Monday, July 26, 2010

In Case There Was Any Doubt...

I, Tom Russell, the sole author and copyright holder of the stories collected in Seven Romances, on this 26th day of July, 2010, hereby reiterate and for all time bequeath and declare that certain specific rights to these works to the public domain, these being the non-exclusive rights for any individual anywhere to adapt any or all of those works into the cinematic medium, taking any form their adapters desire-- feature or short, video or film, silent or sound, faithful or loose, for profit or not, asking only in return that the credit "adapted from Seven Romances by Tom Russell" appear in the onscreen credits (opening or closing).

Friday, July 23, 2010


As filmmakers and film bloggers, we tend to shy away from rambling on about what's going on in our lives; first of all, who really cares?, and secondly, isn't that what twitter is for? That said, I hope you'll forgive me a few paragraphs while I talk about my grandfather. He died this past Sunday, at the age of seventy-two.

He was a difficult man. He was stubborn and ornery, and for a good many years, he subsided on a diet of cigarettes, beer, and ice cream. I'm not exaggerating very much; sometimes, sure, he'd ask my grandmother to make him something or run to the store. Let's say, for example, that he asked for some fish from Arthur Treacher's. She'd buy him the fish, he would take two or three bites, and then throw the rest out-- much to her chagrin. Other than that, he wouldn't eat, save for a bowl of ice cream.

He smoked a carton of cigarettes on most days; the dark wooden ashtray he kept next to his blue-cushioned rocking chair would be stacked with butts. The very sight of it would make me nauseous. And as for the beer, he'd go through three or four cases a week. While I have memories of my grandfather, while I don't have a shortage for personal anecdotes-- some remembered, some that I've forgotten but that have since become one of those family myths that get retold precisely when it's the most embarrassing time to do so-- the thing I remember most is the continuity of his regimen. The visual image that comes to mind when I think of my grandfather is always of him sitting in his stained blue chair, wearing two or three heavy flannel shirts even in the summer, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in another, the ashtray heaping full, watching the Travel Channel. Always, always, always watching the Travel Channel.

As he drank more heavily, he gave my grandmother more hell, and to make a long story shorter, they made the Lockhorns look like Romeo and his Juliet. Not that my grandfather was ever physically violent. He was intractable in his opinions, even and especially if they had no basis in fact; he would crank up the heat in the middle of the summer, complaining of phantom chills; he would insult her, call her names, yell at her; he seldom bathed; he was seldom sober and thus very seldom was he lucid.

And then, one day, he stopped drinking (and smoking). It wasn't too long after Mary and I got married that he was admitted to the hospital and the doctors told him, if you don't stop now, you're going to die and soon. And so he stopped. That old wooden ashtray was removed and he got a nicotine inhaler, which he gnawed on almost constantly. The lack of beer made him more talkative, more aware, more lucid, but only slightly: he was stone-cold sober when he told us how he and his brother escaped Nazi Germany by hiding in caves and outrunning a tornado, this despite the fact that he was born in 1938 in Michigan.

I had hoped, when he had stopped drinking, that he would soften; somewhere in my brain, I had the idea that those qualities that made him hard to get along with weren't really his qualities, that they were the fault of the bottle. I think part of it is the romantic notion that there was no way my grandmother would have fallen for such an ornery son-of-a-gun. So, I was slightly dismayed when all those unpleasant traits and behaviours become much worse in those last few years of his life: he became more stubborn, neglected his hygiene more drastically, was prone to more outbursts of temper. And his poor health and dietary habits made him at once more helpless and more demanding, and thus more exasperating.

As I said before, a difficult man. Never very easy to get along with. And I'd love to tell you about the time he cut a leech off of my foot with his pocket-knife, to show you those moments of tender kindness that might redeem him in your eyes, that might convince you to love him as we loved him. But I'm not going to do that. We loved him, but it wasn't in spite of him; it wasn't all due to some tiny moment or memory of a time when he was acting out-of-character.

This reminds me of a teacher I had in high school who said his wife often asked him why he loved her, and he always replied that he couldn't give her a reason. For if his love was contingent on some quality she possessed, what would happen to his love when she possessed it no longer? If he loved her for her beauty, what happens when it fades? If he loved her for her intellect, what happens when she slid into senility. For it to really be love, he said, it couldn't be love for a reason. (A year or two after my graduation, I heard that she divorced him; it absolutely wrecked him.)

I don't know about that, exactly, as it makes love sound kind of mystical and far-away. I think we choose to love people; I think we invest ourselves in them emotionally, that we choose to forgive or exaggerate their faults or their assets. At the same time, I can't tell you the reason I chose to love my grandfather; I can't tell you why, as he got more difficult to get along with, I did not allow his place in my heart to be overcome with the sort of vicious apathy that resides where my love for my mother once did. I can't say why I loved my grandfather, only that the same qualities that made me so angry with him must also, perversely, be the same qualities that inspired my affection and, as of late, my grieving.

The way he died inspired the same mixture of feelings. His nose began bleeding and would not stop. My grandmother told him to go to the hospital, to get it cauterized. He refused. No matter how many times she asked, no matter how stringently she insisted, he remained as stubborn as ever, and he continued bleeding for the next twenty-four hours. At any time, he could have went to the hospital to get it taken care of. By the time he finally came around and allowed himself to be admitted for treatment, he had lost over four pints of blood. It was too late to save him.

My grandfather, who had somehow survived enough lung and kidney damage to fill an entire cancer ward, bled to death out of sheer stubbornness. That was the kind of man he was.

I miss him.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Tom's book Seven Romances-- a collection of less than eight but more than six love stories-- is going out-of-print August 1. It is not likely to go back in print any time soon-- if at all. If you want a copy, now's the time to buy it. It's $10 for 99 pages of bitterness, despair, and kinky Amish lesbian sex.

Filmmakers might be interested to know that they can adapt any or all of the seven romances into any film, short or feature, without paying a single cent. Well, that is, a single cent in royalties or adaptation rights. You would, after all, have to have a copy of the book, and the only way to get your hands on that is to buy one before August 1.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rantasmo's NEEDS MORE GAY.

Our real-life friend Jamie Maurer, alias Rantasmo, is doing a very entertaining yet characteristically thoughtful series of media and pop-cultural analysis video essays, Needs More Gay, at After Elton. They are, as the kids say, NSFW.

The most recent episode is about Gregg Araki's Teenage Apocalypse trilogy:

Previous episodes have covered drag queen movies and Japanese culture.

There's a new video every Wednesday. Check 'em out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A while back, I mentioned that Lucas McNelly is seeking crowd-funding for his new film Up Country.

Now, again, as I've said before, I've always been kind of wary of crowd-funding, but (as I also said before) if ever I had the moolah to give, I'd want to give it to McNelly: a passionate, smart, effective filmmaker who doesn't just talk about the independent film community, but has done his damnedest to make it happen. This is the bloke who programmed the Indies-For-Indies screening series, an ultimately quixotic but none-the-less heroic effort to bring truly independent films to Pittsburgh, with the filmmakers in question getting a cut of the ticket sales.

A real gentleman, this McNelly, and he's eight hundred dollars short of his fund-raising goal with fifty hours left to go. The way this Kickstarter thing works is, if they don't hit their goal, they don't get a single cent. So, if you have some spare change, and you want to help this very interesting filmmaker make his second feature, here's the link.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

THE SCOTTISH PLAY: Getting Ready To Boogie.

Those of you who know us/have been following our filmmaking misadventures for a while know that we've spent most of the last two years trying to make a film called Olivia Forever!!, a film that, for a number of reasons, never quite came together and that we finally decided to abandon for the time being (we plan to return to it down the road). That decision left us (not to mention our rather peevish actors) in a bit of lurch as we cast about for a new project.

And, to make a long story short, we've found it: a very Russellian take on William Shakespeare's play concerning a certain thane of Scotland. We won't reveal too much about said take at this stage in the game, except to say that, no, it won't be one of those stupid "Ooh, look, there's a motorcycle in this Shakespeare adaption" bull-crap-a-thons, nor will we be setting certain monologues in a video store. It's a film version that will not abide disrespecting Shakespeare, even if we have no qualms about adding a few sight gags and pratfalls into what is already conventionally regarded as the bard's most knee-slappingly hilarious play.

We're very early in pre-production-- still haven't cast a single role, though we have some inklings-- but we're very excited and hoping to shoot in the autumn.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Three Galvanic Films.

There are films you like, films you love obsessively, films that you come back to again and again-- and then there are the films that make you feel like John Keats when he took that first look at Chapman's Homer. These galvanic films are immeasurably important on a deeply personal level, and I wrote a bit about one of those films, Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, yesterday.

In that spirit, I thought it might be nice to tell you about three other films, of the select and elite few, that resonated with Tom deeply as both a viewer and an artist. Here, then, in roughly the order I discovered them, is a personal look at my galvanic films.
As I wrote over at Hammer To Nail last year, Tom Laughlin's Billy Jack was, for better or worse, the film that made me want to be a filmmaker. More than that, it was the first film in which I was intensely aware of the director, of cinema being a potentially personal and idiosyncratic art form. This awareness didn't come out of any profound appreciation of his style, but of the sheer messiness of the film, the way, as I said in that Hammer To Nail piece, you can almost see the slightly-smudged tape holding the film strip together. There was something appealing and charming about its hand-made-ness, about its lack of polish, and it's that same vibe we try to capture with the deliberately "doubled-up" noisy sound of Son of a Seahorse, and that same film's hand-made animatronics (by Steampunk Legend Jake Hildebrandt).

Before I saw Olivier's Henry V, I had little use for pageantry in films. I was one of those twits who went into a film looking for the "meaning"-- that is, a neatly-encapsulate theme or thesis-- and disdained any digression therefrom. There was no film, I was convinced, that couldn't be twenty minutes shorter. What an idiot I was!

After Henry V held me in its spell, I was able to appreciate aesthetic beauty in its own right, art for its own sake, able to enjoy films moment-to-moment as an experience rather than hovering over it like it was some kind of exercise. While this aesthetic sense-- so vital to appreciating film as an art, and art, period!-- is one that was developed more exquisitely by other films, particularly those of Powell & Pressburger, this is the film that first showed me what I had been missing in all the intervening years.

I feel so much pity for those poor souls (several of them film critics) who never had a film that did to them what Henry V did to me.
Ivan Passer's Born To Win, with its whiplash tonal shifts, loose clothesline of a plot, and unique structure (more on that in just a moment) feels like it's just barely being held together by George Segal's dynamo of a performance. But that's just the point: Segal's world is coming apart at the seams, and his scheming hairdresser junkie is acutely aware that he's living on borrowed time.

Structurally, the film unfolds in movements-- ten or twenty minute blocks of scenes dealing with this aspect, than that one, rather than the intercut-all-the-various-characters-and-threads school that's long been the norm. It's something that I like a lot about Passer's film, something that we've very consciously done in our own work.