Was feeling an update, so here’s some new stuff from a recent set with Emily.
One of the most essential, emotional needs humans have is to be known, to be understood for who we are. Consider how much effort we put into presenting ourselves as successful, attractive, and worthy of acceptance. The harder we chase those goals, the more we mask ourselves in the process. What we present then is not ourselves. We’re further from our goal. We’ve become harder to know.
Earlier this year, Toni Morrison wrote of this dilemma stating, “you are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” Writer/director Anthony Onah knows this truth, too. Like many of us, he’s experienced these challenges and seeks their solutions in his latest film, The Price.
The film’s principal character Seyi Ogunde (Aml Ameen) is a highly motivated financial analyst who has grown weary of others taking credit for his work. His response is to redouble his efforts and with pills, persistence, and proprietary information makes a play to secure his indispensability. His occluded judgement, of course, carries with it consequences that strain relationships with his family and girlfriend, Liz (Lucy Griffiths).
While this might stir up recollections of Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) in Wall Street, it’s that hero-in-need-of-redemption familiarity that Onah leverages in telling a story we haven’t heard, or haven’t paid attention to. No surprise, but Seyi isn’t a white, American name. He and his family are Nigerian and while audiences have long loved blue collar triumph stories, rarely have we seen those about African immigrants. Even rarer have we hoped for their redemption.
Onah gives us an opportunity to do so, and further to reach an understanding of how similar our struggles are regardless of our place of origin. We all have histories and how we deal with them in the present will determine our future. This is true for each one of us and the sooner we can acknowledge the samenesses we share as humans, the sooner we can lose the masks. For only then can we truly be known.
Listen to the interview below.
On my short list of favorite films from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, none have I been more excited for my friends to see than Bitch. Written and directed by Marianna Palka, Bitch takes a unique look at the damage we do to our loved ones when image, perfectionism, and indifference supersede empathy in our relationships. Neglect, the film assures us, is never benign.
I love Bitch for its heart - the manner in which it values humanity by portraying the all too common ways we intentionally and inadvertently diminish it in one another. But, Bitch has brains too, and creatively uses sound and cinematography to modulate emotional response. To that end, the film’s tonal range is noteworthy for the way it blends elements of comedy, drama, and horror to tell the tale of the destruction and the resurgence of the modern, American family.
Savvy screenwriting and sound design aside, it’s the acting that makes the film flourish. Seasoned actors all, Palka (Jill), Jason Ritter (Bill), and Jaime King (Beth) have history together and their desire to collaborate on this project is evident on screen. In a story about family, the actors’ longstanding relationships add texture and believability to a plot in which Palka’s character devolves into acting like a dog. A conceit which at first blush could seem far-fetched, but isn’t. Jill’s psychological condition has real roots. Renowned Scottish psychiatrist Dr. R.D Laing, mentioned in the film, once encountered a patient upon whom Jill’s behavior was based. His successful treatment was neither clinical nor pharmaceutical, rather a genuine determination to understand and offer care; traits Palka wove into the script and the three convincingly delivered. Ritter was named one of Paste’s 15 Best Acting Performances of Sundance 2017.
Ultimately, Bitch is a film that causes us to consider how we treat people and the positive and negative impacts our actions have whether we’re paying attention or not. It cuts into the illusion of the complete control we often think we have over our lives. And it teaches us that earnestly listening and trying to understand someone is not ordinary; it’s transformational.
Doing a little Spring cleaning here at the home office and was going through old memory cards to reformat them for some upcoming personal work. One card from a shoot a while back with Kaylee and Lizann had some janky stuff going on - a sort of digital light leak. The card's clearly gone bad, but the images, though a little weird, were pretty cool. Here's a gallery...
I love to cook. There's something about slowing down, turning on some music, maybe pouring a glass of wine, and putting some thoughtfulness into making a meal. If done right, the process allows for a little creativity and skill. And cooking is at it's best when it's inclusive. Call me what you will, but a date with a girl spent at a market shopping for a meal we prepare together is tough to beat — good stuff doesn't have to be complex, but it always seems to include collaboration and quality conversation. Single life in the delightful but sparse Teton Valley, with its adequate but underwhelming grocery, and the all-day grind of being a fly fishing guide has scaled back my cooking over the last few years. It's just been easier to fix something quick. But, all that's changing.
I guess I started wanting more out of a meal; more than merely satisfying hunger. Part of it was to eat healthier. On a recent cross-country drive, I listened to a podcast that argued that food is the most important medicine we ingest. It made me think about what I usually eat and if there were something better. As a result, I've gotten off autopilot at the grocery mindlessly buying the same old things and decided to take more initiative in determining life's details, a move in part to prioritize enjoying small things instead of solely measuring the value of a day by what I checked off a list.
Incidentally, if you're looking for a quality skillet, go with Lodge Cast Iron. Based in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, they're the only domestic producer of cast iron cookware. I grew up eating the world's best fried chicken cooked in a deep-sided cast iron pot and go to school twenty five miles from the Lodge foundry. Season them correctly and they'll perform better than any non-stick pan you'll find and you won't have to worry about teflon or other chemicals leaching into your food, which is nice.
All this brings me to one of the best documentary series I've found in a long while: Netflix's Chef's Table. In fact, Parks and Recreation notwithstanding, it's the best thing I've ever seen on Netflix. It doesn't require being a foodie. If you like thought-provoking stories that are masterfully told and if you find studying the minds of creative thinkers enjoyable, then pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.
Here's the Season 1 trailer:
The series is equally enjoyable viewed one at a time or binged, but you should definitely start at the beginning of Season 1. Though each installment is a stand-alone, fifty-minute feature of a single chef, a thematic thread and truthfully, a degree of enlightenment seems to build from one episode to the next. Serendipitous perhaps, but an essential element of artful storytelling.
The following sentiment from Ep. 1 of Season 2 resonated with me and hints at the soul of the show. Chef Grant Achatz grew up working in his father's diner, where the bossman believed that food was sufficiently good so long as it was served hot and fast. Reflecting on his decision to leave his dad's diner to pursue a career in haute cuisine, Achatz said simply, "why does [food] have to be a certain way? Is this the best way it can exist or is there a better version? There has to be more than western omelettes and hamburgers." Wanting more isn't necessarily a consequential conviction; it's the commitment to seek it that's important, and the extremes to which these chefs imagine, cultivate, and ultimately realize their aspirations is worthy of admiration.
I'm only two episodes deep into Season 2, but being so impressed, I felt the need to stop and write about it before moving ahead any further. Each chef so far has demonstrated respect for the past and its traditions (ancient in some cases) and acknowledged the advancements others have achieved. Most are painfully aware they didn't invent the wheel, but are determined to roll it forward into exciting, new places. Put another way, these chefs don't want to be replicators of what's been done, they want to invent, to astonish, and to create experiences that strike all the senses.
If you're coming to this with any apprehension that this series sets out to aggrandize the arrogance of chefs selling small portions for small fortunes, I humbly suggest not to worry. The series is as philosophical as it is culinary. It explores the pursuit of personal purpose, sustainability, promotion of culture, and tireless desire for improvement. It's these forms of internal and external scrutiny and struggle that I find compelling and inspiring.
In the end, it really doesn't matter if you become a three-star Michelin chef or a master of the microwave; if you leave the cooking to a loved one or eat every meal at a restaurant. For me, it's been a positive experience to think more clearly about how life unfolds and the indispensable things I want it to include. If you do start watching Chef's Table, I'd be interested to hear what episodes you liked and why. In any event, I hope you enjoy.
I've driven five thousand miles through fifteen states in the last three weeks. So, it was a pleasant surprise today to go through the accumulated mail and find the prints from my film shoot with Emma Holley. On the way out of town, I'd dropped two rolls of film in the mail to The Darkroom down in San Clemente, CA and had them process digital scans and 5x7 prints to get a feel for their work. Couldn't be more pleased with the service and results and will definitely be using them going forward.
I shot with a Leica Leicaflex SL2 left to me by my Grandmother who passed in 2004. It was number 45 out of a 790 camera production run in 1975. These are the first images this camera has produced since she shot with it herself. Primarily, I used a 50mm f2.0 Summicron R lens, and a few headshots are from a 180mm f4 Elmar R.
With more Ilford HP5 on the way from B&H, I'll be adding a film component to future shoots. The methodical pace and thoughtfulness required when shooting film has undoubtedly improved my work — my hit rate is significantly higher versus digital. And the turnaround on the digital scans from the Darkroom is quick enough to fit my existing workflow.
Certainly want to thank Nick Sabatalo of 35mm Magazine for putting the shoot together and to Jose Chavez, who was tremendously knowledgeable and helpful, specifically with metering light and calculating settings for the 400 ASA film we pushed to 800. Of course, Emma was exceedingly brilliant to work with as was the supremely talented hair and makeup artist, Omayma Ramzy.
With a two-day drive from Tennessee back home to Teton Valley staring me in the face, I've spent some time this weekend fine tuning the highway playlist and wanted to throw out a pitch for a musician and his song which might not be on your radar. Austin Plaine's Never Come Back Again, which became an instant favorite right after its release in September of 2015 will get its share of airtime over the eighteen hundred miles ahead. The song, which I first heard driving across the Snake River on a local Jackson Hole radio station, stands up on its own lyrical and melodic merits. It's a song he says is about always moving forward looking for new things. And the video, a gorgeously shot road trip montage that serendipitously winds through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks on the way to the Pacific, hits a soft spot for me. The Tetons themselves will be recognizable, but there's also a shot of Yellowstone's Lewis Falls, which is a stone's throw from a secret fishing spot in the Park I hit each fall.
Not everyone has to be a singer-songwriter to make good music. And just because someone writes his own stuff doesn't make him good. But, Austin does and he is. Give this one a listen and if you like it, there's plenty more on Spotify, and be sure to check out his Facebook page where he's frequently dropping clips of stuff he's working on.
When I was a kid, I loved to go to the movies. Didn't we all? For some reason, I just can't recall much else from childhood with as much specificity, but I still have vivid memories from going to the theater to see Return of the Jedi when I was seven and Back to the Future when I was nine. I remember the headache I got leaving the daytime darkness of that Star Wars matinee feeling as if the lightning bolts from Emperor's hands had struck me as much as Luke and Vader, and the trauma I felt and thought was irrevocable when the Lebanese terrorists shot Doc Brown over stolen plutonium. I remember leaving theaters after those and many that followed with the convincing feeling that I'd just seen the best movie ever. I probably hadn't, and this is surely trivial in the grand scheme of the world, but those are indelible impressions from my childhood. I just enjoyed the experience: doing something with my parents that was out of the ordinary; they rarely spoke of art or music or film. Later, the excitement of growing up, being dropped off to see movies just with friends, then with girls, sharing popcorn and holding buttery, sweaty hands for the first time. (That one was Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito; horrible movie, we saw it twice).
Then there came a time when movies stopped being good. I doubt they suddenly became worse than what I'd watched as a younger kid, but somewhere I lost the feeling that I used to get that I'd just seen the latest, best movie ever. And I remember feeling that way sucked. And I think I slid into a disenchantment of sorts with film. I'd settle to watch them on tv, but years of life would elapse without going to the movies. The enjoyment was gone and I wondered if it would ever return.
Well, it has. Someday I'll write about how it changed for me. I can tell you exactly when it happened, and why, and which dear friends are responsible. It's a good story. But, it has changed and that sense of having just seen the latest, best movie happened to me again last night. Maybe, it's like DeWanda Wise told me two weeks ago that "art hits you when it's supposed to hit you." Well, Paterson hit me last night.
The film stars Adam Driver (The Force Awakens, Undercover Boss, Silence), who is rapidly becoming a top-five, favorite actor, as Paterson, a bus driving poet married to Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani. Yes, as her beautiful name suggests, they're of different backgrounds and that intentional choice does so much to make the story work. In fact, Paterson may be the only white, male, principal character in the film. Laura is busy and chases one idea after the next. Not in a flighty way (she finishes, make that flourishes at everything she starts), but rather as the fulfillment of her purpose, which she reveals to the audience saying to Paterson that, "it's so important to learn new things." Paterson, on the other hand is quiet; active, but in an observant way. He lives by routine and schedule. He lives days that for most would be unnervingly repetitive; Laura seems to never live the same day twice.
And so, Paterson is a movie about the interplay of routine and creativity. In one sense, doing the same thing every day and living by pattern as Paterson does could be viewed as a sterile existence in which the ruts of habit thwart creative thinking. The film reveals the beauty in repetition, which it suggests is not the antithesis of creativity, but the enabler of it. Paterson finds time within his routine to write and it's as if the regularity of his life's design fashions a framework within which he can create.
The film is also a brilliant story about thought, about the life we can make for ourselves if we are willing to be responsible for how we think. In Paterson's co-worker, Donny, we see someone who reflects the common human habit of complaining. He gives Paterson a daily report of all that's going wrong in his life, of his perpetual victimhood. It isn't that Paterson's world has no trouble, he faces his share of difficulties — the difference is in how he chooses to deal with the situations he's presented. Paterson never gets frustrated with the mundane. To the contrary, he's curious about the world around him, interested in its details, particularly the simple ones. He sees the ordinary as a source, not a bother. He takes time and remains open to interactions with others and his life is richer for it.
I could babble on at length about how the cinematography makes you fall in love with Paterson, New Jersey, (yes, New Jersey, and yes Driver's character shares the same name as the town in which he lives), how Driver's voice is so perfectly suited for the role of a poet, reciting his poems at the pace of writing - the same deliberate speed of thinking - using acceleration, not volume, for emphasis, and how awesome Marvin is (watch the film, you'll know what I mean). But, what I love most is the love of Paterson and Laura.
As alluded to above, they're very different people who live life in different ways. They have individual wants and needs and negotiate those as couples do. In many ways, they're going in different directions. But that's where their relationship's strength lies. Difference makes for boundless fascination. And they are present when they speak to each other, in fact Paterson doesn't even own a mobile phone, or any screened device for that matter. As busy as she is, Laura stops what's she's doing to hear what Paterson has to say. And Paterson not only hears what Laura shares with him, he continues to see what she's said in his daily routines. That's being present for one another on a whole new level, and it's marvelous.
They know the importance of giving each other space and share mutual respect for the other's need for and approach to creativity. It's as if two day-dreaming children were married; remaining responsible as adults are, but they haven't lost the childlike sense of wonderment. They don't fear the other's capacity. Both seek to empower the other. They see the loveliness in their differences and understand what would be lost by demanding assimilation. Such a refreshing contrast from the trite and flawed 'you complete me' neediness, these are two whole and complete individuals whose relationship soars because of the quiet confidence each brings and shares, and because they are deeply and genuinely curious about each other. "She understands me", Paterson tells his friend and bartender Doc, "Lucky guy", Doc replies.
Put simply, I love their love. It's a relationship rooted in reassurance and encouragement. The promise Laura asks Paterson to make is not about something she wants him to do for her. She wants him to promise to share his poetry with the world. She wants to magnify him, not confine nor control him in any way. He does the same for her; loves her for her natural beauty and she is certainly gorgeous in appearance, but just as much because of her enthusiasm, drive, and joie de vivre. She generates new dreams daily and though that sharply conflicts with his preference for routine, he brushes off any discomfort those differences could understandably cause and unwaveringly supports her in realizing them all. He chooses to see ways dreams can happen instead of reasons they can't.
Though they operate on vastly different wavelengths, they continue to see the same beautifully simple details of life, both understanding the greatness that exists in the smallness. They focus on finding things to appreciate, choosing to seek what's endlessly interesting about each other, when most would find reasons to complain. They find familiarity in the midst of difference and celebrate it instead of fear it. They treasure these moments and while they don't live an extravagant existence financially, these are the instances that make theirs an abundantly rich life.
My hope is that Paterson will hit you, too, in whatever way it's meant to, and that you'll love the ending as much as I did. I won't write a word about it except to say it's perfect.
High Fidelity is one of my all-time, top five, favorite films. And the clip above came to mind when thinking about what I want to do with this blog: to assemble something that felt interesting and positive and worth sustaining. Simple as it is, I'm gonna share stuff I like, stuff that makes me think, or feel — possibly profound, probably absurd. Some things will pertain to the work this site exists to display even if tangentially, but nothing is bound by those constraints nor is any category off limits. The stuff that shows up here won't be for everyone, but that's sort of the point. There's already plenty out there about which to feel angry, sad, and hopeless. But not here. Life should be spent finding joy in it, and I'd like to make more space for that and take time to think a little bit about why.
My hope is to have interaction with you, the reader. And to that end, I'll begin with a question.
What was the last thing/person/song/etc. that you actually stopped to think about why you liked it and what came to mind?
Be as specific as you like and fire away in the comments.
Fwiw, my answer comes from seeing the video Love by Lana Del Rey (below) a few weeks ago. Her music was new to me, just wasn't on my radar, and I'm sure I stumbled upon it through a social media feed. I liked the song from the opening bass line, and my gosh, her voice! It'll hook you with the nostalgic gravity of summer love and I dig the lyrical tip of the cap to the Beach Boys, whose LP Endless Summer was the first music I ever purchased. I was five.
But, the video stands up on its own and I felt like I was watching a Terrence Malick short film. I'd just seen his latest feature, Song to Song which I loved, so maybe that vibe was on the brain. Though the state of music video isn't what it once was in the heyday of MTV, I just haven't seen a video echo the tone of a song so closely or elevate its message so much in a long time. The photographer in me loved the styling choices: the flower girl throwback, combining black & white and color and how that reflected the song's treatment of time, the graininess of film, and so many frames (e.g. reflection in sunglasses) make for exquisite still images. That'd be a cool gallery exhibition if the video were deconstructed that way.
Of course, the shoulder wiggle and wink during the bridge didn't hurt Lana's case either.
Check it out and see what you think...