Tag Archives: movies

Life List #58 – Part III

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the third post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here and the second one here

Back in April, I attended a performance of Christopher Shinn‘s play, “Picked” at the Vineyard. It was a solid production of a play filled with fascinating ideas about a film actor, Kevin, who subjects himself to neuroimaging, intense, in-depth interviews and testing in order to deliver an emotionally authentic performance for a legendary director. We learn early on the film script is being developed around the results of the lead actor’s tests. It’s all big ideas and James Cameron-like dreams of moviemaking. To some extent, it’s not far from the truth of how movies, especially the high-tech, high-concept ones, are almost intangible ideas. I had recently come from working on a movie where a majority of our central characters were computer-generated. Human actors would recite dialogue to a red dot placed in their eye line. We would shoot whole scenes where the set would be the only thing to look at, for now. There’s an interesting challenge to work on something that feels like a movie, but it’s only half there.

Similarly, in “Picked,” Kevin isn’t entirely certain what all the testing is building up to. He spends a year of his life fulfilling his contractual obligations without ever shooting a frame of film. He has no idea what the script is (if it’s even any good) and he takes a huge gamble in his first leading role. This is not unlike how the moviemaking process really is. 200+ people show up every day to work on something that may/may not be good. Your life is held up for the better part of a year or more while you were insane hours, lose friends and alienate those you love. But, you also make friends, too — your trench mates. The people you see and communicate with the most over the course of a production. “Picked” also offered a subtle glimpse into the major build up behind a film, from shooting (and the inevitable high to low everyone experiences when a production wraps) to anticipation of release, and running the crazy and repetitive publicity gauntlet.

The most interesting aspect of “Picked” was the ending. It was real and honest. Shinn captured an eloquence and melancholy that was pitch-perfect in its execution. A lovely, solid (and somewhat insider-y) exploration of the beginning of a career all the way through the end — for those who live a life absorbed in a specific world for so long and then begin to fall out of love with it.

Grazie, Dino

On my first trip out to Los Angeles, I was armed with one name and one meeting: Martha De Laurentiis. Martha and her husband, Dino, ran The Dino De Laurentiis Company out of the former Hitchcock bungalow on the Universal Studios lot. On the day of our meeting, Martha took an hour out of her busy, pre-production schedule to given me advice, make some phone calls, and supply me with more names. She became my mentor. Though I didn’t end up staying in California, Martha and I continued to stay in touch.

During my annual visits in July, it became a tradition to stop by Martha and Dino’s for lunch or dinner and a birthday toast — Martha’s and my birthday are three days apart. Dino would sometimes join us. Our conversations would run the gamut from movies (Italian, American, Japanese, it didn’t matter where they came from, just if they were worth watching) to books, to my former boss and his latest project. Dino would speak mainly in Italian, throwing out a few english words for my benefit. He was sharp, listened to everything and didn’t miss a trick.

One year I asked Martha for a list of Italian films to watch, starting with the neo-realists. In reply to my email, I received a syllabus worthy of a grad school film class. Three years later, I am nearly finished with the list. I’ve discovered some of my favorite films through their recommendations, including L’avventura and Dino’s own heart-breakingly beautiful, Le Notti di Cabiria:

When I traveled to Italy for the first time, Martha and Dino sent me off with a seven page list of where to go/what to do/see/eat in Rome. My family called it The De Laurentiis List and we never deviated from it. We went to some fantastic off-the-beaten path places, in both the heart of the city and the upscale suburban areas, where we ate and drank alongside Romans. We saw Italy through the eyes of an Italian rather than a tourist. In a sense, they gave me the gift of their city. It was one of the best presents I have ever received. Whenever someone I know travels to Italy for the first time, I send them off with a copy of The De Laurentiis List — the best form of re-gifting there is.

This past July was the last time I saw Dino. I went up to the house to meet Martha for lunch and our birthday toast. She was running late. Dino was there, sitting in the darkened living room watching the World Cup on a large screen. I joined him. “Who are we rooting for?” I asked. Dino looked at me. “You don’t follow football, do you,” he half-asked me, pretty much knowing how I would answer. “No, not really.” “Orange,” he said. “We like orange.” Orange was Poland. They were winning. Dino and I sat watching, he broke the silence by occasionally muttering in Italian at the men on the screen, until a player from the orange team head-butted the ball into the goal. Dino let out a cheer as the announcer yelled: “GOALLLLL, GOALLLLL, GOALLLLL!!!!” We watched the replay of the shot, then a replay of the replay. Martha walked in shortly after and I left Dino to cheer on the orange team alone. Our lunch that afternoon was punctuated by background noises: Dino shouting at the TV; the announcer’s “GOALLLL, GOALLLL, GOALLLL!!!” When the game finally ended, Poland had won. Dino was happy. And Martha and I toasted to another good year.

‎”When you are born and when you die…who knows? I don’t know for what this pebble is useful, but it must be useful. For if it’s useless, everything is useless. So are the stars!” – La Strada


Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

Watch

I had meant to see this movie in a theater, where it must look even more stunning on a big screen, but I’m happy I did see it at home. It’s the type of movie I watch once and then watch again immediately, without the sound. It’s a feast for all of your senses, but there’s exquisite visual storytelling that takes place, the nuances of each character, the locations, sets (unless this was all location work, which it looked to be) costumes, and gorgeous second unit shots, that you miss on first viewing.

I Am Love (Io Sono L’Amore) tells the story of a fabulously wealthy Milanese family and their individual loves. At the center of this haute bourgeoisie tale is the Russian-turned-Italian-by-marriage Emma Bovery Recchi, played by beautifully by Tilda Swinton — costumed in a wardrobe of Jil Sander and Fendi — who has an affair that ultimately affects her entire family. Though Emma’s love story is at the forefront of this movie, there are several relationships (between people, work, food, family, friends) among the supporting characters that contribute to the strength of this film. Developed by director Luca Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton over the course of 11 years, I Am Love is reminiscent of another of my favorite Italian movies, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis combined with the 1940-50s Technicolor glamour of Douglas Sirk movies. Even the score, by American composer John Adams, is high-art. A lush, beautiful and truly gripping piece of cinema.  I mean, just look at it. Gorgeous:

Listen

One of my favorite Tumblr blogs (or is it just Tumblrs?) is Capucha which follows the life of a little French girl named Capucine and her family, animals, etc. It’s like stepping into a French fairytale or an Anthropologie store come to life. It’s full of whimsy and heart. Capucine’s mom, Anne, is also a talented photographer and has excellent taste in music. Thus, I’m swiping this week’s Listen pick from a recent post where she reblogged a list of music/music videos about photography. This video was completely new to me, so I wanted to pass along the discovery. Check out the rest of the list here. They’re all wonderful.

Read

Nicole Krauss is one of my favorite living authors. Her new novel, Great House, offers more of the exquisite prose and beautiful storytelling she first gave the world in Man Walks Into a Room and The History of Love. I’ve just started Great House and I have already fallen under its spell. Reading Krauss’ writing feels like being under water. Time stops. Everything is quiet and there are no distractions. You are so drawn into the story, you forget to breathe. Inhale deeply and pick up Great House.