Dec 172013


In Canadian director David Cronenberg’s short film “Camera,” an elderly, retired actor speaks of his fear and malevolence towards an old film camera that a group of children bring into his home. The children assemble into a film crew, each with their own specific roles, and carefully prep the camera as the actor rages on about his career, death, disease, and memory, knowing that the children are inevitability preparing his next close up.


The actor fears the camera because he identifies the device with death. He sees the lens as like his eyes, capturing experiences he will relive at the end of his life. Yet unlike memory, the camera fixes a moment in time and in a sense causes the death of the moment and experience. This makes the camera, recording the death of moments, a device that solidifies his mortality. He anticipates he will look back on his life replaying experiences and memories caught on camera and will enter a voyeuristic state, disconnecting from his own perception and becoming a mere observer of himself, of his own life.

This identification with the old camera speaks to a central struggle for identity that Cronenberg circles in his work. He spoke of this, among other topics, in a recent interview celebrating his 70th birthday (which can be seen here and is well worth the 90 minute watch):

In the interview he was asked about identity in his 2002 film Spider:

We are all the creators of our own identities. Even if we feel that is something given, we are actively involved in creating our own selves. You wake up in the morning and it takes you awhile to become who you are. It’s not just that you have to have that coffee. You have to remember who you are, where you are, where you’ve been, were your dreams real, who you were in your dreams. You have to reconstruct yourself every day. And if for some reason you could not do that, because of something that happened in your brain or nervous system, I can understand that, I can feel that, I feel very close to that.

In “Camera,” the actor speaks of recorded moments and their longevity. He alludes to how, when he is dead or eventually loses his memory, these fragments of time will represent how he is remembered. The camera will become the constructor of his identity, his memory. Rather than being an accumulation of his thoughts, feelings, and what he has or has not done, he will be only what has been recorded or documented.


When the actor appears on the children’s camera in the final shot, we see him in a new, rejuvenated way. Though aesthetically beautiful, with its warmer colors, light music, and smooth inward zoom, this is quite a false image compared to what the more documentary camera eye has captured before the children’s film camera. If moments like this become all that is left of the actor, the camera will not only construct his identity, it will do so through a sepia lens, blurring the pores and flaws that might be the truth of who he is. If similar false images are all he leaves behind for others, and create their perceptions of him, then what becomes of his true self?

As the children’s camera slowly penetrates the actor’s privacy, his initial disdain for it disappears: what he initially sees as fearfully other, slowly becomes a part of him. Cronenberg’s work is fascinated with how what is other becomes part of the self. In Videodrome, we witness the protagonist, Max, become the type of violence he strives to air on his independent cable station. As he descends, his stomach morphs into a VCR-like wound, allowing others to control his actions by injecting him with videotapes. In The Fly, a scientist rushes his experiment and, using himself as a test subject, accidentally crosses his DNA with a fly, mutating his body in increasingly horrific ways. Crash involves characters who have fused their desire for violent car crashes with sexual pleasure, rending them unable to achieve one without the other. All these Cronenberg protagonists eventually come to embrace the other working against them. The violence and technology become a part of who they are, leading them into a spiral of self-destruction.

In “Camera,” the synthesis is more ambiguous, not entirely horrific. The camera invades the actor’s home and his resistance to the device gradually fades away. The camera and the actor synthesize their abilities to create something, an image, which without one another could not be whole. By the end of the short, the actor comes to associate, sympathize, and identify himself with the camera, comparing the two to an old couple aging alone together.

This old couple analogy draws attention to the children’s celluloid film camera as a technology, and as a technology with a mortality, too. There are two cameras in the film, the documentary digital camera and the children’s celluloid camera, the one he fears and is growing old like him. The camera that the actor directly addresses throughout most of the film captures a more digital or documentary style image, scrutinizing every inch and pore of his face in an unflattering and yet perhaps more suitable aesthetic for his cynical personality and perspective. In contrast, in the final shot the celluloid camera the children use has a more gentle and vibrant tone, creating a more nostalgic depiction of the old man as he reminisces about memories from long ago. This is the same man seen two ways and on this other level the film displays a debate between the old and the new technology.

Film is always on the brink of creating, discovering, and infusing new technologies but not without conflict at each stage of change. Rudolf Arnheim argued that the invention of sound recording would be the death of film. Filmmaker Peter Greenaway thought that home video, with the dreaded pause button, would destroy the experience of a film. Others believed that color would tarnish the significance of the story and actors. Recently though, there has been much debate over the proliferating use of digital film and the decline of celluloid, and “Camera” seems to reflect this.

Is this Cronenberg’s argument for the use of celluloid over digital film? To the disdain of many, in recent interviews,

Cronenberg has sided with digital film, arguing “it’s about time film died its natural death.” This stance may be a surprise to some, but Cronenberg has a track record of creating stories that expose some of the more honest and brutal truths about humanity and our obsession with technology. Perhaps he feels that digital film is more apt to capture this harsh and coarse nature. Or perhaps he enjoys viewing the cautionary themes within his work become a reality as the world swiftly embraces the newest technologies, without fully realizing their limits or implications, and leaving older forms behind in obsolescence. Film historians argue that we have lost nearly 80 – 90% of all silent films, most due to the deterioration of celluloid. In losing parts of our history we lose pieces of ourselves, and perhaps this is what Cronenberg is alluding to as the actor speaks of the camera causing irreparable damage to us all. Regardless, “Camera” contains an argument for both celluloid and digital, depicting the unique qualities of both and how the aesthetic of each can affect the tone of a story.

TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) is currently hosting an art exhibition on David Cronenberg titled Evolution.


The exhibit is an accumulation of the filmmaker’s career, an eccentric collection of things Cronenberg that offer a close-up on the filmmaker much the same way the children’s camera in “Camera” offers a close-up. The exhibit continues until January 19th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox HSBC Gallery in Toronto.

–Jon Dewar


Jon Dewar

Jon Dewar is a grad student at University of New Brunswick, Fredericton and is working towards a degree in education. He is an avid film fan, interested in both film analysis and filmmaking. Some of his inspirations include directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Steve McQueen, and Martin Scorsese. Jon has written numerous screenplays and is working towards eventually producing some of these projects.




Oct 132013

Relaunching the NC at the Movies page, which, yes, has been needing a bit of a facelift for a while. Holiday weekend, nothing to do but —


Numéro Cinq’s unique and unparalleled collection of short films and commentary edited and (mostly) written by R. W. Gray. Other contributions from Jon Dewar, Sophie Lavoie, Philip Marchand, Megan MacKay, Jared Carney, Erin Morton and Taryn Sirove.

via Numéro Cinq at the Movies | Edited by R. W. Gray » Numéro Cinq.

Jun 172013

Watching movies is a sentimental education. They work through images and change the way we feel, especially if they come at an impressionable moment. Strange how, for reasons of history and empire, a boy in southwestern Ontario grew up humming an Australian bush song and learned his politics watching the Australian actor Chips Rafferty in Eureka Stockade (1949), fighting for justice  in the Ballarat Goldfields on the family’s first black and white TV in the late 1950s. I don’t suppose anyone else remembers Chips Rafferty, and looking at him now he is hardly leading man material. But there you are. Much later the great Australian films Gallipoli and Breaker Morant served to upend my view of self and history, my historical self, with their mutinous revision of Australia’s glorious Imperial past (which, it seemed, applied equally to Canada’s Imperial past). I give you here first Eureka Stockade, the entire movie [actually, the entire movie has disappeared from Youtube; I can only give you a clip for now, and not the final battle scene at that], made at the famous Ealing Studios in England. I was a boy when I saw this, as I say, completely enthralled with Chips Rafferty, my hero-idol for years (though I only saw the movie once). Then the famous Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle performing his song “The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda” which turns the famous bush ballad upside down, into a lament for the gallant spirit of a country that bought the British imperial blarney about loyalty to the Mother country and saw its boys wasted in an unforgivable debacle. Then I give you the last scene from Gallipoli where the Australians have been ordered to attack across open ground against Turkish machine guns (this is at Suvla Bay, the operational area referred to in Eric Bogle’s song). It’s a gorgeous sequence. Mel Gibson is racing with a message to call off the attack; his race against Death mirrors the boyhood race at the beginning of the movie — he loses both races. (Watches and time-keeping imagery throughout as well.) Then I give you last scene of Breaker Morant, the two Australians being executed as an example during the Boer War to save Imperial face after a so-called atrocity. Beautiful irony in the dialogue about “pagan.” The pagan trooper cites the precise Bible verse to cover his case; the chaplain has to look it up. As I say, these films educated me, not intellectually at first so much as sentimentally, changed the templates, transformed my view of Canadian history, the official version never to be trusted again, authority(ies) never to be trusted again. Just as I am sure these imaginary geographies will always be more real to me than the ones you find on maps (which are truly Imaginary). For Canadians, I suggest getting a copy of Tony Wilden’s The Imaginary Canadian, a Lacanian analysis of Canadian history now out of print.



Sep 232012

It’s been a year since Rob Gray joined the crew at Numéro Cinq and took over the nascent NC at the Movies series. Only a year, but he has made himself a mainstay of the community. I originally set him up as a kind of duke or baron in my Internet kingdom. I said he could do what he wanted within his fiefdom. And he has made that slot unique, bizarre, macabre, exciting, erotic, stylish and always surprising and delightful. He has contributed dozens of short movies and movie commentaries. I don’t know of another publication with a feature remotely like this. It’s gone well beyond any editorial fantasy I might have had at the beginning.

Not only that, but as an editor with his own domain, Rob has brought in other exceptional movie commentators — Jon Dewar, Sophie M. Lavoie, and Megan MacKay. He has also contributed poetry, fiction and a complete screenplay to the magazine. And just last issue he started a new hybrid series of publications, coupling  poets with critics in a single hybrid piece — see “Stray Dog Poetics” with poet Shane Rhodes and critic Rob Ross.

To acknowledge Rob’s profound (and, yes, often exuberantly eccentric) contributions to NC, I’ve devoted 10 slots on the slider at the top of the page to some of my favourite pieces, including, yes, the ever popular Treevenge by Jason Eisener (the Christmas movie that proved to me the truly depraved nature of Rob Gray’s mind) and Pedro Pires’s Danse Macabre (which I adore — go figure).

I look at the list of movies and, momentarily, I bask in the glow of accomplishment — we really have created something unique and beautiful at NC.


Feb 022012

It’s a simple story. One made stronger for the particulars: cowboy boots, a Band-aid, or the ice on a boat’s bumper. Though these details are evocative, Ang Lee’s “The Chosen” gets most of its charm from the odd couple at the centre: Clive Owen’s James Bond / Transporter type driver who helps people and the small Dalai Lama-esque boy he has to transport to safety.

In many ways, the sweet simpleness of the dramatic connection between these two characters and the action genre that surrounds them sum up the polarities in Lee’s film career. His early films were melodramas like Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet. Though Taiwanese born and educated, he has made some of the most provocative films about America (The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain, Taking Woodstock) but more recently traversed into the action genre with his remake of Hulk (which he makes reference to in “The Chosen” with the boy’s choice of Band-aid). He is currently working on an adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi which should, too, bring together Lee’s various and sometimes contradictory interests.

The contradictory interests mean that Lee makes genre choices his own. Car chases in movies, like sword fights, are for me bathroom breaks or chances to get popcorn. On the odd occasion they’re done well (The Bourne Supremacy) they are almost too stressful to manage. In Lee’s film, the car chase becomes a courtly dance, where cars don’t collide, but almost politely duck in and around one another (while this politeness is, nicely, undermined by the intermittent machine gun fire).

Driving is a the centre of Lee’s film because “The Chosen” is part of the BMW films project “The Hire,” a fascinating collision between the short film genre and the commercial market.

Initially under the purview of David Fincher’s production company, BMW funded a total of 8 short films, each featuring a different well-known director and well-known actors. The directors chosen were John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, Guy Ritchie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Woo, Joe Carnahan, and Tony Scott. Each of the films feature Clive Owen as a driver who attempts to help people.

The project came about in 2000 when “BMW had a window of opportunity when it could do something purely for the sake of branding—sans release of a new vehicle—to deliver a unique message in an increasingly crowded luxury/performance car market.” BMW’s market research showed that “Roughly 85% of BMW purchasers used the Internet before purchasing a BMW.” A marketing department without a new product and an interested internet audience then fueled the creation of “The Hire.”

The project was an immense success: “By 2002 BMW sales were up 17 percent, while some of its competitors, such as Volkswagen and General Motors, floundered. By June 2003 more than 45 million people had viewed the films, overshooting the original goal of reaching 2 million viewers. ‘‘The Hire’’ garnered numerous ad industry awards. The campaign’s final spot, ‘‘Beat the Devil,’’ aired November 21, 2002.” — Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Among the other seven films are some great films too. Guy Ritchie’s foray (“Star”) has he and his then wife Madonna making fun of her diva reputation. Wong Kar Wai departs from his  typically melancholic or bittersweet films (see the NC intro to “There’s Only One Sun”) with”The Follow” which has a dark playfulness to it. Most of the films are still available on the web.

–R. W. Gray

Dec 152011

“Why don’t clouds float along the ground?” one of the young girls in Jane Campion’s short film “The Water Diary” asks. The film itself meditates on things as unreachable as these: the clouds, a child’s comprehension of all these adult mistakes, and any solution to the environmental disaster these people are enduring.

Campion’s contribution to the United Nations’ 8 film project tackles the seventh goal of the United Nations’ eight Millennium Goals: “ensure environmental sustainability.” Numero Cinq already presented the fifth film, Jan Kounen’s “”The Story of Panshin Beka” (you can see it and the intro here). The film shares a quirkiness with the Jane Campion’s “Passionless Moments” short films which Numero Cinq also presented (you can see them here).

The film places the central issue in the hands and imaginations of children. The child whose diary narrates the film has a perspective limited by her innocence but unlimited by her imagination. She cannot see where the horses have gone at first, her friend calls the central issue “global warning,” and she imagines impossible worlds where there are clouds on the ground and dancing mattresses. So where the adult response to the catastrophe in the film is to have dreams of rain and commit awful sacrifices, the children are able to each take their own small steps and imagine a possible solution.

What fuels the children and this story is the way the children seem to understand sacrifice and pain better than the adults. The horses provide the most visceral and material metaphor for the price these children are paying for their parents’ poor environmental choices. The narrative sees no solution in this sacrifice though, just further adult missteps. As one child warns, “If they think we’re going to look after them when they’re older, they can just forget about it.”

Campion uses extreme long shots to emphasize the landscape and its relationship to the small children in it. The children often appear in the lower corners of the frame or to the side, as in the last shot of the girl playing the viola. Though the children are perhaps diminished, what Campion emphasizes through these shots is how connected these children are to their environment and that small gestures, even single tears in a glass of water, can cause change.

Campion leaves the ending ambiguous. On the one hand what we imagine comes next depends on our own cynicism or imagination. On the other, the point of this story is not the rain, but the spirit, drive and sacrifice to cause change in the world – to fix what has been broken.


Dec 012011

Chris Milk’s “The Wilderness Downtown” is an interactive play where your home and past are offered and yet remain out of reach. The film requires a few more steps before your viewing pleasure: if you don’t have Google Chrome or Safari as a browser, please download one of them to view this experimental and interactive film. And I would suggest, for this week, reading this commentary as an afterword. Let your experience of the interactive film come before mine.

Two weeks ago Numero Cinq Magazine‘s “At the Movies” presented Milk’s music video for the Gnarls Barkley song “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.” But Milk also does experimental work. “The Wilderness Downtown” is an interactive music video Milk made with the band Arcade Fire for their song “We Used to Wait.” To begin you have to enter the address of your childhood home. The video then develops a montage using images of a hooded, faceless man running, a flock of birds, and images it pulls from Google Earth of your childhood home. The resulting film hangs in multiple windows, creating a hybrid montage / collage. Montage usually relies on one image following another and collage implies something static; here we have the collisions of montage happening side by side and the effect, I’d argue, shares the randomness of dream logic, a narrative choice that encourages us to be more associative than strictly interpretive, calling up our own memories rather than seeking to understand the artist’s intention.

Continue reading »

Nov 242011

John Bolton’s “Breakdown” is both a study in economy – doing much with little — and in the joy of having fun. It features a who’s who of working actors in Vancouver. They all came out to have fun, and for many of them, I’d suggest, make fun of the high stakes melodrama many Vancouver shot TV shows and movies specialize in.

The tagline for the film is “A disaster film disaster.” Perfect. The tropes of the disaster film have basically become self-parodic in films like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow: where the world conspires to bring a broken family back together. It’s a tired formula, unwatchable. Bolton and his crew show us how tired the conventions are as they manage to shoot the major plot points and character development all in under fourteen minutes in a casting room.

It’s a beautiful disaster and strangely cathartic if you’ve been harboring low-level anger towards Hollywood disaster films the way I have.

Part of Vancouver, BC’s 2006 Crazy 8 Competition, Bolton and his team along with seven other teams were given eight hundred dollars to produce their short film. This year Crazy 8s enters its thirteenth year of supporting and challenging Vancouver filmmakers to make great short films.

The film stars Christopher Shyer, Amanda Tapping, Carly McKillip, Winston Rekert, Sonya Salomaa, Gary Chalk, William S. Taylor and Michael Coleman as themselves (in a way).

—R. W. Gray

Nov 172011

Gnarls Barkley – Who's Gonna Save My Soul from Chris Milk on Vimeo.

Chris Milk’s music video for Gnarls Barkley’s “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” starts laden with clichés: “I need space,” the woman tells the man she’s breaking up with. It’s a painful juxtaposition, a broken heart brutalized by empty words said in quotations, stolen from a thousand movies. This made me think of the narrator of Jeanette Winterson‘s Written on the Body and his / her (it’s ambiguous) lament “‘I love you’ is always a quotation.” Apparently ‘I don’t love you’ is too.

What draws me in with this video is not the surreal turn, but how it changes the break up. How by ripping his heart out and giving it to her, they suddenly speak with lucid honesty, devoid of cliché. Once the heart is on the table, literally, truth is all that’s tenable. The sentiment is not original, but the expression of it is.

Perhaps the culmination of this is the end of the film, as the story turns in on itself and the heart rips out its own heart, the story comes full circle and ends without words, a monstrous ending beyond quotations of any sort.

The heart, though singing, maintains its abject messy self throughout. It’s what prevents the story from lapsing into cartoony sentiment. Its bloody footprints, unsightly arteries. We see all this from the frame of the knowing sympathetic and pained look of the waitress, as though she’s saying ‘I know your pain, I know your abject, messy pathetic heart. I know this song, because it’s mine too.’

Milk, in an interview with Globecat, describes the inspiration for the video:

“It stems mostly out of the personal experiences I’ve had in relationships. I’m more drawn to these sort of stories and would love to tell them more often. Dark, comedic, surreal, this is the type of material I respond to in features, and it’s the kind of music videos I love to write. I’ve actually written a lot more of these but they’ve never been produced. Some of my favorite Kanye videos are sitting in a notebook and will never happen. This Gnarls video I’ve pitched to 3 or 4 bands over the years. I’m actually glad they all said no because I think it was predestined to happen with this song. The emotion and musical tonality line up too perfectly. It had to be this track. As far as the “take away” I don’t really like to think in those terms. All I can do is make something I personally find compelling, put it out there, and maybe it works for other people. I’ve certainly had occasions when it hasn’t worked for anyone. My ex-girlfriend for instance did not care for this Gnarls video at all.”

Milk is a prolific music video and commercial director who also has his hand in experimental filmmaking. In next week’s NC at the movies I will be looking at a couple of his experimental titles.

— RWGray

Nov 102011


Julie Trimingham’s film triptych “beauty crowds me”

Introduced by R. W. Gray


In Julie Trimingham‘s triptych of poetic short films, words become breath and thought, visuals flare into being, fall away, then return and hang and haunt. The films take Emily Dickinson’s poems as their source for inspiration, but the words are given to us as an intimate voice over, repetitively and meditatively delivered.

I have to confess a sort of skepticism about the clash / collaboration between art forms; such collisions seem to colossally fail more than find beauty. In particular, the danger of bringing film to poetry is that the moving image can easily literalize the words, or, conversely, the words can dominate the visual medium. Trimingham’s collisions work for me because they aren’t too grounded in one form or another.

The action is poetic, and by that I mean improbable, unrealistic, yet familiar. In “I heard a fly buzz,” the second film, the claustrophobic dance of the couple who can never leave their apartment, their bed, the tub, and their movements choreographed, both uncanny (in moments he seems like a fly on the window sill or on the tub) and sublime.

Continue reading »

Nov 032011

I Love Sarah Jane from Qoob TV on Vimeo.


Spencer Susser’s I Love Sarah Jane

Introduced by R. W. Gray


In this special post-Halloween edition of Numéro Cinq at the movies, we’re featuring “I Love Sarah Jane” by Spencer Susser. Viewer warning: there’s some gore here, but the originality of the story makes it worth it.

I’m not a zombie fan by trade, but have come to appreciate the genre because of its apocalyptic questioning of who we really are under our (sometimes few) civilized masks and what really matters to us when the those masks fall away.

Continue reading »

Oct 272011

Mamá (2008 Spanish short film) from Pablo Sierra on Vimeo.


.In this Halloween edition of Numéro Cinq at the Movies, we have Andres Muschietti’s Mama (2008). Turn the lights out, turn the sound up, put some headsets on, and enjoy.

The plot is simple and yet leaves gobs of story unexplored, haunting the plot we do get: two children are tormented by a terrifying mother; we never find out the origins of this terror and we don’t find out what becomes of the children. This tip of the iceberg approach to storytelling gives the piece a depth that makes it even more terrifying for all the unimaginable horrors we are left to imagine.

What’s scary here is firstly archetypal and secondly uncanny. Mama is the archetypal bad mother that lurks behind the good mother archetype, waiting to consume, torment, and dismember instead of nurture. Like the one daughter, we are drawn to the figure of Mama, because she promises to fulfill the maternal role, but soon we understand their trepidation. This mother is not up for baking cookies.

She’s also uncanny here thanks to a couple of very successful horror techniques. Mama, though human in form and thus familiar, is unfamiliar because of her movements. The head tilted to the side, the contorting, jerking motions of her limbs and the speed of her movements are all unfamiliar. Similar effects were used in the horror film the The Ring when the monstrous young girl climbs out of the television. To achieve this effect they shot the actress in reverse with exaggerated movements so that when they played the footage forward her gestures seemed insect like and inhuman. This is Freud’s Uncanny: both familiar and unfamiliar and disturbing all around.

When this short film came out three years ago it created so much of a buzz that Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro – known for his popular Hellboy type fare and his more art house type horror films like Pan’s Labyrinth – decided to take Muschietti under his producing / mentoring wing and turn the film into a feature-length terror. Del Toro similarly mentored / produced the The Orphanage (2007).

Continue reading »

Oct 132011


Warning: this video contains suggestive animations of fruit, human sacrifice, and some coarse language. “The Island” is a short film by Trevor Anderson, a filmmaker from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Anderson is a self-taught independent filmmaker who is currently in post-production on his tenth short film. His work has screened at countless film festivals around the world, including Sundance, Berlin and Toronto.

I saw “The Island” accidentally the first time, then realized I knew the filmmaker. Once upon a time, we both lived in the basements of lesbian professors in Edmonton. We were an exclusive subculture immortalized in a line from a non-fiction piece by Janice Williamson: “gay boys who live in the basements of dyke professors and wonder about the status quo.”

“The Island” for me is carnivalesque in that Rabelaisian sense of being both outrageous and intolerant of hypocrisy which means here being intolerant of intolerance. The film begins plainly enough in the hinterlands, one man walking against a blank canvas of snow, the starkness of the landscape emphasizing the stark hatred in the “fan mail” the narrator receives. What follows is simply beauty made from ugliness, a massive flight of fancy that describes a utopia of tolerance and celebration and freedom.

The last line troubles things with one of those perfect tugs on the tablecloth. Like Anderson believes too much in an interdependent and connected humanity, one that even includes the ignorant and intolerant, to move permanently to this Rabelaisian island.

At the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival, Anderson won the inaugural Lindalee Tracey Award, presented to “an emerging Canadian filmmaker working with passion, humour, a strong sense of social justice and a personal point of view.”

If you like Anderson’s style of autobiodoc filmmaking (a term I’m trying to put into common usage so please pass it on), then please check out the trailer for his last film, “The High Level Bridge” (and if you’re enticed pay the $1.99 to download the full film and support this indie filmmaker). “The High Level Bridge” is a short meditation on the untold history of suicides off of Edmonton’s High Level bridge and concludes with Anderson dropping his camera off the bridge into the icy water below.


Purchase the film at Trevor Anderson: Dirty City Films.

“The High Level Bridge” was  selected for the Sundance Institute’s Art House Project. From Anderson’s website: “In 2005, the Art House Project was created to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Sundance Institute and pay tribute to art house theatres across the USA. Twelve art house theatres from around the country were designated and united as Sundance Institute Art House Project theatres. In 2006, a Sundance Institute 25th Anniversary retrospective series was made available for each of the theatres to show in their local communities. The Sundance Institute Art House Project has since grown to a total of 17 participating theatres nationwide and continues its commitment to expanding the reach of independent cinema across America.”


Oct 062011


At the core of Miranda July (writer) and Miguel Arteta’s (director) short film “Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?” is the title question. It is repeatedly asked by a man standing on a street corner (John C. Reilly) to strangers who pass by, but we never find out why he’s asking the question or what he intends to do with the information he collects. All we know about him is that he has a burning question, three orange trees, and a wife trying to get rid of oranges. None of this matters. The question’s profundity disarms and obscures all else.

That burning question supersedes the simplicity of the film, supersedes the film itself in the way the it poses the question to the audience, too. The youtubification of this film led to a spate of vloggers asking themselves and others the same question in a sort of viral existential awakening, or, at times, mass despair. Certainly, though, the question hails us if we dare to let it. Are you the favorite person of anybody? It’s difficult not to get caught in the musical chairs of the query. And won’t most of us end up on the floor?

But to dwell on the question this way is perhaps to identify too strongly with Miranda July’s character. Mike White’s character doesn’t seem compelled or bothered. He has no delusions of grandeur, but does have a girlfriend and is bringing her an orange or two – he leaves almost elated.  So what of the oranges? On a certain level, the film seems too simple to contain metaphor. But then there are oranges. Are they consolation? Are they payment for pain inflicted, or are they the very point of existence? Much depends on a bag of oranges.

What intrigues me here more though is the intimate story around the story.  How Miranda July had just finished shooting Me and You and Everyone We Know and had nothing to do until the editor came back with a rough cut – a peculiar waiting. So she wrote these sketches. Showed them to Arteta who she was dating at the time. Arteta rushed them to shoot and cast July, Mike White (the writer of Chuck & Buck, which Arteta directed) and Chuy Chavez (July’s DP on Me and You and Everyone We Know).

Arteta, in an interview in Wholphin confesses what the script meant to him:  “When I read it, it hit me hard for the first time: I wasn’t going to be [July’s] favorite person for too much longer. I was having doubts about us and the script felt like a warning . . .  I said ‘Let’s shoot this, right away’ – knowing that working together was something I would always cherish”

In her Wholphin interview, July confesses she was excited to just act. It was something she committed herself to so strongly that when she walked away from John C. Reilly, exiting her scene with him, and no one called cut, she just kept on walking. “I walked practically to the next neighborhood before anyone noticed I was gone.”  These are the interstitial stories I believe imbue films.

After the death of French filmmaker Jacques Demy and the decaying of the prints of his early film Umbrellas of Cherbourg, his filmmaker wife Agnes Varda oversaw the re-colorization of the film. The result is lurid, gaudy, and gorgeous. Walls aren’t just walls, they leap out in shades of eggplant and lime. Varda was ostensibly realizing Demy’s original vision for the film’s color, but there’s something else that imbues the film. Call me overly romantic but I read each color, each frame, as part of a love letter to her deceased husband.

What imbues “Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?” for me is the tension between July’s never ending take where she walks off the set and away. . . and Arteta’s manic intent to make the film and collaborate while they still had time. A letting go and a holding on. This bittersweetness stains the film for me.

Romanticism aside, this is simply a film I wish I’d made. With one location and only four actors this is one of the simplest short films I’ve seen. Made for  $150 (for apparently coffee, bagels, tape and a transfer to HD), the simple style and simple content let the film’s principle dramatic question do the work.

The film appears in Issue #1 of Wholphin, the McSweeney‘s DVD magazine, available here:

In their own words:

“Wholphin is a quarterly DVD magazine featuring short films, documentaries, animation, and instructional videos that have not, for whatever reason, found wide release. Recent issues of Wholphin have included films by Spike Jonze, David O. Russell, Miranda July, Miguel Arteta, Errol Morris, and Steven Soderbergh, and performances from John C. Reilly, Selma Blair, Patton Oswalt, Andy Richter, a monkey-faced eel, and many others.”


Sep 292011


From last week’s collision in an intersection to this week’s collection of small caught moments in Jane Campion’s series of shorts, Passionless Moments (1983). The series is made up of ten short films co-written by Campion’s then boyfriend Gerard Lee and is narrated by a BBC-type narrator giving the films a scientific or sociological flair (further emphasizing in a perhaps misleading or ironic fashion the importance of these moments). There is, in these shorts, a fetishization of minutiae. Each is smaller and less dramatic than the collision in And the Red Man Went Green. And these are “real” people, flawed and vulnerable; they do not anticipate the camera’s gaze. We catch them at their most vulnerable and unawares.

Taken individually, I feel these are moments that read you back: what small details of our lives have escaped film’s classical three-act structure and drive for catharsis? As Geraldine Bloustien points out in her essay “Jane Campion:Memory, Motif, and Music,” “Classical Hollywood cinema concerns itself with the heightened moments of passion of individuals with whom we identify in some way because of their bravery, humour, innocence, heroic qualities and so on. In traditional feature films and documentaries we are usually introduced to the characters’ backgrounds, motives and problems. However, in Passionless Moments the characters serve only to illustrate some quirky aspect of human nature and relationships.”

These moments cumulatively tempt me to universalize: that it might be the minutiae and /or our “quirky” aspects that connect us to one another, a humanity found in the small, quiet, sometimes embarrassing moments. Though in the actions of Campion’s characters it is difficult not to see something vaguely heroic. I am embarrassed for the boy named Lyndsay Aldridge, his explosive string beans, and his manic running, but I admire his commitment too. I recognize myself in him and don’t want to at the same time. Campion’s oevre is made up of such characters, from her exploration of the author Janet Frame in An Angel at My Table, to the complicated relationship at the core of Holy Smoke.

I have to confess that the title of the series confuses me. Are these moments truly passionless? Or is the title ironic? Passionless as in lacking suffering? Or passionless as in suggesting disengagement? In a sense it reminds me of Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, an at time dispassionate analysis of desire and passion. These films contain a similar tension / contradiction and perhaps the title participates in that. And I think there’s a similar undecidability to the shorts: what significance do they amount to? To whom do these moments matter?

I heard the writer filmmaker Miranda July introduce a screening of these shorts at the IFC in New York this summer. She said that when she first saw Campion’s shorts she saw a type of filmmaking she could do (my summary). I took this to mean that July felt the films provoked and read her back too. That to watch these “passionless” moments is an invitation to reflect on one’s own moments. I see further evidence in the several “Passionless Moments” shorts on youtube that pay homage. Explore at your own risk. And maybe dare to ponder your own.


Sep 222011


Ruth Meehan’s And the Red Man Went Green brings the chaos and potential of one day down to a single moment crossing a street. Though it’s not ostensibly about a kiss, the narrative has much in common with Chekhov’s short story “The Kiss,” in which a young soldier is accidentally kissed by a woman, sending a shudder of changes through his plain life.

The director Richard LaGravanese also found inspiration in Chekhov’s short story for the key moment when his protagonist in the film Living Out Loud (starring Holly Hunter–the movie was originally called The Kiss) is surprised out of the grief she is suffering at the loss of her twenty-year relationship.

Each of these stories touches on sudden moments when strangers are accidentally and sometimes unconsciously there for one another.

>Meehan is an Irish writer / director and she has shot several short films. And the Red Man . . . is her second short and it did well at festivals, winning the Special Jury prize a the Tehran film Festival and the Prix Canal+ at Brest.

If you enjoy Meehan’s very short film, you can see another by her (based on a true story about an adventurous cat) here: