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Archive for the ‘Filmmaking’ Category

I am often led to arts enclaves by the artists who live and work there. Such was my introduction to Rockport, Massachusetts last summer, and so deep was my infatuation, that I have already booked a week there this summer.

Rockport, Mass sits on the northern coast of the state, just past Gloucester, on the very tip of Cape Ann. The artist who led me there was a wonderful contemporary architectural landscape painter named David Arsenault, whose work I have followed for several years. His aesthetic is to paint clean, crisp visions of the simple elegance of these landscapes. His website invites you to visit both the town he loves to paint (complete with lodging information and local events), and the gallery he now occupies on Dock Square (a move from his previous location on Bearskin Neck).

What is it about this place?

Take a look at the location and you’ll see why the fascination with Rockport. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Boston—but it couldn’t be further from the city. The energy here is slow and easy during the day, warm and bubbling at night.

No Coastal MA map

The Massachusetts Coastal Zone Map (full map available at http://www.mass.gov)

Yes, this is Yankee country—where “ahhhhr’s” float on the wind. You can walk Bearskin neck to the tip of Cape Ann in Rockport and from that vantage point, the Altantic surrounds you on three sides. It’s a picturesque place that has inspired artists for centuries, as well as photographers, and even filmmakers.

In nearby Gloucester, the famous fisherman statue leans into the wind It’s the oldest seaport in America, home of Gorton’s, the originators of the fish stick, and the port where the families of the Andrea Gail crew waited for the six fishermen who never returned from The Perfect Storm. But you can relax there, with a nice meal harborside.

Just west of Rockport is Manchester-by-the-Sea, now best known as the site of the Oscar-nominated film from 2016. (Much of that film was also shot in Rockport.)

Motif #1v5

And the next time you watch Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, you’ll realize she didn’t go all the way to Sitka Alaska, but to Rockport (and other surrounding areas). You’ll recognize the iconic replica of a fishing shack called “Motif #1” (pronounced Mow-tiv, ask the locals why), which Wikipedia refers to as “the most often painted building in America.”

Rockport was designated one of the 10 Prettiest Coastal Towns in New England by Yankee Magazine—and it’s well deserved. This tourist haven blooms primarily in the warm breezes of the summer (although there are activities year-round, particularly at Christmas), with an easy pedestrian shopping district filled with crafty shops with stories and interesting items from around the world—handmade ponchos from South America and French linens and drums and perfumed oils—not to mention the pewter and woodwork and ART everywhere. You actually can get something here that won’t be in every tourist town in America.

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The Beach

Okay, it’s everywhere. Rockport is really more like a peninsula jutting out into the ocean, so it’s easy to find a bit of public sand or a bench to sit and enjoy the views, or can take a nice dip (and you don’t even need hotel access). There’s also other stuff, like kayaking, whale watches, fishing excursions and boat tours (check www.rockportusa.com). My personal recommendation is to just hop on the water taxi in Gloucester at any stop.

The Rockport Arts Colony

The village wakes up in summer like the opening of a Disney movie. Last summer, my friend and I came of out breakfast in the main square and stepped right into a little parade, complete with a marching band. Music can be heard frequently on the streets, but the real deal is the spectacular Shalin Liu Performance Center, with its amazing backdrop of the coastline behind an impressive showcase of performers of all styles (classical, jazz, pop, folk, orchestral and choral). It’s a focal point of the village, a nice stroll from many of the hotels and inns and nestled between a number of restaurants and art galleries.

Rockport1 2016

And, don’t forget the ART. Rockport is home to 30 galleries that show the works of hundreds of local artists. Visiting artists of all kinds are encouraged to set up easels and can easily by guided to many local spots for painting by the gallery owners in town. The Rockport Art Association also hosts a number of art exhibits and painting workshops where you learn the best of what these artists have to teach.

Two art-related events worth noting are:

Head to Gloucester for the small galleries, restaurants and shops of Rocky Neck and the Cape Ann Museum where you can explore the gloriously rich maritime and granite-quarrying history of this tiny New England region through centuries of fine art and sculpture.

Just so you know, there are many things that I’ve missed, so you’ll just have to go and explore it yourself (and share what you learn in the comments).

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David Arsenault in his studio, August 2016

Make sure to say hi to David and talk to the locals—they love Rockport and Gloucester and will be very happy to tell you so much more about it!

More Reading:

In Rockport, artists kept the Depression at bay (Boston Globe, 2010)

Artists of Cape Ann – A 150-Year Tradition – by Kristian Davies, 2001

© Copyright 2017– 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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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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2011 will be the Year of  Inspiration.

We leave behind a decade of hardship and excess, and a complete loss of touch with everything that makes us human. We got caught up in symbols of things that prove we dominate the planet, and arguments over who should have those things and who should not. We measured our world by prices of stocks and houses, watching the numbers as if they were the air we needed to breathe. And when the dominoes began to fall, we hung onto a lot of misguided discussion over who had the answers. Nobody did, because we weren’t asking the right questions.

Life is fairly simple, when we are able to step back and view the universe for what it is—something miraculous and relatively indifferent to our individual neuroses. There’s the sky and the ocean and the land between, sun and moon, winter and summer. At our best, we humans are uniquely blessed with the ability to appreciate those things that are so much larger than we are, and when we do, we see how inconsequential the price of gas is. It’s time to let a universe that knows better than we do take back the reigns. Our job is to get up every day and revel in what the world shows us.

Everyone needs daily inspiration to plod through the infinite indignities, hardships, and even tragedies of life just to find those small moments of perfection, where it is just good to be. And so we decorate our space in the world with things large and small that remind us of who we want to be, and show us new ways to see ourselves. It’s in the music we play, the books we read, the movies we watch, and the pictures we look at that take us to the world at its best. Each day becomes a tapestry we weave ourselves, stitching together the inspiration we find in a million places.

Art does move the world, in infinitesimal, miniscule, monumental ways. It is the forest of dreams we wander through, and without it, we would simply forage for food and seek shelter from the cold. Birds make nests, but they don’t hang pictures on the wall. They sing, but not to entertain. They dance, but only to capture the attention of a mate. And even then, it’s all for a purpose—only humans are into recreational sex. And as far as we know, birds don’t tell jokes.

So, the point of human life is not in daily survival. We all do that until the day we don’t. It’s the view along the way, and how deeply we can absorb it. Socrates announced more than 2400 years ago that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” So much of modern life is about self-examination, to a point where we have lost sight of where we sit in the larger arena. We examine our psyches, measure our food, and watch new and ever more excruciating reality shows designed to explore the minutia of our lives and expose our most pathetic foibles. It’s time to turn the focus around and look out at the world again—and that is gift that artists bring to us.

Even though Mark Twain died 100 years ago, he observed our penchant for seeing ourselves as the center of the Universe even before TV, Facebook, and Twitter made it profitable, and so he added the caveat that “the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.”

This is the year we stop grousing and blaming everybody else for the miserable state of the world, and start to recognize what an amazing place it is—it survived all we did to it in the past decade alone! We can paint a new future, sing new songs, and tell new stories of who we want to become, as individuals, and as a species. 

This year I plan to celebrate art, music, literature, movies, and every creative source of inspiration I can find. I hope you will continue to follow me as I explore the world as artists show it to us—and that you will lead me to your creative inspirations as well.

Thank you to the artists of the world, for giving us the vision to keep going!

Happy New Year!

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Writers work with the connotation of words, which means the attending feelings that surround a word. The words “brilliant” and “glaring” describe the same quality, but the former is a positive trait and the latter is decidedly negative. So goes the fine line between a critique and criticism. One is kind; the other is not. But they can both be helpful.
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The ARTS ENCLAVE is up for a PEPSI REFRESH grant in the month of August, and we will need votes…Many many votes every day in August to meet our goal.

My project is to take this blog you have been reading, and build a website around it where you can start to meet artists of all kinds and learn more about what they are doing and how they do it. They will teach us! There’s a huge arts culture going on around us and participating in it is the best way I know to change the world for the better—which is exactly what the PEPSI REFRESH PROJECT is all about. 

Please vote for the ARTS ENCLAVE website project today and every day in August. And look at the other projects on the RefreshEverything.com site. There’s a lot of good karma on there!

© 2010 Arts Enclave. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Can you name 3 famous people from the Renaissance—who weren’t artists?

Catherine de Medici doesn’t count because she supported the arts. My point is that from the 14th century into the 16th (and up to the 18th in parts of Europe) artists dominated world thinking and the human race made more progress than it had in the 1000+ years before. Rulers and Kings routinely kept composers, playwrights and painters in their courts, and the notions of philosophers, scientist/artists (for science was more about imagination than rigorous study it is today), led the thinking of the European powers. The power of the people was in the arts.

Think of that the next time you think something you paint, write, compose, perform or photograph doesn’t matter.

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