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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RIP Ingmar Bergman

Unless you call every death a tragedy, it's perhaps overstretching the word tragedy to apply it to the death of an 89-year old who died, presumably, peacefully at his beloved home. Certainly, it's unlikely (though not impossible) that we have been deprived of future Bergman masterpieces. (He does seem to be surprisingly spry on the bonus features for his most recent film SARABAND, however.)

But I was more than a bit sad when I went to bed and still sad now, because we've lost a giant, somebody who was absolutely and deeply respectful of the medium of film and working with it as a great artist. I remember my parents telling me once about how they saw most of the Bergman films in college and thereafter - it was just something people of a certain education level did, and part of the general cultural discourse. Now "foreign film", unless it's basically Hollywood film with subtitles (AMELIE, CROUCHING TIGER, etc.), is a subset of a grotto that's unlikely to penetrate the consciousness of anybody who's not already hip-deep and obsessed with it.

And I wonder if the death of Bergman is, symbolically, a death of taking film seriously, as anything more than entertainment.

I think I'm going to go watch WILD STRAWBERRIES.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

for the editors in the house

Disgruntled editors (or those who wish to understand the minds of disgruntled editors) should read this.

Update 3 probably coming tomorrow night (the crowds, after all, are clearly desperately awaiting this news). I saw Charles Burnett speak with his film KILLER OF SHEEP tonight. It was made in 1977 as a student film and was one of the first 50 films added to the National Film Registry when the Library of Congress began preserving films, and I've been wanting to see it for a decade. After the screening, I asked the soft-spoken Burnett if there was anything he knew now that he wished he knew when he made that film, which in retrospect sounds like a criticism but I didn't mean it that way.

He responded by saying he couldn't think of much, and admitted that he didn't know much when he made KILLER OF SHEEP and that that was probably a good thing, because you need a bit of naievete to make a feature film. If you think of all the things you have to do to make a film, he went on, it's overwhelming. But if you actually just pick up a camera and go out, then you're making a film, without thinking of everything that gets in the way.

Of course, music clearances meant that this film was unreleasable for 30 years, and the company that released it finally spent 7 years getting the clearances, so there's that. But the larger point is well taken.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Biennale redux

So I've mentioned how much I liked going to the Biennale, and now it turns out David Byrne went to the Biennale as well. He has two of the better pieces of video art embedded in his blog, one by Joshua Mosley and one by Sophie Whettnall. The Los Torreznos stuff is cool as well, and hey, maybe you'll like the other stuff also. Cheaper than a ticket to Venice, probably!

NZFF report #2

okay, lots to catch up with, so these might be terse. Ask me about anything you're curious about if you want more info.

THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT: One of a string of documentaries presented in the wrong aspect ratio (in this case, a letterbox 4x3 master squished to 16x9), this film nonetheless is a gut-punch of first-person testimony in the lengthy attempt to overturn the conviction of a man accused of rape. Very strong, incredibly moving, recommended.

RESCUE DAWN: I'm as big of a Werner Herzog fan as they come, but this was a pretty big disappointment. Christian Bale's performance and the stirring patriotic end (complete with symphonic music) strike me as the two most problematic elements, but there's also lots of basic storytelling issues - finding the sole, for instance, doesn't mean anything because you've barely registered that they don't have shoes and/or that not having shoes is a problem. Some beautiful images and nice passages, but gimme WILD BLUE YONDER any day.

DEEP WATER: A stunning documentary about the first sailing race around the world. While there's seven competitors, it focuses largely on two: a relatively inexperienced inventor and a French philosopher. The story, augmented massively by footage shot by the sailors during their travels, is one that you're best knowing nothing about going in, as the twists and turns are increasingly stunning and heartbreaking. Even more highly recommended.

TALES FROM EARTHSEA: in which the first movie by the son of famous animator Hayao Miyazaki (MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, etc.) fails to even remotely escape his father's shadow. I've never read the original source material, but this is just a mish-mash of some fantasy gobbledy-gook and a lot of gabbing, along with some unlikeable characters, and very few cute Ghibli creatures to at least keep things interesting to look at. My second least favorite film of the fest so far.

TV JUNKIE: Bizarrely presented in a perfect square in the middle of the screen, which was annoying. Rick Kirkham is a tv presenter who obsessively filmed himself, and this film after a brief prologue is basically a long first-person account of his descent into drug abuse and self-destruction. There's something bizarre about how acutely aware Kirkham seems to be of his situation, despite the fact that he just keeps falling deeper. I am a bit unsettled by how his children feature into this, particularly given the ending.

HELVETICA: Yes, it's a documentary about the font, and I'm tempted to argue that it's so much more but I'm not sure that it is. But I'm also not sure that matters, because what this really is about is hearing legendary graphic designers speak passionately about the pros and cons of Helvetica (and, by extension, alternative fonts), and it emphatically proves the point that hearing intelligent, passionate, articulate people talk about their field of knowledge is generally fascinating no matter what the field is if you have any curiosity about the world. And you'll definitely look at the streets around you with different eyes after this. Highly recommended.

AUDIENCE OF ONE: Presented in the same screwed-up format as TV JUNKIE. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a pastor who decides to lead his rag-tag congregation into making a $50 million epic sci-fi retelling of a Biblical story. Wisely, the film holds some of the more extreme aspects of the church til the end, but there's no stopping the subjects from digging their own grave when it comes to their pie-eyed optimism/extreme ineptitude at filmmaking. (This article should give you some sense, if yr. curious.) The final slide presentation by the pastor is thus far, I believe, the most jaw-dropping moment of the festival.

ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE: A 70's classic that I'd never seen, partially because I thought it was porn-related. Couldn't be more wrong - Electra Glide is a brand of motorcycle, and Robert Blake is the not-very-tall man riding it as an Arizona highway patrol man who wants to be a homicide detective. It's shocking to think that a feature this inventive and accomplished was by a first-time director James-William Guercio, who never directed after this (apparently it was derided as "Fascist" at Cannes, I guess for daring to suggest that policemen are human and some criminals actually are bad people). Plus, great Conrad Hall photography. A must-see!

A DIRTY CARNIVAL: This year's Korean gangster film is a step up for me from last year's stylish but sluggish A BITTERSWEET LIFE, perhaps because it's actually two interweaving stories (the second being of the filmmaker who went to school with the lead character, and now wants to research his life to make a gangster film). It's perhaps not as stylish or as relentlessly violent as some other Korean films of note, but for that it hurts all the more.

SMILE: Another 70's film that I'd never seen, by director Michael Ritchie, who I thought I was unfamiliar with - little did I know he directed both the Lee Marvin film PRIME CUT and FLETCH. This film is in the Altman mode, profiling the "Young America Miss" contest with a mix of humor and pathos but mostly staying on the funny side of the fence. Fans of Altman definitely should check this out.

RETRIBUTION: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (CURE, PULSE [KAIRO]) is one of my favorite directors working, and his sense of atmosphere - from his choice of crumbling locations to the infinite shades of grey he uses in his production design to his pervasively oppressive sound design - is so striking to me that I'm disposed to like most everything he does. A number of other people were unimpressed by this film, and perhaps it's not as good as CURE or PULSE, but I can't think of many directors who can sustain a two-hour feeling of dread and unease this strong and (apart with mild dissatisfaction with some of the digital effects) I came away fully satisfied in that disquieted kinda way.

BELLE TOUJOURS: While not as unremittingly awful as I had heard in the pre-screening gossip, it certainly stretches mightily to make its 69 minute running time. A sequel to BELLE DE JOUR of sorts, there's some nice moments of rumination on identity and aging, and it did more to sell Paris to me than PARIS, JE T'AIME ever did. And near the end, there's some nice Bunuelian elements that seep in. But by and large, I can't imagine most people would get much from this, and the actor who plays the bartender gives the worst performance I've thus seen this festival. At the end, I discovered that it's the director's grandson. Go figure.

THE BOTHERSOME MAN: If you've ever felt that IKEA might be a sort of hell, this is the film for you. A quietly surreal expedition into an afterworld that seems perfectly agreeable only by its lack of any disagreeable elements, this is visually striking in its portrayal of terrifying blandness. Sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, ultimately sad, and I'm not really sure what to make of it overall but definitely think it's worth seeing.

STILL LIFE: I've seen three films by Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke now (the others being UNKNOWN PLEASURES and THE WORLD) and I feel like I'm missing the boat a bit - they've all been good, but by many he's been anointed as one of the greatest filmmakers working, and I just don't see it. As an editor, I'd probably be less bothered if he didn't rely on the intermittent use of very naff visual effects - some of them may meant to be charming, but some are just sloppy. That said, I did enjoy this story of two people coming to the area around the Three Gorges Dam to re-connect to a past that's in the process of being washed away, and Jia definitely takes advantage of a visually striking landscape for moments of quiet absurdity and sadness. I like it more as I write about it, which is certainly a good sign.

THE LOST: If David Lynch was less weird and more mean? Set in a location out of time, this adaptation of a crime novel justifies its brutal and gory finale by devoting a lot of attention to character development - while I certainly can't recommend it for those with weak stomachs, I would definitely recommend it for anyone who likes horror, and it's an amazing accomplishment on a low budget. Some minor storytelling lumpiness aside, very impressive.

DESERT/MEX: My least favorite film of the festival, from the hand-held largely out-of-focus photography to the incredibly unlikable characters. I'm more than mildly baffled by all the praise this is getting, and I would've walked after twenty minutes if there had been anything else on to see; as it was, I only stayed to see if I could figure out what the appeal was. Yes, I suppose the acting's good, and points for telling a non-linear story in an unobtrusive manner (though why it has to be non-linear other than to be showy is markedly unclear to me), and maybe you'll like the endless stream of characters with anger-management issues better than I do. If so, good on you! But if not, don't blame me.

MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET): A gut-punch of a documentary about life in Brazil by a former Errol Morris assistant, this doc manages to be pretty independent of Morris's style - while the free-associations of a frog farm, a kidnap victim, a corrupt politician, a plastic surgeon specializing in ear reconstruction, and a paranoid businessman might seem out of FAST CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL, in fact they're glued together at a much more primal level. Not for the squeamish, but highly recommended.

TEKKON KINKREET: The latest animation from Studio 4C, who did last year's mind-blowing MIND GAME, this effort is slightly more traditional narratively speaking, but pushes the envelope even further as animation goes. The use of animation as camera is stunning here, from soaring city-scape shots to lots of "hand-held camera" that works shockingly well to "steadi-cam" tracking shots to even getting drops of water on the "lens" when near the water. A must-see for anyone who is interested in animation.

And today I rested! Tonight: EXILED!

Monday, July 16, 2007

NZFF report #1

RED ROAD: Partially funded by Lars Von Trier's Zentropa outfit and supposedly first in a three-film series using different writer/directors but same characters and actors, this is supposed to be yet another experience in observational hand-held drama leading to surprising revelations related to grief but mostly seemed kind of absurd - I spent a good half hour in the middle muttering under my mental breath about how I didn't believe the main character. This seems to be an increasing problem for me, though - I felt the same about BROTHERS - so your mileage may vary. Craftwise, I thought it was largely well done, and certainly would check out another of Andrea Arnold's films.

ANIMATION NOW!: The film festival's yearly animation round-up program was a real mixed bag. My favorite by far was BURNING SAFARI, heavily in debt to Pixar but super entertaining. Also of note: the clever TEN THOUSAND PICTURES OF YOU, the existential WEISS, and although a bit long, the portrait of Madrid, STUART.

(BURNING SAFARI, for your viewing pleasure.)

COCAINE COWBOYS: Now we're cooking. Several almost gleefully unrepentant survivors of the Miami-based cocaine business tell how cocaine went from nothing to a nationwide epidemic, and their stories are astonishing and entertaining and appalling by turns. Some dodgy sound editing, but nobody besides me will care.

THE SIGNAL: all the reputation this had was as a brutal visceral horror, and while there's no question that it's not a family film, what I hadn't heard much about was just how funny it is, particularly in its second section. (The film is made in three sections by three different writer/directors, and while the story runs through each director puts their own twist on it.) For people who like horror and/or low-budget films, this is a must-see and a heck of a ride, although in retrospect it's not clear if it makes a lick of sense.

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES: an absolutely outstanding film. It's billed as a documentary about artist Edward Burtynsky, but from the agonizingly long first dolly shot it's clear that this is not just a vessel for another artist but a work of art in its own right. While it took me a while (like, not til several hours after the film) to come to terms both with the fact that it is not just grappling with Burtynsky but tackling his same themes on its own terms and with its laser-like focus on China, in fact (as a. rightly pointed out to me) China is the product center through which the consumerist world inflicts its modifications to the land. Meanwhile, Jennifer Baichwal brings not just her own eye (one that is able to find in motion as iconic and indelible of images as Burtynsky finds in stillness) but an ear for sound design that is impeccable and architecturally staggering.


METAMKINE/PLAINS: Both part of the film festival and part of the Alt.Music festival. Plains is a local largely electronic group, working more on the musique concrete side of that term. They were joined by guitarist Dean Roberts tonight, playing to video accompaniment by Michael Morley, famed for his presence in the Dead C. and Gate. However, while I enjoyed the music, the relation to the largely tedious video (which, intentionally or not, I wound up watching mostly as a study in digital compression) was pretty incidental.

Metamkine I wrote about this week at Nonalignment Pact. Suffice it to say here it is an absolutely essential experience for anybody who has even the vaguest interest in non-narrative film and/or experimental viewing.

THE HIRED HAND: What a discovery. Peter Fonda's 1971 western, his directorial debut, was pretty much ignored on initial release and overlooked for decades. It stands on a relatively simple story, but one that's beautifully told, particularly with some visually dense overlaid montages and use of still shots that come into motion. Apparently Fonda managed to direct two other films (WANDA NEVADA and IDAHO TRANSFER) but hasn't directed since 1979; a shame.

FOREVER: A rambling meditation set largely in Paris's Pere-Lachaise cemetery (which weirdly enough just featured in PARIS, JE T'AIME, although Wilde's gravestone is largely a footnote here). The focus is on the relation that living people have with dead artists and how they inspire us and inform our lives, though that focus drifts to include just about anything that happens to seem interesting in the generous interviews that make up the bulk of the film. I was definitely fading during this, but I think it's fair to say that while interesting its lack of narrative drive would be a hindrance for many.

EXPLORATIONS OF FOLDED TIME: LEIGHTON PIERCE: Unknown by me til this program, Leighton Pierce has apparently been making films since the late 70's, though this focuses on his video works from the past eight years or so. The program traces the evolution of one style, starting with the meditative and relatively recognizable images of WOOD to the more densely layered THE BACK STEPS (of which a sample is featured on his web site, should you be inclined to see if his work is of any interest to you). Themes develop, grow, and recur, up to 2004's VISCERA, which is the densest, most insistent, and most fully realized work, to the point where future progress seemed unimaginable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the last program on the film, NUMBER ONE, points in a somewhat different, relying on kaleidoscopic image doubling and the framing of multiple images in the frame. Anyway, definitely deserves more attention than I can give at the moment but very worthy of your attention if you like the abstract filmatists.

Time to get some sleep, will try to catch up with everything else I've seen tomorrow.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

i've been meaning to say this for a while.

I really think you should look at this site

Monday, July 09, 2007

you can't be everywhere at once ...

... but I wish I could have been here.

Ah well. Consolation prize = dinosaur jr. tonight!

Friday, July 06, 2007

do you like funny things?

Of course you do! Who doesn't?

I casually know one of the folks over at Mukpuddy Animation, and their film won the Auckland leg of the 48Hours competition. (I missed the competition for the first time since I moved to New Zealand, because I was busy editing a TV show on a nearby island.)

Anyway, the TV finals were on Sunday, and while they got my vote (not because of the friendship, but because I enjoyed them the most), they didn't win. (To be fair, the winner was my second choice, and is also well worth watching, and can be viewed at the official site.)

For the broadcast, each team had to provide a little introduction to their film. They had my vote pretty much sealed away with their excellent introduction:

and here is their 48 Hours entry:

Well played, Mukpuddy!

In less amusing news, I encourage all of you to sign MoveOn's petitionto Congress to force Vice-President Cheney to conform to the law or else begin impeachment proceedings.

It's wet here. Boo. I got a tax refund. Yay!

There are new pictures up at my Flickr page. Just a tease:

graffiti, Cinque Terre

That is all.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

a link.

I'm still planning on doing some sort of massive follow-up write up of my trip, but for those who want to read a lot about Gerhard Richter, musings on art and writing, and have a bit of travelogue mixed in, all in the context of a Fennesz review, this week's NAP post is really really long.

Man, SILENT HILL is a weird film.