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A Familiar Darkness
AFI Film Festival is this weekend, hence the busy-ness.
I screened Pan’s Labyrinth last night. I really love and understand the framework for this film. I love that it is a fairytale for adults: A genre close to my heart. The Faun character is so tangible and lovely that while watching I longed to meet him in my own life. There are some perfect parallels setup in the story (plots, reality vs. fantasy theme, characters…), however, not all of said parallels are utilized to the best effect or even utilized at all, in some cases.
Given those positives, I don't like Pan's filmmaking. I don't like the way the score is used. I don't like the pacing, the transitions, the actor direction, the blocking… Some of what I understood to be day-for-night shots look terrible, like they still need to be color corrected. Sure, the thing I am most critical of (script foundation) could use a little improvement but on the whole is decently solid, and the second thing I am critical of (production mentality/ideology) is spot on, but despite this decently solid foundation, the final product isn't great.
Which illustrates how difficult the craft of cinematic storytelling can be.
The reviews online from other festivals (via IMDB) are highly positive, but, in general, the audience last night left as I did: Glad they saw it, but trying to put their finger on why it was lacking.
I realize that my not liking the filmmaking is a much more subjective argument than I usually list, so if you like del Toro’s other work (I have yet to see a film by him that I like, come to think of it) then it’s possible you will find less fault in Pan’s than I did.
Regardless, this is one of those movies where the potential isn’t reached and you find yourself filling in the gaps afterward, making it better.
The thing about knowing a field of work, whatever it may be, is that you see the choices that are missed, the potential missed, whenever something goes astray along the way. It’s sort of like when Neo begins to see the green coding inside of the matrix at the end of Matrix one. So not only do you feel “eh” about something: You know why, and you have ideas on how it could have been improved. As soon as the clock is off a single tick, I see it for its parts instead of as a whole, a clock, and my mind starts digging into the gears with my own little tools to see if I might fix the problem.
That being said, if the clock doesn’t go in the first place, if the parts aren’t there, it’s nearly impossible, and far less interesting, to tool about.
Good idea, good mindset, Pan's foundation is fairly solid… disappointing storytelling. Not a terrible film, especially in comparison to the low bar of this past year, but it’s not good-great either. It falls in the low side of the middle, sadly, when it might have come in at the top, which broke my heart a little while also giving me hope in regards to the doors Pan might open genre wise.
I wish I could have tinkered with the Labyrinth, helped make it better.
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Guess how long I stood next to Mr. Darren Aronofsky at the after party for The Fountain and neither introduced myself nor had someone else introduce me to him?
Wait, wait, don’t: I have a feeling you might be ashamed of me, given all we have going on and what we usually talk about.
Those parties are sometimes useless if you didn’t work on the film: Really just… useless and uncomfortable. Depending. I was also not feeling very plucky, for a change.
Closing Gala is tonight. I will say a little about The Fountain once I get a chance.
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An entry about The Fountain is forthcoming. But, first, I’d like to try something with you:
Going off whatever marketing you have seen for the film so far, whatever you know to this point, tell me in a few lines what the film-story is about.
I should note that last night I attended the world premiere for The Curse of the Golden Flower. The film was written and directed by Yimou Zhang, the guy who did Hero and House of Flying Daggers. I like Hero: Of his films it has the best story and storytelling. Curse is the Chinese equivalent to Van Helsing. (For anyone who is new here: That is not a good thing.)
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“Just sit back and let it do you.”
That’s how Darren Aronofsky ended his introduction at the premiere of The Fountain at AFI Film Festival. I believe he was quoting Ellen Burstyn, who he noted, “put it best.”
As an experiment, I asked you to take a look at the marketing for the film and communicate, accordingly, what you expect. I did this because expectations have been, and will be, a large source of split reviews. (In terms of viewers not getting what they’re expecting from this film.)
Dave said, “… in the 1500s Weiss develops some manner of illness and Jackman (her lover) sets out to find the cure via the Tree/Fountain (of youth?). Perhaps unsuccessful, he turns to science at the turn of the millennium...then finds it in the 2500s…“
Sean said, “as far as i can tell, the movie concerns a man and a woman, who are reincarnated, at 3 historical points in their mutual life and how their two lives/souls are spiritually/ cosmically connected, and the soul is eternal/ immortal. gnostic/buddhist themes about life & death and how the soul moves between them.”
Not bad. But Fountain is far less narrative than that and much, much more metaphorical.
The marketing and trailer look like a love story, sci-fi adventure about a man who goes across time to save his love. It also looks epic.
It’s not epic: It is a very close movie.
This is, in actuality, a drama about a man whose wife has cancer. The uniqueness lies in the storytelling and filmmaking, which is the only way to be original anyway since there are only a handful of stories that exist in the first place.
For the above reason Babel is boring: I’ve already seen it, liked it far better when it was called Syriana, actually.
Therefore, the genuine, authenticity (which is what equals originality) always lies in the telling.
A New Hope is a good example of that: It is the hero monomyth re-imagined. King Arthur in space. This is what all modern mythology must do: Evolve and tell the story so that it makes sense to the current culture. Even Arthur (and Shakespeare) went through various evolutions and retellings in its day. Each evolved version showed changes that reflected a sign of the times. (The metaphors of this year verses ten years ago.)
Do you see?
This is something that Hollywood does not understand, and it is why the films of the Decision Makers so rarely reach their full potential. (I speak of big-budget films, epic, heroic films, such as Superman Returns). Lack of this understanding is also a part of what makes film a risky investment. (There are quite a few other factors, however.)
Some of the new TV spots for The Fountain that have come out since I first posted look much more fitting as they focus more on the present-time dramatics of the story. So yes, we’ve seen stories about dying and death and cancer: What makes this version unique? The sort of pscyhadelic-archetypal reality woven throughout.
“Magical Reality” is a term that has been coined to describe movies such as Amelie and Finding Neverland. I would not compare Fountain to the either: As mentioned it is far more metaphorical and less narrative, and the images are more sci-fi and psychedelic, than magical fantasy. It’s Aronofsky & company’s style that is authentic.
This is art.
This is originality.
This isn’t a movie that I can simply go, “It’s good: Go see it.” There are “ifs,” but not in a bad way. The first one is that you understand and expect what the movie is, because it has been somewhat mis-marketed in trend with the majority of current studio movies:
This is a drama about a man whose wife has cancer with sci-fi, psychedelic metaphor woven into the storyline.
Also, the film is flawed. Some parts could have used a smidge more. The final act needed more. Not too much: More.
This is one of those films that leaves you connecting the parallels and levels and metaphors as your mind wanders to sleep. In a good way. Not because it was lacking on screen and you are filling in the blanks with what might have been: Because it allows you think about symbolism, archetypes and theme.
The story is metaphorical, not plot-ful. Context is important in storytelling, and hugely important in cinematic storytelling. Whether you be the writer, director or actor, you must understand this: We watch a sequence of images and one informs the other. Change the order: Change the message.
This story has parallel imagery that tells a story in context, which is very, very similar to the style of writing I employ. True, my style is wholly different, but, also, kindred.
Which scared the shit out of me a little, frankly.
Images can show what someone is feeling without said person having to say a word.
Images can show what someone is feeling even if said person is not in said image showing their feeling.
That is what film can do.
Thus, thus, all of this, thus, the reviews of The Fountain and audience reaction will be split, but not in a hugely emotional manner.
Also, I found the takes on Mayan culture to be more relevant than anything seemingly offered in Apocalypto, which again is the mark of good, timely (and timeless) storytelling. Mythology must be evolved in a certain way in order to resonate and be relevant. Otherwise, why bother?
Of course, I have read some of the negative reviews for The Fountain and I think they are (so far) ridiculous. If you don’t like this movie personally, you should appreciate, “This is a good movie that I don't like.” (I felt that way about Sideways.)
That being said, quite a lot of critics don’t understand filmmaking or audiences or humanity as much as they understand free dinners and snark and getting a pundit-style quote on a poster. I’ve simply been wanting to say that for a while, and now I have. In the list of jobs I would never want to have, film critic ranks high. Right before child star and studio reader. Oh, critics aren’t so bad, but they aren’t so great, either.
It’s a dark horse.
Yeah, we’re back on track and it’s a bit of a dark horse.
During his introduction, Aronofsky said, “You should support this movie because Hollywood doesn’t take chances on movies like this and should more often.”
You know I agree.
And despite my love for dark horses everywhere, because I feel similar, kindred, I wouldn’t say “see it” just because of anything: It has to be good.
Overall, I’m really glad for this movie. I had heard from the Toronto Film Festival that it wasn’t good, and I was nervously anticipating that the subject of this entry was going to be, “Why can’t filmmakers make good movies anymore?”
But this is what filmmaking looks like.
The film is flawed, but in ways I can embrace.
It’s the feel and style I’ve been anticipating (and working toward) for the next wave, the near future.
Thus, I hope some motherfuckers are taking notes up in their offices: Strategies are changing.
Were I an Academy voter, (which I never will be, I should note,) then I would put in for The Fountain in a couple of categories.
“You should support this movie because Hollywood doesn’t take chances on movies like this and should more often.”
I know from experience that it is much easier to say such a thing in regards to your own project over someone else's, so we’ll be watching to see if Mr. Aronofsky takes the same attitude toward other spec projects now that he and Mr. Eric Watson have made a deal to develop and produce films for Universal and are henceforth in a position to make the same choices and take the same calculated risks in regards to other stories and artists.
After all, I know you’d hold me to the same standard.
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Holiday & The Tao
“Imagine, whoever reads this, that you are me.”
I’d like to offer up for thought and discussion an essay by Benjamin Hoff, who wrote one of my favorite books, The Tao of Pooh.
If you asked me which non-fiction-y books I frequently recommend to readers, (and I bring it up because someone asked again,) then I’d say:
The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff
True and False – David Mamet
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
If you’re into the academic specifics of comparative mythology, then I’d suggest continuing to:
The Hero With a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
All of the above appear on the JSDC favorites list ( which is in need of an update, incidentally).
I must alert you that my friends and I have become obsessed with the book Little Women and in the doing have suffered a great calamity. It goes like this: In the early ‘90s, there was a movie made from the book. Winona Ryder played Jo. This movie was a before our time and we had never seen it and, thus, rented it Wednesday night.
Not only is this movie completely useless in regards to capturing the timeless spirit of the novel, but in general it is a bad movie. Very, very bad. Bad script, bad direction. Like, worse than Harry Potter bad. Like, Hallmark Channel movie bad. (Except those movies might be better.)
Even worse, we checked around online and some people thought the movie was good. I reasoned that maybe they had never seen a good movie before when they posted their comments and just didn't know what one looked like. Hopefully they have seen Pride & Prejudice by now and know what the potential for period-piece adaptations can be.
Now that they Know, I bet they wish they could delete their old comments of praise from message boards. Alas. Poor, poor foolios.
We were so upset that I told my friends I’d look into re-doing Little Women in thirty years. Maybe.
For now, however, we are talking about Mr. Hoff’s essay.
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The Road to Awe
Perhaps I wasn’t clear.
Of all the movies I’ve seen this year, there are only a few that were good: The Queen and The Fountain come first, and Little Children was fairly good, too.
The Fountain is my favorite of those listed, of the year. I’ve just seen it a second time. Something I forgot to remark on before was the score. I remember loving the music at the premiere and now I’m loving it even more. I love the entire film more now that I’ve had a second go.
See this movie. See it after nightfall in a good theater. See it when you may reflect.
Sit with your eyes closed through the credits, and listen.
See this movie.
Don’t make comments, or excuses: This audience is smart and largely art loving, story loving and a Sci-Fi audience.
See this movie.
Aside from a third viewing of The Fountain, Children of Men is the only film I’m currently looking forward to seeing. I haven’t seen such a timely Sci-Fi film premise since The Matrix one. (Although, arguably, the premise for Revenge of the Sith was metaphorically timely, it is because the movie sucked flat that I overlook it, as it should be.)
Sci-Fi: Getting stronger?
The Fountain, at least, is waiting for you. If you don’t see it, then I don’t know what we’ll have to talk about.
Maybe, then, we don't have anything in common anymore.
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It’s a nice day in LA.
I can hear the courtyard fountains through the open window as I write and make calls, I can say hello to you, I can see the blue sky and my roommate is playing the piano.
Sometimes we talk about getting living room furniture, then we look at each other... "Nah."
In addition to the previous Well Said, (which read, “No one knows whether death, which people fear to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good,") Plato also said, “Courage is knowing what not to fear.”
He said, “Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.”
Then, there is Thoreau. Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.”
Lao-Tse said, “Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt. Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench. Care about other people's approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”
He said, “In this world, there is nothing softer or thinner than water. But to compel the hard and unyielding, it has no equal. That the weak overcomes the strong, that the hard gives way to the gentle -- this everyone knows. Yet no one asks accordingly.”
The more you read, the bolder does become the common thread, the crimson thread, the great connecter; which you may place your finger upon in the dark and follow to the core of humanity.
It is there that you will find yourself.
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.
Yep, it is a good day.
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Court of Religions
Open to the s k
a brass coffer containing e
p e a c
a s h e s
lo t u s
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Poetry of shadow, umbra et lux.
Nec mortem effugere quisquam nec amorem potest: Omnes una manet nox…
And I write and I believe.
Veritas tenebras mea,
Tenebras lux mea:
Transit lux, umbra permanet.
Transit lux, veritas permanet.
Omnes una manet nox…
The quiet in the cracks expands,
The swelling of what was once concrete,
The silence in the streets—
Non omnia moriar.
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