Monday, March 30, 2009


This will probably be the shortest review I'll ever write, mostly because words are not only an inaccurate way to approach Into Great Silence but also because they are completely unnecessary. Here is a film that has no narrative and indeed no "characters", no "point", no "ideas". Here is a film that just is, that merely exists as space, image, sound, and time.

What a wonderful conception of the art form of film-- how freeing and yet how frightening: for a film with no point, no theme, and no story is a film completely without room for authorial comment or style. While like all film it is a "shaped" experience-- composed of shots married together and cut short by the magic of editing-- In Great Silence doesn't really give you a sense of that shaping. There is never the sense that our eye is being directed to this aspect of a shot or that one, or that a point is being crystalized by a telling detail.

The film simply is and, surprisingly, that is more than enough.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Man Who Loved on DVD

Our film The Man Who Loved is now available for purchase on DVD for $19.99 via CreateSpace. The title will also be available for purchase on Amazon within the next couple of weeks, and a VOD release is planned for the near future.

The disc includes an eight minute discussion of the film, in which we give some insight not only into our intentions but also into working as independent filmmakers.

We plan to release some of our other films, as well as Tom's novel Jolt City, in the near future.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Fear of Something Wonderful

The Only Shot I've Seen From Bela Tarr's "Werckmeister Harmonies"

I've seen Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon-- in my opinion the best out of all the master's films-- six or seven times. Each time I find it absorbs me completely, that its people (to call them characters just doesn't feel right), its place, and its time surrounds me. It is a wonderful, rapturous, and exhausting experience. Frank Rich's rave, immortalized as the DVD's back cover blurb, states that "Its aching beauty will wipe you out" and I can say without hyperbole that I agree.

That being said, I for some inscrutable reason don't own a copy and have had to sustain myself by checking it out repeatedly from my local library. I have borrowed it at least once every two or three months for the last couple of years. However, I haven't seen the film since before my marriage a little over five years ago.

I bring it home, I put it next to the television, and there it sits. A week passes, and I renew my loan for another week; the Dearborn Public Library system allows two renewals and invariably I do renew it a second time. For three weeks it sits next to my television, this film that I love so deeply. It sits, unwatched, until, like a dog with a tail between my legs, I have to return it. And then, a couple of months later, it starts all over again. Why?

What is it, I wonder, that I'm afraid of? I could say that I'm not in the mood for it, but that's simply not true; no matter what my mood is, I always found myself enraptured and compelled with the first portentious notes of Handel's Sarabande. Perhaps it is the length, but no; I love long movies and often when I've stared at that dvd next to the television I have plenty of time in which to experience its three hours and five minutes of perfect cinema.

This doesn't only happen with Barry Lyndon, however. There are some movies that I've never seen but heard about, and wanted to see-- movies I've looked forward to seeing and that I'm almost certain will touch me just as deeply and wonderful as Kubrick's film-- and I borrow them from the library or a friend and they, too, sit next to my television.

At the moment, I have three dvds that I've borrowed from my library: Barry Lyndon (of course), Bela Tarr's Werkmeister Harmonies, and Philip Groning's Into Great Silence. Everything I've read about these latter two tell me that they're exactly the sort of films that I love, that they possess within their frames the qualities I seek out from serious cinema. So why do they sit there unwatched?

Maybe it has something to do with that same seriousness; maybe there's some part of me that would rather be disappointed by something perfectly ordinary than be challenged by something wonderful. I don't know if that's exactly it-- I certainly don't think of myself as some sort of fart-comedy-loving philistine-- but it's a troubling question to not have an answer for. A troubling experience to be going through.

But, operating on the presumption that I'm not just weird, I share this troubling tendency of my own in the hopes that, yes, others have felt it too.

Have you ever let a film (or book or CD or whatever) sit there unopened, knowing full well that once you bother to open it it's going to be absolutely amazing? If you have, why do you think that happens? Please, I invite you, share your thoughts in the comments page below, or drop me an e-mail at milos_parker at yahoo dot com.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I've always had very fond memories of Norton Juster's children's book The Phantom Tollbooth, and so when I read on Mark Evanier's News From Me that Turner Classic Movies would be presenting the little-seen and long unavailable film adaptation co-directed by Chuck Jones, I made it a point to watch it.

Stopping for a moment at Expectations, I found that my hopes weren't particularly high; the book thrives on a sort of wordplay, charm, and cleverness that's very hard to translate to film. The always insightful Russ Allbery said that Juster's book was "quite possibly the best didactic children's book ever written" and he notes how difficult it is to write a didactic book that doesn't feel like it's preaching at you; he's "never read a book that succeeds as well [as The Phantom Tollbooth]."

The movie, to put it bluntly, is preachy. Though some choice bits of Juster remain, the deliverly is always off. It's zany, which when talking about animated features of the sixties means that it's completely ordinary. The charm and cleverness are shunted aside for songs that make you want to take a cheese grater to your ears. The didactism remains and as a result becomes annoying and tedious. There's a reason why this movie has been little-seen and uncelebrated.

TCM also presented Jones's Academy-Award winning short The Dot and The Line. This earlier film was also a Juster adaptation, and I feel that it succeeded in all the ways that Jones's film of Tollbooth came up short: this "romance in lower mathematics" preserves the abstract geekery and full-on nerdiness of Juster's story with charm and wit.

The screenplay for The Dot and The Line was written by Juster himself, which might have had something to do with it, or it might be that that special kind of charm, so integral to the original books in both cases is easier to translate to film for nine minutes than ninety.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Films Tom Wishes Were On Region-1 DVD

Mary's list is forthcoming.

1. A Thousand Clowns-- seen it, loved it, used to own it on video. Great performance from Robards, Oscar-winning turn by Balsam, and the lovely and astonishing Barbara Harris is both lovely and astonishing.

2. Song of the South-- saw it once at an outdoor theater during a camping trip; a crappy 16mm print that double-featured with The Apple Dumping Gang. Obviously a controversial film, and I certainly understand the reasoning behind its unavailability. But it would be better to discuss the film with today's generation than to supress it, yes?

3. Celine and Julie Go Boating-- the first I saw it, I hated it. Somewhere between the second and third viewing I was rapturously in love with it. The only truly great movie about movies.

4. Chimes At Midnight-- of course.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Movie Review: Mary Bronstein's YEAST

Yeast is aptly titled; it's less a film than a disease an infection, something that crawls up inside of you and makes you sick. It is the cinematic equivalent of being punched repeatedly in the stomach, and after one pivotal act of transgression I was so unnerved I had to pause the film and put my head between my knees. And all this, of course, I mean as the highest form of praise.

The film is about two deteriorating relationships between three women, with director Bronstein serving as the common denominator in the role of Rachel. The other two women are Gen, a sorta-hippie/extrovert played with jittery aplomb by indie darling Greta Gerwig, and Alice, an introvert played by Amy Judd like a turtle in need of a shell. That last sentence might make the two seem like polar opposites, and in a superficial way they are. More interesting, however, is what they have in common.

Both Gen and Alice are extreme personalities, brought to life by bravura performances that embrace that extremity while leaving room for nuance. Gen pushes people away by being obnoxiously "on" all the time, Alice by refusing to converse, to go out, to wash herself or her clothes. Neither character is particularly responsible or practical, much to the chagrin of Bronstein's Rachel.

"Act like a person," Rachel tells Gen early on. Throughout the film, Rachel lectures Gen, Alice, and pretty much every person they cross paths with on how to act like a person. A person, of course, being someone just like Rachel.

At least one film critic dismissed Yeast as Mary Bronstein's "vanity publishing project"; while he didn't specify, I suspect he saw the film as Poor Mary Bronstein, the Last Normal Person in the World, beset by Freaks and Weirdos. And I can see where someone can misread the film in that fashion: towards the end there is an actual freak show, Rachel gawking at it with the same incomprehension and abject disgust which with she gawked at Gen, Alice, and the rest of the film's characters.

But that is, in the end, a misreading that is not really supported by the film or its structure. A little less than half of the film's fleeting and tight 78 minutes are dedicated to a camping/hiking trip undergone by Rachel and Gen. Through-out that sequence, we are indeed invited to gawk at Gen, so much so that those moments when Rachel pushes or goads her ("so, do you have any friends?") fade into the background. That sequence is capped by an act of violence, at once so mundane and yet so extreme that it is frightening. In that section of the film, we identify strongly with Rachel.

But then the film changes. The focus shifts to Alice. Alice isn't obnoxious like Gen; Alice doesn't steal party hats or sneak into closed sections of fast food restaurants. Alice just wants to be left alone. But Rachel won't let her.

Rachel keeps pushing at her, belittling her ("while you're washing the dishes, you might get an idea to wash yourself"), telling her what to do and when to do it. Rachel is, for lack of a better word, a bully. If this is a film about, as the film's website says, two "toxic relationships", it is really Rachel that is the toxic element. Rachel refuses to let people be themselves. She is the ultimate xenophobe: anyone who is not Rachel like is not acting "like a person". The character is not only self-absorbed, but like certain persons on the autism spectrum lacks any conception of other people.

And this someone calls a vanity project? Frankly, I don't see it. What I see instead is a terrific performance by an actress who is not concerned with something as petty as her character being "likeable". It's a rare skill shared by all three actresses in Yeast.

One could argue that Bronstein's "point" regarding Rachel's inability to leave people alone is diminished because Gen and Alice are themselves such unlikeable characters, Gen being potentially dangerous and Alice being generally unsavory in her personal hygiene. And, yes, you'd be hard-pressed to find an audience member who would express tolerance for a roommate who refused to wash dishes or pick up after themselves.

But Yeast is, in the end, a film and films are not about making points but about providing experiences. Our understanding of Rachel arises gradually and out of the film's structure. The extremes of Gen and Alice prevent us from taking one side or the other, and thus encourage a more nuanced understanding of all three women.

The film's ambiguity and unflinching savagery mark it as an essential experience that I cannot recommend enough. Please, do yourself a favor and let Yeast infect you. Let it hurt you; you'll love it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The New Turtleneck Films

It's been a while since we posted here, and as more than one friend has remarked, we have so many blogs that it's hard to keep track of it all.

The New Turtleneck Films makes it a lot easier. Everything posted on our other sites-- for example, Son of a Seahorse and The Man Who Loved-- will be cross-posted here. And there will be new news on both sites (and, by extension, this one) very, very soon as we have some rather exciting things in the works.

You'll also get some movie and game reviews. All in all, we should be posting more frequently. So stay tuned and check back often.