Posted by: daveed | November 17, 2011

Underground New York moment

New Yorkers can make subway commuting utter hell, but on those rare occasions when a spark of a New Yorker’s true character comes out to wake us from our blank faced torpor, it can be an amazingly affirming experience why this is the greatest city in the world.

Yesterday, two OWSers, young white dudes, boarded my subway car. Immediately one start his shpiel at an unpleasantly loud volume. If you’ve heard the beggars and the bible freaks on the subway, you’ll know the tone. I don’t want to hear this shit on my way home. No one does, but especially from a yahoo like this guy.

Anyway, he goes on about how OWS got forcibly ejected from Zuccotti the other day, 200 people were arrested, including a “NY Councilman, a Mr. Jimenez who represents… I don’t know… somewhere where they speak Spanish.”

Somewhere where they speak Spanish” Huh??? This asshat just glibly dismissed oh, around 30% of the city’s population. Not to mention made the racist assumption that because Jimenez is a Hispanic name, he must of course represent a Spanish-speaking constituency.

I wanted to call this little shit out on this, but figured he’d turn it into some race-baiting argument. Turns out I didn’t have to, a black man on the car starts telling him that his comment was rude and offensive. “How can you say that?” he says. A older Hispanic woman next to him is smiling and nodding in agreement.

I turn and to hear more protests from others on the car. A young woman in that richly expressive Hispano-urban accent saying something about him not “knowing shit about New York.” A few Spanish curses from somewhere.

Meanwhile, instead of retreating to another car, our genius is getting irritatingly defensive: “Offended? Who’s offended? Raise your hands if you were offended.” This just irked more of the passengers. One woman, bless her heart, pointed right at the fool, looked him in the eye and said, “He is a City Councilman. You should have KNOWN where he’s from!” I started clapping. More cheers.

The subway arrived at my stop and unfortunately had to go. I would have loved to find out what transpired. On my way out the door, clapping as I go, I heard more applause behind me.

I fell in love with my fellow New Yorkers once again. I loved how they called this useful idiot out on his ignorance, refusing to tolerate his self-righteous tone. New York City may not be the freest city on the planet, but certainly the proudest. Here’s to you, fellow 7th Ave subway riders.

Posted by: daveed | June 13, 2011

Rinse repeat

Find out if you can sit through 8-plus minutes of one of the most painfully overripe dialogue clichés:

At first, it’s excruciating. Then it’s sad. Then at around 6 minutes it gets really, really funny hearing it dubbed in a Chinese film. Even the venerable David Mamet stands accused, employing it in his otherwise excellent Spartan.

I was trying to see which film—at least in this compilation—was the first to use the line. It includes clips from Racing with the Moon with Sean Penn and Terminator, both from 1984. I wonder why this line gets so overused. In watching the clips, it’s obvious that in about 97% of the scenes it’s utterly unnecessary.

H/T to Scott at Go Into the Story. Also check out his incredibly comprehensive list of clichéd movie dialogue.

Posted by: daveed | May 30, 2011

Stories well told

You know Stephen Tobolowsky, the actor? No? Remember Sammy Jenkiss?

Or how about Ned “Needle Nose” Ryerson?


Anyway, he’s been doing a fantastic podcast on /Film for about a year and a half now in which he tells very amusing, touching and inspiring stories about his life and career. Everything from wild times as a struggling young actor to classic movie moments on the set of Groundhog Day.

You’d think a b-list actor (in billing, certainly not talent) wouldn’t have that much to talk about. But Tobolowsky has resurrected the lost art of storytelling—every one plays a role in the drama, with foibles and success, pain and triumph. We fuck up. We succeed. We all have something to say. This guy just happens to do it exceptionally well.

Give it a listen.

Posted by: daveed | May 27, 2011

Grand openings

IFC has published an exhaustive survey of the 50 greatest opening title sequences. More than just a list, each entry offers a well-written analysis along with behind-the-scenes technical details and an embedded video.

I especially loved the entry for #27 Taxi Driver (and also was amazed by the title sequence when I first saw the film):

There are only seven shots in the opening titles to “Taxi Driver.” Two of them are basically identical: Robert De Niro’s eyes in extreme close-up. The rest of the shots are things De Niro’s Travis Bickle sees out the windshield of his taxi. Dan Perri’s titles, and their emphasis on looks and looking, establish not only the mood of “Taxi Driver” but also its perspective. Whatever we’re going to see in the film to follow, we’re seeing through Travis’ eyes. And notice how he sees everything, too. The titles’ images of Manhattan are blurry or warped or slowed down, obscured by raindrops or tinted by color effects. The distorted imagery reflects the deranged mind observing it; he’s seeing things in a way that foreshadows his eventual mental breakdown. To us, it might look like an ordinary taxi passing through some sewer steam. To Travis, it’s a giant, lumbering beast passing through an enormous plume of Stygian vapors. This isn’t New York City; it’s Travis Bickle’s New York City. —MS

Interesting to note that, with a some exceptions such as Watchmen, very few on the list were from films made in the past decade. As expected, the celebrated Saul Bass is given due recognition as the best title sequence designer, back when there was more emphasis and reliance on the form to set up the story.

For more on title sequences, Art of the Title is a fascinating resource.

Posted by: daveed | May 25, 2011

History lesson

Today is May 25th, the real “Star Wars Day” commemorating the film’s release (and not the date derived from a stupid pun). That people still devote much energy to it—passionately, learnedly and yes, childishly—30-plus years later is astonishing. I don’t think any other film comes close to having the kind of lasting cultural impact that Star Wars has.

So today I point to the late Mystery Man on Film’s detailed and insightful survey of the various drafts of the screenplay. scripts through the tortuous paths of its  drafts. Because all filmmaking begins with a FADE IN, and there is often undergoes a tortuous journey well before the lights go down.

Posted by: daveed | May 24, 2011

After life

Mike Bonomo is at it again, this time with a lovely little short called “Echo.” Although its style is cool and meditative, heightened by a well-paced ambient score, the film is unapologetically romantic—a poem about lost love and nostalgia (literally, “our pain”). Indeed, it brought to mind some of the more touching sequences in Memento and The Sixth Sense:

Mike also wrote and directed another fantastic short called “Never Again,” which I shared a few weeks back. Keep an eye out for Mike. The guy’s a real talent.

Posted by: daveed | May 22, 2011

Eye of the beholder

I never was a huge Twilight Zone fan, probably because as a child of the 70s and 80s, I lived off a TV diet of shit-coms, cheap cartoons and less-than-basic cable. Hardly any well-paced, smart and suspenseful storytelling Rod Serling’s celebrated series was praised for. (The truly awful 1983 film adaptation didn’t help.)

Then as an adult, I’d catch a few episodes on late nights or during the occasional TZ-athon. While I enjoyed them, it wasn’t a show I’d actively seek out. But thanks to the bounty that is Netflix the entire series is available for instant streaming in HD.

So I’ve made it a point to watch the series, and will be posting thoughts from time to time on certain episodes. Stay tuned.

Posted by: daveed | May 20, 2011

Good old Charlie Kane

May 1st marked the 70th anniversary of the release of Citizen Kane, the film that tops all those “best-of” lists (and for good reason) and has probably been given more critical attention than any other film in history.

For those of you somewhat new to the whole Kane klatch, DB Grady provides a solid overview of the film and its legacy—the usual about the technical innovations, how the film didn’t resonate audiences at first, that it was Orson Welles’s high water mark, and so on. But as Jason Kottke aptly states, the film’s profound drama and thematic strengths are often overlooked:

Citizen Kane is The Beatles of movies, not just because of its universal influence and acclaim, or because it really does live up to the historical hype, but because on top of its arty aspirations, what it really wants to do is entertain the hell out of you.

Also, if you’re watching it carefully, the movie’s self-reflexiveness hides and reveals a devastating history of media. You’ve got CFK, accidental heir to a fortune based on “oil wells, gold mines, shipping, and real estate,” who trades it all for a communications empire: newspapers, radio stations, paper mills, opera houses, and grocery stores, only to be pushed to the margins after a failed political run in favor of the next generation: magazines and movies, the trade of the newsreel producers who try to track down the labyrinthine origin of “Rosebud.”

More than any other film, Citizen Kane told me there was an undeniable artistic power in cinema, which is why the film—and its controversial legacy—resonate with me still, 70 years later.

Posted by: daveed | May 18, 2011

Art of the steal

More wise words (and pictures) from cartoonist Austin Kleon. Here Austin recaps a talk he gave about creativity and writing, a kind of illustrated guide, or a manifesto of sorts if you’re into that sort of thing:

  1. Steal like an artist
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to make things
  3. Write the book you want to read
  4. Use your hands
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important
  6. The secret: do good work, then put it where people can see it
  7. Geography is no longer our master
  8. Be nice (the world is a small town)
  9. Be boring (it’s the only way to get work done)
  10. Creativity is subtraction

I loved this list. Austin raises some thought-provoking notions that at first glance seems counter-intuitive. Or even at variance with our often misguided beliefs in what creativity is supposed to be. But creativity thrives in the spaces between what we think we know, in areas that aren’t raked over and made flat, clean and monotonous by too much critique.

I’ve written about his second point before, and I’m taking #4 to heart by making my screenwriting more hands-on meaningful by crafting it around handwritten cards, and taking a step away from the linear,  type-written distance of the computer.

Mr Kleon strikes again. He’s got a great site, a new book and more.

Posted by: daveed | March 22, 2011

Silent accusation

Filmmaker Mike Bonomo recently shared a link to his fascinating film short, “Never Again.” It really is a gem for what it doesn’t explicitly reveal—instead it demands the viewer pay attention in order to parse context and find meaning in the few short minutes during which you see events unfold.

It has no dialogue, yet it manages to tell an intriguing story. It’s engaging in a discomforting, but satisfying way. Repeated viewings revealed certain details. Clues, perhaps. And while I’m no closer to knowing the complete tale, it is one very well told.

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