Category : Film
Category : Film
Mimi Weddell is the subject of Hats Off. Jyll Johnstone is the director of the film. The film opens in New York on March 28, 2008.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Under scrutiny from his schizophrenic creator.
Subjects Discussed: Starting the film in Central Park and ending the film in Central Park, a documentary as a self-Rorschach test, dealing with subjects who are used to having a camera in front of them vs. those who are not, eliding moments from the film that were too candid, Mimi Weddell’s relationship with her son Tommy, visiting Elizabeth Arden’s three times a week, marching to one’s own drumbeat, rotundity vs. remaining thin, Jyll Johnstone’s concern for making documentaries involving older people, celebrating our elders, dwelling upon misery vs. “rising above it,” going to an audition right before a funeral service, acting as a physical business, being on TV with a hermaphrodite, unreasonable requests, being afraid of machines, radio, using footage under the fair use provision, Mimi’s hats, smoking vs. profanity, working on multiple documentaries at the same time, and a mystery theater poem.*
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: Mimi, at one point in the film, you say, “The older you get, the less you dwell on anything miserable that’s happened. If you do, you’re done for.” And yet there’s one moment late in the film in which you cry. In fact, you just described this notion of seeing the film and crying. And on the morning that Dick [Mimi’s husband] dies, you send your daughter Sarah off to Elizabeth Arden’s. And you yourself go off to an audition in California. So maybe this is a question for both of you. To what degree can one dwell upon misery or grief? Or is it a matter of continuing to move forward? Is this film intended to answer the question of just how much one can “rise above it” — so that mantra reads in your apartment, Mimi? What’s the deal here?
Weddell: Well, I was on my way to Dick’s service at St. Thomas. And the place was really filled. It was amazing. He was a very popular man. In any case, Sarah came down in the elevator. And they told me that this call was from California. And it was Michael Ritchie — I think it was Ritchie — who called and said, “Can you audition this afternoon?” And I said, “Sure, I’m on my way to Dick’s service, but I will certainly audition.” What else? I mean, people have been rather astonished that I would do that on the way to Dick’s service. But what else was there for me to do? Just go home and worry about the bills? No.
In any case, I did the audition and they wanted me to come to Texas to shoot the film. I said, “Fine.” And so off I went. To me, it’s not a surprise. It’s just natural.
Johnstone: You have choices in life. You either look forward or look back, have regrets or not have regrets. I think the reason why I’m attracted to Mimi is that she lives in the moment.
* — Two days after this conversation, Mimi Weddell sent me a kind note in the mail with the poem in question. But while preparing taxes, this note was filed away with other papers. When my time clears up, I will provide a link to the poem in question.
Bill Plympton is an independent animator. He has just completed an 80-minute feature, Idiots and Angels. The website can be found here.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Concerned about whether he is becoming a cartoon.
Guest: Bill Plympton
Subjects Discussed: The origin of the square-shouldered suit guys, Plympton’s approach to humor, “Push Comes to Shove” and Alfred Hitchcock, Laurel & Hardy, the fish-slapping dance, crazy first-person perspectives in animation, changing the viewpoint in each shot, the frequent use of weapons in Plympton’s films, cutting people in half with a chainsaw, the Saw movies, violence within a comic context, the Road Runner, Tex Avery vs. Chuck Jones, the problems of cartoons made for children, the innocence of The Tune, dark humor vs. endearing characters, the feeling of music with animation, Idiots and Angels, the worries of French distributors, avoiding dialogue for international distribution, the advantages of low-budget animation, Plympton doing all of his own drawings, detailed backgrounds vs. white space, including more cinematic moves in animation, shadows and shading, Treasure Planet, Hayao Miyazaki, the influence of anime, issuing a graphic novel before making a film, “Parking” and Akira, Paprika, Mind Game as the Citizen Kane of animation, the difficulties of getting American distribution, using digital distribution, not making money from big box stores, making more of a profit through direct connection to the customers, the circumstances in which Plympton will be an animator for hire, working with Kanye West, turning down a lucrative offer from Disney, using multiple frames, the end of Plympton’s clean look, chiaroscuro, the single stroke as an antagonist, the use of digital compositing and early efforts with a Xerox machine, moving away from film to the computer, analog textures, Plympton’s drawer of gags, Plympton’s emphasis on the body, the benefits of surrealism upon anatomy, and being inspired by the “cartoon city” of New York.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I wanted to also ask you about some of the perspectives you have. You had a few shorts â€” and also in your features â€” where thereâ€™s this first-person perspective. I think of the tree, for example.
Plympton: Yeah, â€œThe Exciting Life of a Tree.â€ â€œOne of Those Days.â€
Correspondent: Iâ€™m wondering how this came about. Did you need to get away from the typical third-person look of these particular shorts?
Plympton: Well, the magic of animation is that the camera can go anywhere you want. And itâ€™s harder to do that with live action. Although itâ€™s easier now with digital technology. Digital effects. But with animation, you can put the camera anywhere. And thatâ€™s part of the fun of it. Youâ€™re seeing something that is maybe cliched or boring from a different angle. It makes it exciting. It makes it interesting. And so I wanted to see an event from one personâ€™s POV and see the worst day ever â€” what it would be â€” if you lived that life. If you were actually in that personâ€™s place. So itâ€™s very autobiographical in that sense.
But I like to do that a lot. I did another film called â€œDraw,â€ where itâ€™s a cliche of two cowboys in a mainstream Texas town. And they draw their guns. Only this is a POV of a bullet. And so again, itâ€™s a kind of cliched, boring situation. But when you see it from the eye of a bullet that is traveling through space, going through someoneâ€™s heart, it gives it a whole new perspective. And I love that kind of thing that you can do with animation: change the perspective, change the viewpoint in each shot. And thatâ€™s the reason why I love animation.
(A longer excerpt can be found here.)
[NOTE: In this podcast, it was pointed out to Bill Plympton that The Tune was available for digital download at Amazon Unbox. Plympton said that he still had the rights. But after some investigation from Plympton and Our Young, Roving Correspondent, it appears that Plympton does not currently have the rights to The Tune.]
Will Leitch is most recently the author of God Save the Fan.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Running away from the spirit of Red Smith.
Author: Will Leitch
Subjects Discussed: The inspirational force of Van Halen, music in hockey arenas, speculation on why Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone” is continuously played at football games, special interests in sports journalism, the “sports industrial complex,” sports blogs, sports journalists losing their edge, trying to maintain a meritocracy within the Nick Denton model, the sports industry’s condescending attitude towards fans, boycotts, protesting terrible commercials, steroids, the Olympics, the sports industry vs. pure sports competition, drug testing, Chuck Klosterman, Ben Roethlisberger’s golden boy image and drunken photos, dwelling upon gossip over physical ability, Leitch’s role in contributing to the way in which sports figures are perceived, being a “paid entertainer,” traditional sports writing vs. new sports writing, describing the hell of attending a Yankees game vs. continued attendance figures at Yankee Stadium, whether or not a sports revolution is possible, whether Deadspin has affected changes in the industry, the 49ers video and Kirk Reynolds’s culpability, the coach’s responsibility in managing players’ behavior, Garrison Hearst, why Leitch played football against pros, watching ESPN for 24 hours straight, entertaining and enlightening through sports, the NFL banning Ron Mexico jerseys, the sports industry ignoring information online, whether it’s fair to accuse football players who thank Jesus of proselytizing, addressing Leitch’s generalizations about African-American sportscasters, interviewing John Rocker, Red Smith, and the future of sports writing.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Leitch: A lot of people worry about sports blogs going corporate, or like Yahoo hiring sports bloggers full-time. I never worry about a lack of independent sports bloggers. As long as someone has a voice and they have something they have to say, they’ll go ahead and do it. Whether someone’s paying them or not. The nice thing about it is that the good ones — the best thing I’ve learned about sports blogs since doing the site is that the ones who are good get readership. Like there is a meritocracy to it. It’s actually pretty exciting to watch.
Correspondent: But I’m wondering if you can actually maintain this meritocracy with Deadspin, because I know that Deadspin is run by Gawker Media.
Correspondent: And you are beholden to pageviews. I mean, unless you’ve got some sort of separate deal going on with Denton. I don’t know.
Leitch: Uh, I have the advantage of not — I don’t personally get paid like the new pageview system they have. I’m the editor of the site. So I don’t have to worry about that. That’s actually more for the writers.
Correspondent: But your contributors have to worry about this.
Leitch: I suppose. But like frankly it’s nice. Because nobody really notices. Like the nice thing about working with Gawker is that they literally have no idea what I do on Deadspin. In a way, I’m a little bit of a hark back to an earlier time of Gawker Media. Back when it was — like the idea was, “Let’s take this established thing, whether it’s politics or Hollywood or sports, and let’s put a new spin on it.” And I think Gawker’s changed a lot. It’s amazing. I’ve been at Gawker now for almost three years. And I’m the second longest editorial employee. Which to me, my father has worked the same job for thirty years. He thinks it’s crazy. But out here, it’s like, “Wow. You ran a blog for three years. That’s amazing.”
Correspondent: Yeah, that is thirty years.
Terry Sanders is most recently the director of Fighting for Life, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 7th.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Convinced that he is fighting for his life.
Guest: Terry Sanders
Subjects Discussed: Maintaining an apolitical tone, whether being a military doctor involves politics, apolitical semiotics, how much reality offers to a documentary filmmaker, military reenactments in Antietam, capturing the historical trajectory of military doctors, Errol Morris, conducting interviews close to the camera, the decision to feature an American soldier determined to live while including an Iraqi captain who doesn’t want to live after being paralyzed, remaining open to symbols, Crystal Davis and Tigger, depicting military medical students from an everyman’s perspective, the economics of caring for the wounded, uninsured health care, splitting the narrative focus between the doctors and the wounded, hospital organizational systems, medical school field exercises, training for mass casualties, whether or not schools can truly prepare medical doctors for the realities of war, obtaining cooperation from the military, getting consent from soldiers to film, and subjective vs. objective documentaries.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: You mentioned Errol Morris earlier. And this is interesting to me because there’s one moment where you have Crystal’s father staring directly into the camera and I kept thinking to myself, “Oh, is he doing that Errol Morris situation in which Morris projects his image of his face right where the camera is?” And it’s only in that particular instance. And I wanted to ask you about that.
Sanders: Actually, no, I would not — I mean, it’s interesting what Errol Morris uses and he certainly uses it well. It seems to me a contraption that would take time to set up and maybe produce some self-consciousness, maybe, in the person. I try to minimize the equipment as much as possible. And in fact, Crystal’s father is not looking directly into the lens. Because I actually instruct people, “Look at me. Don’t look at the lens.” Because looking into a piece of glass immediately breaks the connection between the human connection.
Correspondent: I guess you must have been sitting really close to the camera. Because his eyeline was…
Sanders: I was. I always sit very, very — technically, I mean over the years, my technique is — I want it to seem like they are looking into the camera. But in fact, they’re probably looking at my right eye, which is right next to the lens of the camera.
Correspondent: How close do you sit to the camera? I’m curious. Are you within inches?
Sanders: Within a half inch.
Stephen Chow is most recently the director of CJ7, which opens on March 7th. Jiao Xu is the very talented young star of the film.
We are happy to report that this is our first bilingual podcast. Stephen Chow and Jiao Xu answered in Cantonese. Diane, an adept, amicable, and very helpful translator, assisted us in conducting this interview. (Thank you, Diane, for aiding Our Young, Roving Correspondent!)
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wrestling with a childhood trauma involving dogs.
Subjects Discussed: Negotiating the gender and class distinctions of CJ7, Chow stepping back into a supporting role, working within the limitations of the family film, adjusting humor levels, caricatures and action humor, establishing father-son chemistry, the role of sound, dubbed voices, M. Boney’s “Sunny,” acting around an invisible dog, and depicting a brighter form of poverty.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: But I wanted to ask why the poverty in this had vibrant, bright colors, as opposed to any kind of grit. Is this the kind of limitations of the family film? Or did you just want to keep the look of it right? And also, did you two go to various slums or impoverished areas to kind of get a sense of what it was to live like that? Or was this a case where the look of the house, which is all in pieces, and also has the signal that changes from night to day as well — that that location, the set itself — that you felt that that was enough to get the sense of impoverishment? Maybe you can elaborate on this, both of you.
Chow: (via translator) The first thing about poverty is — and the aesthetics that you mention — he really wanted to — I mean he says that’s not obviously a reflection of what poverty really is. And for him, he wants to adjust it so that it’s acceptable to audiences. Because it’s not a documentary. You can’t really show the kind of poverty that’s out there. So he needed to create this fantastical environment.
Correspondent: That’s interesting. Because I’m wondering. Why dwell on poverty if you can’t present it absolutely in the form of a family film? I’m curious about that.
Chow: (via translator) Well, for him, his film is really for family. And it has a lot of fantastical and fairy tale-like aspects to it. So he’s not really trying to reflect poverty as it really is. Because he understands that there’s real poverty out there. But for him, this movie isn’t in a place to do that. And he also doesn’t feel like his audiences will really accept that.
[Interjection in Cantonese from Chow]
Chow: (via translator) But he wants to add that it is based on a lot of his realities. Because he grew up poor. And the whole not having toys to play with, or hitting the cockroaches as sport or entertainment, that was really his childhood. So even though it’s not a reflection of what most people know as poverty, it’s a real poverty for him and for a lot of people he knows. So although it’s not 100 percent, it’s at a very high percentage.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Absent.
Guest: Wayne Shannon
Subjects Discussed: Reading teleprompter from thirty feet away, being a “troubleshooter,” the proprietary address of “Our Wayne Shannon,” working from a script vs. improvisation, the makeshift work environment of CNBC, having to write and perform an incredible number of commentaries, being motivated by children, producing five- and ten-part narratives on evening news segments, how Shannon caused the evening news to go from a distant #3 to #1, taking on the Big Four in Detroit, agitating the higher ups while television ratings increased, working for the American public, being surprised by getting jobs, Shannon’s influence upon other commentators, Michael Moore ripping off Shannon, punchlines stolen by Robin Williams and George Lucas, being canonized by the public, testing out commentaries in the newsroom, getting someone’s number, contending with egotistical anchors, remaining in practice, the American public and the truth, moving to Washington, and the death of the Wayne-Bo persona.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I would also argue that, in many ways, you were ahead of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert. In fact, I should point out to you that in one of the segments that you sent me, you refer to the audience as “sports fans.” And this is interesting to me. Because I’m not sure if you’re familiar with ZeFrank, who is this web commentator who did a lot of short commentaries for two to five minutes. Perhaps the latest incarnation of this type of commentator. But he addresses his audience as “sports racers.” So I’m wondering. If you think so little of yourself, I would argue that there was some kind of innovation that was possibly laid down, whether consciously or subconsciously, to another generation of commentators along these lines. And, in fact, you know, I’m shocked that none of these are available on YouTube or something.
Shannon: I have been told — I’ve never seen the film and I don’t know why. It’s that movie that came out in Detroit about automobiles. It was called Me and Henry or something like that.
Correspondent: Roger and Me, you mean?
Shannon: Say again?
Correspondent: Roger and Me?
Shannon: Yes, Roger and Me. That some of the conceptual presentation elements of the 1980 Rock series are in that film. And that guy might well have been in Detroit* when I was taking on the Big Four, I don’t know. I’ve never seen the movie. And I don’t know why. Because I’m relatively busy these days.
Shannon: Not with anything that has to do with the biz. But I just haven’t gotten around to seeing Roger & Me. Because my darling Dr. Cheryl — my significant other — her son has seen the movie. And he saw the entire series [TV Nation, The Awful Truth]. They used to have it on a huge set of ten VHS. And he’s seen the whole series. And he swears that that guy must have seen some of the stuff I did in 1980 Rocks and incorporated it into Roger & Me.
Correspondent: Michael Moore.
Shannon: And, if so, I would be terribly flattered.
Correspondent: Wow. But this is Michael Moore and he’s made millions of dollars making these leftist documentaries as well. I mean, if that is the case, that’s quite an astonishing sort of thing. It almost demands that you put these things onto YouTube. So people can decide for themselves.
Shannon: Probably. But, you know, over the years, my lines kept popping up in different places. And by that, I mean, punchlines. Robin Williams was on one of those things to raise money for the poor. And he used one of my lines. “Women. You can’t live with ’em and you can’t live with ’em.”
* In 1980, Michael Moore was the editor of The Flint Voice. Flint is an hour’s drive from Detroit. So it’s just possible that Moore did indeed pilfer from Wayne Shannon.
Paulo Morelli is the director of City of Men.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating a movie scenario with Brazilian filmmakers.
Guest: Paulo Morelli
Subjects Discussed: Using close-ups, visual obstructions for sexual activity, violence and emotion, the relationship between City of God and City of Men, possible confusion between the television series and the movie, color schemes, green and night vision goggles, square motifs, the shapes of favelas, MP3s and emerging technologies, the mighty role of soccer in Brazil, Heraldo’s look, making films that don’t reflect the titular landscape, mysterious CD players, not presenting the screenplay to the actors, working-class authenticity, Los Olvidados, cinematic influence, improvisation and continuity, how an act of theft determines identity, dumping bodies into a quarry, and subjective truth vs. dramatic presentation.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: How much detail was in the script and how much deal did you bring to it? I know that you and Elena [Soarez] had worked before on the television series. So I’m sure you had some kind of working relationship. And yet there are very conscious decisions on the visuals. And so I’m wondering how much was there in the script and how much you brought with your experience. Like, for example, the CD player that’s sitting there that is a very particular kind of boxy CD player that you’re just not going to see in a middle-class environment. It’s going to be a much smaller tool.
Morelli: The CD was planned in the screenplay, yes. It was on purpose. And we tried to make the screenplay very connected and all the things related dramatically. You have to achieve the arc of the transformation of the characters. But the lines — what happens during the process — is how the lines were created. And the lines were created by the actors themselves. During the rehearsal. It’s a different process. And I never present the screenplay to the actors. I told them what the scene was about.
Correspondent: There was no dialogue whatsoever?
Morelli: No, we wrote the dialogue. But they are not supposed to get them by heart. I never showed them the screenplay. The art is for me. I know that this scene is about this, and I need to achieve this and this. And this emotion. And I’m going to that point with the story.