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 •

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Prisoner: A Conversation with Christopher Yohn (Part One)

Now begins the final stretch of my Prisoner series, which I have really been looking forward to. With the viewing diary completed, I am initiating a series of discussions with some of the veteran viewers who have been following along. I will also be reading about The Prisoner, watching ancillary materials, listening to podcasts, and doing all the activities I avoided during my watch-through so as to preserve the freshness of the experience. However, this conversation with Christopher Yohn, was conducted a few hours after watching and reviewing the finale for the first time. So at this point I still didn't have much context for anything, and was looking for...information.

Chris was happy to oblige, providing not only a wider context but his own personal perspective, as well as (drumroll, please...) the explanation for his viewing order, which I have used for the series. That said, we left a lot of stuff off the table for now, because we're planning a second discussion in about a month, to conclude this series once and for all. Until then, there was plenty for us to discuss, and for me to learn. We spoke via chat and I mostly left the conversation formatted as it was to indicate pauses and groups of thoughts. Thanks to Chris for offering a huge hand with the editing of the text. Now, without further ado, starting with the most important question of all...

Monday, April 11, 2016

1000 Posts on Lost in the Movies

This is my 1000th blog post! Well, sort of.

There are all kinds of asterisks I could append to that. At one point I had several blogs and was writing for other publications and when I consolidated everything on this, my original site, I left some stuff out. Mostly these were news/politics posts which no felt longer relevant a few months later; nonetheless, I have technically composed more than a thousand posts already. On the other hand, what does that number mean, really? Some of those posts were written very quickly in a few minutes, simple status updates to greet my readers in lieu of something more substantial, while others would take up twenty or thirty pages of print (or over an hour to watch) and required months of preparation. A few were actually written years before I had a blog, and then re-published here, and some were composed of quotations or essays by print authors whom I transcribed into online form - so they can't even properly be said to "belong" to that count in the same way. If someone wants to poke holes in this number there are plenty to be poked. Nonetheless, I'm delighted to hit this milestone and thought it was worth noting.

Not only is this the 1000th post to be published on Lost in the Movies, it was also the 1000th post to be completed - I'm actually talking to you from back in March, before writing some of the previous posts, and after writing some of the upcoming ones. Confused? Anyway, after realizing where I stood in the lineup, I felt it was worthwhile to mark both moments, despite having to wait for the published post to be relevant.

My very first post (on the Lumiere films and Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, 113 years apart) was composed at a public library so it would have been appropriate to compose this at another library. In fact, I almost did, since at the time of writing I am without a computer/TV monitor (it blinked out on me unceremoniously but relatively conveniently right after I finished & secured a recent video piece). Awaiting the replacement, I was forced to catch up with post 999 in the library, but by the time I could reach #1000 the library was closed. So this is being written on my phone instead, a reflection of the passage of seven and a half years, I suppose? (Were there smart phones yet back then? I honestly can't recall, except that I certainly didn't have one. I do know that there were still numerous video rental stores, and that I rented my first blogging subject at one that has long since closed.)

With perplexing time-warped salutations out of the way, if you'd like to learn more about the history of this blog, check out my lengthy 5th anniversary commemoration. You can also leap back across the vast chasm to visit blog post #1 from way back in summer 2008, and of course the best ways to navigate these archives are my various directories, fully up-to-date as of this morning, for the first time in nine months...

Thanks for reading, viewing, and otherwise enjoying, and here's to 1000 more.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Favorites - Civilisation (#60)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Civilisation (1969/UK/hosted Kenneth Clark, dir. Michael Gill/Peter Montagnon/Ann Turner) appeared at #60 on my original list.

What it is • "Civilisation", the ambitious white-elephant-to-end-all-white elephants title, is immediately undercut by a subtitle, just as important: "A Personal View". Civilisation: A Personal View, a 1969 British miniseries designed in part to exhibit the new capabilities of color television, does have have a broad sweep and elevated tone.  This thirteen-part documentary covers a thousand years of European history (with a quick aside for the American Revolution), primarily but not exclusively through its visual art and music, taking us from the humble surf-pounded huts on Scotch islands, where monks preserved the last dying embers of ancient culture, to the monumental manmade island of Manhattan, which by the time this program aired had arguably become, for better or worse, the center of civilization with a "z", thank you very much. But what is civiliz(s)ation? That, among other areas, is where "a personal view" comes into play. The series is not an anonymous voice-of-God overview, seeking to harmonize all perspectives and/or reflect the conventional wisdom, despite frequent acknowledgements of reputation and critical consensus. It was written and memorably hosted by Kenneth Clark, a leading British art historian, who even fifty years ago could cheerfully describe himself as a "stick-in-the-mud." Indeed, series producer/director Michael Gill - the man largely responsible for the show's memorable visual format - felt so alienated from Clark's social and aesthetic outlook that he doubted they could work together. Eventually, however, they found common ground. Although modern art is almost entirely absent from the show, and Clark at times seem to shrug off historical brutality as sadly necessary for cultural advancement, his view is actually quite firmly anchored in postwar liberal humanism. He is a proponent of internationalism and deeply weary of nationalism, vaguely sympathetic to but deeply skeptical of revolutionary fervor, too realistic to believe in or even desire a return to tradition, and respectful of if not entirely convinced by religious pieties (he was a deathbed Catholic convert - a conversion hinted in his hardly laudatory treatment of the Reformation). More importantly, the survey is colored by numerous individual quirks and passions, and presented with a personable, and vaguely awkward, singularity that endears Clark to the viewer despite any frustrations with his oversights or blind spots. At the time, the series catapulted the host into international fame and served as a benchmark for British documentary television for years to come. Aesthetically, Civilisation was simultaneously a breakthrough, with its graceful coupling of splendid imagery and direct address, and a throwback in the hip late sixties. Later programs, like John Berger's wickedly subversive Ways of Seeing (which I saw a few weeks after making this list; otherwise it probably would have been on it) and Simon Schama's The Power of Art, borrowed Clark's personalized style of presentation. They also twisted the series' stately pace and reverential attitude, replacing calm order with an experimental attitude in the first case and MTV-style flash in the second. In the UK, the show remains familiar but in the U.S. - despite its great impact on PBS in the early seventies - I think it has been mostly forgotten. Certainly I was not familiar with it when I first encountered a worn VHS box-set in 2005...

Why I like it •