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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

It may be a while before we find our way home again.

This blog has fallen idle in the past year or two because truthfully, I didn’t know what to say anymore. I wrote my first post on Christmas Eve, 2009, after something we never knew could fall did, and the message was that Art Matters. From then on I wrote about the crossroads of where Art and Life meet. There was no shortage of topics—just a shortage of time to cover them.

But as life around us grew more serious with events like Aurora and Newtown*—which occurred just 11 miles from where I was living at the time, and two days after I interviewed Kenny Loggins and the Blue Sky Riders—it seemed that art of all kinds began to recede into the background. Dare I say it—we became less relevant?

And now, on the first day of a very different world for all of us, it seems that the last thing on the agenda is art of any kind. Artists, musicians, composers, filmmakers, writers, etc.—we all seem to be quite beside the point.

But nothing is further from the truth.

What you do with your art in the next few years will be informed by the massive changes in the way we are coming to live and to think on a daily basis. We will all be challenged on our values, no matter what they are, because we now cohabit a world in a heightened state of disagreement, of conflict, and of confusion.

History does repeat, and looks at lot like the early 60s, a time that led directly into a creative explosion. Art thrives in adversity and finds its voice. Artists of all kinds are ridiculously brave in the darkness, willing to put fingers out into the unknown and explore whatever could be out there. What they show us about ourselves through songs and movies, in paintings and stories, will amaze us and open our hearts. It happened before and will happen again, and soon.

Of course, there is a unique lack of appreciation for any of the arts within the new administration, which has set as one of its first goals the elimination of funding to the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and Humanities (NEH). Really? A world in crisis and the first order of business is to cut out the arts? But I do digress….

The arts are and have always been the soul of our entire way of life. Artists are now charged with preserving our culture, as they have been since the first cave drawings were made. We capture not just the facts, but the raw emotions of the smallest moment in time, protecting and projecting images of who and what we are that are likely to outlive any number of transitions in our government.

And in the middle of the chaos to come, the words, the pictures and the thoughts will be released from a collective creativity that will lead us to understanding, to empathy, and hopefully to peace of mind. The message today is the same as it was in 2009: Art Matters. And now it matters more…please keep at it.

So welcome again to the Arts Enclave Blog – Where Art and Life Meet!

*going right up to the biggest and most lethal shooting in Orlando in December of 2016

© Copyright 2017 – Arts Enclave.

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Take success where you find it, and call it yours.

Stan Lee, the most famous comic-book creator of all time, was born Stanley Martin Lieber. He started working as a teenager at Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics) where he filled the inkwells for the artists. He planned to use the pen name Stan Lee for serious fiction. In 2008 he received a National Medal of Arts as a writer, editor and publisher—of comic books.

Dan Fogelberg and Joni Mitchell both planned on being fine artists. Oops.

As I write this, I am repeating the mantra to myself: take success where you find it. A lifetime of planning my career in the arts has taken me to many places I did not expect to go, and while the goal stays the same, the journey is not at all what I could have pictured. Through the years, I have worked in publishing, hospitals, advertising, art festivals, movie sets, corporate business, and even retail. It’s all good, because eventually, it all ends up in the book…

You can’t plan your journey in the arts…or in life. You can only prepare for it and then go where it takes you.

Very few will find the kind of success in their fields they dreamed of and others will find so much more. If you choose a life in the arts, then it’s about legacy. While money and fame are certainly possible, they are the rare rewards and to many a distraction from the actual work. Stan Lee, to my knowledge, has never published the novel he planned on writing, although, I suspect he’s pretty satisfied with what he has done.

Even in the business world, there are parallels. Only one person at a time is the CEO. The rest are all just hopefuls and minions.

Now there’s a term we have come to see differently: Minions. Defined as, ‘a servile follower or subordinate of a person in power,’ the connotation of this word changed with the release of the movie Despicable Me. Where once a minion was thought of as one of the faceless mass of followers, usually of ignominious stature, that movie created a whole world of individual minions who are fantastically happy being just what they are. In fact, the new movie “Minions” is based on the notion that they seek to be followers in the most zen-like fashion.

It’s a hard life to pursue the arts, and we are drawn to it because inside, we simply have no choice. Eventually it will call you out, and you know what you want to do. For most of us, it will mean working at other vocations to earn the moments we spend making art of any kind. Those moments are certainly precious, but the ones we spend in our other lives are what we bring to our art.

It’s what you do outside of your art that goes into it.

The secret is to appreciate the journey for what it is. Be a minion to your calling and accept the unique life it brings you.

Here they are, singing the Banana song. Enjoy.

 

BTW: Support Wikipedia with a small donation to keep it ad free. It’s the best FREE resource on the planet!

 

© Copyright 2014 – Arts Enclave.

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Seurat probably never said, “fuck-it.” Anyone who has seen his pointillist paintings becomes instantly aware that he just kept going, adding dot after dot after dot until the wee hours. But at what point (literally what point) was it time to stop? It’s really not clear that Seurat knew.

Here’s how it goes:  Anything in life is about perception, which is subjective, meaning completely clouded by the notions and emotional artifacts of the person doing the perceiving. That final impression—of a painting, a song, a movie, an event, even the way you spent Thanksgiving—is as much about the mind of the audience as it is about the creator.

Art needs to cut through this cloud in which billions of particles of debris are already floating to leave one single, fleeting impression. Seurat, who led the Post-Impressionist Movement, discovered he could manipulate the way the brain receives the message by breaking down the colors in the painting into separate points.

Seurat is the artist most associated with pointillism—although there were (and still are) others who practice it. The technique involves placing very specific dots of pure color in careful juxtaposition. Up close, they are DOTS, painstakingly applied, and appearing to have little meaning. But as you move away, the mind takes over, filling in the spaces for a more complete, unified picture. The further back you stand, the better it looks.

Georges Seurat

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Chicago Museum of Art)

Seurat painted about 240 paintings, often repeating the same subject. His most famous work, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” appeared in different forms over several years, as he “reworked” the painting, actually adding the points of color later in the process as his technique grew.

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Among my incarnations, I sometimes scout for movies, TV, videos and ad agencies. In 5 years, it’s taken me all around the state of Connecticut and the surrounding states (NY,MA and RI) and it’s given me a unique perspective on how things are going out there. Connecticut was one of the three states hardest hit by the collapse of the delusional housing market of the early 2000s…But from my dashboard vantage point, I see an economy that is recovering, stabilizing, and even growing, from where it was just a year or 18 months ago.

 

 

If you’re interested in some actual data, the housing reports for 2012 (here’s one from Hartford) indicate that prices are still down, but the properties are slowly beginning to move. This is a good sign. As I cruised the roads this past month, particularly in rural areas of the state, I noticed two things:

1) a huge decrease in ‘for sale’ and ‘foreclosure’ signs, and

2) Tyvek — people are remodeling, refurbishing, and yes, building

Last summer (2011) I scouted old gas stations for a horror film.  I found 40 of them, and with a few more days, probably could have found many more. And the weird thing was, many of them had been abandoned just a few months before. They literally ran out of gas and walked away from the business. People would tell me that one day they were open, and the next they were not.

This hot dog stand had gone out of business, leaving behind a building and equipment the owners hoped to rent out.

 

 

There were lots of abandoned stores and businesses we could use also—if we had the money to fix them up (I saw places that had giant holes in the floors, boarded windows, broken stairs).

 

 

For 2 years from 2010 to summer of 2011, I had my pick of homes of all sizes and values to show to directors. Real Estate agents were working with me to show houses that were at risk of foreclosure in hopes they could keep them afloat with a movie fee until they sold.

 

 

Not so this summer. I tried looking for warehouse space—which was so easy to come by last year—and I was repeatedly told the owners had many offers for space rental and were no longer interested in the short term contracts the movies offer. There are fewer vacant businesses, and those that are vacant are new and hopeful they will find renters….And a lot of the realtors don’t call me back when I inquire about private homes. Bad for movies, good for the state and the people in it.

 

I took a map of Connecticut and highlighted all the roads I have traveled, and nearly filled in the state. In short, I have seen it all from the dashboard of my car. In 2008, Connecticut was actively driving film business into the state with one of the most aggressive tax incentives in the country (30%)—and it worked. We also have a number of major established stars who live here and want to work close to home (presumably so they can have somewhat normal lives), including Robert DeNiro (starting with Rightous Kill) Meryl Streep (Hope Springs), and Laura Linney (the Big C), so film and TV have become a solid state industry. Here’s a full list of films that have been shot in CT.

In the past five years I have scouted a variety of locations, including:

– private homes (modest to middle class to wealthy)

– inner city apartments

– mansions (you would not believe)

– gas stations

– churches, churches and more churches (for every movie!)

– harbors (for tall ships)

– woods (for romantic rendezvous)

–  rivers (for the actors to wade into)

–  restaurants, bars, and nightclubs

–  theatres

–  nail salons

–  small businesses

–  truck stops

My first film was in 2008. Then nothing for 2 years. I thought it was because I was inexperienced, but actually the film business dried up completely. Who was going to invest a million or two in a small indie film when the world economy had crashed? And then, in 2011, it was like the little animals from Bambi waking up after the spring thaw. Phone calls. Emails from friends. I worked on the Big C, then two movies back to back. I got calls from ad agencies in St. Louis and L.A.  This is not a full-time job, but there was quite a bit of work. This year, the pattern has continued, and the productions seem to have more money to work with, and they don’t make me haggle with the locations at all.

So if I have to choose the tortoise or the hare, I prefer the tortoise. Thank you, President Obama, for choosing a steady path, which is slowly bringing us back to a kind of stability we can rely on. There’s nothing fancy going on here. We have people working for decent wages. Nobody’s getting rich on the stock market, flipping houses, or building a dot.com. We can all see where our money is coming from and where it is going, and it appears to be going in the right direction for the first time in years.

Here’s a little exercise I invite you to try in the next few weeks:

1) Take some time to notice the road on your way to work or to visit friends. Look at the neighborhoods. How many for sale signs are there? Foreclosure signs? Do you remember how many there were a few years ago?

2)  Look at the shelves in your supermarket. Last year, the selection was sparse, and the shelves carried little inventory. My Stop And Shop reduced the number of aisles and made them wider. Looks full to me this year.

3) Check out parking lots in front of your favorite stores.

4)  Look at the state of the roads. There’s construction everywhere, which is annoying, but 3 years ago bridges were collapsing everywhere.

5)  And what about the gas pumps? Last year I stood in line with the people paying with twenty-dollar bills, to fill just enough to get where they are going.  This year, there’s more pumping—although the prices are just as high.

 

The pain seems to be subsiding. We had a heavy price to pay for excess, and we’ve mostly paid our debt, so we can hope for things to get better—not a lot, but just a little, the way it should be.

 

REMEMBER TO VOTE ON TUESDAY NOV 6TH!

 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2012 – Arts Enclave.

 

 

 

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I’d like to share with you one of the best kept secrets on the East Coast: the Middle-Aged Movie Maven (on Facebook), who will clue you in to what’s really worth that hefty ticket price these days.

Written by my sister, Nancy, who has long been my own personal movie critic, this new Facebook  page will give you a heads up on what to see—because I guarantee, she sees it first. Nancy sees most movies on the day (or at least the weekend) they are released. I often work in the movie business (which I’ll save for another post), and just as often, I miss something that’s already left theatres. When I do go, she’s my trusty guidepost. Read more

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AND NOW, the Top 5…Movies that make a powerful visual impact

Each of these picks was helmed by one of a small cadre of truly artistic directors who work their medium in creative and skilled ways to produce unique visions on screen. Some were hits, some not, but they can all be found still at Amazon.com. You may have different ideas, and I’d love to hear them, possibly for a new post.

Here’s my countdown from #5:

 

5)  The Cell, 2000

Tarsem Singh, Director. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio

A psychological thriller in a class by itself, so well executed and so intelligently thought out, that it elevates itself beyond the subject matter. The scenes are extraordinarily detailed and have movement that takes them from one into the next, borrowing from surrealism, cubism, and impressionism to evoke the disturbed subconscious of a killer.

Psychotherapist Catherine Deane (Lopez) has a special ability to bond with very troubled patients using a special technology that allows her to visit them in their own minds. When a serial killer (D’Onofrio) is caught with one of his victims still hidden alive somewhere, Catherine ventures into his demented world to find the answers. There they mingle in a sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrifying world shared by the killer’s childhood self, who needs to protect her from the demon he has become.

This film enters the realm of the imagination, marrying symbolism to the subject matter in a way that keeps the story moving and very clearly connects reality with dark fantasy. Artists who use symbolism too often get mesmerized by the complexity of their own thinking, rendering the artwork confusing and inaccessible to an outside audience. By drawing heavily on references to conceptual and contemporary art (ranging from Escher and Dali to H.R. Giger, a sculptor and painter who contributed to the visual effects of Alien), the film creates an extraordinarily unique plane where the story can play out between realities, and anything can happen. The stills from the film present a showcase worthy of any gallery opening, but the film has a movement beyond the stills that you won’t want to miss. Dark though it is, it’s also mesmerizing.

The Cell is a fantastic example of how to use symbolism, metaphor, color, and the full range of a painter’s palette to enhance a very grounded story. The biggest surprise is how you can come to empathize with the demon, whose motivations become clear and understandable, and how the director leads you back out of the dark fantasy world to resolve the real-world crisis.

Watch the Trailer.

4)  Three Days of the Condor, 1975

Sydney Pollack, Director.  Starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, and Cliff Robertson.

I think every visual artist (photographer, filmmaker, painter) should see this beautiful film by Sydney Pollack, a masterful filmmaker who died last year. He made many hugely successful movies with major stars, including The Way We Were, Tootsie, Absence of Malice, and Out of Africa (among many others), all of which are well worth watching, but this film stands out as a visual and storytelling masterpiece.

What Sydney Pollack does best―and perhaps better than any other director―is establish a tone for a film, which he carries through visually, in the music, in the dialogue, and the overall pacing of the piece. The tone of Three Days of the Condor is pensive, brooding, lonely, and a little sad—an interesting counterpoint for a political thriller. Pollack personalizes the mortal conflict in bittersweet detail, showing characters who are alone even in a crowd. Nobody is safe.

If you don’t know the story, Redford plays Joe Turner, aka “Condor” a researcher for the CIA who comes back from lunch to find his coworkers all murdered. Out on the street, he calls in to Langley HQ where his section chief wants to “bring him in.” A string of hits set Turner up as both the target and the assailant, and drive him underground to clear his mind and figure out who his enemies—and his friends, are. He takes Kathy Hale (Dunaway),  hostage on the street and has her drive him to her apartment in Brooklyn, where he begins to piece together the puzzle. In one of the most poignant scenes, Turner examines the photos Kathy takes professionally:

Turner:   Lonely photographs.

Kathy:    So?

Turner:     You’re funny.  You take pictures of empty streets, and trees with no leaves on them.

Kathy:    It’s winter.

Turner:   Not quite winter.  They look like…November—not autumn, not winter, in-between. I like them.

The colors of the film are muted and drab, deeply shadowed so that nothing seems completely visible—or completely invisible. Each character stands alone. Most of the scenes in the film have two characters, sometimes three, suggesting that the big problems of the world often come down to the actions of just a few people. Pollack is also interested in making observations about the futility and emptiness of what was then the Cold War—a standoff in anticipation of the real thing. A world of mistrust separates us all from each other. Watch for a particularly stark and underplayed moment near the end of the film between Turner and his potential assassin, played by Max von Sydow.

Here’s an interesting clip of an old interview where Pollack talks about how the film evolved, and how it was received by audiences and critics. If you haven’t seen Three Days of the Condor, or seen it recently, then make sure to watch it again soon!

Watch the Trailer.

3)  An Unfinished Life, 2005 

Lasse Hallström, Director.  Starring Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas.

…An amazing closing shot that just perfectly sums up so many of the scenes in the film.

So we’ve got another film starring Robert Redford—not because I am a particular fan (although I am), but I think he often chooses films with strong visual sensibilities, by directors with similar vision. This film is by one of my favorite directors, Lasse Hallström, who gives extraordinary attention to color, composition, and movement in every frame. As an artist, you must watch the film with the Swedish director’s commentary turned on, as he explains how he chose the absolutely lyrical shots taken from deep in the

Hallström also directed other visually appealing films, including Ciderhouse Rules, Casanova, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, as well as two films I especially recommend: Chocolat, and The Shipping News (a visually stark film that completely captures the harsh life on the Nova Scotia coast).

Hallström seems to choose a palate for each of his films and approaches them as a painter would, which is why you should really get a bunch of them from the library or video store and do a weekend marathon. Casanova, the most commercial and to my mind, least appealing of his films, still captures the rich golds, ambers and red of the venetian sunset in every frame, and the wardrobe and interiors are extremely vibrant as well. The Shipping News is rendered in grays with blue and green overtones, often like sepia, and for Chocolat, he manages to make you salivate, even in frames that don’t have food in them, by carrying over the rich browns, tans and white of the confectionary store.

But for real mastery, his work reaches a high point with An Unfinished Life, which is rendered as a moving landscape film that tells a compelling story about the people who inhabit (or come and go) this unforgiving countryside. In particular, there are long shots of the gravesite of (Einer Gilkyson) Redford’s son, and a shot taken of the dilapidated ranch house from various angles. Hallström explains that for one shot taken from the barn he actually added by CG the silhouettes of two cats in the frame watching Einer in the yard. For more background on the film, visit this interview with the director for Box Office Mojo by Scott Holleran.

Watch the Trailer.

2)   Where the Heart Is, 1990

John Boorman, Director. Starring Dabney Coleman, Uma Thurman, Crispin Glover, Suzi Amis, Christopher Plummer

Forget the Natalie Portman movie about the girl who gives birth in Walmart, this one-of-a-kind film of the same name is an absolutely unique story by rogue writer/director John Boorman about the fall of society through decadence and the rescue of the human soul through—you guessed it, ART.

Funny, strange, and very entertaining. the story starts off with Dabney Coleman as the wealthy NY City real estate developer who specialized in demolition of historical sites. His three spoiled kids have all been following their muses on Daddy’s largesse for too long, and so he cuts them off from the family gravy train and drops them off at the historical site rescued from his wrecking ball by protesters. They are given $750 each and encouraged to use their considerable educations and wits to make a living.

When they finally adjust to the notion of becoming self-sustaining, they tackle the task through the filters of their substantial creative abilities in a myriad of unusual ways Dad never planned on. They agree to bring boarders into help their plight. Brother Jimmy brings home his Wall Street buddy, while sister Daphne (Thurman) brings home a magical well past his prime, who now lives in a box. Chloe (Amis) invites her friend who is at work on his first fashion collection.

But it is Chloe’s own art project that ties all of the stories together as she gets to work on photographs for a calendar, using housemates covered in body paint against tromp l’oeil backgrounds for each of the portraits. The result is a stunning visual experience that many followers of the movie (myself included) have tried to find in the real world.

"Chloe's Calendar, September" from Where the Heart Is, artist Timna Wollards

Chloe's "September" - and again, the primitive influence of Rousseau

Unfortunately, as a non-Hollywood film, product marketing was not figured into the distribution strategy, and the much sought-after calendar was never made available. Real-life artist Timna Woollards has kept a very low profile, but parts of the calendar can be viewed from the blog, Pandora’s Parlor.

As Dad’s empire crumbles under the weight the stalled demolition, and Wall Street takes the first of several big tumbles, the people with the money (including Dad and his banker) are all turned out and are taken in by the creatives, who stand behind their artworks.

Boorman is known for producing a number of major films, including Deliverance, writing another dozen or so, and directing almost as many. Where the Heart Is is certainly one of the lesser-known of his films that has become a cult classic over the years since it was made.

As a writer/director, he often made allegorical films that were rich with symbolism and cultural epiphanies, such as 1985’s The Emerald Forest (which I just picked up at Staples for $4.99). He seems fascinated with the ways man destroys the world around him, and pondering what will save us. In Where The Heart Is, he offers the belief that human survival comes from nurturing creativity in the middle of urban blight―as civilization dies, art lights the future.

Unfortunately, the Trailer is not available, and the only place I have seen this film for sale is on Amazon.com

 

And now….here’s my vote for #1:

1)   Joe Versus the Volcano

This allegorical movie is wonderful for so many reasons—it will also be included in future lists for writers and composers. But for now, we’re focusing on the visual elements, of which there are many delights. It actually reads like a giant picture book. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck, Doubt), the shots are very carefully and artistically composed as a photo montage about the meaning of life. You can see Edward Hopper in many of the early shots, and the later sequences take on simplistic, primitive elements of Henri Rousseau (like Boat in the Storm) with large blocks of vibrant, solid color.  Much of the last third of the film is populated by beautifully lyrical shots of the moon, the boat, the ocean, in illustrations reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish (see also a previous post), which Shanley uses very effectively to remind us he is telling a bedtime story…

Schooled film directors are taught to use paintings and photographs to develop their initial storyboards of how their film will look, so you can probably find a lot more paintings in this movie.

Then there’s the script—always fun, and full of the sharp, quirky dialogue Shanley is so well known for (he got more serious as he got older).

So now that we have the artists and writers on board (a writer’s pun), you can make it a family movie night because of the brilliant cast. This was the first pairing of Tom Hanks at his young, charming best as Joe Banks (where you see the beginnings of films like Castaway) with Meg Ryan and Meg Ryan and Meg Ryan as three entirely different characters. Their famous chemistry is immediately evident. There’s also a small boatload (sorry, can’t help myself) of fun character shots with Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda, Nathan Lane, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Robert Stack and Ossie Davis. This movie is far more entertaining than I remembered, and surprisingly inspiring. 

Here, Joe starts to learn about the small moments in life:

Patricia (Meg Ryan):  Do you know where Joe Banks is?

Waponi Chief (Abe Vigoda):  Maybe he run away. Maybe he don’t wanna jump in the big Wu.

Movie Message:  When life really looks bleak, it’s time to take a giant leap into the unknown.

And here you can view the Hollywood Trailer, which manages to capture not one of the many marvelous shots from this movie!  Shows you what Hollywood can do with great material. See it anyway, twice!!

 

   © 2011 Arts Enclave. All Rights Reserved.

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In compiling a list for visual artists, I looked for films that had points to make about the art world, artists, or made great use of the visual medium that film is. It was a hard list to compile, because there were surprisingly few examples. Most films about artists are boring or inaccurate, or boring and inaccurate. Films about the art world are often clichés. I did not include the charmingly ridiculous How to Steal A Million(1966) because it doesn’t have any real lesson to teach (although it is great fun and Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole are inhumanly stunning together).

My list is eclectic, and in order to give some explanation for my choices, I had to split the list in half, so come back tomorrow for Part II: The TOP 5 of the TOP 10

10)  Semi-Tough, 1977

Michael Ritchie, Director. Starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh.

We’ll start with an easy pick of something light and not too deep in the message area. One thing film does better than any other medium is satire, and Semi-Tough manages to clobber just about everything we decided was sacred in the 70s and told us to ‘get over ourselves’ long before it was fashionable. Although it’s now dated, that’s exactly what makes it fun—something you also want to remember when creating art (not that this comes close).

So, just as a warm-up, I invite you to get some popcorn and maybe even a joint to watch this comic love triangle played out just outside the football field, with send-ups of the new self-improvement Gestalt of the 70s with fads like EST and ROLFING (here called BEAT and PELFING).

…And it would never have made it to this list but for the one line delivered by a young(er) and still sexy Kristofferson (as football player “Shake” Tiller—ridiculous in itself) to Clayburgh as Barbara Jane (BJ) Bookman, the team owner’s daughter, just returned from a journey to Africa to find herself after another hopeless romance, where she spent her time taking pictures she now hates.

Shake:   “They’re nice pictures of trees.”

BJ:       “But I was trying to take pictures of people and animals.”

Shake: “Don’t think about what you tried to do, just look at what you did.”

Get it?  Ah, yes Obi Wan, we are with you.

Watch the Trailer.

9)  Pollock, 2000

Ed Harris, Director. Starring Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Tom Bower, Jennifer Connelly.

Biographic films about artists tend to suck for one of two reasons: 1) while an artists’ work is often very engaging, their daily lives are often not (Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe are recent examples). They create drama in their minds or seek it out, and are often self-absorbed to the point where they make very bad movie protagonists, since we lose sight of what we are rooting for; and 2) the films that do make the artist seem interesting often have very little fact to them (Lust for Life featuring Kirk Douglas and his famous dimple as Van Gogh,  and Moulin Rouge ,1952, with Jose Ferrar doing a horribly gimpy Toulouse-Lautrec).

Pollock is one of those rare biopic films about artists that manages to tell an engaging story while stepping inside the New York art world and the private life of one of the most famous and troubled artists of the 20th century.  He led a turbulent and tormented life while his art was embraced by people with high influence in New York society, like Peggy Guggenheim (Harris’s wife Amy Madigan in a great performance). Pollock was loved, possibly unreasonably, by another artist, Lee Krasner (Harden) who protected him from the world and his own demons as best she could—which she viewed as her highest contribution to art.

Director Harris is able to keep the story balanced while actor Harris unveils a rich portrait of a talented man who had no coping mechanisms for the world that made him into a commodity. The film explores the delicacy of giving yourself over to your art while still preserving yourself within the real world—of drawing a lifeline where you can find your way back. Krasner was often that lifeline, but Pollock often lost touch with her as well. It’s quite a riveting portrait that talks more about art than it does about the artist—whether you believe all the details or not. Harris also appears in a documentary about Pollock, Jackson Pollock, Love and Death on Long Island, which recounts many of the same incidents through interviews with some Lee Krasner and others who knew the artist.

Watch the Pollock Trailer

And as soon as you see this, make sure to watch #8,

8)  Who the $#%@ Is Jackson Pollock (2006)

Documentary. Harry Moses, Director

Paired with the film above (which you should see first to give you a context), this wacky documentary follows truck driver and trailer park art aficionado, Teri Horton, who buys a $5 painting for her neighbor that turns out to be a possible Jackson Pollock. Soon the whole art world is involved as experts try to verify the authenticity and the price keeps climbing to $25 million. I had a lot more to say about this film in an earlier post, Pollock, Paintcans, and Millions of Dollars.  It was definitely a hoot to watch, and really helps you see the difference between the world of creating art and the world of collecting art.

This movie is a MUST for any artist, just to help you gain perspective on how little control you have over the value that is placed on your work.

Trailer not available – official site.

7)  Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006

Guillermo Del Toro, Director. Starring Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil and Sergi López.

I have to include this film by Guillermo Del Toro, despite the fact that I had no plans to ever see it again—that was until I watched the trailer again.

It’s not exactly enjoyable, although it is visually evocative and exciting, which is why it won three Academy Awards for best cinematography, makeup and art direction. Like many contemporary fantasy films, this Spanish import crosses over between the reality we know and the reality just below the surface of our consciousness. It’s a very dark story about a young girl in 1944 fascist Spain who avoids the visions of cruelty her step father, a sadistic army officer, perpetrates upon his prisoners by turning to books. Late at night, she is visited by a faun who draws her towards a labyrinth of dark mystical creatures who want to claim her as their princess…and she follows.

The make-up, lighting, and set design are exquisite, and there is a lyrical movement to the film that is well worth seeing.

 Watch the Trailer.

6)   Avatar, 2009

James Cameron, Director. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver.

Nearly everyone has seen this film, multiple times judging by Cameron’s bank account, but it’s well worth the price of popcorn (although I doubt the home DVD can do it justice).  I saw it twice in 3D with my son who also saw the IMAX version and the regular 2D version, and he claims there was no comparison. I’m willing to believe him.

This film would not, as a whole, be considered a creative masterpiece. The acting is adequate, the dialogue a little mundane, the story itself is fairly ordinary and predictable, and the last third of the picture (the obligatory Star Wars type battle scene) goes on for way too long. But I’m not reviewing this film here for its story.

The sheer genius of Avatar is in the new technology Cameron (Director of The Terminator, The Abyss, Aliens, and Titanic) and his crew created that allows them to cross a new line into virtual storytelling.  For the first time ever, computer generated scenery and even characters can be played out in real time for the live actors to play against, and even Cameron was able to view them entirely as their fictional characters. Certainly the spectacular use of color and movement to show the world of the Navi—something borne entirely out of Cameron’s imagination—is beyond anything we have seen on the screen before. The main gift this film brings us is that we have now entered a time when anything imagined can be accurately rendered on screen. The need to suspend disbelief has been erased. Avatar is a feast for the senses that takes you on a whole new kind of ride without ever leaving your seat. 

If you have not seen it, wait for the next time Avatar goes back to theatres. You might as well make Cameron even richer than he already is. For the huge leaps this film takes, and his creative use of this bold new technology, he certainly deserves it.

Watch the Trailer.

…..tomorrow we count down to my top 5 choices—see if you agree!

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