Archive for the ‘Principles’ Category

Last Word on the Subject

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Last night, I was disgusted that the various media outlets were giving airtime, ink, and webspace to the videotape and writings of the person behind the massacre here at Virginia Tech.

Amidst the images I saw on the New York Times website, one that stuck out as odd — an image of the young man brandishing a hammer. To me, the image called to mind a still from a movie — at first, I thought, something from a Gasper Noe film. Then, later, I remembered it was the revenge movie, OldBoy.

For others, the image might have suggested something else, but I am a filmmaker and I suppose I am inclined to make comparisons between images of cinematic texts, if one can use such coolly academic terminology for a killer’s self-taped imagery. Both images feature people looking into a camera’s eye brandishing a hammer and, importantly for me, both images are “revenge texts.” The fact that both images are of Asian males was largely inconsequential to me; if either person had been of a difference race, nationality, etc. I would have, I feel, made the same connection. As I said, at first I thought the image came from a French film.

Certainly, I thought, some readers and viewers would be perplexed by such an image, and I wanted to suggest a possible reference. Mainly, though, I wanted to use this opportunity of having the Times’ attention to tell them how I would prefer that they did not show such images in the first place. This message was included in my email to them though, perhaps not surprisingly, they chose not to acknowledge that comment. I believe that giving airtime to a killer’s ramblings does a disservice to those of us here in Blacksburg who are deeply, actively grieving; I also believe that it likely gives the killer the attention he so desperately desired. For me, sharing these images publicly goes beyond pornography.

How misguided and naive can a person be, particularly in light of the comments in my last post? I should have said nothing, done nothing, and ignored it all. I made the mistake of attempting to make sense of the nonsensical, assuming that my comment could be a simple footnote to a single still image, and above all, presuming that a person can have any control over any comment he feeds to the Media Machine.

This morning I awoke to several emails and blog comments accusing me of everything from racism against South Koreans to blaming cinema for the carnage on Monday. And all day I have been courted by several major media outlets salivating for an interview with me, as if I could somehow explain the events of Monday to them by way of a movie. How sad. How absurd. The answer to all of these individuals has been “No.”

Let me be clear: My comparison of these two images was not meant to suggest in ANY way that movies, any movie, “made him do it.” Likewise, my comparison of these two images is IN NO WAY an attempt to make ANY generalizations based on racial, nationalistic, or any other sorts of lines.

The fact that the comparison of these two images has been co-opted in various ways is extraordinarily painful to me, particularly the accusations of racism. Anyone who knows me knows that this truly, truly breaks my heart. As if it weren’t already broken.

To everyone outside of Blacksburg, the events of the past few days are a circus, an opportunity to use others’ tragedy for their own ends. It is not a circus for me. There is only the event, the profound sadness of its aftermath, and the utter confusion about what has happened.

I am mourning the loss of my colleagues, friends, family, and students. Here in Blacksburg we are all grieving. Deeply. The headline writers for many news outlets have determined that today “The Healing Begins.” It has not.

If what was intended to be my tiny footnote on a minor point has stirred up passions in you, I truly regret that. If you have taken my comment to be implicitly or explicitly racist, I hope you can believe me when I write with utter sincerity that this was never the intention.

And if you are with the media, do not bother contacting me. I have learned my lesson.

Finally, to reiterate: My point in all of this, however misguided the effort, was to initiate a conversation about what Jill Godmilow calls “the pornography of the real” — in this case, news outlets using a mass murderer’s fantasies as sick spectacle and — let us never forget — as a source of revenue.

SXSW: The Whole Shootin’ Match, indeed

Friday, March 16th, 2007

After a hellish 13 hour trip from Austin to Knoxville (don’t get me started about the airline industry) I’m in Knoxville scouting locations for a film. Before I get completely absorbed with that work, here are some final notes on my last day or so at SXSW.

Tuesday was my panel, Blogging about Film. Alison did a nice job moderating the conversation, and I really enjoyed sharing the microphone with Joel, Agnes, Mark, and Lance. All had very smart things to say, and we had different perspectives on the issues raised by Alison and the audience.

Many of the people in the audience — a crowd of about 75 — were bloggers themselves. At least some of them (Anthony Kaufman, Mike Tully, and AJ Schnack, to name just a few) could have just as easily been on the panel.

One of the more interesting discussions that arose concerned the question of whether bloggers are journalists or not. We also addressed some of the ethical issues that can arise when blogging about film, like whether you should review films by your friends.

After the panel, a few of the people mentioned above went to the Iron Works BBQ to continue talking film. I then caught 638 Ways to Kill Castro. I wasn’t planning on seeing it, but it was a good way to stay out of the torrential rain. Castro is a fairly typical leftist documentary (e.g., interviews and archival footage, romantic longing for the revolutionary spirit of the 60s, damning evidence of US government’s covert activities, etc.). It’s all very upsetting, but the film offers little in the way of suggestions about what the audience should do with its anger. Even more troubling is the fact that the film also asks very few questions about Casto’s own record on human rights. Of course, the question of whether such abuses make one worthy of assassination are never asked, in part, because the parties that want Castro dead don’t care about his human rights abuses — they simply want to exploit Cuba for their own ends. Still, in a film that takes as its subject the covert use of power and violence, it seems odd to neglect discussing Castro’s own abuses in this regard. Despite these misgivings, I was, in the moment, oddly entertained by the film — a combination of wry commentary and ironic archival footage give it a sense of humor (as well as a sense of the absurd), which is lacking in so many other earnest, liberal documentaries. My questions linger, though.

After the movie, I hung out with James Johnston and Amy McNutt. We talked politics, movies, and sugar substitutes over at a restaurant with some fine vegan deserts. Yum.

Finally, I made it over to Eagle Pennell’s The Whole Shootin’ Match. With all due respect to Frownland, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City, and the Zellner / Duplass shorts program, this was my favorite film of the festival. Shot in the late ’70s, the film has been credited with inspiring Robert Redford to start the Sundance Institute. The film follows two blue collar Texas guys that can’t seem to get their act together. One’s single and an inventor, of sorts; the other is a married man who has trouble staying faithful to his spunky wife. It’s more than just a very real, funny, sweet, and unsentimental masterpiece — it ranks alongside Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep as one of the most vivid pieces of celluloid Americana I’ve ever seen.

The Whole Shootin’ Match was a perfect last film to see, a reminder that the strong currents of do-it-yourself American independent filmmaking that were on display at SXSW flow from tributaries that go way back and have, for many of us, long since been lost or forgotten.

After I walked out of the theater, I ran back to the hotel in the rain, changed into dry clothes, and headed over to the closing night party, thanks to a ride from David Lowery.

I stayed for a while at the party, long enough to offer one more set of congratulations and compliments to the makers of all the films that I had liked, and long enough to talk face to face one more time with friends, many of whom I had met face to face for the first time in Austin.

The last conversation I had was with a very talented new friend in which we discussed collaborating on a project together. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can touch the promise and anticipation of making new work with people you respect. There are things that can’t be put into a swag bag, listed in a festival catalog, or even projected on a screen — and yet these intangibles of festival-going are why we attend in the first place.

As much as I was enjoying the party, it was time to call it a night. As if on cue, the rain had let up. So I walked back to my hotel in the dark with my mind buzzing, not with alcohol, but with something far better — ideas for a new film.

An Articulate Movement (of Inarticulateness) Articulated?

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Following up on Anthony Kaufman’s post of a couple days ago, Eugene Hernandez writes about what’s in the air in Austin this year — you can call them DIY, no-budget, or self-reliant filmmakers. This year, with Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City, Frownland, Orphans these films are the toast of the town.

I’ve been traveling for the last 24 hours (in Knoxville to scout locations for a film I’m shooting), but I have more thoughts on this which I’ll try to articulate later.

Then again, I feel like I’ve been articulating thoughts about this stuff for the last year and a half. It’s nice to see indieWire discussing it, even if they do refer to these films as “mumblecore.” I believe it goes broader and deeper than that limiting name.

Anyway, here’s the article.

SXSW: Anthony Kaufman Gets It.

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

The article: “The SXSW All-Stars: A New Ultra-Indie Movement” Read it here.

SXSW

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

I’ll be speaking on the Blogging About Film panel at South by Southwest on Tuesday, March 13th at 11:30 am.

The other panelists are:

Agnes Varnum
Mark Rabinowitz
Lance Weiler
Joel Heller

Leading up this fine group of folks is Alison Willmore of the IFC Blog.