February 3, 2014
Michael Mann is one of my favourite directors, and Heat is firmly placed on my top ten of all time list, and so I read with great relish this interview with the usually elusive auteur. I thought this answer in particular was fascinating, especially the nugget about working with Pacino:
Listen, there’s something James Joyce wrote that I’ve never forgotten. “Impervious to fear is Rory’s son: he of the prudent soul.” I take prudence to mean preparation. It is prudent to be prepared. When you are really well prepared, you don’t have anxiety. Anxiety is fear of failure. There’s usually a reason. There’s got to be a reason. If, I’ve never done something before and I’m not prepared for it. I would have, should have fear and anxiety. I see it in some actors. The more prepared an actor is, when he’s prepared, two things happen: he’s great to deal with; second, he’s free because he’s confident. When an actor is totally prepared like, Al Pacino learns his dialogue cold two weeks before he shoots it, he never looks at the script the day he’s shooting, so winging it, taking chances, being on a high-wire without a net, he’s right there. I think no fear comes from knowing.
For me, I have no anxiety if I have a solid foundation in preparation — knowing why I’m shooting in a place or why the camera is here, where the furniture is, how characters walk in, why she’s oblivious to a threat, what’s on her mind distracting her and why. Different ways I may talk to an actor to set him up.
Knowing all that, I imagine you don’t have to worry about finding the movie in editing.
You have to find it again, make it be there in editing. Editing is writing with shot film. The mix is the ultimate writing the movie. At the last stage of the sound mix, your grasp of it can be the closest to the way it was when the whole story first occurred to you. It’s now become that, totally. The screenplay is, of course, the genome, but it’s also blueprint, theory about what’s going to work. Shooting is concrete, but it’s also theoretical about what’s going to work in editing. So, did it work? Yeah, this worked. This other day’s shooting that I thought was going to work, guess what? It doesn’t work. How else can I deliver this story point? Or, another story point I felt was critical to the act two curtain? I don’t need it. I don’t like it even if I did need it. I didn’t have to shoot it. So I make annoying discoveries like that.
January 6, 2014
What a treat: one of my favourite journalists/writers interviewing one of my comedy heroes – Oliver Burkeman and Jerry Seinfeld, in The Guardian today. Especially incisive is this, on Seinfeld’s inherent amorality:
A competing theory for Seinfeld’s low profile since 1998 is that his comedy belongs squarely to the 90s – an era of economic plenty, before 9/11, before widespread anxiety about climate change, when the bottomless self-absorption of Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer felt excusable. Rewatching the show today is a curious experience. The haircuts are terrible, obviously. But the much-hyped focus on “nothing” – on overblown conflicts with doormen, restaurateurs and so on – feels familiar: it’s central to many of the shows that count Seinfeld as a major influence, from Arrested Development to The Office to Curb Your Enthusiasm. (The latter’s success fuelled yet another theory about Seinfeld’s post-90s career: that Larry David had been the genius behind the sitcom all along.) What stands out, in those old Seinfelds, is the weird callousness: a total lack of concern with anyone other than the central foursome, unmatched even by Larry David’s character in Curb, or David Brent, or the South Park kids. When George’s fiancee dies, poisoned by the glue in the cheap wedding invitations he’d insisted on buying, his pure relief is certainly funny, and in keeping with the famous motto of the show’s writers: “No hugging, no learning.” But it’s also more pathologically egocentric than anything you’d encounter, in a comedic context, on TV today.
December 30, 2013
I loved this fun Daily Beast piece on the stupendous alcohol intake of the United States’ founding fathers: a handy reminder that even the greatest of men have their weaknesses. Check out the brilliantly unequivocal George Washington quote at the end in particular.
So pervasive was drunkenness in 1787—and the lives of our Framers of the Constitution—that Benjamin Franklin compiled a list of 228 synonyms for it, which is more than an Inuit has for snow. He’s Fishey. Groadable. Nimtopsical. He’s contending with Pharaoh. And my favorite: He’s Been at Barbadoes, which must have been a hell of a tavern.
Franklin might have been describing James Madison, father of the Constitution, who drank a pint of whiskey every day. Or Constitutional delegate John Adams, who began each of his days with a whole draft of hard cider—“imbibing with the birds,” they called it. Or he could have been referring to the entire Continental Army. George Washington gave four ounces of the hard stuff to the soldiers he commanded along with their daily ration, insisting that “the benefits arising from moderate use of strong Liquor have been experienced in all Armies, and are not to be disputed.” In the decades after the Founding, liquor flowed so freely it became cheaper than tea.
December 29, 2013
Today I begin the toughest part of my training for the Paris Marathon: a three month (14 week to be exact) period of drinking not a drop of alcohol and steadily taking my long weekend runs ever further beyond the ten mile mark. For advance inspiration I have been reading Haruki Marukami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and was struck by how closely Marukami’s description of his running mind matches accounts of the mind during mindfulness meditation:
The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. The sky both exists and doesn’t exist. It has substance and at the same time doesn’t. And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in.
Marukami ends the chapter with:
As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I’m not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.
November 8, 2013
Or more specifically, why he’s almost certainly not going to be able to.
This is a great example of why it’s worth investing a bit of time and effort in blogging. In the course of posting earlier today about my holiday reading, I came across this mention of an interview with director Ridley Scott published a couple of weeks ago, in which he explains why Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (amongst my beachy reads) is virtually certain never to come to the screen:
[Studios] didn’t want to make it. The book is so uncompromising, which is what’s great about it. [...] It would have been rated double-X. It’s Hieronymus Bosch, the way McCarthy describes the first time you see several hundred horses with bones and feathers on them, and you can’t see a rider until you’re staring at the Comanche. It’s horrific. He writes in visual images which are spectacular, so it suits me down to the ground.
November 8, 2013
I was lucky enough to have a week away in the sunshine recently, and here’s what I read:
Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess: a warm, ornately embellished and beautifully written story of the unfeasibly eventful life of an octogenarian writer, with a particular focus on his lifelong struggle between being gay and wanting to be a good Catholic, and what this says about free will. Immensely readable, funny and sad.
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens: until about a year ago I’d read almost no Dickens at all – a regrettable omission I’m making amends for at the fastest pace I can manage. Those who’ve read more will confirm or deny this as appropriate: but I can’t imagine much else in Dickens’ canon is as fast-paced and exciting? Great fun.
Independence Day, Richard Ford: this has been on my bookshelf for years, literally, and I read (and in fact blogged about) the first in Ford’s trilogy – The Sportswriter – at the time. I remember being very aware of the skilful writing in The Sportswriter but found it hard to engage with the central character Frank Bascombe, finding him excessively cool and aloof. By the time Independence Day arrives Frank has reached a relatively more settled, happier stage of life, and the novel has more of a focus on the events that happen around him, which escalate with wry hilarity.
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy: I think the most violent novel I’ve yet read. McCarthy’s take on the Western, following initially a teenage boy known only as ‘the kid’ but then shifting attention for most of the rest of the novel to the brutal gang of scalp-hunters the kid takes up with, who are contracted to kill Apache Indians but know no limit where victims are concerned. A typically McCarthyian evocation of wild places and people runs throughout: spare, surreal, doom-laden, ageless.
The Dickens was my favourite, perhaps unsurprisingly.
September 24, 2013
Fascinating this on the First Crusade and its modern misinterpretation, from Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s ‘biography’ of Jerusalem:
The Crusade offered personal adventure, the removal of thousands of troublemaking knights and freebooters, and escape from home. But the modern idea, promoted in Hollywood movies and in the backlash after the disaster of the 2003 Iraqi war, that crusading was just an opportunity for enrichment with sadistic dividends, is wrong. A handful of princes created new fiefdoms and a few Crusaders made their careers, whereas the costs were punishing and many lives and fortunes were lost in this quixotic and risky but pious enterprise. A spirit was abroad that is hard for modern people to grasp: Christians were being offered the opportunity to earn the forgiveness of all sins. In short, these warrior-pilgrims were overwhelmingly believers seeking salvation on the battlements of Jerusalem.