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kottke.org posts about film

Deflating the Black Director Boom of the 1990s

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 12, 2019

Dickerson.jpg

In the early 1990s, there was a mini-boom of films made by black filmmakers. Spike Lee and John Singleton led the way, but there was also Ernest Dickerson (who’d been Lee’s director of photography), Julie Dash, Matty Rich, Darnell Martin, and more. The New York Times talked to a good-sized group of these directors about their careers, and how each of them, separately, found themselves in “director jail,” unable to get new projects or find new collaborators. It’s a pretty riveting conversation.

Dickerson is a favorite of mine — in addition to directing Juice and working as DP during Lee’s great period, from She’s Got To Have It to Malcolm X, he’s done terrific work for television. Here’s his story:

I made a movie called “Bulletproof,” with Damon Wayans and Adam Sandler. Working on that film was the only time I ever got mad enough to punch a hole in the editing room wall. It was supposed to be a raunchy, R-rated comedy slanted more for an adult audience. But I could see we had trouble when they were giving out tickets to 15- to 16-year-old kids at the first preview. Afterward, I had to really sanitize the relationships. It meant savaging the movie.

It still opened at No. 1, but I got the worst reviews of my career. I was criticized for not having everything I was told to take out. I had several projects lined up — I had been developing “Blade,” with Wesley Snipes. The whole idea of where “Blade” went was mine. But the producers looked to “Bulletproof” and thought I had completely lost my street cred. After that, nobody would touch me. I think I’m still in jail, in a way, because I’m doing television. [Dickerson — like many of his peers, including Martin and Dash — has found work on the small screen, with credits on “The Wire” and “The Walking Dead.”] I consider myself a filmmaker who’s working in television.

A common thread through all of the stories is articulated by Ted Witcher:

White people get more bites of the apple. That’s just true. You can fail three, four times and still have a career. But if you’re black, you really can only fail once.

Orson Welles as a Graphic Artist

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 22, 2019

There are so many sides to Orson Welles that one of them is bound to get overlooked. Welles was a groundbreaking screen and voice actor, screenwriter, film director, radio producer, etc., etc. He was also a remarkable visual artist, which comes through in his films but is often attributed away to his great collaborators like cinematographer Gregg Toland. Even as a child, teen, and very young man, Welles was almost ruined by the fact that everything he did, he seemed to do so much better than the people around him. He was an undiscriminating prodigy, which is a very dangerous thing to be.

A new documentary by Mark Cousins, The Eyes of Orson Welles, focuses on Welles’s output in drawing, sketching, painting. It tries to recenter visual art as an essential, not accidental part of Welles’s work, and at the same time use it as a pathway to try to understand him as a person and artist.

I haven’t seen this documentary, but I’m very excited about it. Welles is one of those figures whose genius in his work almost obscures him; any new route in is welcome. It also doesn’t feel like a typical hagiographic documentary; it feels appropriately irreverent and experimental, two things which Welles almost was.

More mistakes of the 20th century

posted by Tim Carmody   May 04, 2011

When I wrote about the Paris Review’s interview with Werner Herzog, I took special note of this observation from the great director:

The Polar explorations were a huge mistake of the human race, an indication that the twentieth century was a mistake in its entirety. They are one of the indicators.

Apparently, “the twentieth century was a mistake” is something of a hobbyhorse for Herzog. Chris Krewson tipped me to a GQ interview where WH rattles off some of the other indicators:

I think psychology and self-reflection is one of the major catastrophes of the twentieth century. A major, major mistake. And it’s only one of the mistakes of the twentieth century, which makes me think that the twentieth century in its entirety was a mistake.

Herzog backs this up with some intriguing counter-history:

The Spanish Inquisition had one goal, to eradicate all traces of Muslim faith on the soil of Spain, and hence you had to confess and proclaim the innermost deepest nature of your faith to the commission. And almost as a parallel event, explaining and scrutinizing the human soul, into all its niches and crooks and abysses and dark corners, is not doing good to humans.

We have to have our dark corners and the unexplained. We will become uninhabitable in a way an apartment will become uninhabitable if you illuminate every single dark corner and under the table and wherever—you cannot live in a house like this anymore. And you cannot live with a person anymore—let’s say in a marriage or a deep friendship—if everything is illuminated, explained, and put out on the table. There is something profoundly wrong. It’s a mistake. It’s a fundamentally wrong approach toward human beings.

But lest you think that Herzog’s rejection of the ethics of the Inquisition comes from an embrace of spiritual tolerance:

I think there should be holy war against yoga classes. It detours us from real thinking.

I said to my friend Gavin Craig the other day that with folks like Herzog, you almost have to approach them as if they’re characters in a play. Instead of asking yourself whether you like them personally or agree with the things they say, take a step back and try to admire how they’re drawn.

Indie hero Tom DiCillo asks Roger Ebert why his movie failed

posted by Adam Lisagor   Dec 03, 2007

After his last movie, “Delirious” brought in only $200,000 at the box office, a dejected Tom DiCillo, “a legend in the indie film world” reached out to Roger Ebert for answers.

“To give you some indication of how disoriented I feel at the moment,” he wrote, “I am getting no real, tangible feedback from anyone. And so I’m kind of struggling on my own to make sense of how a film I put my soul into, that Buscemi put his soul into, a film that generated such strong, positive reviews, had no life in the market.”

Ebert’s most telling response was to the question of whether independent filmmakers have any chance of surviving this opening-weekend-takes-all era of distribution. “I don’t know. Maybe DVDs and Netflix and Blockbuster on Demand and cable TV and pay-per-view and especially high-quality streaming on the Internet will rescue you and your fellow independents.”

While waiting for the release of “Delirious” to video, I recommend another of DiCillo’s movies, the delicious “Box of Moonlight” (1996).

(via Metafilter)