Favorite Quotes: Martha Graham & The Quickening Of Unique Expression


“There is a vitality,  a life force,  an energy,  a quickening that is translated through you into action,  and because there is only one of you in all time,  this expression is unique. And if you block it,  it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham

I found this quote on Allison Iris’s web site showcasing her incredible abstract paintings. The quote resonated for me. Enough so that I wanted to repost it here. Martha Graham’s observation embodies my approach to filmmaking, one that has taken me many years and many trials and tribulations to begin to understand. It is why I am now wholly committed to making “my” films, the way I want to make them, and not playing by anybody else’s rules. This is not to be stubborn or to be a rebel, but to honor myself and what it is I want to say and what the experience is I want to impart. Accepted or rejected, it will be the truest sense of who I am. This has always been the goal for me. However, I am only now coming to understand its great importance to me and the sacrifices that attaining such a goal entails.

Unique expression –and the undisguised vulnerability that inevitably comes with it– is one of the main things I focus on in my Acting Workshops. Each actor –each artist– has the ability to create and express something wholly personal, something no one else ever could in quite the same way. It is what separates us from all others in the audition room. This form of expression is our most personal gift and –though it sometimes requires as much un-learning as it does learning– our greatest strengths rise to the surface when we embrace it.

“…if you block it,  it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

Favorite Quotes: Martha Graham & The Quickening Of Unique Expression

Kubrick & Burgess: Two Clockworks

clockworksmallerI recently responded to a friend’s Facebook post commenting on the differences between Anthony Burgess’ novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of the material. I tried to describe why I thought the changes that were made by Kubrick were valid and why I saw his concentration on sex and sexuality in the film (compared to the novel) as being so crucial and important an element.

What I wrote was a combination of my own thoughts and observations, mixed with ideas raised in conversation with others and, finally, other notions and observations made by professional critics, both contemporary and at the time of the film’s release.

Here is my response as I sent it. I repost it here simply as a conversation starter and because I so enjoy this type of discussion. I hope you do, too:

I think it’s important to see the film of CLOCKWORK within the context of the time in which it was made. Newfound sexuality, the sexual revolution, sexual conversations were out there in a way that was the antithesis of where they had been in the years just prior to this period. Sexual violence was also something that was finally being discussed as opposed to swept under the rug. I think it does a disservice to Kubrick to think of him as unsophisticated or adolescent. I think he’s one of the few directors for which these terms do not apply. Don’t mix up commentary on a subject for being a justification or acting out of a subject. As for subtlety, the film may be more subtle than you think in this regard. The simple fact that some people saw the film as “cool” or “got off on it” is extremely telling. I don’t think Kubrick himself was making the film to elicit such responses. He was making it in reaction to such responses and raising the topic for conversation. That said, subtlety is not a requirement for me in storytelling. Though it’s something I admire greatly. But there have been many masters of filmmaking who are not known for subtlety. In fact, quite the opposite. The great David Lean being one of them. Never subtle, but almost always amazing.

What Kubrick wanted to address in CLOCKWORK reflected what he saw in society. He wasn’t trying to simply adapt Burgess’ ideas or vision. He was “interpreting” them to what he felt was important and contemporary. In his eyes. A great book should leave one thinking, asking questions. The end of a book should be (in my opinion) the beginning of a journey for the reader in life. Burgess’ book sent Kubrick on his own journey which, for me, is incredibly appropriate and exactly what I would want from him. That said, I think that Burgess and Kubrick did say many of the same things and I don’t feel the film is as far removed from the book as you do. There have been a few films that were direct, literal adaptations of books and, in many cases, those films did not work for some of us as well as other adaptations that tried to capture the “essence” of the material as opposed to transcribing it directly. It’s another medium and another storyteller at work. One could not adapt a painting into a film and expect them to be the same.

Burgess wrote the novel 10 years before Kubrick turned it into a film. There were great cultural shifts in those 10 years which are reflected in Kubrick’s adaptation. Burgess’ wife had been raped after the war and a lot of what’s in his book comes from an autobiographical perspective. Kubrick is taking in the story via his own experiences, as we all do, and what the characters and story mean for him. As for the book’s ending, Kubrick was more of a pessimist with a sense of the ironic than was Burgess. That is why he kept the ending he did (he did read Burgess’ other ending). The film reflects the social anxieties and political concerns of its time. Not to mention, fashions, styles, etc. The naked women furniture in the Korova Milkbar were inspired by sculptures (by Allen Jones) that had been on display and gaining lots of attention. Again, Kubrick was making a commentary. Even Alex’s costume in the film was very different from the description in the book. Kubrick was making a commentary on a certain type of cricket-playing English gentleman.

Filmmaker Fellini stated of CLOCKWORK “I was very predisposed against the film. After seeing it, I realized it is the only movie about what the modern world really means.” Again, I think it’s crucial to take the film in under the context of the times. And to give Kubrick some credit. He was never a flippant filmmaker. And he, unlike many other filmmakers today, dealt with sexuality directly and in ways that were often misunderstood (EYES WIDE SHUT). Also, Burgess was a Christian and came from that perspective. Kubrick, on the other hand, was more of a pessimist and saw the State as using many of its most violent and disturbed individuals to maintain control. Alex’s droogies becoming policemen and Alex himself being hired by the Minister of the Interior at the film’s end. Kubrick was always very vocal in regards to politicians and the military and their use of “collecting” violent individuals to enact their needs and maintain control. Again, look at the political and social upheavals, the wars, police actions, taking place at the time. Alex and his droogies are “evil” but also very human. Are they so different from a society that acts similarly but in the name of morality?

Alex is the Id. And I think any portion of him that we may recognize (consciously or, more important, unconsciously) in ourselves is a very scary notion which quite easily elicits anger and a condemnation of the film itself instead of an exploration of what it evokes in us as human beings and members of society. Alex also has some very noble and attractive qualities: he’s witty, smart, VERY much “alive,” not to mention his deep appreciation for music. Another thing to consider is that Kubrick uses films of violence as the tool with which to try and control Alex. They are the government’s form of propaganda. Kubrick is HIGHLY aware of the power of film and of violence in film. And he says as much in this sequence. He is making a commentary on his own medium and, in a way, the very film he is making.

Kubrick also chooses to comment on how open-sexuality, which had until recently been a rebellious act, had now become incredibly casual. This is one reason for the imagery in the home of the woman he kills with the penis statue. CLOCKWORK is also, in many ways, satirical. It can not –should not– be taken at face value. No Kubrick film should if it is to be understood and its many secrets revealed. And yes, there is a journey that needs to be taken in order to get to that place. But it is a journey I, as a lover of film and filmmaking, find wholly worthwhile.

And I absolutely think Kubrick’s vision is about “choice.” The entire film suggests that to try and make Alex good, they are, in fact, making him less than human. And their tactics are equally as horrific as Alex’s own. “It is necessary for man to have choice to be good or evil, even if he chooses evil. To deprive him of this choice is to make him something less than human — A clockwork orange.” –Stanley Kubrick.

In his write-up on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE at the time in “The Catholic News,” John E. Fitzgerald wrote: “The film seems to say that to take away a man’s choice is not to redeem him but merely to restrain him. Otherwise we have a society of oranges, organic but working like clock-work. Such brainwashing organic and psychological, is a weapon, that to totalitarians in state, church or society might wish for an easier good even at the cost of individual rights and dignity. Redemption is a complicated thing and change must be motivated from within rather than imposed from without if moral values are to be upheld. But Kubrick is an artist rather than a moralist and he leaves it to us to figure what’s wrong and why, what should be done and how it should be accomplished.” 

Kubrick & Burgess: Two Clockworks

Accusing Filmmakers of Self-Indulgence & Other Storytelling Obstacles

the_master_turkish_poster_color_high-600x839Anyone familiar with my posts knows that I strongly dislike the term “pretentious” when used in the context of a negative connotation to put down the work of an artist. I believe it to be incredibly damaging, not only to the artist and their work, but to the artistic community at large. In truth, it says far more about the accuser than it does the recipient, but it nonetheless creates an atmosphere of fear that will keep many an artist from exploring their work more deeply out of fear that they will be mocked, that their heartfelt effort, their daring and risk-taking will be deemed pretentious. Of course, “pretentious” has no real meaning unless one is personally familiar with the artist and their intentions and can speak directly to that. Simply viewing an artist’s work and deeming it pretentious is to, quite simply, misuse the word.

The same goes for the term “self-indulgent.” At least when used in a negative context.

I recently saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film THE MASTER. Before seeing it, I had heard all types of reactions to the film. Those who loved it, considered it the best film they’d seen all year. Others who hated it, found it boring or meandering, didn’t understand the point. All are valid reactions. The only response I took offense to was from a producer acquaintance of mine who railed against the film for being “self-indulgent.” Her interpretation was that the filmmaker didn’t care about the audience, that he willingly went forward and made a film that would alienate its audience and didn’t seem to care. She explained that a filmmaker must consider the audience first.

I could not possibly disagree more. I’m not saying that a filmmaker should not care about his or her audience, but I do not believe that second-guessing an audience’s reaction is the best way to create meaningful films. Or any type of art. And let’s be honest here, considering whether your film may or may not alienate some people is to second-guess their reaction. Second-guessing is fraught with far more dangers than trusting your gut, following your instinct. At the very least, second-guessing will likely hold you back from taking risks, from truly exploring what’s inside you if you worry that some people may feel alienated or not “get” your work. What a tragic world that would be to live in. But that is exactly what contemporary Hollywood uses as its filmmaking model. Films geared toward the lowest-common-denominator; stories made up of a conglomeration of scenes and story-lines from other successful movies rearranged into something “new” yet painfully, lifelessly familiar.

Self-indulgence is a necessity to artistic endeavor. Who else, if not ourselves, are we indulging? Now I’m talking art here, not commerce. If your only goal is money, then second-guessing the audience is exactly your business model. THAT is your skill, your craft, your talent. It is a completely valid approach, but don’t expect the fruits of that particular enterprise to result in truly captivating, original cinema.

However, if your goal is to make an amazing film, a work of art that reaches out and effects people, to tell the stories that are in your heart, to share with other human beings something primal, something honest and heartfelt that explores the many facets and depths of what it means to be a human being and what it means to be a storyteller in modern society, then one MUST trust that what they want to say and how they want to say it is not so completely outside of the human experience as to alienate the rest of the human race. So we MUST indulge ourselves, we must TRUST that we are at our cores storytellers and that, like dreams themselves, our stories take on many forms, elicit various emotions, some easy to comprehend, others requiring some measure of introspection and exploration. Some are comfortable and pleasant, others churn in our guts and haunt our thoughts, all the while defying expectation or easy explanation.

joaquin-phoenix-the-masterMy comment to my producer friend was that the term “self-indulgence” as a negative connotation is really in the eye of the beholder: one person’s “self-indulgence” is another person’s “masterpiece.” But she disagreed insisting that self-indulgence is self-indulgence and nothing else; there is no other interpretation. Her argument that Paul Thomas Anderson made a film and didn’t care if it alienated audiences is based solely on this producer’s personal experience of feeling alienated and moving on the assumption that that is the reaction of most, if not all, people. That is a singular, personal experience and, even if you know others who have shared it, is in no way a negative reflection on the filmmaker. I know just as many people who loved THE MASTER, who were knocked out by the film, as those who were confused by it, bored by it, found it less than entertaining. I, personally, fall in the former camp. I thought the film was mesmerizing and complex, invigorating and vastly entertaining. I also thought it was the antithesis of the negative connotation of “self-indulgent.” In fact, some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s earlier works I found to be less effective in their attempts to create a meaningful experience, to tell a rich story. All of his films, however, show an artist taking risks, trying new things, exploring new territories both internal and external. There is nothing more that I could ask from a filmmaker. THE MASTER, however, may be the director’s most self-assured film to date. Here is a singular voice, confident in his storytelling capabilities with a clear and distinct vision. If this is the definition of the term “self-indulgence” then I ask that more filmmakers, more artists, engage in self-indulgence so that we as a human race may continue to create great works of art that represent the human condition and our endless desire to explore, to reach beyond the known. My god, where would science be without self-indulgence? Or great meals, or literature, or space-travel, or oceanography, music, exercise, photography, architecture, painting, sculpture… The list is an endless description of the achievements of mankind.

The only thing I find unfortunate about THE MASTER are the people whose reaction to the film is to accuse the director as somehow being irresponsible or selfish in his endeavor to tell this story the way he chose to tell it. That attitude is, in no small way, a suppression of the very art form itself and simply another obstacle to be overcome in a culture that has placed so many ridiculous limitations on what constitutes “proper” filmmaking.

Accusing Filmmakers of Self-Indulgence & Other Storytelling Obstacles

Oscar Noms Tepid As Usual – Part 1

Anyone who knows me or has followed my posts knows that I am no fan of Award Ceremonies. And my expectations for the Oscars is at an all-time low so there’s very little they can do to surprise me. Which is different from disappointing me as I hold out vain hope that one day Academy members will evolve to a place where they recognize daring, challenging and creative cinema for what it is and stop celebrating mediocrity. I know, I know, this is the lie I tell myself so that I can move forward while still living and working in this town committed to the lowest common denominator.


So here’s my brief reaction to this year’s noms. I’ll start now on a positive note: TREE OF LIFE. Terence Malick’s cinematic masterpiece. Probably the greatest filmic work to come out of America in a decade. Whether or not you agree with that statement, there’s no denying that this is a film by a man who makes films from his heart, from his gut, from his own subconscious all the while taking great risks and pushing the medium itself to the very edge. If you are not inspired by what Malick is doing, then you probably thought THE DESCENDANTS was a deep film. Unfortunately for Malick’s contribution to American cinema, TREE is the dark horse in this race as it received the lowest number of votes for Best Picture of the nominees (along with the revoltingly bad EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE).

Which brings me to one of my great pet peeves. Alexander Payne. Critics love this guy. The Academy loves this guy. I find him to be, while not awful, incredibly bland. His films often touch on interesting subject matter, but never, ever, dip below the surface. His films are “deep” for people who don’t actually like to go deep. THE DESCENDANTS was an incredibly contrived film in my opinion. The only performance in the entire film that rang true for me was Judy Greer. And Payne relegated her to a joke. And while I do like watching Clooney, his performance felt somewhat detached to me. And why people are amazed that Clooney could play a husband and a Dad is beyond me. Why is this a stretch? It’s not. You’d think he was passing himself off as Margaret Thatcher. To nominate him as best actor is to disregard far stronger and soul-bearing performances given this year in much better, more sincere films. Again, I’m a Clooney fan. But this is not among his best work. For me, many of the performances in THE DESCENDANTS relied more on “indicating” than on “being.” And while that may not have been the experience of the actors themselves, it was my experience as an audience member. And I do applaud Payne for his subject matter choices and often his casting choices, but his films are directed like TV movies and manage to somehow make everything look ugly and drab in a way that never serves the story or characters. He is that filmmaker whose work is applauded by a public hungry for content, but ultimately without the desire to really try anything new or daring.

Glad to see Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS get some attention. It’s a good film. But let’s face it, it’s also quite fluffy. When Allen tackles anything heavier than this, the Academy has no idea what to do with it.

THE ARTIST. I’m glad that this film is getting some attention. That said, I thought the film was enjoyable but far from great. And while it may delight audiences unfamiliar with silent film (and a few others who love silent film so much that they can’t see past the film’s imperfections), I thought THE ARTIST did a disservice to the silent film era by suggesting that most silent films were fluffy little adventure pics, serials and romances. Given that the film is called THE ARTIST, it almost comes across as an ironic joke given the lack of true artistry depicted in the film when compared to the artistry that was actually taking place during the silent era. Not to mention THE ARTIST didn’t really feel or look much like a silent-era film to me (except in the most basic ways, but those didn’t hold up for me under close scrutiny) and the film used music from later periods as its soundtrack, which didn’t help.

HUGO. Moderately entertaining. Was bored by the first half (which may have been me distracted by the 3D). As always, the Academy celebrate Scorsese’s lesser works over his masterful ones. Again, sigh…

MONEYBALL. A very solid film. The writing, acting and directing were all top notch. And while it wouldn’t be a best film of the year for me, I still found it to be incredibly well-made, smart and entertaining.

WAR HORSE. Not as horrible as I’d heard, the film still shows that Spielberg doesn’t trust his material enough to let it speak for itself. Spielberg’s direction feels forced, like he’s trying too hard and, combined with Williams’ score, topples over the edge of sentimentality and dictated emotion in such a way as to actually diminish the impact of the story for me. But this is the kind of stuff Academy members eat for dinner and call fine dining. For me, it’s closer to the Olive Garden. That said, it’s a film I would have loved as a kid and I was able to appreciate moments on that level. And the fact that I don’t need much prodding to become emotionally invested in the well-being of animals didn’t hurt either. But at the end of the day, the film felt uncertain of itself and inconsistent to me. I can only imagine what a theater/film director like Julie Taymor might have brought to the table. I would have liked to have seen that.

THE HELP. Not surprising that this was nominated. It’s a film I liked for its performances despite a script that, ironically, given the subject matter, takes very few risks and sugarcoats many of the characters, either painting them as cartoon villains or letting them off the hook by having them magically turn into compassionate heroes by film’s end. But the cast is strong and they somehow manage to weather some moments of less-than-stellar writing and a script afraid to go to the daring places some of its characters do.

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE. What was Stephen Daldry thinking? There is very little that is believable about this film. Or even very interesting. It’s another forced film with its heart in the right place but the pieces just never came together for me. And though the young lead gives it 120%, I never for a moment bought him as a kid with autism. Or even as a real kid. I found the plot to be ridiculous in a “feel good” way that simply reeked of schmaltzy Hollywood films past. This one belongs in the PAY IT FORWARD class. Except that it takes itself even more seriously. Ultimately, it’s a message film where the message is written in big bold letters from frame one. And then you have to sit there while the actors go through the motions. I hate to be so harsh, especially since, like I said, the film’s heart is in the right place, but there’s an insincerity to this film that unfortunately informs almost every frame.

As for directors, thank the lord Malick made the cut because there is nary a director here or abroad that could touch the level of talent and vision he displayed with TREE OF LIFE. Which just means he won’t win.

Michel Hazanavicius for THE ARTIST is not a surprise. And I’m okay with it. I’m not anywhere near as big a fan of the film as others, but it’s still quite entertaining and, though still targeting an audience that doesn’t respond well to challenges, very respectable.

Alexander Payne. Well, he’s always a favorite of voters, but to me he’s innocuous at best. Little-to-no visual sensibilities whatsoever. And he cuts away whenever an actor or character are in danger of dipping beneath the surface and actually getting in touch with something genuine. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that he’s probably got some great films sitting on his cutting room floor. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to see it. This means he’ll probably win. And if it isn’t Payne, it will be Hazanavicius, which I’d prefer.

Scorsese for Hugo is just another example of Hollywood telling its greatest directors that they don’t have to try too hard to get their attention. In fact, if they actually put themselves out there in a big way, they’re likely to be ignored. Not that HUGO’s a bad film. It’s not. And it’s a film that meant something to Scorsese clearly, and that I respect. And that he made a film somewhat out of what I imagine is his comfort zone. All positive stuff to be applauded. But compared to his entire body of work, HUGO just isn’t that far up there for me…

Woody Allen. Again, I’m glad he’s being recognized. Allen’s a great filmmaker and a great writer. He deserves any attention he gets. Allen is constantly making films, taking risks, and staying true to himself.

Actors… George Clooney: I like him. I didn’t think this performance was anything special. Certainly not award-worthy. He’s charming. He’s sincere. He’s smart. But under the direction of Payne, he will only be allowed to go so far. And for me, it’s not far enough. Especially given that Michael Fassbender isn’t nominated for SHAME, a performance that makes Clooney’s nomination seem downright diabolical. It certainly feels more based on Clooney’s popularity and likeability than on the depth of performance given. No offense to Clooney.

Demián Bichir. Nice performance in an average film, but it wasn’t quite award-worthy for me either. The film and the role-as-written never attained that level.

Jean Dujardin. Absolutely deserved. He was the best part of the film (along with his dog). A terrific performance through and through.

Gary Oldman. Also completely deserved. To walk into Alec Guinness’s shoes and do them justice? And to give us such a nuanced, subtle performance? Beautiful. This is a film that also greatly deserved its writing nomination. To take such a complex and vast story as TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY and boil it down to a two-hour film without sacrificing the integrity or complexity of the work, while not dumbing it down or making it easy, wins both my respect and admiration.

Brad Pitt. He should have been nominated for TREE OF LIFE which I think was an even better performance, but he was terrific in MONEYBALL as well. Highly deserved.

Glenn Close. Even though I didn’t completely buy her as a man, I still thought the character she created to be absolutely mesmerizing.

Viola Davis. Incredible performance that aided in this average film rising above itself.

Rooney Mara. Still have to see the film.

Meryl Streep. Hated the real Margaret Thatcher, love Meryl Streep. This performance once again shows us that very few American actors, particularly stars, ever attain the level of immersion that this woman does. She is the best there is. Deserved.

Michelle Williams. Always love her. This was a thankless role with built-in strikes against it and Williams pulled it off. If only they’d remove the musical bookends, this would be a flawless performance. Not just because she captured something innate about Marilyn, but because she brought a humanity to the role that would have remained an impersonation in the hands of a lesser actor.

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention that the biggest travesty of the awards this year in that MELANCHOLIA received absolutely no nominations. One of the most daring, insightful, honest films of this year (or any other). Lars Von Trier was snubbed. Perhaps it was his Hitler comments at Cannes that lost it for him. That would be a shame and a gross overreaction to those statements which, while both provocative and uncomfortable, seemed to have been somewhat misunderstood. To paint a picture of Hitler as a human being one can sympathize with is just too much for most people to accept or even consider. And it’s clear that Von Trier himself was uncomfortable and attempting to lighten the mood and talk his way out of an unintentional corner, only to dig himself in deeper. Add the language barrier and he was doomed from the get-go. And the harsh reality that Kirsten Dunst wasn’t nominated for her work in MELANCHOLIA only showcases Academy voters’ deep inability to truly understand what an actor can offer us of themselves. No script nom, no director nom either… This film’s absence from the nominations is a glaring signpost to just how limited Academy voters are. And why it will continue to be difficult for true film artists –both behind and in front of the camera– to ever truly get the recognition they deserve for the depths of their souls they are willing to lay out for us.

Oscar Noms Tepid As Usual – Part 1

Sharing Coppola

As always, I’m on the lookout for comments, articles, interviews by writers, filmmakers, artists of all shapes and sizes, that inspire me, guide me, or simply make me think. I have endless respect and admiration for writer/director Francis Ford Coppola. Sure, there have been a few films over his long career that didn’t seem on par with his greatest work, but it’s become common knowledge that Coppola allowed himself to become a hired hand in order to pay off a massive debt.

Now that the debt is history, thanks to many films and a successful wine-making business, Francis Coppola is back in the writer/director seat once again and this time with a vengeance! For the commercially-minded Hollywood, this may be a mildly discomforting annoyance, but for those of us genuinely interested in filmmaking as passion, as art, as a language of expression and a life-journey, this is great news indeed.

Segments of an interview/lecture with Coppola were recently posted at the99percent.com and I wanted to share that article here. I found it to be immensely inspiring. It is one that I will keep and go back to for years. It is a great filmmaker pointing a light forward and letting us know that this, too, is a path that can be traversed and explored, despite the many in Hollywood standing just outside the entrance with signs which read “DO NOT PASS,” or “NO ENTRY,” or “ROAD CLOSED.”

My suggestion? Just step on the gas and go. They’ll move out of your way.

Here are some highlights:

“Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money. Because there are ways around it… I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.”

“Always make your work be personal. And, you never have to lie… There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.”

“I just finished a film a few days ago, and I came home and said I learned so much today. So if I can come home from working on a little film after doing it for 45 years and say, “I learned so much today,” that shows something about the cinema. Because the cinema is very young. It’s only 100 years old.”

“An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.”

Read the full article: Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration.

Sharing Coppola

Academy Award Noms 2010: The More Things Change…

Well, the 2010 Academy Award nominations are in. It’s pretty common for my personal favorites to get completely shut out or, at best, receive minimal attention. This year is no exception. I will say, however, that I’m not unhappy with many of the nominations. Many are quite deserving. But it always seems to be such a narrow window that Academy voters peer through. Sure, we’ve seen a good number of indie films grab the hearts of voters and the public over the last few years and that’s a great sign. But truthfully, anything too daring, too outside the mainstream (and those films without the financial luxury of an intense marketing campaign), will simply get little-to-no notice.

My personal favorite film this year was I AM LOVE. One nomination for Costume Design. It’s a well-deserved nomination. But nothing for Tilda Swinton or director Luca Guadagnino. And Yorick Le Saux’s striking, Visconti-influenced imagery in that film apparently eluded the more mainstream tastes of the Academy voters.


Instead, INCEPTION receives 8 nominations. Now don’t misunderstand me. I enjoyed INCEPTION.  I was thrilled to see an action film that required some thought on the part of the audience. So, as an action film, it was certainly above-average. And very entertaining. But as science fiction or a film about people… Eh. It fell short. There was potential there for some rich characters, some real depth. But Nolan chose to make an action film at the expense of a rich character film. It simply can’t hold a candle (or even a match) against I AM LOVE or Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR, which only received one nomination (Original Screenplay). How Leslie Manville’s tour de force performance eluded Academy voters will baffle me for years to come.

Then there’s Ryan Gosling’s performance in BLUE VALENTINE. It was nice to see that Academy voters DID recognize Michelle Williams for the same film, but how Jesse Eisenberg gets a best actor nom over Ryan Gosling is beyond me… Clearly, THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a critic and audience fave this year. And I thought it was a good film. A solid script directed with appropriate restraint. I was certainly sucked in and enjoyed the ride. But it was not, for me, a great film. It has garnered far more attention than I could ever give it. And as good as Eisenberg was, an Academy nomination never occurred to me while watching the film. If anything, I enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s performance even more.

Then we come to THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. This little indie film has won the hearts of many. I am not one of them. I have always been a fan of director Lisa Cholodenko. But I think her strengths were severely watered-down with this one thanks to the inclusion of romantic comedy screenwriter Stuart Blumberg. Cholodenko on her own has created many detailed, rich characters in the past. Characters that made us think, challenged us somewhat. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT plays more like a Nancy Meyers film about lesbians than it does a Cholodenko film. The irony here is that it’s Cholodenko’s biggest commercial and critical hit. No accounting for taste, I’m afraid. I’ve heard people rave about how daring the film was. And when asked in a Q&A why she chose to show a lesbian having an affair with a man in the film, Cholodenko replied that she didn’t feel she could get the film made otherwise. Then she went on to say how it was alright because she still felt that it fit with the character. I could not disagree more. In this day and age, with all the misunderstanding there is about homosexuality and all the arguments of nurture versus nature surrounding people’s ignorance of homosexuality and homosexuals, to have a film that shows a lesbian lustfully hopping into the sack repeatedly with a guy just seems, well… irresponsible. But perhaps even worse, I never bought it as something the character would do. Not in a million years. There was a psychological reason that might have lead to such an action, and a brief explanation (excuse?) is given in the film, but it simply never rang true given the degree of sexual lust that accompanied it. It simply felt like a writer’s device and not something that stemmed from the character herself.

Then there’s my pet peeve of showing male heterosexual characters as having absolutely no self-control or moral boundaries when it comes to sex. The written portrayal of Mark Ruffalo’s character in this film saddened me. It is as unfortunate and tired a depiction of a straight man thinking with his dick as is the depiction of a lesbian who just, ultimately, needs some dick or, at the very least, can’t resist some. And while Ruffalo (an amazing actor) did bring some much-needed depth to the role, it wasn’t quite enough to drag it out of the stereotype mire the writers created it in.

As for being a “daring” film, don’t give me that. Just because it’s about lesbian parents does not make it daring. For fuck’s sake, in 1975 one of the most popular films of the year was about a man who tries to rob a bank so that his boyfriend can afford a sex-change operation (DOG DAY AFTERNOON). Are we really more socially backward today than in yesteryear? And though I do love both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore (they are two of my favorite working actors), I never fully believed their relationship. For me, the problem seemed more inherent to the script than a performance issue. Sadly, at the end of the day, I think we are honoring Cholodenko for her lesser work. Which always makes me think of all those great foreign directors Hollywood scoops up and systematically strips of everything that made them so interesting. And while Cholodenko isn’t a foreign filmmaker, I hope the success and popularity of this film doesn’t rob us of a chance of seeing her take greater risks in her future films. She is, in my opinion, better than THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. A backhanded compliment, yes, but success has many different faces…

THE FIGHTER. While I truly enjoyed Christian Bale and Melissa Leo’s performances, I felt the script was rather predictable and didn’t really take me anyplace I hadn’t been several times before in other, better films. I guess, for me, the script just couldn’t compete with the performances so there was an imbalance to the experience. And while I did leave the theater feeling that I had been somewhat entertained, I also felt equally underwhelmed.

It’s hard not to feel frustrated when films like INCEPTION, THE FIGHTER and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT get screenplay noms over I AM LOVE, RABBIT HOLE, BLUE VALENTINE or NEVER LET ME GO. And, as is to be expected, Sofia Coppola’s amazing and daring film SOMEWHERE was completely ignored in its entirety. One of America’s most under-recognized and under-appreciated filmmakers who consistently pushes her own boundaries, her actors’ boundaries and the boundaries of her own audience with each new film. To Hollywood and the Academy, Sofia Coppola is simply too odd, too esoteric. Too much a true “artist.” And oftentimes in Hollywood, “artist” is a dirty word, though it’s tossed around as if it were well embraced. Producers will applaud a Lifetime Achievement award for Robert Altman at the Oscars, then return the next day to their offices and systematically try and rid the world of any future Robert Altmans.

On some brighter notes, I’m happy about THE KING’S SPEECH and 127 HOURS. I’m thrilled to see THE BLACK SWAN find a large audience and Daranofsky get some more well-deserved attention. He’s a filmmaker with a vision and not afraid to take chances. And while many of his films seem quite imperfect to me, those imperfections are part of the world of risk-taking that Daranofsky embraces. For me, he is someone I’ll continue to watch. Let’s hope Hollywood doesn’t grip him too tightly and squeeze the artistic drive right outta him. Remember, word is he’s slated to direct the next WOLVERINE movie…

I’m also glad to see WINTER’S BONE in the nominations.

I also applaud TRUE GRIT receiving so many noms. But I have to ask… Hailee Steinfeld as Best Supporting Actress? I’m sorry, did anyone else see this film? She’s the STAR of the film. She’s not in a supporting role. Here’s something that happens at the Academy Awards all the time. Jeff Bridges is a star. Hailee Steinfeld is not (yet). Jeff Bridges plays the title character. Hailee Steinfeld does not. So therefore, Bridges must be the “star” of the film. Yes, he’s a star who’s IN the film. He would even be considered the co-star. But he’s Hailee’s co-star. HER character is the lead character. It is HER journey we’re on, not Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn, as terrific a performance as Bridges delivers in that role. But Steinfeld’s chances for a nomination are reduced in the Best Actress category, so the rules are bent for political and marketing purposes and she is nominated in a category less than the one she actually inhabited, carried, and deserved recognition for. It’s a shame. And it’s one of the many reasons I no longer take the Academy Awards very seriously. But they are a staple of the film world and I do tune in every year and often have a lot to say on the matter, so the Awards clearly mean something to me. Even if it’s just me having a hard time separating the Hollywood that once existed –or the Hollywood I imagined once existed– from the Hollywood that is.

I’m sure one day I’ll just stop watching the Academy Awards altogether and move on with the part of my life that is more interested in filmmaking and risk-taking and filmmakers exploring and pushing themselves as artists; of success being weighed by artistic integrity over box-office profits or even critical praise. Much of who I am is already moving in that direction. But I still have my holdovers from the past that I have not completely shed. The Academy Awards fall into that category.

For now…

Academy Award Noms 2010: The More Things Change…

Favorite Quotes: Joni Mitchell

“I heard someone from the music business saying they are no longer looking for talent, they want people with a certain look and a willingness to cooperate. I thought, that’s interesting, because I believe a total unwillingness to cooperate is what is necessary to be an artist — not for perverse reasons, but to protect your vision. The considerations of a corporation, especially now, have nothing to do with art or music. That’s why I spend my time now painting.”

From Robert Hillburn’s 2004 article on Joni Mitchell, AN ART BORN OF PAIN, AN ARTIST IN HAPPY EXILE.

Luckily for us, Mitchell did return to music. On her own terms.

The film industry is no different. In 2006, I was informed by a film exec at Fox that I would be termed “difficult” if I expressed my opinions. The exec then went on to tell me how and why they chose the current director for their new multi-million dollar comic-book action film:

“He doesn’t have any opinions of his own. Or if he does, he keeps them to himself. He does exactly what we tell him.”

That’s verbatim.

Favorite Quotes: Joni Mitchell