Todd Solondz and “Happiness” – 21 March 2008

Managed to get tickets to Tisch Asia‘s exclusive screening of Happiness and Q&A with director Todd Solondz.

Solondz was here for a week to mentor the Tisch students. Naturally his work was shown (at the Tisch Open House we saw a little stand outside their screening theatre advertising Welcome to the Dollhouse), and Tisch kept Happiness for the final screening at The Picturehouse.

Solondz really looks geeky. Balding, with graying hair and a paunch. That evening he wore a short-sleeved light blue shirt paired with khakis. Most memorable were the pale yellow Chucks Taylors on his feet, the oversized thick plastic glasses on his face, and the plastic bag all the way from NYC’s The Strand bookshop in his hand — Woody Allen as if he’d come of age in the 90’s.

Todd Solondz at The Picturehouse - 21 Mar 2008

Solondz was good-humoured and self-effacing. The harshest thing he said was an oblique remark concerning a student’s decision to shoot an experimental film here – why spend so much time and money to come here in the first place?

Filmmakers needed to be observant — “everything is material.” His life wasn’t any more interesting than anyone else’s. No traumatic past either. Singapore was extremely interesting to him as an outsider, and he saw lots that that Singaporeans tended to tune out or ignore.

Solondz commented that he was fortunate to have gotten this movie made. An actor’s union (sorry couldn’t catch the acronym) had cautioned against the script, probably because of the paedophilia and child rape references.

Luckily, Solondz was popular after the unexpected success of Welcome to the Dollhouse. He managed to get the backing of a senior studio exec, and knew that this was pretty much the only chance he would have to get Happiness made.

Solondz’s direction was minimal. He concentrated on setting the “atmosphere” and let the actors do their work. Solondz also noted that he didn’t have a problem with the child actors. Natually their parents were involved from the start, but the kids seemed to understand, in their own way, what was going on in the script.

For example, in the scene where the rapist confesses his actions to his son, Solondz didn’t ask the child actor to cry, but somehow that emerged through the takes, as both actors played off each other (consciously or otherwise). Solondz had great footage, but unfortunately discovered in the lab that it was unusable. He had to reshoot the scene 2 weeks after.

Solondz also expressed a preference for writing and editing to directing. To him editing was like writing but with footage.

About the movie

Solondz’s good at scripting awkward situations based on everyday encounters, highlighting the little lies people tell each other everyday to get by. Clever, sharp dialogue but characterisation spotty e.g. Trish, Helen characters are caricatures.

He also expounds a cynical view of love, sex and inter-personal communication. Sincere bonds are few and don’t last long.

What’s I particularly like about it are the strong performances from overlooked actors, especially Dylan Baker. Some of the actors have gone on to do well in TV (e.g. Lara Flynn Boyle, Camryn Manheim). Seymour Philip Hoffman’s the only one who eventually made the A-list after Capote, years after. And the trivia nut in me wants to point out Ben Gazzara who starred in Saint Jack.

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Incidentally, is Hoffman the only actor to appear on two movie poster drawn by comic book artists? Hoffman is prominent in the poster for Happiness, illustrated by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), and he appears on the poster for The Savages (earlier post)

Randomness #415P

The story of borshch

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Cool ABC pop-up book:

(via Book Design Review)

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Thoughts on whether Second Life is particularly suitable for teaching languages. A commentary on this Forbes article:

In addition to providing resources, Boahn also offers free ESL workshops through “Second Life English”–a great deal, he says, since private language lessons in-world can cost as much as $20 an hour. Like many “Second Life instructors,” Boahn takes a hands-on approach to teaching in a virtual classroom. During workshops, he uses a team of teachers to present students with different linguistic tasks, which could include anything from asking for directions to bargaining to buy a knickknack. To do those tasks, Boahn and his colleagues use “holodecks,” rooms that can flip through as many as 40 different scenes at the mere click of a mouse. Want to practice ordering American fast food? Just switch the holodeck to Dara’s Diner and line up at the counter.

Another popular way to teach English in “Second Life,” says Boahn, involves role-playing and quests. “I once dressed up as a pirate, had a ship and everything. I was kind of rough on the students,” he admits. “I put some of them in cages, and had them confront language in a shock-and-awe kind of way. They seemed to like it, and they learned all sorts of new words, like ‘loot’ and ‘booty.'”

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Is it time to turn to Keynes for economic advice? “The End of Laissez-Faire”, by John Maynard Keynes (1926)

Evangelion 1:0 – You Are (Not) Alone

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At last my arm is complete again!

I enjoyed the new animation in the Evangelion movie — Evangelion 1:0 – You Are (Not) Alone — and let myself indulge in a bit of nostalgia for those memories of when I first watched the original Evangelion series. And I was glad to have the chance to introduce a seminal anime work to the Other Half.

As I recall them, many scenes from the original series were kept – seeing Eva-01’s launch sequence again nearly brought tears to my eyes – but the movie is mostly new animation, particularly after Ramiel turns up.

Of the Angels, Ramiel was one of the most boring (pun intended), being a large floating blue octahedron. As an example of what computer technology had enabled since 1994, Ramiel is now constantly changes forms when firing its Beam o’ Glowy Death(TM). In addition, the old mechanical drill bit from the series has been replaced by a swirling corkscrew that morphs from Ramiel’s bottom apex.

The new movie animation looks better, but then again I’ve only seen the original TV series with its washed-out look so Anno etc could’ve reused Renewal footage for all I know :p

But the whole movie looks consistently new. Contrast with the visually jarring mix of old (1984-6) and new (2005-6) animation in the Zeta Gundam: A New Translation movies.

(Incidentally why didn’t those come here? Bandai/Sunrise wanted too much money for screening fees?)

Some deliberate discrepancies mysteries:

– The numbering of the Angels has changed. Sachiel, the first angel to appear in the series, is the 3rd Angel, but in the movie he’s identified as the 4th.

– Lilith is wearing a mask like Sachiel’s face in the movie, but in the series she has one with seven eyes on it.

– The entire moon sequence at the end of the movie. There’s another Lilith-like being?!?

Was hoping to watch the trailer for the second movie at the end, and was disappointed that the preview seems to have been cut from the prints at both the Cathay and at Cineleisure. Odd.

Thankfully, the Net provides. Watch the trailer here. (More mysteries!)

The movie brochure didn’t make it here either. None of the merchandise did. As expected :/

(earlier post on Evangelion 1:0)

Randomness #681J

Things go from bad to worse in Tibet. Have been shuttling between The Peking Duck and the BBC for coverage.

Vantan visited a panel with interesting scenarios of what the future of social networking technology might be like.

This is the weirdest SXSW panel I’ve ever been to.

The setting is a funeral parlour or church, with a fake pastor (complete with black suit) gives a final sermon to a fictitious porn star whose 13” penis has been copyrighted by Disney, thus he could not show it in public for the last 20 years of his life.

Which sounds like Warren Ellis scripted it.

I’ve had to create “scenarios” about the future before and I wish I could’ve come up with something that outrageous yet plausible. Too much social conditioning in the workplace I tell ya…

Read the post on Vantan’s blog.

The Savages

Didn’t know Chris Ware designed the poster for The Savages.

I’m not sure if funny and sad are really so terribly different things; I’ve been to violent films that I find patronizing, dishonest and depressing, yet the people around me are all laughing their heads off. As a half-writer myself, I try not to think of what’s funny and sad in a story but simply to think of what, to the best of my ability, seems truest; whether it’s funny or sad is simply how it settles with the reader. In the wake of any horrible natural disaster some well-known religious figure is inevitably asked, “How can a good God allow something as bad as this to happen?” Really, though, what difference does it make to God whether 10,000 people or 10,000 fish die? Good and bad, like funny and sad, are phenomena relative to the perspective of the organism that’s laughing or dying.

Read the whole interview

I’m still in the throes of having seen the Evangelion movie – Evangelion 1.0 – You Are (Not) Alone, and am still impressed by There Will Be Blood. Am trying to wrestle my thoughts down so I can write something coherent. Eva first.

Just different

A Wired feature highlights new thinking about autism:

This movement is being fueled by a small but growing cadre of neuropsychological researchers who are taking a fresh look at the nature of autism itself. The condition, they say, shouldn’t be thought of as a disease to be eradicated. It may be that the autistic brain is not defective but simply different — an example of the variety of human development. These researchers assert that the focus on finding a cure for autism — the disease model — has kept science from asking fundamental questions about how autistic brains function.

from The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know

What happens after the movie is made?

Radio Station Forgot To Play My Favourite Song is a documentary on Singapore rock circa 2003, shot as a final year project. It’s up on the internet now — available for all to see.

Part I:

(To be honest, I’m generally not as enthusiastic about rock/alternative music. I think our musicians are as good as any in the world, even better, but I’m not crazy about any music “scene”, local or foreign. I pick and choose – a few singers, the odd duo or trio. Anyone with solid lyrics and a pleasing arrangement.)

Wanted to highlight the saddest part, from the blog of one of the ex-documentarians:

The 3 of us have always enjoyed the compliments over the years but its also a little sad that none of us are within even sniffing distance of the hotshit rockumentarians we were 5 years ago – in fact we’ve all joined the SYSTEM and are civil servants now. If there were still anything remotely creative and edgy left in us, it probably would’ve been shat out of us by now. Sadly, we’re fading away instead of burning out. At least we still try to have our weekly beer sessions, which had its beginnings in RSFTPMFS’s preproduction stages.

Which reminds me of another postscript (post-mortem?):

The people who won the big awards in the NYU festival that year haven’t done much better than I have. I now live in Hollywood, as do many of my classmates from NYU. We all work day jobs to pay the bills, we all write screenplays in our free time. We get together and read one another’s screenplays sometimes. We go out for drinks and complain about our jobs and ponder whether any of us will ever direct another film.

Deep down we all still believe we will be making films again sometime soon. But the truth is time is passing and film school is receding into memory. And a few thousand more film school graduates move into town every year and compete for the same directing jobs.

written by Tom Edgar, a co-author of Film School Confidential. His and his co-author’s stories are here on their website.

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NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information has teamed up with the National Museum to screen some very much older Singapore films from the 60s.

Featured are films which had reigned Singapore’s golden and most prolific film-making period:
P. Ramlee’s Seniman Bujang Lapok
Salleh Ghani’s Tun Fatimah
B. N. Rao’s Sumpah Pontianak
Hussain Haniff’s Hang Jebat

To add on, Perspectives Film Festival will also screen Singapore’s first Chinese-language film, Lion City by Yi Sui! Despite being our debut Chinese-language film, Lion City is rarely seen with its last appearance being 3 years ago at Screen Singapore 2005!

You’d think that a “school of communication and information” would come up with a better website, but here it is.

Most of these movies were made before Singapore became a nation-state of its own. Back then, almost everyone thought of themselves as “Malayan”. How meaningful is it then, to appropriate these movies as part of an ideal Singaporean film past?

Lobby Cards – the Leonard Schrader Collection

From the homepage:

The Collection consists of 8,462 vintage lobby-cards and 5,000 related items – many the sole surviving traces of long-lost silent films – acquired by late screenwriter/filmmaker Leonard Schrader over the course of 27 years. While Schrader preserved his collection with painstaking care in hundreds of 13×15 photographer’s albums – or “binders” – mysteriously he left no written inventory or index of this vast archive’s contents.

Vanity Fair has a slideshow comprising 36 cards from his collection.