Monthly Archives: October 2005

How many screenings are there?

I’ve been trying to keep track of upcoming screenings by juggling various e-mails, website listings, and flyers, but finally gave up and spent half an hour putting together an excel spreadsheet to track the damn things.
What I REALLY want is a computer program that would let me select the movies I want to see and the dates I’ll be in town, and then provide me with an optimized screening schedule. In the meantime, I’ll have to select from my staggering range of free screenings by hand. Poor me.
To give you a sense of what’s available, here’s a snapshot of my spreadsheet for the first week in November. Movies highlighted in yellow are ones that I want to see at some point (although not necessarily on these particular dates):

That’s nearly 25 screenings in 7 days, and there will almost certainly be a few added to that over the next week.

Screenings a-go-go

I’ve been so busy going to screenings I’ve fallen behind in writing about them. A brief summary:
Wednesday, 19 October: Me And You And Everybody We Know.
Thursday, 20 October: The Constant Gardener, followed by a panel discussion with Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, director Fernando Meirelles, and producer Simon Channing Williams. According to Meirelles, much of the film was shot using a lightweight, handheld 16mm camera, meaning they could shoot on location in Kenya without attracting much attention. In many of the outdoor scenes, the crowds are not played by extras; the cast just went out and shot.
The other highlight of the Q&A came when the moderator asked the actors to name their favorite scenes in the film. Weisz cited a moment when Ralph Fiennes receives some bad news, and Meirelles holds on his face for something like a minute. As Weisz said (and I agree), Fiennes does some remarkable, wordless acting in that minute. Fiennes seemed genuinely touched by the praise from a fellow actor.
Friday, 21st October: Elizabethtown, followed by a panel discussion. The panel was billed as featuring Cameron Crowe and Kirsten Dunst. When the moderator announced that they were going to be joined by Orlando Bloom, a woman two rows in front of me–who must have been at least in her thirties–let out a gasp of girlish excitement that might have come from a 13-year-old girl.
Audience members are usually very professional at these sorts of events, but this time, there was a mildly embarrassing exchange:
PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER: This question is for Orlando Bloom. You’ve worked with a lot of great, experienced directors. Would you consider working with a first-time director?
[Muttering and shifting from the audience, who know where this is going. Orlando knows, too, and while he tries to figure out how to answer politely, Kirsten Dunst jumps in and buys him time by talking about some of the directors she’s worked with. Finally, Orlando gives a polite answer about how exciting it is to work with good directors of any degree experience.]
PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, I’m not going to pitch you tonight–
[APPLAUSE from the audience. Pushy Audience Member fails to take the hint.]
PUSHY AUDIENCE MEMBER:–but is it true you’re a very good surfer?
ORLANDO (GOOD NATUREDLY): I’m a keen surfer. I’m not sure I’m a very good one.
[Moderator quickly moves on to next audience question.]


If you’ve never lived here, it’s easy to forget just how far north London is. It’s at 51°30′ N, which means that–at least in terms of latitude–it’s closer to Moscow than to Venice. Vancouver, Seattle, and Zurich are all south of London. Still not clear on how far north this city is? There are parts of Siberia that are south of London.
Fortunately, thanks to the Gulf Stream, London has a far more temperate climate than its geographic sisters. Unfortunately, the Gulf Stream can’t carry sunlight.
In winter, the sun can rise as late as 8AM, and set as early as 4PM. After a summer in which there’s still light in the sky until 9PM, the transition to winter is a brutal one, and this is the time it hits me hardest. In a month or so, I’ll be once again used to getting up before, and staying at work after, the sun does the same. But for now, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, let alone stay awake until dinner time.

Brokeback Mountain

We went to a screening of Brokeback Mountain on Sunday, followed by a Q&A with Ang Lee.
Here’s a brief summary of the Q&A, with the caveat that it is repeated from memory, and all quotes are rough paraphrases…
The moderator started off by asking Lee if he minded that the film seems to be commonly described as a “gay western,” since that’s not entirely accurate. Lee didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he seemed pleased that the film has been widely discussed, and he quoted an entry from a David Letterman Top 10 list of Things To Call A Gay Western: “The Magnificent Seven Inches.”
The moderator mentioned that he had done a similar Q&A with Jake Gyllenhaal, who said that Lee had spent a huge amount of time working with the actors before shooting, but that once the shooting started, nothing. “It was like you’ve been having great sex, and then you get married, and the sex suddenly stops.” Lee thought that was pretty funny. He said that he is “a control freak” during production, and he has too much to focus on in order to pay much attention to the cast at that point in the process. He does like to have a rehearsal process, although “Unlike in rehearsing for theater, you don’t actually want to bring out the best performances during rehearsal; you want to leave something for filming, so that the performances will be fresh.” To that end, Lee likes doing exercises with the actors, and discussing their characters with them, but tries not to over-rehearse the actual scenes.
A question from the audience asked why so many of Lee’s films deal with repressed emotions. “When I made Pride & Prejudice, a lot of people wanted to know how this foreign guy expected to make a film about English culture. Well, for a Chinese director, repressed English people aren’t much of a stretch.”
In response to another audience question, Lee said he had no idea how well this film about gay cowboys would play in small town America. “The meeting with the marketing people was a bit of a reversal. They were very excited about the film and wanted to show it everywhere. I was nervous and asked if we could maybe just release it in the blue states.”
I’m not sure the primarily British audience at the screening knew what a “blue state” was, but it was an interesting session.

It Was The Best of Gilligan Cuts, It Was The Worst of Gilligan Cuts

Last April, John Rogers wrote a post about TV comedy writing jargon over at his always-excellent Kung Fu Monkey. He mentioned a technique called “the Red Dress Cut,” which occurs “when you cut directly from a character declaring there’s no way he’s going to do something, to him doing it, for comedic effect… This name comes from the way it was always described to me: a burly guy saying ‘There’s no way I’m going to get into a red dress and pretend to be your wife’. SMASH CUT to … you get the idea.”
I mentioned to him that I had always heard this technique called “the Gilligan cut,” after the TV show that used it with great frequency. John agreed that that was a more common term, and updated his glossary accordingly.
Of course, neither of us was under the illusion that the writers of Gilligan’s Island invented this technique. I’m fairly certain I’ve seen it used by Abbot & Costello as well as the Three Stooges. If you had asked me, I would have speculated that it was invented very soon after sound came to cinema. It’s hard to imagine it working on stage (where it’s rather difficult to smash cut) or in silent film (where the interposition of title cards would ruin the rhythm of the joke.)
This evening, however, I made a discovery that is going to revolutionize the burgeoning field of Gilligan Cut Historical Studies. I present to you a quote from The Pickwick Papers, first published in 1836:

Just how famous am I?

I just received the following e-mail:
From: Chong Pek Kee
Subject: request an autograph
I would like to request an autographed photo of you. Hope that’s not a problem for you.
Here’s my address:
Peggy Chong
Perak, Malaysia.
Best wishes,

Theoretically speaking, it is entirely possible that Peggy really wants my autograph. Maybe she’s a fan of Yankee Fog or The Government Manual for New Superheroes. Maybe she’s a slightly obsessive fan of Dennis Miller Live. Or maybe she’s a really obsessive fan of The Onion.
Still, the e-mail smells like spam to me, mainly because it’s so generic. Anybody who is enough of a fan of my work to want my autograph would know that I’m about as non-famous as writers get, and would therefore begin with an explanation of why she wanted an autographed photo of me.
If this is spam, though, it’s puzzling spam. Is it part of some art project, to see how many autographed photos one can collect? A sort of fame-based phishing expedition, in which somebody is sending out thousands of e-mails in the hopes that some of them will reach actual celebrities whose autographs are worth having?
Either way, I hope posting here will resolve it. If Peggy is really a big enough Jacob Sager Weinstein fan to have tracked me to my website, she’ll presumably see this post, and perhaps she’ll be kind enough to comment on it and explain why she wants the photo. And if this is just a spam e-mail sent out to vast numbers of people, perhaps some of the other folks who have received it can pipe up.