Dear friends and readers,
This was to have been a week where I began teaching again, resumed the dance fusion and core classes at the Jewish community Center, and went to another of the Washington Area Print group’s lectures. Snow and ice have cancelled out the first two, my own lack of alertness led to my car’s battery dying so I ordered a tow truck which took my Prius to the Toyota dealership for fixing, and tonight it’s looking like there will be more ice, snow and cancellations on the way. I’ll be lucky if I can pick my car up before Saturday. I discover I have a high tax bill this year so going to an accountant is no panacea there.
Small beer I know, my deep deep loneliness, all that Jim lost in comparison to skies filled with helicopters and bombs elsewhere, paramilitary police and so on. In news affecting large numbers of people: Very bad things to many threatened: loss of health care through the supreme court, yet worse war with Iran: if the elected mass murderer Israeli Prime Minister has his way he’ll kill & destroy with impunity some more. Is there a word bad enough for this criminal type (More’s “pest” sounds too trivialzing) seeking an aggressive war against the Iranian people? Have they not suffered enough? They are trying to build their country again. Hilary Clinton a bad choice for the president; Jackson Lear on identity politics. The college which provided Yvette with the happiest four years of her adult life thus far, Sweet Briar, has announced it will shut down — heart-breaking that. It is said to be ceasing operations before it reaches a bankrupt crisis so it can provide pensions and severance pay for its teachers, help students find other places, be responsible. But does it have to close? It is such a rare fine school for anyone, not quite unique as yet (as there are still some others) as just for women. But important victories too: Net Neutrality was affirmed by the FCC so this vast communication network will be preserved for all of us to reach one another, to find out information, to enjoy communication across time and space, as a utility, a lifeline.
On that note I’ve almost finished another Future Learn Course: Film-making: from Script to Screen, from Exeter University, in the UK. It’s been highly uneven but enormously helpful to me as I write my paper.
The first week dismaying: the people in charge were showing off who they were, and what they were going to tell us. There was some discussion of writing scripts — how you have to visualize — and sound design, but nothing developed. The talk and questions in the “learners'” discussion spaces, made me think about how I came to want to study (or make) films and suddenly remembered years of watching Channel 9 in NYC and the old films endlessly replaying and how I was deeply moved by The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara — especially two haunting moments: her up on the scaffold about to be hung, ethereal, beautiful, and him siting on the cathedral next to a gargoyle as the movie ends, weeping weeping and asking why no one can love him.
The second week was all I had hoped for — explanatory and for me transformative talk about the process of film-making as one moves from script to filming, what does the director do, Tony Grisoni and David Peace’s and Destiny Ekaragha’s films (about English Nigerian people, the careless spiteful murder of a Kurdistan young man in London, Kingsland) — I felt ashamed I had not gone to see the film about the young nun, Ida and the mini-series about Yorkshire, Red Riding, which Jim downloaded for me.
The third week the guide was Mike Figgis who talked about camera work in a concrete real way; he showed clips from one of his popular films, Leaving Las Vegas, and talked about what drove and shaped his decisions for where he filmed, how he visualized, when added sound; and then a powerful movie he had made: The Mass of Man. A man is 3 minutes late to his job center and is told by this merciless woman that he will be stopped from getting any money for a month unless he signs a form; if he signs it he will still be stopped for 2 weeks. He missed his bus. It is clear that the job center has no jobs to give out. This reminded me of what I saw in all the places said to be open to help disabled people find jobs. They are useless and the employees there punish the disabled people in order to shut them up and keep them cowed lest these employees lost their jobs. What happens is an infuriated person comes in and starts to shoot people with painful darts — we were meant to understand and feel for the infuriated man and see the cruelty of the whole arrangement, its hypocrisies. Figgis had his favorite producer there and we learned how a producer works with a film-director — funding his project. How to try to control what you write by asking yourself how much time each page will take to film. We were to try to see the distance from the script to visualizing the film
The fourth week was the worst Future Learn week I’ve experienced, the guide prurient without an ability to articulate anything about his (awful) film. There were two interviews worth watching: David Morrissey about his experience of acting in a film recently (in Georgia) and Martin Scorsese on the reaction to a film about a serial killer that offended people deeply in the 1950s (but today alas might pass without comment, much less anything adverse), Peeping Tom. Some film-makers have little intellectual understanding of what they are doing; they can understand how a camera works and what angles they could to produce certain effects. Often the actors understand more of their art as an art and its value than anyone else — I see this during interviews.
Week 5 the guide, Justine Wright, articulate and insightful. She began as a person editing commercials; went on to documentaries (where the script is minimal making them very arduous to do as the amount of material gathered is often enormous) and recently features. She showed the script is a central prescriptive text everyone follows, as they went might alter, but kept to more or less generally as the plan of the shoot. She talked a lot about time and space in a movie and how you must zero in on specifics to tell a story. She showed clips from a film she had edited about Thatcher, the Iron Lady, where the question was how to show her needing to shop for breakfast things, shopping, then coming home, then eating. Lewis Arnold was next with a short Caroline about a girl compulsively reliving her grief over her father’s death in a car accident — I would not have understood it without his explanations, sheer cutting and editing of images and sequences.
Week 6: sound and music, added on last. The last week was excellent and as there is still time to register and follow the six, I recommend this series to all. The guides were Danny Hambrook, a sound editor, and John Keane, a composer; the films includes Kureishi’s Le Weekend, the 1999 mini-series Wives and Daughters (scripted by Andrew Davies), and a remarkable cartoon, The Hill Farm (nominated for an Oscar). I did notice once again that men film-makers just love to make violent films and enjoy presenting violence in the guise of “action-adventure.” As in previous weeks one reason I enjoyed most of the videos, extra lectures (one at the BFI site) and talk by the two guides was I liked the movies. It seems odd but sound and music are attached last; that seems to be a practuical necessity. It’s after the film is laid out you can attach the sound. Hambrook discussed how he made the sounds of Paris in Le Weekend; how he developed a thematic motif for Cynthia in Wives and Daughters and how that worked; Keane talked of many experiences of creating different kinds of sounds, tracks, atmosphere — cartoons are a special case because the sounds are often far more artificial than we realize and yet have to move us as natural. The story of the film was touching.
I work away on my paper due for the coming ASECS conference at LA (Screenplays and Shooting Scripts into Films), genuinely begun and read with understanding some new or old books (Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chapter I) and others I was kidding myself I was managing (Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground on Cornwall); I’ve been mesmerized by movies by Victor Nunez, the older Poldark Series (the last 4 powerful episodes of the first season, 1975-76), watched yet more Downton Abbey, most precious of all good letters from and to friends, talk about art and politics and just anything and everything (visiting Godolphin House in Cornwall, large topiary cats) with acquaintances too on the Net, even spent time with my daughters, ate, slept, sat by my real sweet Clarycat and played with nudging pressing Ian. They seek companionship too.
On Marsden: What he’s exploring is why some people become mythic – and Cornwall has been one of these, the capacity of a place to create mythologies about them too. I just loved Wilkie Collins’s book on his time in Cornwall. It has to do with topography, with the distinctive space of the area, what it looks like and has enabled its history to be — and he had just gotten to the neolithic objects and stones and King Arthur when I left off. Cornwall is a place with many neolithic stones, and like elsewhere they are found in formations which suggest people moved them. Marsden meditates this too. Marsden shows how Cornwall can depress some people – not him, a friend who came with him. David Craig’s review in the LRB emphasizes Marsden’s use of previous writers from and on Cornwall from the 17th century on. This is an 18th century topic — as modern archealogy takes off then. I’ve read a couple of excellent books on Stonehenge and this review fits in there too — about theorizing these stones. Political geography can explain something of what happens in areas so “gifted” and returned to and written about — books and people who were there count too I should think as well as some literal history. Another great travel book of this type is Orphan Pamuk’s Istanbul — I’ve longed to go there and see the great sea by it.
On Nunez: A Flash of Green, which may be watched whole through 5 YouTube sites. The 1980s film is about reporter who is partly seduced into operating as a mole on behalf of his friend, a corrupt politician, and destroying the individuals part of a movement to stop a corporation from turning a lake, woodlands into a development of expensive housing and malls. It’s the lack of sensationalism that is so striking.
I can see how Ruby in Paradise is an Austen adaptation: in comparison while deeply and truthfully seen, it is a simple coming of age story about a decent young girl, surrounded by mostly well-meaning people — in a rotten society (not explained how it got that way).
Ulee’s Gold (I rented a DVD from Netflix) — powerful and real. There is uplift towards the end; I see Nunez practices this for all his films I’ve seen thus far (including Gal Young’un, where a young man deludes an older woman into marrying him, mortifies her [“slack face”], takes her money, brings home a stupid sexy woman but she wins through threatening to kill him with a rifle, and the poor girl chooses to stay with her) The endings arenot tacked on and is believable. In Ulee’s Gold, what’s startling is the frank portrayal without any holding back of family relationships and especially drug addiction – without overdoing it (what Breaking Bad does about addiction, it’s too melodramatic, too crass awful).. There is a violent subplot where two of the grandfather’s (Peter Fonda)’s son’s buddies in crime threaten to and then come back to wrest a huge amount of money hidden away — they threaten to kill him, his daughter-in-law and grandchildren and they are rescued by a nurse across the way (who is becoming the grandfather’s half girl-friend by the end, she’s been divorced twice, no children). I can see how the story could have been presented so melodramatically and it’s not. Things emerge naturally — as every day life. This is like his other films. Beautiful shots of northern Florida and beekeeping.