Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reelin' in the Years: Part Four

Click here for part two

Unlike part two, these pictures of film folk in Seattle, cir-
ca 2007-8, took place in venues other than Wallingford's
Blue Star Café (which I once reviewed for Seattle Sound).

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Above: At Quinn's on Capitol Hill. Filmmakers Robinson
and Charles Mudede (Police Beat, Zoo), editor
Mark Peranson (Cinema Scope), and executive direc-
tor Michael Seiwerath (Northwest Film Forum). Per-
anson had just introduced the NWFF's Pedro Costa ret-
Photo taken on 12/07 by E. Steven Fried.

"Critics Critiqued," 2/08 installment of the NWFF's quar-
terly Filmmaker's Saloon. Mudede, Jay Kuehner (Cin-
ema Scope, GreenCine Daily), me, and moderator/board
member Johan Liedegren. Photo by the NWFF.

Seiwerath and actor/director Bobcat Goldthwait at the NWFF
in 7/08. Goldthwait was just about to introduce Hal Ashby's debut,
The Landlord, a film he hadn't seen. (Producer/board president Jen-
nifer Roth talked him into offering his services as a benefit for the
NWFF.) Instead, Goldthwait, who was in town shooting
Greatest Dad
with Robin Williams, spoke to his affection for
Ashby's better known follow-up, Harold and Maude.

Me and Goldthwait. Before introducing The Land-
lord, he told me he'd always had a certain fondness
for Ashby's Secondhand Hearts with Robert Blake.

Daniel Clowes (Ghost World,
Art School Confidential) and editor/publisher/co-founder Gary Groth at the Fantagraphics Store on 9/08. I asked Clowes if he was still working with Michel Gondry
on an adaptation of Rudy Rucker's Master of Space and Time. He said they had decided it was impossible. Instead, he, Gon-
dry, and Gondry's son, Paul, are working on an original project.

Click here for part six

Endnote: All unattributed photos taken by me with Kodak one-
time use cameras. Click
here for Part One and here for Part Three.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September Reviews

These are the reviews
and other assignments
I'm working on this month.

Amazon DVDs: The Small Back Room - Criterion Collection (Powell & Pressburger), Billy the Kid (profile of a 15-year-old with Aspergers syndrome), The Last Days of Left Eye, and Le Deuxième Soufflé (Jean-Pierre Melville directs Lino Ventura).

Amazon Theatricals: Burn After Reading (the Coen
Bros direct their favorite actors), Flash of Genius
(Greg Kinnear's inventor takes on the auto indus-
try), Igor (animated fable featuring the voices of
John Cusack and Steve Buscemi), Battle in Seat-

tle (docudrama about the WTO protests), Miracle
at St. Anna (Spike Lee takes on WWII), Nick and
Norah's Infinite Playlist
(with Michael Cera
Kat Dennings), and I.O.U.S.A. (Patrick Cread-
on's debt-oriented follow-up to Wordplay).

Still playing or yet to open: Bottle Shock, Brideshead Revisited, Hamlet 2,
Man on Wire, Ping Pong Playa,
The Rocker, and
Lakeview Terrace (9/19).

Siffblog: The continuation of an interview with
Frozen River's Courtney Hunt and the
start of one with Towelhead's Alan Ball.

Video Librarian: Absolutely Irish, The Blue Elephant,
Edgar & Ellen: Mad Scientists
(Nicktoons), Jon & Kate
Plus Eight
(reality series), The Last Days of Left Eye,
and Words for the Dying (John Cale and Brian Eno).

Endnote: Powell image from The BFI, from whom I just
a copy of David Mamet's Bambi vs. Godzilla. Thanks, BFI!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

From time to time,
I'll be excavating
unedited versions
of interviews that
aren't otherwise
available online.

To that end, here's
the first draft of my
conversation with
David Lynch. The
finished edition ap-
pears in the 4/07 issue of Resonance, which ceased publication in 2/08.

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Emerging 30 years ago with a little black and white picture called Eraserhead, David Lynch (born 1946) hit the scene fully form-
ed. No matter that it took six years to make and featured a then-
unknown Jack Nance as shockheaded Henry Spencer, the thing
looked fantastic and scarred the psyche everyone who saw it.

Lynch may not have been the first to capture the horror of
nightmares, but few have given equal time to the beauty—
like the Lady in the Radiator's "In Heaven" lullaby. The list
of fans is impressive in and of itself: Stanley Kubrick, Charl-
es Bukowski, and the Pixies, who even covered the number.

In looking at his career since, it's easy to get lost in the past.
Like wandering through a bazaar, there's so much to see and
to explore. Instead of trinkets, the stalls are filled with books
(Catching the Big Fish), comic strips (The Angriest Dog in the
World), television shows (Twin Peaks), and movies. And not
just any movies, but some of the most iconic ever made.

From cult classics (Blue Velvet) to unconventional bio-pics
(The Elephant Man) to literary adaptations (Wild at Heart)
to the ultimate poison pen letter to his beloved Hollywood
(Mullholland Dr.), Lynch is always surprising, never pred-
ictable. And that's to say nothing of the paintings and phot-
ographs. Getting lost in such a rich past, then, is an under-
standable impulse. The thing is: David Lynch doesn't live
there. While he does revisit certain themes (parallel
worlds) and visual tropes (finger snaps and flicker-
ing lights), he never makes the same movie twice.

With INLAND EMPIRE, Lynch takes his biggest leap yet into
the unknown. Three hours long, shot on digital video and self-dis-
tributed, it represents his riskiest move since, well, Eraserhead.
As tempting as it may be to dub the work "experimental," IN-
LAND EMPIRE comes as close to Art as any movie ever has,
yet is still recognizably a Film. Laura Dern, playing an actress
on the verge of a comeback, is the thread that ties it all togeth-
er. Sadly, the vehicle meant to re-launch her career just hap-
pens to be cursed. Or so says director Jeremy Irons.

Of course, there's more to it than that. There's also a Pol-
ish prostitute, a rabbit-headed family, a howling monkey,
a glittering mansion, a gloomy ranch house and last, but
certainly not least, the inimitable Harry Dean Stanton.

Raised in Washington and Montana and schooled in Pennsylvania, Lynch may call California home, but he's never lost that North-
western charm. You can easily imagine him walking into a diner anywhere in the world, ordering a cup of joe, and exclaiming, as Agent Cooper famously used to, "That's some damn fine coffee!"
(He even sells his own beans at Resonance
was pleased as punch to chat with this American legend.

The Venice Film Festival
recognized you with their
Future Film Festival Dig-
ital Award. Then, the Nat-
ional Society of Film Crit-
ics followed with a special
award for Best Experi
ental Film, i.e. "To David Lynch's labyrinthine INLAND EMPIRE, a magnificent and maddening experiment with digital video possibilities." Do you see INLAND EMPIRE as experimental?
No. Every film is an experiment in a way, but to me, it's a straight-
ahead film, although I know what people are talking about. I don't
even know what an experimental film is, so when they say that
I don't know what that is—I don't know if anybody knows.

It's like when people describe The Straight
Story as "conventional." A film about a man
who drives a tractor across the country, by
its very nature,
can't be conventional.
Right, it's a different kind of thing.

Do you think it will scare some people away, to hear INLAND EMPIRE described as experimental?
Labels are interesting. I think, for some people, if you say
it's a straight-ahead narrative, they might get upset. Then
you say it's experimental, and other people say: I don't want
to see an experimental film. It's a film. Cinema can tell many
different kinds of stories, and I like a story, but I like one that
holds abstractions. To me, it's a film—but it's shot on DV.

To what extent was Laura Dern (Blue Velvet, Wild at
Heart), who plays Nikki Grace and her alter-ego, Susan
Blue, involved with the conception of her characters?
You get an idea and the idea brings the char-
acter and how the character is. It just pops in
your head, and there it is. I talked to Laura.
She reads a scene and gets a feel for it, and
then we talk or do some rehearsals. She zer-
oes in on that same idea—and away we go.

You shot a monologue,
woven throughout the
film, in which Blue speaks
to a detective. Did you
originally intend to
release it as a short?
I don't like to say what came first, because it doesn't matter. If you talk to any writer who ev-
er wrote an original screenplay, it never comes all at once. It would be beautiful if it did. It unfolds, and there it is. The less people know when they go into a film the better. In the begin-
ning, I got ideas for scenes and didn't know if this would be a feature. I didn't really think about it. Then I start thinking about these scenes, and another thing came that united them. When that happened, I wrote a lot. It was a more traditional shoot after that.

Now that it's one piece, will that monol-
ogue always exist as part of INLAND EM-
PIRE and never as a separate entity?

I think so. There might be parts of it that could be an extra thing.

Why did you cast Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall),
who plays the mysterious Doris Side? In the 1990s,
she was in a lot of movies, and then—nothing.

She was right for the part, and she's a great actress.

At one point, she was perceiv-
ed as an ingénue, which she
definitely isn't in your film.

The thing is, like when you say exper-
imental film, people like to label things
and to pigeonhole people. Actresses who
get pigeonholed, they die the death a
little bit, because a good actor can do
so many things, but they don't get the
chance if they've been typecast.

In movies like Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EM-
PIRE, where you're looking at actresses in Hol-
lywood, are you thinking of any real-life figures
or other movies, like Sunset Blvd., or are these 

scenarios strictly from your imagination?
No. You know, it's weird. Even though I'm right there in
the city, the idea comes. It has nothing to do with anything
that I've necessarily experienced or heard stories about.

Rabbits (2002), a series that centers on a hare-headed
family debuted on your website. Did you always plan to
incorporate some of that footage into a feature film?
No. Things happen and one thing leads to another. It's
strange that way. And again, it's the same if you wrote
something. No one would ever know the number of id-
eas that get thrown away in the process of writing a
script. Lots of things come in, but when you're work-
ing to make it whole, lots of things fly out. You do
something and it percolates, and then things
grow out of that. It happens all the time.

You released a DVD 
collection this year, 
Dynamic:1. Does it 
feature Rabbits?
There’s no Rabbits in
that. It includes other
things from the site.

Having worked in television with Twin Peaks,
On the Air, and Mulholland Dr., which had
genesis in TV, have you had your fill?
Yes, because the internet is here, and the internet will be the
television station for everybody, and you can make a contin-
uing story if you want to do that. With advertising and the like, TV
is just a giant corporate thing. It's not a place to go, not for me.

Aside from the fact that it looks cool, why do you think
directors like yourself, Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast),
Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), and others are gravitat-
ing towards humanoid characters with rabbit heads?

When you get an idea and you're rolling things around, even if it seems strange, in these stories, they do a thing. You find they fit in there. The thing about cinema is, it says something and a lot of times what it says is without words. It's abstract, and it goes in a wordless place, where there's an intuitive logic. It goes like that, and you've got to trust that as you're working. So there it is.

You seem to take a similar approach to music.
Nina Simone's "Sinnerman," for instance, plays
a key role in INLAND EMPIRE. It's been used
in other films, like Cellular and Miami Vice,
but not in the same way. Are you a fan?

Oh yeah, but I hadn't heard that song for a long time. A friend
of mine made a CD for me, and it was there. I started listening
to it while we were shooting, and that whole thing [a dance se-
quence] popped into my head. Nina Simone is so incredible.

You also make use of Beck's "Black Tambour-
ine" when Blue is running from an assailant.
Did you always have that song in mind?

A couple of years before, when thinking about
working on INLAND EMPIRE, I heard it.
The whole song just married to the scene.

You've mentioned that you were
listening to the German industri-
al metal band Rammstein while
making Lost Highway. What
were you listening to while

I sometimes play things through
the headphones. I listened to a
lot of [Krzysztof] Penderecki
and other Polish composers.

Certain artists have come to be associated with your
work, such as Julee Cruise (Twin Peaks) and Chris Is-
aak (Wild at Heart). What attracted you to them?

I heard Chris Isaak about the time we were shooting Blue
Velvet. You hear some music, and it just fits in the world.
Chris was fantastic. In Blue Velvet, his lyrics aren't in there.
They would send me tracks, so I could use what I wanted.
In fact, they re-recorded some of their stuff. He's got a
certain kind of thing that marries to some things I do.

You have a lot of respect for Kubrick, who later used Isaak for Eyes Wide Shut.
Kubrick used Penderecki and [György]
Ligeti before I did, so it comes around.

You're distributing INLAND EMPIRE through your own company. Why?
We distribute Eraserhead and the short films through
Absurda. My friend who runs the site built a whole
conduit, so we were thinking we could do it for IN-
LAND EMPIRE. It was built with very good rel-
ationships, so I'm not doing it myself. I've got a
great bunch doing it and helping me. I think it
would be good to do it [that way] from now on.

In the past you've avoided director commentaries,
yet it's been reported that you intend to buck your
own tradition with INLAND EMPIRE. Is this a one-
time occurrence, owing to the unique nature of
the film, or do you plan to revisit other works?

Absolutely never will happen!

That just goes to show you stick to your word.
I might tell some stories, but anything that putrefies the
experience I'm against. So much of the modern world is
add-ons and extras. I feel the film gets lost, and it’s a sadness.

When you get those inevitable questions about a film's meaning, how do you respond?
I don't talk about it. Most people know that already,
so they leave me alone.

Have you ever had someone get angry and
try to force an explanation out of you?

I always tell them they know more than they think they know. It just goes that way. If it's not exactly surface and straight-ahead, then lots and lots of interpretations pop up.

Not all copy editors have gotten the memo,
but INLAND EMPIRE is meant to be spelled
using all caps. What's the significance?

It looks more correct that way. They're two such beauti-
ful words and they both have the same number of letters.

Endnote: In addition to Lynch, issue #53 of Resonance features
"Songs Destroyed by Lynch," a sidebar Kris Kendall and I crafted,
and my minimalist interview with the Brothers Quay (I wasn't able
to record our call), which I'll be posting in the months to come.

Images from ("Dublin Guest Stars"), Serial Consign ("The Black Lodge"), The Guardian ("What Is David Lyn-
ch's INLAND EMPIRE About?"), Stop Smiling ("Man with a Mov-
ie Camera"), and Collider (an interview with Lynch and Dern).

Friday, September 12, 2008

in the

Two: Lola
(in a class

by herself)

Checking out the street through the blinds.

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[Please pardon any formatting problems below; Blogger ap-
pears to
be enjoying a non-alignment pact with alignment.]

Herewith a tribute to Lola, my tiny grey cat. As
Robert Smith once sang, "All cats are grey (in the
dark)." Though undersized, she's energetic, af-
fectionate, and has the world's softest coat.

Waking from a nap, feeling woozy.

Feeling quizzical.

Star of her own personal David Lynch film.

Poster art for INLAND EMPIRE II: Lola Strikes Back.

A more pastoral version of the same image, courtesy me
(photo and ephemera), Susie Ghahremani (handbill),
and Giant Robot, who hosted her art show. For more
information about Ghahremani, please click here.

Not a very flattering picture, but the expression is priceless.

Click here for Chapter One: All My Cats

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Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook as Lo lo lo
Lola. Lo lo lo Lola.
Click here for Reelin' in the Years,
Part One (me) and here for Two (film friends).

in the

One: The

The shot above doesn't do Onyx justice. I've never met a
more handsome fellow. He even won the Anchorage cat
show one year, and he was a mixed breed (like all our cats).

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After a flurry of images featuring me and my friends,
I figured it was time to give the cats some. It isn't that
my life revolves around the furry creatures—it doesn't,
I swear—but that they've always been a part of my life.

Sometimes they drive me up the wall (whining, scratching).
Sometimes I drive them up the wall (whining, scratching...),
but I appreciate their companionship and entertaining antics.

Onyx enjoys the world's best nap.

Harpo posing in our overgrown yard on Garfield Street, surrounded by dandelion and clover. Feline lieukemia got him at two years old.

Emma, my first cat. She was so healthy for so much of
her life, I was sure she'd live a long time, but she was
felled by intestinal cancer at 11. She was a sweetheart.

Sterling posing for the camera—back when he
was small enough to fit atop my tiny dresser.

Sterling napping with Emma (he's on the bed, she's on the
floor). I've never had a cat who didn't love to laze in the sun.
Click here for Chapter Two: Lola (in a class by herself)

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Endnote: All photos taken by my mom (Anchorage) or my-
self (Seattle). In my case, I opted for Kodak one-time use dis-
posable cameras. Missing cats: Rover, Bayla, Luna, and Sam,
AKA Vlad the Impaler, all of whom were short-timers com-
pared to the characters above. Cross-posted at Facebook
as All My Cats. Click here for Reelin' in the Years, Part
(me) and here for Two (my film friends).

Monday, September 08, 2008

Their Aim Is True

Jesse Dee,
Bittersweet Batch,
7not Records

Take it from me / it's good
to be /alive and kickin'.
-- Jesse Dee

Jesse Dee sounds
like the cover of El-
vis Costello's 1977
debut, My Aim Is True,
come to life. On it, the
splayed-leg musician
comes on like the new wave reincarnation of a rockabilly icon from the 1950s.

Granted, Bittersweet Batch is more of a pop-soul hybrid
than a retro-rockin' platter, but Dee revives the spirit of late-
night juke joints where the ladies flounce about in puffy skirts
and the gents sport tight trousers. He provides the Boston-
based link between Brits Amy Winehouse and Jamie Lidell.
Suffice to say there are a lot of horns on this disc.

The Boat People, Chandeliers, Shiny/Shock [import]

This Brisbane quartet fits somewhere between the Dandy Warhols and the New Pornographers on the pop spectrum. Or in strictly Antipodean terms, they occupy the sweet spot between Ben Lee and Garageland (their home town also birthed the Go-Betweens).

Chandeliers packs plenty of hooks, but nothing too fluffy
or sticky. You won't find much wheel-reinventing on their
second record (after 2005's yesyesyesyesyes), but the
Boat People keep the bright flame of power-pop alive.

Conrad Ford, Secret Army, Tarnished Records

Named after [the] big skies of western film director John Ford
and the stark characters of cinematographer Conrad Hall.
-- From the band's biography

Conrad Ford's Andy
McAllister, who doub-
les as a freelance film
editor, croons so softly
his voice barely rises ab-
ove the limpid instrumen-
tation that surrounds him
(blurry keyboards, brush-
ed drums, etc.). As his partner-in-crime, Jordan Walton (steel
guitar, banjo, trumpet), admitted to The Seattle Times last
year, "Even when we're trying to 'rock,' we're subdued."

If you can imagine a restrained, countrified version of the
Eels, you're halfway there (the Seattle quartet also cites Townes
Van Zandt as an influence). The delicate, insistent "Shadow Shade"
and Band-flavored "Breakdown" stand out from the 12-track
crowd, but no missteps mar their soft-spoken second record.

Click here to sample tracks from Secret Army

Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys,
Casualty Menagerie
, Death in the Family Records

The rats are sick of it / the mice are joining in / revolutions
come to pass / finally at last / wiretooth animals unite!

-- "Revenge of the Rats"

Swooping, sepulchral voc-
als saturate the songs of
Walter Sickert & the
Army of Broken Toys.

As indicated by the name
and the artwork, influen-
ces include Jan Švankmaj-
er's Alice ("No Room," "Rev-
enge of the Rats") and nightmarish alleys ("Carnal Carnivale").

The Boston Herald proclaims Sickert and Edrie, "a curious blend
of mischief and morbidity," which sums up the
ty Menag-
EP perfectly. If these Massachusetts mischief-makers aren't
fans of the Brothers Grimm and the Brothers Quay, I'll eat my hat.

Viarosa, Send for the Sea, Tarnished Records

Richard Neuberg and company find redemption in the midst of a
sparse, scorched landscape. Cormac McCarthy would be proud.
-- Harp magazine

There's a touch of the Tinder-
sticks to this London sextet's
dramatic sound. Viarosa sin-
ger/guitarist Richard Neuberg
carefully articulates his words over
mournful strings and spare keys.

Though he negotiates a higher register than Stuart Stap-
les, Neuberg walks a similar path. (You might find Nick
Cave skulking around that same shadowy walkway.)

Send for the Sea, their sophomore effort, may not disturb your
dreams, but it's tinged with the same kind of gothic romanticism.
In other words, it's slightly spooky rather than downright scary.

Click here to sample tracks from Send for the Sea

Endnote: For more information about the Boat People, please
click here or here; for Conrad Ford, here; for Walter Sickert
& the Army of Broken Toys, here; for Viarosa, here. Images
from the websites of Jesse Dee, WS&tAoBT, and Viarosa.