30 May 2007

uber-indie: the short films of David Lowery


Note: One thing I like to do as part of the uber-indie project is use the space to throw a small amount of recognition to not only the films themselves, but the people who made them, the creative souls who toil in obscurity. Usually this does nothing more than show up when someone Googles themselves, but still, you never know. That's why you always see the list of credits at the top of the review. But with shorts, it's a little different, because the credits don't hold true from film to film. So what to do? Well, we're going to try splitting the review into parts and see if that works. If not, we'll try something different next time, as that's also going to be a collection of shorts. Unfortunately, I can't get as in-depth with these as I normally would. So it goes.

The Outlaw Son (2006)

starring: Kyle Williams and Machete
cinematography by: Nicholas Prendergast
written and directed by: David Lowery[1]
11 min/Dallas, TX

A flight into Austin. A phone call. Coffee in a diner. A long night in a parked car. Silence. Long, uncomfortable silences. To call The Outlaw Son sparse and minimalist would be something of an understatement. This is a film where, at first glance, nothing happens until the final moments, where it might appear that Lowery is stringing us along until the finale, but I don't think that's the case. The way he films it, in short little clips surrounded buffered by a blank screen, almost like flipping through a photo album, builds ever so slightly. The sort of thing you could easily miss. It's a film where the tiniest of gestures mean everything, and even thought the film at no point bothers to connect the dots between the ending and the rest of the film, here's my either/or theory: either Lowery is indulging in art for art's sake, the standard student film approach, or (and I hope it's this one) The Outlaw Son is a picture of a relationship in trouble, of some level of heartbreak, of the long sleepless nights working through your problems, and the ending is an act of solidarity, the type of "we're in this together now", team-building thing you see when sports teams all shave their heads for the playoffs. They've come to some sort of resolution and this is the point where they begin to move forward. And even if it isn't, even if I'm completely wrong, it's an effective film regardless.

A Catalog of Anticipations II

starring: Mary Margaret Lowery and Cammi Heath
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Dallas, TX

A story of a little girl (played by Mary Margaret Lowery, narrated by Cammi Heath) who collects interesting things, only to discover a dead fairy in the field behind her house. She finds more and more, eventually theorizing that there must have been some sort of war, and then one day, one of them comes back to life. It sounds pretty out there, but it isn't, mostly because of the way Lowery chooses to tell this story. Eschewing traditional means, the film exists as a series of photographs, advancing one still image at a time, with the fairies realized by stop motion animation (using clay, I assume) that merges flawlessly with the rest of the film. The story is a short one, recounted in a matter-of-fact way that only a child can. To her, there doesn't seem to be anything all that remarkable about a fairy war in her yard, and so she tells the story in that manner. But it still contains a dry sadness that's in a lot of ways more poignant than a river of tears.

A Catalog of Anticipations I

starring: David Lowery
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Dallas, TX

Lowery himself stars in A Catalog of Anticipations I, a take on the classic rebirth theme that's so prevalent in cinema. It's nicely done--the shots are well-composed and the editing is crisp--but this isn't something we haven't seen numerous times and it doesn't attempt to put a different twist on it. I don't know that there's much of a reason for this film to exist, other than in a larger work or as something of an exercise. That being said, there aren't many filmmakers who'd be willing to lay in the mud and put dirt in their mouth for a film. Hell, that's why you hire actors, so someone else can lay in the mud while you sit in a chair sipping coffee.

Some Analog Lines

starring: David Lowery and Benjamin Lowery
sound design by: Brad Mitchell
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
6 min/Dallas, TX

Disclosure: Some Analog Lines is one of my favorite short films and the main reason I asked David to participate in the uber-indie project.

David Lowery's Some Analog Lines is a thoughtful, nuanced look at the creative process, the nature of art, and the inherent nature of audience perception. Lowery narrates himself, sometimes doubling, tripling his voice into uneven layers, sometimes letting it run solo. He chronicles the genesis of his filmmaking career, starting with a ghost story he made as a child along with his younger brother Benjamin. Cut to today where they're both still making films, only now they're animated, David's a stop-motion animation and Benjamin's CGI. He ponders the differences between the two mediums, how the stop-motion gets more respect from a cineaste, how the CGI doesn't get the credit it deserves, how the fact that we can see the fingerprints in the clay somehow means something to us on a fundamental level. Much like the homemade bookshelf or the Super-8 footage of a ghost story or the hand-written message in a book. Because it's easier for an audience to identify with something when we can see the humanity in it. The ability to see those fingerprints is important somehow.

But does that diminish the CGI? Of course not.

What's interesting to me about Some Analog Lines is how in talking about the fingerprints, Lowery so freely uses technology to make his point, almost as if he's showing the audience that the computer can too have a soul. He pulls the screen out of the computer and puts it in the air around him, manipulating the controls with his hands, must like he did with his stop-motion animation. He literally takes two clips and splices them together in the air, almost exactly as he does earlier in the projection booth. It's a fascinating marriage of two aspects of the medium that all too often seem to be at odds, fighting over who will survive. What Lowery's effectively saying is that we can take the best of both worlds, we can use the digital wizardry to enhance the tried and true analog methods, and vice versa. At which point we'll really have achieved something.

Web Series--Episode 1

starring: Nathan Lowery and Anna Lowery
cinematography by: David Lowery
written and directed by: David Lowery
4 min/Dallas, TX

It's difficult sometimes to get an accurate sense of a potential web series from just one 4 minute episode, but I'll try. The story follows a brother and sister who are, for whatever reason, on their own in the wild (or, at least in the woods near a town with a train). The brother leaves the little girl hidden in the woods while he scouts for an empty house they can inhabit, at least temporarily. At first, you'd think maybe they're just wandering the country, but the brother seems to have set up some sort of trap out of twine (or perhaps he's just putting their food up in a tree where people can't reach it, I'm not sure), so perhaps there's something larger at play. I'm reminded of Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973) and Denis Johnson's novella Jesus' Son, and that's a pretty good start.

Land of Nod

starring: Michelle Proksell and David Lowery
written and directed by: Michelle Proksell and David Lowery
3 min/Dallas, TX

Finally we have a music video for an uncredited song (edit: David tells me the band is The Theater Fire). What's most impressive here, besides the shot where the pills rise out of the bottle, is the fact that Proksell and Lowery both play multiple characters in the same scene that interact with each other seamlessly. Rather than the standard move of having them stay in separate part of the screen, where you can easily edit the performances into one shot, these characters pass in front of each other without the it really occurring to the audience that these characters are being played by the same actor. And, sure, this isn't such a big deal in a Hollywood blockbuster, but in an uber-indie? It just doesn't happen all that often without looking terrible. But beyond that, it's a nice looking video, with crisp photography and a vintage set that contrasts with the final scene in the overwhelming brightness of a hospital. It just shows the value of cinematography in setting the mood for a film, and it's this that Lowery does exceptionally well. That's the unifying theme in all these short, the ability of a filmmaker to sustain a mood, and not just one, but several different ones, unique to each project.

The point being that Lowery's talent is undeniable, his grasp of the medium innate. He is, beyond question, a filmmaker worth watching.

[1] David exists as part of this same blog universe as yours truly. I read his blog on a semi-regular basis, and he reads mine.

You can read David Lowery's insightful blog, here, where he not only chronicles his own filmmaking journey, but also makes available some of the films you've read about here. Also, you can check out the Official Webpage and his profile at IMDB and IndieFilmPedia.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.

25 May 2007

on Star Wars

Today being the 30th anniversary of the release of George Lucas' Star Wars (1977), there's a lot going on. Namely, Edward Copeland is hosting the, you guessed it, Star Wars Blog-a-Thon. So, should you be in the mood, head on over there and read what is sure to be a plethora of wonderful, if somewhat nerdy[1], posts.

I'll leave you with just this one question: am I the only one who couldn't care less? And not just about the anniversary, but the whole Star Wars empire, from the movies to the action figures to the fan fiction to the costumes to the video games. I just don't see what the big fuss is all about.

Gun to my head, the first one is the only one of the original trilogy I could say with 90% certainty I've seen all the way through, but I remember little of it. It never struck me as being worth remembering, I guess.

When you've got an entirely contrarian opinion like this, there are 2 possible explainations: either you are very wrong or everyone else is. So, which is it?

[1] There is, of course, nothing wrong with nerdy posts. I have nothing against them. Nor do I have anything against nerds, but let's call a spade a spade, shall we?

16 May 2007


Speaking of which, here's teaser number 2, brought to you by my sheer exhaustion with spending all of yesterday fixing a mistake by going frame-by-frame throught a shot (damn my perfectionist tendencies)

that first shot? yeah, I know, it looks like it's taken out of the L'Attente (2006) playbook, doesn't it?


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15 May 2007

still here

honest. and there's some uber-indie stuff coming, i swear. i've just been focused on finishing up my own film, and that's priority number one, you know.

07 May 2007

simple things you can do to support the arts

As we begin to near the still-to-be-announced release date of my next film, gravida (2007), there's some stuff you can check out in the meanwhile that's associated with what will surely be one of your favorite short films of 2007 made by someone who's blog you read on a semi-regular basis.

You could, for example, go to the film's Official webpage, where you can check out images and the teaser and other various things.

You could watch L'Attente (2006), the film the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called "intriguingly spare" in all its splendor here

Or, more importantly, you could head over to MySpace and listen to the wonderful music that'll appear in the film, like Ilona V and her song "Good Morning" (link), which will also be coming out on vinyl (yeah, vinyl) sometime next month.

You could also check out Meaghan Smith, who I'm still trying to convince to join the party (link), and tell her how wonderful you think her music would be in my film, use hyperbole as needed.

Finally, you could go check out my good friend Jerome Wincek (link), as talented and generous a soul as you'll ever find. His song "Careless Love" is going to be in the film, but it isn't on his MySpace profile. You can, however, do what I did and purchase his Astral Road album here.

Now, get thee to the internets.

04 May 2007

uber-indie: Confusions of an Unmarried Couple


starring: Brett Butler and Naomi M. Johnson
cinematography by: Jason Butler
written by: Brett Butler
directed by: Brett Butler and Jason Butler
CAD 500/73 min/Toronto, Canada

In all of cinema, there aren't many filmmakers who would complete a feature-length film and, for whatever reason, scrap the end product and start over. The desire to get films seen, to have the satisfaction of the work resulting in something, often causes us to overlook the fact that some things are better served as educational failures, tucked away on a shelf somewhere far from the public. Some films are better utilized chopped into guitar pics and not all publicity is good publicity. Few artists realize that sometimes you just have to destroy your work before it destroys you.

Fewer still are able to fix it.

Which brings us to Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, the latest brew from the Butler Brothers, two Canadian brothers who's previous efforts include the unseen-by-me Alive and Lubricated (2005) and Bums (2006).

As you may have guessed, this is not their first attempt at Confusions of an Unmarried Couple. The first, shot two years prior on Hi-8, survives as a video diary inter-cut with new footage[1]. As a result, we see two characters at slightly different ages, as there's no question time has passed between the confessional and the here and now. It's a pretty good unintentional effect, and might even have been a great one with a little better execution. The story is this: Dan and Lisa, the titular unmarried couple, find their relationship shattered when Dan discovers Lisa cheating with another woman. Several months later, Dan returns to their apartment to reclaim some of his things. The confessional footage takes place somewhere between the breakup and the rest of the film, which takes place over the course of a few hours. Only, the confessional footage is older than that. The characters have aged too much for the timeline to hold up. It's a tiny thing, for sure, and few audience members will even notice, but it's worth mentioning, nonetheless.

The premise is a nice one--simple and direct with echoes of Bergman, and the script is either not quite polished enough or just a little too polished, I'm not quite sure which one. But, the film hinges on Butler's performance. Imagine if you will, someone who's a cross between the Hanson brothers from Slap Shot (1977) and Mark Borchardt from American Movie (1999) with black-rimmed glasses, shoulder-length hair, a long goatee, and an orange mesh baseball hat flipped backwards. He speaks excitedly in a thick Canadian accent, rattling off profanities, and operates almost completely by his own single-minded ethos. As an actor, he's serviceable, but as a screen presence, as a character, he's a delight to watch. Consider his confessional of why cheating with someone so similar to who you're with is pointless, and his list of the types of women he might theoretically like to be with for a change of pace. Clearly this is something he's previously considered in great detail. Or, take the fact that the first item he attempts to take out of the apartment is none other than the mattress, even though Lisa is in the other room. Where the film suffers, where it lags, Butler keeps it going by the sheer force of his charisma. He's easily the best part of the film.

As for the look of the film, it's awfully hard to fault a film shot this quickly, but in a perfect world, we'd lose some of the repetitive set-ups, as at times there's a feeling that visually we're looking at the same scene several times over, just with different words and in different rooms. A bit of variety from the camera could do wonders, but, in a production moving so fast, the need to get the story trumps elaborate visuals, so call it more of a wish than a critique.

Really, though, the important thing is that Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, while far from perfect, is one hell of an enjoyable 73 minutes, and you can't really ask for much more than that.

[1] Shot over one weekend on a Panasonic AG-DVX 100 in 24p for the cost of tapes and, I assume, food.

You can check out Confusions of an Unmarried Couple on IMDB, MySpace, or the Official Webpage, where you can check out this and other Butler Brothers Brews.

Got a film you'd like to submit for the uber-indie project? Go here for details. You can also read these reviews at TalkingMoviezzz.com.