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12 JANUARY 2013

The Last Picture Show: ode to a Texan small town

"It's hard to overestimate the influence of Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971) ... on all those other elegiac movies about lost youth and crumbling dreams in small American towns that followed it in such huge numbers. We know the storylines, which never vary much. Boy meets girl. They fall in love and think their relationship will last forever but war/adulthood/pregnancy intervenes. Old school friends spend a last summer of high jinks together. They vow eternal loyalty to one another but then the autumn rolls in and their lives drag them off in very different directions. The visual clichés are familiar, too: by the final reel, the once teeming street is empty, with wind blowing the dust, or the old café where the friends used to meet is boarded up. ...

When Bogdanovich revisited Thalia with a belated sequel, Texasville, in 1990, the results were mixed at best. What had made the original so distinctive was the youth of the characters played by Shepherd, Bottoms and Bridges – their curiosity, innocence and their sense of yearning. Witnessing their travails in middle age simply didn't have the same impact. The real follow–up to The Last Picture Show wasn't Texasville but the films that were made – and are still being made today – in its mould."

(The Independent, 18 March 2011)

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TAGS

1971adolescence • American Graffiti (1973) • Archer City • arthouse cinema • Big Wednesday (1978) • black and white • broken dreams • Cloris Leachman • coming of age • crumbling dreams • Cybill Shepherd • Diner (1982) • Easy Rider (1969) • Eileen Brennan • femme fatale • football coach • Hank Williams • high school • illicit relationship • innocenceintrospectionJeff Bridges • juvenile • Korean War • Larry McMurtry • lost youth • nakedPeter Bogdanovich • pool hall • provincial town • rites of passage • roughhouse • Rumble Fish (1983) • Sam Bottoms • self-conscious • sense of yearning • sexsmall townsmall town America • sombre • soulful • Stand By Me (1986) • swimming • teenage temptress • teenagersTexas • Texasville (1990) • Thalia • The Last Picture Show (1971) • The Outsiders (1983) • Timothy Bottoms • would-be rebel • youth

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
11 AUGUST 2012

Medieval manuscript illustrations were planned not doodled

"it's the word 'doodle' that really riles my pedantic dander. ... because, as I try to make clear, the images I post ... weren't scribbled into the margins by surreptitious snarkers whilst no one was looking. They were explicitly commissioned by the manuscript's patrons as part of the project from the very beginning. For the well–heeled noble, ordering a book was not just a matter of selecting the text; deciding on size, presentation, illustration, and ratio of naked dudes to non–naked dudes in the margins was all part of the process of getting a book made.

This is not to say that medieval readers and scribes didn't ever doodle. It's just easy to tell the difference between images planned as part of the manuscript's commission and those scribbled in by a creative, bored scribe or one of the later owners of the manuscript. Just as you might imagine, a reader might decide a chunk of text was particularly important and make a note in the margin ... Or, someone might just decide a page looked too blank and thus attempt to fill up some of that space [1]... See, the thing about medieval doodles is they look just like modern doodles ...

For this page [2], somebody sat down and sketched out a rough draft, showed it to somebody else, possibly even multiple somebodies. There were meetings. Consultants were brought in. The client was consulted. And at some point somebody said, 'Yes, that's very nice, the nuns smuggling that dude into their nunnery. Very topical. But I don't like that blanket. Too drab. Can we get someone to put some flowers on it? The difference is, I hope, clear. You don't doodle in gold leaf."

(Carl Pyrdum, 13 February 2012, Got Medieval)

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TAGS

annotationannotationsbookclientcomment systemcommentscommission • commissioned • doodledoodlingembellishmentexpository addendum • fill the space • footnotegloss (marginal notation) • gold leaf • illuminated manuscriptillustrationsinformation in contextmanuscript • manuscript illustrations • manuscriptsmargin notes • marginal illustrations • marginal notationmarginaliamarginsmedieval • medieval doodles • medieval readers • modern doodles • nakednotationnote in the marginnotesnunpage • planned images • planned not doodled • rough draft • scholia • scribbled • scribbled into the marginsvisual depiction

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
02 OCTOBER 2011

Un Chien Andalou: a masterpiece of surrealist cinema

"Acclaimed as a surrealist masterpiece, Un Chien andalou aggressively disconnects itself from narrative flow. The creators of this short film. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, fully intended there to be no links between successive scenes. Fortunately this didn't inhibit their dreaming up of some of the most striking moments ever to be projected upon the silver screen. The opening focuses on a man (Luis Buñuel) stropping his cut–throat razor, honing it to a perfect edge. Stepping onto the balcony, he gazes at the moon. This celestial orb is instantly replaced with a woman and, enlarging rapidly, her left eye. The bare blade then descends on her unprotected pupil, a graphic incident.

Designed to shock, which it still does almost 70 years later, quick editing removes the image before it has time to fully sink in. Suddenly the viewer is faced with a nun–like figure weaving uncertainly down the road on a bicycle. There is no bridge to the previous horror, although this mysterious person does provide a number of objects which resurface at odd intervals. Later there is the unusual sight of a man (Robert Hommet) hauling two grand pianos, each stuffed with the putrefying remains of a donkey, as he trudges towards a cowering woman (Simone Mareuil). He is also unfortunate enough to have a hole in his hand, where the ants live. None of this is significant.

A marvellous aspect of something as wilfully bizarre as Un Chien andalou is that almost any interpretation can be drawn from the images shown. Perhaps every single scene is random and unconcerned with any other, although Buñuel certainly seems to have included items which are present throughout the film. In some ways the repeated glimpses of these things in situations where they shouldn't be adds to the confused feel, enhanced by the off–putting and nonsensical time–markers deployed.

The eternal themes of life, death, lust and love are thrown up at various points, although there is no framework on which to attach these emotions. This is of no consequence though as Buñuel has already hurried onto the next sequence, violently cutting so that the desired woman becomes naked in a flash – a picture of what are ardent suitor really sees. Un Chien andalou does not require such deep analysis though, being much more a film which should be purely experienced. It achieves that which Buñuel and Dalí aimed for and, with a live music accompaniment, is unstoppable."

(Damian Cannon, 1997)

Fig.1 Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí (1929). 'Un Chien andalou'

TAGS

1929aggressionAn Andalusian Dog (1929)art film • cut-throat razor • deathdogdreamfilmFreudiangraphic representationinfluential works • interrupted narrative flow • lifeloveLuis BunuellustmasterpiecenakednunRobert HommetSalvador Dalishockingsilent filmSimone Mareuil • slice • slicedSpanish filmspectaclesurrealismsurrealist cinemasurrealist filmssymbolismUn Chien Andalou (1929)violencevisual metaphor

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
27 OCTOBER 2008

Playful Revisions of Fine Art Masters

[Revision of "Gabrielle d'Estrées and one of her Sisters" – by unknown master of the second school of Fontainebleau, and Edvard Munch's The Scream]

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
13 FEBRUARY 2004

Planet Magazine: Don't Skimp on the Short Ends!

"Budding film directors are seen everywhere these days – playing the waiting game – poised to catch a moment with all those successful writers and others that make the Atomic their second home. At night they wander further down Ponsonby Road to 'the Lizard' to convince some adman or producer that their idea for a short thriller is going to really slay them at the Film Festival. You used to have to be a musician to have credibility on the street. Now the worm, as they say, has turned – you've got to be working on your short for some pull in the cafés and on the pavement.

So how do you get there? What it takes is a good idea. Ideas, as Peter Jackson says, are the currency of movies. Without them, you're stuffed. But just what is a good idea? Certainly not a story about your grandmother's journey back from the shops with a bag of oranges. That could be interesting if your grandmother is a gun–toting maniac who holds up the greengrocer. That would be stepping outside the bounds of decency – always good in the film medium – and if you're as clever as Quentin Tarantino, the end violence, laced with humour, could prove a real winner.

Real film–makers are too busy working to be seen holding court over endless lattes. They're working or in endless correspondence with the Film Commission. For the aspirants, there's always the Arts Council, but it's really a lottery as far as this funding body goes. A couple of years ago you'd have thought all they were into was funding 'quirky comedies'. Oh dear! Everyone likes a laugh, but really? Far better if the end product is going to comment on the film process or have some edge. Edge is big these days for such a little word. And since the Arts Council and the Film Commission endlessly review their respective positions on the types of projects they are into getting off the ground, the more experimental the better. Don't be blinded by the glam, the film is just the end result of a process fraught with so much peril that the faint–hearted would surely wilt under the demands. Just ask Simon Raby, a well–known young director of photography who's usually too busy shooting other people's films to worry about his own. But now he has his first film as a fully–fledged director, Headlong, through the usual drama of post–production and has even sent off a tape to Cannes.

Raby reckons Headlong is another in the battle–of–the–sexes genre, and who am I to argue? But I will anyway. It sounds to me more like a road–movie–westie–comedy–genre with its story of Goth Westie Jude (newcomer and Lounge Singer Meryl Main) hitching and being picked up by Eastern Suburbs computer salesman Arthur, played by Tim Balme, on State Highway One. Of course, they hate each other.

Funded out of the Short Film Fund by the Film Commission, Raby has hooked up some extra marketing opportunity for his grunged film, with a release through Warners of the Headlong soundtrack, a CDingle by Four, the band known in the film as Deathface. A video is even on the offing. You get the idea. This is not a film for the sophisticated film–goer – it's aimed plum at the kids. Raby says he wants as many blue–collar workers as possible to see it, ideally screening at the New Lynn Village 8 during lunchtimes.

While he's waiting for the call from the Film Commission to say he's been selected for un certain regard (which he doubts), Raby is behind the camera again shooting a prison reform doco and doing a freebie for Harry Sinclair in the weekends.

Topless Women Talk About Their Lives, is a project which Raby raves about. It's an example of the old ethos – if you've got a good idea, go out there and do it, before your killer script gets turned down by the Arts Council and the Film Commission. Starring the kids who just want to have fun, Danielle Cormack and Joel Tobeck, Topless Women is three–minute episodes shot on Betacam to be strung together in a serial. Everyone goes out to the suburbs, shoots for half a day, then they edit, get their episode together and do the same next weekend.

I mean face it, an illustrious film career is not generally started with your own brooding masterpiece first up. You've got to limber up, take some chances, try out stuff, see if your twisted vision will work. You do have to make sure the thing's going to cut together though; you've got to match your shots. A select few can get away with not worrying over such pedantic considerations. Case in point a not–so–youthful–filmcritic called Jean Luc Godard launching his career in 1959 with the lurching Breathless – a film that jump cuts like a 64–frame–per–second gazelle through a homage to Bogart and that peculiar French obsession with self known as existentialism.

Looking at self through sex is also big with the French and is the plot for a new short called A Little Death. It's a very French idea this un petite mort. But then the guys that made it, Paul Swadel and Simon Perkins, the latest co–directing crew, are big fans of the man before he got really weird later on. Just ask them about Alphaville – no don't! Let's hear about their little movie.

The production blurb in OnFilm read, A Little Death – two people whose relationship's in tatters, have a final sexual encounter and get trapped in the orgasm zone.

What benchmarks exist for being stranded in demon love? I'm sure there's plenty, but here it's like no other. Original. Jo Davison and Jed Brophy star. You'll know Jo. She's Gina, a much–missed character from Shortland Street. Jed on the other hand hasn't put in an appearance on the soap, but he sure does turn heads every time he performs. He's athletic, and has great energy. These two together embody 'an extreme hybrid' of Love and Hate. This is the film where the tattoos on Robert Mitchum's burly hands in Night of the Hunter become real. The knuckles are bared, there's little talk and a soundtrack that Swadel says sounds like 'Wagner crossed with Sonic Youth'.

It opens with a scene straight out of the French 60s. It's a bedroom. The lighting casts a menacing yellow glow. You know it's going to be torrid.

She's just come home. He's stewing. The ashtray is overflowing. Been sitting there smoking cigarettes all night. She's been out cheating on him. He's cheated on her. Both are very pissed off. Neither is prepared to apologise. She gets on top, intending to use him as gym equipment. They wrestle with each other. Orgasm is hit. Whiteout! Sharp flames of light! The fall through a gaping hole in the kapok mattress is the apex of a bad trip. And that's just the first scene.

From there the existential quotient climbs. The emotional barrier is extended to a physical one. He is suspended bleeding and hurt in a void. She's in a photocopied room, devoid of colour, drained of emotion, surrounded by various versions of He, and a version of Her watching on.

'The only way they're going to be able to get out is by helping each other,' says Swadel adding, 'But hey – we get to shunt them through hell first – heh heh.'

'It's a western,' says Perkins, 'as indeed all films are.' Employing his film–tutor vernacular, he elaborates on the plot.

'Gun–slinger meets ex–gun–slinger for one last shoot–out. The stare–down, the gun–down, where the best six–gun goes off to another town and the stirred– up clod–busters go back to their homesteads at sunset.'

And by hokey, 'with or without a Stetson, it's all classical narrative storytelling.'

Everyone may be just re–making westerns, as Rachel Anderson literally is with Para Recorder ... In a town called Tenacity, a lonesome bandito, recounts the story of the woman he loved and lost ... Sounds like a bit too much parmesan for my liking. Instead of hitching their wagon to territory mapped by Sergio 'the Magnificent' Leone, the directors of A Little Death, fleshed out their idea by trying to reverse the usual David Lynch scenario. Lynch is always big with budding directors. He's got young screen style, uses hip music and likes freaks. He starts with characters as innocents and puts them through hell to see what will become of them. In A Little Death, we find the characters to be inflexible, unyielding, far from innocent – they land in hell and might just get back from it innocent; if they're lucky.

Exploring the enduring theme of vexed sexuality in the age where sex is dangerous is very appealing to Swadel and Perkins and seems to be the obsession of an entire generation. Perkins and Swadel are, 'sort of straight', but had pieces placed in the gay section of last year's Auckland Film Feast. Confusing? Some weren't amused.

Maybe it has something to do with the intentions to overturn conventional film logic. Just a another co–directing team (Pardington & McKenzie made their female lead the protagonist in The Mout and The Truth, Swadel and Perkins push their female lead, and for quite similar reasons.

'We just like characters to be bastards and bitches.' She ain't no femme fatale, swooning for her lost love, but you couldn't really say she's a bitch either. She is too afraid. Still she doesn't panic. She searches for her way out, looking through his eyes.

Do they get out? What's it like to be trapped in orgasm? Could anyone really bear it? Swadel and Perkins are now both back tutoring at Waikato Polytechnic. Working in such supportive surroundings, they've had the chance to cut their film digitally on an Avid, the swanky non–linear editing system. If a band were recording in analogue, mixing in digital and then releasing vinyl, what you'd get is the process A Little Death has been through prior to its release overseas at a few select festivals before it gets seen here. This is so they'll have some pithy quotes from overseas film critics to stick on the poster for the short film festivals here.

This is where the producer steps in. The producer is the person who keeps the investors happy. That man is James Wallace, well known for making a fortune in animal by–products and getting behind those shining lights of gay cinema, Stewart Main and Peter Wells. Main has just shot a short which was produced by Michelle Fantl for Zee Films. It's a homo–erotic love story set during the land wars of the 1860s and filmed in the rain–forest bush of Honeymoon Valley, just off south of Northland's Kaitaia.

An extremely strenuous shooting schedule requiring both actors to be naked for 10 days of pouring rain, tested both cast and crew to the limit.

Pre–production saw actors Marton Csokas and Marae presenter Greg Mayor on location, cutting scrub. Csokas, now all over Europe with the success of last year's Game With No Rules, had his hair bleached hype the contrast between he and Mayor.

Pushing his crew with Herzog–like fever, Stewart Main has gone to the extreme of his vision as a gay man and artist working in New Zealand and may well land most acclaimed short of the year. With the country focussed on the renewed resurgence of Maori grievance, this is a film that cuts to the core in an appropriation of history for its own ends. Absolutely bravura film–making, inspired by the most difficult conditions, is not easy.

Of course all short film directors want to make features. And frankly we should be grateful that Stewart Main has had the chance to limber up before he starts shooting in Sydney for You're My Venus, the feature starring Rena Owen as a trans–sexual. Already the script, written by Main, Garth Maxwell and Debra Daley, has been described by the incredibly influential William Morris Agency in New York as a radiant, exquisite jewel of a script ... an inspiring achievement ... if the film fulfills the raw potential of the script, it will certainly expand the boundaries of cinema (as for example Pulp Fiction did this year). This is a wildly, wonderfully liberated film, in every sense of the word.

Praise such as this is not lightly earned. That script had been 'in development' for five years. True genius, as they say, is 90 per cent graft and 10 per cent inspiration. But that's not to say you shouldn't just get a camera, and put it on time–lapse in the street. Call it Walk Tall. Or better still, film a fly crawling, or a man sleeping. It was enough for Warhol. Then again you could always work every weekend for two years shooting a gore–filled escapist fantasy about aliens taking over Island Bay.

The Film Commission will love it."

(Paul Shannon, 1995)

Paul Shannon (1995). "Don't Skimp on the Short Ends!", Planet (magazine) Issue 16 Autumn 1995 pp.26,27.

Fig.1 Natalie Robertson (1994). Jeanne (Jo Davison) holds a paper cut–out of Jules (Jed Brophy).

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TAGS

1860s1995A Game with No RulesA Little DeathAlphavilleAotearoa New Zealand • appropriation of history • ashtray • Atomic cafe • Auckland Film Feast • Avid Media Suite Probastard • battle-of-the-sexes • bedroomBetacam SP • bitch • budding film directors • cafe latte • cast and crew • cheating • classical narrative storytelling • clod-buster • co-directing • co-directing team • conventional logic • Creative New Zealand • Creative NZ • credibility on the street • Danielle CormackDavid Lynch • Debra Daley • demon love • devoid of colour • director of photography • drained of emotion • emotional barrier • escapist fantasy • ex-gunslinger • existentialism • expanding the boundaries of cinema • femme fatalefilm • film career • film directorfilm funding • film logic • film producerfilmmakerfreaks • Garth Maxwell • gay • Greg Mayor • gun-down • gunslingergym equipmentHarry Sinclairhell • hip music • hitching their wagon • hole • homestead • homoerotic • homoeroticism • Honeymoon Valley • Humphrey Bogart • Island Bay • James WallaceJean-Luc GodardJed Brophy • Jo Davison • Joel Tobeck • Kaitaia • killer script • Land Wars • love and hate • love storyMaori grievanceMarton Csokas • mattress • menacing yellow glow • Meryl Main • Michelle Fantl • mixing in digital • naked • Neil Pardington • New Lynn • New Zealand Arts Council • New Zealand Film Commission • Night of the Hunter • non-linear editing • Onfilm Magazine • orgasm • orgasm zone • Para Recorder • Paul Shannon • Paul SwadelPeter JacksonPeter Wellspetite mort • photocopied room • photocopy • physical barrier • pissed off • Planet (magazine) • playing the waiting game • Ponsonby Road • pouring rain • pulp fictionQuentin Tarantino • quirky comedy • Rachel Anderson • rainforest • re-make • recording in analogue • releasing on vinyl • Rena Owen • road-movie-westie-comedy-genre • Robert Mitchum • Sergio Leonesexsexual encountershooting scheduleshootout • short ends • short film • short film directors • short film festival • Shortland Street • Simon PerkinsSimon Raby • six-gun • smoking cigarettessoap operaSonic Youth • stare-down • Stewart Main • Stuart Mckenzie • success • sunset • The Coming of Age of The New Zealand Short Film • Tim Balme • timelapse • Topless Women Talk About Their Lives • torrid • transsexual • Tuatara Bar • unyielding • versions • vexed sexuality • void • Wagner • WaikatoWaikato Institute of Technology • Waikato Polytechnic • walk tall • watching • Werner Herzog • western film genre • whiteout • William Morris Agency • wrestle with • young screen style • Zee Films

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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