Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Fandor Video Essays Have a New Home


Unfortunately, this past week Fandor Keyframe removed around a thousand video essays from their archive, including ten of my own (my most recent three remain). Yesterday and today I was able to upload all of the missing video essays to my own Vimeo channel. The Fandor videos remain locked in a "private" status, not deleted, so hopefully they will be restored someday. But the following uploads will remain regardless, so please watch, share, and bookmark these from now on (click on the title or the Vimeo insignia on the video to bookmark the source link).

Here are the videos, from newest to oldest. Learning to Look: Eye Contact in Satyajit Ray's THE BIG CITY is probably my favorite of the bunch, but I'm pleased with how all of them turned out.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sheryl Lee: illustrated filmography


Introduction

Compiled several years ago as part of an abandoned project, this filmography represents almost every film and TV appearance made by Sheryl Lee, alongside brief contextual notes. Sheryl Lee is, far and away, most famous for her role as Laura Palmer, "the dead girl" in the TV series Twin Peaks (1990-91). More importantly, when the murder victim was resurrected for the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), Lee gave a performance that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with acclaimed David Lynch heroines Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive), Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet) or Laura Dern (Inland Empire).

But what of Lee's non-Laura roles? Probably due in part to the dismal critical and box-office reception of Fire Walk With Me, Lee's career never went in the direction of, say, a Lara Flynn Boyle (who notably snubbed Lynch's request to appear in the Twin Peaks prequel). Sticking to offbeat independent films rather than major studio productions may have reflected her own interests as well. At times this an obscure filmography - many of these movies never got the distribution they deserved - but it's often more interesting than a conventional Hollywood career. Lee's work is regularly committed, brave, and subtle; she remains one of the film industry's most underrated actresses and hopefully her appearance in the renewed Twin Peaks can elevate her profile even more.

In the meantime, here is (most of) her film/TV since the eighties. Further context for this post follows the lineup. The descriptions may be a tad spoiler-y here and there; I wanted to point out connections to Laura Palmer which sometimes entail plot twists. Avoiding any big plot giveaways except where noted, I'd still advise you to peruse the text at your own (slight) risk. Personally I think her most interesting work is in Backbeat, HomageBliss, and especially Mother Night (for more on that film, check out this fantastic episode of the Projection Booth podcast). In truth, however, she's consistently dedicated to all of her roles, sometimes more than the material deserves,other times ensuring that it lives up to its promise.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Journey Through Twin Peaks: Who-What-Where-When-Why-How, guest post on "Welcome to Twin Peaks"


On February 1, my video essay series Journey Through Twin Peaks turns 2. Its audience continues to grow, and I've been greatly encouraged to hear back on a fairly consistent basis from viewers who have enjoyed it and want to share it. Today Welcome to Twin Peaks, Pieter Dom's excellent fan site, is sharing my guest post on the subject. In it, I decided to adopt the classic mystery format to introduce the videos to a new audience.

Here is the opening paragraph - make sure to head over to Welcome to Twin Peaks to read the rest:

"Twin Peaks is many things: a wacky, charming portrait of a small town, an alluring yet disturbing murder mystery, a spooky tale of supernatural forces, a deeply moving tragedy, and a profound spiritual and psychological exploration. Above all it is a feeling, a mood, an atmosphere, difficult to sum up in words. I created my video series Journey Through Twin Peaks to explore this wonderful and strange world, discovering how the magic works without losing it. As in any good mystery, we must begin by investigating the who, what, where, when and most importantly, WHY of Journey Through Twin Peaks...""

The piece also contains links to the videos in various formats.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017: The Year of Twin Peaks


Yesterday was finally the day. In the afternoon, Showtime announced that Twin Peaks will premiere on Sunday, May 21. Almost exactly twenty-seven years earlier to that day (May 22, 1991), ABC cancelled the original series. They did so not with any sort of official statement, but simply by publishing a fall lineup from which Twin Peaks was unceremoniously absent. If it died with a whimper that spring, it will be reborn with a roar this time.

Last night, following the announcement, several actors appeared at the Television Critics Association event in Pasadena for a panel alongside surprise guest David Lynch. Less surprising? Lynch took questions but refused to provide any concrete answers, cheerfully deflecting some queries and responding to others with non sequiturs. Although with him you never can tell which non sequiturs may turn out to be crucial details.

For those just catching up now, here's roughly what we do know. David Lynch is directing every single episode, and has co-written the script for the entire series with Mark Frost (they created the original series together). They have assembled eighteen hours of material, and it's not entirely clear yet how that will be shown; we do know that on May 21, they will air two hours and that immediately afterwards, the next two hours will be available on Showtime streaming services (they will air on Showtime TV over the next two Sundays).

Can we even call the individual airings "episodes"? Both Lynch and Showtime CEO David Nevins (who also called the new series "the pure heroin vision of David Lynch") have described the series as more like a movie split up into chunks than a traditional TV show. Lynch shot this as one big film production - organized by location and other considerations - dividing it into episodes only afterwards in the editing room. It also doesn't look like the series will be divided into two seasons after all; I think it's just going to run straight through every week until it concludes around August.

Yesterday's event launches months of hype for Twin Peaks, a surreal situation for fans of a show that was nearly forgotten for so long. I will certainly be playing my part, hopefully able to contribute a sense of depth and novelty with my work. Though I considered assembling previous material into a kind of hybrid episode guide for classic Twin Peaks, leading up to the new premiere, I've decided to go a different route instead. And now that I know when that premiere will be I can lay out the schedule for my eighty-two Twin Peaks character studies and other material.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Lost in the Movies: Past & Future - a status update (sort of)


These were my concluding thoughts in the previous post, which was also a grabbag of links and announcements. I realized they probably deserved their own space. See that entry if you want to know what I'm up to this year and much of next. This "status update" is about what's further along the horizon.

"Movies" have been my primary interest and endeavor for a quarter-century now, since I was an eager first-grader in the fall of 1990, captivated by a combination of new releases at the cinema, my cousin's video collection, and movie books from the local library. At the heart of this was always the notion that I myself would become a filmmaker. That's a much more complicated story that perhaps I'll get into later - not that it's particularly interesting - but as I approach my mid-thirties, the idea of making a living from film is pretty much out the window and even pursuing it as a passion may be fading. That could be the necessary relaxation of pressure before a windfall...or it could simply be the turning of a page, one I've been stuck on for far too long. For the moment, I have other distractions to keep me active on the margins of the film world but they too will pass, eventually.

As I recently noted on Twitter, if it wasn't for Twin Peaks and video essays, I'm not sure what role - if any - film would have in my life anymore. I virtually never go to the movie theater and when I do it's primarily a social event, not an aesthetic pursuit. I don't keep up with new releases on DVD or streaming either, and I barely even watch classic movies these days. By coincidence, I have been reading film books in the past few weeks, but that's more sporadic than it used to be, and I don't keep track of film news at all. Any engagement I have is with particular titles - usually a TV series I'm writing about or a film that I can cover for Fandor or a personal video essay - not the bigger picture of "the cinema." My cinephilia has always waxed and waned, with lean years in which I focused on other subjects - the Civil War, politics and history, music - only for the pendulum to violently swing back as I devoted myself to my core interest once again. What may be different this time is that, if the dream of filmmaking really does disappear, I don't have a real reason to go back again.

For me, the axis of my passion for cinema has always been the faith that one way or another, I am or would be involved in creating it. If I'm not, I don't think I would want to indulge my enthusiasm as a viewer or commentator; it would feel too one-sided. Video essays can bridge that gap somewhat, but not permanently...unless they evolve into something else. Likewise if a cultural moment emerges where movies - or much more likely, a new form of "movies" (probably online, fragmented, and far more homemade) - become relevant again I could experience a renewed passion and inspiration. However, it feels like my own personal disenchantment with the magic of movies has been accompanied by a more generalized pop culture shift away from that form. So we'll see. (Incidentally, I also suspect that even if I do manage to burst my creative drought, it won't be accompanied by a renewed cinephilia; going forward, obsessing over movie culture may only be a distraction from attempting to contribute directly to it - creation and appreciation don't go hand-in-hand as often as presumed.)

Recently, I've been watching (and re-watching, but mostly for the first time) Kevin B. Lee's video essays. Dubbed "the godfather of the video essay," he pretty much invented its online incarnation nearly ten years ago in the spring of 2007. I plan to keep doing this, a little bit each day, not only with Kevin's work but other figures in the video essay world, immersing myself in the history of the still-developing form. It's been just long enough that revisiting these roots evokes a sense of nostalgia (even though in many cases I never watched the actual videos at the time). Devotion to movies, engagement with this exciting idea that they were bigger than individual titles, that we were only brushing a part of the elephant, carried me through some frustrating times and helped me focus and develop myself and allowed me to create a body of work I'm proud of. But it isn't really something I want to return to - it served its purpose. It can either become something new in the near future or it can settle into its place as an artifact of the past, something you enjoy lingering over when you discover it in a dusty attic but leave there after a few hours to return to the life you live now.

In mid-2018, Lost in the Movies will celebrate its 10th anniversary. At that point I will have created a pretty sizable backlog of TV viewing diaries so even if I wanted to throw in the towel on blogging at that point, I would probably have years of material to keep auto-publishing. However, the second (and I'd wager, truly final) season of Twin Peaks will probably have just ended. Maybe I'll even have had enough time to create concluding chapters for Journey Through Twin Peaks. Any other projects will have been caught up with. And by then I'll have experienced a year and a half (beginning this month) of penciling in time every week to attempt creative writing. In other words, I should know where I'm headed that summer, and I will let you know too. Until then, I have enough work to keep me busy, whether it ends up being a last burst or a first full flowering. Here's to 2017.

Lost in Twin Peaks #5: Twin Peaks documentaries (+ other appearances & Ben Dixon call-in & status update)


I've been popping up here and there on Twin Peaks Unwrapped lately, and will link below, but first I want to share my most recent official "Lost in Twin Peaks" segment (the others were quicker excerpts and/or repeated highlights). In their first podcast of the new year, Ben and Bryon dipped into a conversation we had in the fall - which had not been published yet - about two memorable Twin Peaks documentaries on the blu-ray set: Secrets From Another Place, about the series, and Moving Through Time, about the film Fire Walk With Me. I talk about what they reveal and why I like them, as well as detouring into other subjects, like Windom Earle. Elsewhere in the episode, the hosts discuss the cast list and a trailer for the upcoming Showtime series, listener feedback, and speculation for 2017.




Other Twin Peaks Unwrapped Appearances

Back in December, Twin Peaks Unwrapped featured a quicker clip from that same conversation, this time about Between Two Worlds, the blu-ray feature in which Lynch interviews the actors who played the Palmer family - in character! (I've also discussed this subject with John Thorne.) And at the end of 2016, guest host Scott Ryan highlighted one of my previous conversations with Ben and Bryon. If you've never listened to Twin Peaks Unwrapped before (but are somehow reading this), this "best of" reel might be a good way to get acquainted with all of their work.

Other Twin Peaks News

Meanwhile, a quick heads-up on the week to come, which should be a big one for me and all Twin Peaks fans. On Monday, January 9, Showtime is expected to make an announcement at the Television Critics Association (TCAs) about their lineup for 2017. With many Twin Peaks actors scheduled to appear, it is assumed that the premiere date of the new series will be revealed. Already, there have been clues: the website Welcome to Twin Peaks has highlighted a Showtime calendar in which May is devoted to a Twin Peaks theme, suggesting an airdate on or soon after Sunday, April 30. By the way, speaking of Welcome to Twin Peaks, a loooong-awaited guest post of mine may finally be going up there - but Pieter Dom, the tireless administrator of the site has a lot on his plate so if you want to see it please retweet or reply to this tweet (so far it seems to have worked in moving things along - hope it can go up before the TCA news takes over!).

Once the premiere date of new Twin Peaks is clear, I will schedule my character study series, possibly with the introduction as early as that very day. There are to be eighty-two individual entries, plus two prefaces that cover the most minor characters, and the aforementioned intro. Depending how much time I have, the scheduling could range from one entry each weekday to a more compressed format beginning with several entries every day until we get to the big names (the series will begin with the characters who have the least screentime - while still speaking in at least three scenes - and end with those who have the most a day or two before the new premiere). I also have a few straggling Twin Peaks posts which have been hanging around for years in some cases - the Sheryl Lee filmography, the aforementioned Welcome to Twin Peaks cross-post, a conversation with John Thorne about The Secret History of Twin Peaks. I suppose some of those may have to wait until the new series has already begun, to supplement my episode coverage.

Aside from the occasional video essay, Twin Peaks is going to pretty much take over Lost in the Movies this year. Only when this first season ends - presuming they've divided into two seasons as many suspect - will I begin post other material again.

The Benjamin Dixon Show

Finally, one more cross-post...I called into The Benjamin Dixon Show, one of my favorite political programs, again the other night. You can jump right to my comment/question - about the recent smear campaign against Black Lives Matters and conservative perception of the left/liberal divide - or you can listen to the whole episode, which is definitely worthwhile:



Other Projects

While Twin Peaks will be at the forefront of 2017, beneath the surface I will be working on many other projects. This includes viewing diaries for other shows. I have a few episodes for the following already in my backlog, though I won't share any till the entire series is completed: The Kingdom, The X-Files, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Star Trek, Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, and Clone Wars. I hope to keep writing on film in some capacity, maybe a weekly entry called "Monday is for Movies" even as "Lost in the Movies" slowly comes to mean "Lost in Audiovisual Media (primarily Television)."

I also plan to finally resume/finish my Citizen Kane video series and do a few more entries for my various suspended video essay series on YouTube/Vimeo, so that I end up with five total in each category (3 1/2 Minute Review, Side by Side, Cinepoem, and Montage) - I have three for most so far. This will hopefully begin with an ambitious, probably multi-part study of The Big Chill and The Return of the Secaucus 7 in the larger context of sixties/baby boomer history and pop mythology - a subject that has only become more relevant as the aging generation, once a font of left-wing revolution, has elected authoritarian right-wingers across the board. And yes, I also plan to continue my own personal political journey in the coming year, reading, discussing, and hopefully finding ways to actively engage with the forces shaping society now and in the past.

In addition to all this, I am trying to make time for my own creative writing. I haven't made a short film since Class of 2002 three years ago (and that was my first such project in about six years), or even - truth be told - written a single usable page of a screenplay. That's not for lack of trying; I've spent countless hours filling journals with fragments of ideas, general story premises, character explorations, etc. But my energy just hasn't seemed to channel towards that type of totally original content for, well, over a decade much as I've wanted it too. You can't really force these things or, at any rate, you shouldn't. At the same time, I do wonder what role film - meaning film-(and TV-)watching, writing/posting about, and making - will play in my future.

In fact, rather than complete my thoughts here I realized the next few paragraphs deserve their own space. I'll publish them separately, following this, as a standalone status update, a moment of calm before the deluge of the coming weeks and months.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Prisoner - Final Conclusions w/ Christopher Yohn


Eight months ago I finished The Prisoner, a cult British show from 1967 - 68. I followed up my viewing diary by talking to a couple big fans but right around then my blogging activity came to a grinding halt (I never even published the second conversation until months later). I always hoped to share a concluding entry, less for my own thoughts (most of what I have to say on The Prisoner has been said) than for further input from Christopher Yohn. He designed the viewing order I used to watch these notoriously difficult-to-organize episodes, and below he explains his reasoning in detail.

I thank him and others who encouraged and aided this endeavor. This was only the second TV series I wrote about during a first viewing, an exciting, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach. The Prisoner itself was a delight, perfectly balancing thought-provoking and (surprisingly) light-hearted moments. Is that an appropriate description of a series with such a deeply engaged and uncompromising philosophical outlook? With its air of play and amusement, I think so - certainly the show's colorful aesthetic and zippy sixties style were quite refreshing to me last year. I know when I eventually return to the series it will nostalgically take me back to the winter and spring when I first watched, discussed, and eventually read (and listened to podcasts, and watched videos) about The Prisoner. It already seems quite long ago, across the much-bemoaned chasm that was 2016, but I remember it fondly.

I don't have anything deeper to say at the moment. Perhaps someday, when I inevitably try out a different viewing order, I will offer some more observations. Until then: Be se...

Well, I don't really need to say it again, do I?

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top of the Lake season 1 episode 7 (Sundance version) - "No Goodbye Thanks"


Welcome to my viewing diary for Top of the Lake. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will review another episode. I will be following the Sundance Channel order, which is the one available on U.S. Netflix. It divides the six BBC episodes (each directed in its entirety by either Jane Campion or Garth Davis) into seven shorter episodes. The episode titles will usually reflect which two BBC episodes were cannibalized. This is my first watch-through of the series so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes.

Originally aired April 15, 2013 (written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee/directed by Jane Campion)

What an intense hour of television, full of twists and gut-punches. Not only did the show manage to surprise me and keep me in suspense, it did so despite some prior clues (and correct suspicions). More importantly, Top of the Lake really delivered on its premise, and the themes it sustained throughout. That includes a mood of uneasy, think-twice foreboding...the viewer's feeling of generalized mistrust reflects Robin's own state of mind all too well. Looking back over the story, none of the developments appear arbitrary. The outcomes, the revelations, the discoveries both false and true, are deeply rooted and cleverly seeded. There are plenty of loose ends and open questions but the important threads are tied up, the necessary answers provided, and appropriate ambiguities retained.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top of the Lake season 1, episode 6 (Sundance version) - "The Dark Creator"/"No Goodbye Thanks"


Welcome to my viewing diary for Top of the Lake. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will review another episode. I will be following the Sundance Channel order, which is the one available on U.S. Netflix. It divides the six BBC episodes (each directed in its entirety by either Jane Campion or Garth Davis) into seven shorter episodes. The episode titles will usually reflect which two BBC episodes were cannibalized. This is my first watch-through of the series so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes.

Originally aired April 15, 2013 (written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee/directed by Garth Davis with Jane Campion)

This was the best episode so far, but that praise comes with a caveat - in a sense, this isn't an episode at all. I'm referring to the different versions of the series, which I recently discovered (I wrote the intro to this viewing diary, explaining this discrepancy, at a later date), but I bring it up now because this is one of the few "episodes" where that chopped-up quality feels especially evident. Usually the American cuts find a good, natural-seeming spot to stop but episode six ends abruptly when Robin rides toward her fateful meeting with Matt. Nicely suspenseful, certainly, but without much of a final visual punch. Most likely, the "proper" ending occurs several scenes earlier at Jamie's funeral, as his friends push a skiff containing his body out from shore. That's quite a scene, though I questioned it at first. Staging an elaborate memorial at Paradise, the mourners decorated with Jamie's signature "NO" on their faces and clothes (even the horses have the word emblazoned on their haunches), while GJ's hippies sing a folksy cover of a Bjork song...it all seemed a tad overdramatic for a show that's usually much more down to earth.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Top of the Lake season 1, episode 5 (Sundance version) - "A Rainbow Above Us"/"The Dark Creator"


Welcome to my viewing diary for Top of the Lake. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will review another episode. I will be following the Sundance Channel order, which is the one available on U.S. Netflix. It divides the six BBC episodes (each directed in its entirety by either Jane Campion or Garth Davis) into seven shorter episodes. The episode titles will usually reflect which two BBC episodes were cannibalized. This is my first watch-through of the series so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes.

Originally aired April 8, 2013 (written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee/directed by Jane Campion with Garth Davis)

The two big developments in this episode are a death and the discovery that someone else is not dead. Jude, Robin's mother, passes away not long after visiting GJ's compound. Her immediate feeling of reassurance is perturbed anew when she notices Robin embracing Johnno. Jude's final scene in the show depicts her extracting a promise from her daughter, that she won't go out with Johnno. Ironically, Robin is with Johnno when her mother dies, only hearing her voice one last time from a phone message recorded earlier. Robin's relationship with Johnno is up and down: she is relieved to discover his "secret" was simply that he didn't do enough to help her when she was being raped, not (as she feared) that he participated himself. Still, she has doubts, and after her mother's vague warning, she presses: did he signal her rapists to pick her up fifteen years ago? Johnno is so offended that he storms out, although later they will reconcile. But he never flat-out says no.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Top of the Lake season 1, episode 4 (Sundance version) - "The Edge of the Universe"/"A Rainbow Above Us"


Welcome to my viewing diary for Top of the Lake. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will review another episode. I will be following the Sundance Channel order, which is the one available on U.S. Netflix. It divides the six BBC episodes (each directed in its entirety by either Jane Campion or Garth Davis) into seven shorter episodes. The episode titles will usually reflect which two BBC episodes were cannibalized. This is my first watch-through of the series so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes.

Originally aired April 1, 2013 (written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee/directed by Garth Davis with Jane Campion)

As it turns out, Robin's big discovery - "I think I know what she meant by 'No one'!" - may have more to do with herself than with Tui. Visiting Al at his chic glass house that evening, she explains that by "no one" Tui may have meant "more than one" rather than zero. In other words, she was gang-raped. Al is dismissive, turning the subject to Robin's past. In this episode, we we finally learn the details of the detective's own trauma. About twenty years ago she attended prom with Johnno; he disappeared with some friends, so she left and hitched a ride in a truck. Johnno also hopped aboard the back (though she never knew he was there) and then the driver and other passengers took her to an isolated spot and raped her. The perpetrators were not charged, but the cops and Mitch violently punished them off the books. Robin got pregnant, gave the baby up for adoption, and years later received a letter from her now-teenage birth daughter, to which she never responded.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Top of the Lake season 2, episode 3 (Sundance version) - "Searchers Search"/"The Edge of the Universe"


Welcome to my viewing diary for Top of the Lake. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will review another episode. I will be following the Sundance Channel order, which is the one available on U.S. Netflix. It divides the six BBC episodes (each directed in its entirety by either Jane Campion or Garth Davis) into seven shorter episodes. The episode titles will usually reflect which two BBC episodes were cannibalized. This is my first watch-through of the series so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes.

Originally aired March 25, 2013 (written by Jane Campion & Gerard Lee/directed by Garth Davis)

Similarly to other short series I've seen, episode three is reserved mostly for character development and insight. Robin discovers her mother is going to die, and she tells her fiance (on the phone) that he deserves better before cheating on him with Johnno. We learn more about Johnno's past, both his relationship with Robin (she was his first kiss) and his years in a Thai prison. Even the still-missing Tui gets screentime when Robin is moved by a videotape of her playing in the woods. This may be Top of the Lake's clearest nod to Twin Peaks yet - and Robin's fascination with the victim places her closer to the likes of Dale Cooper than the "True Detectives". There's an extra twist to the bond, though, since Robin too is female and haunted by her own dark past. She clearly identifies on some level with the missing girl.