“Hey, what’s with the food around here? A kid comes up to me in a white jacket, gives me a Ritz cracker, and uh, chopped liver, he says, ‘Canapes.’ I said, uh, ‘can of peas, my ass, that’s a Ritz cracker and chopped liver!’”
—- The Godfather Part 2
A week ago, Candy and I went to see the Godfather at The Alamo Drafthouse. This week is The Godfather Part II. Some people consider this to be a better movie than the first – it is one of those rare cases where the sequel is equal, if not superior to the original. Both won best picture Oscars – and every other accolade possible.
I was really looking forward to seeing it. Unlike Part 1 – which I saw in a theater in high school, I never saw the sequel on the big screen – I was in college by then and not able to get out to theaters because of time and money restraints. It would be years until I was able to see it on television – and it’s so long – it was impossible to carve out enough of a block to sit there uninterrupted. So I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the whole thing in one sitting – though I’ve watched it in bits more than once, all told.
It is hard to compare to the first movie. Even though it has the same people, more or less, it is structured quite differently. It covers a huge amount of time and space – much told through flashbacks – two separate stories, really. The whole Cuba deal is complicated – and has the aspect of international politics, big news stories, and revolution. In that section, and in the congressional hearings, it feels like the outside world has finally started to intrude on the Corleone empire… which I guess is the point.
So I do think the second is the more subtle, complex, and possibly better film, but it doesn’t have the epic personalities of the first.
John Cazale (who plays Fredo) passed away in 1978 and I saw a short doc about his short acting career. He was only in five feature films – but what a collection – Godfathers 1 and 2, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Five classic films. I think his performance of the tragic, flawed Fredo is a high point of the film.
Oh, and I didn’t realize that Harry Dean Stanton is in the film (a fairly small part). He is truly in every movie.
So, next week is the third. I’m excited because the Alamo is screening the re-edit of Godfather Part III – The Godfather Coda: The Death of Micheal Corleone. It is supposed to be a big improvement. We have our tickets… and the Alamo is such a great place to see a film.
“Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly… stupid.” ― Captain Jack Sparrow
I watch too many movies… or maybe I don’t watch enough movies. I watch too many shit movies… I guess I watch too many short, silly Youtube things and not enough full-length movies.
There are too many films streaming on the various film streaming things… what to choose. I am working on it.
I have started a DAILY NOTES notebook – attached a pen holder to it and placed a couple of useful fountain pens (a Kaweco Sport and my Pilot Capless) on the notebook.
Also, I found a Youtube channel, Flick Connections, the guy has current recommendations from the various genres and streaming channels. So I’m working my way through some of his offerings, sitting there with a pen and my DAILY NOTES notebook and writing down what he recommends that I haven’t seen (or saw so long ago I don’t remember) and may be interested in.
The first two are: 20 Stunning SCI-FI Movies to Watch on HBO Max This Weekend and 18 Fantastic ‘FUCKED UP’ Films to Watch FREE on Tubi Tonight!.
I typed up the list from my notebook, added brief comments from my scribbled notes (can’t vouch for the accuracy of these), and emailed it to Candy. I was surprised how many she had already seen.
Here’s the text of my email – for your education. Some (one at least) are already gone – but will Shirley pop up somewhere else (or maybe not, and please stop calling me Shirley). Yeah, I know, there are some on here that I should have seen already – so sue me. Or, better yet, send me your ideas and recommendations – put them in a comment.
The one film that I really want to see is the first one – the Ann Hathaway monster movie – Colossal.
So many movies (and even more books) and so little time.
* – movies I want to watch soon
—-HBO+ (Science fiction)
* Colossal – Ann Hathaway clever monster movie. Supposed to be really good.
FAQ About Time Travel – Silly British comedy – satire of science fiction
Birth – Reincarnation – not much SF – Art Film, slow Weird
Limitless – Bradley Cooper – PG13 crowd pleaser
—-Popular films you may have seen and I should have seen:
* Vanilla Sky I have seen the Spanish version, Abre los ojos, but I don’t think I’ve seen Vanilla Sky all the way through in one sitting.
* Ex Machina
—-Tubi (Fucked up films)
The Invitation – Thriller
* Goldstone – remote locations, Mystery
Wind River – neo noir mystery, by the director of Yellowstone * Cold in July – Slick, set in Texas * All the Money in the World – Ridley Scott
* Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Philip Seymour Hoffman Arizona – Danny McBride
Radius – low budget – Twilight Zone Like
Kill the Irishman – Mob Movie
Bone Tomahawk – Australian Western
Red Hill – Modern day Australian Western
* 68 Kill- Dark Comedy – lot of blood
The Chaser – South Korea – pimp thriller
Hunger – Michael Fassbender’s breakout role – Irish Prison – very disturbing
“You only live twice: Once when you are born And once when you look death in the face” ― Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice
This weekend I found myself, wonder of wonders, with a little bit of time on my hands and deciding I wanted some free (or at least already paid for), mindless entertainment – I watched the newest installment in the James Bond franchise, No Time to Die, currently streaming on Netflix.
It was… OK, I guess. I still haven’t fully recovered from the experience of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once – so any other cinema will be a pale imitation of art… but it kept me mostly entertained for a while. I did like seeing Felix Leiter, Bond’s faithful longtime CIA sidekick, get some cred, even if it ends badly for him.
But I began thinking about No Time to Die being the 25th James Bond film. You see the franchise, with Dr. No coming out in 1962, when I was five, roughly parallels my life – or at least as much of it as I can remember. James Bond was always there – rebooted, changed, evolved… but always a cultural touchstone of some kind – always reflecting the times, distorted, like a funhouse mirror.
I remember seeing my first Bond Film, From Russia With Love – probably in 1964. My parents were huge bond fans and a little of that rubbed off on me – I was excited to go. At that age I didn’t really remember everything – but some scenes stick with me. There’s an assassination with a guy climbing out through a billboard, of course Rosa Klebb and her poisoned shoe. Most of all is the fight with the giant Red Grand on the train.
As an adult I was shocked when I realized that actor is Robert Shaw, who decades later played the grizzled old captain Quint in Jaws.
Then I saw Thunderball (for some reason I missed Goldfinger when it came out) – which was special to a kid that age – underwater fighting!
On and on over the years. Did you ever see the original Casino Royale? The comedy spoof with David Niven and Peter Sellers? Check it out. Some good looking women (including a very young Jacqueline Bisset) and a Tijuana Brass theme song.
Over my whole life a Bond film would pop up every few years… some good, some not-so – most just mindless entertainment. The worst were the gimmicky silly ones, especially with Roger Moore – I never liked his Bond – which was a shame I liked him on TV as Simon Templar in The Saint.
I’ve read a handful of the Ian Fleming novels. Not exactly my cup of tea but Bond on the page is a very interesting character. Daniel Craig is the closest… Literary Bond is not a very nice person.
So now we’re here. What’s next? I’m sure there will be something – that’s too much money to be left on the table – I’m pretty sure the franchise will outlive me. That’s pretty weird, now that I think about it.
“The moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be.” ― Alain de Botton
Waiting on a workman to come by and cut up a downed tree – I wanted to rest a bit and take in a film – something streaming from the Criterion Collection. I decided to dive back into the Czech New Wave and chose what is often regarded as the last movie in that movement (It was released after the Soviets invaded the country and clamped down on artistic freedom and everything else) – Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.
The movie has been described as a fantasy film, as a horror film, as a coming-of-age film, as a vampire film, as a fairy tale, and as soft-core pornography. It is all that and… maybe… more.
What it is not is a linear consistent plot-driven film. It is a hallucination inside of a dream, jumping around, people change identities, die and come back to life. There are elements of lesbianism, incest, rape, reincarnation, magic, and eastern European folklore.
Valerie is a beautiful thirteen-year-old that comes of age (symbolized by drops of blood on blooming daisies) and is then thrown into a mystery of magical pearl earrings, a vampire grandmother, an evil presence that might be her father or her uncle or an anthropomorphic polecat. I guess what we are seeing is the symbolic introduction of the young girl to the mysterious world of adult sexuality – seen through a warped and horrific kaleidoscope.
It obviously is not a movie for everyone – but I’m not everyone and I liked it. It was a fun way to wile away a bit of time while waiting for something else to happen.
I saw in the news that Dean Stockwell had passed away. He had a long, varied, and successful career. When you look at his IMDB page, the top performances are listed: Quantum Leap, Married to the Mob, Paris Texas, and Dune (the 1984 version). I think of him as a very young actor or as a bizarre bad guy in Blue Velvet.
But I remember him from another really, really, odd role. He was the star of a 1970 Lovecraft-based C-movie The Dunwich Horror. I saw it as a teenager – it really made an impact on me. I wrote about the film in 2012 – and thought I’d revisit it here.
Sandra Dee and the Son of Cthulhu
For folks that are around my age, the most influential person in our upbringing and general outlook on this best of all possible worlds may be Samuel Z. Arkoff. Just looking at that name brings a flood of almost subliminal memories from my childhood. Arkoff was one of the founders of American International Pictures – the source of the flood of B-movie oddness that was the main warped window we had into the world at large.
American International Pictures made films for years based on the ARKOFF formula –
Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
Killing (a modicum of violence)
Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)
Which pretty much says it all.
When I look at a list of American International Releases from say, 1956 up to 1981… It looks like about 232 films – I am horrified by how many, well more than half, of them I have seen – and remember seeing. There were the horror films that I saw late at night on a tiny 12-inch b&w television after discovering the amazing new world of UHF television (more than three channels – wow!…Do you remember the little loop antennas?). There were the beach films. There were the Poe films (capped by The Conqueror Worm). Blacksploitation. Bad Science Fiction.
I lived on a lot of military bases growing up and they would show at least three different movies every week; I think it cost a quarter. One of the oddest experiences I had as an adult is when I realized they don’t play the Star Spangled Banner before every movie (Army brats will know what I’m talking about). American International Pictures schlock…. Most of those would wind their way around the bases sometime.
Now they are on Netflix Streaming… though I wouldn’t advise wasting too much of your time.
But I noticed one film that had really left its mark and I wanted to re-watch it (although I knew it wasn’t a very good film) to see if my memory served me well. This was The Dunwich Horror.
It came out in 1970, so I may have seen it at a theater in Panama, but probably saw it in Managua. We would get three films a week on 16mm there and would show them at the Embassy, the Marine Compound, or our house.
It’s pretty standard Arkoff horror fare – let’s see how it stands up to the ARKOFF formula:
Actionthem til they’re dizzy. Don’t stop. It must be in your screenplay and in your director’s head. Employ only film editors who are as movement-crazy as you are. Kid’s love action…and they”ll go back…and will tell their peers, inferiors, and superiors what’s good.
-The Dunwich Horror definitely has action – though it doesn’t always make sense. Well, actually, it starts a little slow, but does build to a frenzy of monstrous murders with the traditional villagers pursuing and being pursued by an unseen fiend.
Revolutionaryscenes get talked of. Use some new photographic devices…editing techniques…locales…smells…stunts or something. Make ’em so the sheer experience of seeing them is unique. New language, new juxtapositions, new shocks, new relationships, new attire, new oncepts…new, new, new. Revolve situations, relationships, hell, even the camera if it will get your movie talked about.
-Although it came out in 1970 – it is full of (now dated) 60’s psychedelic effects – grating electronic music/noise and solarized stylized colorized fisheye scenes of naked actors in bodypaint making grotesque faces at the camera… the usual stuff. Now it’s silly… it was sort of silly back then… but it was unique enough to leave an unpleasant memory then on a kid watching it – enough for me to remember it to this day.
Killcolorfully and often. Young audiences… like to experience death. Vicariously, of course. But then all storytelling is experiencing something that happens to someone else and you come out alive.
You should be sure to kill and do so in bizarre ways so your audience will get their money’s worth, and so they will tell others…Without death or the glamourous threats of it, I would never have been able to make the highest grossing independently-produced, independently-released film of all time, The Amityville Horror.
-Plenty of death. Again, some of it is diluted by the cheap and garish sixties effects – but still there.
Orate!Tell the world about your picture! Talk about it but more important…get people talking about it. Best way is through publicity. As my old buddy Jack Warner used to say, “The movie good enough to sell itself has not yet been produced!”
-I guess this is more concerned with publicity, which I can’t speak for. The characters do like to orate within the film, of course…
Fantasyis what audiences spend money for. Give them fantastic adventures. Entertain them by rushing them into worlds you dreamed up for them. Avoid the prosaic and commonplace. When they’re in those fantastic environments, keep everything moving ultra-fast. Action will help suspend disbelief.
-There was the fantastic element that I didn’t know anything about when I first saw the film – Lovecraft. The movie is adapted from one of his short stories. I didn’t read any H.P. Lovecraft until I was in college – they had these cheap paperbacks at the bookstore with lurid covers.
I would read a story from one of the collections and think, “no big deal,” and then try to go to sleep. It is only in the half-world between waking and somnolence that the true horror of the tales would emerge. I was hooked and am still a fan.
The Dunwich Horror of the film only bears a passing resemblance to Lovecraft’s tale, but it features more than a few touchstones of his fiction: Arkham, Miskatonic University, Yog-Sothoth, The Necrominicon, and the strong hint that the protagonist and his twin brother are actually children of Cthulhu.
Fornicatingis the answer to an exhibitor’s dreams. You can’t get an ingredient in most movies that draws better than sex. Of course, you have to use it wisely…You gotta have taste. Foreplay is as important in dramaturgy as in bed. But avoid too much visual sex. It is embarassing and if it goes on too long it puts audiences to sleep. Arouse but don’t offend!
-Ah… here it is. This is what etched The Dunwich Horror into young minds. It stars Sandra Dee, for God’s sake… Gidget. She was the symbol of the innocent, wholesome teenager – so much so that she is now known mostly as the subject of ridicule in a song from “Grease.”
The Dunwich Horror, for all its Lovecraftian touchstones, is really the story of the sexual corruption of Sandra Dee. She starts out as a prim and proper university librarian that trusts an odd but handsome stranger too much, offers him a ride home, and falls under his evil spell. Before she knows what’s going on she’s up on writhing around on an altar in an unforgettable skimpy costume as the centerpiece of a ritual to bring a monstrous race of ancient horrors back to life.
At the very end, even after the sudden, inexplicable, defeat of the evil brothers, it is shown that now she is pregnant with Cthulhu’s grandson… the horror continues.
There is nothing explicit here – a modern film would not even bother with this sort of silliness. That’s sort of a shame – the schlock masters knew what they were doing, how powerful on a subliminal level the image of once innocent Sandra Dee writhing on that altar would be. Nothing much is shown, everything is implied, the imagination fills in the blanks so powerfully.
I’ve rambled on too long about a second-rate B movie that’s almost a half-century old and deservedly mostly forgotten. But these are the memories that we live with every day – some are so deep we don’t even know they are there.
Why are there 5,280 feet in a mile, and why are nautical miles different from the statute miles we use on land? Why do we buy milk and gasoline by the gallon? Where does the abbreviation “lb” come from? Let’s take a look at the origins of a few units of measure we use every day.
Is there anything that politics can’t ruin? The answer, it appears, is a resounding “no” as partisan conflict creeps into all areas of American life. Our political affiliations, researchers say, obstruct friendships, influence our purchases, affect the positions we take on seemingly apolitical matters, and limit our job choices. As a result, many people are poorer, lonelier, and less healthy than they would otherwise be.
Ford pumped out a lot of cars in the early 1900s, and by the ’60s there were so many vehicles on US roads that traffic engineers decided to add more lanes. Unfortunately, they were a bit overzealous, and many roads were expanded even when there was really no need. That left the country with a lot of overbuilt and unsafe roads that persist to this day.
‘Big Fan,’ Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt’s ode to a sad New York Giants fan from Staten Island, is the best sports movie that’s not about sports ever made
I went ahead and watched this movie streaming on something or other. It was very good. I wouldn’t say it was completely pleasant – but it does make you feel something for a character that you wouldn’t usually give a shit about. And that’s something.
From Homer Simpson to Phil Dunphy, sitcom dads have long been known for being bumbling and inept.
But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, sitcom dads tended to be serious, calm and wise, if a bit detached. In a shift that media scholars have documented, only in later decades did fathers start to become foolish and incompetent.
In 1974, Roger Penrose, a British mathematician, created a revolutionary set of tiles that could be used to cover an infinite plane in a pattern that never repeats. In 1982, Daniel Shechtman, an Israeli crystallographer, discovered a metallic alloy whose atoms were organized unlike anything ever observed in materials science. Penrose garnered public renown on a scale rarely seen in mathematics. Shechtman won the Nobel Prize. Both scientists defied human intuition and changed our basic understanding of nature’s design, revealing how infinite variation could emerge within a highly ordered environment.
I have always been fascinated by Penrose Tiles. I think they look soo cool. I dreamed once of buying a small ceramic manufacturing facility and actually selling colorful Penrose tiles (darts and kites) so you could cover your patio with a non-repeating pattern. Some dreams are better off unrealized.
As someone who grew up 30 minutes outside the city, I never thought wild game would inhabit any part of the Five Boroughs. Seeing deer, coyotes, ducks, and other kinds of critters was common here in the wilderness areas and waters near my home in Long Island, but on the streets of New York? Our city centers continue to expand with development and urban sprawl, which means human infringement on animal habitat continues. So it’s not surprising that humans are encountering these animals within city limits more and more.
I live on a creek lot – there is a slightly wooded creek behind my house. It isn’t really a creek – it’s more like a ditch running down from the flood control ponds at the end of my block – but there is a jogging trail and no houses on the other side of my alley. I also don’t have the typical Texas tall wooden privacy fence – so you can see into the slightly wooded ditch from my back porch. If you go out at dawn you can sit there, sip your coffee and watch the coyotes running along the strip. I’ve read that they tend to live in the clumps of trees on the golf course a couple miles downstream. They come up at night for a duck dinner. So there’s coyotes, and ducks, and geese… and I’ve seen an occasional beaver (new trees have to be protected by wire mesh or the beavers will gnaw them down) back there too. Now that I think about it – owls and opossums and rats… (I’m not sure it those last two count as wild) are common. Plus we’re starting to hear more and more reports of bobcats.
[voiceover] One fine day… I went out with an old man. He’s studied noodles for 40 years. He was showing me the right way to eat them.
Student of ramen eating:
Master… soup first or noodles first?
First, observe the whole bowl.
Student of ramen eating:
Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glittering on the surface. Shinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. Spring onions floating. Concentrate on the three pork slices. They play the key role, but stay modestly hidden. First caress the surface with the chopstick tips.
Student of ramen eating:
To express affection.
Student of ramen eating:
Then poke the pork.
Student of ramen eating:
Eat the pork first?
No. Just touch it. Caress it with the chopstick tips. Gently pick it up and dip it into the soup on the right of the bowl. What’s important here is to apologize to the pork by saying “see you soon.” Finally, start eating-the noodles first. Oh, at this time, while slurping the noodles, look at the pork.
Student of ramen eating:
Eye it affectionately.
Student of ramen eating:
[voiceover] The old man bit some shinachiku root and chewed it awhile. Then he took some noodles. Still chewing noodles, he took some more shinachiku. Then he sipped some soup. Three times. He sat up, sighed, picked up one slice of pork-as if making a major decision in life-and lightly tapped it on the side of the bowl.
Student of ramen eating:
To drain it. That’s all.
A few months ago I treated myself to a new membership to The Criterion Channel – a streaming channel filled with classic, foreign, and unusual films. I used to rent videos from The Criterion Collection – back in the ancient days when movies came on little plastic disks or on long ribbons of tape – and this is even better.
And in these old days and the even older days before that… we forget how hard it was to find anything odd, unique, or rare that you wanted to watch. For most of my life I would read about works of moving picture art that I ached to watch but didn’t have a chance to.
In college I would sneak into film classes when they were screening classic films. Then when I moved to Dallas in the early 1980’s I purposefully lived in back of a repertory film venue (The Granada – now an excellent music venue) which would show two different films every night – with a “bigger” feature showing over the weekends. The day at the end of each month where the poster with next month’s showings would appear was an important event to me. I’d hang up the poster and circle the films I wanted to attend.
Then along came VHS tapes and DVDs and Blu-Rays and I searched for the more avant-guard rental shops. I would drive across town on a quest for some obscure foreign film that I had read about.
There was a Japanese film from 1985 that I wanted to see and had a hell of a time finding. It was called Tampopo and was touted as a “Ramen Western.” Finally, someone copied a disk and sent it to me. It was a lousy copy but I absolutely loved the film. The main plot, such as it is, involves a John Wayne-like truck driver and a motley group assisting a women in revitalizing her Ramen shop and in the process, making the perfect bowl of noodle soup. It is odd, revolutionary, and very funny. It is also sexy and exciting and, best of all, a classic example of food porn. Literally, food porn.
And now, there is a 2016 4K restoration from The Criterion Collection that has now showed up on the streaming channel. I was able to carve out a few minutes and sit down and watch the thing.
It was even better than I remembered. I’m not sure how, but I had forgotten how unusual the structure of the film was. It will go off and follow the story of someone that walks by the main characters on the street (although that side story is usually wrapped back in later on). There is the story of the gangster in white and his girlfriend with their food-oriented sex life which involves live prawns and cognac and other things. They have a unique and amazing way to eat a raw egg yolk.
It’s not fair for me to recommend Tampopo – if you don’t have the Criterion Channel (there is a 14 day free trial) it’s still pretty hard to find. But if it happens to come by your way, don’t miss it.
“But how can I put a name to what it is that I want? How am I to know that I really don’t want what I want, or that I really don’t want what I don’t want? These are intangibles that the moment you name them their meaning evaporates like jellyfish in the sun.”
― Andrei Tarkovsky, Stalker: un film de Andreï Tarkovski
Broken Concrete and Rebar, Dallas, Texas
I took a day of PTO today (I am still working, I am essential) to try and heal my knee which I hurt in a fall outside my shower on Sunday. Someone reminded me of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (Would like to try RICED – with the addition of Drugs… but no luck there) and that sounded good for me. I made a spot where I could stretch out with a flexible ice pack on my knee. To kill the time I watched a movie on my laptop which I had seen over three decades ago – Stalkerby Andre Tarkovsky.
Tarkovsky is, as I’m sure you know, an unmitigated genius – a master of idiosyncratic film making. I’m glad I saw the film again – I noticed a lot that I missed the first time.
One aspect is the Russian technique of adding very deep philosophical soliloquies spouted by characters in the story – the plot becomes a scaffold to present these musings on faith, desire, and humanity. It is like Dostoevsky or Tolstoy where dramatic action illustrates deeper issues.
Here’s an example – the long monologue by the character known only as Writer after he narrowly escaped death in the room of dunes (you’ll have to click through and watch it on YouTube).
Look at this closely… who is he talking to?
And, like all of Tarkovsky’s films… what images! I hadn’t noticed (or remembered) the Wizard of Oz trick of having the day to day life in black and white (or at least de-saturated sepia tones) and only have the full luscious color spring out in the Zone itself (when you see the film note carefully what other subject is shown in color). The burning rocks on the shore. The room of dunes. The dust devils on the dried up undulating swamp (apparently this scene and others involved carcinogenic chemical wastelands that may have eventually led to the death of the director and others involved in the film). The catalog of items in the long shot through the shallow water. The stalactite festooned tunnel of horror, the meat grinder. The way he films faces….
It is a feast for the eyes as well as the brain.
Let everything that’s been planned come true. Let them believe. And let them have a laugh at their passions. Because what they call passion actually is not some emotional energy, but just the friction between their souls and the outside world. And most important, let them believe in themselves. Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.
For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.
As you gather the materials of writing, be careful about drawing on television and movies. When you rely too heavily on mass media, whose messages are available to almost everybody on the planet, it may be hard to write a story that will strike readers as fresh or original or worht their time. It’s the difference between fresh and stale air.
In the writing classes I have taken, it is surprising how often, when discussing plot and character, we would discuss films rather than literature. It’s simply where the shared experience lies. Everyone has seen Star Wars – but only a rare few have read Mill on the Floss.
So much the shame.
I’ve found that when I’m trying to get some writing done, the absolute worst thing is to turn on the TV. If I do that, no matter what I watch, I’m not going to be creating anything for a long time. When I was young, we called it the idiot tube. Well, at least the tube part is gone.
Maybe this could give me a kick in the pants… I was there.
I bought my ticket online and discovered the film was showing at 10:45 PM on a Sunday at the Angelika as part of a collection of five odd works in a “Late Night Shorts” exhibition.
I showed up at the festival box office with my receipt in plenty of time and talked with the people behind the counter.
“I’m looking forward to this, I have always liked short films, but it’s hard to see them now,” I said.
“Back in the day,” I said, showing my age, “When HBO first came out, they would show short films between the feature movies. Sometimes I would enjoy the shorts more that the full-length fare.”
“You know, they have a Short Film Channel on cable now,” one of the guys said.
“Yeah, I saw that once tuning around. But it isn’t in our package. I’d probably have to pay for the volleyball channel or something like that to get it.”
“What’s wrong with volleyball?” asked one girl working there. She obviously didn’t get the point.
After waiting around, I traipsed upstairs to wait in line. I was one of only a couple folks that had a ticket, everyone else had a big film festival badge draped around their neck. It was a film nerd-fest. One guy beside me in line was espousing on the subject of proper punk attire – criticizing one guy with a leather jacket and bright red Mohawk because he, “was trying too hard.”
“How can you be showing off your uniqueness when you are wearing something that has become, in essence, a carefully regulated uniform. I’ve seen that exact jacket a half dozen times.”
He had a point.
The conversation then turned to rude animation. To illustrate his point, “I don’t know how they were ever able to get this stuff on the air,” he showed everyone a particularly obscene clip from Ren & Stimpy that he happened to have saved onto his phone.
For educational purposes only – this was the clip. NSFW – Not safe for anything… really. You were forewarned.
At this point, the doors opened and we went in. The films we saw were:
USA, 2013, 14 min., Color
Director: Ethan Shaftel
When his cybernetic pet project is put in jeopardy, the handyman of a decaying apartment building is forced to take a stand, blurring the lines between human and machine.
USA, 2013, 19 min., Color
Director: Renny Maslow
Two friends pedal across a post-apocalyptic landscape on a tandem beach cruiser and face the question: when oil runs out, where exactly is the line that society can cross before it ceases to be a society at all?
Beasts in the Real World
Canada, 2013, 8 min., Color
Director: Sol Friedman
An experimental mixed-media short exploring the tenuous connections between a naturalist, a rare land-mammal, some ghosts and a pair of sushi chefs.
USA, 2014, 14 min., B/W
Director: Frances Bodomo
On 16 July 1969, America prepares to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of miles away, the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon. Inspired by true events.
USA, 2013, 15 min., Color
Director: Jean Pesce
A dark comedy about a lonely waitress who is in love with her pen pal — the convicted murderer, Charles Lamb.
Flesh Computer was really good – probably the best of the lot. It successfully tread the fine line between weirdness and a comprehensive plot with characters you cared about. Fantastic use of special effects.
Effed! Was a fun romp through a dystopian future with some surprisingly recognizable actors. Especially notable was the ultimate bad-ass road warrior vehicle – a solar powered Segway carrying a helmeted rider armed with a baseball bat.
Beasts in the Real World was my least favorite. It had a good premise – some laughing hipsters place a small camera on the conveyor belt of a fast food sushi restaurant. The entertainment comes from the camera as it winds around and ends up back in the kitchen. There are a couple amazing scenes, but the story falls a little flat – especially when the most compelling character is a blobfish about to be sliced.
Afronauts was the most serious of the selections. A stylized look at the Zambian astronauts. An unforgettable vision, especially the mesmerizing Diandra Forrest as the young pilot, Matha. The drama is played out as the Apollo eleven landing bursts from a transistor radio. What happens? I’m not sure. But it is haunting.
Finally a hilarious, scary, and ultimately uplifting portrait of a woman infatuated with a jailed serial killer, Mr. Lamb. This was especially enjoyable because the director, Jean Pesce, was in attendance and enthusiastically answered questions about New York theater actors, heavy cameras, and shooting in extreme cold.
Then it was time to bundle my way home and get some sleep so I could show up at work early the next morning.
I’m not sure if I found any inspiration for my story but I did have a good time. Maybe next year I’ll buy a pass, take some time off work, and see a whole boatload of movies.
I don’t get to the theater as much as I would like any more.
Now, of course, I realize that I can find more short films that I could ever possibly watch on the internet. Even beyond youtube and vimeo – past hulu and netflix – there are sites and sites dedicated to collections of them, from the prosaic to the sublime.