A Serious Film

I love break.  Finally, I can sit and watch film at my leisure.  No plans.  No obligations.  Here I am.  With a recent acquisition of a Netflix account, the first film I chose was A Serious Man.

A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers have been a major influence on me in all aspects of film.  The way they tell a story and depict it visually has an incredibly unique tone to it.  They have in all sense of the theory solidified themselves an auteurs.  Brown-nosing aside, we must actually examine this story of A Serious Man.

I really have to praise the Coens for the work over their career.  If anything, their latest venture simply adds another credit to the books.  Thanks to my class on film aesthetics, the second time through I was able to notice much more than I had originally seen.  Aesthetically, the Coens are handful to analyze.  Their cinematography is so sound and really completes a whole other language of the film itself.  None of this would be possible were it not for the work of Roger Deakins who has worked on every Coen Brothers film since Barton Fink (the only exceptions are Blood Simple, Crimewave, Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing and Burn After Reading).  Maybe not as illustrious as I originally touted, but still very impressive and a true style that implicit on every film.

In a recent conversation I had with Billy Malloy, I attributed the Coens to being masters of the “Ne0-Noir”.    Obviously, my term is a continuation of the already well known narrative structure of Film Noir.

We once again have an everyday man, Larry Gopnik, who is thrust into this reality of a very complex situation involving his wife, brother and children.  Everything from the archetypal characters that the Coens have built in their films (the most infamous of them all being The Dude).  Most noticeably in A Serious Man is the use of the canted angles in the scenes during ceremonies in the synagogue.

As usual, you cannot miss a beat.  Concentration is impeccable.  The slight nuances that make up the character development and connection we make to them creates this world that is not only believable but just perfect – in the sense of the film.  Within this mystery that Larry Gopnik and the Coens take us through we become wrapped up in a world that is deteriorating in front of us.  That of Larry himself.  Ever so slightly, Larry’s world is crumbling.  And part of what the Coens do best is relate that role to ourselves.  Although we may not be Larry Gopnik, we see a sliver of him in each of us.  The agony and loss is something we can equate to.  He is A Serious Man.

Advertisements

Tell me a story…

Spring break.  An empty campus.  Me laying on my couch sifting through the movie collection in our apartment.  Watching movies is always a good time filler.  Not to say that watching movies is a bad thing, but for the most part, it got me through break.

We all have a story to tell.  When we meet new people we talk to them and they tell us their story.  Who they are.  Where they have been.  And how they got to now.  Everything, leading up to the point when two people meet follows the path to an intersection.  Everything after that intersection coincides.  Not to say a parallel existence, because your paths may cross multiple times thereafter, but rather they co-exist together.

City of God

City of God follows the life and story of Rocket, a poor kid living in the City of God slum outside of Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

The film chronicles the life of Rocket.  And more importantly the lives of the people that Rocket meets and has grown up with.  Everyone Rocket knows has a story.

Writers struggle with this aspect of film-making because of the difficulty to write a believable back-story.  Fact is, we want our audience to have a true grasp of who these characters are, what their motivations are and why they act they way they do.  Accomplishing this successfully is even harder than it seems.  Taking the time to introduce, tell and integrate characters is like ballroom dancing.  If you take the wrong steps, it won’t take long for people to notice the lack in fluidity of your story.

The narrator is your guide.  Be fore-warned.  The narrator can also kill your story.  We do not want to have our hand held through a journey into a place like the City of God.  Rather, Rocket stands as the force that guides us and pushes us off the cliff and into the mix.

We experience the true raw reality of Rocket’s world, yet with each character who is introduced into the mix, we know who they are, their motivations and why they act in the way they act.  Part of what adds to the reality of each introduction is the non-linear story telling that the film has.  We are running through the present timeline of the film.  Meet someone.  Pause.  Hear their story.  Understand.  Play.  Integrate.  Seamless.

Even better when it is all real.

If you have not already seen this film.  Check it out.  Seriously.

Taking the Next Steps

The opportunity is finally upon me.  If I want to take this career in film seriously the next few months are incredibly important.  I would not be hard pressed to argue that the three projects that I currently have in the works are going to be just as important as the near $100,000 piece of paper that Marquette University will hand me in May.  Needless to say, I am a little nervous. But with the nerves comes a good feeling of anxious readiness to really get some shit done in the world of film.

Filming during a Jeanna Salzer performance

At The Bottom, a short story that debuted on Spanish Bombs in Andalusia almost a month ago is in the final stages of preparation.

All this is grand.  But I quickly have come to realize that loading the gun is only half the battle.  There is always a second half.  Undoubtedly the second half is our own actualization or realization.

We are in a great time.  We must not be too scared to act.  For the future, our time is now.  I realize this more and more as I search for jobs in the real world.  Without being able to pull the trigger or take any of the next steps I prove nothing.  You prove nothing.  We prove nothing.  However, these steps cannot be taken alone in solitude.  Rather, they must be taken together in solidarity.  Far from the individualistic outcries of yesteryear, we must generate the fervor of a movement.  As young people, our outlook is bleak.  But together can work to shift the paradigm of bigger.  Better.  Fitter.  Happier.  More productive.  Expensive.  Excess.  Suburbs.  Jobs.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.

In our own ways we should all strive to change the world.  No matter how big or small our impact may be.  I come to our fateful conclusion in wake of the Oscars last Sunday.  It should not be that films like The Hurt Locker, Up In The Air, Crazy Heart or A Serious Man, A Single Man or An Education are such long-shots to win up against the likes of theAvatarof the world.

Brian Wenselis a fellow Marquette grad who has made his way in Hollywood as a production accountant.  He spoke to a class of mine earlier in the semester about the nature of Hollywood today.  He mentioned that most pictures that come out now have multiple studios attached to them.  Why?  They are really fucking expensive.  But if there is anything the Oscars can teach about this predicament is that it does not take billions to tell a good story.  We have to start to tell that story now.  Follow the ideals of the Italian Ne0-Realists.  Our place in the future of film is not to be passed over.  Instead, we will come to define our own generation.

Thanks.  In response the the above video.  I think the logical progression to leave you with is the next song on the album.  Enjoy.

Final Hoopla Contributions

For over a month now we have been discussing the probabilities of the 2010 Oscar nominees and how they all stack up amongst each other.  The hype of having 10 Best Picture nominations has gained more hoopla than your average state representative running for their 6th consecutive term simply because they have nothing better to do.  So here we are, sitting in our robes eating a giant bowl of CoCo Puffs doing our best impression of Ebert & Roeper.  Fact is, none of this matters.  Sunday is the realization of our hoopla dreams.

Sorry, no Hoop Dreams here.

Best Picture Nominee, Up In The Air

There are a few things in this world that I am pretty sure about.  One of them,  I like George Clooney.  Who doesn’t?  When we first met, he was just Dr. Doug Ross from ER.  So much has happened in the last 15 years.

His most recent appraisal as Ryan Bingham from Up In The Air only adds to his folkloric feel.  It was brought to my attention by Leif Brostrom that he can really do anything he wants.  Any role we see George Clooney in, he inevitably becomes the perfect fit.  The only person who could have done it.

But what is it that draws us to him?  For some reason or another we feel a near symbiotic relationship with him.

He makes a film.  We watch the film.  We like the film.  Probably because he was in  it.  But nevertheless it was still a good film.  He makes another film.  We view him in a different light, but still like it.  A lot.  Perhaps even more so than the last.  We start to get an itch.  When is the next one coming out?  You read the blogs.  Not until later in 2010.  Our anticipation grows with each passing week of new premieres.  The American comes out.  Start the cycle.

Up In The Air was criticized by some for being a good film only 2/3 of the way through.  I would argue otherwise.

“The story of a man ready to make a connection.”

What I find myself writing about here and trying to do within my own writing is creating these types of characters with whom we hope to make this connection with.  Although Clooney’s character (Ryan Bingham) is the one looking for a connection, we become en-grained in his struggle.  Knowing that we often fight the exact same problem – the shallow minded Bingham is the hero of our story.  For the same reasons as any other, we find ourselves sympathetic to his cause.

Without giving any further details of the film away, I suggest that you see it.  If not before the Oscars on Sunday March 7th, then most certainly after.  Jason Reitman has a knack for making good impressions with the Oscar Academy.  It may not carry the same “indie” feel as Juno, but the future of Up In The Air is one envelope away.  Although we may be flying, the destination is most certainly known.

Whoa…

Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson

I first saw Half Nelson not long after its release to DVD in the summer of 2007.  At the time, I knew very little about a lot of the film.  Habitual and problematic drug use still boggles my mind.  Teaching, I’d like to think I can do it, but Teach For America already said no.  Sorry.  Soundtracks.  I generally enjoy them thoroughly.  In fact, one of the most integral parts to a film because of how much it adds to the emotional connection we have with the characters on screen.  For some reason, upon my initial viewing of the film, this one appeared to have slipped through the cracks.  Either that, or I just did not act on it because the soundtrack is amazing.

For the past three years, the film has been been otherwise left dormant on the back burner along with all the other films that are not in my immediate attention span.  Of course, we would make passing reference to the film as  the bio-pic for my friend Billy Malloy’s brother-in-law Pat Kennelly.  Personally I think that Ryan Gosling did a hell of a job reprising the roll of Pat Kennelly.

Then it happened.  I was minding my business at MUTVlistening to the likes of Broken Social Scene when our ADPR director came in and asked if I had ever seen the film Half Nelson. “Why yes,” I emphatically replied.  As if I were trying to prove myself in the world of indie music and Sundance Film Selections.  To which he seamlessly replied “you know they do like the entire soundtrack for that movie right?”  Shit.  It was then that I realized it had totally slipped by me some three odd years ago when I was just introduced to the likes of  Broken Social Scene .

With this faux-pas behind me, I knew that I was time to re-visit the film.  My repsonse.

Whoa…

It was as if the filmmaker Ryan Fleck intended for the soundtrack to act as the internal dialogue for Ryan Gosling’s character.  Success.  With every deterioration, I found myself falling with Gosling’s character Dan Dunne.  Kudos to Fleck and to Broken Social Scene’s first three albums from which the soundtrack draws its inspiration – You Forgot It In People, Feel Good Lost and Bee Hives.

On a completely unrelated note.  I was on Twitter yesterday and @SaraMeaney of Comet Branding had posted this about writing for the web and other blog tips.  The basic idea, write as if nobody is reading your stuff.  After looking at the list, I could just as easily identify with the average online content reader.

I put myself in your shoes.  Maybe the average daily readers of my blog would extend beyond the teens – these numbers have the profound ability to make you really self-conscious about your writing –  if I followed these basic 10 steps.

Once again, Billy Malloy enters my blogosphere.  In a passing conversation about our friend’s blog, he made some comment about reading and keeping up with mine.  (Thanks for reading Bill).  “Pretentious language.”  Probably a fair assessment.  I apologize for that.  I will try to make blog more interesting fun for all.  Please.  Join me in quests internets to make readers grow big and fat and happy.

Enjoy.

And seriously, thanks for reading.

The Epilogue of Sancho

-What did you say?

-Sancho.

-What about him?

-He’s dead.

-Fuck.

It hasn’t stopped raining.

That was how it was.  Something real simple.  Something like death.  How does it just happen?  Just like that.  No explanation, no nothing.

I always though that there would be more to it.  But I guess that’s how it always happens.  It just does.

Then it hits you.  You finally get past the initial shock of how you got to where you are.  Yout hinka bout where you were no more than twenty minutes ago.  Now, your whole world has been turned around.

All of a sudden you’re standing there in a room full of people, but you are the loneliest motherfucker on the face of the earth.  You feel like you’re the only one in the word.  How fucking lonely that is.  The world, as it turns out, is a cold desolate place.

So we’re all sitting here together, yet all completely alone.

What did he all mean to us.  This was an understatement.  No words could ever describe who Sancho was.  He was, well, he was something else.  To each of us he was something different.  But at the same time, there was something about Sancho that changed al our lives.  This, we all shared.

Something you never forget is the first time you met Sancho.  I think that it would be nearly impossible to forget the first time.  In fact, anyone who could successfully forget the first time they met Sancho must have been pretty fucking dull.  You just don’t forget.  Like the first time you had sex, you just don’t forget that.

Right.  Back to where I met him first.  He was sitting in this room playing his ukulele.  It wasn’t like he was alone either.  Room was jam packed full of people.  But dead silent.  Everyone just sat there staring at him.  But he just sat there and played as if he was alone in an empty room.  Just sat there playing.  Head down.  Eyes closed with concentration.  Strumming.  Singing.  It was as if the room echoed with his soul.

It was just the way that he was.  To him, it didn’t matter if the room was empty or full.  He could have been alone in his room or playing in front of a packed house at the Orpheum Theater.  It would have been the same.  Most who knew him would say that it was nearly impossible to really get to know him.

Fools.

Sancho was one of those character that when he opened his mouth, you listen.  You hang onto every word and every syllable.  There weren’t many, and sometimes nothing at all.  But those words you would listen to with the utmost concentration.  And when he was silent, his eyes would speak.  Not many knew this.  Very few actually.  But those who did know this knew better than to ask him about what he was trying to say with his eyes.  He couldn’t tell you.  I don’t know if it was because he couldn’t explain it or if it was because he didn’t want you to know.  It was just the way he was.  A closed book.

A closed book especially for those everyday blokes who didn’t know better.  And for us lucky few, when that book opened you would study it like that last minute cram before a psychology exam.  It was as if it were the night before the exam and you had yet to crack your book.  You best cram for that sucker.  Then, before you knew it, the book was closed again.  And you never knew when it would open again.

-Nice chops.

-Thanks.  Appreciate it.

Not bad for a first conversation.  He just smiled at me and went on his merry way.  It wasn’t like he was being arrogant either.  Probably one of the most sincere people you would ever meet.  He was one of those people that actually looked you in the eye and smiled when he said stuff like that.  You just don’t find people like that anymore.

That was when I knew I had to get to know Sancho.  It would end up taking some work, however.  A few more short conversations later, and then it happened.

-Hey.  What are you up to?

-Nothing really.

-Cool.  Wanna come with us?

-Sure.

-Cool.  Quit waiting.  Grab your bike, let’s go.

We went.  We rode.  And we talked.  Like I said before.  Sancho never said much.  He would listen like a motherfucker though.  He always liked to get a good handle on the person he was talking to.  And that was how he did it.

I guess that last bit isn’t entirely true.  He would listen to you as long as you weren’t talking about something stupid.  He would listen.

Every so often, when the time was right it would come out.  And just like the first time I met him, everyone would listen.

-But if you’re constantly trying to re-invent yourself into what’s “hip” or “new” what does that accomplish?  It’s like you’re just running away from who you really are.  So you do this, the only thing you change is external.  Yet at the same time, you have no fucking clue who you really are.  But it certainly doesn’t have shit to do with being “hip”.

Silence.

Someone says something like that you best take a minute to think about it.

It was stuff like that when you got to know him.  And, of course, it wasn’t always serious too.  Dude could joke around with the best of them.  He certainly knew how to have fun.  More often than not, it was on his own terms.  It always surprised me how often his terms would dictate others’.  He never forced anyone to do anything.  People would just follow after him.  There was just some kind of aura about him.

Now, I’m not trying to make this guy into a god or anything.  But like I said, he was just one of those people.

And there are very few people that you meet in your life that are like that.

So I guess you can see why the death of someone like that would have an effect on you.  It would be nearly impossible to try and live as he did.  Only he could do that.  So what can you do now that he’s gone?

Remember.

Remember what he taught you.  That’s where his memory lies.  He wouldn’t have it any other way really.  No trophy.  No award.  No scholarship.  Nothing.  Not a goddamn thing in this world could amount to anything Sancho taught you.  So really, remembering is all that’s left for you to do.  The only stipulation is that you best not forget.

It’s hard for not even an entire day to pass by without thinking about him.  Like I said, you can’t forget someone like this.  But in remembering him, I can’t help but get emotional about it.  And I am not an emotional person.  Neither was he.  Sancho never put anything on his sleeve.  That’s the same way he would want anyone else to be.  Your emotions, he would tell me, are your own business.  You’re best keeping them to yourself.  Always protect your backside.  But at the same time if you do choose to show your emotion…be damn sure you can trust them.  Be wary.  At first, trust no one.

At the time all I could do was laugh about that.  Seems out there right?  But now, since he’s gone, it makes all the more sense.  The poit wasn’t to be this paranoid schizophrenic type.  It was about keeping your wits about you and knowing that at all costs, at least you’ve got yourself covered.  Your life isn’t something that you just go putting into someone else’s hands all willy-nilly and the like.  To Sancho, his life was his own.  It was, as he would say, for nobody but him.  Why let the world in on your secret.  Besides, what’s the point of letting everyone in the world feel sorry for you?  What are you trying to gain form it?  Attention?  Sympathy?  The fact is that, in reality, people could care less about your destruction of emotions throughout the duration of your life.  Sure, it’s important as hell to express yourself.  Just don’t wear your life, your pains, your trials, your tribulations or anything of the sort like it was a fucking trophy.  It’s just a cheap was of asking people to take pity on you.  Congratulations.

It seemed like an asshole thing to say at the time, but it makes sense.  In the end, what exactly is anyone trying to gain from that in the first place?  For this reason, Sancho would hate it if we lament over him.  Surely, mourn together.  But never make your mourning into an object or a show.  At this point it just becomes ridiculous and unattractive.

Sometimes when he would say shit like this it would just piss me off.  Often it would take a while for me to forgive him for it too.  But, every time, just like clockwork, after I would think about that stuff he said that pissed me off I would come to and it was like everything he said made sense.

For someone as stubborn as I am, I hated these moments, but I knew that if would all be worth it in the end.  Motherfucker would always end up being right.

If there was ever anything that perpetually pissed me off about Sancho, it was that silence.  That silence could kill.  I always wanted to know deep down inside what he was thinking about, but he never let it out.  Just like he said, these thoughts are mine and for me only.

I now find myself in silence more often that not now that he’s gone.  Once again, he was right.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but ther was something different about his silence.  His silence had this aura about it.  This was something I would never fully understand.  This wasn’t just any old thing that you could teach to anyone who asked.  Although, he would often tell me, generally during these bouts of silence, to never fear it.  Anyone who can’t stand themselves or this life in silence has best rethink their position.

I guess this is what they meant by saying you just want to be alone with your thoughts.  If you can be alone with your thoughts and in silence, what more do you need in life?

Sancho did this all the time.  But for him, it didn’t matter if he was in a crowded room or alone in his.  He was always in good company alone with his thoughts.

This is where I find myself now.  Trying desperately to live in good company with my thoughts.  There was so much that Sancho taught me, I just hope I can do him the smallest bit of justice.

THE END

Dialogue: The Nature of the Beast

I’m sure this does not come as too much of a surprise to any of you who have read my blog or any of my writings before, but I am once again taking off on the writing journey for a couple more short films.  Living situations can often be a great source when it comes to…well…just about anything.  My roommate, Charlie Puckett, is a writing intensive English major.  We often share stories and lore about our latest writings.  So too have we taken up on the opportunity to share our work and also collaborate together on these ventures.  Thus, this next project has two parts.

First, as some of you may recall, my short story I published a couple weeks ago entitled At The Bottom.  I recently sent this to Charlie, and he suggest we do a quick short about it.  Step two, approaching the story.  As you notice, the story only has one true line of dialogue.  As this is a fundamental aspect to the story, I did not wish to ruin the potential integrity and aura of the story by painting it red with dialogue.  The story is tedious and downright painful.  The lack of dialogue is what tells the story.

*FLASH*

Part two of the new equation.  Charlie sends me a story he recently completed for class called Deer That Clubbed Men (if you want a copy, just let me know….I did not want to put it up here without his approval).  To which he then said to me:

for sure. lets make it a two part short about polar cultures’ idea of escaping “escaping”. my story involves a low-culture trash philosophy ripe with the narrative technique of the culture: dialogue. yours is contemporary youth and young manhood, more high culture with the narrative technique available to the that type of culture: high thought.  they work as foils.  lets do it.

To put it another way, Charlie’s story had very little description.  In total, I think there were only two or three lines of it.  But in his case, it was no where near necessary to tell the story.  Hence the clear difference of the two stories and the spot on summary by Charlie.

With that said, dialogue.  It is a writers best friend and worst enemy.  Every screenplay needs it, but far too often we can get wrapped up in it and fail to describe anything that’s going on.  Or our dialogue becomes laden with clichés and before we know it, we end up writing about something we have no fucking clue how to write about.  Number 1 rule about writing, write about what you know.  If you know nothing about gangsters, don’t write ab

Scene from Do The Right Thing

out gangsters.  The Spike Lee Joint Do The Right Thing is a perfect example of this rule.  Absolutely nobody else in the world could have written Do The Right Thing because they did not have the same experience growing up in Brooklyn New York as Spike Lee did.

That being said, dialogue becomes this beast.  I am realizing this  already as I write this and I have yet to even start writing either of these.

There are various approaches we can take to this dilemma.  Right now, for At The Bottom, I like the idea of having the omniscient narrator.  Kind of like the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town.   Although the narrator is not in conversation, their perspective is what acts in part with imagery to tell the story.

We then are faced to adapt Charlie’s story to the screen.  As I imagine it right now, I do not want to take any dialogue out.  It is far too good and is the driving force of the story.  From that standpoint the actors need to do very little.  In fact, something great about this is that it allows for creative freedoms on all ends.  On top of it all, there is location.  For Deer That Clubbed Men this is far more important than At The Bottom.

So too does location then become an integral part to story telling.  But location, is a topic for next time.

Thanks for reading.  Feel free to drop a line if you want a copy of that story.

Enjoy.