the long way, I stopped to listen to him and found myself standing next to a well-known British comedian, and we both gave him five-pound notes.

Or I could tell you about riding in an elevator with Salman Rushdie, and the suspicious look he gave me.

And then there are the kinds of stories that really only come up during those intimate, all-night conversations with newly-established friends, which are just about my favorite conversations of all and which are sadly becoming rarer as I get older.

But in this context, all of those would seem very affected. So the best I can do is tell you a story that's been floating around my head lately anyway with no place to go. It's not so great, but it's okay.

Now, children, are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...

This story takes place in the magical, far-away land of Los Angeles. I've already spoken in a general way about my time in LA; if you want context, you can find it here.

I got my first real Hollywood gig about three weeks after I arrived in town; it was the tabletop portion of a series of Denny's commercials promoting a line of sandwiches that I don't think they make anymore. I got the job through a producer I'd met in Hot Springs, and it was a blast -- working in advertising leaves a stain on your soul, no doubt, but ads are a hell of a lot of fun to make. This producer threw me the job partly by way of figuring out if I was worth dealing with -- I got high marks on that point -- and also because I'd agreed to help her out on her first feature documentary, unpaid. She helped hook me up with paying jobs to keep me afloat, and I did her research and grunt work for free. It was a symbiotic thing. Her film was about the pedophilia crisis in the Catholic church -- she was an ardent Catholic convert, but was deeply conflicted and trying to work through the issue in film. I haven't heard whether the film has ever yet been released, but I hope it will be eventually -- it was looking to be a pretty impressive thing.

At the same time, I got another unpaid assistant gig with another documentarian, this one a woman who'd won at Sundance a few years earlier. I hooked up with that one through an editor (whom I'd also met in Hot Springs), and was eager to impress. I sent her my still-brief resume, and a few days later I got a phone call. She said, "I have a problem with some footage; I'm working in Final Cut Pro, but I don't really know the program -- do you know much about it?"

To which I answered, "yes."

Allow me to digress for a moment. One of the first (and most useful) pieces of advice I got upon arriving in LA was this: there is one, and only one, correct answer in Hollywood. No matter what anyone asks you -- do you know how to get to the airport? can you find me 24 foot-long plastic bananas? did you think that shot worked? would you please drop your pants? -- the only right answer is always "yes." Don't think twice, don't pause to consider your options, don't tell the truth (unless the truth is "yes"), just say "yes" and then worry about how/why/where/what-the-fuck.

(Tangentially, the other useful piece of advice I got was always to accept someone's word on something as being exactly equal to the thing itself. Hollywood is different from the rest of the world in that a promise given isn't expected to ever be fulfilled -- it's as if the promise itself were more valuable than the actual action that was promised. People will promise you the moon with absolutely no intention of ever making good on the promise, but everyone has accepted that, so the promise itself becomes the currency. It's completely bizarre, but very useful to know. Also, of course, it's completely evil -- but that's why I'm not in LA anymore.)

So, as I was saying, I said "yes." I should point out that prior to this, I had exactly zero experience with Final Cut Pro -- I'd never touched it, never seen it, certainly never used it.

"Do you know much about color correction?"

"Yes."

"Great," she said, "can you come over about 3 o'clock today?"

gulp

"Yes."

"Great. I'll see you later, then." And she gave me her address and hung up.

So I had a date with a Sundance winner who knew everybody, had been in the business for decades, to help her with an editing program about which I knew exactly nothing, and my only saving grace was that she also knew nothing. So I sped off to the nearest Borders, bought a big-fuck-off book about Final Cut Pro, drove to El Segundo (where she lived), and stopped in the parking lot of a McDonald's to read up furiously about the basic functions of Final Cut Pro and about color correction specifically. At 2:50 I went to find her house, and at 3:00 I was sitting in her studio with her, faced with terrible-looking footage of a bald woman.

"I had a camera operator who I thought knew what he was doing, but look at that, " she said, pointing to the badly-underexposed DV footage of the monitor. "Think you can do anything? This is the only footage I have of this interview -- this is a key interview -- and I can't get her to do it over again."

"Well," I said, "the problem with DV is that if the information isn't there it's just not yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah, bullshit bullshit... but let me play with it a while and I'll see what I can do." So she left me alone. I spent thirty minutes just finding my way around the program, then another two hours playing with the gamma, warming up the colors, and pulling up the highlights. When I was done, the image looked marginally better, but still essentially crappy. I called her back in, she looked, sighed deeply, thanked me, and sent me home.

"Oh well," I thought, "there'll always be another opportunity."

A week later she called me back. "I wanted to ask you to come in to interview for a job as my editing assistant on that same project you helped me with last week -- I need someone who really knows Final Cut, and clearly you do."

!!!

"Okay, sure... yes."

I went back the next day, and we had a long talk about the project. She asked if I knew much about Buddhism. I made some shit up, being sure to include the word "yes" while carefully dodging any concrete statement to the effect that I did -- I was learning Hollywood-speak fast. I said that I've always thought I just have too western a mind to really grasp Buddhism -- which is true -- but that I was always interested and had read a little bit about it. She said that her current project was about her teacher, who had been reknowned for his teaching of "crazy wisdom," which was an attempt to reconcile Buddhism and western thought, so maybe it was good that I didn't have many preconceptions. The project was her pet project -- she'd spent fifteen years on it so far, and had thousands of feet of 16mm film to show for it. Now she needed help getting it organized. I said I'd be more than happy to help.

She hired me. It was still unpaid, but again, she was throwing me paying jobs elsewhere to keep me afloat. So now I had two feature docs to work on -- one about pedophile priests, and the other about some Buddhist monk -- and the promise of enough work to keep me financially afloat. My first job on the Buddhist film was to go through the reels of 16mm film and make sure that everything had been transferred and that the magnetic stock sound tracks were kept together with their respective reels of film. She pointed to three huge stacks of film boxes, each box containing a 1000-foot reel of 16mm film on a three-inch plastic core -- film that she'd spent years of her life and thousands of dollars shooting, precious film of her beloved guru, irreplaceable film meant for her pet project.

Allow me to digress again just briefly. For anyone who's never seen a 1000-foot reel of 16mm film, let me assure you that a thousand feet is a fucking lot of film. Film is slippery stuff, and gets scratched easily; you have to handle it gently. 16mm film, once freed from a reel, wants desperately to tie itself into astonishingly intricate knots. It wants to blow free in the wind, it wants to form itself into huge celluloid dreadlocks, it wants to snake around and explore every dusty nook and corner. One of the main jobs in dealing with 16mm film is just keeping it contained.

The one thing you should never, ever do -- and even after several years in film school, I really only learned this that day -- is pick a reel up by its edges. Because what happens when you pick a reel of 16mm film by the edges is that the middle falls out.

Oops. We'll just... uhh... push that back in there... like... that...

But pushing it back just pushed more out the other side, so you turn it over to push that bit back, and more falls out, and now it's twisted, so you take the middle part out again and twist it back, but then the middle of the middle falls out, so now you've got three loosely-connected rings of film, and you try to push one back in and then the other, and then the plastic core around which the whole thing is wound slides out leaving you with a loose tail in the middle, so you decide you'd better just re-wind the whole thing, and you start to load it up and the loose tail in the middle spirals down to the floor like a streamer and drags through the dust so you pull it back up and look frantically for a velvet dust cloth to clean it...

... and things progress thusly for the next hour or so. Before long, you find yourself standing ankle-deep in unwound film -- film on the floor, film rolling out across the editing bench, film in huge knots, a mighty pasta plate of tangled black ribbon, half wound onto a core but becoming inexorably more tangled the more you try to untangle it, and you're standing there with shaking hands knowing that any moment now the respected filmmaker who hired you is going to come in and find you and tell you to get the fuck out of her studio and never come back -- and don't expect to find work anywhere else, either. Because Hollywood is a place where tiny mistakes can ruin your prospects for good.

Allow me one last little aside before I finish. The truth is, I'd already begun to have some misgivings about the project. My second task, just previous to this one, had been to start transcribing her interviews, and the first one I began work on was the interview with the bald woman whose footage had come out so badly. Transcribing is mostly about making yourself a conduit for information -- the words come in your ears and out through your fingertips, but ideally never really register in your mind. I wasn't that good at it, though -- a fast typer, yes, but still too conscious of what I was typing. And the interview -- particularly in the context of the other film I was working on (about pedophile priests, remember) was really unsettling me. I'd rather not mention the name of the particular Buddhist teacher in question, but essentially he'd married a barely-adolescent teenage girl in a way that struck me as unnecessarily exploitative. That girl had grown up to become the bald woman whose interview I was now transcribing -- she had gone on to become a nun, but her stories left me feeling creeped-out. I try not to be judgemental about these things, but for all the interesting ideas this teacher expressed, the whole thing just sounded to me like a cult. And I didn't know if I wanted to participate in a film celebrating someone like that.

So I suppose it could be suggested that there might have been some subconscious desire on my part to harm the film, either directly or indirectly, or alternately to find an excuse to remove myself (or have myself removed) from it. At the time, though, the only thing I was thinking was "ohshit ohshit ohshit ohshit ohshit."

Eventually it became obvious that my current strategy was doomed to failure. The right thing to do would've been to go in to the house, find the director, cop to what had happened, and let her tell me to a) fix it; or b) get the fuck out of her studio. The thing that I actually did was to find a splicer, cut the tangled bit (a good four-hundred feet of film) out of the middle, stuff the whole rat's nest into a garbage bag I found, stuff the garbage bag into my bag along with the plastic core and the other two still-wound sections of film, and abscond with the lot. I covered my traces and excused myself for the night.

On the way home I sent a frantic text message to a friend who was studying editing at the AFI, asking if he could pleeeeeeeze "borrow" a 16mm splicer and some tape from his school for the night and bring them home to me. He did. And I spent four hours that night unwinding, untangling, and re-winding film by hand. Two days later -- on my next scheduled work session with the director -- I smuggled the newly-formed reel back into the studio in my bag, and while she was out slipped it back into its box.

Ta-da. Like nothing ever happened.

I worked for that director twice more, constantly debating whether I should leave the project or keep going. Ultimately, of course, other issues decided that question for me. I think everyone who dips a toe into the industry has a story like that one. It's been in my mind lately because, for all intents and purposes, I just repeated it -- 'cause, y'know, I really haven't used Final Cut Pro in any meaningful way since that job, and then last month found myself commencing to edit a film using that very same program and assuring the woman who runs the media lab that I knew FCP well when, in fact, I had barely the foggiest idea.

I have an illustrious history of faking my way through computer software. Anyway, I guess I pulled it off again, because last week she offered me a few hours of work per week on the basis that I obviously knew the program well enough to help other people use it. Did I want the job?

Yes.




PS: Incidentally, you should go have a look at Greensmile's blog, which happens to have one of the more amusing titles I've seen, even if the image it produces in the mind doesn't bear too much contemplation. I don't know much about him (errm, you are a "him," right?), but I can tell he's a good person.
8:28 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Monday, October 17, 2005
Mouse

I just caught a mouse in my room.

We all know that this building has mice -- we hear them scampering across our floors at night, and occasionally we even see one. They have a reputation for being audacious; I've heard a number of stories about students facing down mice who were clearly unafraid and unwilling to be intimidated. I've caught glimpses of my own mouse a few times, and I've certainly heard it running around at night -- some nights I try to bargain with it, "do whatever you want, just don't be so noisy." But tonight it was just sitting there on the floor under my chair, looking at me.

I clapped at it, whipped my blanket in its direction. It twitched, but it didn't run away. Now that, I thought, is a ballsy mouse.

I stood up and it went under the desk. I sat back down, and a few minutes later it appeared again. So I stood up and took a step towards it, but this time it didn't budge. Hmmmm. I could see it shaking, I could see it breathing hard, it was clearly terrified, but not running. I took a closer look and it turned around to face me squarely, and kinda fell over in the process -- this one had something wrong with it.

I'm a softy, okay? I used to lament the pigeons in Leicester Square, filthy, lice-ridden vermin, but the scraggly ones with the deformed feet were just too tragic not to toss french fries and bits of bread to. They get so little compassion in this life, I can't resist making one gesture of kindness, even if they do have brains the size of lentils and couldn't possibly understand or even care much either way. But it's not their fault they're dirty and diseased; they're as much living, feeling creatures as I am. I understand natural selection and all that, but I'm also easily moved by suffering. So seeing the poor little half-crippled mouse tore at my heart. Poor thing.

Still, we can't have vermin in the room, and I'm not in the market for a pet.

So I got a Tupperware container down from a shelf and carefully scooped the mouse up. I carried it outside to the side of the building -- to a nice place with a rock wall and some shrubs, lots of shelter -- and let it go. It ran a couple of feet, falling over now and then, and disappeared between two big chunks of slate.

Good luck, little mouse.
11:25 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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The Making of a Duggar

Ahhhh... now I get it. Now I understand why I've gotten so many hits on this post lately.

Mom delivers 16th child, thinking of more

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) -- Michelle Duggar just delivered her 16th child, and she's already thinking about doing it again.

Johannah Faith Duggar was born at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and weighed 7 pounds, 6.5 ounces.

The baby's father, Jim Bob Duggar, a former state representative, said Wednesday that mother and child were doing well. Johannah's birth was especially exciting because it was the first time in eight years the family has had a girl, he said.

(source)



Seriously, it must be like shooting hoops at this point. Swish! Nothing but net.

My general philosophy on reproduction is that every human being on earth has a fundamental right to replace themselves. A straight one-to-one replacement may not be the best idea, especially for first-world families and especially when there are so many unloved children in need of homes (although admittedly the vast majority of them are brown, which amazingly seems to take them out of the running for a lot of good, Christian, white homes)... but still, the principle remains: I won't ever criticize anyone for having enough children to replace the parents. Generally that means two kids; for remarriages and so on, it might mean one or two more.

And I won't really criticize families that have a few more. I think it's very sub-optimal for one couple to have four kids, but hell, I don't expect everyone to live according to my principles.

But some families just get ridiculous.

Memo to the Duggars: there are enough of you now. Seriously. Stop. Those of us who are attempting to be rational and responsible about reproduction are sitting here watching you ruin our efforts to make the world a better place for our children (and your children, and everybody else's children.) At my count, by now you've ruined things for me and thirteen other people just like me. I'm starting to take it personally.


I'm sorry children, but me mind's made up, and it's to be medical experiments for the lot of you.


PS: Just by way of being vulgar about it, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to this miracle of bad Asian filmmaking. I call it, "The Making of a Duggar."

(Holy shit! A vagina with kung-fu grip and lightning bolts?! Why didn't Spielberg ever think of that? Definitely not safe for work, but completely worth the effort once you get home. Fuck it, I wanna do a re-make.)
10:35 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Sunday, October 16, 2005
Row v. Wade

I want to make something clear -- it's been raining here for nine motherfucking days. And I don't mean it has rained on nine consecutive days; I mean that it has rained, more-or-less continuously, for nine consecutive days. This afternoon we had a couple of precious hours of merely patchy cloudcover -- the sun peeped out around the clouds and we all averted our eyes and hissed like vampires. We wanted so badly to frolic in the sunshine, but after so long in the half-darkness we have adapted and our sensitive, nocturnal eyes can no longer tolerate the full glare of...

... okay, maybe I'm a little bit prone to exaggeration. The point is, it's been a long goddamn time since any of us here last saw the sun. But does that tauntingly brief appearance today suggest that our Venusian climate is about to improve?

Fuck no it doesn't
.

I mean, just look at that shit -- we'll be lucky to see a clear day before November, and November isn't exactly known for its fine weather up here. I'm glad that my school is well-equipped with canoes and kayaks, since we'll all be floating off down the Whetstone before long. And it's not going to do the already-cranky student body's collective mood any good... all I'm sayin' is, it's a goddamn good thing this college doesn't have a clocktower.

A little unstructured randomness: personally, I think every woman in the industrialized world would be well served by seeing these pictures. Also, I'd like to announce that I need new music, so I'm looking for recommendations. A quick note in the comments with your suggestion and your case supporting that suggestion would be greatly appreciated. (I have to be honest: suggestions from the hipsters will probably get the larger share of my attention, but feel free to try anyway, Nelson.)

Greensmile, I'll play your request forthwith.
12:05 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Saturday, October 15, 2005
Second One Tonight

... because I'm bored.

I'm spending my one night off ripping CDs onto my hard drive -- I never get around to this kind of stuff, and then I get annoyed when I'm struck by the sudden urge to hear "More Than a Feeling" and actually have to, y'know, get up and get the CD and load it into my computer, et cetera (and for the record, it's on a compilation -- I never bought a Boston CD.) This is how spoiled and lazy computers have made us, and it's only going to get worse. (Someday I'll be able to afford one o' them new-fangled MP3 player things.) Anyway, having cleared up a lot of my backlog of work, it seemed like a good thing to do. This, then, will likely be a near-stream-of-consciousness thing written inbetween swapping out CDs.

The building I live in is deliciously, blissfully quiet tonight; this weekend and the first two days of next week are a designated college holiday in honor of our founder; in reality, it's an excuse for homesick freshmen to go home for a few days, so most of the other occupants have gone away. It's always comical to see twenty-ish college kids who just a couple of years ago could hardly sit still for their eagerness to leave home now pining for their parents -- not that I can't relate; in fact, I think I'm actually coming to enjoy trips home more than I did a few years ago. (Pointing out, of course, that a few years ago trips home usually entailed a gruelling trans-Atlantic flight and a stiff dose of culture shock, which is only worse on the trip home. Nothing will make you feel sullen and moody like the isolation of a cultural shift.)

The rest of the time, watching the traditionally-aged students around me is more frustrating and painful than comical. The boys are attractive and amusing, but also arrogant, hot-headed, puffed up, full of themselves; the girls talk a big game, espousing independence and their un-needfulness, but they're so ready to attach themselves to the arrogant young men and go along for the ride. A few of them are already starting to marry each other, not because they're ready to be married but because it's the next thing on their checklist -- they're adults now, and adults are married, so that's what they do. Some of them will be fine; some of them will go completely off the rails; the majority will slide by for a while then descend into slow disappointment and failure. Many of the ones who fail will ultimately be better for it and go on to later successes, and many of the ones who succeed will always wonder how things might've been if they'd chosen something else. A tiny number will go off and do something really interesting.

But the real difference is that none of these kids have failed yet. These are the brightest ones, coming from well-off, stable homes and progressive alternative high schools -- even the ones from "difficult" backgrounds, as much failure and trouble as they may have lived around, haven't felt the weight of failure on their own shoulders. Setting out with big plans and then fucking up a time or ten is the best teacher around. If you're unlucky, it teaches you to be self-hating, angry, and neurotic; if you're more fortunate, it teaches you to be gentle, tolerant, and neurotic.

I guess it's a little like being around young children. I have trouble relaxing around little kids; I'm at my most self-conscious when they're around. It's not them, of course -- they're perfect and devoid of pretense, inhibition, and self-doubt, just doing and being whatever they are in the complete confidence that they're worthy of your approval and affection. Which is to say, they're everything I'm not, thus setting off my own grown-up twitchiness and insecurity. I have trouble watching them without thinking about how one day all that simplicity will be gone, and all the little kids will be as fucked-up as we are.

But the perverse part is that, as much as I envy small children their innocence (and I use that word in the original sense, not the sentimental one), I'm also proud of my fucked-up-ness. I've got some great stories, even if I usually require some prodding to start telling them; stability is over-rated.

I relenquished my film over the last few days, and I already miss it. I was thoroughly done for the time being, but I always forget how habit-forming the process is -- doing the post as well as the production delays the onset of frantically searching for the next film, but it's inevitable in the end. I'm not displeased with how it's come out -- it's a far cry from what I originally envisioned in my mind, but then, it always is. This isn't the film I imagined, it's the film I made (with others, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude and many favors). As such, it lacks the perfection of the initial vision, but more than makes up for it in tangibility. I always struggle with the impulse to say, "no no, wait, I can do better;" I have yet to produce anything in my life (apart from a few friendships) that I judge as being the embodiment of everything of which I'm capable. Really, in terms of filmmaking, that's my only firm goal -- I don't need or want the money (well, maybe a little of the money), the fame (although some acknowledgement is always nice), the influence, or any of that, but just once or twice in my life I'd like to make something that demonstrates my real abilities. This film isn't that, but I think it's a solid first step on the way there; the potential isn't fulfulled, but it's suggested, I think, I hope. Good enough for now.
12:04 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Friday, October 14, 2005
'Snot Fair

Y'know, I like David Cross, I really do. He's a pretty funny guy, and who doesn't like Mr. Show? The last thing I want is for anyone to think I'm talking smack about him. But if anyone else has seen his stand-up tour film, Let America Laugh, you'll know about this little incident:

Prior to his performance, Mr. Cross purposely engaged Mr. Weber in front of the club in a conversation about the venue marquee and audience seating arrangements so that his cameraman could tape the conversation with a hidden camera. Mr. Cross and his production team wanted to recapture a previous conversation the two had had, which had not initially been videoed. Mr. Cross, upset by their conversation, ridiculed Mr. Weber and his managerial decisions during his stage performance. After the show, still upset with Mr. Weber, Mr. Cross and his video crew hid a camera in the club's green room and taunted and mocked Mr. Weber for 35 minutes, refusing to leave the Exit-In as it was closing time. Throughout the taping, Mr. Cross can be heard asking his cameraman whether the camera was on.

Now, when I saw the exchange -- which, incidentally, is one of the best bits in the film -- naturally I looked at the club owner and though, "what a flaming dickhead." And none of what I've read so far on the events following the release of the film has necessarily changed my position -- he may well still be a flaming dickhead. But increasingly it looks like he's a flaming dickhead with a damn good point:

Mr. Weber became first learned that he was featured on the CD and DVD on November 30, 2003. Learning that he was a prominent character in Mr. Cross' comedy video, and that it was being distributed worldwide without his consent or knowledge, he filed his federal complaint. Mr. Weber's suit seeks to establish that the Defendants knowingly and willfully taped and recorded for publication, sale, worldwide distribution, and then copyrighted Mr. Weber's likeness and voice without his authorization, knowledge or consent.

(...)

This case is important not only because of the unlawful use of Mr. Weber's actual likeness and voice for profit, but also to hold accountable an arrogant music industry which, itself, regularly sues individuals for downloading music and videos from the internet without paying for it and then claiming copyright infringement. The case seeks to establish that the entertainment industry cannot be allowed to conduct business in this manner and have it both ways.


On first reading, my reaction was, "puh-leeze, stop trying to make your little hissy fit about more than your own wounded ego." But, y'know, he's right... if he was included in the film without his consent, especially given that the footage was shot on private property, regardless of whether or not Cross himself had permission to be there, then he's got a valid complaint. The company that produced the film, of course, claims that the club owner DID give consent (whether explicitly or implicitly); if that's the case, they should be able to provide proof effortlessly. I mean, that's the first damn thing they taught us when I was coming up: always get the permission -- in writing if it's at all possible (and it's always possible), and at least a video record of a verbal agreement if it's not. Surely a well-financed commercial company would be following the same guidelines?

The point, though, is that the industry will use faux-fair use just as shamelessly as they will deny fair use to those of us outside the industry. At the end of the day, it really doesn't mean much if it says "SubPop" on the wrapper -- SubPop ain't very Sub anymore.

Truth be told, the club owner's website mostly won me over with the statements, "you're no Lenny Bruce, you're no Bill Hicks." Like I said, I like David Cross... but I can't argue with that.

As a side-note, I'm just finishing reading Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which is one of those books that's been on my reading list for years and years but which I've only just finally gotten around to. It's a staggering piece of work, compelling and quite readable, but with immense hidden depth. It's the kind of book where the best lines could (and do) mean a dozen different things at once. Say what you want about the miseries of European communism, say what you want about political oppression -- they were both damn good for art. A lot of the most awe-inspiring film and literature I've ever seen came from Communist-era Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia. Maybe we can do some quality work in the US with another decade of economic and political desolation under our belts. Maybe that'll shake off the apathy, eh?
5:49 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Thursday, October 13, 2005
Near Misses

I am officially sick of rain. As of this moment, it has been raining here for a week straight -- does anyone else remember that 70s-vintage science fiction short film (taken, I'm sure from some science fiction short story) about a bunch of kids living on Venus where it rains constantly except for ten minutes every X years? (Y'know the one, where they lock some other little girl in a closet as a prank and then the sun comes out and they all go out and play, forgetting the girl in the closet, until the rain starts again and they go back inside and remember where they left her, but it's too late because she's missed it now, and I always wondered why kids who'd never seen sunshine and only knew rain wouldn't be scared shitless of the giant fireball in the sky, but I guess that's just me being difficult and missing the point.)

Anyway, Vermont's been just like Venus lately. It's faintly tragic, since the rain has pretty much nixed the best part of the New England foliage season -- not that there was much of a foliage season this year. It should be just about peaking right now, but it's not -- oh, yes, it's very pretty apart from the constant cold, nasty drizzle, but it's not that exuberant explosion of autumnal color that one hopes to see. Of course, the foliage really needs some sunshine to come off (a yellow leaf is a yellow leaf, but a yellow leaf with some sunshine is luminous, and a billion of them are staggering), and that's been in very short supply. It also doesn't help that the wind and rain has been busily knocking every possible leaf out of the trees -- autumn foliage really only works still attached to a limb, not so well half-buried in mud.

Last night my main professor, who was away last term shooting his third(?) feature film, did a little feedback screening at the college, which I attended. His film is damn good, but confusing. And probably confusing in a good way -- there was much discussion of intentional ambiguity -- but also probably confusing in an audience-limiting way. It's also structured in a very unusual way -- the climax of the film is something of a red herring, and not really the climax, which gives it a peculiar feel it terms of rhythm. It was already a bit like that -- it seems to both begin and end several times -- and that takes a little effort to get your head around, but having only seen it once (and then not in its final form), I can't say for sure whether I liked it or disliked it.

In its favor, it was for the most part perfectly cast -- lots of people everyone would recognize (but no major stars), and all of them fine actors. One combination in particular -- an older actress and a teenage boy -- were each profoundly charismatic alone, and together it was hard to get enough of them. There was one mis-step, I think in casting Luis Guzman as a monk -- he was comical, yes, but he also stuck out like a proverbial sore thumb. It was only a bit part, though, so not too obtrusive. I'm also very uncertain about the costume design for the main villain, obstentably a French-Canadian mountain-man type, who resembled a Kevin MacDonald French-Canadian character on The Kids in the Hall a little too closely for me to take him seriously.

The thing that struck me the most, though, was the similarity to the early New Zealand-based films of Vincent Ward -- Ward's one of my favorite NZ directors (whom I now officially like better than Peter Jackson, and maybe even better than Jane Campion taken on the whole. His one American-based venture was a stunningly-beautiful failure, and from what I understand his current NZ-based production has been rocky, but he's capable of amazing work.) It had that same lush, detached-from-reality kind of realism, a similar kind of storyline, even similar design -- if you took Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, crossed it with Ward's Vigil, threw in a little of Ward's The Navigator, and a little of something else -- I can't quite put my finger on what yet -- you'd have something quite close to this film. It is, with luck, going to Sundance this year -- maybe, maybe not, we'll see. Regardless, I think it'll definitely be worth seeing, even if it's not an overwhelming cinematic success. Regardless of what happens with it, I'm hoping I'll be able to get him to pass through Memphis with it at some point in the future. Obviously, when the time comes, I'll also be divulging the title of the film. Be patient.
2:22 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Housekeeping

So, I'm sitting here waiting for the college media lab to open up (goddamn classes... what do they think this is, a school or something?), and decided to have a little link weeding session. It's overdue, although I was pleased to find that only about a half dozen of my direct links were dead (although there are one or two I'm keeping an eye on.)

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that this long-neglected patch of the internet has apparently only just sprouted some new growth. Okay, so he's a little on the grouchy side today -- at least he's not whiny like me.

And having opened up a few oh-so-in-demand slots in my personal blogroll and link file, I'm opening the floor to bloggy suggestions. What blogs am I not reading that I should be?
1:42 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Sunday, October 09, 2005
Whinge, Moan

This building's definitely trying to tell us something. The entire dorm was awakened last night -- or you could call it this morning -- at 4 AM by the central fire alarm system. It was NOT just my smoke detector this time, but the monster alarm in the hall that flashes and grunts and squawks and howls at you to flee. By that time it had been raining steadily for nearly 48 hours, so it was thoroughly cold and soggy outside; furthermore, there had been a substantial party the night before, so a good number of the dormizens were nursing larval-stage hangovers as well. Everyone congregated in the front parking lot -- a few of us fully (if sloppily) dressed with shoes and coats, and a few others barefoot in their jammies; one guy was dressed only in a short Hawaiian-print sarong and a raincoat. We huddled outside in the mud for a good fifteen minutes before the head of the volunteer fire department arrived; ten minutes after that the campus fire marshall showed up, followed by the various other people who have been tapped to appear whenever college life and property are deemed under threat.

We were accusingly asked, "anyone know what set it off?" Unusually, nobody did. Normally there's a tearful, embarrassed person in the group who left a pot of rice forgotten on the stove or who let their incense or other smoky items get away from them. Last night, though, the system acted on its own.

Perhaps the rain had something to do with it -- these buildings are all a little wonky, and this one particularly is quickly saturated after a heavy rain. Perhaps there's some undiscovered fire hazard lurking in the basement or the attic. I dunno. But last night we were apparently standing out in the cold drizzle for no good reason.

Anyway...

I know the blog's been almost entirely personal stuff lately, and mostly whining at that. Sorry. I was going to do a post on Harriet Miers' strangely familiar physiognomy, but I couldn't find a picture of Jerri Blank that would really get the point across. Mostly it's just down to the workload -- the academics are demanding so much that I don't have the extra processing power to do much besides blab about my day. I've been reduced to putting my head down and just pushing on through these next six weeks. By Thanksgiving, this phase of my life should be almost over, and then we all get to find out what's next.
2:07 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Friday, October 07, 2005
The Week That Was

Okay, that's enough of that bullshit. I'm hoping this next week will be nice and predictable. Today started strangely: I was in the shower, having done nothing this morning but check my email and water my two modest plants, and I hear a fire alarm go off in the dorm. "This," I thought to myself, "is the worst possible timing for a fire drill." I half-quickly (but really pretty slowly) rinsed out my hair -- still taking enough time to run some detangler through it -- wrapped my head in a towel, swiped some toner across my face, a dab of hand lotion, and went out to get dressed. I heard a knock at my door and yelled, "yeah, I'm comin', I'll be out in a minute." I got dressed -- completely, socks and everything -- grabbed my bag, and opened the door...

... to find a bleary-eyed RA standing there with a quizzical look on his face. A moment of mutual confusion passed before he said, "something burning in there?"

"In here? No..."

"Then why's your smoke detector going off?"

"My smoke detector?"

Then I realized that the sound was only coming from my room. It wasn't a fire drill, it was just me... or my room... or something. I dropped my bag and went back in to examine the smoke detector, suddenly realizing that my situation looked somewhat suspicious in spite of being completely innocuous in reality: my windows were wide open, my fan was on, and my smoke detector was going off. Not that having a smoky room is a crime or anything, but it certainly could've been suggested that the scene seemed indicative of someone trying to vent a large amount of smoke from a room after having inadvertantly set off a smoke detector. Except for one thing: no smoke. Not a hint of smoke -- no smell, no residual waft, nuthin'. I mean, I don't smoke (neither tobacco nor pot nor crack nor anything else), and while I have some candles in my room, they weren't set out and haven't been lit yet this term.

My smoke detector, however, didn't care about rational arguments to the effect that its insistence of danger was baseless, meaningless, inappropriate and, frankly, fucking annoying; its only apparent desire was to turn our eardrums to jelly. The RA called maintenance and the college electrician appeared about ten minutes later. She climbed up on a chair, grimacing the whole time, whipped the thing off the ceiling, disconnected it, snuffed out its little smoke-detector life, and replaced it with a new, hopefully considerably more genteel smoke detector.

It was just weird is all. The machines seem to be deciding to act on their own lately, and it makes me nervous.

The rest of the morning was spent taking care of little administrative errands, and then I set about finding a ride to Hinsdale, NH to go pick up my car. It could've been a problem, but mercifully it was easy. Currently I'm profoundly grateful for anything that's easy. I'd been hopeful that I might go see a film tonight -- the local "arthouse" cinema has been showing The Aristocrats, but the one daily showing conflicted with my van driving duties, and it took me until Tuesday to find a nother driver willing to swap a shift with me so I could go. And then, of course, as soon as I had, I lost my car, nixing the whole plan. Having gotten my car back today I hoped -- actually, more like desperately wanted -- to go see it tonight, but alas, the theater had already dropped the film and replaced it with the new Wallace and Grommit film. And, y'know, nothing against W&G -- I'm not particularly into cartoons for their own sake, and while W&G is amusing enough, I've frankly always found it a bit overrated, but it's okay I guess -- but it's just not the same as listening to Gilbert Gottfried vomit forth a magnificent fountain of filth and depravity.I really could've used some artfully dirty jokes tonight. But noooooooo... now I have to wait for the DVD.
8:52 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Thursday, October 06, 2005
Resolved

As Shaw would say, BAH.

Okay, so everything's sorted out now: my car is, for the very, very last time ever, getting fixed. If I understand correctly -- and I'm not completely sure that I do, but hopefully mostly -- what happened was that a ball joint on my driver's-side front wheel popped out of place, which made my CV joint kinda fall apart, which in turn somehow damaged my axle (not to mention the tire and indirectly the fender.)The ball joint and the CV joint are just being repaired, but the axle's being replaced, as are the tires (which needed replacement anyway.)The fender will just be kinda fugly from now on. My car is the luckiest car in the world, and I am by extension pretty fortunate myself (not to mention well supported -- thanks mom.)

My illness is gradually passing -- I'm just now moving into that mucus-management phase wherein my body attempts to purge itself of the detritus of disease. (I know nobody wants to hear about this, but admit it, you can totally relate. Think of it as a close, intimate blog friendship.) I walk around mostly okay, periodically wracked with fits of coughing that emanate from deep in my solar plexus (did you know that some biologists actually believe it might be a rudimentary second brain?) and leave me panting for breath after they subside. My lungs are a weak point, no doubt about it; they'll be the death of me someday.

Editing has even become something of a consolation now. I'm watching it slowly come clearer as the final pieces are dropped into place -- I still have a few bigger things to do, but they're relatively simple, and other than that I'm just trying to make things tidy and organized. Now I'm watching it almost in a state of suspense -- the music particularly is going to have a huge impact on the film, and that's yet to be composed, so I'm still waiting to see what this film will ultimately be. Given the guy doing the composing -- who does wonderful stuff -- I know it'll be thrilling when it all comes together; I just can't wait.

I still have plenty to do between now and then, though -- there may be a short research trip to New York in the offing if I can get it funded through the various special scholarships this college makes available to graduating seniors. All of the people I hope to talk to are there, as are their various organizations and facilities, so it would be good to go do the interviews in person. Even after three years in London I find NYC intimidating, but hopefully my inner city-dweller will kick back in. The annoying part is that up until this summer I had beloved friends in NYC -- and oh, how I would've loved to go see them -- but then they had to go and move to Boulder, Colorado, which, if you didn't know, is fucking nowhere near New York. And that's great for them, they sound happy with the move... it's just pitiful that I'm finally dragging my ass to NYC a few months too late. But hey, maybe I can work in a Daily Show taping while I'm there -- that would be cool, right?
9:56 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Terrible Day

Yeah, it started out fine -- nice weather, no pressing obligations, still sick but able to just hang around if I wanted to. Then it gradually turned into one of those days where nothing goes right, and plenty goes wrong. The big thing is that I broke an axle on my car. My poor, beautiful, loyal car -- at 207K miles, I have no idea if she's going to get fixed this time; and if she doesn't, I have no idea how I'm going to get around for the next couple of months. My job -- and hence my financial state -- is reliant on my having some degree of independence. And currently my independence is sitting on a washboard-ridden driveway with its front, driver's-side wheel skewed out at an unnatural angle.

Motherfucking cocksucker, goddamn shit-fuck, damn it all to hell.
5:37 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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So Ashamed

This is why the rest of the world never should've trusted the United States in the first place. Apparently we're as dumb as rocks.
10:49 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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Monday, October 03, 2005
Video Salvation

As I write this, I'm sick -- not horribly sick, just a cold, but enough to make me feel decidedly craptacular. The good part of being sick, though, is that if you're lucky, you get to have visions. Sans delirium, my cold-induced visions haven't been particularly impressive -- just whatever can be mustered during the interminable sleep-twilight brought on by a dry mouth, sore throat, and the discomfort of post-nasal drip -- but they're mine, and I'm glad to have them.

Last night I spent a good hour or two watching with my mind's eye an image of a round, plump aircraft of some kind -- something like a zeppelin, but with propellers and wings -- struggle valiantly to achieve take-off, bouncing off the ground and thumping back down again, skidding along, lifting off the ground for an instant, landing on the ground again with a thud, and so on. It was heavy, leaden, completely lacking in buoyancy. (Yes, this is going somewhere... if you think this is incoherent, you should read what I wrote to post yesterday. Upon reading it over, even I couldn't figure out what the fuck I was talking about.)

That funny-looking blimp-plane thing was my film.

I'll admit it, I've been in editing hell for the last few days -- for all my cutting and re-cutting, as of last night I was despairing that I'd made a complete flop of my post-film-school filmmaking debut, and wasted everyone's time in the process. I could recognize my thought processes in the footage I saw in front of me, but I just couldn't see the film I thought I'd shot. The bits of pasted-together video seemed incapable of becoming more than the sum of their parts -- and it was my fault, my failure. It was thumping and scraping along, a leaden thing that would never make it off the ground.

This, of course, is a completely typical stage in the process; it's just that you never believe it when it happens to you. Everybody else suffers from a perfectly natural crisis of self-doubt; you, however, are a talentless failure and a hack and will never be loved by anyone ever again after they find out utterly mediocre you are. Still, the least you owe everyone is to at least finish the damn thing, so after spending a night or two sequestered with your hair shirt and your flogger, you go back and sit down and engage your failure once again.

Which is when everything starts to fall into place.

My self-appointed challenge tonight was to spend as much time as necessary getting this whole "time-remapping" thing figured out. Y'see, it's easy to take a film clip and change its speed, so long as that change is constant throughout the clip: you speed it up to 130%, or slow it down to 65%; modern technology renders such formerly-daunting tasks a matter of a few mouse clicks -- truly a piece of piss. Remapping, however, is a completely different animal -- it involves changing the speed of a clip back and forth within the clip -- say, starting out at 100%, then increasing to 130%, then dropping back to 65%, then finally coming back up to 100% to finish. Unlike a constant speed change, a variable speed change is a fucking pain the in the ass, and I've spend tens of fruitless hours trying to figure out how to make it work. It was genuinely getting to the point that I was about to say "fuck it" to the entire endeavor. But tonight, just as I was on the verge of frustrated tears, I got it. Oh, it still wants some tinkering, but essentially, I got it, and it changed the whole film. My little movie isn't about to go soaring with the proverbial eagles, but now I'm thinking it'll at least float along happily enough.

There's no denying that I'm rusty, though -- I'm like a musician who's got the theory down, but hasn't practiced in... well, about three years. I'm not unhappy with what I've got -- mostly I can only see flaws in my work, which is no more an accurate impression than only seeing the successful parts -- but it's frustrating in that it's still not demostrative of what I think I can do. It'll take a few more films before I get close to that, though. The most important thing is that I broke through my reluctance to do my own work. Hopefully it won't be another three years before I make another one.
10:34 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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