Tilda Swinton’s last two lines here are stunningly perceptive:
“For me that is grace,” she says of her character’s dumbstruck confusion in the face of her irrevocably altered life. “I am really interested in silence. In inarticulacy also, which isn’t the same as silence. As a performer I like looking at the gaps between what people want to communicate and what they can communicate,” she adds. “I love good filmmaking that isn’t just about really proficient writers of dialogue, who think that everybody’s really articulate and everybody can hear each other really well. That doesn’t feel true to me, actually. I mean, that’s a fantastical universe.”
This is just about my favorite kind of internet writing: the deep nerd-out, gracefully written, but without any real expectation of, or capitulation to, a general-interest audience. This one is about the past, present, and future of digital projection in movie theaters and I totally enjoyed it.
(I think my favorite part is the picture of the Digital Cinema Package in its red plastic carrying case, and the accompanying description of the all the crazy DRM surrounding it. You have to get the password over the phone!)
It is indeed totally stunning, and it’s got me thinking about Westerns. Among other things:
- Appaloosa, the recent Western with Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, and Jeremy Irons that I totally enjoyed.
- High Noon and Rio Bravo still explain everything.
- Following on: Howard Hawks (who directed Rio Bravo). I feel like I want to understand him and his work better. Note also the Hawksian woman.
What clicks in your mind when you think about Westerns? Any recent movies I ought to see? Any other fun stuff out there?
Update: Yes, this post was Tim-bait, and whoah yes, he delivers. I’m considering just pasting his comment into the body of the post and moving what I wrote to the comments…
Ooh! My question about quiet 70s suspense movies yielded great results—a whole Netflix queue’s worth. No surprise, given the collective cinematic erudition of the Snarkmatrix.
So here’s another movie question (and this one connects back to my quick post on Japan). What are some really good Japanese movies of the last ten (or so) years that I should see? With the stipulation that I’m not looking for animation, horror (e.g. Ringu–style creep-out stuff), or action.
What do you think? What have you seen?
My first impulse was to post these things separately—so I decided to combine them instead. I’m pretty sure they are quite unrelated, but perhaps the illusion of connection will make some interesting things happen in your brain.
The writer David Markson died. Sarah Weinman has a terrific post about him, as well as pointers to other terrific posts. She says:
In a way, David Markson needed the Internet, or more accurately, vice versa, to find his rightful place in the literary world. Quotation approprations, short declarative sentences, quick bursts with acres of thought, meditation on artists and writers at work, and a tremendous study of consciousness marked Markson’s output since WITTGENSTEIN’S MISTRESS (1988) opened with the phrase “In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.” And as our collective attention spans decreased and dovetailed from mass-market pursuits, there was Markson to clue us in to something greater, more amorphous perhaps, but something that pinged the outer reaches of what he termed “seminonfictional semi-fictions.”
I mean: exactly, right? I’d love to know if Markson used the web much, and/or what he thought of it. Because Sarah is right: his books read like refractions of everything we’re worried (and excited) about right now, right here, on these screens.
Now: if “artists and writers at work” is a subject that appeals to you, I want to specifically recommend The Last Novel. It’s short. It’s declarative and bursty, as Sarah says. It feels good in the hand. It’s one of the few books in the universe I’ve read more than twice. And I think it should be required reading for writers, designers, and makers of all stripes.
I have a secret agenda, of course: I want David Markson’s books to last a thousand years. In order for that to happen, Team Markson needs to grow. You need to fall in love with one of his books, too, and pass it on.
Maybe I’ve said this before in some other post, but let me say it now, on its own and clearly: my single favorite characteristic of the iPhone and the iPad alike is the full bleed.
I mean, finally: no more windows! Death to the desktop! Goodbye to all that—on the iPad and the iPhone (and, to be fair, on game consoles and some other things, too) every experience gets the entire screen, edge to edge. This is a big deal. The difference between this picture…
…and this picture…
…is not ten or twenty percent. It’s everything. It’s the difference between being on your computer, watching a video—and being in Mr. Fox’s den.
There’s an analogy to that argument from Chris Anderson: the difference between one cent and free is not one cent. It’s an order of magnitude, a step function. It’s everything.
Full bleed means you can dim the lights. Full bleed means you get to set the rules. Full bleed means you get my full attention (and not just for video, either). Full bleed short-circuits the cruel clicky calculus of the web. Thank goodness.
A little while ago, on a lark, I watched Three Days of the Condor on Netflix. (By the way, have you seen this deck on Netflix’s present and future? It’s basically all about people streaming Three Days of the Condor, and movies like it, on a lark.)
If you haven’t seen it: it’s a muted spy thriller from 1975. Robert Redford plays a CIA employee—well, here’s how he explains it:
Listen. I work for the CIA. I’m not a spy. I just read books. We read everything that’s published in the world, and we—we feed the plots—dirty tricks, codes into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, new ideas. We read adventures and novels and journals. I—I can—who’d invent a job like that? I—listen! People are trying to kill me!
I mean: exactly, right?
There are no explosions, and only a few bullets. There’s some great whirring-clanking computer analysis, and some even better phone-system hacking.
The movie reminded me—no surprise—of All the President’s Men, which is one of my all-time favorites. So here’s what I want to know:
- Is this genre of muted mid-70s suspense movie (optionally starring Robert Redford) a recognized thing? Does it have a name and/or a key director?
- What haven’t I seen? (Hint: I’ve only seen the two I just mentioned.)
- And here’s the really urgent question: why don’t they make these anymore? I like them so much, and it’d be so do-able. Talk about low-budget; they’re basically set in offices. You could shoot one on a Canon 5D Mark II. All the nerds would watch it.
Really. The Last Novel.
Do you know about ScriptShadow? It’s one of my favorite blogs lately: a smart, snarky, insidery screenplay review. It focuses (as best I can discern) on screenplays that have been bought by a studio but not produced yet. There are some exceptions, but that seems to be the core of it—and as such, it’s actually an odd preview of the next 2–5 years of releases.
Anyway, I mention it now because it’s sci-fi week, and you can read the review of the script for the Ender’s Game adaptation that will probably still never be produced. You can also download the script in its entirety!
Reading screenplays, like reading plays, is actually pretty fun in its own right. They’re always tight and terse: very consumable. And I find the descriptive language of screenplays sort of charming. That is, not the dialogue, but the parts that go
EXT. NEW JERSEY COUNTRYSIDE - MORNING
The train hurls straight at us.
NEW ANGLE — Skimming alongside as the train twists and turns, sucking up track — feet, yards, miles of it.
Beneath it, the curving rails, which the rushing train barely seems to touch. They vibrate with an eerie, dulcimer HUM.
It’s never particularly good prose—but it’s not supposed to be, right? It’s supposed to be descriptive and conversational. These are words that will never be seen or heard by the public! Their audience is all agents and producers and, ultimately, a director and production staff. They’re the dark matter of storytelling.
That section above is from the first page of Source Code, one of the most popular scripts on ScriptShadow, and one that I enjoyed reading.
I often find myself reading scripts before bed. Maybe that tells you something about their sensibility and heft. Actually, I think it has a lot to do with their look: a scattering of lines, lots and lots of white space. They’re light and airy. The words flow fast. The film strip plays. Ahh.
I love this assessment of Bollywood stars from, of all people, Bruce Sterling:
[On Twitter you] really get a feeling for Bollywood stars as a semi-solid, political-feudal caste from a massively populated, deeply troubled, hugely resilient, titanic emergent world power.
They’re all Indian patriots. Every one of ‘em. They’re not pollyannas about it, but you never hear a cynical or dismissive or despairing remark from them. About the press, certainly, but about the Indian government or Indian civil society, never. Tremendous work ethic. Even the ones who come across like half-naked decadent femmes fatale are complete Type A overachievers. Very bouncy, very focussed. Educated. World travellers. It’s impressive.
This weekend, I saw 3 Idiots at the big Bollywood theater here in the Bay Area. It was a blast; it always is, both because the audience is so loud and appreciative and because the movies are simply so huge. The sheer amount of stuff they pack into them is audacious, even ridiculous, but somehow it works. There simply aren’t American movies like this; somehow there can’t be. (Also, there’s a simple delight to a movie with an intermission, you know? Every Bollywood movie has an intermission.)
But “3 Idiots” is actually noteworthy for its subject matter, too. It’s set at a fictionalized version of IIT–Delhi, and it takes on India’s culture of school and success. So it’s not by chance, I think, that it had the biggest-ever opening weekend of any Hindi film in the US and Canada. I’m pretty sure there were some graduates of the IITs sitting there in the darkness of the Naz 8 with us. I wonder what they thought.
I’m trying to track down stats for Bollywood audiences outside India. I don’t know if they’re truly significant (more than, say, 10% of the audience inside India) but I’m sure they’re growing fast—in Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Persian Gulf, and Indonesia. Many former Soviet states, believe it or not. And of course America, too. This is one of the reasons I’d bet on India in the 21st century: it’s a net exporter of media. Really, there are only a few countries with that distinction, right? The U.S. is one (mostly movies and TV); Japan is another (mostly anime, manga, and video games). Now India’s in the club. See you at the Naz 8.
Update: Over on Boing Boing, Xeni does the “3 Idiots” OMG-how-is-this-all-in-the-same-movie enumeration:
Bollywood movies somehow manage to cram in more sheer total stuff than US pics, and this one’s no exception: there’s a hot “wet sari” scene, a dance number with aerial toilet steadicam shots, a climax of of parental drama that involves comparison shopping between laptops and SLR cameras, an obviously fake rubber baby, beautiful Himalayan scenery. Blogs, webcams, and aerial surveillance drones glide effortlessly through the script. And not once, but twice, a homemade penis-electrocution hardware hack serves for comic (and bladder) relief.
I just want to underscore: aerial toilet steadicam shots.
A very short list of my favorite things from 2009. Mostly my metric is: What will I remember a year from now? Or ten?
- Favorite book: A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias. (Previously.) Sweet but/and harrowing.
- Favorite music: Regina Spektor’s new album. I listened to this an impossible number of times. Best tracks: “Blue Lips” and “Machine,” which is basically The Terminator narrated by a winsome girl-robot.
- Favorite movie: Coraline. Even though I saw Coraline months ago and Avatar days ago, it’s Coraline that’s more vivid in my mind. There are a few scenes that—especially having seen them in 3D—I’ll never forget. Bonus: The Coraline soundtrack is weird and beautiful.
- Favorite book(s) not written in 2009: I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff at the SFPL this year, and wow: what a revelation. She wrote a long series of YA books, set mostly in Roman Britain. Her language is tight, vivid, and direct—world-class by any standard. Strong load-bearing sentences, you know?
- Favorite movie not made in 2009: Somehow I’d seen every Miyazaki movie except Whisper of the Heart; it’s now my second-favorite. Maybe it resonated because I was writing more, and it’s a movie about writing? And actually, I think Whisper of the Heart might show the real process of writing better than any movie I’ve ever seen.
What are your picks for lasting memory from 2009?
Ah, I love this: over at The Auteurs, they’re pitching ideas for the most memorable frame of film from the 2000s. Don’t take the assignment too literally (“That’s absurd! How could you ever make such a judgment?”); really, it’s just a prompt for a fun thread of wonderful images.