RAINY DAY WITH ELLA


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Some people believe in reincarnation. That there is a soul and it moves from body to body. That there are old souls who have experienced perhaps dozens of lifetimes and new souls who have experienced only a handful.

I think the greatest case to be made in favour of this view comes when you meet someone so wise beyond their years that you feel this can’t possibly be their first go-around. I remember feeling this way when I met Ella. If you haven’t heard her sing, you should listen. 

In the summer, we were going to make a little movie to coincide with the release of her latest project. But for a variety of reasons (mostly involving complete burn-out on my end), we didn’t manage to get together more than once. The other day I came across the footage from the one afternoon we hung out at her house while the camera rolled, and decided to just cut something simple out of that. A brief portrait of one rainy day in May. Mostly we talked in the kitchen while Ella did the dishes and her roommate Layne recorded a song in the basement. With all the noise you can barely hear what she’s saying, but that’s why you should listen closely. I think we could all stand to do less talking and more listening.

Hope you enjoy.

 

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

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ON HAVING A DOG


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Having a dog is good for your mental health because he is always excited to see you and it becomes impossible to deny that your existence is meaningful.

Having is dog is bad for your mental health because if the dog is upset or behaving badly, you will feel responsible. The dog will become a manifestation of your complete and utter failure to do anything competently, let alone well.

Having a dog is good for your mental health because he will get you up early and make you go outside. Once you are outside, you will remember that the world is beautiful and that majestic phenomena like sunrises happen every day. You may pass an old Chinese lady on the street and even though you don’t speak her language, she will smile at you. She will smile because your dog is very friendly and loves people indiscriminately, and the way his tail wags so aggressively that the momentum starts to contort his entire torso will make anyone smile. This transcendence of cultural and language barriers will make you feel more connected to the human race and would not have happened if you had been on the same street at the same time but without the dog. The dog has therefore reminded you that you are not alone because he would not let you hide in your little room with your books and ideas and computers and pornography and whatever else. The dog even helpfully barks at you when you start to pay attention to your smartphone instead of the living things around you, like the dog.

Having a dog is bad for your mental health because after a while you will feel like you will never get any work done ever again, because all you do now is walk the dog, feed the dog, and pay attention to the dog. And you absolutely have to work because you are broke and you have already spent too much money making sure that the dog has everything he needs, like vaccines and things to chew on that are not your friends or your friends’ things. And you are afraid all the time because you know from listening to other people’s dog stories that it is only a matter of time before your dog chases a squirrel and slips on some ice and requires knee surgery, and you won’t be able to afford the knee surgery so you’ll either have to put the dog down or subject it to a lifetime of perpetual knee pain. You’ll probably even have to put the euthanasia on your credit card – you can’t even to afford to kill your dog humanely. This must really make you a monster. The vet will look at you with a hatred and condescension that will say “what business did you have adopting a dog in the first place if you couldn’t even pay me thousands of dollars to perform a routine knee surgery? You are the scum of the earth!”

Having a dog is good for your mental health because he will ease the gruesome banality of running errands. You used to think it was awfully inefficient and time-consuming and a bit of an indulgence to take over an hour to walk to the grocery store and back, but now it is a two-birds-one-stone situation because the dog needs a walk anyway! This will make you feel very good about your time-management skills. The potential to brighten the days of old ladies (Chinese or otherwise) and/or anyone else on the way to grocery store simply by occupying the same block while attached to a cute dog will make you feel twice as good. Perhaps you will meet a handsome carpenter who is also out walking their dog, and the two of you will talk about the way masculinity is changing and how difficult it is to truly stop believing in God when the world offers you so few comforting alternatives.

Having a dog is bad for your mental health because he may bark at you or even bite you because you have failed to provide any other puppies to play with on the trail today. This will make you frustrated and angry, and in the case of an especially bad bite on the angle or knee cap it may even initiate a fight-or-flight response that you will have to suppress, because you do not wish to be the sort of person who beats their dog.

Having a dog is good for your mental health because you will learn that if you are calm and compassionate towards the dog and you refuse to match his excitement with anger, the dog will eventually acquiesce and go back to happily jaunting through the snow without you. This will teach you a valuable lesson about dealing with all sorts of situations in life that involve people, not just dogs.

Having a dog is bad for your mental health because you and your wife have made your apartment look and feel just the way you like it, and you have filled it with all sorts of furniture and Criterion boxsets and your dog does not care about any of these things in the least. For example: the dog will not clean up after himself. He will just go about happily coating the entire house from floor to ceiling in strands of coarse black hair that your wife, in an imitation of Sisyphus, will dutifully try her best to lint-roll into oblivion on a Saturday morning, even though she’s exhausted from her shift at the bar the night before. When you leave the dog alone, free of the kennel you couldn’t afford last month, he will react by very calmly destroying everything he can fit his jaw around. You were the first one who wanted the dog, so you will feel responsible for bringing this apocalyptic terror, this reign of chaos down upon your home.

Having a dog is good for your mental health because you will be forced to confront the reality that you love the dog more than the cover of the booklet that came with your Three Colours trilogy boxset. More, even, than that perfect pair of ’80s style high-top sneakers you found at Value Village last year. Once you make this realization, a certain Buddhist-like detachment from the trappings of materialism will wash over you. You will realize that things that are warm like hair and slobber and blood and feces are signs of life, while things that are cold like tables and chairs and couches and floors are not.

You will want to err on the side of slobber and blood. You will want to be alive.

 

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

EMPATHY MACHINE


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When Roger Ebert was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, he said “movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts.”

I believe this too. I think it is the most important thing about movies. Much more than their aesthetic or commercial value, although I enjoy these aspects as well and do not wish to diminish them.

My friend Aerlan and I have been talking a lot about filmmaking as ethnography lately. Technically, an ethnography is a “scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.” [New Oxford American Dictionary] A film, you could argue, is an artistic description of the same. There are, of course, what are defined as “ethnographic films:” usually observational documentaries detailing the practices of non-Western/developing cultures. This is not what we mean. What we are interested is this sentiment, expressed by Ebert in that same address: “When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.” It is bizarre, but in a way it is undeniable that fiction can present a less alienating path to understanding than documentary. I think this has to do with a greater opportunity on the part of the fiction filmmaker to design and curate the experience of the audience. With this in mind, one must be careful not to become didactic, not to present an ‘issues’ picture where a specific and carefully calculated agenda is shoved down an audience’s throat. This is bad art, because good art inevitably, crucially, unbearably asks more questions than it answers. As Aerlan writes in a paper called Time, Empathy and Movement: Ethnographic Film Methodology: “the process of the ethnographer [filmmaker] is to design an experience that will allow the possibility for interpretation. To find a subject worth examining, by considering it as something impossible to examine in any other medium but the one they work in.”

This last sentence is of particular interest to me because screenwriting textbooks and seminars are always instructing you to make sure that the screenplay you are writing is essentially and irrevocably ‘cinematic.’ By that I mean that the medium of cinema is essential to the storytelling, that it could not be told any other way. People like Robert McKee go out of their way to disparage those art house films with long takes of their introspective protagonists staring out the window or something. “Why does this have to be a movie?” they ask (ironically, so does Charlie Kaufman at the end of this speech he gave at BAFTA). “If the story is about what is going on inside a character’s head, why isn’t it a novel?” The answer is empathy. Empathy is what happens when we see close-up shot of Juliette Binoche in Trois Couleurs: Blue and because we are not told what to think about it, we start to ask ourselves: “what could she be thinking?” In this way we are invited to, as Aerlan writes, “participate in the experience of the film, triggering [our] emotions, thoughts and perspective.”

‘Why does this have to be a movie?’ Because of what happens when we look at another person’s face. Louis C.K. talks about why it’s easier for kids to be shitty to one another on the internet: because they don’t have to look at the other person’s face. Cassavetes called an entire film Faces because he knew what maybe not all screenwriters do: that an actor’s face in a single shot can sometimes tell a better story than you could ever write. This ability of the actor when permitted is, to me, the most cinematic trait of all. More than any set piece. More than any crane shot or lighting. And I love all that stuff, that romantic aspect of filmmaking and film watching. But when forced to confront that very pertinent and expensive question: ‘why does this story have to be told as a movie,’ when the story in question is more slice-of-life, more ethnography than space opera, I will continue to invoke Ebert’s empathy paradigm and stand behind it ardently. This is more than enough of a justification for any story or style, especially in the modern discursive landscape of divisive vitriol.

A final word from Ebert on the subject: “The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.”

Amen.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

FELLINI’S TRUTH


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I’ve never really cared for Fellini’s films. I’ve only seen the big ones: La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. I enjoy them, but they’re never the kind of movie that get me personally excited about movies or making movies as a concept, though they seem to really light a fire for other people. Which is fine! I’m not about to dispute the talent, vivacity, and splendour on display in a Fellini film. It’s simply a matter of personal taste. The world could use a lot more peaceful disagreement, don’t you think?

Anyway, all that said, I just discovered a gem of an interview with Fellini from a 1966 issue of Playboy that has me wondering whether he might actually be one of my favourite social theorists and I’ve just never known it. (Small aside: In the introduction to the interview, he’s described as “bedaubing and bedizening his cinematic canvas with giddy abandon,” which still doesn’t make me want to watch his movies but certainly had me excited to read more about them.) I’ll let Federico take it from here:

“In 8 1/2, society’s norms and rules imprisoned Guido in his boyhood with a sense of guilt and frustration. From childhood many of us are conditioned by a similar education. Then, growing up, we find ourselves in profound conflict — a conflict created by having been taught to idealize our lives, to pursue aesthetic and ethical ideals of absolute good or evil. This imposes impossible standards and unattainable aspirations that can only impede the spontaneous growth of a normal human being, and may conceivably destroy [them]. You must have experienced this yourself. There arrives a moment in life when you discover that what you’ve been told at home, in school or in church is simply not true. You discover that it binds your authentic self, your instinct, you true growth. And this opens up a schism, creates a conflict that must eventually be resolved — or succumbed to. In all forms of neurosis there is this clash between certain forms of idealization in a moral sense a contrary aesthetic form.

It all started with the Greeks when they enshrined a classical standard of physical beauty. A man who did not correspond to that type of beauty felt himself excluded, inferior, an outsider. Then came Christianity, which established an ethical beauty. This doubled man’s problems by creating the dual possibility that he was neither beautiful as a Greek god nor holy as a Catholic one. Inevitably, you were guilty of either nonbeauty or unsaintliness, and probably both. So you lived in disgrace: Man did not love you, nor did God; thus you remained outside of life.”

And this is what he had to say about marriage in the 1960s that would (sadly) still be considered radical now:

“Marriage as an institution needs re-examining. We live with too many nonfunctioning ideologies. Modern [people need] richer relationships…The tragedy of modern [people] is that [they] need a multiplicity of individual relationships, whereas, at least in the culture in which I live, [they are] still forced into a single-mated world. Without it, [their lives] could develop into something interesting, into a higher evolution.”

Trying to do just that, Rico. It’s not without its challenges, of course. We’ll keep you posted.

This interview appears in a collected anthology of interviews with film directors in Playboy over the years, and they’re all terrifically candid, enviable conversations. I mentioned it to my dad and he said it’s because Playboy had the $$$ to hire the best writers. Makes sense! Certainly their track record with fiction is well known. Also, back in the day it seems like an interview for a magazine feature was expected to last upwards of ten hours over a few days; Lizzie‘s lucky if she can get someone on the phone for 20 minutes.  There are no pictures at all in the collection, so afterwards you can unironically tell people that you do in fact read Playboy exclusively for the articles.

I am experiencing a resurgence of confidence lately and hope to be writing all the time. Look for more here should you so desire. ❤

Until next time and I hope you’re well.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

WHAT I PROMISED MY WIFE


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Lizzie,

In the years to come, I vow to proudly stand beside you through the whirl and tumult, the sturm und drang, the elation, the triumph, the agony, the sheer cosmic wonder that is every human life, but yours in particular (on this I think we can all agree *pause for general affirmation/enthusiastic nodding from the assembled masses*). I’m not so naive as to think that our proverbial paths crossing when they did was any kind of accident. I wear this responsibility regally, with all the requisite ostentation associated. At the same time: I vow to take quiet shelter beneath its cloak during those times where the weight of the world and our choices within it feel altogether too much to bear.

I guess this is how I understand the parameters we are defining and re-defining today: not as some institutional burden to be debated and dissected in churches and courtrooms, but as the universe very naturally sorting itself out, a cosmic equation balancing in the form of two humble humans deciding to share their lives with one another, a whole that is definitively greater than the sum of its parts. 

I will be patient. I will be present. I will listen. I will grow and change, as you will. I will not judge, nor condescend. I will respect your choices, and I expect I will agree with the vast majority of them *pause for knowing laughter/applause*. I will respect your right to like and love whomever you choose, in whatever way you choose. I will not expect nor demand that you choose me every single day, but in my small and simple ways, I will celebrate every day that you do.

There are so many questions I expect I will never know the answers to. Confronted with the intimidating reality of a life-long maelstrom of uncertainty, imagine my relief to at least know the answers to the following: who is my best friend? Who will be the mother of my children? Who is the person for whom, regardless of whatever unexpected turns life inevitably has in store, regardless of how our relationship shifts, changes, transitions, I will always harbour unparalleled respect and love? Lizzie: it’s you. Thank you.

___________________

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

SONNENSCHEIN


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April was awful for everyone.

Winter dripped and dragged all through the month. We trudged on through a kind of seasonal purgatory, our heads down, not looking at one another. We were afraid to look up and not see the signs of spring we were promised, owed.

Now there is hope. People are crowding patios. Pulling their bicycles out of the garage. You always forget how astounding it is that the sun barely sets in summer. It tricks you into believing there are more hours in the day.

I read that David Byrne has an office in Manhattan that he bikes to every day. I invented a version of that for myself by taking a desk at a co-work space downtown. I created a little altar with small portraits of heroes. The people working around me are young and driven. Already I feel safer at home at the end of the day, like the spectre of work isn’t perpetually glaring down at me. I can just be. It is a good home. I am lucky.

I saw Gianfranco Rosi’s film Fire At Sea the other day, after hearing my friend Kyle talk about it at every Q&A for the last six months. I think seeing that film is helping me fall in love with making movies again. Everything about filmmaking has seemed so hard lately. Hard to convince people to care enough to make it, harder still to convince them to see it. And but here’s a man who simply finds something that interests him, that he thinks is important, and goes and films it by himself. There is something so pure and wonderful about that. There is a point at which filmmaking (or video production, that bizarre world I am often adrift in as I scramble to make $$$) becomes so mired in logistics and email that it abstracts completely and seemingly loses any connection with the original intent of what you’d hoped to capture. I think I’ve spent too much time beyond this point lately.

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I set up my camera with the intent of making something simple. It is not the best camera in the world. Nor am I the best camera person. But I stood there behind the lens and talked to my dear friend Ella while she told me stories. She was doing the dishes and the sun was coming through the kitchen window so that it created a slash of light on the oven behind her, and it was better than anything I could have planned or made with a 100 person crew.

Until next time:

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

DRIVE


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Two filmmakers on that too-familiar stretch of prairie highway between Edmonton and Calgary. Driving north. It is early afternoon, not late enough for the setting sun to be caught in your peripheral vision like you’re used to, coming home from camping trips in the mountains as a kid. It is not an unattractive day. The snow is melting, but it is not yet warm enough to breathe life into the withered ground so it sulks brown and bare and fallow still.

The inside of a moving vehicle is an incubator for conversation. Two people who are approaching thirty have a lot to say about themselves. Maybe they are both just starting to catch a glimpse of who they are, or who they can be. They are tired. There is a way in which exhaustion facilitates honesty, as though you lose the requisite energy to hold up your walls and everything comes rushing out. These pockets of reflection and honesty happen too infrequently. But they cannot be forced. Remember to appreciate them when they occur, and embrace their casual gravity that quietly parallels tectonic shifts.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB