Lou Reed Day at Lincoln Center!


Saturday, July 30, was a day long celebration of the Music and Songs of Lou Reed. Everyone came out to play.
Here is a link to the original web page for lots of info:

The evening show took place in the rain so it was not conducive to bringing an DSLR camera to the show. But it lingers on in memory – David Johanson was particularly excellent.

One of the daytime highlights was a working display of 6 guitars and 6 amps, all from Lou’s collection, set to a four hour feedback loop in the lobby of Alice Tully hall. Ear protection was handed out. Below is a photo and a link to a 7 minute stereo excerpt I recorded:

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Reed Live Drone Guitars (7 Minute Excerpt)

Here are some photos I took – and a few notes:

@11:30 AM the “House band” played Rockers. Jon Spencer joined the band for “Venus in Furs”. Being a Lou Reed show someone had to unbutton their trousers. The belt came off and he gave his guitar a good thrashing, worthy of De Sade himself, while Sal Maida laid down the bass:

IMGP3073 Jon Spencer whips GTR
Felice Rosser, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley found their grooves:

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Tammy Faye Starlite did some Nico / Marianne Faithful things and looked good doing it:


JG Thirlwell and Lee Ranaldo:

IMGP3060 JG Thirlwell

Lee Ranaldo, Sal Maida, Matt Sweeney and (I believe) Jesse Malin get down to business:

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Bush Tetras know what to do:

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Kembra Pfahles and the Disco Mystiques:

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Julian Schnabel and Laurie Anderson during the afternoon readings. Sadly, Schnabel’s outdoor screening of his concert film Berlin was rained out later that evening:

Schnabel and Laurie Anderson

Patti Smith Band At Lincoln Center


Patti Smith and her band, including long-time Smith band members and collaborators Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan, opened the 2016 Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival on Wednesday eve, July 20. It was a rocking show – tight, soulful, Smith’s voice having lost nothing over the years.

The all-female, Latin Grammy–nominated group Mariachi Flor de Toloache  – a quartet bringing New York style to traditional Mexican music – opened the show with energy and style.

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Patti with Book IMGP2606

Story Time.

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Lenny Kaye lays it down.

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Feedback Time.

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Catching up – Q & A’s


I’ve been a member of the National Board of Review since 2008 and have had the honor of doing over 60 after-film Q&A’s with many of the most interesting and talented directors, actors and producers in the world. Because NBR is a private organization most of these events go undocumented – unlike many of the press promotions and publicity stops, NBR offers a relaxed “off the record” experience. Which makes for really good conversations. Whether I’m moderating a Q&A or watching my fellow board members doing them it is a rewarding experience and a reminder that most filmmakers, actors, producers, and cinematographers are passionate about their art and generous about sharing their experiences. I can’t say enough about the National Board of Review and how it supports the art of film, supports filmmakers and provides valuable knowledge and financial assistance to young filmmakers.

Occasionally an excerpt from a Q&A will make it to the NBR website. Here are links to a few that I have done in the recent past. You can also find a number of my film reviews elsewhere on this blog.  And, if you have the Blu-ray of Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited you can find a nearly complete Q&A that I moderated with him and his cast on the specials disc.

Q&A with Michael Fassbender

Q&A with Laura Linney and Ian McKellen

Q&A with Brett Haley, Blythe Danner, and Sam Elliot

Q&A with Mike Leigh, Timothy Spall, Marion Bailey, and Dorothy Atkinson

Q&A with Ira Sachs, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei, and Alfred Molina

Q&A with John Turturro

Q&A with Pat Healy

Q&A with Director Kar Wai Wong, Tony Leung, and Ziyi Zhang

Life, Animated – A Film Review




Life, Animated

Film review by Thomas W. Campbell

On Monday, June 20, 2016 I moderated a National Board of Review after-screening Q and A of the new documentary Life, Animated. The participants were Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ron Suskind, his wife Cornelia, his son Owen, Academy Award winning director Roger Ross Williams, and Producer Julie Goldman (Weiner, Best of Enemies). The film, released on June 24, is about the life of Owen Suskind, who fell suddenly victim to the silence of autism when he was three years old. First told in 2014’s New York Times best seller Life, Animated (The story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism), the film picks up where the book leaves off, following Owen’s tentative steps into adulthood and self-reliance. Owen and his father Ron were able to stay for a short time before making off to a television interview and then a fuller discussion took place with the director, Cornelia and Ms. Goldman.  The complexity of bringing Owen on the publicity tour was on everyone’s mind but he seemed comfortable and not only answered questions about his experiences but shared some funny and precise impressions from his massive catalog of film and animation knowledge.

Life, Animated begins with a series of shots revealing Owen Suskind, a young man in his early twenties, walking around a parking lot in what seems an aimless circle and talking to himself in a cryptic and indecipherable manner. It’s the fear of anyone who knows an autistic person – that they will lose their way and you will not be able to help them find their way back. Can someone help this young man? Can he help himself? Putting us in a subjective place where we feel and experience the disorienting nature of autism is one of many strengths of this engaging, informative and ultimately entertaining documentary.

The book by Ron Suskind, Life, Animated (The story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism), which the film is based on, is over 350 rich, thoughtful and dramatic pages. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions – revealing in an honest, even unflinching way the complexities of the autistic experience from the parent and child’s point of view. There are complexities that a novice could never imagine. Having a child who is born into the autistic experience is a life uprooting experience. Having a “normal” child who, at the age of three, suddenly becomes one of these “different” children is arguably even more life-shaking.

Life, Animated picks up this story and moves forward though Owen’s life after graduation while dipping back in time, using photographs, occasional clips of home movies, and first person interviews with Ron, his wife Cornelia, and Walt, Owen’s older brother. We see a video, alluded to in the book as the turning point in the Suskind family life, of Owen and his father playing in the backyard, laughing and romping in a lawn of fallen leaves.  It would be the last memory of Owen, barely three years old at the time, before “the change”. Ron describes the impact as being akin to his own son’s “kidnapping” – a complete psychological disappearance of the boy he once knew.

The Suskinds struggled for answers, talking to professionals, losing hope. And then, two years after Owen went silent, there came a series of unexpected revelations.  Before the change he was joined by his older brother Walt, and often by his father and mom, in a ritual shared across the world by families with young children at the time – watching VHS copies of their favorite Disney animations. When Owen “went away” these viewings were the one continuity in his before-and-after life. If anything, Owen became even more engaged with the films – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King – and began to spend increasing amounts of private time with them. One day Ron and Cornelia heard something that sounded like “juice” – heartened they poured him one kind after another but he would not take it. Later they saw him rewind a sequence he had already watched, and then rewind it again. And then again. It was a song, and the final line of the performance was “Just the voice”.  Owen repeated the line – he was not just “parroting”, he was communicating about his own voice. It was the kind of breakthrough the Suskind’s had prayed for. And the beginning of a remarkable journey of hope and discovery.

Animation is is used in three ways to bring life – and clarity – to the story. Excerpts from the Disney films are used to share and illustrate Owen’s self discovery and expression.  Black and white ink and water color animation is used for recreations that bring us back in time to events experienced by Owen as a child. And vivid color animation is used to bring Owen’s own screenplay to life, to illustrate his core belief that “No Sidekick is left behind”.

It is a testament to the producers that they were able to get complete cooperation from Disney and have access to the Disney catalogue. Owen only truly comes alive in his relationship to the films that are the core part of his life. Disney films, it turns out, are a great attraction not only to young minds but also to people with autistic-like symptoms who have difficulty decoding visual cues. Walt Disney literally told his artists, after the commercial failure of his first animated film, that the key to success was in the face – full, animated, exaggerated expression of all emotions would be the Disney way. And it worked. The next film was a huge success and the Disney formula had gained one if its’ most important cornerstones. And these expansive and expressive displays of emotion – in the face and across the entire body – offered a way into life for many people that Disney could never have imagined.

Previous films by Roger Ross Williams include the deeply moving Music for Prudence, a documentary about a physically disabled young woman in Zimbabwe who finds her voice in a society known for killing the disabled at birth and God Loves Uganda, about the way religion is used to marginalize homosexuality. He has crafted Life, Animated with assurance, intelligence and style. He has known the Suskinds since Owen was a young man, working with Ron on television documentaries and journalism stories, and was the only filmmaker they could imagine adapting the book to the screen. But he knew little about autism when he began the project and has discussed how making the film has given him a perspective into a world he could only have imagined. Understanding that hearing at times will create barriers in autism by garbling and mixing sounds in ways that prevent comprehension, he uses sound design to vividly recreate this experience for a young Owen.

An intimate director who works close to his subjects, Williams borrowed a shooting technique known as “the interrotron” from Errol Morris, who perfected a behind the TV screen camera apparatus that allows the interviewee to see the director’ face on a television monitor while the camera shoots the subject through the glass. This is a deceptively simple and powerful technique that disarms the speaker and has become a common tool in Morris’s brilliant documentary toolbox. Williams uses it to create big facial closeups during interview sessions which are all the easier for Owen to decode and react to. We look through the camera into the eyes of a joyful and engaged young man, inspired by the trust engendered from his relationship to the onscreen images. In one instance Owen watches us intensely from an extreme closeup, undergoing strange and exaggerated facial contortions that elevate rapidly from wonder to fear. Lips purse, his tongue wags, his eyes radiate deep concern. Then we see what he is watching – The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s Quasimodo being tricked into a false friendship that turns into humiliation when he is tormented by a cruel and angry crowd.

Williams works with cinematographer Tom Bergmann to “be there” for the ordinary and the transformative moments in Owen’s life. We visit The Disney Club, Owen’s great achievement for himself and numerous other “different” children who share their love and deep knowledge of the Disney Universe. To the surprise of administrators the students not only showed up – but they brought passion and commitment. With his father’s help Owen has developed deep and mutual friendships with numerous actors from the Disney world. The film documents a visit by actors Gilbert Gottfried and Jonathan Freeman, who joyfully struggle to match the enthusiasm and acting chops of the kids around them.

Life, Animated is a film that can open doors into the minds and experiences of the autistic, the “different”, and those who care for and love them. It is a powerful introduction to how difficult and how rewarding a relationship with these often misunderstood sons, daughters, parents, and friends can be. Using well-designed animation (all of it the hand-drawn variety that Owen loves) a thoughtful and carefully constructed soundtrack, and patient storytelling, the film brings us into Owen’s world in a way that touches the heart and informs the mind.

Looking back at Lyle Lovett and Summerstage 2015


Summertime and outdoor music – a real treat.
Here’s a link to more pictures, as they are added:  More photos by Thomas W. Campbell

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Lyle Lovett performs with his Big Band at Lincoln Center Summerstage, 2015. Photograph by Thomas W. Campbell

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Lyle Lovett performs with his Big Band at Lincoln Center Summerstage, 2015. Photograph by Thomas W. Campbell
Lovett Sax for web

A member of Lyle Lovett’s Big Band plays at Lincoln Center Summerstage, 2015. Photograph by Thomas. W. Campbell

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Lyle Lovett and his Big Band at Lincoln Center Summerstage, 2015 Photograph by Thomas W. Campbell

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Lyle Lovett and his Big Band at Lincoln Center Summerstage, 2015 Photograph by Thomas W. Campbell

Lovett full band for web

Lyle Lovett and his Big Band at Lincoln Center Summerstage, 2015 Photograph by Thomas W. Campbell

Lyle at camera for web

Lyle Lovett and his Big Band at Lincoln Center Summerstage, 2015 Photograph by Thomas W. Campbell


Birth of the Sun – Grady Alexis and the East Village



Grady Alexis drinks coffee in the kitchen of El Taller Latino Americano during the late 1980’s. Image by Demian Palombo.

Birth of the Sun is a short documentary video about Grady Alexis and the East Village of the 1980’s/90’s. Using interviews, art, and archival footage, the film explores the life and times of the Haitian artist who moved to New York City when he was a young teenager, lived on the street while he sold his art in Tompkins Square park, found community and shelter with other artists and outsiders, and finally died in a traffic scuffle with an off-duty policeman at the age of 26.

Grady lived on the edge, bonding with the artists and activists he met through the downtown community, developing a style based on his own experiences in New York City that also became firmly rooted in the tradition and culture of his native Haiti. Grady never had a legal address, living in squats, on the street, at El Taller as “Resident Artist”, and with friends and lovers. He was a collaborator, which brought him into touch with many people, movements, and cultures. Birth of the Sun examines these distinct sides of Grady’s life. It looks at the family that he found when he became “artist in residence” at El Taller Latino Americano, when he was involved with the artist known as “the Maroons” and his time with the artists who convened at the Mars Bar.

Grady Alexis Freeze side

Grady Alexis at an art opening at El Taller in late 1980’s. Freeze frame from video shot by Bernardo Palombo.

Grady’s life was also on the street during a time when violent crime was at a peak and police-community relations were strained and tenuous. That is where his life ultimately ended. On the evening of May 6, 1991, Grady Alexis and two others were confronted by two men, one an off-duty policeman, at 8th street and Fifth Avenue. Grady died hours later from the eruption of violence that ensued. His untimely death on the evening of May 6, 1991, was swift and had a lasting impact on those who knew him. When he died El Taller seemed to collapse beneath the tragic weight of the event. The Maroons had already broken up, although Thom Corn and Grady had continued to collaborate. The film is about the many people who still remember their friendship with Grady.

The filmmakers use many narrative and stylistic techniques to examine the life and death of Grady Alexis and his lasting impact. Working from a photograph of his long-lost mural “the Birth of the Sun”, people who knew Grady, and artists from El Taller have gathered to recreate the mural. The completion of the mural, which is documented in the film, culminates in the celebration of Grady’s life – a gathering of people from past and present at the first retrospective of Grady’s painting and sculpture. The filmmakers sorted through hundreds of hours of archival material that spans the entire duration of El Taller’s rich history to find the small bit of video documentation that exists of his life. Birth of the Sun is in many ways an investigation. The filmmakers are interviewing numerous people who knew Grady and were active in the arts and political culture of the time, attempting to put his life – and death – into a broader social context. The film uses subtle and artistic re-enactments to explore the relationships that defined Grady’s life and death. The filmmakers also documenting much of Grady’s surviving artwork – paintings, sculptures, masks, murals, and installations. The film has a rich and completely original soundtrack that reflects the many musicians who knew Grady.

Birth of the Sun uses an artist's rendition to represent the events of May 6, 1991. Richard Pliego was the artist.

Birth of the Sun uses an artist’s rendition to represent the events of May 6, 1991. Richard Pliego was the artist.

Although Grady’s life ended almost 25 years ago, his death was part of a turning point in the city’s cultural and social landscape. Birth of the Sun, which was produced in 2008, is about that time and will shed light on the life of Grady Alexis and this unique moment in the life of New York City.

Linus Coraggio Film – and Interview


Fire and Metal – The Art and Life of Linus Coraggio

I met Linus Coraggio at a screening of my documentary Birth of the Sun. Much of the film was shot at El Taller Latino Americano, which at that time (2008) was on Broadway and 103rd Street. The film screened with another short film with a Haitian theme (The main character of Birth of the Sun, Grady Alexis, is Haitian, as was the cinematographer Emmanuelle Alexandre).

Linus came up to me afterwards and pointed out that he had been the artist behind the Gas Station, a seminal 1980’s/90’s East Village art installation/community/concept. Since then we have been documenting his life and work, off and on, including studio work in Bushwick and Ellenville, interviews and art discussion in his personal studio, openings and gallery shows, and much traveling through the East Village and en route to various unusual destinations.

Linus introduces the virtual Gas Station.

Linus introduces the virtual Gas Station.

We are now ready to go back in time, to return to the East Village of the 80’s and 90’s, to work with existing documentation, to search the memories of those who were there (and those who are gone), and to recreate, using digital technology, some of the architectural spaces that Linus designed and brought into existence.

We plan to have a rough cut by early winter, 2105 and to be submitting to festivals by winter/spring 2016.

Linus Coraggio @ Gas Station, 1987

Linus Coraggio @ Gas Station, 1987

A short discussion with Metal and Landscape artist Linus Coraggio about school, art, life…

An unedited transcript from a casual conversation…

Recorded by Thomas W. Campbell

Part of the documentary film: Fire and Metal – The Art and Life of Linus Coraggio

TC: What happened after high school, what’d you do after graduation (in the 1970’s)?

L: …I saw a lot of my friends drop out of high school and there was this sort of feeling that… ok they just you know stepped off the plank and their get into drugs and be homeless and you know just a feeling that you could irrevocably fuck up.

L: By making a wrong choice.

TC: Give up the path…

L: Yeah as if the path was so great to be on. So I sorta of felt like you know. Kids that just decided to take acid every day for six months and you could barely hold a conversation with them and stuff and you know. I didn’t do acid in high school…. it seemed too freaky and powerful to mess with. So I thought of going to Bard College (in the 1970’s) cause I won a couple of awards… I was gonna go there for poetry but I wasn’t you know saying visual art is it for me. I knew I’d like to make things…

TC: Where did the shift to welding… how did that happen?

L: Uh well, at Purchase I was gravitating towards the metal shop… My girlfriend knew a guy who forged in it and I had just gotten my first car, a VW bug and one of the tire rods was bent so I took the ball joint off and gave it to him and he pounded it straight so I realized how much he knew… what you could bend… what thickness of metal. I always wanted to learn how to weld and there was this guy who had done this 16 foot chair. Very geometric but skewed on an angle, one of the legs was cut…
… so uh… in a very casual way, you just walk me down to this big room, in the end of the art building, the experimental lab, there was an arc builder there, nobody around,  it was like 7:00 or something got me welding stuff together and he told me to pick it up and throw it and see if it breaks apart. Three of the four things I joined broke apart so he said now you know what to do.

TC: Is that how you test…

L: Yeah thats how you test if it welds. So like… throwing them

TC: Sounds noisy

L: Yeah theres some clatter, big empty room, echo.

TC: Who was this guy?

L: The guy was Dave Kennedy. He had Polio so he walked very strangely but he was able to move metal together and cut it. There was an article about him in the Times at one point… then when I got written up in the Times I gave him credit for teaching me. Then I ran into him that week in the city… and he was fabricating for Claes Oldenburg then… made total sense.
TC: Did you make any art at that period that you recall, in the metal sculpting?

L: Yeah i did uh… the thing about Purchase at that time was that they had a sub basement that was like the size of 10 gymnasiums underneath the mall and it was a cool place to scavenge. …It was a fenced in area that you know you could sort of squeez into. They had a remnant of a machine shop there so I was taking a milk crate down there on my  skateboard riding across this concrete expanse going inside these cages and pulling out metal that I was then welding in my metal shop. The first things were these very quick abstract sculptures that I would weld together. Then I did some sort of fantasy scrap metal cars, car models… and uh my sculpture teacher at the time, Tal Streeter, said “I hate those”…

TC: Why did you think he hated it?

L: Well he was a geometric guy. If you go to Storm King, he did the thing that looks like that – but 60 feet tall. So he was the what do we call him… we had a nickname for that thing… and he was into Kites so that was how he’d like to kill time – and pretend to be a Zen guy.

TC: So thats really how you started? began to weld…

Screening in Houston, Texas


It would be great to have films in so many festivals that one would have to pick and choose which ones to attend. Not the case so far, but it was wonderful to have my short Rooftop Serenade selected for the Extremely Shorts Film Festival in Houston, Texas. Aurora Pictures is a great and dedicated group of film makers/producers/exhibitors/ enthusiasts who are doing important work to keep the spirit of film art alive. The breadth of quality filmmaking that made up the screenings, all selected by guest curator Jolene Pinder of the New Orleans Film Festival, was remarkable. Stop-motion and 2D animation, poetry, slices of real life, quirky, sad and funny narratives, funny twists, good music, social critique – 80 minutes of unconventional and totally satisfying film viewing.

And it was a smart and appreciative audience – after each evening’s screening Mary Magsamen, the creative director of Aurora, invited the filmmakers in attendance up to ask questions, joined by Ms. Pinder. It was fun to be part of this young, select group and to answer questions during the Q and A and afterwards (there was a lot of interest in the fact that my film was shot and cut on 16mm film).

And Houston was fun to explore – everyone drives but the mass transit is civilized, runs on time, and affordable. Excellent museums (the Menil Museum and the Rothko Chapel are next to each other and not to be missed), good food, and a bridge in the middle of the city where thousands of bats sleep and emerge from every dawn.

After film party Aurora

After Screening gathering at Aurora Picture Show. Beer, Pizza, good film talk.

Beer Bottle House

This is a Houston house made from beer bottles, cans, and lids. It has Quasi-landmarked status.

Joline and Mary Aurora

Judge Jolene Pinder and Creative Director Mary Magsamen introduce the festival.


Just down the road from the Aurora Picture show is Good Co. BBQ!

Film Stills for Rooftop Serenade


Rooftop Serenade Still 1small
I was looking through a box of old photographs and came across some production stills from the 2002 Rooftop Serenade shoot that were taken on film. It was a really hot and bright day that was full of visual contrast. The photographs were taken by Holly Leavy.

Gretchen  ColorGeorge ColorGretchen and G shadow300Tom and LightTom and Light CU Hand

Misenus – Trumpeter of the Trojans


Misenus is the fourth video production, produced in 1991. It followed Giving Maury the Treatment (1989), The Perfect Girl (1990) and No Parking Any Time (1990).  J. Henry Fair was a partner in the first three and an inspiration in the last one.

Misenus stars Neal Keating. His music is also featured. Michael Benson contributed a strong Nagel (inspired by late night horror films of the early 20th century). And Billy Lee was an imposing Mr. Lowery.

Shot in wonderfully primitive Video 8 and reanimated in After Effects.
The password is:   trojan hero


Potiche – Film Review



A film by François Ozon
Review by Thomas W. Campbell

In March of 2011 I talked with Catherine Denueve following a screening of François Ozon’s comedy Potiche. The screening was for members of the National Board of Review. Denueve spoke about her pleasure of working with the young director, pairing up against the legendary Gérard Depardieu, and her continued love of acting. She was as graceful and beautiful as one would expect from an icon of modern cinema.

The review originally appeared here on the web site of the National Board of Review.

Potiche literally means a large impressive looking vase that is displayed to the owner’s benefit. Another definition, referred to in François Ozon’s latest film, is a “Trophy Wife”–a beautiful woman (or man as the case may be) who paid for and displayed to the husband’s (or wife’s) benefit. Catherine Denueve play Suzanne Pujol, the wife of a rich and unpleasant factory owner who has become, in her own words, “The Queen of kitchen appliances.” Ms. Denueve has filled world cinema with some of the most memorable roles of the last 45 year–as the troubled Severine in Louis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, as the psychologically tormented Carole in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, as Caroline Steiner, the wife of a Jewish theater owner in Nazi occupied France who falls in love with an actor played by Gérard Depardieu in François Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Potiche is the second film in which she has worked with Ozon, previously starring with an all-star ensemble cast in 2002’s Eight Women.

Potiche is an extremely enjoyable film that relies on carefully developed style, adept comic pacing, and the kind of character based humor that could fall flat if not done in the hands of a director capable of pulling it off. Potiche is a surprising departure for Ozon, who’s most memorable work has dramatic gravity that is anything but comic. Swimming Pool (2003) is a suspense film about a mystery writer (Charlotte Rampling) who leaves England to vacation at her editor’s French countryside cottage. A sudden visitor pulls her away from her work and ultimately draws her into a world of deception that might lead to murder. Hideaway (2009) tells the story of a young woman who loses her lover to a drug overdose then must struggle with the pregnancy she has been left alone to confront. Potiche feels like a new direction for Ozon, yet from start to finish it is accomplished, engaging, and a great deal of fun. The characters seem to have a strong resemblance to the good humored and playful ones in Truffaut’s lighter films (Day for Night, Jules and Jim) and the style of the film is just as colorful and intelligently created as in the recent work of Pedro Almodóvar.
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A Discussion with Film Composer and Performer Makia Matsumura


Makia Matsumura in a recent silent film performance

Thomas W. Campbell

After finishing college and moving to New York I saw my first silent film in a movie theater, probably at the Bleecker Street Cinema where I was working at the the time. Even more memorable were the occasional silent film screenings at the Carnegie Hall Cinema with live accompaniment. Silent films were never really silent and here was a link to the past, to the time when movies were performed by musicians who, at their best, really understood the art of the live cinematic experience. The Carnegie Hall Cinema is probably where I first saw Lee Erwin, an elegant man then in his late sixties, accompany a silent film. He played at least once a month, and did so with such dedication, precision, and joy that he seemed to lift the films from the past and deposit them directly into the theater. But the real revelation was hearing him perform on the huge pipe organ of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The precision and power of the massive organ and its towering tubes was like an adrenaline injection straight into screen.

These memories flooded back to me when I learned that Makia Matsumura, who I had met within the context of her band m2duo (a collaboration with violinist Machiko Ozawa), was performing for silent films. I was intrigued. Since 2003 she has accompanied silent films in Japan and Italy, and began, in 2008, to play in the United States, including at numerous theaters and museums in New York. She also scored the soundtrack for the Kino International DVD release of the 1923 Frank Loyd feature Within the Law. Makia first began performing at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in 2010 and, on September 8 and 9, 2012 she performed in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Capturing the Marvelous: Ukranian Poetic Cinema”. Both films were classics by Alexander Dovzhenko: Zvenigora (1927) and Earth (1930). We met in the busy Indie Food and Wine Cafe at Lincoln Center before her accompaniment of the screening of Earth. Makia was gracious enough to discuss her work before crossing the street and sitting at the piano to play for an audience eager to turn back the clock to the days when films were silent but the music that accompanied them was anything but.

Thomas – What is it like to prepare for each of the films? This will be the second film that you perform this weekend. What is the preparation process like to prepare for the performance?

Makia – This time I was lucky to see the film beforehand so obviously I could learn how the story develops, what the background will be, what the visual tone of the film will be. How the story would proceed, is it an action narrative, slow paced, like that. It helps a lot to have that information. Depending on the film I might do some research. If a movie is set to a certain historic period, if there is a dance hall scene or something that might call for a specific reference to a certain type of music, then I might do some research. I might not play that exact referential piece from my research, but it helps me to get an idea as to what kind of music could go with the film.
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Filmmaker Interview – John Korty


John Korty interview

In the winter of 1988 I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with San Francisco based filmmaker John Korty. I conducted the interview for The Off-Hollywood Report (then known as the Magazine of the Independent Feature Project). I was pleased to see it published in the March issue of that year and am reprinting the last part of the interview below. Korty was a wonderful person to talk with and our conversation went much longer that either of us probably thought it would. I think the magazine agreed to cover any phone charges so we just burned a lot of cassette audio tape.

T. Campbell: …Jumping ahead a bit. Twice Upon A Time is an animated film you made for the Ladd Company and George Lucas, You used a technique called Lumage, which is the use of cutouts and a method of animating the cutouts. Tell us something about this animation technique and your experience after completing the film.

J. Korty: I developed the Lumage technique over almost 20 years of animating because I couldn‘t stand cell animation and felt there must be a better way. We did Sesame Street spots and I‘d made a short before The Crazy Quilt that was nominated for an Oscar called Breaking the Habit. The making of Twice Upon a Time is a very complex story. It was an independent film to the extent that we raised some money independently to develop it and the money was supposed to go into a screenplay and a sample reel. Originally, it was going to be three or four minutes of animation, As we went along, we felt the sample was more important than a completed screenplay so we changed it to a kind of treatment and a 10 minute reel. lt took one-and-a-half years to do that much. I had known George Lucas for several years and thought “We might as well start here.” and we had a screening with George. He arranged a meeting in L.A. with The Ladd Company. We talked for a while, and within a month or two had a production deal.

T. Campbell: At the time there were other animators, like Ralph Bakshi, who were doing very well. Were you unhappy with the quality of animation you were seeing in general?

J. Korty: I‘m not really a fan of most animation. I don‘t get excited about the rounded forms or by nostalgia animation. I am more interested in modem graphics. Twice Upon a Time doesn‘t look like anybody else‘s animation.
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Filmmaker Interview – James Szalapski


Heartworn Highways DVD Cover

I met James almost 20 years after he made Heartworn Highways. He came into an edit studio I was working at to cut a trailer of an independent film he had shot. We became friends pretty quickly, finding that we were interested in the same kind of things – telling stories, wrestling with technology, UFOs and government conspiracies (which led us both the X Files). James was an accomplished cinematographer with one of the brightest and most inquisitive minds that I’ve ever met. He liked to problem-solve especially in story telling and the technical ways we communicate them. But James was also a pioneer who moved to New York City from Minnesota 10 years before I moved to New York City from Vermont (He was 10 years older than me). When he came to the city he found an empty and essentially forgotten PreSoHo and moved into an incredible loft space on Spring Street, struggling and ultimately watching the region transform around him.

James was a pioneer who became a friend and mentor – he made a lasting impression on anybody who met him by being continuously supportive and always interested in what you were doing.

Whether shooting a documentary for PBS one month or directing a film with Roy Schneider later in the year James would always welcome the opportunity to actually tackle a new production problem – he was eternally ready to jump into life. Which made it all the more difficult for everyone when he finally passed away after and on and off battle with cancer that finally caught him in September of 2000.

Heartworn Highways is the great achievement in the life of someone who did a lot of pretty excellent things. It’s an honest and compelling look at a musical culture that was very much in transformation in 1976 – and was fortunately documented by James Szalapski and his small crew of merry filmmakers.

The following is an interview I did with James Szalapski in 1996, which was transcribed and printed in the DVD booklet that comes with the DVD..

T. Campbell:
At the time the movie was shot, and right up until the time of its original release, the film was called ‘New Country’ but then something happened which made you look for a new title. Could you tell us about that?

J. Szalapski:
They came out with a yoghurt called ‘New Country’, right while we were cutting the movie and there was advertising everywhere … we don’t want people to think its a yoghurt movie, so we changed it to ‘Outlaw Country’ for a while because these guys where referred to mostly as “outlaws,” and tried to go for something more evocative, threw round a bunch of titles and this one came together like a feeling.

T. Campbell:
You mentioned that these guys were kind of, kind of outlaws and they broke off from Nashville… Can you give us some background on that?

J. Szalapski:
Well, by the early seventies Nashville had sort of become very rigid. All the songs were sounding the same, they just turned out product like crazy and they kept country music in a narrow defined range. But the young guys wanted to do something different. A lot of them had gone through the sixties and had experienced the whole explosion in rock and pop music and wanted open it up a little bit. “LA Freeway” is kind of an anthem for these guys; they went to places like LA and New York and, and discovered it wasn’t where they belonged. Their roots were in the South and they had an emotional connection to their grandparent’s generation there. But when they came back to Nashville and to Austin, Texas they brought back with them the electric guitars and the raw sound of their own generation. But the music they were making connected more to a generation older than the one in place in Nashville.

T. Campbell:
They looked to guys like Hank Williams …

J. Szalapski:
They where looking, back to them, and I found that very interesting, this generation jump which I tried to put in the film with some of the older characters in the film. Another thing that was happening was that there weren’t a lot of places to play music in Nashville – outside of recording studios. There were very few clubs there. But in Austin there was and Austin kinda became a new capital for this new music. Austin is a university town, very liberal, pretty advanced and there were a lot of clubs to play music in. It pretty quickly became like a rival to the main, established, “religion” there in Nashville.
J. Szalpapski and friends

T. Campbell:
I wanna get into how this film was made, but I’m curious that you talked about this group of people, these outlaws.

J. Szalapski:
My connection to all this was very personal and direct. The film is dedicated to Skinny Dennis. Dennis played stand-up bass around LA. And Guy Clark was in LA at that point, this was the late sixties. The movie opens with ‘”LA Freeway” which Guy wrote about LA and he mentions Skinny Dennis in the song, “Here’s to you ol’ Skinny Dennis…” Dennis rambled around and for a time came here to live with me in New York City in seventy-two or so. Guy had gone to Nashville so he went down to visit Guy, and suddenly he felt at home for the first time in his life. When he came back he told me about the scene there and I was at the point where I really wanted to make my own film and I thought maybe this could be an interesting subject. So I went down there and stayed with him and then just met the people that he knew, Guy and Townes Van Zandt. He dragged me over to see David Allan Coe who was kind of very different from them, more outrageous, you know. He’s like the biker. And Townes is the poet and Guy is like superb craftsman/writer …

T. Campbell:
He’s the one who repairs the guitar in Heartworn Highways?

J. Szalapski:
He also does that too, yes. Townes would be one of those people who wouldn’t do anything for a year and then sit down and write five songs in one night.

T. Campbell:
Dennis died before you made the film. Was there any forewarning of that?

J. Szalapski:
Well, Dennis had Marfan’s Syndrome. It’s a birth defect. Lincoln had it. And it causes your body to get very boney and elongate. Dennis was six foot seven and weighed 135 pounds that’s why they called him Skinny Dennis. The doctor said Dennis wasn’t gonna make it to his twenties, you know. And, he was a pretty hard partying guy, he didn’t walk around on tip-toes because of his heart problems. Eventually he did die of heart failure. He was twenty-nine. But back in the early seventies he introduced me to everybody in Nashville and Austin. I shot slides, I got copies of their music, most of the guys only had demo’s, they didn’t have albums at that stage. I took all that around and showed it to people to try to raise some money for the thing. And they said things like “Go and get Willie Nelson or Kris Kristofferson as a host for the film” and we’ll think about it, but nobody knows any of these people. But I wanted to go with the guys who were on the way up, I think they, they’ve got the most interesting energy, they’re the avant-garde on this thing that’s happening. So, finally, through George Carroll, I met Graham Leader in Paris who became the producer of the film. He was an art dealer in Europe.

The energy crisis had just hit and the bottom had fallen out of the art market. I played him the music and the music won him over. I also showed him some of my slides. So we went to Nashville and Graham financed what we felt was going to be an hour documentary for television. I think we had thirty-five thousand dollars. In about a month we had a small crew and were underway. We shot a couple of things the first day we were there, it was great, we were off to a running start, but then we didn’t do anything for four days. People’s schedules, cancellations, we just couldn’t get anything happening. The crew was getting grumpy… but then it took off. Way led to way and we started getting other people into it. I’d say it was about two weeks into it we felt we could make a feature film. So Graham he raised more money, basically over the phones and, and we finished shooting everything we could to make a feature. The whole thing took around four weeks.

T. Campbell:
How did the budget determine the style of the film-making?

J. Szalapski:
We went as lean as we could. Me and an assistant cameraman…My assistant cameraman on was also my assistant director, Phillip Schopper. We had worked together before and had become good friends. Phillip’s a very creative person with a lot of good and you want people around you who will keep you honest. Then when we got to the editing room he became the editor and I became his assistant editor. He was there at the Steenbeck doing all the cutting and I was finding stuff and looking over his shoulder.

And of course we would always confer about the editing with Graham Leader who stayed in New York for pretty much the whole course of the finishing the film. The grip was Mike Harris, Skinny Dennis’s best friend, who was then living in New York also. Larry Reibman was the gaffer. Larry was working for a film equipment rental house at the time and wanted to get out of the rental house and make movies. The sound man was very organic. He was great. Alvar Stugard was his name. Like I would walk into a situation and start looking around for how the light- ing falls and where the lamps are, what this is gonna look like. Alvar would walk around with his microphone and his headphones on, and test the acoustics of the room, and he would find the best sound might be over in the corner and he would say what sounds best for the place what really gives the feeling of place too, you know.

T. Campbell:
This is a technical question before we move on. What equipment did you use to shoot this film?

J. Szalapski:
A 16mm camera. About sixty per cent of the film was hand-held. I shot with an Eclair, French Eclair NPR, which is a difficult camera to use, it’s fairly heavy and the weight is about five inches in front of your chest, so you’re supporting it all with your hands.

T. Campbell:
Did you a use a Nagra stereo?

J. Szalapski:
Nagra stereo. We made a real effort to record everything in stereo.

T. Campbell:

J. Szalapski:
And the final result was mag stripe stereo, 35mm film with mag stripe on the side. Because this film was done before optical stereo, you know, the whole Dolby optical stereo thing that came into movies happened about two years after we finished the film.

T. Campbell:
So not only the music’s in stereo but the presence, the dialogue track the chickens and the lambs and whatever are in stereo on the soundtrack?

J. Szalapski:
Right, and we tried to get it as high fidelity as possible but we only had two tracks so when someone was singing and playing a guitar we put one mic on the singer and one on the guitar. Then in the mix we would put their voice in the centre, where it is on the screen pretty much, but we’d spread the highs and lows out according to the position of the guitar. If the guitar neck is up to the right, you’d put the highs up there and put the lows down at the body and so we’d have a stereo separation for the scene.

T. Campbell:
Is all of the music performed live?

J. Szalapski:
Yeah. Oh, yeah. You know, people played music, like you and I are talk- ing then a couple of other people would drop over and somebody would say “I’ve got a new song”, and they try out their songs and sing together and so it goes. There was a lot of drinking, these things would go till three, four, five, six in the morning. Eventually people would sort of lose the ability to sing very well, you know, but they could still play. Their body seemed to remember the guitar stuff. I told them what I wanted to do and that I wanted to hear what they had to say about anything in this world, the movement, or whatever.

An official portrait that I scanned for Jim. Don't know yet who to credit...

An official portrait that I scanned for Jim. Don’t know yet who to credit…

T. Campbell:
So what, what happened in a sense is that you meet one person, they would introduce you to someone else, they would introduce you to some- body else …

J. Szalapski:
Exactly. Dennis was friends with Townes and Guy they’re both very highly respected in the songwriting community. They’ve written a lot of songs, they’re very original. Once they were both interested in the film people said “Oh, you should go talk to so and so”. Since Guy and Townes were my main characters people would say “Oh well, we’re in. Count us in. You’ve got those guys, we’re in”.

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The Tree of Life – Film Review


TheTree of Life film review

The Tree of Life

Review by Thomas W. Campbell

Review at National Board of Review web site

Original review posted on May 27, 2011

The Tree of Life, the fifth film by director Terrence Malick, is a masterpiece of narrative and style. While this may not help in the marketplace against X-Men, Green Lanterns and drunk bachelors in Bangkok, it will resonate with anyone willing to be challenged–and rewarded–by an unconventional and completely original filmmaker at the top of his game.

Malick’s previous films–Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005) have for the most part stood the test of time. Each film features actors who were–or were to become–major stars. And each reveals its narrative in less obviously dramatic and more thoughtful ways than other films of their genres. Badlands slows down the drive of its predecessor, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, and allows us to feel the way Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek’s pre-punk rebels are part of the landscape that created them. Days of Heaven takes a doomed love triangle and places it into the seductive light (much of it shot in the magic hour just before sunset) and landscapes of the Midwest. The Thin Red Line is a richly character-based war drama that explores death and loss from an unexpectedly philosophical viewpoint. The New World examines the first meeting between Native Americans and Europeans in a way that makes the pristine forests as important as the characters. Malick has a talent to transcend what others might see as limitations of genres and to turn them into meditations on the essential questions of life–why are we here? What should we do about it? What is the true nature of the world itself?

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