December 19, 2007

Hieronymous Bosch's Heck


At long last, I have finally uploaded my 2005 short film
Hieronymous Bosch's Heck on Youtube! The impetus I needed to go through with it? Andrew Blackwood's Slap, a short film premiering on Dennis Cozzalio's blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Rule, that I absolutely hated. I said as much in the comment section.

Posting this is, arrogantly, my reaction to it. I think that what I did is better, though God only knows there's room for improvement. But you could also consider this as me putting my own neck on the chopping block.

Something else I've been meaning to share. I saw Enchanted the night after last and knowing that it's a minor hit, while truly great films that played at this same mall multiplex like The Assassination of Jesse James, The Darjeeling Limited, and No Country For Old Men seem to have been slow to gain an audience. What exactly is the appeal of this? I hit the internet movie database with my complaints on the film and some questions for the fans (doing moderately OK in supressing my condescending snootiness) and was actually rather surprised at the
results.

Finally, I'm working to get a review out of the 1951 Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol before Christmas. VCI's "Ultimate Collector's Edition" is, to give you the short version, one of the strangest DVD packages I've ever seen. Won't get into specifics as of now, but it got me wondering. Which DVDs have you seen that are actually successful as works of art, complementing the films that they house to the point where those who viewed only the theatrical release aren't getting the whole picture.

Two examples from me to let you know what I'm talking about: Capturing the Friedmans which has an exhausting but not exhaustive second disc of material that attempts to address many of the complaints made against the film. The DVD itself suggests the inadequacy of the documentary form, a dominanting theme in the film. It seems that every statement needs to be qualified and then the qualification must be qualified, and there is no end to it. The more you go searching for the "truth" behind the matter the further it pulls away.

Then there is the 2001 Special Edition of Platoon which features two audio commentaries, one by Oliver Stone and the other by military supervisor Captain Dale Dye. These audio commentaries are also included in the
20th Anniversary 2-Disc Collector's Set, along with a second disc of material; but I'm including the 2001 version because the commentaries make up a greater proportion of supplementary material (it's them, the terrific 52-minute documentary "Tour of the Inferno", a photo gallery, TV spots, and a trailer) and more honestly, because it's the version I own.

What intrigued me about the commentaries is that Stone is a "stoner" and Dye is a "juicer" (beer not 'roids). This emphasizes the dualistic quality in the film, how it's not an anti-war film or a pro-war film but both. It's easy to mistake Tom Berenger's Sgt. Barnes (juicer to Elias' (Willem Dafoe) stoner) as the villain of the piece, but he in fact informs the values of the film equally. When Chris (Charlie Sheen) kills him at the end of the film, it's not hypocrisy but Oedipal fulfillment. In killing Barnes, he shows that he has become Barnes. Stone suggests in his commentary that this doesn't represent a moral failure on Chris' part but a moral victory. This would not have sunk in as much if there were a third commentary, if we only had Stone's track, or if he shared one with Dye or somebody else.

Peter Greenaway provocatively states that film is dead and the future is in multimedia. These two DVDs suggest to me that he might be right.

37 comments:

Dave Gibson said...

Not to hijack your post AJ--but I'd like to mark the untimely passing of John Harkness; film critic for Toronto's NOW Magazine, poker savant and one heck of a guy. I will fondly remember his witty, passionate and abrasive back and forths during his many trips to the video store where I worked.

RIP John

Jared said...

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford had absolutely terrible distribution. It didn't play at a single theater in my area even for a week, despite there being two 15 screen multiplexes and the movie itself starring Brad Pitt, who I thought was a box office draw. No Country for Old Men actually does seem to be attracting an audience but I think The Darjeeling Limited scared people away. It expects a whole lot from its audience for a comedy.

I don't really buy into one posters' argument that kids are exposed to too much these days and grow up too quick. From what my dad tells me about his childhood it seems like that's the other way around. Also look at how much harder it was to get an R-rating for a movie back then.

Anonymous said...

Alex, good job man. Alternate title for your film could've been "Oedipus's sweaty nutsack" but that doesn't rhyme as good as yours. And being unhip by putting yours on the line too by posting this. Brave for a critic. Better written than directed but thats to be expected, considering lack of resources and experience. Atleast it wasn't coy, meta-ironic, "hip" minimalism of that slapping guy. The new van Sanctimonious he was. Frenchies would love that shit. Fuck I hate Frenchies.

-- HMSM (ZS)

Dave Gibson said...

Not sure how the Greenaway quote connects with the "Platoon" and "Friedmans" DVD's--given that the extras exist only because the films were there first. I can think of a handful of DVD's that have impressive supplementary material; but I’ve never encountered a package that would actually trump the theatrical experience of watching a film. This is a personal preference of course, and I'd never want to deny folks of their forty disk, nineteen-cut package of "Dawn of the Dead"--it's your dime. Not to say I don’t dig my snazzy set-up and hundreds of DVD’s—but, if given the choice---I’ll pick the quality theatrical viewing each and every time--the only extras being the beers in the pub after the show. I’m probably not the best judge of DVD packages—as I almost never listen to the commentaries (more commonly known as: Talking During the Movie) or watch the deleted scenes. I’m just looking for an excellent transfer and quality sound---the rest is just gravy.

Btw-Don't listen to Anonymous I've eaten at "Frenchies" and their chocolate malteds are to die for--if you ask nicely, Didi Conn will even pour your coffee.

Alex Jackson said...

Not sure how the Greenaway quote connects with the "Platoon" and "Friedmans" DVD's--given that the extras exist only because the films were there first.

Well, that sounds like a good point. With those two DVDs, I do think the DVD experience is richer and fuller than the theatrical one ever could be (particularly with Capturing the Friedmans), and it got me thinking that perhaps the a film on DVD with supplementary extras can be an entirely different thing from a film shown in theaters by itself.

I think you're right though that that isn't quite what Greenaway was talking about. This is an evolutionary step away from film, but it's still closer to film than the kind of multimedia experience Greenaway sees as the future.

Alex Jackson said...

Better written than directed but thats to be expected, considering lack of resources and experience.

Ha! Was going for better directed than written. The character relationships and the motivations behind the violence still stand up fairly OK for me, but I cringe whenever I hear that dialogue especially the opening monologue. Though in true Ed Wood style I can still recite it from memory.

jacksommersby said...

Alex,

That guy appearing with that pig snout reminded me of Shelly Duvall's horrifying reaction to the sight of that man and woman with animal masks in the bedroom in "The Shining". (Oh, and what's the name of that nasty-looking cereal that guy was eating?)

Anonymous said...

It was really well edited, I'll give you that. In directed I was inlcuding shot and acted. Ah, nothing like watching amateur actors butcher your line. I kinda liked the opening monologue, Korine style.

-- HMSM

theoldboy said...

I started a thread about Alex's movie over at the Viddied board if anybody's interested.

Rather dug it myself.

Yeah, got that Korine vibe, too.

Alex Jackson said...

Jack:

The Shining was a big influence, that bathtub scene is a direct homage. Thanks for noticing.

The nasty-looking cereal is called Cap'n Crunch.

HollowMan:

And thank you for noticing the editing! Despite the continuity errors and a couple of large mistakes (hold too long on the couch, that bit of black space during the vaccuming scene that I should have cut out), this is clearly my strong suit. Sometimes I think I made stuff like the animation and the channel surfing look too easy.

There are a couple of shots that I like and the overall look of the film works for me, but yeah I can't direct actors, block scenes, or do any of that shit at all. You're right to blame me for the performances.

I rushed through filming knowing I'ld put it all together later and while this hurt the "cinematography" it probably hurt the performances more in that a good deal of the time I just got them to go through the script one line, one shot at a time, without ever staging a proper scene.

They're not bad actors. The girl and the guy with glasses are wonderfully uninhibited and once you have that 80% of the work is done for you. If they had a director who knew how to work with actors I think they could turn in really great work.

Anonymous said...

I've done that one line at a time thing, and it just doesn't work. The impression I got overall was that an amateur filmmaker made a professional idea. And I'd put myself in the same category, only in my case it'd be ultra-amateur and semi-professional. Ha. No humility in there, sad truth. The worst acted scene in your film was the guy climbing the second flight of stairs, I think you were going for tired but it came off as if his water broke. The guy in glasses was fairly ok overall though. The girl reminded me of the girl in the bar in Hopper's Into the Blue, a plant could've done a better job. I must say I saw a little bit of Eraserhead in there somewhere too.

-- HMSM

Bemis said...

I get offended when I see amateur filmmakers that indulge themselves to unwatchable extremes, protect themselves with cheap silliness, or make no attempt whatsoever to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and an end.

Pot, kettle, etc.

Anonymous said...

Pot, kettle, etc.

That doesn't make a lick of sense. If you don't like it, qualify it with a proper argument and not hip snarkiness. His film does have a beginning, middle and an end, as much as any 10-minute film can have. And it may not be your cup of tea but it sure isn't silly. I think it deserves enough consideration not to be dismissed, unlike that slapping thing which a monkey could've made (a primate that has seen Ozu and van Sant, probably even Bela Tarr, but a primate nonetheless). Its a BS art-film conceived in a vaccum of and as a reaction to an incestuous art world. Its not fucking real.

-- HMSM

Bemis said...

Actually, it's really silly, and heavyhanded and derivative. I didn't like Slap either, but I don't think there's as much distance between the two as Alex would like to suggest. But I don't think either director is a primate. Both, to me, are the work of earnest neophytes with potential (as is my own short), both have some interesting concepts and visual compositions. And I prefer Heck, but it is what it is. I liked the cringing confession of love at the end, but the pig man, the blood and the rose petals scream student film. Which it is.

Alex, you said my film existed for no reason except to show that I could make it. I could say the same for yours. Personally, I don't think that's a bad starting point for a filmmaker.

Speaking of hip snarkiness - I'm not so sure about that title. But I'll stop there, because I know how irritating and pointless after-the-fact notes are. You'll never see any special editions from me - when my film is done, it's done.

Alex Jackson said...

Speaking of hip snarkiness - I'm not so sure about that title. But I'll stop there, because I know how irritating and pointless after-the-fact notes are. You'll never see any special editions from me - when my film is done, it's done.

Oh, go ahead with the after-the-fact notes. I brought it on myself with my mean attitude toward the Slap film and besides I'ld like to know how you see what I did as being different from what I thought I was doing.

I don't know what you mean when you infer that it doesn't have a beginning, a middle, or an end. And I'd argue about the indulgence (as I meant it anyway). I think the film is pretty tight. Every shot seems necessary to me.

As for the silliness, you might have a point. Yes, the title isn't quite right and I wish I thought of another one. But my general idea for it was a kind of tragedy in close-up, comedy from far away. I wanted people to laugh at it while being unsure if they're supposed to laugh and then feel a little bad for laughing because the "jokes" have genuine tragic consequences.

Like the outcome of the self-consciously surreal rose petal murder by the plastic pig nose guy leads to a bloody suicide and the perpetual loneliness of the guy who loved her.

Indeed, whenever I show it to people they always laugh when I bring out the vaccuum cleaner, but by the end they always seem kind of genuinely depressed. But the tone doesn't change throughout.

I guess I don't see that as silly, but it is me trying to develop a kind of aesthetic attitude that would gel with my inexperience and lack of resources and truthfully that might be a similar kind of defense mechanism.

So we're clear, I didn't dislike your film. I actually do think that you have more talent than I do and I actually do find it technically impressive.

But I was pretty ambivalent throughout the whole thing. I didn't feel anything; no pain, no pleasure, no frustration, no anger, no happiness, no anticipation, nothin'. I don't think you're really employing any self-justifying defense mechanisms, but I don't think you have an attitude toward your material yet.

This is different from Slap.

And yes, you're right that if a film is finished it's finished. But your next one should always be better than the last. Otherwise what's the point?

Bemis said...

Okay, I guess I can see the intentions more clearly, and it doesn't seem so silly. I wish I could see this in the dark on a larger screen (as I imagine you intended it). And I agree with others about your editing - there's no fat on this thing. So thanks for clarifying. I still can't get behind the rose petals, but I get what you're saying.

I see what you mean about the ambivalence in Chrissie; when I was making it (no sour grapes there, by the way), I was definitely down on myself for not being as good a writer as a director, and for not knowing as much about life as I did about movies. Those things, along with some ambivalience about my own life and whatnot, were probably what informed the piece. Guilty as charged, in other words. And it sounds like we've both got a bit of Ed Wood in us ("Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!").

Anyway, we're both getting our asses kicked by Rachel.

rachel said...

Ha! Speaking of that beautiful genius (“Beautiful genius? Were they taunting you?”), I’ve got a new piece up:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=GXZH4ZcaaA0

Love to hear what y’all think. (I guess both Alex and I are really into nose-wiping, weird. Do I get points for using real blood?)
Regarding Alex’s piece, having watched it a few times, I’m less concerned than Bemis is with the silliness-of-concept, as I’m always more focused on execution. I’m more frustrated by a certain apathy towards the actors, both as objects in space and as characters. Rarely do I feel that the space is “activated,” as my professor would say. There are just far too many shots that function solely as plot-recorders; the camera needs to be an assistant into these peoples’ heads. The punchline is that this is a writing problem; I never got the sense that these were characters well-enough drawn on the page that they would lend themselves to all these great shots.

I’ve noticed, taking film classes, that so much of our assigned reading is critics arguing that film isn’t like theater. Because people once went to plays, this was a distinction that ever needed elucidation. However, film is actually a lot like theater. Theater that taught me that everything rests in the characters’ relationship to objects, that dialogue hardly matters. (My playwriting professor liked to say, “Imagine if I hit Rachel with a doorknob. You’re going to remember that more than anything I say. Right?”) I bring this up because during the scene where Jeffry and Samantha are on the couch, talking about themselves as family, I had to watch the scene more than once to determine when her hand leaves his shoulder. This is a problem of direction because that physical contact—and the moment where she breaks it— is the most important thing happening in that scene.
You’ve developed the role of the couch and the TV; that’s a good start. Small revisions would improve events immensely. For example, Samantha’s entrance would be greatly improved if she were bringing the board game to the table, as opposed to walking on empty-handed. Not only would the scene be given a sense of purpose and activity it’s currently lacking, but her character would be cemented as the social glue (ie, she’s the one bringing these two schmucks together). I am also wondering if there is any particular reason that Jeffrey bleeds blood and Malcolm bleeds rose petals. If some fundamental difference of character were drawn between them (a difference beyond, “one of them is sleeping with Samantha; the other isn’t”); then the idea that they are different physiologically would seem less out-of-the-blue. Relatedly, frustration sets in when it’s apparent that very few objects—the stairs, the board game, the gun—will make a reappearance. (There is also a ton of shit in the background—fire extinguisher, bathroom curtain, the green moisturizers perched on the tub, phone — that’s neither employed or “styled,” if that’s the word.) Imagine having a bunch of characters pop in to say one line each, then darting out. That’s how you use a lot of your objects. Can she use the knife, earlier on, for something besides harikari? Can someone beside the Pig-man drink a glass of water to some different outcome? (An example: someone, earlier, tries to make themselves a glass of water, complains that the faucet doesn’t work. The pig-man pouring himself that glass would then, besides signaling his cocky nonchalance, also hint at some supernatural prowess.)

When you develop your objects, you necessarily develop your characters; all proceedings feel more substantial.
Some additional, random, notes:

- I like the opening monologue but not the animation. It doesn’t make any particular sense in context. Why not just put the voice-over over some tracking shots of a Bosch painting? Then you can name the piece something else (as the title is glib and doesn’t work), but keep the reference. In terms of titling, whenever I’m out of ideas I just name it after a song that’s informed the piece. Musicians spend their whole lives naming their bands and albums and songs and guitars and tours. I feel that they are sort of experts in that.

- I hate that there’s non-diagetic music playing while Sam and Jeff watching TV. It’s made even more egregious by the clumsy way the dialogue track pops back on. I would much, much rather be hearing whatever’s on the TV.

- I have a feeling that you didn’t have any input in how the actors were dressed or “styled.” This contributes to a general feeling of indifference.

- The acting is terrible in a way that I would rather have all the lines cut. This piece wouldn’t make that much less sense without dialogue; you have that in your favor. It’s not anybody’s fault, it’s just something that didn’t happen correctly.

- The harikari scene doesn’t actually make any sense.

Hope these thoughts help.

P.S.- Bemis, give me a little time, I’ll have a look at your piece and give you notes (if you want them).

rachel said...

Oh yeah: in terms of good amateur films, I recently caught (well, poached from poetry wizard Mike Young) Jack Christian's
a call after the project. It is damn neat, I think.

Also:
The Ten Most Ridiculous Things about Beyonce
UC Men's Octet Nirvana Medley

Alex Jackson said...

Thanks for the great notes Rachel!

I disagree with a few of the things you said, most notably the animation which I put in there to introduce the audience to the "tragedy in close-up, tragedy in long shot" sensibility. Using Hieronymous Bosch paintings doesn't really work for me; I think it would clash with how the (naturally) grungy look of the rest of the film. You got me thinking maybe I should have done a Coen Brothers thing (Blood Simple/No Country For Old Men) and put the monologue over shots of their environment. Of course, I would have to establish the environment first as you said, but the bigger problem is that it wouldn't contrast enough with the rest of the film.

The blood, that wasn't about physiology it was about violence. Malcolm is killed publicly by somebody else, and with the other two it's self-inflicted and in private. My purpose for using rose petals there is to help convey the unreality of what Samantha is seeing.

But still, your points about establishing a consistent internal logic are spot-in. Not sure if I could have realistically had costumes for my cast, but that doesn't make the criticism any less valid.

The thing with the water, the faucet not working. Shit, I could have done that. What a terrifying moment that would have been if I showed him suddenly turning on the faucet when nobody else could.

Ditto for Samantha going to the table. Why was she on the couch? I didn't have any reason for her to be there. And did they really have the board game all set up when Jeffrey was in the bathroom for 45 minutes?

Maybe it would have been better if I at least had a scene of dialogue between the two saying that he was coming or talking about how he has been strange lately or something like that. Even if it was just there to forward the plot it would still flesh out Samantha and Malcolm's relationship a little.

I've learned by the way, not to try and go without dialogue. It creates problems. I think I just need to learn to write and direct actors.

I say I'm not a good writer, but that's a pretty big thing. One of the things you learn doing this, and I guess this should be obvious, is that you have to have an air-tight script. If you don't have answers for everything before hand, this stuff snowballs.

Also would you believe that the music from the television scene IS diagetic?! They're watching the striptease sequence from Night of the Hunter. Definitely not your fault for thinking so, my bad all the way. Guess I should have mixed it lower. Diagetic music is hard to maintain when you have more than one shot.

Alex Jackson said...

Ha! Forget about my bitching about diagetic music being hard to maintain.

Didn't love Hanging Man or The Last Waltz Part 1, but the funny thing is I'm going to need some time to digest them and in that way my not loving them makes them a bit more interesting than Roman or Magic Position. I kind of don't want to grade them and say one is necessarilly "better" than the other, just to say that those unfamiliar with your work should see Roman and Magic Position first, and if they want more check out these two. I've always thought "not for beginners" meant "not as good", but there you.

I liked The Last Waltz Part 1 less, but I'm still processing it. Kind of redundant after Roman I guess, but it's intriguing to me how well you made this "one-shot, no camera movement" thing work. And how instead of simply being self-indulgent and smarmy, you manage to make it about self-indulgence and smarminess.

Hanging Man? I'm not sure your visual style here works. The early shots in particular don't seem dark as much as muddy and I didn't sense enough contrast between them. The lacing of the shoe isn't as much a compelling visual, especially since she's leaving.

But I don't know. I think I could be wrong about this, I need more time to digest. It's still really poignant. Her self-hatred. Stuff that might have been pretentious, like the mucousy (menstrual-like) blood going down the drain or Project Runway in the background actually work.

You said she was wiping blood away? Is she in an abusive relationship and escaping? If so, I like how you didn't make that a "girl-power" moment and we have no idea what's next for her. And how the abuse doesn't come out, just the self-hatred.

She's not very pretty and I actually took me a while to understand that I was looking at a woman. The plaid coat, the jeans, all helped to make her look more masculine. Going through the beauty routine kind of emphasizes her homeliness. (I'm not trying to mean, this is the point of it). But you like her anyway. There's no condescension there and no cruelty.

There's a kind of a transcedence about it.

I'm serious that you are a beautiful genius. I'm really excited to see what you would do with a feature as yours is the rare completely original voice in cinema.

I get from your films that they are very personal and they come from very deep. There are all these aspects of your self-- the Jewishness, the femininity, the adolescence, the filmmaker, the child of privilege (?). (The Last Waltz in particular kind of seems like a therapeutic activity for teenagers in a $2000 a day mental health facility (out in Utah?) for wristcutters and bulimics. That's a glib way of putting it, because again you demonstrate no condescension or cruelty toward your characters).

We can't really change who we are, but it takes a rare talent to be able to channel themselves into their work so fluently.

So. If I had the money I would commission a feature.

rachel said...

My problem with the animation, I guess, is that its ugliness and lack of expression seems to be the result of an artist who doesn’t have control over his medium; there’s an intentionality that’s lacking. (You’ll notice, people who can draw can make stick-figures look good.) Nor is the cartoon put into any sort of context where we’d understand it to be the work of one of the characters. Imagine if we later could see Jeffrey writing in a notebook in which that same face is doodled. That would grant the animation a new sense of gravity.
The other problem with the animation is that there’s nothing “filmic” about it. It looks like it’s done in Paintshop. As the audience, we don’t even get to enjoy the viscera of a pen-mark or a glob of paint. In this case, a simple gesture might work wonders; film the animation off the screen, but film yourself wiping the screen off with a towel. Right now the animation suffers from a stiff ugliness, but worse, it suffers from a certain bloodlessness, like the digital monsters from Van Helsing.

The blood, that wasn't about physiology it was about violence. Malcolm is killed publicly by somebody else, and with the other two it's self-inflicted and in private. My purpose for using rose petals there is to help convey the unreality of what Samantha is seeing.

I guess we’d have to disagree on this. I would never describe that living room as a public space. A total of three people (well, two people and an extension of the subconscious) is still pretty intimate.

It’s unfortunate that the living room is so bare, that there is so little to differentiate between it and the bathroom. But yeah, I don’t pick up that distinction by watching it. One might also wonder at the idea that the violence of the other two is self-inflicted; Jeffrey’s nose seems to bleed very much without his consent, and Samantha almost appears as if she’s in a trance when she kills herself. In all three instances, there is little if any feeling of choices being weighed. I mean, Samantha’s hand doesn’t even waver above the drawer full of knives. At that point she’s like a Suicide Robot.
Also: If the point of the rose petals is that this about what Samantha and what she is seeing, then boy does that camera need to be more subjective. (Also, if it’s about Samantha: why cut back to Jeffrey staring into the mirror? That doesn’t make sense.) Close-ups of her, P.O.V. shots that fidget or roam, a slower pace in general: again, if it’s about what she’s seeing and how she is experiencing the violence, then the current direction doesn’t work.
Not sure if I could have realistically had costumes for my cast, but that doesn't make the criticism any less valid.
You don’t need costumes. Before the shoot give simple directions to your cast about what to wear. Talk to them about what they own in their wardrobe and think about what clothes that might help describe their characters. Listen to the audio commentaries from the Strangers with Candy series. Listen to everything they have to say about hair and makeup and clothes. Watch Amy Sedaris on Martha Stewart. (Why? Cuz!)

The simplest and most helpful direction, I’ve found is to tell actors to “dress formally.” That way they become more thoughtful of themselves as objects and impose more structure upon themselves.
The worst problem, I thought, was how Samantha was dressed: tight jeans prevent expressiveness (on my first day of Neutral Masks class, our professor forbade us to wear jeans unless they were really fucking loose), which hurts the ability to act; also her shirt kept rolling up in the back, which is very distracting, all the more so seeing that it is obviously not a conscious choice on the part of the actor or director.

rachel said...

She's not very pretty
I'm serious that you are a beautiful

Bwahahahahahaha.

Alex Jackson said...

I'm particularly protective of the animation, I guess. That's a moment where I really don't want to be part of the character's world exactly and try and address the audience directly. It certainly doesn't seem right to me to have Jeffrey doodling the head or anything like that. Maybe I could have found a way to do this and still maintain directorial control. Pure ahuman directorial control is why I chose animation, anyway.

The rose petals, I don't want to use a POV shot; that's somehow overly specific also. I'm vague, I guess, what I was going for just isn't part of an "objective/subjective" dichotomy. It just seems to me that, as intimate as they are, Samantha watching it all should just give it a different energy from everything else.

But I think you're on to something when you say I need to justify putting Jeffrey in the sequence. And even in avoiding POV shots, just better establish her presense in the room.

You're definitely right that I needed to differentiate the living room from the bathroom if I want to establish it as a "public space". Rather make it seem more intimate, like a real family room, and make the bathroom more of a sanctuary in contrast.

"Dress formally" is OK for your work as it makes a covert inference toward socioeconomic class. That's not something I wanted in the film. But you're right, I need to put them in something.

She's not very pretty
I'm serious that you are a beautiful

Bwahahahahahaha.


Ah, I was worried that might be you. Any consolation, if that was you in Roman, you came off as pretty cute there.

rachel said...

"Dress formally" is OK for your work as it makes a covert inference toward socioeconomic class.
Invite a bunch of rich kids and a bunch of poor kids to the White House. Who’s going to show up wearing sandals? (For the record, I’m not a “child of privilege,” I’m not sure where you get this stuff about privilege in my work. I mean, that Last Waltz interpretation is interesting, but isn’t close to anything I’ve experienced or was getting at. I think you may have been imposing that meaning on it from some previous assumption regarding my supposed vast wealth.)

I also think it’s strange that you think my films are very personal. The one consistent complaint that I get from my film professors is that my films are intellectual exercises that are emotionally opaque. I guess they come down to being Rorschach tests.

Ah, I was worried that might be you.

I’m glad that that didn’t stop you from saying it.

I do think it’s interesting that you describe the process of this character getting dressed, brushing her teeth and brushing her hair as her “beauty routine”. (Putting on jeans is about administering beauty?) I also wonder if you would have thought so carefully about the character’s relative homeliness if it had been male. And I wonder why you’re so sure that that’s “the point.” (I am also surprised you didn’t realize it was a woman, considering that boob popping out in the shoe shot.)

All I’ll say about The Hanging Man for now is that sometimes it is not about gender. Your critique is kind of depressing, just for the idea that even as I try to shoot the subject as a human being, not as a gendered object, I will inevitably have to wade through this dirt-dull discussion about the subject’s fuckableness, if the subject is a girl. (Of course.)

And Alex, you have my permission to think I’m ugly. There’s no reason for me to try to prove I’m not.

theoldboy said...

While we're on avant-garde shorts, anybody care to brutally dissect anything I've done?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSOMPOLU8hA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApIW10UIsEw

If you'll notice I, with tongue in cheek, did give Alex probably his only blurb-quote to date, from his seemingly mixed-negative reaction to the first one. Really the only reason I'm putting these here is because I think they're better than Slap (ditto the ones below), though I think Heck has a lot more substance and Rachel's stuff is way above everything I've done.

To contextualize, the first one was basically written, shot, and cut in the course of a day two years ago when I was in high school, really made out of a desire to just make something, so I quickly crafted a formal experiment wrapped around some dada I dreamt up in the course of a morning. The second was done specifically for a film class last year, and I was attempting to reduce editing to a series of images containing meaning that could be put together in any order, but ended up in the process of shooting being turned just into a violent and nebulous little mood piece.

Also there's this, which I made earlier the same year as the first one for a class that really didn't expect me to make a full-fledged movie at all, which is basically a series of borderline plagiaristic shoutouts to movies and directors I had a boner for at the time:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HdO45P5Nso
I cringe now at my lack of sincerity here, but I must admit it has the most Schoonmaker juice, or at least the smoothest flow, of anything I've done, probably owing to the fact that it was heavily storyboarded and the material allowed a lot more playfulness on the soundtrack than my later Lynch-lite work. Some complaints I've gotten about the acting and the shakiness of the camera are mostly the result of my lack of trained actors, my extreme time constraints, and my inability to manage to get a tripod to my school. I guess because of the energy and the bad-taste of it it ended up winning a best short film award at the school film festival.

Also there's this Beethoven-scored montage of movies I find to be awesome, which Action Jackson said was pretty great:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAKsJ5z3Fkg
I admit upfront that it's overlong and gets bogged down with that extended Leone clip, but I had to drag it out to 5 minutes for an editing class so I had to let it drift in the middle there.

So lacerate me, Rachel, Alex, Bemis, anybody. I have a masochistic urge to see all that I've done leveled by such sharpened critical sensibilities as those that tend to roam these parts.

Alex Jackson said...

All I’ll say about The Hanging Man for now is that sometimes it is not about gender. Your critique is kind of depressing, just for the idea that even as I try to shoot the subject as a human being, not as a gendered object, I will inevitably have to wade through this dirt-dull discussion about the subject’s fuckableness, if the subject is a girl. (Of course.)

Sorry, you seem to be acting willfully naive. Human being vs. gendered object? You just talked about your actors needing to think of themselves as objects. It's unavoidable, especially in a film like this with no dialogue or particularly strong storyline. Not to mention that you're hung up on this horseshit that gender and humanity are diameterically opposed to one another.

And you know, a man brushing his hair simply does not carry the same connotations as a woman brushing her hair. To be honest if you put a man in this role doing these things I'd see him as effeminate.

Why Project Runway? Why the menstrual blood? Why the blow dryer? None of these things say gender neutral.

And no, I had no idea that was a boob. I had no reference point. Wasn't talking about getting dressed in reference to the "beauty routine" though, just the stuff in the bathroom.

I just guessed watching the films that you were a child of privilege. At the very least, the characters in your films appear to be wealthy. You're right I probably wouldn't be able to differentiate the rich kids from the poor kids when they visit the White House.

But that infers that you see being in one of your films as like visiting the White House. Watching them there is a presumption that we are seeing the characters in their natural habitat, not dressing up for a special occasion.

And finally, it's just plain reductive to equate "pretty" with "fuckable". It's a common misconception of both the significance of beauty and the meaning of sex.

I'm telling you as a misogynistic pig that ugly girls are plenty fuckable as long as they have low self-esteem.

Alex Jackson said...

Weird though, that I actually appreciate Hanging Man for the feminist viewpoint as well as being unapologetically feminine (as opposed to "human" whatever that means). Never watching it did I feel pity or have a desire to rescue her.

rachel said...

Not to mention that you're hung up on this horseshit that gender and humanity are diameterically opposed to one another.

To the extent that gender overwhelms our ability to empathize with one another, yes, I believe they are.

Why Project Runway? Why the menstrual blood? Why the blow dryer?

I chose Project Runway because I wanted that audio of a contestant being kicked off a show. Ideas of rejection and escape (specifically, escape through the drain). The blood is from brushing the teeth. The blowdryer was part of the mixing up of interior/exterior elements. (The wind, the water, the snow, the sound of cars on the highway, etc. Culminating in the underwear/umbrella cut.)

It's not that that the elements of gender aren't there. It's that they aren't the only things there, nor did I set out to make a film for the purposes of describing those elements. There's other stuff going on. That's all I meant. Not being "naive," just grumpy. (Also: menstrual blood AND abusive relationships AND ugly ducklingism AND self-loathing? Certainly not all that, gosh. You make it sound like a Jennifer Lopez vehicle.)

And no, I had no idea that was a boob.

It may just be that it's only really obvious when the piece is blown up on the projector. I guess you'll have to trust me that this looks a lot better and less muddy in a proper screening.

just the stuff in the bathroom.

Again: all she is doing in the bathroom is washing her face and blowing her nose and brushing her teeth. Guys do that, right? Non-effeminate ones? I know I'm being stubborn about this, but when you call this stuff a "beauty routine" I feel like you've moved from assessing the work to projecting onto it.

I just guessed watching the films that you were a child of privilege. At the very least, the characters in your films appear to be wealthy.

I want to understand what you mean, but I just don't. Is it the way they speak? Hairstyles? How does one read from a book, or button a coat in a wealthy manner? It's flattering that you always liken my work to Sofia's, but my dad sells insurance, honest.

You're right I probably wouldn't be able to differentiate the rich kids from the poor kids when they visit the White House.

I'm sorry, this remark was unclear. I was referencing an old news story about a Lacross team from a wealthy school who visited the White House. There was a bit of an uproar because the girls dressed so informally, many wearing flip-flops. The implication of the story was class-based; poor students would probably have dressed better, out of a greater sense of respect and propriety. Just step inside any church in a poor neighborhood on a Sunday.

Incidentally, I go to a college with a lot of rich students. They tend to dress like homeless people.

And finally, it's just plain reductive to equate "pretty" with "fuckable". It's a common misconception of both the significance of beauty and the meaning of sex.

Let's split the difference and say "desirable." Because for guys it's a lot of different things (due to their delicate palettes), for girls it tends to be the same thing.

Man for the feminist viewpoint as well as being unapologetically feminine (as opposed to "human" whatever that means)

I guess I find "human" and "feminist" to be synonyms. I don't often use the word "feminist" unless I feel like I'm making some kind of really explicit statement; the idea that feminism may be necessarily didactic. Meanwhile, "feminine" as a concept I tend to throw out; it's unhelpful, it describes an ever-shifting series of characteristics that can be summed up as "shit guys don't want to be associated with; shit that is not embodied by The Rock". Also, people use the word in ways so that they are the only ones who know what they just meant.

Strange that it's feminist simply by shooting a plain girl in a sympathetic way. I'm almost tempted to watch Napoleon Dynamite again; where does cruelty and condescencion start? What does it mean that a filmmaker is praised for avoiding these pitfalls? Where does it go from here?

In any case, I'm glad that my films continue to communicate better than I can.

Alex Jackson said...

I didn't mean to claim that femininity is the only thing in the film. But when you use Project Runway and think it a universal gender neutral form of rejection, you are being willfully naive.

Yes, most men brush their teeth. And you can put it in movies. But when you give it the weight that it has here and make it part of a morning routine it becomes less about simple hygeine and more about primping yourself out.


I want to understand what you mean, but I just don't. Is it the way they speak? Hairstyles? How does one read from a book, or button a coat in a wealthy manner? It's flattering that you always liken my work to Sofia's, but my dad sells insurance, honest.

Again, we're working off the reasonable assumption that we are seeing the characters in their natural state. And by the way they're dressed, they look, well preppy. Maybe it is me projecting. I interviewed at an expensive boarding school for troubled teens (up in Utahn skiing country, of course) and when I saw Last Waltz it struck me-- oh my god, it's those kids.

And believe it or not, I had no assumptions about your socioeconomic class until I saw that film. So my experience with the film did come first.

Not to mention that you're hung up on this horseshit that gender and humanity are diameterically opposed to one another.

To the extent that gender overwhelms our ability to empathize with one another, yes, I believe they are.


Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Complete and utter bullshit!

The irony of it is that I probably share many of your same goals I just differ in the perspective. You say that we must demolish gender altogether so we are neither male nor female. I say we need to be consummate people. We need to be both male and female. Both male and female need to be celebrated. Gender is humanity, an ungendered human ceases to be human.

Hanging Man strikes me as incredibly feminine, but I assure you that I empathized with protagonist not in spite of this but because of it. I'm sorry you thought otherwise, but when I describe it as feminine I'm not at all saying that as a way of dismissing it.

For Christ's sake, I said I liked it. How do you explain that? If I didn't have a personal connection to it?

I just guessed watching the films that you were a child of privilege. At the very least, the characters in your films appear to be wealthy.

And finally, it's just plain reductive to equate "pretty" with "fuckable". It's a common misconception of both the significance of beauty and the meaning of sex.

Let's split the difference and say "desirable." Because for guys it's a lot of different things (due to their delicate palettes), for girls it tends to be the same thing.


I hate to lecture you about what it means to be a girl, but you're wrong. (Truthfully, I just think you aren't thinking hard enough about this).

The groups most prone to eating disorders are: overachievers, early developers, and victims of sexual abuse.

For the first, being fat means they are a failure and being skinny means they are success. They acquire eating disorders because they want to be a success. That's what it's about. Related to the patriarchal order, I'm sure; but more dominantly to the success of the women's movement where, for both good and bad, success (and it would follow failure) has become part of the lexicon. One can't really be a success or a failure as a housewife, but you sure can be a success or a failure as a doctor or lawyer.

They're not getting skinny so they can get laid.

And for the last two groups, they're definitely not getting skinny so they can get laid. Acquiring an eating disorder is their way of reclaiming their bodies.

I don't know if you got the memo, but guys like to fuck chicks with tits.

And need I mention the hypocricy of dividing guys and girls into two seperate groups? And making generalizations about both besides.

Rick said...

God, A Christmas Story is grating on my nerves right now, I can not imagine a hell worse than actually watching the whole marathon. It would be the equivalent of Rachel watching a Straw Dogs marathon. I wish A Christmas Story was as clever as it thinks it is. I dunno, maybe it was good, but the overplaying kills it.

Shrug said...

Rachel watch a Straw Dogs marathon and get back to us.

rachel said...

And by the way they're dressed, they look, well preppy.

Now I'm wondering if it might either be a regional thing (my actors generally come from the east coast); or else due to the fact that they are nearly all scholarship kids. Their preppiness may be a way of overcompensating. Or maybe there is something inherently bourgeois about an interest in old BBC sitcoms?

It's funny that it's The Last Waltz that tipped you off; that girl is a sociology major and hails from a poor, very rural part of upstate New York. I believe she’s the first person in her family to go to college. (Incidentally, she's also gotten to meet and work with David Strathairn through her community theater program.)

(Regarding myself, we were broke until my mother got her master’s degree. We bought our first house when I was in high school. I’ve always felt disoriented by questions of class. I’ve never known where to locate myself. I tend to feel a little uncomfortable wherever.)

We need to be both male and female. Both male and female need to be celebrated. Gender is humanity, an ungendered human ceases to be human.

I wrote a few different responses, recognized that they would all drive you nuts. I can tell that the more this is pressed, the more frustration will result. Enough to say that I respect, but do not share, your opinion.

For Christ's sake, I said I liked it.

I know! I don’t know why I’m so difficult.

How do you explain that? If I didn't have a personal connection to it?

I guess what led me off the scent was how the discussion seemed to rotate around the subject’s prettiness; that is, the feeling, initially, that if one really empathized with the subject, the subject would “disappear” insomuch as they became the sum of their actions; the body becoming a collection of shapes that lose context and become alien in the way of the word that loses meaning once it’s been stared at or repeated (thus, made essentially familiar or reclaimed).

Acquiring an eating disorder is their way of reclaiming their bodies.

I’m not sure I understand what you’re arguing here. That those afflicted with anorexia want to be pretty, but not desirable? Because you haven’t made that case yet.

I don't know if you got the memo, but guys like to fuck chicks with tits.

I thought we were talking about what being pretty and being desirable mean for women? Whether or not they are the same impulse? What men want is a different question.

And need I mention the hypocricy of dividing guys and girls into two seperate groups? And making generalizations about both besides.

I recognize that I’m a hypocrite, simply for being a member of—and reaction to— society. We do the best we can.

Alex Jackson said...

And by the way they're dressed, they look, well preppy.

Now I'm wondering if it might either be a regional thing (my actors generally come from the east coast); or else due to the fact that they are nearly all scholarship kids. Their preppiness may be a way of overcompensating. Or maybe there is something inherently bourgeois about an interest in old BBC sitcoms?

It's funny that it's The Last Waltz that tipped you off; that girl is a sociology major and hails from a poor, very rural part of upstate New York. I believe she’s the first person in her family to go to college. (Incidentally, she's also gotten to meet and work with David Strathairn through her community theater program.)


So they're playing themselves then?

But I think this idea that she's the first to go to college or that your family's socioeconomic status has apparently changed over your lifetime, that might contribute somehow to the alertness your work has toward class.

And I am sure that Black Adder had something to do with it as well.

How do you explain that? If I didn't have a personal connection to it?

I guess what led me off the scent was how the discussion seemed to rotate around the subject’s prettiness; that is, the feeling, initially, that if one really empathized with the subject, the subject would “disappear” insomuch as they became the sum of their actions; the body becoming a collection of shapes that lose context and become alien in the way of the word that loses meaning once it’s been stared at or repeated (thus, made essentially familiar or reclaimed).


Huh? So once true empathy is achieved a person becomes an object. Before empathy she is a gendered object. Is that the gist of it or am I not understanding?

Acquiring an eating disorder is their way of reclaiming their bodies.

I’m not sure I understand what you’re arguing here. That those afflicted with anorexia want to be pretty, but not desirable? Because you haven’t made that case yet.


That the precursors to the acquisition of eating disorders prove to me that "prettiness" is divorced from sexual attractiveness ("fuckability").

I don't know if you got the memo, but guys like to fuck chicks with tits.

I thought we were talking about what being pretty and being desirable mean for women? Whether or not they are the same impulse? What men want is a different question.


I'm probably not smart enough to sort out the logic of this. I would think that sexual attractiveness is always dictated by the opposite sex. Unless we're talking about lesibans, non? Then members of the same sex. The term "desirability" is perhaps a little too safe, but it certainly suggests some kind of social context.

Regardless though, most men do not find anorexic flat-chested women sexually attractive and yet that look remains an ideal of beauty for an unhealthy proportion of women.

Thanks for making things civil again, anyway.

O'JohnLandis said...

And then there's a time for destructive criticism.

Rachel has always seemed to be one of the smartest visitors here, and she's particularly good at pointing out the conceptual and technical weaknesses of the sort of thing that Alex's film is. Her Professor Sword +1 for Pedantry glimmers in this single-font arena. And Alex's film is, I guess, bad in a way that her films never are. Nevertheless, her films are much worse: the empty work of an amateur desperately afraid of being critiqued by someone like herself.

Afraid that your writing is limited? Don't write anything. Afraid that your camera skills are limited? Use a stationary camera. Afraid that your comic strip jokes won't be funny? Non sequitors can't possibly be wrong! ("I meant for it not to be funny in PRECISELY that way.")

I think it's really important to single out such a remarkable and fundamental lack of creativity. Alex, sincerely at one point, suggested an unspeakable and pretty funny way to describe her work:

And how instead of simply being self-indulgent and smarmy, you manage to make it about self-indulgence and smarminess.

Sign me up!

As far as the Alex-Rachel discussion goes, let's call it a draw. Every now and then, Alex argues himself into a cardboard box from a position of relative safety. But it's no great honor reading Rachel's explanation of shot selection in The Hanging Man either. Learn content, and the theory will work itself out.

By the way, of all the people who have--probably inappropriately--drawn attention to their own short films, theoldboy has BY FAR the most potential. Don't let anyone disparage Moustache Kid, especially for some bullshit reason like a lack of sincerity. It's sincerely funny, and yes, it moves. Make something else with a story--your own story--and I'd want to see it.

rachel said...

Imagine if you read my poetry!

claude le monde said...

OT, but alex, your comments re: the motivations behind and prospective rewards to be gained from eating disorders are so far off the mark as to be retarded. or are you secretly buck mcgowan?

Alex Jackson said...

From Wikipedia, taken from:

Nasser, Mervat. (1997). Culture and Weight Consciousness. p. 5

Interestingly, as women's empowerment has increased, so has the prevalence of eating disorders, since thinness has become a necessity for the modern woman, representing beauty, self-control, achievement and success.

Of course, you haven't done anything as far as refute any of my premises or establish what makes you an expert on the subject, just cutesy-poo ad hominem attacks.

So..., whatever sister.