Thursday, April 26, 2012

LEMMY: 49% Motherfu**er, 51% Son of a Bitch

Saw the Lemmy doc, LEMMY: 49% Motherfu**er,  51% Son of a Bitch, last night.  I heard it was good.  Not entirely sure what I thought.  
Here’s what I learned.  Lemmy is rock and roll.  Everybody says so.  The thing is, watching the film, Lemmy seems like he’s kind of dead. If not dead, he certainly seems like a very, very tired man. Everybody interviewed in the film, from Metallica to Joan Jett to Alice Cooper to Peter Hook, talks about Lemmy with more oomph and energy than Lemmy brings to the proceedings.  It’s one of those weird docs where your main character is a suck hole of energy and the film lags a bit for it.

As for a doc, there are a lot of potentially great story arcs and the film just doesn’t go there.  Is Lemmy a genius who never quite got his commercial due?  If Lemmy is such a superstar why does he live in a Sunset Strip apartment that should be featured on an episode of Hoarders?  Is it cool to sacrifice your family and personal relationships in search of the rock and roll dream?

Lemmy has stuck to his rock and roll guns and, by all accounts, is successful and worshipped. And while everyone seems to say how awesome that is, it just doesn’t seem that awesome.  Lemmy grunts and claims triumph, but he just seems so damn tired and emotionless, it’s hard to feel like he's really won.  Everyone seems to bask in his presence, enthused by the presence and concept of Lemmy.   But the pictures paint a slightly different story, leaving the viewer in a little bit of a nether world about what to think.  Lemmy has no regrets, and I believe it, but the movie just doesn’t make me feel it.

And the movie doesn’t even dig that deep into the music.  The section on Hawkwind is pretty awesome, but then the film barely talks about the transition to Motörhead.  How did Lemmy get from space rock to buzz saw metal?  That’s not even broached.  Motörhead has been around for over 30 years. The arc of the career, the ups and downs, the rock and roll hills and valleys are never much seen or explored in the film. Very little archival material comes to the fore.  The movie is vaguely reminiscent of the Patti Smith doc from a few years back.  Lemmy 49% MF is more of a glimpse into the world of the artist today, but not much about how the legend came to be.   

It’s not bad, but it’s not as hard hitting as the Anvil movie, the Metallica movie or the Brian Jonestown movie, all films, which really dive deep into the trials and tribulations of the protagonists.  Lemmy is truly one of a kind.  He is a rock and roll hero.  No doubt that he is 49% motherfu**er and 51% son of a bitch.  It’s just that a film about a total rock and roll mothefu**er should be an amped up, celebratory wild ride, and this movie is just not that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Experimentation & Inspiration: The World of Wonder

It's funny how creative projects come about. Sometimes you know exactly what you want to do. You have a set plan. You have a killer idea, which begets a script, which begets storyboards and so on and so forth, down the line. Other times, ideas materialize in an unexpected way—various ideas are floating around your brain, waiting to come into alignment, waiting for a spark that allows you to see the connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

I just finished up a video for Alison Faith Levy’s beautiful new kid’s record World of Wonder. I’m pretty excited about it and it’s definitely an example of a film that materialized unexpectedly.

Thoughts of science, music and experimental film were buzzing around my brain, and in one moment they all fused together and the project was born.

I’ve been doing some corporate video work, as of late, and the company I’ve been working for developed a super electron microscope. Pretty awesome. As a result, I found myself with access to a library of images taken with the super electron microscope. Ants, spiders, pollen, metals, all blown up to 5,000 times their size. Beautiful stuff.

I’ve also spent the last several months prepping for an experimental film class. I’ve been wading knee-deep into the ephemeral and abstract world of those types of celluloid wonders. Because I had Brakhage and Baillie on the mind, as soon as I saw the super electron microscope footage, I immediately thought those images could be woven together in an interesting way. I looked at those images not as science, but as art.

When things got slow at work, I just grabbed those images and started playing around with them in After Effects. No set plan. No set design. Not even thinking I was going to make any film. I just wanted to see what could happen. What the possibilities could be. It was experimentation in it’s truest form.

When I sat down to play around with those images, I wasn’t setting out to make a music video at all. Now, to be fair, I should mention that Alison is my wife and I had been thinking about a video for Alison’s new record. But this song wasn’t on my radar, nor was this style of collage. But clearly, the notion of a music video was floating around my noggin.

As I began to dive into the After Effects project, I decided I wanted some music so I could have a rhythm to work with. I went to the iTunes library on my work computer, which has almost nothing on it. It did have World of Wonder on it.

I saw the World of Wonder track listed and, in a flash, realized that the song spoke about exploring the natural world with fresh eyes. Conceptually that resonated with what an electron microscope does—it looks straight into the heart of the natural world. And boom, just like that, in that instant, I knew what I was doing. I was making a music video for that particular song.

I hadn’t set out to do that, I just set out to experiment and mess around with some images, no end game in mind. And sometimes that’s how things work. You never know where inspiration is going to come from or what will pull your various ideas and thoughts into sharp focus.

As a teacher, I was thinking about experimental film. As someone interested in science, I was excited to get to check out an electron microscope. As a filmmaker, I was actually planning on making a music video for Alison in the very near future.

All those ideas were out there, floating around like dust motes, and in a specific moment in time, they all came together in my field of vision, and voila, a film got made.

Strangely, only one image, the frame that surrounds the video, remains from the electron microscope, but that's where the inspiration started.

1980s, I Apologize To You, Pt. II

NOTE: Lots of problems with my blog lately, particularly in Safari. I recommend reading it in Firefox or Internet Explorer. I'm re-posting this post, since it only appears intermittently in Safari. Sorry for the inconvenience. But I did add two more films!

More and more I see a certain reverence of and fascination with the 80s. Nostalgia for the 80s has been cropping up in movies and tv with increasing frequency. Certainly, some of my college students are seeking inspiration in that particular rear view mirror.

I think I’ve written about this before, but I can’t help feeling that my experience in the 80s has nothing to do with this current house of mirrors reinterpretation of the 80s. The entirety of my high school and college experience, as well as my move to San Francisco all happened in the 80s. Three significant life moments all went down, yet I don’t see a stitch of my world view represented by the current wave of 80s nostalgia. I suppose nostalgia is about reducing an era down to its main signifiers and amplifying their importance at the expense of the margins and bit players from said era. If you head down the path of subculture, your experience gets weeded out even more as the decades pass.

In any event, I didn’t like Thriller, MTV was not that important to me, I’ve never seen Top Gun, and I never cared for Hall and Oates. And while there are certainly some John Hughes movies I like, I can honestly say I don’t hold any of those dear to my heart.

So why bring all this up now? For some reason, I got to thinking about movies from the 80s that impacted me. And whenever I think about the 80s and movies, my immediate reaction is to put the decade down. My kneejerk reaction is to think it a somewhat barren decade from a cinematic perspective. I can easily pick out films from every era that I love, that moved me, and that I hold in high regard. Yet when it comes to movies of the 80s, I usually draw a blank.

As a little exercise to myself I decided to quickly come up with a list of movies that had an immediate impact on me when I saw them in the theaters in the 80s. Not films that I discovered later on vhs or dvd. I wanted to focus solely on films I saw in a movie theater while the decade was unfolding. And I kept it fairly above ground as well. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch, but here they are.

I’m sure I could write a lot about how many of these films have not resonated in the public consciousness much beyond their release date. I could talk about how this selection of films sheds a lot of light on why I’m not on board with the current 80s nostalgia train. But for now, I’ll just list them.

Altered States (1980)
The Last Metro (1980)
Breaker Morant (1980)
Stardust Memories (1980)

Stripes (1981)
Body Heat (1981)
Das Boot (1981)
Gallipoli (1981)
URGH: A Music War (1981)
Dance Craze (1981)
Montenegro (1981)

Blade Runner (1982)
Eating Raoul (1982)
Fanny & Alexander (1982)
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Time Stands Still (1982)

Zelig (1983)
Baby, It’s You (1983)
Star 80 (1983)

Paris, Texas (1984)
Brother From Another Planet (1984)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Streetwise (1984)

After Hours (1985)
Fool For Love (1985)
Hail Mary (1985)
Kiss of The Spider Woman (1985)

Aliens (1986)
River’s Edge (1986)
Down By Law (1986)

Matewan (1987)
Hope and Glory (1987)
Evil Dead II (1987)

Hairspray (1988)

Do The Right Thing (1989)
The Cook, The Thief, The Wife, and His Lover (1989)

As I look at the list, it’s pretty solid. Maybe they don’t all hold up and maybe it’s still not the greatest film decade ever, but I apologize to you 1980s, you're not all leg warmers and spandex.