Fire Exit  

Posted by Jared

My sister told me to keep writing, and I do my best to listen to her. Here goes.

I skipped out on work Sunday and went to Madison to see the closing performance of Fire Exit, a play written by and featuring Greg Harris, one of my closest and most creatively inspiring friends. The day could not have been more perfect.

I love Madison. The entire place often feels pregnant with questions and ideas. You can almost sense the activity of minds being shaped, discussions entertained. I have not been anywhere else where you can find a hundred or more people outside enjoying the sun and the lake with a book on their lap ( It was a beautiful day and the Terrace was packed). Madison is also where I have met the greatest friends I have ever known. Almost all of amazing people that fill my life and make it comprehensible are from my time there.

But as the bus pulled into town, I started to feel the familiar pangs of regret that accompany my visits. Madison is also the setting of the failure, depression, and waste that characterize much of my twenties. When I think about Madison, I think of opportunities forsaken and possibilities ignored.

My pastor once said life for me is like floating down a river on an innertube. While most get along fine easing our way downstream, the realization that I'm moving makes me question where I'm headed. I dig my heels in and resolve not to move another inch until I get things figured out, until I map a route and destination I find acceptable. The paralysis of such a task can be overwhelming. You spend all you time craning your neck around the corner and asking "What then?" You are never able to be present and all the people, experiences, and moments, all that time, float past.

I walked up State St. to the capitol, over to the Weary Traveler, and sat down to some food, a little bourbon, and great music. I started making a list of the things I did and didn't do while in school. While monumentally depressing, the one thing I did do that stuck out was I learned how to think. I didn't spend to much time at class or writing papers on time or being involved, but I spent hours talking and listening to some incredibly elegant thinkers. They taught me rigor, analysis, and synthesis, as well as respect, patience, and generosity. I learned how to learn. So why was I so confused?

I killed some time by walking to Lake Monona and stared at the clouds for awhile. I had just seen James Benning's 10 Skies the night before and tried to hold my vision on one small segment of sky and observe all the changes that can happen in ten minutes (you'd be amazed). I realized that if Madison taught me to think, Milwaukee has taught me to see (I'm pretty good. I have 5th or 6th grade vision, but hope to work my way to pre-schooler before all's said and done). Not seeing well is problematic because all the thinking in the world can't help you if your information is flawed. As much as I was learning and as well as I thought, I simply didn't know. I didn't know. All that time spent not knowing. All that time wasted.

The play started and it was wonderful. Based on the mythology surrounding the burned down Hotel Washington, a group of friends revisit the abandoned wreckage and their former selves (each character is double cast with an older and younger actor after Sondheim's Follies). Like a eulogy to his twenties, Greg celebrated and mourned the carefree pleasures and blinded eyes of unsuspecting youth. He challenged those moving on to neither flee from nor be imprisoned by their regret and to understand growing up is not removing the possibility of mistake - that is failure - but accepting that the same mistakes will be made over again forever - that is living.

In laying his past to rest, Greg helped me bury mine as well. The emotion of this and the joy of seeing someone you care about keep working, keep failing, making the same mistakes and not giving up, and producing such amazing work as a result, catapulted my feet out of any mud they might be dragging in. I spent the rest of the evening enjoying the family of friends created through the production, marveling at what I saw. Present.

So I think the past is past. I learned the question to ask isn't "Why didn't I?" or " What's next?", but "What's now?". I've learned to look and how to enjoy what I find. I've learned there are no maps, only the occasional and momentary guide. And above all, I've learned to trust the Providence of the current. I think the temptation at turning thirty is to re-live your twenties. Thanks to a few long walks and a friend who writes well, I no longer fear that. I still want to live like I'm twenty - exploring, learning, creating, and you might find that just as pathetic. That's fine, I'm just going to paddle around for a while.

P.S.- I noticed that my profile I listed occupation as a Filmmaking Hobbist rather than Hobbyist. If anyone was under the impression that I make films advocating absolute monarchy as the means of guaranteeing a stable civil society, I apologize.

Yaphet Kotto  

Posted by Jared

Truck Turner (1974)
Jonathan Kaplan
Across 110th Street (1972)
Barry Shear
viewed 02.23.06

From the pimped out Harvard Blue to Lt. Pope (actually the other way around, but I'm trying to invent a progression). If you know Yaphet Kotto it's probably as the intimidating Lt. Al Giardello on the acclaimed TV series Homicide. Here you get to see him do battle with a Shaft-like Isaac Hayes.

It's sad to see a good actor slumming in exploitation films, forced to play second fiddle to the brutal acting of a famous musician . At least in 110th Street, a heavy-handed, blood fest about social equality, he gets Anthony Quinn.

P.S. While looking for mp3's of a hardcore punk band named after Kotto I stumbled upon this amazing single recorded by the real Yaphet Kotto in 1968, "Have You Dug His Scene?" Well have you?

Visions of Vision  

Posted by Jared

William Eggleston in the Real World (2005)
Michael Almereyda
viewed 02.21.06

How Little We Know of our Neighbours (2005)
Rebecca Barron
viewed 02.24.06

Documents of America  

Posted by Jared

The Century of the Self (2002)
viewed 02.28.06 & 03.01.06

The Power of Nightmares (2004)
viewed 03.02.06
Adam Curtis

Love Me Tender  

Posted by Jared

A Reason to Live (1976)
George Kuchar
Chafed Elbows (1966)
Robert Downey Sr.
The Telephone Book (1971)
Nelson Lyon
viewed 02.16.06

I admit to having a vacillating relationship with films like these. I recognize them as depraved and juvenile, and at the same time I am awed by their humor and provocation. Watching them I was reminded of absurdity and scorn of Luis Buñuel and Owen Land as well as the insolence of Dada writers. What many would see as an internecine display of sex and depravity, captivated and inspired me by its recklessness and candor.

Chafed Elbows was the gem of the screening and Downey (father of the actor) is a new obsession. A strange comedy about a young man and his unspeakable relationship with his mother, Chafed Elbows, delivers a barrage of non-sequiters, one-liners, and obscure referencess that vilify everything from pychoanalysis and philosophy to filmmaking and welfare, with special consideration made for the NYPD.

I probably wouldn't have much of an argument for those who ask how this improves me. I can't exactly say it does. But if Downey and the artists like him have a virtue, it is that they have zero interest in anyone finding them acceptable. There is no compromise is their work. I remember operating a boom mic on a small project that involved professional actors. A character kept using clichés and they where trying to find one about time management. A rather risque one was offered and while it was funny and worked, the actors were all uncomfortable with it. You could see them all calculating how this might affect getting work in car commercials, or whether their Mom might see this.

I'm not entirely mocking them, I have the exact same thoughts. I am constantly plagueded by concerns of what people will think of me. How many times a day do I nod and say "I know that you mean" when my mind is screaming "I couldn't disagree more!" Last week my boss's boss was commenting on the style of shoe everyone in the room had on. When he skipped mine, I was planning a shopping trip. When did impressing him with footwear become a priority? I don't even want to work there.

The 1967 New York Times review of Chafed Elbows begins "One of these days, Robert Downey... is going to clean himself up a good bit, wash the dirty words out of his mouth and do something worth mature attention." I'm bored already. What the reviewer means is that one of these days Robert Downey will make films that look and sound like everyone else's. Thank God he doesn't. Thank God he has the courage to ignore the crowd and challenges us to do the same. Being true - presenting yourself uncensoreded - doesn't mean living or making work like these filmmakers. My vision of life and the things I want to say are are not the same as Downey's. But what I often lack, and they possess, is the tenacity say those things clearly.


Posted by Jared

Kiss (1963)
Couch (1964)
Andy Warhol
viewed 02.14.06

"They're experimental films; I call them that because I don't know what I'm doing. I'm interested in audience reaction to my films: my films now will be experiments, in a certain way, on testing their reactions"

- Andy Warhol, Nothing to Lose'

The audience was the show tonight, and the show was telling. I was impressed by the number of people who turned out for the screenings tonight; within 30 minutes about half had left. Each of the films are 50 minutes, black and white, and silent. Kiss consists of static close-ups (the only camera move between the two films is a short zoom out in Kiss) of, well the title kind of says it, kissing. Couch is a collection of wider shots of various activities (typically amorous) on Warhol's famous red couch at the Factory. This may not sound all that interesting to most, but it has moments that captivate and amuse. I assume most people showed up because of the name "Warhol" and thought they were going to see a breezy, kitsch, pop-culture movie. They had no idea Warhol was going to ask something of them.

What I want to know is what the thought process was for most people. Was it, "I don't know much about his work, but Warhol is supposed to be brilliant and cool...what's this? This doesn't seem brilliant or cool to me - and I've given it almost 15 minutes now, Warhol must not be brilliant. Honey, get your popcorn." Was it "I thought this was a movie...where's the story?" Or was it "Watching people make-out is creepy, only pervert would find this interesting. Why did my date want me to see this, what a creep." ( I did feel kind of bad for the guys that brought their valentines.) My point is that is most cases it seems people where confronted with something that challenged their concept of what art is, or what a film is, or what appropriateness is, or whatever, and rather than staying to experience and understand this challenge, a large percentage merely escaped. What happened to the idea that the things we think may be wrong? Maybe they just didn't like it? Maybe saying "I just didn't like it" is a quick way of saying what I've just said?


I decided I needed to temper my comments after talking with one of the show's programmers. His first comment was also about the audience, but about how they made it the best screening the school year. He acknowledged that many left, but pointed out that those who stayed brought great energy and humor to the films. I don't know why I failed to mention what a great time the films were or how engaged the remaining audience was, but I did. I thought it was important to say so.

Right Now  

Posted by Jared

À tout de suite (2004)
Benoît Jacquot
viewed 02.11.06

A reviewer of À tout de suite wrote "Few movies have the power to grab the viewer from the very first frame and never let go." I missed the first 90 seconds and have to admit to never being grabbed.

Much like Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, Jacquot intends his film as an homage to French New Wave cinema, but only achieves a dull, lifeless aping of shots and themes. New Wave films are shocking with their energy, life, absurdity, recklessness, and wit. Attempts at repeating that time and spirit of innovation resemble the real thing as much as a faded memory of first love compares the astonishing moment of hope and desire.

In describing the limited variety of the stories we can tell, Ben Marcus (again) writes of a one-word language where speakers can only communicate something new by altering its pronuciation. For us "stories keep mattering by reimagining their own methods, manners, and techniques." When we mimic the intonation of another the results are methodological, mannered and forgettableble.

I'm sure there's a life application in here somewhere.

Games of Love and Chance  

Posted by Jared

L'Esquive (2003)
Abdel Kechiche
viewed 02.10.06

This was a fantastic film which provoked far more thought than I imagined it would when the lights went up. On the surface it's two hours of teenagers being teenagers. They're loud, they're vulgar, they're rude, violent, and oblivious. Shot in a intimately revealing documentary style in the Paris banlieues (poor suburbs) with stunningly gifted non-actors, the film creates a legitimacy that keeps their boasting and shouting compelling, and allows us to see beyond their defiant exteriors.

The only adult that has any real screen time is their energetic teacher who is staging a production of Marivaux's "Games of Love and Chance". The play serves not only as a backdrop for the romance of the film but as an opportunity for the kids to engage with something outside of themselves. Apart from the animated and beautiful Lydia, the rest are content with smoking, porn, and gossip. Personifying this detachment is Krimo, a sad, silent, brooder with problems at home and an eye for Lydia. Krimo finagles his way into playing Lydia's romantic opposite but is unable to muster the dynamism and purpose to bring life to either the role or his dreams.

"L'Esquive" is a term for dodging in fencing and illustrates how the characters are unable to attack the circumstances of their existence. Their teacher is the only influence that passionately strives for their escape. In coaching Krimo she cuts his melancholy acting shouting "Plus! Plus!" You feel her wanting to shake them, shock them, attack them, provoke them, anything to wake them out of their limited understanding and habits.

I often see what I imagine are kids like this around town. Typically I think "Thank God I don't have to put up with this all day." Thinking about this film, I am overwhelmed by what an opportunity and honor it must be to go to work everyday fighting for young people's minds. I'm sure it "ain't like the movies" but neither is this film.


Posted by Jared

Syriana (2005)
Stephen Gaghan
viewed 02.09.06

Rant coming soon.



"The malleability of the masses is directly proportional to their material possessions."

"Freedom would be not to choose between black and white but to abjure such
prescribed choices."

-Theodor Adorno

Syriana is a Hollywood thriller about the political and corporate corruption surrounding the oil industry. Is it anywhere near reality? Of course not, as my cousin Drew said as we walked out, "It's worse than that."

The film leaves you at a loss as to how things can be corrected. It all too clearly illustrates that those that control the money and the power will never be unseated or even held responsible. Does that describe our world? A few reminders:

*Tom Delay got back in the game last week. He rejoined the House Appropriations Committee and took a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department. That's the Justice Department investigating the Abramoff lobbying scandal. Delay should provide plenty of expert insight; he's facing money-laundering charges and considers Abramoff one of his "closest and dearest friends". Take a moment to skim a page entitled "Monetary influence of Jack Abramoff" on Wikipedia. How many people of the hundred or so involved will lose their career because of this? My guess is less than four.

*Our President is steadily creating one of the most secretive administrations in history. With Executive Order 13233 signed in 2001 Bush has made nearly impossible for the public to see and examine the presidential papers that were formerly made public 12 years after a president left office. Now it takes written consent of the former president (or heir) and the sitting president. No future accountability for Iran-Contra, Gulf I, 9/11, Gulf II, Katrina, etc., etc. This mirrors his lack of transparency in repeatedly refusing to release information concerning Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, Cheney's oil entanglements, wireless surveillance, you name it.

*Speaking of eavesdropping, the Senate Intelligence committee has come up with a novel idea for investigating the legality of Bush's spying; change the law and you don't need to investigate anything. "Aw, Man, you caught me. Can we change the rules so I won't get caught again? I promise not to break those."

*I heard $5.4 Billion has gone missing in Iraq. Is this in addition to the $8.8 billion in 2005 or the $20 billion in 2004 or the $4 billion in 2003? I keep losing track.

*The oil industry is about to receive $7 billion in "Royalty Relief" and could receive another $28 billion over the next five years. Just in time. Exxon only made $36 billion last year.

*And drawing on the finest of American traditions, we seem to be the world leader in torture (See Mary's post). There was Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay , Cheney's fight to continue torture, McCain's capitulation, Abu Ghraib again, Gitmo again, and in my favorite bit of covering your ass, the Times updated the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of two detainees in Bragam, Afghanistan. Turns out that of the 27 recommended for criminal charges, 15 have been prosecuted, the stiffest penalty being 5 months. Military police sergeant, James P. Boland and military police Specialist Willie V. Brand had charges ranging from assault and maltreatment to manslaughter (a coroner remarked that one victim look like had had been run over by a truck). Tactics Boland used were starting to possibly implicate higher ranking officials and the charges were suddenly dropped. He left the Army and got a letter of reprimand (I'm sure it was very mean). After hearing about Brand's tough times at home, he got off with a demotion in rank and an honorable (yes honorable) discharge. For torturing and killing a man. A man, by the way, who had a young wife, two-year-old-daughter, and, oh yeah, was innocent. I never want anyone to ever tell me that innocent people have nothing to fear from the Patriot Act. Nothing unless you happen to have the wrong ethnicity, religion, or ideas. Ask Maher Arar.

So...What do we do? I don't know, but tomorrow I'm emailing General Electric to notify them that I will not do business with them or their subsidiaries until they agree to stop financially influencing elections.

Let me explain.

A year or so ago I read and article in American Scholar and then saw a segment on PBS about the environmental effects of the pork industry. I decided to limit my pork consumption (Christmas, Easter, and brats) as a way to help the situation. When I mentioned this to people they often responded that my not eating a pork chop isn't going to change anything. They're right and I'm not so militant anymore. I noticed something in all this, a lot of these people were the same people who freaked out when I told them I don't vote (it's not exactly true, but it really pisses people off). I reasoned that I have far more power with the way I spend money than than 6 hours in line and 30 seconds in a voting booth. (The chances of your vote ever influencing an election are about the same as winning the lottery. Not to mention that the closer an election the less chance the voters will decide it. Remember 2000, if you wanted your vote to decide anything you had to be wearing a black robe.) If you don't like the way Walmart does business, don't go, change they way you live, Walmart will be out of business in a week if we truly feel that way. Waiting for elected officials bought and paid for by corporate entities to change things is hopeless. Waiting for elected officials not bought and paid for is funny.

Nothing miserable is ever going to get better if we keep giving our money to those who make things miserable. Does GE make things miserable? Maybe not so bad but according to they had one of the largest lobbying outlays in 2005 as well as one of the largest corporate PACs. I doubt the money is going to pioneer campaign finance reform. There are larger spenders and worse companies (GE isn't exactly innocent), but finding information is difficult and opting out of industries is even harder. I can't have health insurance without doing business with a major corporation, I can't set-up an medical savings account without a major corporation, I can't drive myself to a free-clinic without a major corporation, and I can't call home and ask for money for an appendectomy without an major corporation (healthcare, finance, transportation, and communication are the worst influence-peddling offenders). UPS has the biggest PAC, but their competition FedEx is in the top ten, not to mention I don't send anything (they're both getting emails and I'll use USPS). I do buy lightbulbs.

Maybe we can make this the next consumer ethics issue. We, the consumers, will give preferential treatment to any company that agrees not contribute directly or indirectly through its officers, subsidiaries, or PACs to a political party, candidate, or 527. We understand that they have the right to do so, they must understand we have the right to go elsewhere. The political influence their money buys is out of proportion with the influence of the average citizen. One person, one vote is meaningless in the current arrangement. Our freedom to choose and prevail upon our elected officials is no longer for sale.

Is this realistic? Maybe not. Are my emails or your emails going to change anything? Probably not, but why do you vote?

Civic duty? Don't we have a duty to do more than nod in the direction of diligence and sacrifice every four years?

To honor the sacrifice of those that died for freedom? What is freedom when our voice is meaningless compared to the campaign money they have to offer? What kind of freedom doesn't allow you to stop doing business with those you don't want to support?

To retain the right to complain about the results of elections? Do you hate the influence of videogames on teenagers? If you own a Sony DVD player or Microsoft software you need to stop talking. Do you dislike the violent and hyper-sexualized culture created by Miramax films? If you watch ABC, ESPN, Disney, or a fair number of sports teams, stop talking. Think the credit industry preys on the most vulnerable? What does the logo on your debit card say? What really infuriates you? Chances are you do business with a company that does just that. We have zero right to complain about how companies do damage if we continue to pay their bills. I know that means going without, but what are our options?

So here goes, no more GE lightbulbs, microwaves, phones. No NBC, Olympics, Universal Pictures (I'm super bummed I won't be watching Mann's Miami Vice, really, I'm not kidding), Focus Features (super bummed there too), Bravo, and sadly Telemundo. You can get a list here. I'm sure I won't always be consistent or mindful. I'm not going take on every company today. But I am going to do something. It's my meaningless act of liberation for the day.

I'm also not eating pork again (except brats).

Pépé le Moko  

Posted by Jared

Pépé le Moko (1937)
Julien Duvivier
viewed 02.08.06

This was an absolute treat. I said it before in response to Mary's post on Casablanca, but they do not write films like this anymore. Films of this era, the great ones at least, seem to delight in eccentric charaters, vivid dialogue, and graceful badinage. They are films for adults with active minds, with charismatic performances that can captivate the youngest and most untrained viewer.

If you want to be charmed by sparlking exchanges, playful moments and beautiful motifs you might want to look back a half-century and introduce yourself to the some of the originals (Ernst Lubitch's Trouble in Paradise or Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday). If you live near Milwaukee you can do just that when the Times Cinema screens a series of classics including Casablanca, Strangers On A Train, and It Happened One Night. Only 5 bucks.


Posted by Jared

Morlang (2001)
Tjebbo Penning
viewed 02.08.06

I number of different movies came to mind as I watched this film (La Belle Noiseuse, The Limey), but mostly it was a less creepy, less Art Garfunkel Bad Timing look-alike (kind of a shinier twin brother). An incredibly well made film, it nevertheless felll very flat. It was based on a true story about a man who coned his wife into committing suicide with him but didn't go through with it, and never meant to, after she did. But once you know these things, there isn't much emotional or psychological effect. Roeg's Bad Timing, which also concerns a dubious suicide and who's disjointed story telling style is mimed in Morlang, is an intense, disturbing tale of obsession and control, and seems to ask more compelling questions, or at least does so in a more compelling way. Roeg will mess you up.

I will say this though, Penning certainly knows where to put a camera. Stunning compositions.

A DVD I've had on my shelf for 3 or 4 years, I got it through a DVD-of -the-month club online called Film Movement which has provided some very good movies. It's a cool idea for film distribution that is worth checking out. A few of the films,( Light of My Eyes; Marion Bridge; Ali Zoua) are films I come back to or think about from time to time and always stay with me for a while.