Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tarkovsky's Stalker Is Haunting, Monumental

Last night I viewed Stalker, a film by legendary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. I have read much about the film, and was very excited to finally see it (thanks Greenville Public Library). Spielberg and Lynch (to name just two directors) both have publicly discussed how the film has influenced their work, which I can definitely see in the more recent works of Spielberg and the entire oeuvre of Lynch. I didn't start it until 12:30 am, when the house was dark and quiet, which is most likely the best environment to watch this film. For a film that is over 2 and half hours, is mostly silent, is completely in Russian, and has an average shot length of over 1 minute (some uninterrupted shots go over 4 minutes) you would think that late at night would be a bad time to watch it. But the film holds a unique, hypnotic quality that held me in rapt attention for the entire running time.

So, what's it about? From

Twenty years ago, a meteorite fell to Earth, and decimated a provincial Russian town. Villagers traveled through this curious area, now known as The Zone, and disappeared. Stories purport that there is an inner chamber within The Zone called The Room that grants one's deepest wish. Fearing the consequences from such an inscrutable resource, the army immediately secured the area with barbed wire and armed patrol. But the desperate and the suffering continue to make the treacherous journey, led by a disciplined, experienced stalker who can stealthily navigate through the constantly changing traps and pitfalls of The Zone. A successful Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn), perhaps searching for inspiration or adventure, and a Scientist (Nikolai Grinko) searching for Truth, enlist the Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) to guide them through The Zone. The Stalker has been trained by a renowned stalker named Porcupine, who, after an excursion with his brother into The Zone, returned alone and infinitely wealthy, only to commit suicide a week later. Soon, it is evident that reaching The Zone is not their greatest impediment, but the uncertainty over their deepest wish. As the men approach the threshold to The Room, their fear and trepidation for the materialization of their answered prayers leads to profound revelation and self-discovery.

I know, it sounds intense. And it is intense, profoundly so. It must be noted that this is one of the most visually beautiful films that I have ever seen, a cinematic masterpiece in the category of Malick's Days of Heaven, Jarmusch's Dead Man, and Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc. The first portion of the film is shot in a sumptuous sepia tone, and looks incredibly similar to the work of (one of my favorite photographers) Anton Corbijn. The second portion of the film is in full colour, and the intense over-saturation causes the film to look like many contemporary films do, as has become the big-budget Hollywood norm of late. Way ahead of it's time on both counts.

The film was shot at several nuclear/chemical disaster sites in the former Soviet Union, much of which were toxic. It is believed that many members of the crew and Tarkovsky himself all died early deaths due to exposure to radioactive/harmful chemicals. So many died shortly after the release of this film that there is believed to be a "curse" associated with anyone who was involved in the process of creating it. There is a scene where the characters pass a river, a river covered in foam, as snow falls around them. This is not a special effect—they were filming downstream/inside of a chemical factory. This scene is horrifying to witness once you realize that many of them died following the wrap of Stalker, as it is evident that they all were being infected before your eyes.

Yet my favorite aspect of the film is that it is extremely open to interpretation. It left me with many theories - is/was the Zone a medical facility? Is the Stalker a former patient of that facility, and still can only find comfort and support there, while the "meteorite" that crashed there is a Soviet cover up for a Chernobyl-like disaster? That is my strongest interpretation (which I won't go into further, should you actually seek out this film, I don't want to ruin it for you). Yet I can't help but feel that perhaps the Zone isn't there at all—that there is no actual danger. This is only the beginning—you could compose several books just based on the symbolism of the film. Brilliant beyond words.

The ending is one of the most intriguing ends to any film I have ever seen - the hair was literally standing on the back of my neck. The feeling is similar to the end of J.D. Salinger's short story, Teddy. Amazing - I had to get out of my seat and walk around the house it left me so charged with thought.

This viewing led to an odd night of sleep for me, with bizarre dreams. Apparently I was talking and searching the bed in my sleep, which is strange because I never do either of those things. But it was that kind of film, a work of art that functions on subconscious levels and haunts you. Tarkovsky succeeded in creating a work that is open to interpretation, uncomfortable, and moving simultaneously. Truly, this is one of the great masterworks of cinema, and a must-see for any cinephile.

BTW - You can watch the entire film online for free here. This film is worth the time investment.

The Austin Psych Fest Looks Fun

The Austin Psych Fest is a music festival specifically aimed towards all things psychedelia. One of my favorite psych bands (and Austin natives) The Black Angels are headlining the event this year. Beyond the fact that it looks like an awesome event, their website is one of the coolest motion/sound designed sites I've ever seen.

The site is a must see - check it out, and turn your speakers on.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy 500th Post To Speak A&D

This is my 500th Post here at Speak A&D. I know I have been limping these last several months, and my posts have been less frequent, but the archive is really building up here.

5oo Posts. What does it mean? Well, it's been great having this blog. I have enjoyed it from the start. Thank you to the readers, I appreciate your support.

Inappropriate Children's Books Are Hilarious

OK, these are hilarious. That's all there is to say. Just check them out - you will laugh, believe me. The creator of these, Josh Cooley, has lots more great stuff over at his blog, Cooley! Take a look at it here. And you can check out several other Inapropriate Children's Books over here.

PS - You HAVE TO see this one.

Ten Worst Films of the Past Decade UPDATED

OK, after much deliberation, here are the Top Ten Worst Films of the Past Decade. Let me know what I missed.

Here they are:

10. The Time Machine (Laugh out loud terrible.)
09. Ghost Rider (Worst comic book movie of all time?)
08. The Matrix Reloaded (Awful - are the Wachowski's a "one and done"?)
07. The Matrix Revolutions (Nearly unwatchable.)
06. Pearl Harbor (Putrid romance against our darkest moment.)
05. Superman Returns (Seriously, one of the worst films I've ever seen.)
04. Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (The only good thing? The pain was finally over.)
03. Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (Forgettable, sad, preposterous.)
02. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (Featuring the worst character in film history, Jar-Jar Binks - annoying, unfunny, stupid, rascist. That about covers it.)

...and the clear cut, unmistakeably Number 1 Worst Film of the Past Decade is...

01. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.
Not only does it not stand with the trilogy, but it's a flat out bad film. Easily the worst film of Speilberg's career. A vile, vile pile of garbage.

George Lucas
has spent the past decade doing everything in his power to destroy his own legacy. I am pretty sure he wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says "what can I do to destroy something beloved to millions of people today?" Make Darth Vader into a sissy, whiny little baby? Check. Film entire movies against a blue screen with God-awful CGI? Check? Write some of the worst dialogue of all time? "Anakin, you're tearing me apart...NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!". Check. "OK, since that's all been done, how can I destroy my greatest creation, Indiana Jones?" That answer is too long and complicated, so I will be writing my Top Twenty Reasons Why Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls Sucks soon. Here is a good little primer.

But Speilberg. Speilberg should know better. This decade he made War of the Worlds and Munich, both of which are superb...then....this. The more I think about it, I blame him. Ugh...I'm off to cry about the total destruction of my childhood...

My Top 25 Films of the Past Decade REVISED

After some reminders and date checking, here is my updated list - 7.10.10 TS

OK, so here it is, my epic list of the Top 25 Films of the Past Decade. After the first two, it is really, really hard to rank them. Let me know if I am forgetting something. Here goes:

25. 24 Hour Party People (Winterbottom)
24. Moon (Jones)
23. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Cuaron)
22. Vicky Christina Barcelona (Allen)
21. High Fidelity (Frears)
20. The Dark Knight (Nolan)
19. No Country For Old Men (Coen)
18. Before Sunset (Linklater)
17. The Life Aquatic (W. Anderson)
16. Almost Famous (Crowe)
15. O Brother Where Art Thou? (Coen)
14. Zodiac (Fincher)
13. I Heart Huckabees (Russell)
12. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry)
11. Lost In Translation (S. Coppola)
10. Donnie Darko (Kelly)
09. The White Ribbon (Haneke)
08. Gangs of New York (Scorsese)
07. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominik)
06. Mulholland Drive (Lynch)
05. The Dreamers (Bertolucci)
04. Children of Men (Cuaron)
03. The Royal Tenenbaums (W. Anderson)
02. The Departed (Scorsese)

...and the clear cut, unmistakeably Number 1 Best Film of the Past Decade is...

01. There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson)
Featuring the finest screen performance of the decade from Daniel Day-Lewis, who is hands down the best actor in the world today. He is the closest thing to Brando in his prime working right now - so strong he truly makes everyone else look amateurish. His Daniel Plainview and Bill the Butcher (from Gangs of New York) are twin towers of acting, simply two of the greatest performances of all time.

And director Paul Thomas Anderson? His small body of work is so eclectic and varied, yet so strong - Hard 8, Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia. But Blood is a true masterpiece, a film which will be regarded with more significance as time moves on. As I stated at the time, There Will Be Blood is Citizen Kane as directed by Stanley Kubrick. A monumental acheivement. Some other time I will go into much greater detail about this film.

Honourable Mention - Waking Life (Linklater), 25th Hour (Lee), Memento (Nolan), The Aviator (Scorsese), The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (Schnabel), Gladiator (R. Scott), Adaptation (Kaufman), The Prestige (Nolan), You Can Count On Me (Lonergan), American Psycho (Harron), Amelie (Jeunet), Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino), The Count of Monte Cristo (Reynolds), The Fountain (Aronofsky).

Godard's Alphaville Is Brilliant

I have been binging on the work of the French New Wave of late. I am fully obsessed with the work of Jean-Luc Godard. Godard was on the forefront of the movement (along with his best friend at the time, Francois Truffaut) that helped usher in a cultural revolution in France in the 1960's. This was the group of filmmakers that directly influenced the great American directors of the 1970's - Scorsese, Coppola, Speilberg, and Malick to name just a few.

Last night I finally saw Alphaville: or the Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution. Alphaville is Godard's dystopian future society. Technically this is labeled under Sci-Fi, but none of the visual cues borrow from the traditional understanding of the science fiction genre. Exteriors were filmed in Paris, with no attempt to cover the antiquated architecture of the city. Interiors do feel modernist, but not futuristic. This alone adds a feeling of realism to the story.

Set sometime in the future, Alphaville is a city operated by a computerized nerve center, called the Alpha 60. A man posing as a reporter comes from the Outlands to the city to accomplish several missions, though we do not know what they are at first. He meets the daughter of the professor responsible for the Alpha 60 project (the spectacularly beautiful Anna Karina), and soon becomes romantically involved with
her. It becomes apparent that emotions are seen as irrational behaviours, and individuals who display those behaviours will be removed from society - i.e. a man who wept at the death of his wife is executed for "irrational responses".

This is a brilliant, thought provoking film that clearly influenced the work of
Terry Gilliam (especially Twelve Monkeys) and Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky as but two examples. This film is a must see for any cinefile, and is a film that will stick with you long after it ends. His visual style is a breakthrough for the period, utilizing hand-held camera shots and harsh cuts. Engaging.

Godard likes to pack his films with exterior references, and this film is no different - touching on everything from the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges to Heckel & Jeckel to existential philosophy to silent film. It's one of the things I like best about Godard's 60's films - the referents point the viewer in multiple directions, allowing the film to be unwrapped like a riddle.

Give it a shot, it's well worth it.

"Every edit is a lie" - Jean-Luc Godard

Watch the Brilliant Evan Hecox Work

Evan Hecox from Incase on Vimeo.

Everything about this film - from the music, cinematography, lighting, music, set-ups, and of course the featured artist - is fantastic. If you aren't familiar with the work of Evan Hecox, you should be, because his work is totally amazing. This film gives you the opportunity to watch him work from beginning to end. Like me, he is part trad fine artist, part designer, part illustrator, part printmaker. Killer.

PS - Thanks Kitsune Noir (fantastic in it's own right) for the heads up.

Project 33 Is Worthy of Your Time

Project 33 is a site where people with classic 33 rpm record sleeves scan them and post them. It's a great little growing archive of this beautiful corner of LP design.

The album covers featured on Project Thirty-Three were collected, scanned and archived by Jive Time Records, a Seattle based store specializing in used vinyl. If you like what you see here, you might also enjoy Groove Is In The Art, my other album cover gallery featuring vaguely psychedelic graphics on decidedly non-psychedelic records.

Awesome. Check them out here.

Beck's Record Club Is Wonderful

Record Club: INXS "New Sensation" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

If you weren't already familiar (and I may be late on this one) Beck has been putting together a thing called the "Record Club" where he has several other musicians - Jeff Tweedy and others from Wilco, Feist, the MGMT guys, Devendra Banhart, etc. come and cover an entire album in it's entirety in the span of one day.

Record Club is an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. The album chosen to be reinterpreted is used as a framework. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track is put up here once a week. As you will hear, some of the songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering. There is no intention to ‘add to’ the original work or attempt to recreate the power of the original recording. Only to play music and document what happens. And those who aren’t familiar with the albums in question will hopefully look for the songs in their definitive versions.

Really cool stuff - so far they've covered INXS' Kick, Leonard Cohen's Songs of Leonard Cohen, Skip Spence's Oar, and The Velvet Underground's Velvet Underground and Nico. Some amazing interpretations.

Of particular note is the spectacular reinterpretation of INXS' New Sensation.

Check em out here:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Everything Tracy Morgan Says Is Funny

As you may already know, I am a huge fan of 30 Rock. It's the only show that can make me laugh out loud every week. I have loved Tracy Morgan since he was on SNL (I seem to be the only one, but Brian Fellows is hilarious, I don't care who you are) and was pleased to seem his unique talents utilized on 30 Rock.

Apparently, I am not alone in loving his character, Tracy Jordan. Over at Unlikely Words, they have collected ever single line of dialogue Jordan says in the series, in one handy list . It will have you cracking up in no time.


"These. These are my people. Bucket drummers, if you’re striking, so am I. Two-four-six-eight-ten-twelve-fourteen-sixteen-eighteen".

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sofia Coppola's Somewhere Looks Interesting

Sofia Coppola is an interesting person. Her grandfather is Carmine Coppola, the Oscar-winning musician who penned the Godfather score, her mother directed the brilliant documentary Hearts of Darkness, her dad is the incomparable Francis Ford Coppola (one of Detroit's favorite sons), her cousin is Nicolas Cage (who used to be good when he was still an actor, pre-Leaving Las Vegas), her aunt is Talia Shire, otherwise known as Adrian in the Rocky franchise and Connie in the Godfathers, and her other cousin is Jason Schwartzmen of Rushmore/I Heart Huckabees/Darjeeling Limited fame.

First, she appeared as the baby being baptized in the Godfather. Then she showed up as Diane Lane's little sister in the immortal Rumble Fish. Seven years later, her only starring role ever in the flawed (but still a masterpiece) Godfather III. Yes, for the record she is terrible in that film, and almost single-handedly destroyed it with her wooden delivery (a truly missed opportunity, as Winona Rider dropped out of the cast at the last minute due to "exhaustion").

Then she fell off the map, married Spike Jones (Being John Malkovich and the Beastie Boys 'Sabotage' videos director), got a divorce and had a kid with the lead singer of Phoenix. Unexpectedly, she came back as the director of the underrated Virgin Suicides. But she really established herself with the wonderful Lost In Translation, one of my favorite films of the last decade. She followed that up with the interesting but insignificant Marie Antoinette, which could have been great.

So that brings us up to now. Her new film, Somewhere, looks very interesting, and firmly rooted in Lost In Translation territory. Here she attempts to resurrect Stephen Dorff, who I've always been a fan of (yes, I'm the one). It looks amazing.

Take a look here - in full 1080 HD btw.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Aesthetic Apparatus: The Best of the Best

Aesthetic Apparatus are one of the best young design firms in the world. Known primarily for their staggeringly amazing silkscreen gig posters, AA is responsible for some of the most strikingly original work this side of Art Chantry. Even Hoefler & Frere-Jones recognize their power.

Recently I was able to attend their retrospective at MCAD, and to tour their studio as well. Both events were wonderful experiences. The retrospective is a must see, phenomenal presentation of much of what makes AA unique. Amongst the poster and package design, AA also let viewers in on their process by providing source imagery alongside finished work. This was a real treat.

I followed up this experience by checking out their new workspace. The guys there were awesome, willing to show us around and talk about their techniques, as well as selling me a print that is not available for sale. These guys couldn't be nicer - it's great to know that people as talented as they are are also great people.

Head over to their site and buy a print - they are even more amazing in real life.

PS - That's me and The Historic Ryan Nygard outside their studio. Below is a video of the fellas themselves.


Posters Discovered In London Tubeway Are Beautiful

Wow, this is so cool. I love the idea that such amazing history is laying out there, buried, out of sight, just waiting to be discovered.

From Grain Edit:

Recent renovations at the Notting Hill gate tube station have uncovered these mid-century posters. The posters were located in a non-public area and date from c1956 - 1959 when the station’s lifts were removed and replaced by escalators. Mike Ashworth, who is the ‘Design and Heritage Manager’ for London Underground, has more images at his Flickr account.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Pantone Hotel - No, Really

Yes, you are not dreaming. There really is a Pantone Hotel, and you can stay there. Wow, that's all I can say, wow. Connect here.

From the Pantone Hotel site:

The PANTONE HOTELTM invites you to experience the city of Brussels through a lens of color and a spectrum of comforts. From the moment you arrive, our “hotel of colors” will awaken your senses to an array of delights and playful surprises.

Impeccably designed by Michel Penneman and Oliver Hannaert, The PANTONE HOTELTM, Brussels showcases the color of emotion with a distinctive hue on each colorous guest floor. From vivid to subdued, for business or leisure, our unique boutique hotel perfectly suits your savvy palette and colorful imagination.

From a design perspective, The PANTONE HOTELTM, Brussels is built on an exceptional use of contrast; a white canvas provides clean space for saturated colors to pop. Guest rooms feature unique photography by esteemed Belgian photographer Victor Levy.

Welcome to the center of the color universe.

I Knew It Was You is Overdue, Tragic

I have always been a big fan of John Cazale. The man only starred in five movies - The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. These five movies received 40 Oscars combined. What an amazing career, cut short by his tragic death from cancer at 42 years old. Finally, it seems he is beginning to get his due in the superb new documentary (with the perfect title) I Knew It Was You. Find out more here.

From Sundance:

When director Richard Shepard was around 13 years old, his dad took him to see The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II at New York’s Bleecker Street Cinema. “I remember not only loving both movies, but being really taken by Fredo,” he says. “There was something about the sadness and loneliness and oddness of the guy that as a child I somehow related to.” Years later, Shepard was having an off day, so he decided to lay aside his work and learn everything he could about John Cazale, the man behind Fredo. But there was little information either in books or on the Internet about the actor, who appeared in a total of five movies — The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter — before dying of cancer at age 42. “It’s one of the most perfect records ever in terms of an actor who’s been in five great movies that were nominated for Best Picture,” Shepard says. “If he were a baseball player, he’d be in the Hall of Fame. He was five for five.” Determined to tell the story, Shepard looked up Cazale’s brother in the phone book and began assembling interview footage for a five-minute trailer. Shepard showed the result to fellow Cazale fan Brett Ratner, who signed on as a producer and sold the project to HBO within a week and a half. During the interview and editing process, Shepard quickly realized that his documentary would be less about the biographical details of Cazale’s life — “He liked to smoke and drink and work as an actor, and that was it,” joked Shepard — and would instead focus on the profound creative influence he had on those who worked with him. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, and Meryl Streep, who was engaged to Cazale until his death, all remarked on his total devotion to his craft and his unparalleled ability to raise the game of those around him. “I write fiction movies and make fiction movies, and it was interesting having a responsibility to a once-living person who was clearly loved by a lot of people,” says Shepard, who has previously brought two narrative features to the Festival as the producer of 2001’s Scotland, Pa. and the writer-director of 2005’s The Matador. “We had a big picture of John in our editing room staring down at us and making sure we didn’t fuck it up. And that was a more sobering, different experience than I have ever had.” Despite that pressure, making a 40-minute labor-of-love documentary did provide a nice change of pace from the world of narrative feature film. “Somehow, 30 years later, it’s all come around, and I’m able to actually do this thing where I can celebrate this person who has clearly meant something to me my whole life since I was 13,” Shepard says. “It’s like a childhood fantasy, in a weird way.”