Thursday, September 13, 2007

Parker Portland Pneumonia

Well, it turns out that the horrible virus I had a few weeks ago was actually pneumonia - something that didn't actually get properly diagnosed until I'd done a long-haul flight to Canada and spent three days coughing and sweating in a strange bed. Luckily, I got hooked up with some expensive and strong Canadian drugs and started to feel better, but it was a bit of a horrible way to start a holiday.

We were in Canada for Jeanie's brother's wedding, but also used the opportunity to do some filming in Portland, Oregon (just a short flight over the Can/US border) for Jeanie's new documentary 'Goth Cruise'. One of the people she's following for the doc - an 'Elder Goth' called Sean - lives in Portland, so we went over to get an interview and some cutaways with him. I thought Portland was fantastic - largely helped by the fact that we were staying in a great hotel called the Ace, where they played the Ramones in the lobby, everyone who worked there looked like they were in a Jim Jarmusch film, and the rooms had Thoreau quotes and owls painted on the walls (or at least ours did...) Across the road from the hotel was a cinema called the Living Room Theaters, which was a fully digital, six screen arts cinema and bar. After feeling ill and tired, it was great to go somewhere and have a really good night out - we got two for one on tickets, the cinema was all double seats (with tons of legroom) and they served cold draught Guiness (in an actual glass) which you could take into the cinema with you. And Jeanie got some paprika flavoured popcorn which they made fresh and brought into the cinema for us. The difference between the film-going experience there and the usual UK film-going experience was so great, it was unreal.

The film we went to see was Lars von Trier's new comedy 'The Boss of it All', which I think is going to be premiering in this country at the London Film Festival. I hadn't heard anything about the film beforehand - in fact, I thought von Trier had been making a horror film - so I had no real expectations, but it turned out to be the most enjoyable thing I've seen him do since 'The Kingdom'. The film is about the boss of an IT company who has pretended to his staff that he isn't the real boss - and that all the questionable decisions (firing people etc.) in the company have been made by the (fictional) guy above him - 'The boss of it all'. When some grumpy Icelanders want to buy the company, they only want to deal with TBOIA, so the actual boss has to employ a local actor to pretend to be him - a decision which backfires when he accidentally becomes known to the rest of the staff, all of whom now want to voice their displeasure at his years of 'leadership'.

It's a good set-up and a funny film - but it's also typically full of von Trierisms. While watching it I kept thinking, 'Blimey, has he just got rid of having a camera operator now?' because the film is full of odd jump-cuts - the camera moving from one angle to one very slightly different angle and back again - odd framings, jumps in sound and white balance - almost as though no-one were really looking through the camera or controlling it. In fact, von Trier claims that the film was filmed in what he calls 'Automavision' - a process whereby a computer was controlling what the camera was doing. ('Automavision' seems to be a phrase coined only by von Trier - I can't find any description of how the computer works, or what exactly it controls.) There's a good description of the effects of the process by David Bordwell here.

Von Trier also narrates and appears (in a reflection) in a wobbly zooming crane shot talking about the film (which his voiceover describes as 'a comedy, and harmless') and one of the characters talks about life being like 'a Dogma film'. It's very playful, but still engaging and the shooting style and tricks don't actually hinder the enjoyment - it's amazing how robust a narrative can be, even when subjected to a lot of stylistic messing about. Makes you think that a lot of what people think of as being 'cinematic' is just gloss.

Also in Portland they have a great bookstore called Powell's, where I managed to get hold of a second-hand copy of a Parker book called 'Breakout'. For those not familiar with the violent world of Parker, he's the creation of Richard Stark (aka crime writer Donald E. Westlake) and began life in the original novel 'The Hunter' aka 'Point Blank', later made into the classic film with Lee Marvin. Parker is the most hard-boiled of hard-boiled criminals, a serial heister who is like a machine when he's working - hard as nails, terse as sin. Each Parker book (and there's 20+ of them since the 60s - with a break during the late 70s and 80s) is quite formulaic - Parker is working a heist with a crew, one of whom he suspects to be a weak link (but with whom, for one reason or another - like he's the inside man, or he's the money man, or he's the lead guy's brother or something... - he has to carry on working). The heist goes wrong and Parker loses the money and then has to kill some people. And because you know more or less what you're going to get every time you open a Parker book, it's a pure joy to get a new one. And in my still-pneumonic (?) state, heading back on the plane over the mountains to Vancouver it was great to read about Parker breaking out of prison through one library and attempting to heist a jewel wholesaler's by tunneling through another.

Back in Vancouver, I recovered from the infection and managed to have a good time, with only a (thankfully) fitful internet connection to keep me in touch with what was happening (or not happening...) with 'Mum and Dad'. More on that later.


Jamie Mathieson said...

Hi Steven,

This isn't a comment on the site, more an e-mail to you. Found you via the Broadway booklet, tried to join your directing skills class, found it was sold out, went "shit", read your blog, then thought I might as well get in touch anyway.

I'm a Nottingham based feature film writer and thought it might be worth suggesting a meeting in a kind of "networking, see if we get on, slag off the business" kind of way.

Just to give you a quick idea of the level I'm at; I've got a sci-fi comedy feature film in post-prod with HBO/BBC starring Anna Faris, Marc Wootton, Chris O-Dowd. Blog here.

That's just so you don't feel this is a "please give me work" kind of e-mail.

Anyway, here's hoping you fancy a cuppa.


Jamie Mathieson

Jamie Mathieson said...

Just realised. Didn't leave a contact e-mail. Duh.