It was the last shot of the day. We’d been shooting for hours already and were finally turning around to get coverage of my two lines. The words had all but crumbled in my mind, the result of repetition had drained all weight and meaning. It was like running with a backpack to catch a train, arriving, breathless, only to find the contents had escaped, leaving behind an empty, gaping (laughing?) mouth. All the preparation I’d done was inaccessible to me now, I could only trust my instincts, and the momentum of the moving train. I mustered what energy I had, trying not to squint into the newly positioned lights. There were thoughts, when did I eat last? Did I turn my phone off? And action! Cut. I didn’t make any mistakes or mumble my words, but it was far from brilliant. That fist clenching expression that says, “I nailed it!” was a distant echo from some other movie set. The director came over, and after a brief moment of intense contemplation, he said plainly, “We need more Nicki. That’s why you’re here.” I nodded before he had time to finish. Yes, of course, story of my life. “Just be yourself!” “Oh, that’s so you!” “You’d be so perfect for that role.” But what does that even mean? Can someone please spill the beans because it appears to be obvious to everyone but me? Then I chuckled. In actuality, I am the only one who really knows. I’m the only one alone with my thoughts; with my feelings, my fears, my desires, and my memories—true or untrue. All others see are the sparks—the friction between my soul and my smile, dampened only by the shackles of my yearning to be accepted and understood. But within that desire for identity, within the search for self, is the key to better understanding and experiencing this “me” everyone keeps talking about. So while I really had no idea what the director’s vision was, nor the quality of Nicki-ness he was hoping for, I brushed aside the fear and the judgement and did what I do best: absolutely nothing. I just watched myself experience the moment, with no expectation and no fucking idea what was going to happen. Oh, and… I nailed it.
I watched a film last night that left a deep impression on me. Not only due to the dark and challenging content, but because of something kind of funny that happened while watching it. I went over to a friend’s house, snuggled up with a blanket in front of her high-definition tv, and felt the typical anticipation I feel before I watch a critically acclaimed movie with a-list stars and a difficult premise. I knew We Need to Talk About Kevin was somewhat of an indie flick, but when we started watching it, the “indie-ness” became wildly distracting. As the movie progressed, it continued to feel like someone’s home movie of a community theater production. My enthusiasm turned to disappointment, but more than anything I was confused. I genuinely wanted it to be good and had heard good things, so it didn’t make sense that it would have such poor production quality, especially with technology these days. I even tried, and failed, to reason how the poor quality could be an artistic choice. So despite my initial optimism, the drama, sadly, kept falling flat. In my mind, and also out loud, I criticized the cinematographer, questioned the director, and furrowed my brow in disbelief. I was frustrated that a movie with so much potential, from the concept to the characters to the actors, would cut corners like that. That is, until another friend came over and, upon hearing our commentary and watching us shake our heads, started googling tv settings and resolution. He hypothesized the quality had to do with the different ratio of what the movie was filmed on and the tv settings... or something! He changed some settings as I looked on skeptically (but hopefully). Lo and behold, the color changed to a cool, almost washed out and stylized blue-ish tone, much more polished looking and fitting for the theme. The movie suddenly transformed from a daytime soap opera to something I might actually see in an art house movie theatre.
Still, something about it felt like a first year film school project (no offence film students!). We watched for a little longer and just when we were about three quarters of the way through, my friend made another breakthrough in his research. He had another hypothesis and, despite his uncertainty, I encouraged him to experiment... just to see. (Truth be told, I desperately wanted it to be better. While the others had given up and filed it under weird, I still had hope.) Again, he searched through the controls and finally found one that adjusted the picture speed and turned some fancy function off. Sorry I can’t report any of the technical details. All I can tell you is that with a flick of the menu’s back button, it became a whole different film.
Suddenly, I was emotionally engaged. The music gave me goosebumps. Tilda Swinton’s gaze became captivating. I could see deep into the characters’ souls. And the film developed a dramatic weight that felt like I’d just been thrown a bowling ball. Firstly, I was excited. As I said, I really wanted it to be good and I couldn’t explain why it wasn’t.
But what is even more profound to me is how seemingly simple and “inconsequential” effects can drastically change a film’s quality and potency. To be specific, the speed and the filter changed my whole experience. I finished the film feeling satisfied and moved by the performances. That’s when my mind began to expand on this epiphany. If you look at your life as a film, your surroundings a set in which the drama of your existence is played out, the filters through which we see the world and the pace at which we move through it are incredibly important. They can dramatically change our experience of our selves and our lives - positively and negatively.
Have you ever been in a state where you felt completely on track? As if everything around you was happening on cue and you were standing exactly on your mark? Sometimes I feel this way waiting for a subway train or brushing my teeth; other times, it’s at an amazing concert or lying in shavasana at yoga. The reality is, the time and place is irrelevant. It’s my own internal settings that allow me to experience any moment exactly as it is: perfect. It was a good reminder that next time I’m feeling dissatisfied or critical, rather than blaming or trying to figure out why, all I have to do is mess around with my internal settings. After all, finding the right hue, the right speed and just the right emotional soundtrack can completely change the way you “talk about Kevin.”
"When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves." - Viktor E. Frankl
***I wrote this a while ago and just re-discovered it. It brings up questions I'm always curious about, so I thought I'd share and hear what you think*** One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was around the time when there were all sorts of scandalous reports challenging the accuracy of James Frey’s memoirs, A Million Little Pieces and his follow up, My Friend Leonard. Jt Leroy, the troubled, young, writing wunderkind, had also just been outed as a creative scheme with a middle-aged San Francisco woman at the helm. In all honesty, despite my intellectual musings about how all our stories are ultimately fiction, I felt sad and disappointed, and a bit of a fool. I had devoured James Frey’s A Milion Little Pieces. I cried when his words sang into the hollows of my own despair; I sighed when his imagery echoed the experiences of my own father’s struggle with substance abuse; I laughed when his self-conscious inner monologues sounded all too familiar. Needless to say, I was moved. Just as I was moved reading JT Leroy’s far more raw and provocative works. Evidently, I’d read all his books before he became a counter-culture icon; Asia Argento directing and starring in the film version of one of his books. I was a fan. I had friends who were “friends” with him. I’d even met him at a film festival party in Toronto. I was too shy to introduce myself or share how much I’d enjoyed his work. As was typical, he was wearing massive sunglasses, a hat and I think even a wig. He had a whole persona. He was brilliant, shy, tortured and innocent all at once. That’s what made him so appealing.
So what does it mean when our illusions are shattered? When what we think is real—people, stories, events—turns out to be fiction? Does it matter? Yes, it matters. Of course it matters. If we don’t have truth, then what are we left with? Well, I think that’s the most important question of all, because in the end, there is no truth. The past doesn’t exist in the way we think it does, or want to believe it does. There’s no magical history book that documents life’s events, ensuring an accurate record we can reference at will. No, the past only exists in our experience, in the present. And since time is always moving forward (presumably), and the present is always changing, so are we—along with our thoughts and memories. So when I ask again, does it matter if our stories are fact or fiction? Does it make our tears any less real if we discover a tale to be tall? My answer is no. It shouldn’t. Or at least I don’t think it should, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel compelled to protest against false advertising (which is really the underlying moral issue). No, I have those feelings because I’m a human being and I want to feel like I know what’s real and what’s not. It even makes me more survivable to know the difference between a real tiger and an Imax 3D one. The only real danger is when I’m so afraid of the feeling of unpredictability that I think the tiger isn’t real when it is.
I feel like I’m sort of shooting fish in a barrel here, since I was fortunate enough to play a character on tv who was faced with this exact struggle. Très apropos. Everything she knew to be true was dismantled right before her eyes. I mean, we’ve all had experiences when the truth stung, when the cold, dismal reality of someone not being who we thought left us shattered and untrusting, but you have to admit Cally met a particularly unfortunate fate. Not only was her husband not who he said *spoiler alert* (she was torn up at the idea of him having a measly affair), but he turned out to be the epitome of everything she feared and had fought against her entire life. He wasn’t just not human, he was the enemy. And he wasn’t just her husband, he was the father of her child and the only person she ever truly trusted. So yeah, pretty harsh. Needless to say, she didn’t handle it very well, and who can blame her? But it’s unsettling to recognize how much our identity is wrapped up in what we think we know. Not to get too spiritual or anything, but I have a hard time believing we’re solely made up of atoms and energy that ferments into some sort of “consciousness.” I believe we are more than just our bodies, more than our minds even. And if we knew this, maybe we wouldn’t disintegrate if we discovered something we thought was true to be false. We would simply be “ourselves” with a new perspective. Is that really so bad? It certainly feels like it at times, but perhaps that’s the beauty of being human—discovering the truth beyond “knowledge.”
So I just finished watching the movie Catfish. *spoiler alert - watch it!* Let me just start by saying I thought it was brilliant. Intentional or not, the fact it pissed people off and caused speculation as to its “authenticity” is win/win. I was so uncomfortable through the whole thing. I was uncomfortable with what was happening in the film, enthralled with its characters and their unlikely story, and I was uncomfortable with what was happening in my living room, frustrated with my own inability categorize what I was seeing and make sense of my own emotions. I fell into this recursive loop of existential uncertainty, only to be sucked in by scenes where I thought to myself, “You couldn’t make this shit up!” Only to be violently pulled in the other direction, thinking, "There's no way this is real!" I’m not going to give an opinion as to whether I think the film is real or fake because, quite honestly, I don’t care, and it doesn't matter. That’s the best part! It was so well done and the questions it raised are questions we should all be asking regardless; whether it’s by projecting on people having experiences in a documentary, or whether it’s through our own experience watching a “documentary” and speculating its legitimacy. Like a chinese finger trap, hating on it only distracts you from the truth, wrapping you tighter in your own limiting and warped delusions. And yet, I am only human after all, and I would just sleep a little sounder if I knew, like, was that shit for real or what?!?!
sorry i've been a little absent... (minded perhaps?) i blame television. not because i watch it now, but because i did. a lot. here's an interesting and potentially disturbing video. could explain some things... [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuI_nCADnW0&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]
ps. i don't really blame tv for anything, it just made for a good segue.
i never intended for this space to host a slew of movie reviews, but it just so happens i saw another film last night that left me in a total state of disarray - in the best possible way. i was so impressed by this film, i walked out of the theater feeling as if i'd left a layer of myself inside. i felt vulnerable, struck with a reality i hadn't prepared for, coupled with intense feelings of compassion, sadness, and hope. Cory Fukunaga's remarkable artistry offers a rare, albeit heartbreaking, humanity as he follows the story of two troubled young souls searching for a better life. the story itself is simple, yet Sin Nombre's breathtaking cinematography, spectacular performances, and refined exposition carry us on a journey we don't even know we're on until we turn around to see the dust in our wake, taste the grit in our teeth. despite having been able to discuss the film at length, with passion and conviction, over a dinner i could barely eat, somehow i feel at a loss for words. what it triggered in me was deeply personal. it exposed how my petty concerns lead me to fail in experiencing my own humanity every day; how my fears and lack of inner resolve prevent me from pursuing an honest and noble struggle. with hesitation, i might say it is sometimes difficult to understand the value of life when it is so comfortably preserved by our technologically advanced society. yet to have what we have is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. thoughts of this nature are currently heavily weighted in my mind and i hope my future actions will reflect this continuous processing of what it means to possess such a privilege - the privilege to lead a ponderous existence. i am grateful for the art and expression that provokes such explorations. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTSi0pKjC5g[/youtube]
part of what inspired the thoughts and meanderings contained in the previous post was my seeing the film rescue dawn last night. werner herzog has never failed to arouse reverence and admiration, but this film is uniquely exceptional. recounting the struggle and tireless exertion of will of US Navy Pilot Dieter Dengler after his plane is shot down in the Laotian jungle, his story becomes more than a hero's tale, more than one's fight for survival, it's the ultimate example of how one man can push the boundaries of being human, live to tell about it, and experience the joy in what it means to do so. i don't want to give anything away, but all i can say is i haven't been so deeply moved by a film since, well, since la vie en rose i suppose, but it's right up there with the elephant man or dead man walking. i highly recommend seeing it, especially in the theater if you can.
oh... my... god. if you have not yet seen La Vie En Rose, skip school, skip breakfast, do not pass go, simply do whatever it takes to go see it NOW! i do not have the words to describe how incredible this film is. it is the most cinematically profound expression of life and love and everything else in between that I have seen in years. not only is it beautifully directed, scored and edited, but I was completely blown away by Marion Cotillard's performance as the angelic and tortured soul of Edith Piaf.