Monday, August 22, 2016

A Must-Have: The Demolition Blu-Ray

‘I related to Davis Mitchell and to this journey.’ – Jean-Marc Vallée

‘On était jeunes. On était fous. La bohème, la bohème. Ça ne veut plus rien dire du tout.’ – Charles Aznavour

The release of a Jean-Marc Vallée DVD is always a special occasion and with this new Blu-ray of Demolition you can now take the film home in its pristine image and sound quality. It’s the story of Davis Mitchell, a successful Wall Street banker, and after his wife's sudden death his life is shook up and through grieving he is able to find himself, learn to feel again and start a new friendship with a single mother Karen and her son. 

Every scene and detail in the mise en scène provides a unique rhythm and information that has a larger meaning in Demolition’s complex structure and Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect in the role with his subtle expressiveness and range. This expression of intimate human feelings is the emotional réel of the film that is given substance as it engages with the geographical réel. The scene that best illustrates this is when Jake Gyllenhaal dances through New York City, engaging with its landmarks and enjoys himself. This is the Valléeien gesture: that of in cynical times to bring music and joy to people and the city. These non-narrative scenes, that contribute and build on an emotion, are Vallée's specialty. Similar to Howard Hawks, starting with The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, Vallée likes to stall the storytelling to focus on scenes for the sake of creating good ones: where Hawks aimed for entertaining character development and witty dialogue, for Vallée it is that of a musical lyricism. This musical point is made explicit with the film’s soundtrack (only available as a digital soundtrack from ABKCO Music and Records, with a press release that reads almost as if it was written by Vallée) that ranges from classical, folk, indie pop, rock and electronica; and where each song gets to the heart and personality of each character without ever being too recognizable (Depeche Mode is another unidentified reference). 

Vallée is able to create this musical lyricism with Yves Bélanger’s refined yet simple imagery that brings a palatable energy and emotion to each scene. While Vallé's regular cameo, that of a mourner at Julia's funeral, explicitly continues his humanist outreach project (which goes back to his role as the priest in C.R.A.Z.Y.) but is now turned towards the upper class, which is a similar gesture to that of Denis Côté with his Boris sans Béatrice. This fantasy and support for others leads to Mitchell’s phantasm at the end of Demolition where he’s reunited with the ghost of Julia (similar to apparitions like Raymond in C.R.A.Z.Y., Rayon in Dallas, and Bobbi in Wild) on the carousel that was reconstructed in honor of her legacy.  

Then there's the Paul Valéry quote in Demolition and, as with Café de flore, Vallée seems to enchanted by the culture of the Paris of the belle époque and the melancholy and beauty of the popular poetry of its time. ‘The future is not what it used to be,’ which for Valéry when he wrote this in the thirties, meant that the atrocities of the Great War would taint the comforting assumption that the future will no longer resemble the past, but which Phil applies to the world of digital trading and unregulated capitalism. But another Valéry quote that would have been equally appropriate, for either the title or for Mitchell, is from the most recent Hayao Miyazaki film: “The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!The idea of poetry as a privileged escape from the oppression of reality has currency for Vallée as language, style and new technologies are all equally important for him to express his poetic vision through his mise en scène. As Demolition takes language and ontology as its starting point: Mitchell tries to make sense of his existence by discussing his life, the mood and atmosphere, the meaning of words and the limits of his own psyche and his physical body. Underneath the surface of beings and objects lies an essence and this is what he's searching for. So Phil tells him, “If you want to fix something you have to take everything apart and figure out what's important,” while for Mitchell, “Everything has become a metaphor…” This is why Mitchell tears apart as much from his life as he can with his hands, tools and even a bulldozer everything from his appliances to even the infrastructure of his own house.  

There are a few details from Demolition that stand out after repeated viewing: The reoccurring gecko (similar to the fox in Wild) is actually from the Dan Deacon and Liam Lynch video Drinking Out of Cups where Deacon, in a thick Long Island accent, rehearses some cynical statements. The use of this viral comedy video from 2006 that Mitchell and Julia bonded over earlier on in their relationship (probably a Bryan Sipe reference) is just like Demolition as just like Mitchell and Julia had a negotiated response to this video (turning its cynical Seahorse reference into a romantic one) Vallée takes what could have been a cynical drama and fills it with warmth, care and love. 

Vallée is clearly a réalisateur d'oeuvre as with each new film he builds upon the previous one and all of them contribute to the world-building of his filmography: A Matthew McConaughey-like cowboy appears in a parking-lot in Wild, the business man that tries to pick up Cheryl Strayed at the end of the memoir spins off with Mitchell in Demolition, and the mother-and-son Karen and Chris will anticipate Jane and Ziggy in Big Little Lies. [In the credits there are also references to used footage from Wild from Twentieth Century Fox (though I can’t exactly pinpoint it; maybe the earlier hospital scenes?) as well there is the Snow Monkeys clips which Mitchell watches before going to sleep (from WNET/Thirteen Productions) which anticipates the snowstorm ending of Du bon usage des étoiles.] 

Though the Blu-ray is skimpy of features, there’s at least one great one on it: the Behind the Scenes location footage of the production (mostly short scenes) which is mostly silent with some natural noises. There is Vallée carrying the camera, similar to Soderbergh, and he talks to the actors in his energetic English. There is the small crew, and all of the production specifics, as they’re out filming on naturally beautiful outdoor locations. This form of poetic and personal cinema, along with Vallée’s resourceful means and major actors eager to work with him, makes him closer to a filmmaker like Terrence Malick than to most other Hollywood independents. The other few making-ofs are short and not that impressive (e.g. rehashed footage from the film, with espoused clichés from the crew). So there could have been more… But, either way, it’s incredible to have the chance to re-watch Demolition and the Blu-ray looks and sounds great. It can keep any Valléeien occupied until the release of Big Little Lies on HBO next year. Mysteries are abound.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Demolition Soundtrack

A new soundtrack from Jean-Marc Vallée for Demolition which includes a mix of rock, classical, folk, indie pop and electronica. The songs appear in subtle ways during key scenes in the film to express the emotions and personality of the characters. The musicians include Frédéric Chopin, Gil Scott-Heron, Sufjan Stevens, Loui Doillon, My Morning Jacket, Free, M. Ward, Alexandra Streliski, Half Moon Run, Heart, Cave, The Animals, J.S. Bach, Dusted, Jeremy Zuckerman, Charles Aznavour and Bob Dylan. And the songs are Nocturnes, Op. 9: No. 2 in E-Flat Major; B-Movie; Redford (for Yia-Yia and Pappou); Where to Start; Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream (Pt. 2); Mr. Big; To Be Alone with You; Watch the Show; Le départ; Warmest Regards; Crazy on You; Sweaty Fingers; When I Was Young; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (I.–II. Adagio); Bruises; Property Lines; Under a Blanket of Snow; La Bohème; and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Enjoy! - D.D.
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Found File : Jean-Marc Vallée on Liste noire

An obscure Jean-Marc Vallée interview from the Liste noire period that was re-posted on the Films du Québec website: this early interview provides a thorough and rich portrait of the filmmaker before he would become more internationally known. Many of the core ideas of his filmmaking are already there but he’s also more vocal and keen, which is a trait that would diminish with the years.

Published in the press dossier for the film, Liste noire – Entretien avec Jean-Marc Vallée (1995) is a rare early interview. The interviewer Charles-Henri Ramond contextualizes Liste noire as one of the commercially successful Québécois films of the late 90s, with Caboose by Richard Roy and Erreur sur la personne by Gilles Noël, that helped refresh their genre films as they were inspired by their American counter-part. Ramond writes, “The modern era of crime stories, thrillers, suspense and other type of fantastic film reinvested the Québécois corpus.”  

In it Vallée still sees the medium for its entertaining qualities but where then he highly values that of audience manipulation in his post-C.R.A.Z.Y. films he was able to refine his aesthetic by focusing first on its emotions.

In the interview he cites Hitchcock (obviously he thoroughly read Hitchcock/Truffaut) but also Paul Schrader and Philip Kaufman. He’s already saying (about the film's sex scenes) on understatement in acting, "Less is more," but he adds, "But as Philip Kaufman also says: ‘Sometimes, more is more.'" He mentions an appreciation for 37°2 le matin by Jean-Jacques Beineix, which he contrasts with Liste noire.

Of note is how Vallée mentions Hitchcock and Truffaut as the center of his cinephilia… Vallée brings the ideas of the original Cahiers project to Montreal and through it is able to re-invent Québécois cinema and film in general. Around the same time that Vallée was making these comments about Hitchcock and Psycho, in Switzerland Jean-Luc Godard was doing the same thing in his Histoire(s).

It’s an honor to translate him. – D.D.
***
The interview begins with a Hitchcock quotation that Vallée then explains,
“You know that the public is always searching to anticipate where the film is going as they love to say: Ah! I already knew what was going to happen. So because of this, one must take this into account, but also completely guide the thoughts of the spectator.” – Alfred Hitchcock


“To begin this interview with this citation from the master of suspence, it’s to say the importance that I grant him and his influence that he has on how I approach cinema, that is to say, like a game. A game with the public. A game that utilizes the cinematographic art to deceive, play, scare, make laugh, to create emotions on a mass scale. With this in mind, Psycho is the perfect example of what cinema can do, and for Hitchcock, it’s his experience that is the most passionate game with the public. “With Psycho, I was doing the directing of the spectator,” he affirmed in his famous interview with François Truffaut. To direct the spectator. It’s based on this idea, and through constantly reminding myself of it, that I took on the task of realizing Liste noire.”

On what brought him to the project,
“The task of directing of Liste noire interested me for several reasons. First off, I was really interested by the challenge of making a thriller that I found to be well written. Suspense, as a genre, permits a grand exploration of the cinematographic language. Secondly, the talkative side of its script really pleased me. And finally, I really liked the characters, and especially the bad guy! Liste noire is certainly story driven, where the story takes away from the stars, but it’s also, for me at least, a film about its characters.”

How to work with actors,
“I must really know the character so that I can know what to tell the actor and explain to them their motivation, debate and identify with their emotions; to really know the scene and how they normally work to best be able to direct them with a continuity; to have the judgment to nuance their performance; and finally, the choice and values to be able to choose a shot. So even if I’m really interested in its technical side (I like to frame, get good shots, have nice movements, light, and create pretty images) I reserve a capital importance to the work of the actors. It’s they who make the film. The cinema that I want to make is one of emotions.”

Why he edits his own films?
“Well because I like it. We learn so many things about understanding the language of cinema in an editing room while were manipulating the footage oneself. This is such the case that we eventually start to hesitate giving the job to others…  The montage ideas come mostly to me in pre-production or while the decoupage where I choose, for 75 percent of the time, the looks of the characters to determine where I cut. At the end of the day, I remain pretty loyal to my own découpage.”

And on its score,
“I told my composer that I wanted something that was equally simple, classic and modern. I set the bar quite high because, as on my working cut, I’ve already included several already existing tracks from Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith, Trevor Jones, Maurice Jarre, Ennio Moricone, Pino Donagio and then I told them: ‘Inspire yourself from these… but remain original.’ They fulfilled by request and exceeded them.”

Finally on Vallée’s American film references,
“My favorite cinéastes are American and my influences are primarily American. So it is sure that there is something American about my films. But it’s not forced, it’s, it’s just my nature! To make a film, for me, this means, wanting to create a good show. I’m interested in cinema in all of its forms (cinephile one day, always a cinephile). To honestly say it, I prefer the films of Clint Eastwood to those of Marguerite Duras. The cinema that I make, and that I want to create, will always be relatively simple. Even in its narrative form the most simple, as I find the cinematographic language is already really complex. To tell a story through images, by the succession of shots, and not by the interior of the shots, can seem banal and easy to attain. But it is not at all evident! Hitchcock had passed his life experimenting one film genre. It’s probably one of the most beautiful lessons to take from the History of cinema. I re-read the book Hitchcock-Truffaut before the filming of each of my films. This reminds me each time that the ‘direction of the spectator’ is just as important as the direction of the actors.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Three DVDs of C.R.A.Z.Y.

So there are at least three different editions of Jean-Marc Vallée’s film C.R.A.Z.Y. on DVD: there’s the standard edition, a collector’s edition and a Blu-ray. Why this is important is that to fully appreciate its array of special features you would need all three of them.


The standard edition is the only DVD that comes with the audio commentaries, which includes ones by Vallée, the sound designer Martin Pinsonnault and production designer Patrice Bricault-Vermette, and two other featurettes C.R.A.Z.Y. sur le plateau and C.R.A.Z.Y. à Venise. The Collector’s Edition and the Blu-ray share many of the same special features: Making of featurettes on the director Jean-Marc Vallée, the producer Pierre Even, and with the actors; along with separate featurettes Émile’s audition, Visual effects, Filming in Morocco and deleted scenes. With the difference between the two is that the collector’s edition comes with a special booklet and the Blu-ray has the best image quality out of all of them. I’ll elaborate more fully on these special features later.

But that’s not all. To best appreciate the Jean-Marc Vallée’s film there are some great books that elaborate on its meaning. First off there’s the C.R.A.Z.Y scénario (Éditions Somme Toute) with the script, one of Vallée’s rare essays (a manifesto on his filmmaking) and rare photographs from the production. Secondly Robert Schwartzwald’s new study on C.R.A.Z.Y. as part of the Queer Film Classic series. And finally Vallée’s early film professor Yves Lever’s book L’analyse filmique (a valuable resource for a young Vallée when he was becoming a filmmaker). This last book might be the most important of them all because it attempts to get to the essentials of Jean-Marc Vallée’s art: the mise en scène.

Isn't this not what Vallée, Pinsonnault and Bricault-Vermette are actually trying to articulate throughout their audio commentaries? And what makes their behind the scenes stories so fascinating is how it either shows or describes the creation of filmmaking into the mise en scène.

If Jean-Marc Vallée is a private filmmaker – reluctant to take away from the experience of watching his films by talking about them; and annoyed by the repetitive nature of promotion (usually with uncaring film critics) – then these commentaries and featurettes show him at his most open: generous, filled with energy and emotion, and willing to do anything to protect his vision.

But then why is it necessary to divide these features throughout different DVDs? I first heard of the collector’s edition through the standard edition audio commentary where Vallée mentions the deleted scenes (which aren't included). But if you only owned the collector’s edition then you wouldn’t have access to his audio commentary. Something about this situation just doesn’t make sense.

I would propose a couple of reasons for these complications: among the nine full-length features in his oeuvre (and among these only six that he acknowledges as his films) there is only two of them with audio commentaries: C.R.A.Z.Y. and Wild. Apparently Vallée recorded an audio commentary for Café de flore, which was never included on the DVD release. His newest feature Demolition doesn’t even include an audio commentary. 

So those who are  sympathetic would acknowledge that he’s busy with an average of one feature every year and now two upcoming television series for HBO (Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects) or say that Vallée, just like Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen, is reluctant to discuss his own films as he prefers them to speak for themselves, which I feel must be partly true as he describes himself more as a filmmaker by nature instead of necessarily a public speaker. But then why the mix-up of the special features on the C.R.A.Z.Y. DVD, not include the Café de flore audio commentary, or not have one for Demolition (which I’ll review in a future post)?

Is it a mismanagement or a lack of interest by the DVD vendors? Unfortunately, this would be my guess… A simple enough job and effort could have gave these recent masterpieces a commentary by Vallée, which would be of value and interest for years to come. A missed opportunity…
***

On the C.R.A.Z.Y. special features:
- The idea of stars in the sky have an important place in Vallée’s cinema. The four-point star of his production company, Crazy Film, is described as being influenced by his ‘lucky star’. This four-point star would appear as a tattoo on Raymond in C.R.A.Z.Y. and as a reoccurring symbol in Café de flore (which ends with a character looking up and saying ‘It’s written in the stars’). And Dominique Fortier, whose Du bon usage des étoiles Vallée is planning to adapt, is already thanked in the credits of C.R.A.Z.Y.
- Vallée has already described C.R.A.Z.Y. as a film-prières, so then it's not surprising to hear him cite Pasolini at the beginning of his own making-of. Just like how his earlier film professor Yves Lever was cast as the priest in Liste noire in these special features he discusses his reasons for playing the priest as a "lesson in humility." His dialogue as the character is especially important for the story such as after Raymond's passing, “Even in the face of death, we’re willing to stake that the affirmation to live is stronger, as it comes from God.” An essentially religious and spiritual filmmaker. Michel Côtée talks about how 150 candidates auditioned for the role but how Vallée finally chose himself (‘He’s got connections!’).
- The somewhat forgotten French filmmaker Bertrand Blier is an important reference for Vallée (Merci la vie being a staple of Lever’s syllabus). Early on in interviews Blier is regularly cited and described as great; and supposedly Les valseuses was the film that got Vallée into cinema. Perhaps his film that’s most in a Blier tradition is Loser Love for its frank portrayal of sex, aggression and transgression (an omitted film in most of his filmographies, its New York setting anticipates that of Demolition by 15 years; and it themes of domestic violence and a lengthy sociopath confession at its end connects it to his upcoming Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects).
- On the editing process (which quite a few of these are included in the deleted scenes) Vallée says, “One must not be scared to get rid of the start and ending of scenes that are too long in one’s movies.”
- Music references are in abundance in C.R.A.Z.Y. and Vallée’s films in general: The John Lennon death Time magazine cover to transition to the eighties, the Janis Joplin t-shirt Zach wears; Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis are character influences; Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. Zach (though it’s never shown) is a DJ in the film…
- Not that it’s much discussed or referenced directly in the film but Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist seems like a big influence on the story’s structure: Zach has to travel abroad to Jerusalem (actually Morocco, near where Welles shot Othello) where Jesus walked to be able to find peace at home… This self-discovery journey can be seen in all of Vallée’s subsequent films. (On the subject of imagined Vallée adaptations, after this summer’s The BFG, Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World seems like it would be a great fit for him).
- So many important details of the mise en scène are nearly invisible: a character walking with his back-turned, posters that you can’t really see, personal belongings that provide historical context etc. Their unconscious value make the films a lot richer and full of meaning. Vallée’s audio-commentaries are extremely helpful to make sense of all of these details.
- François Boulay wrote a part of his life for Vallée around the time of Liste noire which forms the bases of C.R.A.Z.Y. But apparently it’s one of Boulay’s friends that was ashamed and experienced queer guilt which really inspired the inner struggles of Zach and the structure of the film. Vallée would also add many of his own family memories to the film.
- The behind the scenes of the filmmaking is incredible as it provides the reverse-shot of the many stories of Vallée’s unique filming approach. The footage of Émile Vallée and his brother Alex and even their mother Chantal Cadieux show up in them which give it a home movie quality. Vallée’s extremely animated on set and his outfits change to reflect the type of scene he's filming.
- Vallée had a bad first week on the set of C.R.A.Z.Y. He was sick, impatient and horrorfied after having been forced to do some budgetary scene cuts the previous week. After a week or so of filming, and with the footage really working out, the crew eased up.

I could go on – I mean it, I really could! – but I’ll leave the rest of the discoveries to anyone willing to check out these amazing special features. More of Jean-Marc Vallée’s films on DVD should be as rich in supplementary material!

Bon cinéma,
David Davidson

C.R.A.Z.Y. in Special Features















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Thursday, August 11, 2016

New Release: How Heavy This Hammer

The reflection of a dusty computer monitor showing a middle age man playing a command and conquer style video game. The colors are muted and what draws the eye is the reflection of the digital world in his glasses. This image sums up Kazik Radwanski’s second feature How Heavy This Hammer quite well as it’s about the grey times in life where people just keep moving forward, somewhat miserably. Erwin is married with two boys but the only thing that seems to be able to hold his attention is drinking and his computer games. How Heavy This Hammer is a pissed off and angry examination of the placid and mundane quality of living that is in overabundance in Toronto. There has to be more from life? 

Where Radwanski’s first feature Tower extended the anxious close-ups of his earlier shorts into a feature, with this new feature these techniques are refined as there are more main characters and situations which create more complex confrontations and settings that lead to new affects. So if Radwanski’s cinema is the hybrid of Allan King (A Married Couple) and John Cassavetes (Husbands) – that of a réel with stylized natural performances – then its through its capturing in extended scenes of silence and an inarticulateness and through personal gestures (both of humans and animals) that it gets to the heart of its characters and its story. With the online launch of the earlier short film Princess Margaret Blvd. (one of the catalyst of the Toronto DIY Filmmaker movement) there is a new motivation to dig into Radwanski’s work: muted characters, walking through a haze, trying to figure out what’s going on, and not sure what’s going to happen next. Not necessarily an optimistic lesson but perceptive for its story and influential for leading to what is still to come.

How Heavy This Hammer begins its theatrical run this Friday at 7PM at the TIFF Bell Lightbox where it’ll be playing for a week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Down by Law with Mitch Greenberg

A guest contribution by my friend the do-it-yourself filmmaker Mitch Greenberg. Check out some of his work: http://vimeo.com/frontenac. - D.D.
***
First and foremost, I’d like to thank David Davidson of Toronto Film Review for inviting me to write about my experiences as a Toronto DIY filmmaker. In this piece, I will reflect on my past, organize my thoughts for the future, and impart some words of encouragement to those considering DIY filmmaking.
My path to becoming a filmmaker is somewhat unconventional. Despite my lifelong obsession with cinema, I’ve spent the past five years studying and practicing law. However, in the summer of 2013, after my second year of law school, I suddenly and inexplicably felt old. Or, to put it more precisely: I no longer felt young. I was simultaneously struck by an urgent need to begin making films. With the immensely generous help of my close friends, I wrote and directed a short film about a gangster who is tasked with the assassination of a former lover.
In almost every respect, the film was a callow disaster. I was disappointed by the writing, the lighting, the cinematography, the editing, the sound mixing... I could go on. But while I was disappointed with the film, I considered the experience itself to be a success. Prior to making my first film, I wasn’t aware of the problems I would encounter during a film’s pre-production, production, and post-production: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And so, in the words of the poet Donald Rumsfeld, I discovered many ‘unknown unknowns’ by getting my feet wet for the first time.
Since 2013, I’ve made four more short films in order to develop my technical skills as a filmmaker. My second short film is an adaptation of a scene from Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, and developed my ability to shoot dialogue. In my third film, shot in 2014, I experimented with camera movement and with colour. My third film was heavily inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express and Happy Together, and was shot by the talented and experienced Toronto-based cinematographer Jack Yan Chen. In my fourth film, I continued to work with Jack, and experimented with lighting and composition. And in my fifth and most recent film, entitled Partners, I focused primarily on screenwriting. In Partners, I sought to eschew any conscious cinematic influence; I sought to utilize my own professional and interpersonal experiences for the film’s story, and to aestheticize them according to my own personal mythology.
Despite the fact that I consider these five films to be exercises in technique, I’ve screened them in bars, cafes, apartments, and gallery spaces across Toronto. Witnessing audience reactions, and listening to an audience’s feedback, has been a major source of gratification and motivation.
Moving forward, I want to build a career telling stories that explore the impact of socio- cultural environments on inter-personal relationships. I want to tell these stories in either long- form or episodic formats, and to aestheticize them in a cinematic language drawn from my own experiences. I want to bring something personal and spontaneous to the aesthetics of my films, while simultaneously building upon the aesthetic spirit found in the films of Wong Kar-wai, Xavier Dolan, Jackie Chan, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Jia Zhangke.
My advice to aspiring DIY filmmakers would be, first and foremost, to get out there and do it. I know this may sound trite, but it’s the most important piece of advice I can offer. In 2016, all a filmmaker needs is a cell phone and a computer. The digital revolution has profoundly lowered the barrier to entry for filmmakers; the cost of production has never been lower. Don’t think, just act. Excuses are legion, but they rarely withstand scrutiny. Whatever hangup you may have (embarrassment of a shoddy script, shame in asking friends for help, fear of failure), don’t let it stop you. Getting your feet wet and actually making a film is the most valuable learning experience you can have.
My second piece of advice would be to seek help, guidance, and mentorship from more experienced filmmakers - but never show up to a meeting empty handed. Seek help from mentors with something specific (with a script, with editing, with a look-book, with something). Seek help with a goal in mind, to build upon work you’ve already accomplished.
My last piece of advice would be to develop a thick skin. You will need a thick skin (and emotional acuity) to deal a variety of personalities in the film industry. Don’t take it personally if people don’t like your films, don’t believe in your projects, or don’t support your aesthetic decisions. Don’t be discouraged by negative feedback. Rely on your own compass. Smile, say thank you, and then do whatever you want.
Mitch Greenberg

Andrew Owen's PokeStop

Bertrand Tavernier sur la Gastronomie




A great listen, two new episodes of On ne parle pas la bouche pleine ! (part I & II) with Bertrand Tavernier where he talks gastronomie, his personal history, Lyonnais modesty, his filmmaking and cinema in general. With a soft voice and a contagious enthusiasm, he reaffirms his importance as an important French filmmaker. Here's to Voyage à travers le cinéma français hopefully playing in Toronto soon!  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Matt Johnson on Peter Watkins' Edvard Münch

“And the original idea before Operation Avalanche was that we wanted to make… Have you ever seen the Peter Watkins film Münch? It’s okay if you haven’t, it’s very rare, not a lot of people have seen it. So it’s a documentary about the painter Edvard Münch. I mean its boring but it is a riot in terms of formal approach. It is a documentary set in a time when cameras didn’t exist and the way that people are playing to camera. It’s a vérité-doc so it’s not like they’re interviewing people. I would check it out. That was the inspiration for this John A. Macdonald film, which we wanted to make as a fake documentary at a time when cameras didn’t exist and we wanted to play with Canadian history and do something that was just bizarre and crazy and show people that time in a sort of a fresh way.” – Matt Johnson
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Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Looseness and Dangerousness of Alex Earl Gray

David Davidson: So Alex, what was the spark that go you into film?
Alex Gray: Well, I’d always been a kid who was into movies and TV, but when I was around 16 I watched a double feature of Hearts of Darkness and Apocalypse NowHeart of Darkness being the documentary Coppola’s wife made of the production of that film. Something about seeing everything that was necessary to make that, film and it’s general looseness and dangerousness – as opposed to the masterful control of all elements evident in The Godfather – fascinated me, and compelled me to want to make work. I wish it was something more arty like The Seventh Seal, but it was Apocalypse Now that gave me the bug. I originally picked up photography as a way to “practice my eye” for what I thought would be a filmmaking career, but ended up dedicated to photos for the next 15 years, before making my first “serious” attempt at film making. 

DD: And who would you pick as some of your favorite filmmakers?
AG: Well, David Lynch is a fairly early influence both in films and in general as an artist, I was introduced to his work at the right time for my budding creative interests. I’m also a huge Dario Argento, and Andrei Tarkovsky fan. I suppose the commonality of these artists is the ethereal and magic quality of their work, masters of atmosphere. I’m a fan of so many film makers, and I’m sure I will regret not saying someone but these are the guys who spring to mind, and who’s entire body of work I have sought out.

DD: I know you’re really into Mario Bava and Brian de Palma. What is it about them that you like?
AG: Bava I got into through Argento. Both in my love of films as well as music (particularly rock and roll) I have always wanted to follow and find the roots of what I love, and in Italian horror, most roads lead back to Bava. He made the first Giallo film, laid down what would become the formula for American slashers in Bay of Blood, inspired the naming of Black Sabbath from one of his films, was an influence on Alien with Planet of the Vampires, and on and on. Being a lover of genre films as I am, it’s cool that he made so many different kinds of films. De Palma I have always liked, the big stand-out for me being Phantom of The Paradise, which I absolutely adore. The wardrobe styling, production design, and catchy tunes are endlessly enjoyable for me. It’s one of those films that I love more every time I see it. Blade Runner is like that for me too.

DD: How did you start getting into making music videos and filmmaking?
AG: A lot of the stuff I’m doing now stems from the Explorer short science fiction film I made. I had recently launched my solo photography business after the end of a long artistic/business partnership (Alex vs Alex with Alex Ioannou), and Explorer was both my first attempt at something like film making, and my first new creative project after a break from making anything. I was unemployed at the time and by the day of filming I was down to something like $4 and 3 cigarettes, I had rented way more gear than I even had time to attempt to use, and put myself $700 in debt, but I was hell-bent to make the thing regardless of obstacles. I was way too over ambitious on that one, and learned quickly to give myself more time and be more aware of my constraints. Explorer has a Super 8 section in it, and I fell in love with the look of the 2k-5k scans that have become available in the last couple years. My friend, and frequent collaborator Jesse Crowe commissioned my first music video for her band Beliefs, and insisted that it be Super 8. It went well enough that I have only shot Super 8 since.

DD: How is it filming on Super 8?
AG: Nerve-wracking, but that’s a big part of the excitement. I never feel completely confident that I’m doing it right, and from the moment I hear the tension release as the reel runs out, to when I see the completed scans, I retrace all the steps of making the thing to think of what could have gone wrong or could be better. I shoot with a Nizo 801 Macro, an absolutely beautiful camera with a telephoto lens, macro setting, an inter-valometer for slo-mo and timelapse, a wide angle adapter, etc. It allows me a lot of flexibility while shooting. It’s basically on permanent loan to my collection from a dear friend who bought it for one specific project he was doing and hasn’t had need of it since. I’m able to make a lot of my art due to the support, help, and resources of friends and believers, and I’m eternally grateful to the countless number of them who spring to mind. I buy the film at LIFT, and process and scan at Niagara Custom Labs, though I have also used Frame Discreet for scanning. I’m totally in love with the meeting of old and new technology that is the result of the hi res scans that are now available for Super 8. Although the special quality of actually projecting them can be argued, I think Super 8 has never looked better than it does now in 2-4k; you see every grain. I took a course at LIFT a few years back with John Porter, an amazing artist and filmmaker who has worked with Super 8 since the late 60’s, and made hundreds of films. I was lucky enough to see a few of them, as he doesn’t scan anything and only projects his own films himself to best preserve the originals. I had been shooting Super 8 with my friends casually for a few years at that point, but that course gave me what I needed to start to understand how to really handle the format. I’m lucky to live in a city with so many filmmaking resources available to allow anyone to learn and shoot almost any format of film or digital they want regardless of obscurity.

DD: Can you tell me about your music videos and if there are any influences?
AG: The Beliefs video for their song Colour of Your Name was my first. I’ve worked photographically with my friend Jesse Crowe from that band many times, and I feel like the video is a natural extension of those photo shoots. It was the first time I used artificial light in one of my films, using continuous versions of the strobe lights I use for portrait photography. I’m not sure about any direct film references I had in mind in this case, the whole thing is really just an exercise in camera movement and lighting. I wanted my contribution to be simple and clean, and to be able to focus on Jesse’s performance. It’s a portrait film of her I guess, if that makes sense.
    The next one I made was Art Show’s video for Lucky Child which fed from a lot of influences. I wanted to bring German Expressionism to Cyber Punk, or at least that was my original idea for it. It might have become something else along the way, as things often do with me. The wardrobe styling is heavily informed from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with a bit of Rock n Roll thrown in. The location selection would probably come from Eraserhead and Stalker with an eye to the industrial, I also knew right from the beginning that Toronto Dominion Centre by Mies Van Der Roeh would be the opening shot as it’s always been my favorite building in the city and another influence on the video. I tried to move from more of a polished financial district look to the industrial portions as a symbol of the class dichotomy in this imagined future society. I became fascinated with Citizen Kane before the day of shooting – and coped the megalomaniacal credit style from Welles when crediting myself in it, as well as the font style - and reread selected William Gibson short stories as narrative reference. I had a bit more of a budget with Lucky Child and so was able to more fully realize an idea with it than with most other pieces, and was able to shoot more film than is often the case.

DD: What about the new music video your working on?
AG: It’s for my pals in the punk band Hellbent. They’re a DIY band, so we made a seriously DIY video. It’s a 1min and 20sec slasher film heavily inspired by my love of giallo films and the first wave of American slashers. I’m proud of it particularly for the constraints it was made under; I only shot one roll (3 1/3 min) of footage to edit down into the video, we shot it in two hours at one location and did it with a $150 budget, not including the leather trench coat I bought that was essential to the killer’s look. Turned out pretty cool, and the guys are quite happy about it.

DD: I know you’re around Kensington Market a lot, and you’ve talked about some of the shows that were shot there. Can you elaborate more on your relationship with the neighborhood and how you think it’s been filmed over the years?
AG: I got my first downtown apartment on Beverly St. when I was 19 (Summer 2002), and almost simultaneously my friend Dean Horn opened his clothing store on Nassau. Dean was a huge early influence creatively, as I would spend hours drinking coffee, asking him annoying questions, and watching him make incredible clothes. I continue to marvel at his ability to be effortlessly creative with anything he does, and he had a big aesthetic influence on me. Although I had been through the market before, it was this introduction to Nassau St. – which at the time felt totally tucked away from the rest of the market - and to I deal Coffee that formed the start of my living/hanging in Kensington. It sounds overdramatic, but at the time, it felt like the place I had been looking for my whole life, and the first place I felt almost entirely accepted. A lot of my still cherished friendships, had their beginnings at I deal and the Nassau St. of the early to mid 2000’s. From there I spent 10 years living in the market before being driven to Dundas and Markham by rising rent costs. I worked at Ronnie’s from 2007-2011, which was a wild time with a ton of stories attached, and I’m still in the market almost daily drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and seeing the many friends who live and work there.
            In terms of Kensington as represented in media, I’m not sure anyone has captured the real core elements of what makes Kensington what it is. I guess Twitch City by Don McKellar would be the closest I have seen, though admittedly it’s been years and I’m due a re-watch.That’s probably my favorite thing Don has done, although I think The Red Violin is pretty spectacular. We’ve got a statue for Al Waxman from King of Kensington, but other than the show’s opening credits – which are great –, and the fantastic theme song which I’m a huge fan of, there’s not much there. Everything other than the intro is shot in a studio, and it kinda comes off to me as a cheap, dry, Canadian attempt at something like All in the Family but without the “balls”. I have an idea for a feature film set in Kensington that is my dream to make, but whether that ever happens, and if it’s truly representative of the place, remains to be seen. I’m also aware that the Kensington I originally imagined it taking place in is quickly changing into something different.

DD: And what about your music projects?
AG: We’re a 5 piece space rock band called Explorer, the seeds of which formed around my good friend Joe Roth and I creating the music for the Explorer film. Joe is a film editor and has edited basically everything I have shot, he’s also a musician and producer, and my song writing partner in the band. After really liking how the film score came out, we started writing and demoing songs in that style, found the rest of the guys we play with, and started rehearsing. They’re the best bunch of guys, and great musicians – much better than myself – and it’s the realization of a long dream to be playing with them in my first “serious” band. Our first show was covering Alice Cooper at Death to TO last year with our friend Matty Dee, and we have since released our first EP, and been performing our original material around the city. The Explorer film, while being a big sacrifice and stress at the time, was the start of both my new film and music projects, for which I’m very grateful.

DD: Can you talk a bit more about your music taste? You’re always playing cool music at the bar you work at.
AG: Well, admittedly I don’t listen to much modern music, but I’m a fan of many genres of Rock n Roll from the 50’s to the 80’s, and a devotee to rock in general. Explorer has been a great place to – pardon the pun, but – explore these influences from Buddy Holly to Glenn Danzig and everything in between. Rock music, and the culture and history surrounding it has been one of my biggest, if not the biggest passion of my life, and comes into play with anything I do. A lot of the art I make comes from songs or is closely attached to a song and it’s usually, but not always rock.

DD: And finally, do you have any new projects in the works?
AG: I have another Super 8 music video in the works that we’re hoping to shoot this month. I’m also going to try and shoot a personal short film, that’s inspired by some of the French New Wave stuff and examines some of what I find amusing/fascinating/ridiculous about modern life in downtown Toronto. I have a bunch of film projects I’d like to realize in the future, I’m always plugging away at photography, and the band stuff is going well, just trying to keep it all up. I feel like life and certainly downtown Toronto have presented me with so many telling narratives, both happy and sad (a lot of sad), and I just hope to be able to explore and perhaps do justice to some of them in all the stuff I make.