Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dancing Downside

Damn. Maybe I've discovered the downside to my salsa fun (along with aching feet), I've come down with the worst cold. And it must be from the kickass farewell social for Azucena on Saturday night, or the three hours of classes on Monday. That's a lot of hand to hand contact and sweat. Saturday night the sweat was pouring off us, something we girls all laughed about and shared as we moved off the floor.

Here's just a taste of Azucena and Carlos fooling around. Really crappy video, sorry. You can't tell, but it's the end of the night, near 2am. The crowds had left except for a hardcore few, mostly we were crowded around watching them dance. We'll really miss her but wish her the best!

What got me started learning salsa

The other day someone asked me how, why, I'd even started with the salsa lessons. And it's funny because on the one hand, I'm not exactly sure. I don't really know what got me to drive up and walk in the door for that first free lesson last August 1st. But there were at least two antecedents.

Back in November 2005, our friend Donny Ward, who was so instrumental in the whole Fiji adventure from the gitgo, and has been a good and important friend for years, mentioned a young friend was passing through Austin and would we make time to meet her. Of course we did. We met at Rubys for bbq. She brought along a friend, and didn't linger, because they were going out dancing. Salsa. "Hmm, salsa, " I said, "I've always loved the music and have been thinking it'd be great to learn how to dance to it." Rachel said she could point me where to go. And did in a follow up email. She sent several ideas, singling out Azucena and Carlos at Go Dance. I read the article she'd written on Azucena, and left it at that.

Summer 2006, a producer friend gave John a rough cut of A Place to Dance by local filmmaker Alan Berg. He watched, but it wasn't really his thing. Some weeks later I decided to check it out. And I loved it! I was totally moved by it. It's a doc about one of the last surviving Big Band Dance Clubs in the South, in New Orleans, where people in their 70s, 80s, even 90s, doll up every Sunday, and get on the dance floor. They were fantastic. Totally digging the dance. Staying active, staying alive because of this simple pleasure. I found it so inspiring, I'm pretty sure that's why got me to check out the dance studio. It's like a decision I made 10 years ago about yoga. I'd imagined myself as a 60 year old practicing regularly. If I was going to be practicing at 60, didn't I need to get started? Same thing with dance. And why wait? Isn't dancing one of the great pleasures anytime?

And maybe there was one more inspiration. I think as I was talking one day about getting close to 50 and wondering about the future, wondering what mattered most for me ahead, a friend said, "What were you most interested in when you were 12?" There's no question that dancing was everything to me then.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

John and Spike Lee on KUT Radio Austin

Can't wait to hear the broadcast Sunday morning (8/26 @ 11am central time on KUT FM) of The Best of Public Radio presents Master Class With John Pierson & Special Guest Spike Lee. The broadcast is an edited down version of their terrific conversation earlier this year when Spike came to UT Austin for John's Master Class and to accept UT's William Randolph Hearst Award for journalistic excellence for his masterful When The Levees Broke. It was a fantastic evening, should be a terrific radio show.

You can listen to it here if you miss the broadcast or are out of the area.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Texas Heat

Outside our office window - our little friendly squirrel - saying, "damned it's hot!"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On the Joe Swanberg bandwagon

In 2005, the sxsw film fest was a lot of fun. We'd just moved to Austin that August. Cavite, a fantastic inventive film, was having it's world premiere with the support of John's UT Advanced Producing class. There were a ton of great docs: Murderball, The Aristocrats, Be Here to Love Me. Troop 1500, Enron, The Devil & Daniel Johnston, You're Gonna Miss Me, Fearless Freaks, Highway Courtesans, Cowboy Del Amor, Our Brand is Crisis - to name just a few. And of course we were excited about the Paramount screening for the one we were involved with, about our year away showing free movies in Fiji. It was a great time of feeling our way as new locals, and enjoying all our friends from around the world.

One of our friends who came to the festival that year was Lizzy Donius. Filmmaking partner (and frequent Split Screen contributor) with photographer Amy Elliott, she'd recently taken over as executive director of IFP Chicago. Always ebulliant, she introduced me to one of her hometown favorites, director Joe Swanberg and his team, there with his first feature Kissing on the Mouth. I missed the screening, but enjoyed meeting him repeatedly. There was a lot of banter about the nudity in his film - and my very clear discomfort with that. Not on moral grounds, I was just born self conscious. I don't like being naked, and I don't necessarily like seeing others that way. But we chatted and laughed and he promised to send me a dvd. I remember there was talk about several of the other low budget indie features, Four Eyed Monsters, Mutual Appreciation, The Puffy Chair, High School Record. The only two I caught were The Puffy Chair and High School Record. Puffy Chair, funny and accomplished, was clearly a favorite of all the males I ran into, young and old, film savvy or not. I personally went crazy for Ben Wolfinsohn's High School Record - really digging the offbeat humour.

Shortly after the festival Joe sent me Kissing on the Mouth. I watched, dreading my response. But I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't really care if he was jacking off in the shower. I got the naturalism of the nudity and the sex, I undersood that the film was more about how people were relating than forcing shock or eroticism. Clearly he needed to work on his narrative, but there was something there. Some fundamental connection. We had a great time following up on the phone. I appreciated where he was coming from. I supported his making these micro budget films as his own form of film school. I wished him well.

Sxsw 2006 and it was great to see Joe and his gang again. This time he was premiering LOL which actually ended up my favorite film of the festival. Yes it was funky and pieced together, but it employed some of the sharpest social observations that I'd seen in ages. I loved it! Joe was just relieved that many of us applauded his filmmaking progress from Kissing on the Mouth.

In fall 2006, Joe showed up in Austin with a fine cut of Hannah Takes the Stairs to share with a few friends . I'd been pretty oblivious to the hype during it's making. I wasn't familar with everyone in the cast, though I had, by this point, caught up with Andrew Bujalski's two features. I loved the film. It's quiet. And small in scope. It's still slight on narrative arc, but nonetheless is a beautiful window into a kind of human gamesmanship or romantic merry-go-round. There was humour and pain, and though subtle, the performances were by and large tremendous. I was thrilled for Joe - thrilled at his filmmaking progress.

The feature debuted during sxsw 2007 in a sold out, one show only, premiere screening at Austin's glorious restored movie palace, the Paramount. It was exciting and triumphant, sxsw celebrating the return and growth of one of its discoveries. As one of the peons on the screening committee, I was proud to write the catalog copy*. And now the film is opening tonight in NYC at the IFC Center, with VOD availability via IFC Films First Take. There's been a ton of press and blogger chatter. Much of it centering around the concept of Mumblecore, a term I don't use nor subscribe to. But attention's attention, and I am hoping that some of it will translate into real bodies, in real seats, (and VOD orders), for this sweet heartbreaking film. It's small, it's precious. It's the work of one guy who surrounded himself with a bunch of other talented filmmakers and artists to make a little film.

Highly recommended.

*this is what I wrote for the sxsw 2007 catalog entry:
Joe Swanberg burst out of the pack at sxsw 2005 and 2006, with Kissing on the Mouth and LOL. Made on the cheap, improvisational, pared down to the bone, both films delighted with their naturalism, humor, sharp social observations and frank nudity.

His third feature in three years, Hannah Takes the Stairs, is significantly more accomplished. It tracks Hannah, an attractive young playwright as she moves through the men in her orbit. First one guy, then another, then another. There’s communion, waning attention, flirtation, new excitement and heartbreak. The film is merciless as it tracks the minutia of her short romantic attention span. We laugh. We squirm. We watch the human drama unfold. Again, the sly, nuanced social observations are dead on.

Not that Joe is taking all the credit. He’s working off a wilder conceptual premise. The film’s title card reads: a film by Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski, Ry-Russo-Young, Mark Duplass, Todd Rohal, and Kevin Bewersdorf. Familiar sounding? Bujalski is the heralded writer/director/star of Funny Haha and Mutual Appreciation. Mark Duplass shares the same tri-credit on The Puffy Chair. Both actors have gained an eager following for their personal, comedic, observational, improvisational work. Kent Osborne is a comedy writer who’s received Emmys for his work on Sponge bob Square pants. Russo-Young’s directed the sxsw 2007 premiere, Orphans. Kevin Bewersdorf’s compositions are key in LOL. It’s an inventive premise, casting well known creatives in a kind of filmmaking commune. And it works! The neophyte acting crew delivers. Duplass, Buljalski, and Osborne are particularly charismatic, with lead Greta Gerwig, magnetic at the center. The exciting evolution of Swanberg’s filmmaking talent continues.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Making Assumptions

Enjoying lots of good articles lately. The New Yorker's recent "An Error in the Code" by Richard Preston in the Annals of Medicine on 8/13/07, was mindblowing. Really disturbing and fascinating. Highly recommended. (abstract only available online.)

But today, really enjoying Sleights of Mind, by George Johnson, in the NYT. We spend a lot of time in this household debating. Often the arguments fall along traditional gender lines: facts vs. impressions. But assumptions play into it on all levels. Making assumptions and how we interpret our assumptions is where we often get into the most trouble inter-personally. Who made what jump based on what? This article uses expert magicians to discuss just that:

.....Secretive as they are about specifics, the magicians were as eager as the scientists when it came to discussing the cognitive illusions that masquerade as magic: disguising one action as another, implying data that isn’t there, taking advantage of how the brain fills in gaps — making assumptions, as The Amazing Randi put it, and mistaking them for facts.

Sounding more like a professor than a comedian and magician, Teller described how a good conjuror exploits the human compulsion to find patterns, and to impose them when they aren’t really there.

“In real life if you see something done again and again, you study it and you gradually pick up a pattern,” he said as he walked onstage holding a brass bucket in his left hand. “If you do that with a magician, it’s sometimes a big mistake.”

Pulling one coin after another from the air, he dropped them, thunk, thunk, thunk, into the bucket. Just as the audience was beginning to catch on — somehow he was concealing the coins between his fingers — he flashed his empty palm and, thunk, dropped another coin, and then grabbed another from a gentlemen’s white hair. For the climax of the act, Teller deftly removed a spectator’s glasses, tipped them over the bucket and, thunk, thunk, two more coins fell.

As he ran through the trick a second time, annotating each step, we saw how we had been led to mismatch cause and effect, to form one false hypothesis after another. Sometimes the coins were coming from his right hand, and sometimes from his left, hidden beneath the fingers holding the bucket.

He left us with his definition of magic: “The theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.”....

....“Allow people to make assumptions and they will come away absolutely convinced that assumption was correct and that it represents fact,” Mr. Randi said. “It’s not necessarily so.”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

So this is how my mind works, for good or bad

Classic example of how my brain operates. I ask John to remind me what our friend Tim is producing over in London. He says, "a new film with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson." "Oh, who's directing?" I ask. "The guy who made Jump Tomorrow." "Tom Gilroy?" I ask, remembering meeting him and chatting at a Gotham Awards years ago. "NO!", John says, "But that's exactly what you said last time."

So why the connection? Because Tom had directed a film called Spring Forward, and in my mind, somehow that's indistinguishable from Jump Tomorrow. Sheesh, the beauties of an associative mind.

Terrific piece in 8/20 New Yorker by Tim Page

Again, can't link to it but still have to recommend the Personal History, "Parallel Play: A lifetime of restless isolation explained" in this week's New Yorker (Aug 20, 2007), written by Tim Page.

When John handed it to me , I got about a paragraph and a half in when I burst out laughing.

My second-grade teacher never liked me much, and one assignment I turned in annoyed her so extravagantly that the red pencil with which she scrawled "See Me!" broke through the lined paper. Our class had been asked to write about a recent field trip, and, as was so often the case in those days, I had noticed the wrong things:
  • Well, we went to Boston, Massachusetts through the town of Warrenville, Connecticut on Route 44A. It was very pretty and there was a church that reminded me of pictures of Russia from our book that is published by Time-Life. We arrived in Boston at 9:17. At 11 we went on a big tour of Boston on Gray Line 43, made by the Superior Bus Company like School Bus Six, which goes down Hunting Lodge Road where Maria lives and then on to Separatist Road and then to South Eagleville before it comes to our school. We saw lots of good things like the Boston Massacre site. The tour ended at 1:05. Before I knew it we were going home....
The attention and precision to time alone! A familiar preoccupation of our own son, and at times, his father. The article is a beautiful recounting of a youth outside the norms, yet ultimately serving well the professional journalist who, as an adult, realized he had Asperger's Syndrome. It's a wonderful piece of writing, and a great look into the gifts and trials of this condition. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Another really interesting blog by Errol Morris

The second in Errol Morris' NYT blog column entitled, "Zoom: A Filmmaker Uncovers The Hidden Truths of Photos." The issues he discusses are exactly the ones I found so interesting, and even surprising, when I experienced them firsthand, as a subject in a documentary. The idea of what's left out being as important (or even moreso) than what's shown. The context. How our beliefs determine what we see. Of course Errol's way more eloquent, thoughtful and interesting. Definitely recommended.

The excitement continues

So we made it home after a detour to Birmingham Alabama to visit a dear old friend. What a cool city! Great old buildings intact. Michele explained that because there was never any market for development, the city retained the old architecture. Loved how it looked, particularly the grand old movie palace, The Alabama. We met the local hero who basically led the great restoration effort to save its Wurlitzer organ.

Then to Texarkana to catch the last Alamo Rolling Roadshow screening this summer. Smokey and the Bandit at the Texarkana Fairgrounds. We got to town early, stopped in at the Cattlemen's for an excellent steak dinner, and came back to find scores of cars, rows upon rows, full of families, full of Texans and Arkansan locals. My very favorite part, too dark to photograph, was the full row of Trans Ams up in the front.

We hightailed it back on Thursday in time for my board meeting and salsa shines. Finally, exhausted, we settled in to watch some TV. The screen went black, the power in the house out. This used to happen all the time in Garrison, but that was a rural hamlet. It's surprising that it still happens regularly here. I know the drill, pulling out a nearby flashlight and lighting some candles. We hear an Austin energy truck speeding to a tree outside our backyard. We wait a few minutes, it's still out. Eventually we wander out to check out the commotion outside. Leaning on our backgate, we see the Asplundh orange truck, with a guy up high in the aerial bucket. It's dark. A couple of guys on the street shine their flashlights upward. The guy in the bucket is maneuvering through the damp branches as sparks fly. Deftly, he ropes specific branches, saws them off, and they drop away. It's highly entertaining to watch the maneuvers. Turns out the top of the tree had split on the utility pole, causing the top of the tree to catch on fire. We missed that part! But great to watch the emergency fixit. Always worrisome to ponder what would have happened if it had occured a day earlier, when the trees were drier. What if no one had noticed, and a raging fire had ensued? My vacation nightmare. Relieved not a reality. Instead, a little excitement for the evening return, some good back and forth with the emergency crew, an end to our lovely little adventure.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Alamo Rolling Roadshow Deliverance Pt3

Southeastern Expeditions on the Chattooga River, GA. Rafting on the river where Deliverance was filmed.

Oh yeah, and the movie. I don't have any good images of Deliverance to post but it was gorgeous in the Georgia night sky. I don't think I'd seen it since it first came out. Disturbing. Fantastic. I know I was way too young to appreciate Burt Reynolds in the 70s. That is no longer the case. Jon Voight too. God, what a great actor. Beautiful night. Beautiful screening. Several of the river guides pulled out a couch out of nowhere and made themselves comfortable in the field. Others used river rafts as a perch. The rest of us all around.

The next morning John and I rejoined the Alamo crew who'd camped out in the field, the rafting guides nursing a bonfire nearby til the wee hours. We waffled in our decision to raft on the Chattooga, until finally Karrie said, "C'mon, it'll be fun." And it was! Having signed up late, John and I had to raft solo, tagging along with other groups. But it was fine, great in fact. I landed with a friendly family from Florida: Dad, mom, and 13-year-old son. Halfway down the river I discovered that the dad, who seemed like one of the nicest, mellowest guys I'd ever come across, was a Police Lieutenant. He'd spent many years on a Swat team, then as an undercover narc, now in charge of a canine unit. He and the guide talked gun gauges and how much they loved movies. I'd felt comfortable before I knew this, even better after. We paddled hard, we laughed, and I was the only one who never fell out of the raft (um..well until the Dad literally fell on me and pushed me into a rock - but it wasn't a full spill like the others enjoyed. I got major props for holding my ground.) John also landed well with his crew. So we spent hours together, separately, on the gorgeous Chattooga River. The weather was lovely and surprisingly manageable. A group of strangers on the river, relaxing and working hard, the guides all hilarious and competent and showing us a great time.

UPDATE: Tim posted all the photos from the rafting on his Flickr. You can recognize John by his glasses, I'm wearing the dark visor and sunglasses, Karrie has the straw hat on some of the time.

Alamo Rolling Roadshow Deliverance Pt 1

We get to the site of the later Alamo Rolling Road Show Deliverance screening to say hi. The screen's inflated in all it's glory. All of a sudden the portable generator dies and the screen starts to deflate. The resting roadshow crew jumps into gear and replugs. The screen comes back to life.

Alamo Rolling Roadshow Deliverance Pt2

The fun continues as we head off to find the Deliverance Alamo Rolling Road Show.

There's a reason why we get such a kick out of Tim and Karrie League and their Alamo Drafthouses and Rolling Roadshow. This sign has a lot to do with it.

Here's the screen fully re-inflated - a glorious sight even before the movies are projected.

Tim League and Tim Doyle selling their fabulous tees and posters.

Tim and Karrie getting ready for the VIP afterparty.

Newlyweds Harry and Patricia Knowles having a great time driving across the U.S. following this summer's Rolling Roadshow.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Road trip, starting in Georgia

On a little road trip to Georgia to catch up with the Rolling Road Show's Deliverance screening later tonight. I always love road trips with John. The simplicity, the essence. Just John and me checking out the sights and smells. Even as America grows more and more homogeonized, there are still distinct regional differences. And I love to experience them. We flew out from Austin. Rented a car in Atlanta. About an hour out we stopped in a Waffle house by the side of the road. And in a second we could have been in Deliverance! The inbred appalachian hallmarks right in front of us. Wasn't expecting that. Wasn't expecting our sweet little waitress either, with a crewcut and soft voice who I was sure was a young boy til I read her name tag, "Stephanie." Definitely Teena Brandon territory.

Today we took a hike up Black Mountain. The summit marker just another reminder of why I wanted to name my daughter, Georgia. I just love the word visually. There's something very deep and connected for me in how that word looks.

Really interesting article on Arthur Miller in Sept Vanity Fair

I can't link to it (interesting which articles they make available online and which they don't. You can read about Rupert Murdoch, Judith Nathan Giuliani, and the boys who date Lindsay, Paris, Nicole, & Mischa but not Arthur Miller.) -- but this month's Vanity Fair (Sept 2007) has an extremely interesting article called Arthur Miller's Missing Act. Written by Suzanna Andrews, it's about Miller's son born with Down syndrome that he almost entirely wrote out of his public life, including his late wife's (and the mother of the child) obituary. Fascinating secret. Fascinating reminder of how differently this syndrome was handled just a couple of generations ago. Fascinating as always, the schism between one's work and their life. Heartbreaking and fascinating.

some excerpts:

...In 1966 he was dealing with the fallout from his most controversial play, After the Fall, a thinly disguised account of his troubled marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Produced in 1964, two years after Monroe's suicide, and greeted with some disgust by critics and the public, it was widely viewed as an attempt by Miller to cash in on her fame. Th public outcry had left Miller angry and wounded, and professing not to understand how anyone could have thought that the play was based on Monroe. "There is no better key to Arthur's personality," says a woman who was a close friend of Miller's wife, than "his refusal to acknowledge that people who knew After the Fall, and who loved Marilyn, would be offended. Like all of us, he had powerful powers of denial."...

...Some believe Miller may have feared losing Inge's attention to a needy child, others suggest that he simply didn't want anything to interfere with his work. All agree that the issue of Daniel was extremely painful for him, and that he did not deal well with emotions. His plays were often acutely psychological - tackling the complicated relationships between fathers and sons, the corrosive effects of guilt and fear, and the price of self-deception - but in his personal life he could be shockingly devoid of emotional understanding....

...It would be easy to judge Arthur Miller harshly, and some do. For them, he was a hypocrite, a weak and narcissistic man who used the press and the power of his celebrity to perpetuate a cruel lie. But Miller's behavior also raises more complicated questions about the relationship between his life and his art. A writer, used to being in control of narratives, Miller excised a central character who didn't fit the plot of his life as he wanted it to be. Whether he was motivated by shame, selfishness, or fear- or, more likely, all three - Miller's failure to tackle the truth created a hole in the heart of the story. What that cost him as a writer is hard to say now, but he never wrote anything approaching greatness after Daniel's birth....

Monday, August 06, 2007

A weekend of firsts

I had a great weekend. Asked to participate in a project that will most likely not see the light of day before another year has passed, I've refrained from blogging or even talking about it much. I know others have, it's just been my own inclination not to. I think it's also the proper show of respect for the originators. But it's been loads of fun. Definitely beyond my comfort zone. Discovery, things falling into place, a creative community. I've met a range of new people I like immensely, including two 30ish-year-old twins. They are extraordinary both in terms of their zest for life and positive energy. I was marveling from start to finish, just grateful to be in their force field.

Last night we ended up after the works hours in a rented karaoke room. Old hat for most of them, a first for me. What a crazy reality! I mean of course I'd heard of it. I'd seen the mexican restaurant back rooms, pictured portable machines for young girls' birthday parties and of course, random movie images. I've read about the late night sessions at various film festivals on Matt Dentler's blog, and walked out of the upstairs as it was just starting to get going at the Austin Chronicle annual Christmas party. But I'd never experienced it like this, up close and personal. A small room w/ comfy seating, multiple video monitors, a song book with titles in english and korean, and asian videos. The group downed multiple beers while singing their hearts out. Seriously! I mean, major major commitment to the performances and the singing. It was hilarious. It was eye-opening. Of course they all kept prodding me to try but I never got the impulse. Appreciated it, enjoyed it, stayed happily on the sidelines.

I think it's a generational thing. I think if I'd grown up with it, or even started in my 20s, it would feel completely different, it would feel possible, even natural. But even now, from this aged vantage point, what a great kind of clean and innocent fun. What a great way to pass some time with friends.

(Particular personal favorites included Bon Jovi's, "Bad Medicine", Courtney Love's, "Celebrity Skin", Rage Againt the Machine's, "Killing In the Name Of", and the last line of "Bohemian Rhapsody".) To last night's cohorts - thanks for letting me tag along. Nice job all!

World's Oldest Living Film Directors

What a great resource! Spurred by the recent deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, Movie City News created a post listing the various birthdays of our oldest living film directors. It's a real eye-opener in terms of perspective.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Great story in this week's New Yorker

Whose Wedding?

by Charles Graeber August 6, 2007

Taking out the trash one day about ten years ago, Jeanne Liotta, an East Village filmmaker, noticed a battered 16-mm. movie projector lying next to the curb. She rescued a reel of film from the machine and stuck it on her living-room shelf. Last August, Liotta decided to take the film to Anthology Film Archives for Home Movie Day, an annual event in which old 8-, 16-, and 35-mm. reels are carted out of attics and basements for airing on the public screen. As a rule, the movies are earnest documentations of significant life events (a bris, a deer hunt, the purchase of a giant lobster claw). “But this one—we started calling it the mystery wedding movie—was different,” Katie Trainor, Home Movie Day’s co-founder, said recently of Liotta’s entry. “We put this one on the screen, and, right away, everybody was, like, ‘Whoa!’”
(read the full article)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

More of Wy's wisdom

The other night at dinner, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a statesman headline, "Make sure you pencil in 'chores' on kids' schedules."
I looked over at my 17 year old son who has an amazing work ethic and said, "It's such a relief that you ended up with such great work habits even though we never, ever gave you any chores to do. I'm so glad I don't have to feel guilty for screwing that up."

"It's because you never gave me chores," he replied. "If you'd given me chores I'd be hostile."
Out of the mouths of babes.