" . . . you've got to stand up for the imaginative world, the imaginative element in the human personality, because I think that's constantly threatened . . . People do have imagination and sensibilities, and I think that does need constant exposition." -- John Read

"To disseminate my subjective thoughts and ideas, I stealthily hide them in a cloak of entertaining storytelling, since the depth of my thinking, shallow at best, might be challenged by erudite experts." -- Curt Siodmak

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

APROPOS OF NOTHING: THE GRANNY PROJECT

Annihilation threatens. Turmoil encroaches. Resentments fester. Pips squeak.

Who wants some warm, fresh chocolate-chip cookies?

Purveyors of doom and gloom are trying to scare the living crap out of us. You know, the evil media – what’s left of it. (If reality goes unreported, is it really real? Really?)

It’s true that a lot of us are hurting right now – pounding the electronic pavement, looking for work, figuring out how to stave off overdue bills, nursing along cars that need fixing.

If you have kids, you look in on them while they sleep, and wonder if they’re going to be OK. If you don’t, you look in the mirror and do the same thing.

As if that isn’t enough, America is a second-rate power, a bully with his lights punched out, sobbing in the alley. Thanks to global warming, the Earth is going to fry us up like dogs in a car with rolled-up windows in an August parking lot.

Grandma will fix it!

I hereby advocate the establishment of a multimillion-dollar grant (to be administrated by me for a small fee, of course) to mobilize the Bubbes, Mee-maw-maws, Abuelas, Gimgams, and NaNas of this great land to comfort, cuddle, spoil and otherwise give great smooches and hugs to our distressed inhabitants.

(Grandfathers? Sorry. The Life Savers commercials notwithstanding, grandpas are pretty damned unnecessary. Men, once we procreate and get the kids out of the house successfully, our usefulness is at an end. We should die off like drones in November. Sure, we can putter around and fix things and be lovably gruff like Wilford Brimley, but that’s about it.)

Grandmas make it all better – that is, the nice ones can. Did you ever notice that we each usually have a Nice Grandma and a Mean Grandma? Mean Grandma chain-smokes, curses and pulls the heads off snakes. She can also shoot a gun and is ruthless in a game of cribbage, hearts or gin rummy. My Mean Grandma once made my little sister eat a pork chop for breakfast because she slept late. Scarred for life.

Nice Grandma understands, even when she really doesn’t. She gives you anything you want, whenever you want, if she can get away with it. She is in league with you against your rotten parents. Since we by and large react against our parents, who react against THEIR parents, it means that you and Grandma are kindred spirits.

No matter how crappy your gift is, Grandma loves it and places it prominently in her house and tells everyone about it. She is satisfied with photographs for presents, or dish towels, or bath salts, or drawings, or a cork with a feather glued onto it.

And when she gives you something that is obviously for someone decades younger than yourself, well, you forgive her because it means she still sees you as that wonderful squirmy poopy little baby she adores . . . even if you are Charles Manson.

Let the Grandmas unite! Let them read to us and tuck us in bed. Let them bathe us in their unconditional love. We’ll see this country turn around in no time!

And let there be an unlimited supply of fresh, warm chocolate-chip cookies.

Friday, March 27, 2009

APROPOS OF NOTHING: ME-DOT-COM

Forget about MySpace. Don’t waste your time with Facebook. Twitter’s a joke.

They’re just not good enough. There just aren’t enough applications, gadgets, and tools to give people an authentic sense of ourselves in our electronic realms. Too crude, too time-consuming. They require something none of us have a premium on – effort.

Hmmm. How can we fix this important, nay fundamental, human problem? More importantly, how can we monetize it?

A profitable answer awaits. Wait no more, surfbloggers. Grab your keyboards, mouse pads, webcams and throw them out the virtual window! Get ready for me-dot-com! (Not to be confused with me.com, a legitimate and undoubtedly worthy e-terprise.)

How does it work? It’s so simple. It’s a comprehensive site devoted to you and nobody BUT you! It contains not just your snarky opinions, cutting comments, pasted photos, scraps of diaries, takes on current events, list of recipes, changes in relationship status, responses to quizzes, and so on. That is SO early-21st-century!

Me-dot-com cuts to the heart of the matter by broadcasting your inner and outer realities in real time, 24 hours a day. Friends and family can keep track of your comings and goings and stream of consciousness. Tired of your spouse saying, “I’m not a mind reader?” Well, now you don’t have to.

We’ve developed special monitoring software that, for only $399.99 and a $19.99 yearly users’ fee, can be installed by you at home, using only a very sharp knife, some isopropyl alcohol and our easy-to-follow online instructions. Once installed, it gives everyone a you-eye view of things. What you hear, we hear. Your experiences can be enjoyed by Grandma, your old college roommate, and the appropriate business associates.

What’s more important is, what you think is automatically transmitted to a rolling scroll at the bottom of the screen. No more having to compose, to struggle to frame one’s thoughts. They spew like a fire hydrant so that your incessant precociousness is there for all to savor. Aaaahhh!

People will keep track of current events and issues of the day in the modern way – by judging them in relation to what YOU think of them.

Aren’t you fascinating? Yes, you are. And, by letting the world know all about you all the time, you prove you exist. Heck, me-dot-com justifies your existence!

Nowadays, “things” that “happen” only confuse us. Why are newspapers dying? Why is the flow of “objective” information drying up? Are we more connected than ever, or more isolated?

Yes.

With me-dot-com, you can not only take a big swim in Lake You, you can also simply tune in to someone else’s reality, or override it with your own (for an additional $49.99 a month). After all, when you’ve stared into someone else’s shabby little version of reality, you may want to lend them a brighter vision. A vision of YOU!

Now, please be assured that we can protect you from unwanted monitoring and overrides, of course ($79.99/month), and that the information shared on me-dot-com will not be sold to or used by private commercial interests, government entities or stalkers ($109.99/month).

So join the Mevolution! C’mon!

We already know you want to.

Monday, March 9, 2009

BRAD'S BIFF BLOG

Day Two, Feb. 13, Part One: Selection Committee hell



I struggled awake after attending opening night – the latest I had stayed up since my Jan. 26 surgery.

Not that I was hung over: for some reason, I have kept sober for over two years (probably a well-founded urge to stay out of jail and/or the hospital). No, I was just weary. I was determined to more films than ever before, and break my record of 23 at BIFF #1! We’ll count them up at the end of the saga and see how I did.

Bonnie and I hustled downtown and got to the Boulder Theater just in time to catch:

JCVD
Dir: Mabrouk el Mechri

Jesus Christ, Jean-Claude Van Damme can ACT. The Belgian badass, best known for his karate prowess and stream of uninspiring action films, stars in this self-reflecting, postmodernist take on his persona.

In it, a cash-strapped, stressed-out and exhausted “Van Damme” tries to pick up a money order at Brussels post office – and walks right into a robbery/hostage situation just like one of his flicks. However, instead of meting out violent justice to the perpetrators in quick time, our hero reacts just as any decent fellow might – in confusion, passivity, fear.

It’s a great idea, and writer/director el Mechri gets maximum mileage out if it. The Van Damme persona is an invisible, integral part of the drama. It constantly interferes with the man who wears it – getting him in hot water with the robbers, the hostages, the police and the media, the last of whom swarm almost immediately around the cobblestone Brussels intersection at the movie’s vortex.

Standard action sequences are here, but they’re parodied, inverted, and played out in splendid variations like a Bach fugue against a prosaical backdrop of petty concerns and garden-variety emotions. The crooks are played by actors who create characters that would stand alone without the action-hero centerpiece. They are part enamored, partly intimidated by Jean-Claude. They use him, they threaten and strike him, but no one it seems can punish him as much as he can himself.

The crux of the film is a six-minute confessional to the camera by Van Damme as a crane shot pulls him up and out of the filthy smoke-filled post office. He talks about a life wasted, regrets, fears . . . and are those tears running down his face? El Mechri has moved through artifice to real emotion. Whatever’s going on here, it’s mesmerizing.

“JCVD” twists and turns with grace. El Mechri and Van Damme have crafted a curious hybrid – a metafictional tragedy, punctuated with roundhouse kicks.

Now, I don’t know how they found this film. Remember, I was out of the loop this year. Now, a couple of years ago I volunteered eagerly to be a part of the festival’s selection committee. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

You see, when you have a film festival, you crack wide open for the world to enter. The word goes out, and everyone with a film, long or short, can submit their work.

And you have to watch it.

Why? Because you never know. The same thing goes on in publishing houses (what are left of them), theaters, movie studios, and the like. My personal theory is that 85 percent of everything is crap. Well, when you’re on a selection committee, guess what? Put on your mask and gloves, and start sorting through the shit.

Week after week, we would convene in the then-basement offices of BIFF, surrounded by daunting stacks of mail tubs filled by screeners – plastic boxes containing DVDs and the occasional VHS tape, rubber-banded with standard evaluation forms wrapped around them.

At that time, the plan was to have at least two people review each film, resulting in a basic thumbs-up or thumbs-down, along with a space for more detailed notes. We would talk/commiserate over each week’s haul and grab another pile to take home.

I estimate that I saw approximately 200 films in four months, nearly a double feature a day. As you can guess, what started off as a dazzling journey into cinematic paradise turned into an excruciating chore.

Oh my God! Another documentary about the environment! Press PLAY. Jesus Christ! A sensitive short meditation on incest and death! Press PLAY. Technical awful, trippy animated meditations! Press PLAY.

“Shitball in a Fuckertown”!! It exists; check it out on YouTube. We got that, too.

NO. 1 LESSON: EDIT. The common denominator of every film I saw, successful or not, was that it needed to be trimmed by at least a third. Is this because our attention spans have shrunk? NO. It’s because the films are lumbered with scenes, moments, vistas that are redundant, pretentious, unneeded. Film is the most intense medium (see my next post) and it must be crushed, compacted, it must burst with thought and feeling every second – or it will not succeed.

What is most astonishing to me is that the creation of a film, despite the democratization of the medium, and the incredible rampdown in costs, is still a very expensive, time-consuming collaborative operation. You need people, you need dedication, you need money.

All these dreams I ran through my player. Dreams the fruit of labor intense, dreams that got their dreamers into how many jams, how much conflict? It became both more difficult and easier than ever to be dismissive, to pop the wretched discs out of the tray and fling them across the room, yelling, “FIE! FIE ‘PON THEE!”

We soldiered on, winnowing the chaff away and passing the few worthies on to BIFF’s leaders, who watched the best of the worst in turn and then rejected or programmed them. God bless them.

Programming a festival is not only a portrait of the programmer’s sensibilities, a vision of what he or she wants the audience to value. It must also be a SOURCE OF REVENUE. Yes, kids, like it or not, a film festival is a business. Fortunately, the Beecks are tough chicks and somehow have been able to balance art and commerce these five years now. I watch in awe, and try to learn a thing or two.

NEXT: Day Two, Part Two, and the intensity of visual experience

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

BRAD'S BIFF BLOG

Chapter One: Day One: Feb. 12 (with asides)

WELL.

The Rocky Mountain News closed down as I began this. Maybe we have to get sick, or die, to get better.

What does this have to do with the Boulder International Film Festival?

We’ll find out.

I have been associated with the festival for the entire five years of its existence. The first year I covered it as a reporter, and after that I signed up as a volunteer. Through the years, I’ve served as Workshops and Panels Coordinator, Selection Committee member, and whatever else has been needed.

One of my primary reasons for getting involved in journalism was to document and advocate for the arts (the weirder and more obscure, the better – friends, you know). Somehow I wound up a newspaper editor – don’t ask me how. At any rate, that work has taken me further and further from my areas of passion and expertise. What the hell, you gotta make a living, right?

However, with the incredible shrinkage and wholesale destruction of America’s mainstream media, I’ve come to wonder why in the hell I don’t just write and post these items myself. God knows that arts and entertainment that aspires beyond the lowest common denominator are scorned and spurned, as always, and coverage of same is not seen as having value.

Still, they mustn’t pass ignored and in silence. What we DON’T pay attention to as journalists is frightening – it is a great deal, and can be defined as anything that doesn’t fit into a set of conceptual templates, or tickle the fancy of timid sensibilities.

Maybe I can’t make money selling these stories any more, but I can still get them down in words, roll them into the flood of electronic words, keep the conversation going. Can we do it? Can we add our little morsels of insight, will they mean anything?

Here’s a thought from a Gawker reader:

“I am convinced that all laid off journalists start blogging out of depression, more than anything else. Their degrees and careers are obsolete, so the ones too old to go back to school for something else live out the rest of their working days blogging on the topics they wrote on previously, but for no money and with no readers, all the while living off their spouse's benefits, and getting out of the house only to go to the bar and commiserate with other reporters.”


Well, why don’t we all give up then? You can do the right thing, even if no one else does. You can live on the margins, and through effort make that margin the center – not for all mankind, but for enough.

I feel that the Boulder International Film Festival survives due to its dedication to similar principles. Should anyone want to see unknown films from around the world? Why? I don’t know. Because the soul needs nourishment, I guess. That’s good enough for me.

This year, my involvement in the festival was severely curtailed by brain surgery (see Brad’s Surgical Blog entries for the whole hilarious story). Thanks to the kind intervention and assistance of all the folks at BIFF, I was able to participate a little as I recovered.

Most importantly, I got a chance to SEE the festival again, as I had not since the first year. How had the festival changed, grown? What were its new qualities? What was the same?

The festival is run by my two good friends Kathy and Robin Beeck. Filmmakers themselves, they saw a good opportunity and took it – although God knows it has turned them gray and haggard at times. (OK, ladies, relax – you snapped back from it each time.)

This year, the film schedule seemed to put itself together more seamlessly than ever before. For those of you who don’t know how this works, film festivals are an assemblage of invited work and solicited entries. Those hundreds of entries must be combed through by a selection committee (more on this in the next chapter), while other, more high-profile works must be sought, identified and wooed for screening.

I will play both sides of the fence here.

The opening night film this year was:

Nothing But the Truth
Dir: Rod Lurie

Interestingly, in the Q & A afterward with the director, he was asked who his guiding light as a director was. For once, I guessed right – I turned to my wife and said, “Sidney Lumet.” And he said, “Sidney Lumet.”

Not that this could be mistaken for a Lumet clone. It shares his concerns with average people faced with moral dilemmas, and its cinematography derives in part from Lumet’s focus on the human face. Lurie is a smart, articulate screenwriter and director and he gets everything he needs out of the characters.

The plot concerns a reporter who outs a CIA agent – shades of Valerie Plame – but takes the conceit and runs it through to its logical conclusion. The reporter (Kate Beckinsdale) refuses to reveal her source, and finds that the government is willing to imprison as long as it takes to get her to do so. The repercussion affects her child and husband, the subject of her reporting, and her newspaper – all while media attention to her plight vaporizes.

The film eloquently brings into the discussion all points of view, giving them nearly equal weight, provoking much thought. This is probably why the film didn’t do much at the box office. And why it needs venues such as BIFF to give it life.

The cast is excellent – Matt Dillon is an expertly professional Federal prosecutor, David Schimmer plays Beckinsdale’s all-too-human husband. Vera Farmiga is a GENIUS as the outed agent. Noah Wyle continues to push into new roles, this time as the newspaper’s asshole legal counsel.

A couple of questions, though – a) has Angela Bassett been typecast forever as a bitch? Here she plays a hard-bitten managing editor. Just because the woman played ONE ASSERTIVE ROLE, now she’s got to play tough chick all the time. Why? b) Alan Alda, you almost made it through a role without being cute. As a high-powered defense attorney, you were wonderful. Still, there was a tiny bit of tweeness. Darn.

For me, the ending was spoiled by a twist that called into question everything that had come before. Could the film have worked without it? I think so. As a portrait of a person who loses absolutely everything for a principle, it is an exemplary piece of cinema.

Next: Day Two, and the perils of the selection committee