World Cinema

a thank you to Roger Ebert.

I'm pretty sure everybody that has had, at the very least, a sliver of interest in the movies and the language of cinema has a story to share about Roger Ebert.  

Whether it was about influence, or insight, or passion, or disagreement, Roger Ebert was big time.  

He loved movies so much, that it's inconceivable to think of any figure in these modern times, to exhibit the same anti-cynicism and commitment to cinema.  Almost all of us are in a sort of ambivalent love affair with movies these days.  For all the never ending enthusiasm and commitment to reach higher, there is always the death knell, the Holy Motors sign off.  Which was quite convincing by the way (btw ya’lls).

Somehow, both views fit.  But, it is fitting and sad, that Ebert, along with the rest of the classicist have now passed.  These were figures of what can be now called, "the good old days".  And we can cherish that, because its history has been written.  A place exists for the past.  It has happened, and it was witnessed.  The future however, is always a place of uncertainty.  Anxiety is birthed from the unknown.  And humans, given a dose of evolutionary psychology, always feel mixed about that which cannot be controlled.

The beauty of Ebert was that the man always committed to passionate thinking.  He was not afraid.  Nor was he afraid to change his mind.  

At his older age, he became a king of new media. With twitter, he could troll with the best of them.  His stance against video games as art was legendary.  Here was a man, not afraid of the consequences of thought, nor its expression.  Nor was he scared of being bullied for thinking.

Bombarded by children angered by an opinion, he pressed forward with what I can only assume was a grin.  Remember is beef with Vincent Gallo.  The man didn't back down from insults.  A classic game of "yo momma".  And he did this with a smile.  That's respectable. That’s heart.  

And no other critic could circumnavigate the mainstream all the while, championing the independent quite like Ebert. Who will ever have that leverage?  Who will ever care enough?

What a sincere love of something.  It was poetic to witness.  RIP Roger Ebert and thank you.  My mother thanks you.  She loved you.  

See you at the movies; home theater actually, because we all know that's where this is all leading, right?

gritty handheld style it is not, asshole.

After watching a recent Hollywood film lauded as one of the great achievements of the year (the year would be last), I did what I do when I can't seem to figure out the hype from the fact.  At the very least, my facts against mediocrity.

So, I turned into some reviews to hear the voice of the critic.  Now, I only do this after the movie.  Mostly, just to gauge the critical zeitgeist and maybe to pick up on points that I neglected, or tuned out possibly due to bias.  In fact, often, I want to be proved wrong.  I want to be moved to believe that the movie was a masterpiece and I was just being an asshole, or plainly, ignorant.

So, after flipping through a couple of these eloquent reviews, one phrase stood out from the rest, breathing fire into the cultural void of existence. "Gritty handheld style" was this very phrase.  

Everytime I read something so asinine, I want to stop and call out to my maker.  But the fact that this was repeated in no less then 5 reviews in back to back succession makes me think, that sometimes, people are in a haze of automation, devoid of anything critical, analytical, or imaginative.  

Gritty handheld style in this particular case was nothing at all gritty.  What the fuck does this describe?  Realism?  Well, in this particular case, not at all.  Does it describe fortitude or determination.  No.  50 million dollars with the best technical minds around making fiction never ever fucking equates to GRITTY.  Ever.  (well, actually, there are a couple cases historically.  this is not one.  and I'm assuming, the budget never crossed the 25million mark) 

What it does describe however, is that all these clowns picked up the same description from wherever the hell, like 10 years ago, and decided to use it again, and again, and again, and thus removing any descriptive quality about it, in favor of press releasing a review.  In today's language, this just fucking blows.

I call for an indefinite ban, and personal banishment for any hee-haw that uses the phrase, "gritty handheld style" to describe anything related to a film.  They can however, use it to describe their latest iphone video of there cat licking its nuts.  As long as the phone is not locked down on a tripod, and that it is in fact, gritty by definition.

Enter the POV.

True POV camera work is a relative staple in video games.  These games, often of the FPS (first person shooter) variety, imply a world as scene by the lead character, which by way of controller, is you, the player.

Similar to the field of vision of humans, we see exactly as the character does.  Some other information might be provided by the GUI (such as maps, weapons, etc), but essentially, you see the world through your eyes.  

Movies have used POV shoots as a supplementary technique for many years.  But, whereas it was a very difficult thing to achieve in Orson Welles world, it is easier to do in Gasper Noe's time.  The gear has gotten smaller.  The apparatus has changed.

In video games set pieces, we can move from a wide, to a follow, straight to a POV all in one movement.  

This camera flexibility and movement is the new norm in most Hollywood films.  In essence, the building of shot structure in a movie like BATMAN is rendered first in a computer.  It borrows heavily from video games.  But, a real world camera with real world actors can never be as flexible as the camera in a computer world.    

Now, here in lies a thought.  If, after all these years video games tried to be more like movies, what happens when movies try to be more like video games?

What happens when the story lines, graphics, writing gets as good or better than the movie version?  I'm sure many kids will argue that it already has.  

So, what now?  Its telling to note that the cost of the top tier tentpole video games cost as much or more then tentpole Hollywood films.  

At some point, the kids will stick to a world where there POV is in control, with options and feedback that a passive form like Hollywood movies cannot provide.  2 hours of passive entertainment versus 60+ hours of active entertainment.  You can argue that they are two different things, but, when both try to emulate one another, it becomes very hard to differentiate.

We need to get out of the passive.  We need to trust our audience a little more.  The short term gains from the sequel syndrome will have huge consequences in a few years.

In Paris, waiting for Godot. (10-26-12)

(originally written 10-26-12)

I've been out on assignment for the last week in Paris.  I've learned some things during this trip that’s dawned on me with more weight then the years previous.  Age does that, doesn't it.  Perspective is a fast track to the discovery of subjectivity in all human experience, and shit, the more of it, the better.  

Most of the things learned are of a personal nature.  I usually forget most of these insights once settled back into my norm, but still, its a good feeling and you can't take that away from me.

But, what I am most preoccupied with is the refinement of Parisians in aspects of society, compared to us Americans.  The dress code, the social habits, the little nuances.  We slobber over our apple pie, and they, with a fork in left hand, nibble at those little pastries with the delicacy of a surgeon.  Ironically, with all these refinements, Paris doesn't understand the concept of customer service.  And, this is NOT just my little opinion.  This is a known fact, like that of gravity, or the law of inertia (yes, i understand, we are past linear Newtonianism’s, but entertain me this one time).

Paris - shot from Hotel du Louvre

Paris - shot from Hotel du Louvre

And, most important, the thing that I'm taking away from this particular journey, is the same as any of those recent trips I've taken recently, where, by necessity and a little willpower, I turn off the data on my GODDAMN SMART PHONE.   A wonderful thing happens after you survive the initial shakes of withdrawal.  A simple lesson we all intuitively understand; Life is better lived, then wasted eyeing a little screen, scrolling endlessly in the sea of public opinion, whose constantly engrossed in sharing a few of those tidbits of information and ideas that comes to ones head, with few if any conscientious filters. Ah, the pedestrian, mundane and irrelevant thought of the second. It’s gross desire for declaration!  I'm through with these pocket sized opinions and observations for the time being.  I never wanted them to begin with (is this really true), but, psychology has me (we, us) lacking self-control, gripped unconsciously, deep in a Pavlovian headlock because of a few loopholes of mind.  

See, you might not know it, but if your updating your social media accounts 20 time a day, or logging in 20 times a day its probably a solidified, honest to goodness habit at this point.  Your a little dog salivating at the ringing of the bell, telling you its lunch time, whether your getting a real treat or a trick, doesn't matter. 

RIP Filmmaker Celso Ad. Castillo

My friend, and fellow filmmaker Chris Castillo's father passed away a few days ago.  His father was Celso Ad. Castillo, a heavyweight in the Filipino Film World.  Here is an open letter he posted about his father's passing.

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AN OPEN LETTER ABOUT MY FATHER, CELSO AD. CASTILLO 

As soon as I received the news that my father had passed, I sat there not knowing what to do. I didn't cry. I couldn't. So I did the only thing my father loved doing the most - I went to the movies. I watched Lincoln. The little kid in him had always admired Spielberg. They had met before and he was going to direct a movie for him at one point.

 

And inside the dark theater, I cried. 

As the images flickered on the screen, as Lincoln fought for the future of humanity, I saw my father fighting all his life for his vision, his morals, his values. He was going to make the films he wanted to make. No matter the personal cost. He was The Kid, The Messiah, the Philippine's first truly independent and renegade filmmaker. The man who was larger than life. Fitting. 

I am the first born son of Celso Ad Castillo. Growing up on film sets, I was destined to follow in his footsteps. Never to eclipse him but to be the best that I can be in using the gifts he gave me. My path had always been set. As my mother always said, I am my father's son. 

We had spoken recently about some exciting things that the future was going to bring. My project with producer Alemberg Ang was short listed in the upcoming Cinemalaya 2013 and after I finished my interview with the selection committee, it dawned on me the excitement that I might have a chance to work with my father once again. But this time with with me in the director's chair and he as an actor. Our last talk was about the long awaited and much anticipated Ang Lalaking Nangarap Na Maging Nora Aunor which was going to be his FDC film. It would be his swan song, a tribute to his love for Philippine Cinema. He would be Salvatore in Cinema Paradiso. I was going to write it for him. 

As I sit here and pen this missive, not just for me but for everyone that admired and was influenced by him, I always think back to a night in San Francisco over two decades ago that truly defined who he was. When for the first time, he explained to me the reason why our family broke apart. We were living in Las Vegas at that time when he came to join us for good but decided to leave after a couple of months back to the Philippines. He told me that he made the hardest decision of his life. He had to choose between his art and his family and he chose his art. And from that decision came some of the greatest films cinema has ever seen. I have never begrudged my father for what he did. I have never questioned his love for us. I have always understood him and felt sadness that he was put in that situation. No one should ever have to make those kinds of decisions. But all of us in his life have always competed with the characters in his head and stories in his mind. 

Film was his family. Film was his life. And we are all the better for it.

We will celebrate the man and his films. We will honor him with words and tributes. But let us not forget the greatest gift my father gave us. The strength and courage to be an original, to be rebellious without fear, to dig deeper into ourselves and embrace the madness within us, to question art and mold it to our own perception, to test people's comfort zones, to force the audience to watch what is uncomfortable in their own lives. 

So to those filmmakers influenced by him, continue the fight to make the films you truly want to make and extend the path that he paved and pass along the gift that he gave to you to the next generation of filmmakers. It would be the only thing he would ask any of you. I wish all of you would have met hm. Then you would see the true man behind the legend. A man of wit, wisdom, and a huge sense of humor. 

To some people, he was the greatest filmmaker of his generation. To me, he was simply a wonderful father. I will truly miss him until I see him again. 

- Christopher Ad. Castillo 

Celso Ad. Castillo

Celso Ad. Castillo