Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

Catching up

I try to watch at least 2-3 movies a week. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I’m too tired, too busy, too distracted. It doesn’t help that as of right now, I don’t really own a DVD player and TV set, only a laptop, which really isn’t the ideal choice for that. I cannot watch DVD’s using my laptop because of the copy-protect encryptions that the studios put into them. Sure, you can rip it, or watch it in fits and starts, but it’s really no fun this way, it makes the viewing experience tedious. Ironically, downloaded movies play with no interference at all. So the copy-protect method does not really prevent ripping out the movies, it just won’t let people who want to rent of purchase legit DVD’s watch them on their laptops, thus forcing them to explore (cough) other (cough) methods of watching movies. When will the corporations realize that fighting a technological war with millions of talented computer geeks is a lost cause? Just release the movies. People will buy them. People will rent them. So you’ll make 80 million instead of 90 million. As it is, the vast majority of people who are downloading movies illegally wouldn’t have watched those movies in any other way. It’s really a win-win situation. Laptops have become a viable viewing platform. Give us DVD’s with no redundant encryption methods that could be cracked by a ten year old. it’s just useless.
Anyway, I’m going on a tangent here. Whatever there is to be said about laptops as TV’s, it’s not the ideal viewing platform. The screens are small. You have to tilt them to get a good picture.

I’ve been going a lot to the cinema in Toronto. At first, it was about one movie a week. Now it’s more like one movie every two weeks. But still, I go to a lot more than I used to. I don’t really mind going to movies by myself here. It’s more fun when you’re with someone, naturally, but it’s not as depressing as it was back in Israel, which I didn’t do a lot just for that reason. I think it’s because a lot more people here go the movies alone, so you don’t feel like you’re the only one. I think Israel is a much more sociable country than Canada and the US. When you go to a movie house in Israel, you hardly see people alone. You see a lot of couples, groups of friends… Israelis love to be together, to be in groups, there’s even a term for is in local slang. It’s called “Hevre”. The closest translation I can think of is “Bunch of people”, but basically it’s untranslatable. I don’t think there’s another word like it in any other language.
So yes, it’s a very miserable experience going to the movies alone in Israel. In a country which is like one big family (including all the usual confrontations), doing inherently social activities all by your lonely self just feels wrong and depressing.

Anyway, I’ve watched a lot of movies over the years. It started very early, and after those early films, which were basically holiday revivals of classic movies, my “official” cinema viewing began with another revival showing of Star Wars in Tel Aviv, sometime in the beginning of the 1980’s. I can’t really say what I exactly felt back then, because I don’t remember. Also, I’ve seen this movie so many times since then, that I can’t recall my initial impressions. I do know that it made me thrilled and excited about the possibilities of Cinema. It was a movie that combined everything: Drama, comedy, special effects, great score, to an unbelievable effect.
In the years following that I watched a lot of 80’s dreck (yep, at some point, Police Academy was my favorite movie of all time), but we were kids, we weren’t really that demanding, we watched everything, as long as it entertained us. I’ll be the first to admit that my cinematic tastes weren’t particularly sophisticated, but that was a time when the main reason to go to the cinema was to have fun, and not ponder about life or the human condition. and to this day I think that having fun in the movies is nothing to be looked down upon.

Apart from the idiotic but enjoyable 80’s comedies, Spielberg was my main diet. Not only films directed by Spielberg, but the entire “Spielberg universe”. The Goonies is one of my favorite films ever, it reminds me of childhood innocence and great, straight-up adventure stories. The Zemeckis films, like Back to the Future trilogy and Romancing the Stone (with the shot where Michael Douglas’s head pops out of the water in the pool between Kathleen Turner’s white, long legs, which is one of the sexiest scenes I ever had the privilege to watch).
And of course, The Spielberg ones, when the guy was having an amazing streak with the Indiana Jones movies and E.T.

There are those movies that you need to watch if you consider yourself a serious film buff. It’s like being an art major and not seeing a famous Picasso or Van Gogh. Those films need to be seen because they have an importance in the wide context of the art of filmmaking, either in relation to a director, an actor, a technical innovation, or anything else that serves as some kind of benchmark in the chronology of film and filmmaking.

Some of these films I saw in real time. As my cinematic tastes expanded, I went back and caught up on some that I either missed when they first came out or wasn’t even born when they did. Even when I didn’t feel like watching an “important” film (because that word makes you look forward to a tedious experience, like those books they made you read in school and write a report on), but I tried to do it anyway. Sometime I didn’t know what all the fuss was about – I’ll admit that some of these movies have been copied and imitated many times and thus lost their initial innovative uniqueness. But for the most part they remained good movies. Some were indeed stupendous, and I couldn’t believe I’ve waited so long to see them.

And some… well, some had eluded me.

It’s hard to put the finger at the cause. It just happened. I never caught them on TV, there were always other movies I wanted to rent and I always said “yeah, I should see that sometime”. The bottom line is that there are some heavy hitters out there, classic, trend setting pictures that I haven’t seen to this day. I’m quite ashamed of that, really.
Some time ago I made a conscious decision to eliminate that shameful blight on my cinematic pedigree by picking them up one by one from Amazon – yes, actually buy them, as if to clean my conscious, but it didn’t really materialize. Also, I refuse to download them from (cough) certain (cough) sites. It just seems that if I’m about to watch them for the first time, this is not the way to do it, which is silly when you think about it – I mean, wouldn’t it be better to watch them than not watch them at all? Go figure. It’s not really rational, this whole thing.

So taking the 2007 AFI list of the best 100 movies ever made as a model, here they are, those classics that I have yet to see and don’t really have any excuses:

On The Waterfront (1954)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

The Deer Hunter (1976)

Nashville (1975)

Cabaret (1972)

The African Queen (1951)

All the President’s Men (1976)

And some foreign titles from the top 250 films of all times from IMDB (a list that quickly loses it’s credibility thanks to what seem like hordes of impulsive teenagers):

The Seven Samurai (1954)

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Yojimbo (1961)

Nosferatu (1922)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

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You can leave your hat on

The fetish that many North-Americans have towards their baseball hats is a well-known fact, but recently I’ve begun paying attention to a peculiar thing. It seems that with some people, the caps have been sewn to their heads.

I work in an office that requires you put headphones while you work. Now, these guys (and not only guys) just don’t take their hats off. They just sit there, with the headphones over their hats. Not heads. Hats. This led me to one unavoidable conclusion:

They wish to become Jewish.

Religious Jews on all levels, from the ultra-orthodox to the Yeshiva boys, wear a head cover at all time, except when sleeping and showering. I guess those dudes handle their baseball caps the same way. In Judaism, the head cover is a sign of awe towards god, a kind of admittance to our humility in the presence of the divine. At this point, profusely used baseball caps may signify nothing more than nostalgia towards the Red Sox, but I have a feeling that that will change and that soon we will see talits, or praying shawls, sticking from underneath the T-shirts. I mean, insistent head cover in not-at-all-sunny conditions. What else could it be but a sweeping movement towards joining the chosen people?

Well, sure. Baseball caps might be just a form of a “cool” hairpiece, maybe to cover up baldness, or to impress the ladies, or not have the headphones scrape your skull, but I stick by my Judaism theory. It makes much more sense.

And let’s not forget those annoying people that arrive at the cinema, and watch the movie, with their hats on. Why… aren’t… you… taking… your… hats… off, for crying out very loud?
WHY ARE YOU SITTING IN THE MOVIE HOUSE WITH A HAT? TO BLOCK THE SCREEN BETTER?

In the 18th and 19th century, hats were part of the fashion lingo. Men and women wore hats all the time. Especially men. BUT, and that’s a big but, whenever a man went inside a building, met a woman, talked to his elderly father, went into a meeting with his financial partners, he ALWAYS took off his hat.
Nowadays, forget it. You won’t see them without hats. But you will see them with their hats turned. Like, in reverse. Like, the other way around.

Why oh why do people wear their hats the other way around? It’s the same thing as that habit of wearing shirts turned inside-out. It’s considered cool, or at least was considered cool back in the 1980’s. What’s next? Shall we all wear our shoes on out hands? Why not walk the streets with our underwear on our heads? I mean, that would make us look cool! different! We stuck it to the man. We transported items of clothing from their original function. We have staked our claim in this world. We will NOT be told how to wear our clothes, because this is a democracy. Have people wore their sable hats backwards in Russia during Brezhnev’s Rule? I don’t think so!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go have a shower with my coat.

Here comes the rain again

The Hype production is hitting some snags again. The weather is the main problem now. Despite my best efforts to finish shooting all the exterior scenes by the end of September, scheduling problems have pushed the dates into October, and it’s been raining here in one form or another for almost everyday now. Mostly it’s light rain, but still, it makes you miss all those nice, warm, sunny or partly-sunny days which seem to have only been two weeks ago. Wait! They were two weeks ago!
Also, the temperature is much colder. From around 20-25 degrees Celsius in September, we’re down to 10-15 degrees.
Dates for the shoot have originally been pushed by one week because of the rain, and the forecast promises some more rain at the new dates scheduled. If I push it further, into November, most likely it will get worse, not better.

There is an option of transferring at least one of the scenes, which is a scene where our heroine gets a wedding proposal, into an interior location. But again, because that would mean finding a suitable venue for such a scene, i.e, a nice restaurant, for example, it makes it harder, not easier. It’s very hard to get a permission to shoot in a place of business when you have no money to offer them. Especially in places of business where people eat. One idea was to shoot this scene on a high roof (instead of High Park), but it’s still an exterior scene, and everyone will be much colder standing 50 feet or more above the ground.

And anyway, I feel I need to open the film a bit. I have too many scenes in enclosed places where characters sit next to each other and talk. It’s boring visually. Ever since the script- writing stage, This scene was devised as a romantic walk OUTSIDE. It was devised like that for a reason, and that reason hasn’t changed.

Rain will cause a lot of problems, beginning with the threat to equipment and ending with the fact that people will feel wet and icky. There are certain things we can do to cope with that. The camera can be covered and protected (but not the microphone, sadly), A PA can cover the actors with an umbrella right outside of frame, and the rain (and even umbrella as a prop) can even factor into the scene to make it even more romantic. Nevertheless, we’ll have severe lighting problems. The ground will be muddy. People will be cold. A thermos with a coffee might help, but we won’t be able to really eat and drink in a comfortable manner like we did when we shot the bar scene. That concerns me.

Yes, it’s a forecast, and forecasts can change. But last week’s forecast was right on the money, and anyway, you take a chance, because you won’t know for sure till the actual day arrives. So you can pray. How about that for practical solutions?!

I’m thinking of going ahead and shoot anyway mainly because I don’t see any other choice. Again, the weather in November might be worse. Another option is to just wait on those scenes till summer. Oh, my. I really wouldn’t like to do that.
The momentum of the shoot has been trashed by a month long delay. You pay a price when you employ people who work for free. You save money (and are able to use it for hard production stuff like rentals), but you lose a certain degree of commitment. This movie couldn’t have been made with a paid-up crew, though. That would’ve added hundreds of dollars to the budget.
There’s a fear. a great fear, people will lose interest in the project because of the delays. I’m starting to feel it now. The e-mail traffic has decreased. That means that people don’t care as much as they did when we first began, and I can’t blame them. I’ve sent out so many false dates I lost track of it myself. Only yesterday I got word from a location owner that the weekend I planned to shoot on and already told everyone about, is a no-go. My level of exasperation is at Defcon 4, reaching Defcon 5.

Not to mention the fucking outdoor-shooting permits I am not able to attain because the film office in Toronto seems to be under the impression that everyone who makes a film in this town has 5 trucks and 17 trailers, and therefore needs a 2 million dollar insurance policy. It’s time to change the rules. The digital age has ushered a new stream of indie filmmakers who shoot their stuff with small crews and almost no budget, whether it be a short of a feature.

Waiting for the weather to clear is tempting, but might cause a reverse effect. Procrastinations are psychologically harmful. I wish I could do a poll among my crew to see what everyone thinks. Is filmmaking a democracy? I suppose not. Is no-budget filmmaking making a democracy? Will people stand in the rain for free? Will I find another video store on time? Will ruthless park rangers throw us in the slammer, or worse, tell us to go away? Will Steven tell his parents he’s gay?

Join us next time!

1973

Every person reacts differently when his or hers birthday arrives. The common social convention is of course to celebrate them in one way or another, and that is what most people do. But there are also those who couldn’t care less and don’t like all the fuss that surrounds it
A birthday is widely considered as a celebration of life. Another step up the ladder. It comes to signify achievement, and it offers a good opportunity for some soul-searching, especially if you’re the melancholy type.
Then there are those “glass half empty” downer types who like to think of birthdays as “getting one year older and closer to The End”. It’s a two faced coin. Aging is an inherent facet of birthdays. It’s how you look at it that makes all the difference. Are you aging happily? Are you feeling content with your life in some degree or another?Of course, birthdays are most fun when you’re a kid, when each year brings huge changes in personality and looks. Maybe the Celebration serves as the counterbalance for the horrors of puberty.

All in all, most people love a good party, and birthdays are primarily an excuse for one. They don’t have to be celebrated in huge clubs with loads of people to be meaningful, though. A nice afternoon with your loved one or just a handful of good friends could to the trick just as well or even better. I guess it all depends on what kind of person you are. Do you need to have lots of people around so you won’t feel lonely?
Then there’s the gifts issue. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, is that expensive gifts aren’t necessarily the best ones. The best ones are those that come from the heart. The ones that takes time to prepare. It could be a drawing your kid did for you. A music disc a friend burned for you. In birthdays, as in life, emotional truth beats commercial superficiality almost every time.

But naturally, this is very hard to get right. Many times, you don’t know the person well enough to be able to get him something really special. In fact, Gift Politics is another matter, which does not only apply for birthdays, of course.
In workplaces, for example, it’s customary to collect a small amount of money from everyone to buy a decent gift for the Birthday Guy or Girl, instead of every person buying something small. So then, when someone approaches you and asks: “Would you like to give 5 dollars to buy a birthday present for John/Jill?” you begin to ponder whether you know them well enough to pay for a present. Usually, the PC thing to do is to shell out the money, but once in a while each and every one of us can’t help but feel a little bit like Gorge Costanza in those situations.

Some people are very hard to buy gifts for. As a general rule, the better you know the person, the easier it should get, but that is not always the case. People with specific hobbies are the easiest. If the guy collects stamps, just buy him stamps and make him happy. Although, if you need to buy him a present every year, it becomes problematic. You can’t just keep buying stamps all the time.
So then comes the inquiry stage: You begin asking people who may know the person more intimately than you what do they think he or she really needs or wants right now (in material terms, of course).
Some people love to receive gifts (the vast majority, I would guess), and some hate it. I’ll admit. I’m with the majority. It’s fun to get presents. It’s also fun to give presents, but for different reasons. Giving presents, especially the right ones, endows you with that rare treat: Making someone happy. The fun in getting presents has to do with the reason people love celebrating their birthdays in the first place. It putsyou in the center of attention and makesyou feel special. Most people love to feel special (in a good way), even if it’s just for one day. Or one season of a reality show.
Some people, though, don’t like to be in the center of attention and view it as a narcissist waste of time. They feel that all the energy spent on birthday celebrations could be spent on more productive endeavors.

There is an undeniable tendency in the Western world to find causes for celebrations. Christmas and Halloween have long become commercial festivals. New Year’s day is One Huge Shindig. We have birthdays, wedding anniversaries, promotions at work, baby showers, bachelor parties, graduations, etc, etc. It stems from a certain kind of comfortable – some may say – spiritually vapid existence, but I think you need to be a real curmudgeon to deny people a chance to celebrate and be happy. It’s fun, it’s releasing, it’s healthy, it’s socially beneficial.
There are always those who keep on “celebrating”, staying in perpetual high, either by alcohol or by drugs, unwilling to let the party lights dim and the music turned off. Unable to stand the quiet. That is the other end of the spectrum, the Western Perpetual Party Man, people that want to feel like every day is their birthday because they find it hard to face life. (for that matter, I never understood the pressing need for alcohol at parties. Isn’t celebrating something a great high in itself? Do we really need to get drunk?)
But too much celebrating, like every other thing in life, is not recommended. It makes the celebration itself the norm instead of the wonderful exception it should be. Humans were not made to be perpetually happy, nor perpetually sad. That’s just the way it is, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

So… did you get me something nice?!