Monday, August 15, 2016

Voyage to Twin Peaks: an interview w/ filmmaker Scott Ryan

Last month I spoke with Scott Ryan, a man of many talents: founder/host of the Red Room Podcast (among others), author of many books (including Scott Luck Stories and an upcoming study of thirtysomething featuring interviews with the entire cast and crew), and finally, the director of the short documentary Voyage to Twin Peaks, which you can rent or buy on Amazon (online previews are here and here). Voyage to Twin Peaks begins by quickly recounting Scott's long history as a superfan before chronicling his first-ever visit to the Twin Peaks Festival in Snoqualmie, Washington (where the TV pilot & feature film were shot). The film is a charming valentine to the festival, the Twin Peaks fan community, and to the world of the show itself (including a poignant farewell to Catherine Coulson, the Log Lady, who appears onscreen here for the last time...well, except for her announced role in Twin Peaks, which may have been shot soon after). Scott and I discussed his new movie, but also much, much more about the show, the film, David Lynch, and Scott's other work and interests.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sci Fi Countdown - The End of Evangelion (CinemaVille discussion w/ Bob Clark for Wonders in the Dark)

This morning, I posted my only official entry in the Wonders in the Dark Sci-Fi countdown: an audio discussion with Bob Clark on the film The End of Evangelion, which ranked near the very top of my own ballot.

Last week, I appeared on Bob's podcast Cinemaville to discuss the series Neon Genesis Evangelion (from which the film is spun off); this time, I took over as guest host to introduce, conduct, and edit the conversation myself. Thanks to Bob for allowing me to step into his shoes for an episode, and I hope listeners enjoy the experience. Here is the podcast itself:

I've also participated in many other Wonders in the Dark genre countdowns over the years. Here are the previous films I've covered: Marty (both versions) and a video essay on Lady and the Tramp for the Romance Countdown; Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid for the Western Countdown (make sure to check out the comments, where the scholar who edited the 2005 version responded to my review and the controversy surrounding his cut); a video essay on Modern Times for the Comedy Countdown; An American in Paris, 42nd Street (including a video essay), and a visual tribute (using Arlene Croce's prose) to The Gay Divorcee for the Musical Countdown.

Obviously, this is not my first rodeo with The End of Evangelion (nor is it Wonders in the Dark's - Allan Fish wrote about it back in 2011). I've created a "3 1/2 Minute Review" video essay; a video essay comparison of Twin Peaks and Neon Genesis Evangelion (including the film); a lengthy prose essay; a two-part printed conversation with Bob Clark about the film's story and style and its characters; an entry in my Favorites capsule series; and screen-cap visual tributes to a battle sequence and the climactic apocalypse. I even devoted an entire week of blog posts to the subject last year.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sci Fi Countdown - discussing Neon Genesis Evangelion on Bob Clark's new podcast, "CinemaVille"

This is officially Bob Clark's entry in the Sci-Fi Countdown, going on right now on Wonders in the Dark. But since we'd discussed this series Neon Genesis Evangelion so often in the past, he invited me as his guest his brand new podcast "CinemaVille". Both endeavors are worth checking out beyond just this entry, and you can read more about Evangelion over on Wonders:

Here is the podcast itself:

And that's not it for my involvement with the countdown, the podcast, or Evangelion. On Tuesday, I will be contributing my own entry to the show, taking over Bob's show for an episode as a guest host (with me questioning him this time) to discuss...well, we'll leave that as surprise! See you then.

Meanwhile, make sure to check out Bob Clark's impressive essays on the first six episodes of the series, the film Evangelion 2.0, and the proper way to screen Evangelion films, as well as Wonders guru Allan Fish's own take on the series and film The End of Evangelion, and of course my own episode guide, accompanied by extended chats with Bob for each episode.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Prisoner: conversation w/ James Cooray Smith

As I'm sure you've noted, things have been pretty quiet around here lately. Since I announced that I was slowing down my pace back in April, I've published just three video essays (all created within a few weeks of that announcement), two podcast appearance, and an interview. Several items have continued to linger in my backlog all this time, while other projects remained unfinished. But nothing else has lingered as unjustifiably as this interview, and no project has been left hanging more egregiously than my Prisoner series of which this is a part. In April, James Cooray Smith took the time to chat with me about the TV series and unfortunately the conversation fell by the wayside...until now. I'm thrilled to finally publish our talk here, full of fascinating history about The Prisoner, exchanges about its meaning and effectiveness, and the recounting of James' own experience with the show.

James is a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction, with a particular focus on both cinema and television (he has published critical biographies of film directors like Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, and George Lucas). He is also a columnist for the New Statesman, which is how I first came across his work: last December, he authored the provocatively-titled (albeit not by him) "There is no way Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be as good as the prequels", which mentioned my video series Journey Through Twin Peaks. We struck up a Twitter acquaintance, and as I began covering The Prisoner - one of his all-time favorite TV shows - he dropped by regularly to comment, often leaving long, thoughtful addenda to my own instant reactions. I eagerly looked forward to discussing the series with him (among other things, I knew he was a passionate defender of "The Girl Who Was Death"), but since then I've been rather selfish, keeping the conversation to myself. No longer.

Great thanks to James for his generosity and patience, and apologies for making him - and you - wait so long for his lucid insights. On with the show...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me: my conversation w/ Twin Peaks Unwrapped

At long last, the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast has reached the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. This week Bryon and Ben are discussing their reactions with five different commentators, including me. I talk about how Fire Walk With Me works as a standalone, a subversion of the series, and and an appropriate conclusion to it, and offer my interpretation of the ending - what's really going on in that train car with Laura and Ronette. Meanwhile, John Thorne shares his "Deer Meadow dream" theory, Andreas Halskov provides context on the evolving critical reception of the film, Mya McBriar describes her own personal journey with Laura and the film, and Scott Ryan lays out his own theories about the mythology (and Cooper's hair!).

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Melodrama & minimalism: Au Hasard Balthazar & Pyaasa (video essay for Fandor Keyframe)

I've been pretty busy lately (just not online), and didn't realize that my most recent Fandor video essay had actually gone up back in June. I submitted it a few months ago, inspired partly by having recently rewatched two of my favorite movies, and partly by a minor controversy surrounding Kevin B. Lee's video "Inside the Rooms of NO HOME MOVIE" which altered the soundtrack of clips from a Chantal Akerman film. What difference does sound make in our emotional perception of a scene? What is the common ground between melodramatic and minimalist uses of sound?

I addressed these questions in the above video, as well as in the accompanying text (which you can read in full on Fandor Keyframe). Here is the intro to that text:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Behind Closed Curtains: discussing the Twin Peaks finale w/ Twin Peaks Unwrapped

A week ago, Bryon Kozaczka and Ben Durant of Twin Peaks Unwrapped released another conversation with me, my first appearance on the show since March. This time we finally reached the final episode of the show, so for nearly two hours we chatted about what really happens to Cooper out in the woods (each of us had our own distinct theory), how the mythology of the show breaks down (I went into further detail on the dugpa/lodge/dweller lore I explore in my "Mythology" video), and what Bryon could expect - without giving anything away - from the forthcoming Fire Walk With Me (the duo's episode covering that film just went up today, so you can see for yourself what he thought). In a couple weeks, I will reappear on the show to discuss the movie with them, alongside many great guests like John Thorne, Andreas Halskov, Scott Ryan, and Mya McBriar (sorry if I'm forgetting anyone). Until then, see you in the trees...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Twin Peaks 25 Years Later: interview w/ John Thorne, author of The Essential Wrapped in Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks

(spoilers in this discussion of Twin Peaks)

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Twin Peaks finale. On June 10, 1991, Laura Palmer told Agent Cooper, "I'll see you again in 25 years." Well, it turns out we have to wait one more year yet (Showtime recently announced that the long-awaited David Lynch-directed third season will premiere in the second quarter of 2017). Nonetheless, it's a great time to be a Twin Peaks fan. Not only do we have more episodes in the offing, we have plenty of reading material to keep us busy in the meantime. John Thorne, whose magazine Wrapped in Plastic (co-edited with Craig Miller) kept the Twin Peaks literary flame alive for over a decade, has returned with a new book The Essential Wrapped in Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks. It's an anthology of some of the best work from Wrapped in Plastic - including three iconic essays on the finale and the feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me - but it's also a whole lot more: a detailed episode guide, a script-to-screen comparison, and a mini-oral history (including an extended section on Fire Walk With Me, the first of its kind in book form), among other qualities. (I encourage you to purchase it on Amazon.)

Two years ago, I published what are likely the most extended interviews with John, climaxing just a week after the new series was announced. That plus the show's self-conscious anniversary mark the perfect occasions for my own return after my longest break from posting Twin Peaks material in two years. John and I discussed his book, the experience of watching the show when it originally aired, the upcoming Twin Peaks season, and even his thoughts on True Detective and Fargo. And just for fun, as a coda John ranks his five favorite episodes (as well as his least favorite).

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mirrors of Kane: Citizen Kane video series, chapter 1: "Meeting Kane" (Introductions)

Earlier in the month, on Orson Welles' 101st birthday, Fandor Keyframe posted "Meeting Kane", the first chapter in my Mirrors of Kane video essay series. The remaining chapters will go up on my personal YouTube and Vimeo channels. Incidentally, Fandor has started posting more videos on its own YouTube channel including Seven Forms of Filmmaking, The Colors of Daisies, and Meshes of Lynch - I've made a playlist of them all. Likewise "Meeting Kane" is available on both Vimeo and YouTube (where it has joined a new Mirrors of Kane playlist to keep track of the series). Both are embedded below.

Here is the beginning of the intro I wrote for Fandor

Recently, Citizen Kane turned seventy-five. That’s five years older than writer/director/starOrson Welles when he passed away, and roughly three years younger than Charles Foster Kane himself when he whispered his final “Rosebud”. Like those septuagenarians, the film remains celebrated, but—also like them—it may be misunderstood. The “greatest film of all time” is placed on a lofty pedestal that commands distanced respect and resentment, rather than affection. Even its greatest admirers often emphasize the film’s technical achievements and immense influence over any emotional resonance. Most infamously, Kane has been called “a shallow masterpiece” (Pauline Kael) and “a labyrinth without a center” (Jorge Luis Borges)—and much discussion surrounding the movie, however admiring, tends to concur with that judgment."

Continue reading...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Citizen Kane at 75: a new video essay series

Today, for the 75th anniversary of Citizen Kane, I am announcing Mirrors of Kane. This brand new video series is my first since Journey Through Twin Peaks concluded a year and a half ago. The first chapter, which should appear in the next few weeks, will debut on Fandor Keyframe, while the rest will be hosted on my personal YouTube/Vimeo channels. The series will be structured around the five "narrators" of the film, who inspire its flashback structure: Walter Parks Thatcher, Mr. Bernstein, Jedediah Leland, Susan Alexander Kane, and Raymond the butler. It's based on an essay I wrote in 2011 but will also expand the scope of the analysis by, in the final chapter, digging into the structure of the film including its striking efficiency as a "ring composition" (written about by Mike Klimo with regards to the Star Wars saga). It will also incorporate criticism of the film that I do and don't agree with - I'm really looking forward to engaging with this material visually, something I've already begun with the first chapter which is finished and awaiting its premiere on Fandor.

Citizen Kane at 75 (trailer)

And of course, I've also created the above trailer, which is available on YouTube and Vimeo. If you like it, please share - your word of mouth will be the main way people discover this series and join the conversation. Most importantly, I want to highlight the human pulse of Citizen Kane, a film that is too often celebrated as a purely technical achievement. As such, it can seem intimidating and/or alienating to many viewers, something to admire from a distance rather than invest themselves in emotionally. As a narrative analysis, these videos will pay attention to the subtle ways character, camera, and cutting intertwine to tell a series of "short stories" about Kane (and also about the storytellers themselves) which coalesce to form a rich, intricate tapestry.

Here is a full schedule for the series; the dates will depend on when Fandor uploads chapter one, but you can expect all of the videos within the next two months (based on runtime, I might combine chapters two and three into one video; likewise with chapters five and six). I will update this page with links and embedded videos as they appear.

CHAPTER ONE on Fandor Keyframe YouTube  Vimeo
"Meeting Kane" (introduction)

CHAPTER TWO on Lost in the Movies YouTube  Vimeo
Walter Parks Thatcher

CHAPTER THREE on Lost in the Movies YouTube/Vimeo
Mr. Bernstein

CHAPTER FOUR on Lost in the Movies YouTube/Vimeo
Jedediah Leland

CHAPTER FIVE on Lost in the Movies YouTube/Vimeo
Susan Alexander Kane

CHAPTER SIX on Lost in the Movies YouTube/Vimeo
Raymond, the butler (& framing devices)

CHAPTER SEVEN on Lost in the Movies YouTube/Vimeo
Conclusions (including analysis of structure and the "big picture" of the film)

Vimeo embeds:


CHAPTER ONE - "Meeting Kane"

Monday, April 18, 2016

Slowing down - status update

For a few months at least, my online work will slow down considerably.

Rover's got me. In all seriousness, the time has come to set new priorities and admit that my current behind-the-scenes blogging pace is sabotaging my larger aims more than it's helping them. While I will still be posting several times a month - primarily videos and at least a few more Prisoner pieces, including several chats - I have to pause my usual schedule for the rest of the spring and into the summer, if not longer.

For a year now, I have been posting at least twice a week (three times, if not more, since August). Especially when many of these posts had been written ahead of time I found the pace manageable, if just barely, but lately I've realized that I bit off more than I can chew. Because the video work was not created ahead of time, it didn't matter that my Evangelion and Favorites pieces were, and eventually I caught up with those too. I had almost fulfilled my maxim of "have it done all ahead of time" but "almost" isn't good enough and that percentage that wasn't complete ended up bringing everything else down.

So here's the plan for the next few months.

FANDOR KEYFRAME - This is where my pace will hopefully remain consistent and where my focus will be sharpest in the immediate future. I have one particular series of videos I'm working on right now which will be my most extensive, in-depth work since Journey Through Twin Peaks and I'm looking forward to sharing it. I also hope to start writing essays about video essays in the coming months.

YOUTUBE/VIMEO CHANNEL VIDEOS - These will take a backseat to the Fandor videos, as they already more or less have. But I'm not abandoning them and still plan to pick up where I left off (with a Side by Side analysis of The Big Chill and The Return of the Secaucus 7) sometime in May. I will probably share a video on YouTube next week announcing and clarifying my pace/approach from now on. And you can also check out my recently-composed video archive.

WEDNESDAY TV VIEWING DIARIES - The various codas to my Prisoner viewing diary - at least three more chats (one of which has already been completed, but not edited), overviews of the show's context, probably a review of the remake miniseries - will continue to appear but not every Wednesday, as before. Instead they will go up when they're ready and your best bet is to bookmark and check up the Prisoner directory, or just keep tabs on this blog's front page or my Twitter feed, to see what's available. Once The Prisoner series officially concludes, there will be a very long pause as I watch and record my reactions to various TV shows. This feature will probably take the longest of any to return but when it does I will have weekly viewing diaries spanning years into the future for some of the most interesting and acclaimed series of recent history, as well as a few classics.

TWIN PEAKS - I will not be posting every month on this subject anymore. However, I expect that by the end of the year if not much sooner, Showtime will be re-airing the original series before the new one premieres and at that point I will unveil my new, extended, extremely in-depth episode guide in tandem with the airing of each episode. And of course when the new Twin Peaks begins, I will be right there chronicling it. So expect a temporary dip in Twin Peaks activity, followed by a huge increase. Meanwhile, here's my fully updated directory of my Twin Peaks work.

FRIDAY FAVORITES - The Favorites series will be temporarily suspended, resuming with Annie Hall only after I've written all fifty-eight of the remaining entries (which was the original plan before I got impatient to resume).

Keep watching this space, as it will be active, just less so. And when the fast pace does return, it will return with a vengeance, this time with enough of a backlog to sustain it.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Favorites - Dekalog (#59)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Dekalog (1989/Poland/dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski) appeared at #59 on my original list.

What it is • Dekalog consists of ten hour-long chapters each loosely based on a different Commandment and set in the same apartment building, but with different lead characters and, almost always, an unexpected but naturally-emerging twist. A woman discovers a repressed neighbor is spying on her, and decides to turn the tables. A young man brutally murders a stranger and then finds himself the desperate, helpless recipient of state violence. A confused young woman kidnaps her own daughter, fluctuating between the position of mother and sister, while a father and daughter attempt to determine the contours of their own relationship, haunted by the secrets of a third, deceased family member. Also Anglicized as The Decalogue (for whatever reason I've come to prefer the Polish spelling), Kieslowski's masterpiece is yet another title on this list to blur the line between theatrical feature film and television miniseries. It appeared at the Venice Film Festival as a single movie and on Polish TV as a series of weekly episodes (in both cases, in 1989 - I'm not sure where the frequent "1988" attribution comes from, but perhaps readers can illuminate this). With their freedom from distracting subplots and big climaxes, these episodes may feel more at home in television than cinema. And in subtle ways, Dekalog does play with TV conventions. As Roger Ebert has pointed out, the potentially melodramatic subject matter - frequently pertaining to dysfunctional and/or duplicitious familial relationships - recalls the metier of soap operas. To borrow contemporary American frames of reference, the use of an anchoring location/conceit to dip into different character's stories, and explore different issues, foreshadows everything from Law and Order to Lost. But Dekalog lacks both the vanishing-horizon pursuit of serialized TV narratives and the soothing, familiar sense of repetition of most episodic shows. At its core is something that - even in this TV golden age - still feels thoroughly cinematic: the ability to let a moment linger and breathe, the freedom, despite superb and sophisticated screenplays, to rely less on narrative devices than the potency of a fleeting gesture or expression. Dekalog produces mood through decisions of photography, pacing, and performance that, despite their specificity, add up to something impossible to pin down, almost miraculous in its direct appeal to the senses.

Why I like it •