A Few Cinematic Reflections on The Irishman and Parasite

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Parasite Bunuel HeaderGreat films should be savored like fine wine/beer/whatever your flavor and experienced without hesitation and time restraint. I just saw Parasite for the third time and recently did the same with The Irishman – twice each in the theater and once on the very big home screen with fine Dolby accompaniment. Overkill you say – I say not at all. Time well spent, something new comes with each immersion – a fine film will reveal more of its secrets and pleasures each time it unreels. 

Much has been said about these films and it will continue after the award’s season is long gone. I have one particular thought for each, distilled from the twenty or so hours I’ve spent with storytellers Joon Ho and Scorsese. 

First, a response to an annoying critique of The Irishman by folks who feel it necessary to complain about something they do not understand. Then a sort of personal love of cinema note about Parasite.

I was talking with a good friend who writes screenplays about The Irishman, who wasn’t impressed with the de-aging technique that Netflix paid so much for and Scorsese says was the only way the film was going to be made. He watched it on a television. In the theater, as a film should be seen, it works. Most likely on a Macbook/iPhone as well. Who knows what’s going on with a television? Jeez, ‘nuff said about that.

Then he pointed out  a “serious flaw” in the performance of De Niro and – by extension – the directing of Scorsese. You’ve probably heard this one. Frank Sheeran, De Niro’s character, comes home from a hard day on the trucks and his daughter is moping, his wife is looking at him with worry. The guy at the little grocery store down the street “put his hand” on the daughter because she knocked some stuff over. Sheeran gets the daughter to confirm, takes her by the hand, marches to the shop, and puts a heavy beating on the guy. As he kicks the poor fellow when he’s down De Niro, the actor, and Sheeran, the character, has arms horizontal at the waist, his hands kind of hanging there, in a decidedly non-masculine and (implied) old person’s manner. The kicks and stomps are brutal, but the upper body doesn’t scream “youthful gangster”. In the scene Sheeran is probably in his forties. In real life De Niro was at that time most likely 74. The argument, which I later discovered seems to have originated in a well circulated critique of the film, is that you can de-age an actor with technology but Scorsese can’t get De Niro to really “act” like a young man. I didn’t see it this way on first screening, nor on third. It looked like a “real” beating to me, not a polished amped-up thing you would find in the work of a lesser director. But fine, everyone has their own opinions.


Then, not much later, I was rewatching some of Scorsese’s films and there, in the middle of Goodfellas, when by my math De Niro is 46, pretty much the same age as Sheeran in the just mentioned scene, comes a moment in a bar. De Niro, Pesci and Liotta’s characters are having a drink, when a just-released-from-jail member of a rival family, a made man, begins to make fun of Pesci. The scene escalates, as they do in Scorsese’s films, and Pesci slips out, telling De Niro to keep the guy there. So of course when he returns they give him a beating that will lead to him being stuffed into a trunk, driven upstate, shot when he refuses to die, buried and finally exhumed (though not in that plot order). So they kick away at him and the 46 year old De Niro, just like the 40ish year old De Niro in The Irishman, has his arms horizontally at his side, his wrists hanging down, his upper body not giving the viewer the “vigorous macho” look of a classic tough guy. It couldn’t be more similar.


Folks, it is a De Niro thing, not a de-aging “mistake”. It works in Goodfellas and it works in The Irishman. The scenes are shot in very different styles so it makes sense if somehow the critics “missed it”. The Goodfellas beating is all tight shots, in the the cramped bar, with only a few medium shots to show the results. In The Irishman Scorsese sets the camera in the middle of the street and gives it to us in one continuous wide master shot. But the character action is the same, age 46 or age 74. You want to knock Scorsese and De Niro please find something that is defensible. What they do with Frank Sheeran is about character and refusing to be a stereotype. For the stereotypes you see in third-rate films, you have to look somewhere else.

Parasite is a multi-layered success of story, script, image and acting yet critics again feel it necessary to knock it down and call it out. For instance an accomplished cinematographer I know felt it was “predictable” because during the “dinner scene” in the big house when the four intruders celebrate, he knew that, because it was raining, the owners of the house would be coming home early. Well, yes, we all knew that. This is how classic screenwriting works. It leads the viewer to inevitable conclusions based on clues in the script. We all feel smart to know what is going to happen but – and here is what a well-written script will do – we do not know when the event will happen. When will that door open, that phone ring, that text message go off? This is the nature of suspense and it is very satisfying when it is done well. Parasite does it as well as any film this year.

I love when filmmakers are inspired by other directors. Each generation passes on their inspirations and accomplishments – those who watch and listen to the past are in touch with something that is alive and is nourishment for the very act of creation. We say a film is like Hitchcock, or Tarantino, or Varda – pick your favorite master or mistress of cinema. I’ve had the great pleasure to meet many accomplished directors and actors over the years, including Almodovar three times and Antonio Banderas twice. Talking with Almodovar we seem to always come back to the work of Luis Buñuel, the Spanish master who’s brutal and surreal films spanned seven decades. I revere Buñuel and have not hesitated to bring him up – but I think Almodovar has mentioned him first as well. 

It was during the third screening of Parasite that the sound design and the brilliant use of classical music as motifs for the intruding characters impacted me in a conscious way. There is a new music motif each time the intruders begin to implement their plans. The musical soundtrack is a powerful and almost overwhelming presence in the sound design. When the original inhabitants remember dancing to the records in the sunlight of their past lives or when the layer of piano based classical composition swells over the snowfall/montage when the son discovers the wonders of morse code and has his fantasy, the film reaches a rare and powerful depth of sound and image. And it was during the third screening that I discovered Joon Ho’s nod to Buñuel’s rich influence. One influence, as a friend had mentioned, seems to be Kobe Abe’s play Friends, about a family that moves into someone’s apartment and won’t leave. But Joon Ho is a disciple of cinema history and analysis of his work bears this out. After all, he has created a black and white version of Parasite, just as he did with his earlier film Mother, doing shot by shot color correction with his cinematographer, all to honor that work that has come before him.

Buñuel’s 1960 film Virdiana is a striking inspiration. In this earlier film, the first he made in his native Spain for nearly 30 years, a naive woman invites the homeless into her large lovely house, unaware of what this would lead to. And destruction, just as it does in Parasite, ensues. There are clear parallels between the world of Parasite that trace back to Buñuel and his close collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere – A barely submerged threat of violence permeates Discreet Charm of the Bourguiose, L’age D’or, Belle de Jour and the original offender Un Chien Andelou.

Par dinnerVirdiana dinner 2

The dining scene of Parasite, in which the interlopers ravage their surroundings in a drunken and sloppy banquet, recalls the “Last Supper” sequence in Virdiana in which homeless men and women gorge themselves in a rowdy way on wine and food at the elegant dining table of the wealthy woman who let them in. 

In Parasite, when three of the intruders are hiding under the large living room table while the young home owners, in matching silk pajamas, settle into a night on the couch, we encounter the precise kind of crazy love that Buñuel and his surrealist compadres reveled in.

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The young, beautiful and rich home owners watch the rain fall through the massive glass wall, striking the American teepee to which their son has retreated. They settle into an intimate posture, she in his arms, as they lie on the narrow couch. The husband casually puts his hand on her right breast, fondling her through the silk pajama top. Concerned the son might see, she asks him to stop. But he can pull his hand away any time, he assures her. She continues to resist as he reaches into her shirt and massages her other breast. And when she inevitably gives in, it is with the most peculiar of phrases. Depending on the translation she asks him to either “circle the other way” or “do it clockwise”.

CLockwise
Move your head closer

Such an odd thing to say. (Not to mention that she soon pleads for drugs in exchange for sex). Buñuel, who’s work is steeped in the counter-logic of surrealism, showed over and over that L’amour Fou has its own logic. That is, no logic at all. Joon Ho has delved into the world of the surreal, the same world where ghosts come up from basements, ants swarm out of hands, people sit on toilets while dining, and lovers prefer to be rubbed in only one direction and not the other. There is no logical explanation. And for lovers of cinema it is very inspiring.

 

A Recent Screening of the Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio

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My film The Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio has recently screened at two festivals, including the New York Indie Film Festival in the beginning of May (Click here for a link to the blog post about that). A number of dear friends showed up and I got to meet a some of the other filmmakers (which is big part of attending festivals!)

We also did two Q and A’s and fellow filmmaker Marianne Hettinger was gracious enough to record the second one, which is included in this post.

 

SRL 8818 – A short film about Survival Research Laboratories

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In 1988 I shot super-8 film and recorded sound of a performance by Survival Research Laboratories. Eventually I made a Low Rez digital video transfer and the files sat dormant. Thirty years later, in 2018, Mark Pauline returned to NYC for a gallery show (first time) of his infernal machines. This film explores the footage from each of the events, 30 years apart, constructed in a way that I hope engages, raises questions about art and the work of artists, and also creates a sense of completion for myself. Special thanks to Mark Pauline for his lifetime of visionary work and to sound designer Matt Heckert for his generous interview at the Shea Stadium show in 1988.

Survival Research Laboratories was founded by Mark Pauline in the late 1970’s. This 19 minute film is a Sound/Time/Image montage that explores the continuity and meaning of how we experience and understand art.

And here is a festive trailer for the film:

First U.S. Screening of The Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio

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Moto Ad NYIFF V2 April 1

My film about Linus Coraggio and his Motorcycle Art will screen twice at the NYC Independent Film Festival on May 9 and May 10. This is the fourth film that I have worked with Linus on and the first one that is out there to be seen! Since the screening in Nice I’ve done a few updates – the black and white 16mm film at the beginning has been retransferred to Hi-Def, there is a nod to Indian Larry with an image of him and one of Linus’s choppers, I’ve added an image of my biker brother in the dedication and the soundtrack now includes a musical excerpt by Linus’s father, the experimental composer Henry Brant.

The links below that will get you to the festival for information and to buy tickets. We hope to see you there…

Here’s a short festive trailer:

About the Festival

About the Film

To Buy Thursday Afternoon Tickets

To Buy Friday Evening Tickets

And here is a link to the French Riviera Moto Festival, where the film was an official selection.

The Lost City of Z Q&A

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On Tuesday, April 11, 2017, The National Board of Review screened James Gray’s new film The Lost City of Z and afterwards I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion with the director and Sienna Miller, who plays Nina Fawcett, the wife of explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnum). It’s a fascinating film, adapted from the best seller written by David Grann and shot by the outstanding cinematographer Darius Khondji, who shot Gray’s The Immigrant, and, just prior to that, Michale Haneke’s Amour. Both Gray and Miller were lively and engaging during our conversation and we covered as much ground as we could in the relatively brief time we were together. The film is in the theaters and also on Netflix, who were co-producers.

Here is a link to an excerpt from the Q&A.

Europe 1995 – Taiji and East Berlin

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In the summer of 1995 I had the good fortune to travel to Europe to study taiji for a week and then to spend a week in East Berlin.  What more might a young man want than to do than to explore the world in good health and happiness!

In Strasbourg, I practiced taiji with my fellow New Yorkers in an international festival celebrating Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan, taught by fourth generation master Wang Yen-nien. Then I traveled to the heart of old East Berlin. Will post pictures when I find them 🙂

East Berlin notes, Summer 1995

Visit the Berlin Zoo

Cash on hand and 80 dollars in traveler’s checks

Buy – Eurail Pass

         – Film roll

Shop – Cheese

           – water

            -Bread

            -Wine/Bee

Places of Importance to visit:

Am Friedricschain

S. Hackeschen Market (train H,2,3,4)

Griefswalder Strafze

3 Frieden Strausse

Stu Zoologischer Garten

Pergamon Museum

Driwitc

Potsdam

Alexanderplatz

Unter den Linden

Sans Souci (without sorrow)

Peace Park

Tier Garten

Brandenburg Ter.

J. F. Dulles Allee

Mitte

Oranienburge Strafze (Connects Cine?)

–  Seems to lead to … Cafe and Plost Alley

Kino Blowup TomWC sketch v3

East Berlin on a Thursday Night (1995)

I drank some wine, made a late lunch in the apartment, and went to S. Hackeschen Market. Should I have had a coffee? Am now in a bar on Oranienburge Strafze. What beautiful waitresses the German girls are – One is very butch. But that’s OK, what counts is attitude.

The bar seems to be called Kino Blowup. Could it be that they also show films here?  Butch just cranked up the music – not going to be easy to communicate here.  I have been told to watch out for the women of the night, who are neither subtle nor without experience. I will keep my attention elsewhere.

Whew – just made eye contact with the blond woman at the bar who is really cute. Careful – night’s early.

I could fall in love very easily in Berlin. People seem to be open, and intent on life. There is not a lot of excess attitude. The girls are very sexy in a natural way. Not that I am really out to be super social. But the women do not put up stiff barriers to talking, either. Former East Berliners (Essies) are regular folk.  They have experienced a lifetime under communism and are still tentative about themselves and their new lifestyles. They are sweet, and almost naive.

I like them. I like being in Berlin.

Krombacher is a good (light) beer. Later I must try Budweiser, the noted Czech beer. Butch girl is the DJ. She is spinning some big beat sounds. Bose speakers pump it out.

The girl behind the bar, with short blond hair, very short, and a small nose ring has grabbed my attention. She bops around well to the music. I think she has a body like (redacted) – small – sweet. I’m going to ask her about Budweiser.

In response he says “It’s Czechoslovakian”, not German. But very good. When I ask her for a glass she nods, professionally and nicely.

Bartenders pour beer in Berlin so that the head comes out really large, then they slowly add more beer to the glass only as the foam settles. I was told this was a European thing – and here it is. There is no rush to get the beer over to the presumed drinker. It’s not like “Serve ‘em up and get ‘em drunk. ASAP”. There is style and care in the process. A very hand-crafted experience. A special touch. I appreciate this.

The dark skin girl (also with a nose ring) says to the bar girl “How late are you open to?” “Until 4:00” She second girl is sweetn too – has on an olive green T shirt with a balloon police car vehicle. It is funny…  Bright Blue, white and red, cartoonish.

Maybe they are lovers. They are friendly and the place is fun. “Kino Blowup”.  With cast metal sculptures and thin tall-back metal chairs.

Also, centered on the wall to the left of the bar, is a large conspicuously vagina-like sculpture. On the other side of the bar a thin long-necked statue of a man that seems to fly off the floor.

Long neck man 1

It is odd that people come into the bar carrying baskets of things to sell, hawking their wares.  A respectable looking man (Peter Framptonish) arrives with a basket of good looking breads and pastries and croissants, walking around and selling them. It is perfectly accepted, more than that it is appreciated. His breads and snacks are good, his way is friendly and his prices, from the reaction, are reasonable. It’s an old world thing. In “the states” he would be infringing on the bar’s territory and be tossed to the street.

People drink beer with red (berry) syrup here. Have seen at least three people order it.  I ask the bartender about it and she says, kidding. “It’s for children. Sweet syrup” she says, softly. Am I understanding her? I smile and nod. I must learn some German or French, so that I can connect better.

And the DJ keeps the place rocking.

Under the City screening on the Bayou

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My short animation Under the City the Blue Bag Dropped was part of the 13th annual Cinema on the Bayou in late January, 2017. I did the first drawings for the video in December of 2008 and just kept coming back to it over the years. Finally, this spring, wanting a followup to my short Rooftop Serenade, that played in festivals last summer, I stayed on it every evening when I got home from work until it was where it needed to be. Everything is hand shot or hand drawn, put together in Photoshop, Premiere and After Effects. The original soundtrack, a song called Jaguar Muse that I composed in 2015, was edited and mixed in Pro Tools.

The festival ran from January 24 to February 1 and took place in Lafayette, Louisiana. The film has previously screened in the Coney Island Film Festival, the East Village Chain Film Festival and was awarded Honorable Mention at The Marblehead Festival of the Arts. The film has also been accepted into the Three Minute Film Festival in Santa Barabra, California and will screen on July, 6 2017.