Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bugs in noir land: 3 notes on Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice

1) In comparison to the clarity of Boyhood, Inherent Vice is murky. It has an idealized romantic subtext with a long lost girlfriend Shasta played by Katherine Waterston, a fundamental division between the squares (Nixon, the FBI, the police) and the hippies in an early 70s Los Angeles milieu, the director of The Master with his actor Joaquin Phoenix playing Larry "Doc" Sportello, a grungy distracted private eye with mutton chop whiskers who constantly invites the viewer to wonder how a forgetful stoner could ever remember anything long enough to solve crimes, a convoluted Thomas Pynchon story line (I tried to finish the novel Inherent Vice twice but couldn't) with much skullduggery, secret organizations, heroin, pizza to help with the munchies, a kidnapped billionaire, gunplay, Benecio del Toro playing a lawyer reminiscent of both Savages (2012) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, a lush neon-lit Rastafarian cinematography by Robert Elswit with lots of greens, reds, and yellows, and many characters asking Phoenix "What's up doc?" so that we can associate him with the trickster figure Bugs Bunny. Clear?

2) The movie seems written in a kind of code, not unusual with Pynchon, but it still left me wondering what Paul Thomas Anderson is saying. Even as it favors the hippie over the neurotic establishment types, Inherent Vice comes across as more serious than The Big Lebowski (1998). I was always bothered by the way the Coen brothers ultimately glorified Jeff Bridges' doofus central character as some sort of vessel of Zen wisdom, but Anderson seems to want Doc to cut both ways simultaneously. He is an anti-establishment authority figure, a sympathetic victim of police abuse, and a man capable of being quite astute in deciphering crimes with the boorishly humorous mega-cop Bigfoot (Josh Brolin with a buzzcut). In his recent films, Anderson likes to explore the various ways in which male authority establishes and undermines itself. In There Will Be Blood (2007), he diagrams the rapacious American capitalist mindset of Daniel Plainview, a man happy to seek profit absolutely regardless of the damage that it may incidentally cause to the people around him. With The Master (2012), Anderson ironically explores what little of mastery remains amongst con men, religious cults of personality, and damaged World War II vets.

3) In Inherent Vice, the only authority figure left is the freak with his John Lennon-esque military jacket, his granny shades, his sandals, and his long brown hair (at one point turned into a pseudo-Afro). One can see hints of Robert Altman's revamping of Philip Marlowe with a preternaturally nonchalant Elliot Gould saying "It's okay with me" no matter what happens (Altman's career seems like a good model for Anderson), but Inherent Vice's blend of social critique and slapstick satire makes it hard to know how to react. I get the feeling that the movie would benefit from the kind of slow, measured, note-taking viewing on Blu-ray that illuminates Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990).  In the meantime, much as Doc remains befuddled, I was often confused by Inherent Vice, perhaps because Anderson has conditioned me to look for Art when he was trying to be funny.  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

filmmaking links 2015

---"Ten filmmakers to watch in 2015"

---"Where to Find Film Work"

---Eduardo Angel's 20 best books on filmmaking

---Don't Worry About Your Gear: Casey Neistat's Guide to Getting Started

---5 Skills That Will Make You a More Valuable Filmmaker

---"Top 10 Screenwriting Blogs"

---"How Do You Make a Career in Independent Film in the Age of Piracy?" by Emily Buder

---What Is Composition?

---A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film

---The Rules of Film Noir

---"The Evolution of Special Effects"

---"Team Top 10: The Greatest Working Cinematographers" and "21 World-Renowned Cinematographers Share the Shots That Heavily Influenced Their Work"

---learning from Reservoir Dogs

---Edgar Wright: How to Do Visual Comedy

---"The 30 Camera Shots"

----filmmaking tips from John Cassavetes, Shirley Clark, John Boorman, Lars Von Trier, Kentucker Audley, Alain Resnais, James Gray, Terry Gilliam, Frederico Fellini, and Joe Swanberg

---"The Essential Shorts"

---Evolution of the Dolly Zoom

---my December 2012 filmmaking links list (and the one before that)

---"7 Tips for Getting Great Footage on the Canon EOS Rebel T3i"

---Grip It Good

---The Art of the Close-Up

---"5 Essential Indie-Run Film and Filmmaking Resources"

---"The Filmmaker's Guide to Indie Festivals and Organizations" by Eric Escobar

---Kevin B. Lee's Transformers: The Premake"

---"50 Essential Feminist Films"

---"David Fincher: Into the Darkness"

---"25 New Faces of Independent Film" and "27 More Filmmaking Related Twitter Accounts You Should Follow"

---best title sequence website: Art of the Title

---Impossible Shots

---1000 Movie Snapshots

---"The 25 Best Films Directed by Female Film Directors"

---Nathalie of Mentorless looks back at 2014

---"How the Death of Mid-Budget Cinema Left a Generation of Iconic Filmmakers MIA" by Jason Bailey

Friday, December 19, 2014

jack links

---Blue Christmas

---"The Christmas Card" --Terry Gilliam

---"The Man from Dream City" by Pauline Kael

---a scene from Animal Crackers

---From the Journals of Jean Seberg"

---"the two most important movie events of 2014 weren’t movies at all, but rather what amounted to a pair of live-action trailers" --Mark Harris

---a video from Spike Lee

---Transformers: Age of Extinction and Gone Girl VFX

---"SILENT NIGHT! Endless night!
All is dark, there’s no light.
Cyclone clouds have blocked out the sky,
We’re almost out of our dry-meat supply.
Sleep in uneasy peace.
We may have to eat Aunt Bernice."

---The Hollywood Reporter director and actress roundtables

---"The Terminator Paradox"

---kissing for The New York Times

---Criterion Designs

---Anatomy of a scene: Wild, Interstellar, and Inherent Vice

---"The Year of Outrage"

---Zero Dark Access

---"Beards and plaid may well just look good, and I hardly think that the man wearing both while coding on a MacBook Air in a coffee shop is really attempting to sell anyone on the idea that he’s an authentic ‘jack." --Willa Brown

---2014: Year of the Iconoclast

---profiles of John Milius and Martin Brest

---"In Defense of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 10 Years Later" by Ryan Reed

---tips for documentary filmmakers

---filmmaking tips from Mike Nichols

---behind the scenes of The Two Faces of January and Selma

---trailers for Mad Max: Fury Road, Get Hard, EntourageTop Five, It Follows, The Walk, Knight of Cups, While We're Youngand others

---"Paul Thomas Anderson, like his L.A. forefather Robert Altman, embraces the sprawl. Why not tell several different stories with loose threads? Why limit yourself to one great performance in a movie if you can get 20? Why pick one genre when you can pull from everything and make movies that push the whole idea of genre to its city limits?" --Molly Lambert

---"You find actors often know gangsters — maybe they have a lot in common, when you think about it."  --Michael Caine

---Lucas's version

 ---a clip from A Most Violent Year

---Chernobyl by drone

Friday, November 28, 2014

ephemeral links

---"Black Friday, or the Circulation of Commodities"

---"Couples go to bed with individual iPads and matching headphones. Best friends sit next to each other silently typing out LOL (the irony!) Colleagues message instead of shouting across offices, and, in cities across the world, drones commute with cold faces trying to absorb emotional warmth from the glow of a smart-phone screen. Traditionally, when films have tried to represent the fact that basically everyone in the developed world comes complete with a phone attachment, they've failed miserably. Texting on film has almost always been painful."

---An Animated History of the Drone

---filmmaking tips from David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard

---Nichols and May's 65$ Funeral skit

---"Total Mediocrity Award"

---“Never let people see what you want, because they will not let you have it. Never let anybody see what you feel, because it gives them too much power. You’re probably better off not showing weakness whenever you can avoid it, because they’ll go for you.” --Mike Nichols

---"Richard Scarry's 21st Century Busy Town Jobs"

---3 Reasons: L'avventura

---trailers for Pan, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Far From the Madding Crowd, Portlandia (Season 5), and Age of Adaline 

---"So I suspect that, as tired as I often feel these days, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule will continue for the foreseeable future. As I approached this anniversary I couldn’t tell even myself whether or not that would hold true. But truth be told, as much as Facebook has usurped the immediate interactivity that used to be the domain of the blog, I remain addicted to having a place like SLIFR solely dedicated to expression of my thoughts on movies and whatever else in life that might be related to them."  --Dennis Cozzalio

---"A little Ferguson context . . . "

---Let Her Go

---Red: A Kubrick Supercut

---"It Happened One Night: All Aboard!" --Farran Smith Nehme

---“In the hands of carefully selected, disciplined, highly trained officers, sophisticated weapons and tactics can peacefully end situations that might otherwise end in bloodshed.”

---an analysis of the opening scene of Drive


Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Because survival is insufficient": Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven

More than once, I read the first few pages of Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, and then placed it back on the shelf in our local Barnes and Noble. I didn't care much for the hook where a man expires on stage in the midst of a performance as King Lear. Then, after my wife obliged me to buy it, I finally read it quickly this past weekend, surprised by how much I enjoyed its vision of a massive pandemic wiping out 99+ percent of humanity. Mandel weaves together a narrative that jumps back and forth just before and after the collapse of civilization, and much of it struck me as being plausible. She's good at making the characters and situations compelling regardless of the disaster at hand, sometimes pausing to dwell on celebrity culture, a character's painstaking creation of a graphic novel inspired by Calvin and Hobbes' Spaceman Spiff, and the gradual conversion of a Michigan airport into a 20+ year sanctuary for a group of passengers who had their flight diverted. Here's a passage where two brothers hole up in a Toronto apartment soon after the plague arrives:

"'You've got to stop singing that song,' Frank said.

'Sorry, but it's the perfect song.'

'I don't disagree, but you've got a terrible singing voice.'

It was the end of the world as they knew it! Jeevan had that song stuck in his head for several days now, ever since he'd appeared on his brother's doorstep with the shopping carts. For a while they'd lived in front of the television news, low volume, a murmured litany of nightmares that left them drained and reeling, drifting in and out of sleep. How could so many die so quickly! The numbers seemed impossible. Jeevan taped plastic over all of the air ducts in the apartment and wondered if this was enough, if the virus could still reach them either through or perhaps somehow around the edges of the tape. He rigged Frank's bath towels over the windows to prevent stray lights from escaping at night, and pushed Frank's dresser in front of the door. People knocked sometimes, and when they did Jeevan and Frank fell silent. They were afraid of anyone who wasn't them. Twice someone tried to break in, scratching around the lock with some metal tool while Frank and Jeevan waited in an agony of stillness, but the deadbolt held.

Days slipped past and the news went on and on until it began to seem abstract, a horror movie that wouldn't end. The newscasters had a numb, flattened way of speaking. They sometimes wept.

Frank's living room was on the corner of the building, with views of both the city and the lake. Jeevan preferred the view of the lake. If he turned Frank's telescope toward the city he saw the expressway, which was upsetting. Traffic had inched along for the first two days, pulling trailers, plastic bins and suitcases strapped to roofs, but by the third morning the gridlock was absolute and people had started walking between the cars with their suitcases, their children and dogs.

By Day Five Frank was working on his ghostwriting project instead of watching the news, because he said the news was going to drive them both crazy, and by then most of the newscasters weren't even newscasters, just people who worked for the network and were seemingly unused to being on the other side of the camera, cameramen and administrators speaking haltingly into the lens, and then countries go dark, city by city--no news out of Moscow, then no news out of Beijing, then Sydney, London, Paris, etc., social media bristling with hysterical rumors--and the local news became more and more local, stations dropping away one by one, until finally the last channel on air showed only a single shot in a newsroom, station employees taking turns standing before the camera and disseminating whatever information they had, and then one night Jeevan opened his eyes at two a.m. and the newsroom was empty. Everyone had left. He stared at the empty room on the screen for a long time.

The other channels were all static and test patterns by then, except for the ones that were repeating a government emergency broadcast over and over, useless advice about staying indoors and avoiding crowded places. A day later, someone finally switched off the camera on the empty newsroom, or the camera died on its own. The day after that, the Internet blinked out."

Monday, November 17, 2014

notable film and media links

---Fellini's influence on Wes Anderson

---"Taxi Driver: God's Lonely POV"

---Scenery of the Soul: Siegfried Kracauer on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 

---"In the book, Graham compares software to Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci—noting the care with which da Vinci painted each leaf of a juniper bush in the background. 'Great software, likewise, requires a fanatical devotion to beauty,' Graham writes. 'If you look inside good software, you find that parts no one is ever supposed to see are beautiful too.' Nanis agreed with this assessment, and many of the 10xers seemed to appreciate the music world’s labelling of its stars as 'artists.' Nanis said that when he builds a Web site from scratch he has to go through a laborious creative process: 'When somebody pitches me a design spec and says, ‘I want this to work,’ there are no tutorials for making that M.V.P. There are a million ways to get there.' He said that it was like approaching a blank canvas."

---A Time-Lapse of the Sun

---The Seamless Look of Birdman

---the landscapes of True Detective

---Prince on SNL

---"It’s Monday morning and you’re preparing your first cup of coffee when the tanks roll into your neighborhood.

Phone lines are cut, curfew is activated, and doors are broken down. You sigh. It’s another “cleanout day” in the not too distant future.

The War On Terror has infiltrated every layer of society. Internet sites track the spread of extremism like the CDC tracks a lethal virus. The threat is pandemic and online news sources agree: In order to keep you safe, weekly cleanout campaigns must ramp up all across the nation – yet again.

Today you just happen to be in the red zone. The main annoyance about being in a red zone is usually the loss of your phone signal. But today is different. A close friend has gone missing – along with his past. Online he is linked to terrorist affiliations. The rest of his life has been erased.

You post a “WTF” remark on social media and 60 minutes later you hear a loud bang as the front door crashes in."  --Jann Wellmann

---the opening titles of Saul Bass

---"The Vanishing: The End of the Road" by Scott Foundras

---Playtime: Anatomy of a Gag

---"Edward Snowden not only told the world about US state surveillance of national and personal secrets, he reminded us that almost all the companies surveying us for commercial gain are American."

---trailers for Chappie and A Most Violent Year

---behind the scenes of Too Many Cooks

---The Math Behind Pixar's Animation

---"What is the value of the polar bear’s continued existence? I posed this line of inquiry to Adrian Ivakhiv, a professor of environmental thought and culture at the University of Vermont. In his response, he argued that companies should pay more for the use of endangered animals. 'I would say that the payment, or expectation of payment, for the use of endangered animals like polar bears as mascots be higher because the stakes are higher,' he wrote. '$2 million, by this standard, is not very much at all.'"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

attentional tunneling links


---Cinema Compilation: Lens Flares

---Snowpiercer--Left or Right

---"The 35 Best Books by Cinema's Greatest Auteurs"

---Brand Evolution of McDonalds

---The History of Horror

---Casey Neistat's Unofficial Google Glass Review

---"As we grow more reliant on applications and algorithms, we become less capable of acting without their aid—we experience skill tunneling as well as attentional tunneling. That makes the software more indispensable still. Automation breeds automation. With everyone expecting to manage their lives through screens, society naturally adapts its routines and procedures to fit the routines and procedures of the computer. What can’t be accomplished with software—what isn’t amenable to computation and hence resists automation—begins to seem dispensable.

The PARC researchers argued, back in the early 1990s, that we’d know computing had achieved ubiquity when we were no longer aware of its presence. Computers would be so thoroughly enmeshed in our lives that they’d be invisible to us. We’d 'use them unconsciously to accomplish everyday tasks.' That seemed a pipe dream in the days when bulky PCs drew attention to themselves by freezing, crashing, or otherwise misbehaving at inopportune moments. It doesn’t seem like such a pipe dream anymore. Many computer companies and software houses now say they’re working to make their products invisible. 'I am super excited about technologies that disappear completely,' declares Jack Dorsey, a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur. 'We’re doing this with Twitter, and we’re doing this with [the online credit-card processor] Square.' Apple has promoted the iPad as a device that 'gets out of the way.' Picking up on the theme, Google markets Glass as a means of 'getting technology out of the way.' The prospect of having a complicated technology fade into the background, so it can be employed with little effort or thought, can be as appealing to those who use it as to those who sell it. 'When technology gets out of the way, we are liberated from it,' the New York Times columnist Nick Bilton has written. But it’s not that simple. You don’t just flip a switch to make a technology invisible. It disappears only after a slow process of cultural and personal acclimation. As we habituate ourselves to it, the technology comes to exert more power over us, not less. We may be oblivious to the constraints it imposes on our lives, but the constraints remain. As the French sociologist Bruno Latour points out, the invisibility of a familiar technology is 'a kind of optical illusion.' It obscures the way we’ve refashioned ourselves to accommodate the technology. The tool that we originally used to fulfill some particular intention of our own begins to impose on us its intentions, or the intentions of its maker.

As software programs gain more sway over us—shaping the way we work, the information we see, the routes we travel, our interactions with others—they become a form of remote control. Unlike robots or drones, we have the freedom to reject the software’s instructions and suggestions. It’s difficult, though, to escape their influence. When we launch an app, we ask to be guided—we place ourselves in the machine’s care." --Nicholas Carr

---trailers for Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist (Part 2), Avengers: Age of Ultron, Citizenfour, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and Goodbye to Language 3D

---5 Skills That Will Make You a More Valuable Filmmaker

---Anatomy of a Scene: Dear White People and Birdman

---Between Two Ferns with Brad Pitt

---"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't," Durden says. "And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

---Our Fight


---"Gone Grrl" by David Bordwell

---10 Slo-Mo Movie Moments

---"We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species. There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.

I have not mutated myself in any way. Joel and I have this conversation a lot. He literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who’ve had work. I’m so full of fear and rage about what they’ve done." --Frances McDormand

---The Art of Voiceover

---What Is Noir?

---Winning the Scene

---Pulp Fiction's deleted scenes

---David Lynch in Four Scenes--A Tribute

---Polanski Makes Macbeth