These images are in no particular order and not meant to be exhaustive, but just things that catch the eye and stir the heart.
(PS. If there's an image of yours here, and you want me to take it down, just email me. Thanks!)
Third Girl is a book by Agatha Christie. The above painting is by Wen Tao @wen.t.tao
Thank you David Berman.
I’m starting to think about the next projects, and I want one of them to be unnatural. Strawberry Shake is intimate, natural, minimal. And I learned so much about that type of storytelling and that type of world on film. And now I am curious to revisit stylization in some capacity (I say revisit, because when I first learned filmmaking, I was drawn towards stylization— handmade costumes, slightly unnatural acting and gestures, a lot of art design. I think I was going for both intimacy and a wink at the audience— though I’d have to think about precisely why, I bet that rationale was half-formed). I’m not sure where this line of thought will lead, or even if it will definitely come to fruition, but besides the terror of being between projects there is also the joy of total freedom and total possibility that always exists between things— projects, jobs, cities, relationships. There were many inspirations for Strawberry Shake, but one of them was definitely wanting to create something tender that lived in the world as a reaction against the current actual world which is so aggressive, so close-minded, and so screwed. How does, how can, stylization work, in general, and specifically at a political time such as this? I’m not sure. But I’m excited to watch and rewatch things and think about it. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Exhibit A, Nicholas Cage. This morning I stumbled upon an amazing interview with him that is in the New York Times today. Fun and thought-provoking, and oh— he loves Rhode Island? Say no more. I do love well-made darkness/horror, but I’ve been kind of terrified to watch his recent film Mandy. But I might need to start there, then backtrack.
photo of Yalitza Aparicio by Natalia Mantini
Today I saw a double feature of Shoplifters at Lincoln Center and Roma at IFC. Both are wonderful, both made me cry. But Roma (image above) really blew me away. So happy I did not watch it on Netflix, but watched it on the big screen. Feeling pretty dreamy from it.
I used to read compulsively as a kid. Many of my childhood memories involve being with my Mom running errands (I was her youngest) and just dropping down, on the floor say, in the middle of a store, to read. When I was in grade school I was crazy for Agatha Christie. One of the characters in one of her books was an older English woman with a goiter on her neck that she had to hide with a fat strand of pearls. I remember not knowing what a goiter was (I still don’t really) and having to look it up in the dictionary.
For many years, my love of film, and the time I spend watching and making films, have eclipsed my fiction reading habit. That wasn’t my intention, but there is never enough time in the day, right? Deep in my brain, I’ve wanted to do more fiction reading for years, but never resolved to change, because I knew I wouldn’t/couldn’t.
Somehow this past winter, even though I was arguably busier last semester than in years, I decided to read more fiction. I’m going to swap out all the mindless internet surfing I do. I’m not aiming for perfection— there is a lousy part of me that will always want to know what everyone wore to the Golden Globes. But I’ve already cut way down on that crap, and I have been reading more at night.
My first book as part of this new habit is “My Name is Lucy Barton.” Fittingly, my Mother gave it to me. She thought of it because she said I needed something good to read, but not hard to read, as I am generally tired at the end of the day. She was right- I really like this book. It’s perfect for bedtime as it’s lovely and resonant but not difficult or intimidating. I’m only about half or 2/3 of the way through it. So I guess the book could still take some wild dive and I’ll have to come back on here and alter this. But there’s something about the style of the prose that I personally relate to. Which I don’t find that frequently. I like a fair number of writing styles, but what I mean is, there’s something about this writing and structure that seems to mirror the way my own brain works. As I’m reading I’m just noticing that intuitively, but once I finish, I’m going to go back and take a more objective look at it and see if there’s any secrets in here that I can share. Thanks Mom.
It’s been a long time since I wrote here… and maybe the battle of shooting the film over the summer and then starting the edit this fall would have been nice to share but it was pretty intense and I didn’t really have any words for it at the time. Now we’re editing and it’s easier to communicate, though still a bit tentative. The other day I was talking to some of my students at Pratt and thinking about the fact that scriptwriting is writing, then directing is writing, and then editing is writing— all the choices that are made in the film process are a type of writing or clarifying of intent and therefore none of it really makes that much sense until the end of the process (until sharing it with people and hearing their thoughts on it). And at the same time, we are in the habit in the narrative filmmaking world of expecting people to announce all their intentions full-blown at the head. And I understand that some of that is necessary for collaboration and fundraising etc. But what makes filmmaking so special to me, anyway, is that it’s an unfolding mystery. Right now I’m thinking about color correction. The above stills are from Kurt Vile’s music video for ‘Bassackwards.’ It’s a lovely song and the faded beach images in the video fit the song perfectly. The song is nostalgic without being simple. And the faded images have me thinking about our collective understanding that the faded look equals the past, specifically in this video, the faded 8mm past of the 70s. I remember at one point saying that I wanted ‘Strawberry Shake’ to feel like a memory. And Allison asked ‘How will you do that?’ And there’s different ways of doing that… specifically we could’ve shot the film in a different manner than we did. And also an obvious way might be to color the images in a certain faded way. But I somehow don’t feel that that’s correct for this film, though I can’t quite put into words why, so I’m trying to here. I do in fact like this faded look sometimes— like in the Kurt Vile video. But I think the look works best in music videos or experimental videos where there is a very high degree of space in your own brain that you are occupying while you are watching. None of the people are talking in the Kurt Vile video— they aren’t in real scenes. They are edited together in a montage of fragments, glances, car rides, laughter, dog fur, and waves. In some ways the world evoked is specific but in many ways it’s not— it’s also idealized and imaginary (e.g. who wouldn’t want to live in these images instead of the real world? Lots of friendship and warmth vs. what’s going on for real right now). And so in ‘Strawberry Shake’ if I colored the images that much I think it would make me feel like I was aestheticizing scenes that I currently like because they are vulnerable and raw and messy. It’s not that the film aspires to being purely real (or that film is ever real). But I think it feels more appropriate in this film to try to achieve an evocative quality through sound, a little bit of music, and editing/pacing, rather than through the color correction which is so frontal. I do want the color correction to have a bit of flair… but I think maybe it will work better to do it through the lovely natural blown out windows that Diana created, and through just honoring the palette that Kia created. Okay yeah… I think I understand this a little better… I will report more soon!
I'm going to be spending the next few months working on "Strawberry Shake," so I won't post much here-- but I'm taking the above image from Carol Rama into battle with me!!
BAM is doing a retrospective of the great Lynne Ramsay from April 2 - April 5... I found out about this late and missed getting tickets to LR's new movie 'You Were Never Really Here.' BUT, I did get tickets to see Movern Callar (image above) and her short films, and I can't explain how excited I am to see these films on the big screen! Most films, truthfully, I feel it's fine to see them on my relatively small TV. Of course, it's always just more fun to go out to the movies. Besides the big screen and surround sound, I'm interested in the mood of the other moviegoers, and I like looking over the concession stand selections, even if I rarely buy anything. But still, with most movies I don't feel it's a crime to see them at home on my TV. I feel I'm getting the gist. But not with Lynne Ramsay. Her films are so stunning, so emotionally raw, and so striking in their visual-aural-rhythmic combinations that seeing Morvern Callar at BAM in a proper movie theater is going to be a mindblower compared to watching it on my 26 inch wide TV with the rather lifeless sound. I invited my boyfriend to Morvern Callar (which he's never seen), but I told him he has to zip it if he doesn't like it, because to me it's perfect.
"Marlene Dumas is interested in emotions that are often represented in cinema but rarely in contemporary painting. In For Whom the Bell Tolls she used an image of Ingrid Bergman from the film of the same name to convey the experience of sorrow and mourning, through a variety of experimental painting techniques."
from the Tate's website re: the Marlene Dumas retrospective in 2015
Thanks to Mike Ryan for recommending this book to me. I got a lot out of it! It's about fiction, but it applies so well to fictional cinema. Not sure if I feel that way because I started out as a fiction writer or if everybody would feel that way- regardless the book is really smart and thought-provoking without being too dense for casual reading.
The inspiration today is maybe the above dress, or maybe just the idea of memory, and how powerful it is. I made the dress with Betsy McDonald in Providence, RI in 1993 for the short movie "Lucy Jane." "Lucy Jane" was a collaboration between Betsy and I, and the first movie I ever tried to make. I had NO IDEA how to make a movie-- but that didn't deter me. At that time, it didn't deter us that we didn't know how to make a movie, play guitar, etc. We made things with our friends, we had fun making them, and they weren't for sale. The dress was worn by my sister Sue... in the scene that Sue wears this dress, she bumps into her dead best friend, whose name is Lucy Jane. We never finished this movie (of course). For years I regretted that. But now I just see it as a natural part of things. Still though, whenever I am reminded of "Lucy Jane" or see an image from it I get a very particular kind of feeling. Not just nostalgic-- but hopeful. And today randomly coming into contact with this image on the web makes me feel hopeful in a way I need.
The great Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel came to the Pratt Film Department tonight. She is really brilliant, and humble, and it was REALLY inspiring to listen to her speak. Please see her films if you haven't!
Paintings by Grace Metzler
photo of Bill Murray by Bruce Glikas
Today Bill Murray's in the papers because last night he attended a performance of the "Groundhog Day" musical on Broadway and was weeping by the end. "The idea that we just have to try again," he explained. "We just have to try again. It's such a beautiful, powerful idea." Coincidentally, I've been looking at Lost in Translation again lately... particularly the cinematography. But there is no way not to be romanced by Bill Murray while watching that movie. The karaoke scene alone fills you with enough faith for a year.
photo by Lee Friedlander
photo by Sally Mann
photo by Vivian Maier
I've spent the past month in Rhode Island on a break from Pratt. Got a lot done on my new movie "Strawberry Shake." Thanks to the RISD Library for hosting my research-- the images above are some of the ones I found that are helping me start the visualizing process.
I'm not a huge Hitchcock fan- at least compared to some. Yes, there are amazing scenes in many of his movies, and yes some of them really get my heart racing. But besides the movies' obvious female trouble, I also love deep characters and imperfectness, so as much as I respect Hitchcock's place in film history and admire his talent, he's not one of my specific inspirations usually. But lately I've been rewatching some of his films and studying his use of the camera and it's really fun and eye-opening. Last night I watched Vertigo-- if you haven't seen it lately, just watch the opening film credit sequence alone-- AMAZING. Tonight I watched Psycho, and I'm thinking about Hitchcock's use of the point of view shot. At the beginning of the movie, he used it incredibly frequently with Marion, to show her POV. The interesting thing was what happened after Marion is murdered in the shower by "Norman's mother." There's a really long sequence where Norman finds Marion dead and is cleaning up the motel room, wrapping Marion's dead body in the shower curtain, dragging the body out to Marion's car, etc. And the POV shot is not used at all during this sequence, even though you think it might be-- for example, to get inside Norman's head as he looks at Marion's dead body and tries to clean up this terrible scene. But finally, at the very tail end of the scene, Hitchcock uses it once: he shows a close-up of Norman's face and then cuts to a POV shot of Marion's car as it sinks slowly into the swamp on the Bates Motel property. So Hitchcock doesn't choose to use the POV shot when Norman is feeling anxious and remorseful as he cleans up the room... he chooses to use it once Norman realizes he has successfully cleaned up the crime, the hint of a malevolent smile on his face as the car sinks into the dark bubbling swamp. Interesting, right?
I think the ending of 'Fat Girl' (director Catherine Breillat) is the biggest punch in the face ending I've ever seen in a movie in my life. There must be another movie I'm forgetting that is in this category of surprise endings... but the pure emotional power of this ending was really visceral. At first I was furious and thought it ridiculous and manipulative (and I would've also thought it darkly funny if I hadn't been so mad). But I've since calmed down, and even though I still think the ending's ridiculous and manipulative, I am not unhappy the movie ended this way because it gives me a lot to think about. The first 95% of the movie is really what I'm interested in though, and I'll go back and watch it a second time.
Paintings by Vera Iliatova, currently up at Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
Painting by Bato Dugarzhapov, seen at Context New York art fair.
Not sure if this is right, but when my eyes hit this painting, I thought it could be the color palette for my new short film "Strawberry Shake."
Werner Herzog was at Pratt the past 2 days for a visit-- it was beyond inspirational, like the shove in the dark I have been needing. I've always been a big fan but have not kept up with all his recent documentaries and haven't seen the older films (which I adore) for a while. Going to go back and watch all my favorites, basically all the films before 1980. He is extremely funny and the way he uses words is so poetic. "You won't learn about the heart of man on the internet," he told the students. It was touching to see him engaging them.
Loved Moonlight a ton (and cried through a lot of it), and so pumped for this team that they won the Oscar for Best Picture!
Driving into work today, I heard the song Sunday Morning Coming Down sung by Johnny Cash. It was written by Kris Kristofferson, and I love the lyrics, but I love Johnny's performance of it ("And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert.") There's something about how light and easy the music/vibe is compared with how dark and complex the lyrics are that is really surprising. It takes a person a minute to realize it's not just a jaunty country song, and then when you do realize it, you're in deep.
power to the people (from Women's March in DC)
Today I finally made it to the Pipilotti Rist exhibit at the New Museum. The show's about to close and it was really crowded, so in true New York style, it was a little like going to a trance show in the middle of Times Square. I wish I'd had a longer more concentrated time with each piece. But what I saw/heard I really enjoyed. Maybe it's just in contrast to the current political landscape, but there was something so optimistic and soothing about it all. I was especially inspired by her latest work, a fragment of which is pictured above. Videos projected on multiple silk pieces hanging from the ceiling created a 3-D experience and seemed to mirror the fragmented, layered way the brain makes sense of experience.
Still above from the movie Other People. I just finished it and just stopped crying so I need to tell you upfront that it is sad. But it's also amazing, and funny, and one of the most spot-on emotional journeys that I've gone on in quite a while in a movie. There isn't a false moment in this whole movie. Big respect to the writer/director Chris Kelly. Jesse Plemons, my crush from Friday Night Lights, is amazing, and Molly Shannon is amazing. But you will cry. Just warning you.
Photo credits Amanda Field IG: @theamandafield url: www.amandafield.com
The 3 above photos were taken by my friend Amanda Field- I love them so much! Something about them is reminding me of my new short film idea, something about them feels like an emotional cousin, even if my film's photographic style ends up being something very different than these. Making a film is like solving a mystery... you start off with just buried instincts and you unearth them. In the end, it's still mysterious, but more spoken.
This color pink is really killing me lately. How to infuse a mostly natural movie (in terms of plot, approach) with this kind of sensory intensity?
photo of Hospitality by Kyle Dean Reinford
Today I was flying home from Kansas City. I visited my friend Lyn Elliot there and played with her adorable son and we talked about filmmaking a fair bit. The plane ride was bumpy, but pleasant- I'd had fun but it was Sunday and I was glad to be going home. I listened to some music-- particularly the band Hospitality over and over. I don't know what it was- but there was something about the bumpy ride and the glow of the visit and the sound of the music that was really inspiring and I made a big leap forward on the new short film I'm working on (live action). Thanks Lyn! Thanks Hospitality! Thanks sky!
illustration by Allegra Lockstadt
illustration by Allegra Lockstadt
I really like these illustrations by artist/designer Allegra Lockstadt and often think about the fact that one thing 2-d visual art (drawings, collage, paintings, illustration) does really well and really easily is strongly suggest emotional states or situations without limiting them or narrowing them down- which leaves a lot of room for the viewer to both feel the image instinctively rather than having to analyze it rationally, and also leaves a lot of room for the viewer to make their own narrative sense of the image. Like the girl in the top illustration-- you can get a sense of what she's feeling from the colors, the mark-making, and the design and you can guess at a potential context-- but it's much less strict than a photographic image. There are ways in filmmaking to engender this same level of ambiguity, complexity, and suggestion, but the ways are really different than in visual art, and less obvious I think-- because the photographic image- at least in a narrative film- is by definition concrete, ie. made up of real people and objects in one particular setting at one particular time. Film techniques like shallow depth of field in cinematography are perhaps the first things people think of along these lines, but I want to figure out some more personal, less obvious ways. I'm excited to think about this a lot in November and try to come up with my own personal brew of "suggestive techniques" (in relation to my next short film).
Mira from White Magic. Always love sleepless girls and girls in long white dresses or nightgowns. Also love the 2D cartoon trees on the photographic background.
White Magic again, just love this aesthetic.
Photo by artist Helen Reed
Writer Lucia Berlin. Thanks Leigh Davis for the recommendation.
A whistle from when composer Ryder McNair and I were trying out ideas for my short film Pow Pow Pow, found today while cleaning out my computer. I love it so. In the end this particular piece wasn't used in the film, not because it's not beautiful, but because of some subtle tonal thing in relationship to the image at that moment. I have been lucky to work with some really great composers/musicians (Ryder, Dean Parker, Will Oldham) and I still think that movie music is amongst the hardest elements of a narrative movie. In other areas of directing you might be able to say, "yes, the character's bedroom is decorated in pink," and be really exact with, for example, a color. But music is so emotional and complex and mysterious that it's hard to talk about it like that. Still with game composers it's such an amazing, fun, deep, rewarding- if difficult- process.