Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teenage Paparazzo

I read a column in an old Popular Photography magazine. The columnist received a letter from an insurance salesman who owned a camera and decided to be a photojournalist. He wanted to go on assignment somewhere exotic. He asked where to sign up and how much he would be paid.

Even educated people thought they could just pick up their cameras, head for a war zone and be professional photojournalists.

Well. Turns out the idiots were right. It doesn't take years of experience to be a highly paid professional photographer. All it takes is a camera.

There's a documentary made by Adrian Grenier called Teenage Paparazzo about a kid named Austin Visschedyk. It focuses on Austin even though he had a friend, Blaine, who's also a teenage paparazzo but isn't quite as cute (Sorry, Blaine). The two boys run around LA with the grown-up paparazzi---one of them with a $3,000 camera his father bought him for that purpose. The little bastards make $500 to $1,000 per picture.

Austin became a bit of a celebrity himself---the subject of the documentary, for one thing. Both boys have websites which have a little "TM" after their names. They are now registered trademarks.

From a review by Chris Knight:
...the film gets most interesting when Austin, inebriated by all the attention, gets weirder, taking on the mannerisms of the pampered stars he follows. Grenier arrives with his camera crew one day to find Austin with his friend Blaine, whose dad is making his own movie. "Who are you with?" he asks another photographer. "Teen Vogue," the guy answers, doing a shoot about Blaine's dad's shoot.
Trying to rein in this pint-sized media monster, Grenier takes advice from Whoopi Goldberg, who suggests that, if Austin doesn't become the next Annie Leibovitz, his fame will fade the minute his voice changes. Maybe the boy can be steered toward an interest in serious photojournalism?
No luck. When Austin is shown the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from the 1970 Kent State shootings -- of a girl screaming and kneeling over the body of a dead protester -- he shrugs and looks away. Not dramatic enough. Grenier, aghast, looks like a modern Prometheus.
There's something horrible about rich kids in Hollywood. I saw one of them on an MTV show called Cribs. The show has camera crews visit celebrities in their homes. And their homes are all pretty much alike. Everything they have is new. It's pretty much interchangeable. They could trade houses and no one would notice. And they all had the same cars---a gray BMW and the biggest, ugliest black SUV they could find.

The kid actor on Cribs---I think he was an undersized teenager who could pass for a 12-year-old---had appeared on that candid camera show Ashton Kutcher did, and was later cast in a short-lived sit-com. Looking at the kid's house, you could see his family was rich. They weren't living on the kid's money. It made me wonder what motivated this tasteless, bourgeois family to get their child on TV.

The idea of poor single mothers driving their children to auditions never bothered me. I'm all for it. But I can't understand these bourgeois parents. One look at their house and you can see that they don't have the slightest creative impulse.

In the case the the teenage paparazzi, you have rich parents spending thousands of dollars promoting their kids' efforts, which would probably be fine if they weren't doing something sleazy.

Austin Visschedyk is no Doogie Howser. All he has is a willingness to harass people with his camera and parents who let him do it. It doesn't say much for them. Or for the other paparazzi who aren't doing anything a seventh grader couldn't do just as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paris Hilton barred from Japan

I was generally on Paris Hilton's side during her ordeal in the county jail. A few people made fun of her for having a GED instead of a high school diploma, an insult to all those with GEDs, and an insult to the quarter of all high school graduates who can't pass the test for a GED.

But I had mixed feelings. I hate drunks, drunk drivers and, generally, rich people. Wasn't Paris laughing as one of her rich scumbag friends denounced one of their movie star friends for being "poor" because she only had a few million dollars? And what was the thing about her using racial slurs?

The sex tape wasn't her fault. She turned lemons into lemonade. She parlayed her degradation into a Hollywood career of sorts.

Now Paris has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of possessing .8 of a gram of cocaine and "obstructing an officer", whatever that means. She got one year probation, a $2,000 fine, 200 hours of community service and she has to complete a drug treatment program.

The judge told her that "Any new arrests terminate your criminal probation and you will serve a one year sentence."

As a convicted drug offender, she was barred from entering Japan. This put an end to her Asian tour to promote her line of clothing, or perfume or whatever the hell it was she was promoting a line of.

Anthony Papa wrote on counterpunch.com:

...Now I suggest because of this and her recent arrest she follows up with her thoughts back when she was released in 2007. Back then, fresh out of jail, Paris wanted to be an advocate and find meaning in her life. On the Larry King Show she was asked if she was planning to help others. Paris responded and said "That's something I was actually thinking a lot about in jail. I feel like, you know, being in the spotlight, I have a platform where I can raise awareness for so many great causes, and just do so much with this, instead of, you know, superficial things like going out. I want to help raise money for kids, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis." Those thoughts were soon forgotten.

But now because of her probation and her apparent drug use she was sentenced to two hundred hours of community service. I suggest that Paris Hilton now speak out and become an advocate for reforming our draconian drug laws. Think of how many lives she could save by speaking out for treatment instead of imprisonment. We would welcome her to our movement.

That's much better than my suggestion.

I was going to say that Paris should stop trying to steal work from needy actresses and use her wealth to produce and star in a series of shameless vanity projects. I would suggest a series of biopics. Paris Hilton as Zsa Zsa Gabor. Paris Hilton as Lana Turner. Paris Hilton as Marilyn Monroe. Paris Hilton as Jean Harlow.

Then do some intellectual roles. Paris Hilton as Ayn Rand. Paris Hilton as Madame Curie. Paris Hilton as...well. You get the idea.

And I'm not suggesting that Ayn Rand was an intellectual.

All Paris needs is money. Pay a few writers and actors, bring in a camera crew.

She would make the world a better place.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hawaii Five-0 stinks

Okay, so I watched the new Hawaii Five-O. My God, it was bad. Steve McGarrett and Dan Williams both talking in phony New Jersey accents. The sounded like John Travolta in his early, moronic roles. Do they think that sounds naturalistic?

I've never seen Hawaii look uglier than it did on that show. They apparently screwed around with the color and contrast. They must have thought they were making it look cinematic. Like the old soap operas where they would make everything brown because they thought it made it look more expensive.

Here's a shot from the show to give you an idea what they did to it:

Now, look at these two. If they knocked on your door and told you they were police, and said it in phony, moronic accents, would you say, "What seems to be the trouble, officers?" or would you lock the door?

What the hell is wrong with Steve McGarrett's arms?

I changed the channel and watched something else in the middle of it, so I missed the part where, according to one review, they question a suspect and hit him with an ashtray, threaten to deport his family to Rwanda and make some sort of quip about his seven-year-old child being forced to fight in a militia. Some of that wonderful humor admirers of the pilot were talking about.

I watched it because the REAL Hawaii Five-O was a pretty good show.

It makes me wonder---the network decided not to go with the new Rockford Files. They were disappointed by the pilot. Which means, what? It wasn't enough like this crap?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Allen

Andy Warhol used to make these "movies". They were portraits on 16mm film. The person would sit and they would turn on the camera for 12 minutes or however long the roll of film ran. The idea was that the person posing for the picture couldn't maintain a front for that long. Their true self---their true facial expression, which I guess means their neutral facial expression, would come out at some point before the film ran out.

But then you have Woody Allen in Wild Man Blues, a cinema verite documentary about his European tour with his amateur jazz band. And amateurs they were. Some European critics pointed out that they really weren't very good.

Poor Woody Allen has practiced his clarinet faithfully for decades. He was dedicated to it. But it was decades before it dawned on him that he didn't have a talent for it. But he has other things to sustain him, and even if he didn't, he'd be no worse off than most of us. There's an elderly dishwasher or janitor somewhere practicing his clarinet slowly realizing that he never had a chance.

The thing about Wild Man Blues is that Allen never forgot the camera was there. He managed to go on a 23-day tour without ever behaving naturally.

"Wake me up before we land in Paris," he says as he goes to sleep on the plane. In Paris? He was speaking in movie dialog, explaining to the viewers what was happening.

Later, he writes down an order for room service.

"You're not signing an autograph," Soon-yi says.

"I'll write it more clearly," Allen says in case the audience didn't catch what she meant.

He gets sick and can't perform in London. He says: "What a drag. I was looking forward to giving a good show tonight. I don't want to just go out there and make an achievement till I get through the show. I want the show to be very good cause if I'm not good, these people will hate me in my own language."

I don't think I'm especially observant about things like that, but those jumped out even at me.

The only interesting thing was that Soon-yi seemed have more on the ball than people gave her credit for. When it came out that Allen was molesting her, Mia Farrow tried to portray her as subnormal, taken advantage of and manipulated by a rich geezer movie director. And she probably was manipulated and taken advantage of. The poor girl was a teenager when Allen started playing his dirty numbers on her (although she was an adult). She was adopted as a pre-schooler after living a horrible life in Korea, and just her place in this over-sized family probably left her vulnerable. Kind of like if Jan Brady had been a horribly abused Korean adoptee.

Soon-yi may be right about one thing. There were reports that she wanted Allen to get some decent frames for his glasses and start wearing Armani suits. Allen's image is so contrived. At least he quit wearing saddle shoes.

Mia Farrow wrote in her memoir that when she first went out with Allen, she was talking to someone who knew him. They talked about what she should do to make a good impression.

"Well, I know he doesn't care about clothes," Mia said.

"Are you kidding?" her friend said.

Moe Howard and Larry Fine combed their hair normally when they weren't playing the The Three Stooges. Charlie Chaplin wore regular, properly-fitting clothes when he wasn't on the set. Seems like Woody Allen could dress like a normal human being.

I'm Still Here

But now we have this other phony documentary, I'm Still Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix, directed by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck. Roger Ebert seemed to have fallen for it--thought it was real. As I understand it, Phoenix made statements both ways, that it was a real documentary and that it was a "mockumentary". Affleck finally stated that it wasn't real.

I haven't seen it and I'm not likely to.

There is a precedent for this sort of thing in literature.

The first novels were epistolary---they took the form of letters or diaries. This gave them the illusion of reality.

Today, epistolary novels have taken it one step further---they take the form of memoirs and are actually published as memoirs. You have people writing sometimes wildly implausible stories and publishing and promoting them as memoirs and insisting that they're completely true. One was written by a woman who claimed that, at age 7, she killed a Nazi and then fled into the forest where she was raised by wolves.

You have literary hoaxes like the case of J.T. LeRoy. A middle aged woman wrote supposedly autobiographical stories by/about a teenage boy prostitute. She gave interviews over the phone speaking with a fake West Virginia accent. She would explain that he could give lengthy phone interviews, work as a prostitute and write shocking details about his life, but he was too painfully shy to be interviewed in person.

I don't think Daniel Defoe ever claimed to be Robinson Crusoe.

I read a little by J.T. LeRoy and thought it was crap. I can see how people might have found it compelling if they thought it was true, but even then the writing was very bad. As one critic mentioned, if you're going to write about being a 12-year-old "truck stop prostitute" in West Virginia, you should probably give some idea as to how truck stop prostitution actually works. How does one go about it? It was written in a vague, pseudo poetic style. I've seen stuff written by real teenagers about actual events that was infinitely better---written by kids with no literary pretense who'd probably be looked down upon by the high brow dupes taken in by "LeRoy".

There's a Facebook page called "I Love A Million Little Pieces Even If It's Not All True". There are always people like that. They were fooled into believing complete nonsense, and when the hoax is exposed they insist that it's still of literary merit because they were so moved by it when they thought it was true. Gus Van Sant said this about J.T. LeRoy. Van Sant had actually met with LeRoy and LeRoy co-wrote the script to one of his movies, but Van Sant didn't notice he was a woman.

But stuff like that is only interesting if it's true. Like an episode of Dragnet. No one would have watched that show for two seconds if they knew it was fiction.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How the hell do you break into the movie industry?

You want to avoid the expense of film school, to avoid graduating with a massive debt and a worthless degree. You have to figure out how to make the connections without enrolling, which doesn't seem like it would be that hard.

It seems like someone who wants to be a filmmaker had BETTER be able to come up with something more creative than "go to film school, then get a job."

There's always Toronto with its thriving film industry.

With the economy the way it is...

The economy is lousy. But the rich now are MUCH richer than they were just ten or twenty years ago. It's not that the economy isn't working---it's that it's working exactly the way they want it to, to the advantage of the parasites who control it. Which means this situation is going to be more or less permanent.

For the aspiring filmmaker, it either means you should snap out of it and do something that will actually allow you to earn a living, or it means that you're doomed to poverty anyway, so you may as well go for it. The only fields where the job market is expanding are waitressing and bartending.

John Waters, et al

John Waters started out filming hideously offensive movies for people in Baltimore. "Transgressive" (intentionally offensive) cinema would be hard to succeed at now since South Park and Family Guy have cornered that market, in much the same way that mainstream cinema is now bloodier and gorier than anything Hershel Gordon Lewis ever made.

In the early '60's, exploitation filmmakers were in trouble. Hollywood had moved in on their territory. They had been making sex movies. Not porno---just movies about sex. The cheap exploitation filmmakers had to think of something new, something commercially viable that Hollywood would never stoop to. They came up with "gore movies".

Now Hollywood has taken that over, too.

So. What's left? What is there? What is there that has commercial potential, that can be filmed on a tiny budget, and that Hollywood won't touch?

They've already taken over the gay market.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Double features on DVD

Roger Ebert suggested ideas for double features. It was in the back of one of his books. His idea was to rent two movies to watch together.

I don't really remember them, except he kept suggesting you watch the original movie, then the re-make, which seemed rather uninspired. And he suggested this with some really long movies---The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven which would be awfully long.

But okay, here are my suggestions. Double features. Movies you can compare and contrast:

A Touch of Evil

A Touch of Evil exemplified Orson Welles' approach---long sequence shots and composition in depth---while Psycho was a stunning vindications of the theories of Pudovkin and Eisenstein. Made within a few years of each other, both black and white exploitation films and both with Janet Leigh in a motel with a nutty desk clerk. The movies are similar, but so different. Makes more sense to compare these two than Battleship Potempkin and Citizen Kane.


Strangely similar storylines. Was it really such a good idea letting Shane hang around with that kid? Could it be that Shane belonged in an institution?

Little Shop of Horrors

Made the same year, both shown by special invitation at the Cannes Film Festival. One an overblown epic, the other filmed in just two days. And they're both about Jewish people.

Dead Man
The Outskirts
(Russia, 1998)

Somewhat similar, both black & white. The Outskirts (Okraina) was filmed in the style of a 1930s Soviet film; Dead Man was filmed in the style of a Jim Jarmusch movie. If you like one, you'll probably like the other.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
They Live

A cold war paranoia movie, about Communists from outer space. Then watch John Carpenter's movie about Bourgeoisie from outer space.

The Maltese Falcon

Movies with seemingly amoral heroes who deal with criminals on their own terms, play one side off against the other and destroy them both.

Yojimbo, by the way, borrowed elements of the movie The Glass Key which was based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, as was The Maltese Falcon.

Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway
Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood

Opening scenes show high-brow artistic types talk about art being more important than human life. Low-brows put the theory into practice.

Malcolm X
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

Biopics. One anti-miscegenation, the other pro-miscegenation.

The Ice Storm
Max Mon Amour

The first is about wife swappers in the early '70s. The other is a surreal French comedy, played straight, about a married bourgeois French woman secretly dating a chimpanzee.

The Bicycle Thief
Angelo, My Love

The Italian Neo-Realist classic, and Robert Duvall's brilliant movie about Gypsies living in New York which I thought exemplified the theories of Italian Neo-Realism.

Suddenly Last Summer
Mondo Cane

The first, based on the play by Tennessee Williams. A guy liked to take women to southern Europe and show them how horrible the world is. And Mondo Cane, made in southern Europe by a depressed director who wanted to show audiences how horrible the world was.

Bad Day At Black Rock

I already used Yojimbo, but here it is again. Bad Day at Black Rock was directed by John Sturges, who went on to direct The Magnificent Seven, which was a western remake of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. So it's sort of appropriate that there were parallels between these two movie. Bad Day at Black Rock pre-dated Yojimbo, of course.