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Archive for the ‘film’ Category

I’m rereading Chaim Potok’s excellent novel My Name is Asher Lev right now, and last night I stayed up way too late reading. These two passages really caught my attention and merit putting somewhere that I’ll be able to find again.

He said to me one day in the second week of July, “Asher Lev, there are two ways of painting the world. In the whole history of art, there are only these two ways. One is the way of Greece and Africa, which sees the world as a geometric design. The other is the way of Persia and India and China, which sees the world as a flower. Ingres, Cézanne, Picasso paint the world as geometry. Van Gogh, Renoir, Kandinsky, Chagall paint the world as a flower. I am a geometrician. I sculpt cylinders, cubes, triangles, and cones. The world is a structure, and structure to me is geometry. I sculpt geometry. I see the world as hard-edged, filled with lines and angles. And I see it as a wild and raging and hideous, and only occasionally beautiful. The world fills me with disgust more often than it fills me with jooy. Are you listening to me, Asher Lev? The world is a terrible place. I do not sculpt and paint to make the world sacred. I sculpt and paint to give permanence to my feelings about how terrible this world truly is. Nothing is real to me except my own feelings; nothing is true except my own feelings as I see them all around me in my sculpture and paintings. I know these feelings are true, because if they were not true they would make art that is as terrible as the world. You do not understand me yet, Asher Lev. My little Hasid. My sanctifier of the world. My half-naked painter with dangling payos and a paint-smeared skullcap. One day you will understand about the truth of feelings.”

Then, two pages later.

The following week, the third week of July, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We walked through centuries of Byzantine and Western crucifixions. He showed me the development of structure and form and expression, and the handling of pictorial space. I saw crucifixions all the way home and dreamed of crucifixions all through the night.

I told him the next day that I did not think I wanted to see any more crucifixions. He became angry.

“Asher Lev, you want to go off into a corner somewhere and paint little rabbis in long beards? Then go away and do not waste my time. Go paint your little rabbis. No one will pay attention to you. I am not telling you to paint crucifixions. I am telling you that you must understand what a crucifixion is in art if you want to be a great artist. The crucifixion must be available to you as a form. Do you understand? No, I see you do not understand. In any case, we will see more crucifixions and more resurrections and more nativities and more Greek and Roman gods and more scenes of war and love – because that is the world of art, Asher Lev. And we will see more naked women, and you will learn the reason for the differences between the naked women of Titian and those of Rubens. This is the world you want to make sacred. You had better learn it well first before you begin.”

These passages stand alone – but that last sentence was a dagger to my heart. Do I have the strength to learn the world well? Most Christians do not. They do not see the reason to expose themselves to the horror of the world, but in being afraid to do that, they are never able to speak to that world.

I want to avoid that. It sounds like a long long path, but I’ve already taken the first steps…

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This question was asked on a forum I sometimes participate, and I thought I’d cross post my answer, rough as it is.

When I watch a film, first and foremost I desire a complete world. I don’t care if afterwards I think the story was lousy, the characters were evil, the film was too long or badly edited – I want to be taken into the filmmaker’s vision.

Yesterday my wife and I caught a film called Sita Sings the Blues at the Nashville Film Festival. (this film is incredible on its own, one woman wrote directed and animated the ENTIRE thing) I took in a notebook to write down some notes because I’m writing some reviews for a local site. But I was so entranced by the film I didn’t take one note. The director created this world and sucked me in, and it was amazing.

That’s step number one. A world I can believe in. I don’t care if it’s completely fantasy like Lord of the Rings, or completely realistic film like the French films I’ve been watching lately, or something in between.

Secondly, (and admittedly, step number one is big picture under which everything else falls) I look to the writing and acting. I want to believe the characters. Do they seem like real people? Why does this matter?

Because I love love love foreign films and indie dramas – films that challenge my perspective of the world. Films that open my eyes and help me better understand what it means to be a human. And good filmmakers create characters who feel human; meaning that despite their geographical, sociopolitcal, racial, and economic differences from me – there are things that I connect with in them. When a good character is created, then I can’t hold them at arms length. Whatever happens to them becomes more personal to me.

Take for instance, the film That Evening Sun that I saw this weekend. It features Hal Holbrook as the lead (An 80 year old lead – how awesome is that?!) – a farmer from the hills of TN who leaves the old person home his son has placed him in because he wants to die on his farm. Only, when he comes back he finds his son has rented the farm to a family who the old man despises because of class. The film is a class war, a meditation on aging, and features no characters that arguably have anything in common with me.

But the filmmakers worked so hard to create genuine, realistic characters, that I, in my humanity, have a great deal in common with them. And so as I watched this (phenomenal) movie unfold, I wasn’t just watching a story and being entertained, I was understanding my sin nature, the ways I fall.

Last of all (not really, but this feels long), I look at the technical elements of the film. The cinematography, the usage (or non-usage from those crazy Europeans) of music, the pacing and editing, continuity and such. These things matter to me, and they disrupt from my viewing of the film if they are not done well.

But I have one final thing to say about watching films – and this may be the only thing of value I say. In my 4 or 5 year long quest to understand whether I thought filmmaking was my true desire and how I felt that fit into faith (which, isn’t over, that’s just where I am in the question), I have finally come to some sort of conclusion on the biggest value of films to me. It’s simple but it’s now the basic framework by which I approach all films.

Films expand my understanding of what it means to be human. And since God is personal, and I will always always only understand him through my own experience, the more I watch good and challenging films (and read great literature, and listen to great music, and read great poetry), the more I expand my understand my understanding of this experience of being human, and the more I am able to deepen my understanding of the mystery of the Gospel and the mystery of the God who is the author of my faith and salvation.

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500 Days of Summer

Marc Webb’s debut film finally made it to Nashville last night, as part of the Nashville Film Festival (which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, very cool). The trailer bills the movie as a story about Boy Meets Girl, but not a love story, and the trailer is accurate, thank goodness. We don’t need another romantic comedy, and this film doesn’t attempt to give us more of what we don’t need.

Instead, the film, in its light-hearted and whimsical style, is concerned with what exactly love is in modern times. Both of the main characters come from homes with divorced parents, but Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) believes in true love and finding “the one” while Summer (Zooey Deschanel) does not believe in any of that stuff. Their story; told in a great non-linear fashion that examines the 500 days that Summer is in Tom’s life, examines whether either of their ideas about love hold up in reality.

Much has been made in early reviews about Webb’s experience with music videos, probably because there is a dance scene and the music is heavily tied to the visuals in the film (look for a great split-screen sequence with Regina Spektor’s song Us), but I think most of those reviewers missed the subtle touch that Webb brought out in the post-film Q&A last night. The narrator that we hear in the trailer is the narrator of the film as well; a deep, soothing voice that sets the tone for a storybook-ish movie. By beginning with the narrator giving us the setup – Girl doesn’t believe in love, boy does believe in love, and boy knows that girl is The One at first meeting – the film gives the viewers the normal cues of a fairy tale story.

But the film isn’t intending to be a fairy tale, nor is it intending to subvert fairy tales by setting your expectations and destroying them. Rather, it is questioning and wrestling with my generation’s takes on love – the fear of labeling relationships, the generation of kids who’ve grown up after divorce, the desire for some concrete idea of love but the complete lack of any model or definition. By using fairy-tale aspects, 500 Days of Summer did well to ask the questions that I’ve heard lots of friends ask (that I myself asked), and while the film didn’t really have any good answers, it wasn’t willing to forsake all hope in the idea of love.

I identified with the movie a great deal because I’ve been in those positions before; finding someone who I thought was the one, being with a different someone who just really really wasn’t the one, and finally finding The One who I’m now happily married to. I still don’t know exactly what love is; but I’m a lot closer and I do know a litany of things that it is definitely not. This movie, rather than being a “happy ending all things tied up neatly but nothing of substance provided” Hollywood film, successfully (to me) asked some questions and wrestled with them in a way fitting its characters and story, then ended on a note of hope. It wasn’t a perfect film, but it was far better than anything that Hollywood normally produces on the subject of love, and I hope it has a great deal of success at the Box Office.

Off Topic:

And I think that somewhere down the line there is a critical essay waiting to happen about how this film identifies another shift in culture; with Summer being representative of this generation’s wrestling with the 70’s generation (which might be defined as Spring – the birth of free love and love as a self-centered, self-seeking concept). If I were to write said essay, I would place the modern generation right at the end of 500 Days of Summer (which I won’t spoil), and explore the themes of the film as suggestions of ways that culture is changing. But that’s just me.

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Today I’ve had a few people ask about learning Final Cut Pro so while I have a ton of videos compressing here at work, I’m going to search the web and try to compile some good resources for FCP.

First of all, you should know that if you want to make a video like I did here:

Final Cut is not enough. It is a powerful program, but it has limitations. That’s why included with Final Cut is Motion; a motion graphics program. It’s not near as powerful as After Effects, but it is powerful none-the-less and has a lot of the typical Apple flair for ease-of-use and deep features.

The thing about Final Cut pro is that while it has vast and powerful features; there is no good way (that I know of) to briefly introduce it. You just learn as you go. Need to do something with the project you’re working on? Well, FCP probably has 3 or 4 ways to do it. So the best thing to do is to get a project and start working; and with every bridge you cross, Google it.

With that said, check out these, I think they are a great overview:

Apple’s Tutorials
http://www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/tutorials/

Apple has basic tutorials for all of their professional programs on their site. The tutorials are great overviews of the powers of the FCP studio. They won’t teach you how to do exciting things, but it will give you a good handle on the basic capabilities of editing in the suite. Start here if you are new to the program.

As for Motion, your best bet is to visit this site:

http://www.applemotion.net

And just start going through the tutorials. Rather than doing everything all at once, be selective on topics, so that you can slowly flesh out your understanding of Motion. Since I am unable to go through all the tutorials and choose the best ones, here’s some of the capabilities in Motion you’ll want to learn about over time:

  • Text
  • Replicators
  • Particle Emitters
  • Motion Paths
  • Animation Modes (Keyframes, Recording, Behaviors)
  • Masks
  • 3D Space

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Nashville Film Festival

As I return from the SXSW film festival, I’m looking forward to what’s upcoming. Here’s some highlights from Nashville’s Film Festival, which is running April 16-23 this year, and looks to be very strong.

Narrative Competition:

Documentary Competition:

  • For the Love of Movies
  • Garbage Dreams
  • Living in Emergency: Stories from Doctors without Borders

Special Presentations

  • 500 Days of Summer
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc
  • Trimpin: The Sound of Invention

I was thinking of trying to catch the Atlanta Film Festival, because it is showing some films I missed at SXSW like Goodbye Solo, Alexander the Last, Beeswax, and a film that I did catch and I want Freya to see called it was great, but i was ready to come home. I hope to write some more on that film soon. It’s playing April 18 in Atlanta, and might just be worth the drive to see it. For some reason I just kind of loved the film.

Anyways, that’s all for now, I’ll do some SXSW thoughts in the coming days hopefully and get some more posts up on this blog.

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    Learning about being Human

    Films I’ve seen thus far at SXSW:

    • New World Order
    • Medicine for Melancholy
    • True Adolescents
    • Artois the Goat
    • Sin Nombre
    • it was great, but i was ready to come home.

    They’ve ranged from american new wave (the second and the latter) to indie/mainstream mixes (the third and fourth) to  really affecting Indie dramas (Sin Nombre). Coming to this fest has taught me a few things. 

    First, I’m never coming to a film festival without my wife again; or some other film loving geek who I have a preexisting relationship with. I’ve struck up conversations with people nearby and had a couple decent convos, but there’s nothing quite like friendship and knowing where someone stands to help promote deeper conversations about the films I am seeing.

    Secondly, the last piece of my understanding of why film fell into place. As in, why do I have such a strong desire to make film? What is it I love about watching films? And this is obvious, but in my usual behind the curve way, it just now dawned on me; I love film, i watch and analyze film, to learn about being human. Not just to learn more about myself, but to learn more about others.

    It seems simple, but it was kind of eye-opening to me to put it into such exact terms. I’ve even had the thought many times before, but I think in light of the wonderful films I’ve seen recently, from Silent Light to Medicine for Melancholy to it was great, but I was ready to come home. have all clearly emphasized that goal. They have opened my eyes to what it means to be human. 

    And so, In light of all the trouble I have writing official reviews, from now on I’m just going to examine films from that light; what did this film open my eyes to about the experience of being human? What do I miss, that this film opened my eyes to?

    I’m not stopping attempts to critique films, that is obviously necessary to my better understanding and appreciating them, but it has helped me today in trying to crack these films apart from just an “are they good; why or why not” aspect, which is always frustrating to me. 

    So, look for more thoughts in the coming weeks, on these films, and others that I’ve seen this year. (Like, Silent Light and The Wrestler)

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    Morning Distractions

    Field of Dreams (1989) Has been the subject of a couple good blog posts lately. First, Alec at Art+Life+Spirit looks at the film in light of our rational Christianity, and then Phil Villarreal, critic in Arizona, has narrowed down the 4500 films he’s seen to the top 100, and Field of Dreams is number 5.

    This is a family favorite for me; and my dad is always trying to pitch me on writing a sequel.

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    Let’s go ahead and get excited, Terrence Malick is working on a two-part film that will be in regular theatres and IMAX, and will include the Tree of Life, The Birth of the Universe, dinosaurs, and Brad Pitt. It’s hard to not be excited about the sheer magnamity of those simple themes. According to the news, the films are thematically complementary but not narratively linked.

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    Non-film related but interesting none-the-less, this week’s episode of This American Life deals with the Banking crisis. It’s called Bad Banks and it’s available free through Sunday. If you’re at all confused by the economic situation; it’s wonderful.

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