Match Frame

Thoughts from an American editor and filmmaker in New Zealand about film and video production and post-production. Plus whatever else I feel like talking about.

Location: Balmoral, Auckland, New Zealand

A work in progress.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

hello from methven

just the latest in a series of thriving metropoli in our south island whirlwind tour. Previous stops: Hokitika, Takaka, and Motueka.

Yes, we've broken a trend by not spending the night in a place that ends with -ka.

Tomorrow night, New Year's Eve in Dunedin, then down to the Catlins. Having a great time, seeing nature, shooting silly footage which you may or may not see sometime, et cetera.

In advance, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

once more into the breach

Hi all,

So I hope you'v e been having a merry christmas and stuff, I know I have.

Anyway, I'm off to the South Island very shortly here, so don't expect to hear from me for a while. Back Jan 7 or so.

Have a great new year!

Monday, December 18, 2006

book list 2007

So I decided, as you do, to compile a list of all the recommendations I've received over the past few years that I haven't taken action on, in order to assemble a reading list so I don't just re-read the same authors over and over again. (Some of those authors are on here, too, to be fair.)

This list doesn't include some books I own that I intend to tackle (two Neal Stephenson books, Vollmann's RISING UP AND RISING DOWN, Richard Powers' THE TIME OF OUR SINGING, Dave Eggers' HOW WE ARE HUNGRY, Ben Marcus's NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN, and, um, some others), and a few books I have from the library that I won't get to til next year probably. (Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD and Michel Houllebecq's A POSSIBILITY OF AN ISLAND rating high amongst them.)

Have I mentioned how GALATEA 2.2 by Richard Powers blew my mind? It did.

Anyway, the list (and, no, I don't really expect to read all of these in 2007, but hopefully I will make a dent:

John Banville: The Sea
Saul Bellow: Henderson the Rain King
John Burnett: Where Soldiers Fear To Tread
*Italo Calvino: If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, Mr. Palomar
Peter Craig: Hot Plastic
Lydia Davis: Almost No Memory
*Don DeLillo: The Body Artist
Don DeLillo: Mao II
Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
Theodore Dreiser: An American Tragedy
*Nathan Englander: For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex
Percival Everett: American Desert
Michel Faber: The Crimson Petal and the White
Richard Ford: The Lay of the Land
*Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
Samuel Fuller: A Third Face
David Gates: Wonders of the Invisible World, Jernigan
Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Kent Harrington: Red Jungle
Eric Hansen: Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany
Ken Jennings: Brainiac
Tore Janson et al: A Natural History of Latin
*Franz Kafka: The Castle
*Ken Kalfus: The Comissariat of Enlightenment
Elizabeth Kostova: The Historian
Ray Kurzweil: The Singularity Is Near
William Langewiesche: Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert
Daniel Levitin: This Is Your Brain on Music
*Mark Leyner: Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog
Sam Lipsyte: Home Land
Margaret Macmillan and Richard Holbrooke: Paris 1919
*Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian
Carson McCullers: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
Ron McLarty: Memory of Running
Ben Mezrich: Bringing Down The House
Rick Moody: The Diviners
Christopher Moore: The Stupidest Angel
Haruki Murakami: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, The Elephant Vanishes
George Orwell: Down and Out In London
George Pelecanos: The Night Gardener
Andrew X. Pham: Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
*Richard Powers: The Gold Bug Variations
Richard Powers: Gain, The Echo Maker
Mary Roach: Stiff
Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Harry Saint: Memoirs of an Invisible Man
George Saunders: In Persuasion Nation
Alice Sebold: The Lovely Bones
Carl Shuker: The Method Actors
Ignazio Silone: Fontamara
Laura Slater: Opening Skinner's Box
Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle
Zadie Smith: White Teeth
Hunter S. Thompson: The Rum Diary
Leo Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilych
John Updike: Rabbit Redux
Jennifer Vanderbes: Easter Island
*David Foster Wallace: Oblivion, Consider the Lobster, Girl With Curious Hair
David Wallis (ed): Killed
Franz Wisner: Honeymoon with my Brother
Noboru Yoshimura: Inside the Kaisha

(* = my flatmate owns it, nothing more or less exciting than that)

Any additional recommendations? I think I may permanently maintain this list on my computer as a reference.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Cal Robbins needs your help.

Cal Robbins is the young son of J. Robbins, frontman of Jawbox, Burning Airlines, and Channels, and Janet Morgan (also of Channels). To dramatically understate the case, Cal's having a rough go of it; details are here.

I'll be writing something for Nonalignment Pact tomorrow about this, but basically Jawbox affected my life more than any other band, and any little thing I can do to return the favor in their time of need, I will.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

desert island lists

You know those times where you get asked "if you could only take n (books/records/DVDs/whatever)" to a desert island?

Well, it's not quite a desert island, though it is close to deserted, but I'm going to spend three months next year working on Great Barrier Island. Just found out today.

Time to start figuring what makes the cut ... probably things I've never read or watched. Planning on spending as much non-work time in nature as possible and also working on secret projects that may or may not be secret for much longer. At any rate, it's good to have a big piece of work locked down already for next year.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the ruins

Yesterday I was downtown having a very productive day (getting passport renewed, money transferred to States, Christmas shopping) and decided to pop into the library, despite my large number of books that I'm meaning to read and/or currently reading. I meant to just grab Christopher Alexander's A PATTERN LANGUAGE, what with me being semi-besotten with him, but it was out. So I did my customary wander through the graphic novels (hi Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Art Spiegelman), and then checked them out, and then my willpower declined and I also checked out three novels - Michel Houellebecq's A POSSIBILITY OF AN ISLAND, Richard Powers' GALATEA 2.0, and Scott Smith's THE RUINS.

I read THE RUINS yesterday, staying up very late to read it in one breath. Scott Smith is the author of A SIMPLE PLAN, which I've not read (though I've seen the movie). THE RUINS is different in a lot of ways but sort of conforms to what my former roommate Jerry said when he turned off the movie half way through: "This is just one of those movies where everything's going to keep getting worse."

I'm probably not doing a very good job of selling THE RUINS. Let me try again. I don't read many supernatural thrillers, so I don't know how it stacks up, but to my eyes it was the most unputdownable, gut-sinking slow burn I've read in a long, long time. There aren't even chapters, per se - every twenty paragraphs or so, there might be a new section, demarcated by an extra line of why and a larger capital letter, but it just keeps grinding along, with enough clever foreshadowing (like revealing that an unspecified character is going to die from the recollection of a night's events the next morning by the character who you thought would have been one of the likeliest to die) and a smooth transitioning between the perspectives of the four main characters. There's lots of human detail that will undoubtedly be smoothed over in the inevitable movie adaptation (I've seen it as a movie in my head, already, and if they fuck up the last shot I'll be pissed), and from the Amazon reviews (which I recommend avoiding if you intend to read the book) a lot of readers who like their Stephen King and Dean Koontz were pissed with its inclusion, but I loved it. These are real characters, and the slight aggregation of detail really paid off for me as it moved on.

Time to go to sleep. I think I'll flip through the Adrian Tomine graphic novel. (He of OPTIC NERVE fame. I think the name of the one I got is SUMMER BLONDE.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

my talented friends.

At the risk of sounding all "aw, shucks" and shit, I feel lucky to know a lot of talented and creative people who do interesting things.

My friend Randy is one of the co-authors of the Mental Floss book Scatterbrained, an engrossing compendium of trivia linked together by the thinnest of threads. Great stocking stuffer, should you, y'know, have a stocking. Also, if you are in LA, there are several upcoming showings of his short film Spaceboy. Also, his latest short film, "Portable Living Room", is online here or at the endlessly confusing site that Nissan assembled for it, along with a few other of the short films that it sponsored.

Former partner in noise crime Conor has gone the solo road and is engaging in speaker-destructive sonic terrorism under the moniker of Lordosis. Download now and you'll have the collected recorded works of Lordosis, along with a recording of the only live show to date. (Hint: they're the same thing.)

My friend Zane, co-producer of MADDIGAN'S QUEST, is shortly hopping on a boat to document the seemingly inevitable demise of the island of Takuu, likely to be the first casualty of global warming. Read all about it here, and if you can, contributions to the project are welcome and encouraged.

I have many other talented friends who I don't mean to overlook, but I suspect I have neglected to mention these things of late in my blog and so here we are. Perhaps you will find this more interesting than eight paragraphs about a Korean filmmaker who makes films you've never heard of and can't see in the States. Or perhaps not.

Hong Sangsoo

So recently there was a Blog-A-Thon on film criticism, and Tim Lucas (editor of VIDEO WATCHDOG) had a particularly interesting post to me. The piece concludes with this sentence:

In short, I now write criticism primarily to educate myself, to better know myself, and it's been my good luck that a select group of others seem to get something out of eavesdropping on the process.

I'm not participating in this Blog-A-Thon per se - I've avoided trying to enmesh myself in the world of film bloggers, as I'm way too intermittent and less convinced of my input, plus professional conflict of interest could arise etc. - but for various reasons "know myself" has been a theme for the past week. And as a filmmaker, an editor, and a guy who loves films, there's definitely an amount of "me" that is wrapped up in the films that I love.

So I'm going to dedicate some intermittent (but hopefully reasonably frequent) posts over the next chunk of time to various filmmakers that I love, with an attempt to explain what it is I love about them. Maybe you'll get something out of this, check out a film that I think is great and wonderful; for me, it's just a chance to really ask myself, what is it, ultimately, that makes this medium so important for me?


Hong Sangsoo is the first person that comes to mind, not because he's my favorite filmmaker, but because I saw his film WOMAN ON THE BEACH tonight at the Korean Film Festival. And also because, more than any other filmmaker I know, his films seem to all inform each other, despite no character overlap.

A bit of background: Hong is a Korean filmmaker who's been making films for a decade now. I still haven't seen his first film, THE DAY A PIG FELL INTO THE WELL, but I've seen all the rest. I started with ON THE OCCASION OF REMEMBERING THE TURNING GATE (aka TURNING GATE), which I bought on DVD off of many recommendations and which blew me off my seat. Since then, I've seen WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN in the 2004 NZ festival (shivering like mad, so I think I underappreciated it); THE POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE and VIRGIN STRIPPED BARE BY HER BACHELORS from a 3-DVD boxset of Hong's early works (it also contains WELL, but apparently it has bad subtitles); TALE OF CINEMA at this year's NZ Festival, and tonight his latest film, the aforementioned WOMAN ON THE BEACH. I say all this not just to mention all his films by name but because I'm not sure there's another director that I've seen as many films by in three years, and certainly not as large a proportion of a director's filmography.

Most Hong films have a similar feeling or structure, with a small number of characters, uncannily parallel or rhyming situations, and a relationship-based drama slowly unfolding. His protagonists are almost always flawed, most often men who are insular and stubborn and don't really get things about life, coming either closest to or farthest from complete honesty while being drunk. (And if it's a Hong film, you bet they'll be drinking. Probably a lot. Although I notice most Korean cinema has lots of drinking, so there's that.) There's nothing resembling a hero, and any audience identification is largely of the uncomfortable "God, why do I have to watch someone make the same stupid mistakes I make" variety, not the wish-fulfillment of adopting a heroic point of view. As the same time, though, the films aren't also abject debasements of caricatures of humans a la Todd Solondz; Hong's not willing to give you just one side of anybody. The eponymous character in WOMAN ON THE BEACH has one scene in particular that made me disgusted with and sick of her, but yet the next scene (the morning after) she was astonishingly gentle and kind. There's a monologue a character has in WOMAN ON THE BEACH about the building of character as defining a series of points, and one suspects that this is part of Hong's strategy with his films.

His visual style is simultaneously simple and complex. There are very few closeups: most scenes play out in extended master shots. In his last two films, Hong uses the zoom lens as a technique to reframe within a shot, and I think he did something special with it in WOMAN ON THE BEACH. Other than that, his style is very unflashy but also distinctive, deliberate in feel. There's a depth to almost all of his shots - Hong virtually never uses shallow depth of field - and the result is that nothing is really distinguished in the frame as being a particular point of interest by that technique. Nor by lighting, or often even by framing. The characters are there; you just have to decide which one is important to look at, and why.

Another strange thing about Hong films - they're the only films I've seen where it feels like the film itself has an inertia apart from the characters. The relatively minor level of drama and real-time observation of most of his films (as I recall, VIRGIN plays with a nonlinear time frame) means that you're never really sure where you are in the "story" per se, and often the film defies what you think the story might be. A seemingly major character vanishes halfway through WOMAN ON THE BEACH, never to be referred to again, because he's no longer at the beach. It's as if the film has set up shop there, in sort of a permanent present tense. Sort of similarly, TURNING GATE has a two-part structure, with its male protagonist in each wooing a different woman, the events of the first time echoing his actions in the second. TALE OF CINEMA, meanwhile, turns itself inside out halfway through the film when you suddenly discover you've been watching a film within a film. The three-act structure is left entirely adrift in these films: there's no doubt they're structured - I imagine Hong makes diagrams, perhaps, though maybe I'm way off-base - but their structure is felt more in the rigor of the filmmaking than because there's any resemblance to traditional film structure.

I don't know if any of this makes these films sound watchable, but they are - they may be slow for some, and too "talky" for others, but they're certainly not offputting and are sometimes quite funny in their quiet observations. (Also, several of them include pretty explicit sex, if that encourages you, though BEACH rejects this, framing its sex more chastely than your average rock video.) They're not the sorts of films with big emotional payoffs at the end; in fact, it's rare that I've had a really immediate emotional reaction to an individual Hong film, even to my favorite (TURNING GATE). But they seem, more than the work of any other filmmaker I know, to be obsessed with understanding why it is that we act how we act, without using any artifices of filmmaking to force a false or simplistic response to the question, and because of this they resonate longer, strike a deeper chord, and remain with me long after most films have left my memory. That Hong so often chooses to depict filmmakers as characters in his films further reinforces the sense that he is not working from an abstract concept of humanity to make characters but digging into his life experience to grapple with the questions of how we live, and maybe how we can do better than we have. As a character in TURNING GATE says: "Even though it's difficult being human, let's not become monsters, ok?" (As sentimental of a notion as you'll get in a Hong movie.)

Anyone interested in digging deeper into the world of Hong Sangsoo is strongly encouraged to check out this website. In terms of DVD, though, unless you're up from importing from Asia you're out of luck at the moment, though WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN is due out soon in the States. If you are up for importing, YesAsia has TURNING GATE for $9.99 on DVD, which is as fine an introduction to Hong as I can suggest. They also have the 3 DVD set of his early works for reasonably cheap as well.

Friday, December 01, 2006

educating women may be very very very hazardous to your health.

I've had this story on my desktop for a couple days now, and it doesn't get any easier to digest. I wanted to write something about it, but every thing I have to say seems self-evident.

Except, maybe, for the fact that nobody else is talking about it. While every one's wrapped up in the fact that we're losing the Iraq War, virtually no one even remembers that there was another war that we thought we had won that apparently we're also starting to lose.

When I imagine a utopia, I imagine a society entirely free of coercion. Stories like this, and the one I mentioned last week about the Congo, remind me just how pitifully, astonishingly far we are from that as a species. I sometimes fantasize of a land where everybody who wishes to subject people they don't know to laws about morality are left to themselves and given no one and nothing to have power over, and everybody else is left to do what they want, provided they don't inflict violence upon anybody else.

Sigh, enough of that. Anyway. Off to spend a lively Friday night in front of the computer doing animation!