Supporting Yourself as an Artist – Deborah A. Hoover

Oxford University Press

Am I having an artistic identity crisis or what? Jeff Kaiser recommended this book–it’s a very thin book–for those interested in grants. And I’m interested in grants…in the future.
This form of moolah procurement is still very popular, 20 years (!) after Deborah Hoover wrote the first edition to this book (she followed it up four years later with the second, and then kept shtum through the internet and email revolution).

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Blind Chance

Dir: Krzysztof Kieslowski
1981 rel. 1987
Blind Chance is one of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s mid-period films before he dove into The Dekalog,
but which sat on the shelf for six years because of its political content. The film shows us Witek, a student reeling from his father’s death a week before and in a rush to catch a train to Warsaw. The three narratives of Blind Chance show us what happens when he 1) made the train, 2) missed the train, and 3) missed the train and ran into a guard. Witek (Boguslaw Linda) remains the same personality throughout, but the fortunes and characters around him change, so that in one outcome he becomes a Communist Party Member, in another a militant opposition member, and another an apolitical doctor.
The prologue to this is a beautiful montage of memories that make up Witek’s past, in which Kieslowski’s camera floats seemingly in and out of the head of the child, subjective then objective. I am reminded of the pure poetry and economy found late in Trois Colours: Blue’s car crash sequence. Yet at the same time, this 20 or so scenes will later act as clues to why Witek makes the choices he does, his deference to his father, his attitude toward women, his need to belong to groups but his failure to insinuate himself within them.
In all three Witek becomes involved with a protest by students at a hospital; he winds up with conflicting allegiances; he meets women from his past; and he is presented with a ticket to France. Characters from one narrative turn up in the following story as background “extras,” and questions from one story are answered in another. When Witek meets his first love in the first story, she has a hand smudged with black. It’s only in the second story where we figure out that she must have been helping print underground books, as Witek joins the student press that she worked for tangentially.
Character, then, is less likely to shape our destinies than our interactions with others and the choices we make within those situations. In one story, Witek finds religion (he gazes at a horrifically kitsch photo of Jesus, one that open and closes its eyes depending on where you stand, and then goes asks to be baptized) but we never get a sense that God is shaping his fate (of course, we understand that Kieslowski the writer is).
This is an energizing film for those who have watched too many straight narratives recently (that is, me), and which ends with a final shot like a kick in the lungs.
However, the opening shot, which features Witek on the train, yelling at the camera (which dives into his mouth), has led some to believe that all three stories are Witek’s fantasies on fate, but I don’t see this. However, the shot doesn’t fit into the rest of the film–it’s more of a frontespiece, a scream of existential terror to welcome us to the tale.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Dir: Doug Liman
Salon called director Doug Liman a hack,
but if so, I think he’s a pretty good hack. He knows how to shoot his action sequences, as evidenced by The Bourne Identity. He also knows that in a film like this we want to lock our eyes on the gorgeous being that is Angelina Jolie (and Brad Pitt, I assume, but even the wife found it hard to keep her eyes off Jolie).
Mr. and Mrs. Smith is highly improbable, cartoon malarkey, where neither Smith know that the other is a trained assassin until they’re set up to kill each other. Their marriage is on the skids anyway, and a good duel to the death reignites their passion. “I don’t know whether to fight him or fuck him,” as Jake LaMotta said in Raging Bull–in this film you can do both.
The film is way too long, but at least is chock full of funny little sequences, such as the one where both sit down for a very tense dinner after discovering each others’ secret. Or the anti-SUV jabs when they borrow one for a car chase. Or the squabbling while trying to interrogate a hostage.
There’s plenty of Jolie to gaze at, one of the sexiest stars we have working today, not just because she’s pretty but because she exudes this confidence and charisma. She’s like a femme fatale come unlocked from the punishing film noir universe, set free to walk among other film genres and overturn them.
One thing I enjoyed seeing destroyed was their foul, foul yuppie house, the interior design of which gave me a headache. Heavy, thick materials, too much black marble, oppressive. I would suggest that it was actually the house that soured their marriage and its destruction that brought their hearts back together.

Grocery Store Wars

Here’s a cute little parody of Star Wars that promotes Organic Farming over the Dark Side of chemical-laden produce. It’s interesting that the original movie still stands up to parody, while none of the others have anything to offer in the way of the iconic. People have included the “Luke I am Your Father” scene so much though, that I’m sure there are those out there that are convinced it’s from the first film. And nobody parodies the most recent three…because they suck!

Taking Lives

Dir: D.J. Caruso
A dark’n’grimy slice of serial killer silliness,
Taking Lives must have passed me by in the theaters. I don’t remember anything about this film when it came out, and the poster, which just features Angelina Jolie’s lips and not her eyes, looks like she’s being taken from behind, more of an erotic thriller.
This is one of those thrillers that makes sense as you watch it, especially as you try to keep up with its tangled web and red herrings, but in retrospect makes absolutely no sense at all. For such a brilliant profiler as Jolie’s Illeana Scott character is supposed to be, she actually fails to do her job, getting it all wrong, and several people die because of her. She eventually catches the killer and, as happens in these films, kills him with her own bare hands, but we’re asked to believe that a disgraced agent would still receive funding from her agency in order to lay a trap over six months later. What did she do with all that spare time, waiting for the killer to turn up? And when he finally does, why is she surprised? That was, indeed, her job.
So. Apart from that we get Quebec standing in for Montreal, a number of great French and French-Canadian actors slumming about, the challenge of seeing Keifer Sutherland and not hearing “I’m agent Frank Bauer of CTU” in your head, a nice shagging scene (unrated DVD only) designed for Jolie fans (and one that suggested right away that her lover is the killer, as nobody has a sex scene this late in a film without some ulterior motive). You also get the site of Gena Rowland’s head cut off in a elevator by a son who apparently carries around bone-cutting tools and a speedy working method–from then on the film lost me.

The Classic Photos of Garry Winogrand

I came across a book of Garry Winogrand photos the other day (too expensive to buy), and had to quickly educate myself about him and his darkly humorous work, much shot on the streets of New York. The man had an eye for the grotesque and the unseemly, and from looking at the photos you would think America is just one collection of freaky-ass lookin’ people (wait, it isn’t?). This long article on Winogrand should do nicely. There’s a gallery here, but watch out for f’ing popups.

The Now Habit – Neil Fiore

Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Like so many peeps, I have a hard time with procrastination.
This is especially baffling for me, because I find these days I procrastinate over things I like to do, and wonder what the hell’s wrong with me. I was a much better procrastinator when I was younger, when I took ages to do boring school assignments and chores, preferring to write, draw, read, etc. Now I have a hard time jumping on the computer to edit film, or work on After Effects, and such. Is it the technology? Is is fear of completion? What? What? What??
Goddamn it all, I need answers. Well, I didn’t find them all in Neil Fiore’s book, but there are some nice “mind hacks” (to borrow a term) inside. The book, you may not be surprised to hear, is recommended over at 43 Folders, the boosters for Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done. Books like these are always easy to read (and finish, bwah), so why not, I asked.
The book comes from 1989, B.E.M. (Before Email), so when Fiore makes note of “Inboxes filled with letters” he’s talking about paper. (Tell me, grandad, what was it like in an office back then?)
And of course, the book is designed for the executive and/or office worker who, let’s face it, has nothing but sucky things to work on anyway. When you die, nobody will remember you for the 2001 semi-quarterly report of potato vendors. Such is life.
But there’s plenty for artists and creatives and before I forget the sage (and just plain) wisdom, I’ll write it down here.
* Making the mistake of identifying too much with a project, until any opinion on the project is taken as an opinion on yourself. Therefore, “…procrastination can serve as a delaying action and as a way of getting past your perfectionism. If you delay starting your work, you cannot do your best and so any critiscim or failure will not be a judgement of the real you or your best effort.” Although true, sometimes my best writing is done when I’m under the gun. I’d prefer not to be under the gun, yet neither do I judge my rush work as less than my own writing.
* Fiore compares a task to walking along a foot-long plank of wood for 30 feet. Easy? But what if it was 50 ft off the ground, suspended between two buildings? We’d find it hard to get across. But what if the roof we were on was on fire? We’d probably find a way to get across. Procrastinating, says Fiore, is when we raise the plank of wood ourselves and then set fire to the building–that is, we wait until the last minute until outside events force us to actually do the job. We create pressure that doesn’t need to be created…
* It’s all about word choice. In his most salient yet psychobabbly point, Fiore recommends switching the verb “have” with “choose”, ideas of punishment and outside forces switching with rewards and free will. So don’t say “I have to finish this assignment by 5 o’clock…or else!!”. Instead say “I choose to finish this assignment (because this is the life I’m leading at the moment, etc. etc.)” Now whether this will enable my life script and/or send me into a shame spiral I don’t know, but actually I find this a good way of looking at things, and certainly gave me a little new perspective (along with GTD) that allowed me to finish the music video I was working on. Weeks of “I have to finish this!” produced very little, because I was grouping it all together. Once I broke all that needed to be done into little batches of assignments, suddenly it was “I choose to finish one AfterEffects shot tonight” or “I want to/I bet I can…” etc.
* “Whenever you catch yourself losing motivation on a project, look for the implicit “have to” in your thinking and make a decision at that moment to embrace the path–as it is, not the way you think it should be–or let go of it. It’s your choice.”
* Other changes in your inner voice: Replace “I must finish” with “When can I start?”
* There is a link between chronic procrastinators and workaholics: “they are either working or feeling guilty about no working.”
* Make a reverse calendar. Start with the end date, then plot out the other dates that run up to it. This does mean, however, that you must pull apart a majority of the small actions ahead of time, and make room for the unknown. This is easier said than done.
* Questions to ask yourself to overcome fear, especially when planning a project: “What’s the worst that could happen?” “What would I do if the worst really happened?” “How would I lessen the pain and get on with as much happiness as possible if the worse did occur?” “What alternatives would I have?” “What can I do now to lessen the probability of this dreaded event occuring?” and “Is there anything I can do now to increase my chances of achieving my goal?” These are fair questions to ask, as long as you are not completely delusional and do them ahead of time.
* A lot of these suggestions are Buddhist. As is GTD. Dave Allen was a former hippie. Go figure.
* Telling yourself “I should have started earlier” is a waste of time. You’ve started, so do the work.
* “Only work will diminish your anxiety.” I like that maxim. Also: “Procrastination is another form of work” (but not in a good way).
* Use reverse psychology: “I must not work more that 2 hours a day on this project.” Guess what happens.
* Let go of larger goals (temporarily) in order to focus on smaller goals that can be accomplished sooner.
So that’s about it (or what I marked down as interesting). Fiore hits the same points over and over, and I still have a hard time thinking about business people and why they should care about the stack of paper on their desks. I’m glad someone is there to help them out and who also, along the way, helps out the artist.
On a side note, this book came out in 1989, which isn’t that long ago really. But one of the main ways to procrastinate–email and Internet–just didn’t exist.

Bright Future

Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
After years of having to pay top $$ to get Kiyoshi Kurosawa films on DVD, suddenly they’re all coming out,
including Seance, which I have yet to see, and this one, Bright Future, his follow up to Pulse, and his first break from the horror genre.
Parts of the film are of a piece with “Cure,” as Mamoru, the enigmatic co-lead, is a blank hole into which all morality is sucked, yet he’s not evil either. (Kurosawa’s favorite method of killing is a metal pipe over the skull–check out “Cure” and “Doppelganger” for some more blunt trauma fun). Mamoru and the lost-looking Nimura (Jo Odagiri) are co-conspirators in a murder that occurs earlier on in the film. It seems like Nimura was about to go and accomplish the deed, but Mamoru gets there in his place and commits the deed. After being sent to death row, Mamoru asks Nimura to look after his red jellyfish, which he’s been slowly adapting to live in fresh water. The halfway point of the film (always a point of interest to me) features Mamoru committing suicide and Nimura (intentionally?) toppling over the jellyfish tank and losing the creature between the floorboards. As with Doppelganger, the film then begins to make even less sense. Mamoru has an estranged father, who has only recently come back into his son’s life to find it too late to enjoy anything except sad prison visits. He has another son, who we only see in one scene because only one is needed, who is freeloading twit. We have a standard relationship at the core of the film–directionless man needing father figure (Nimura goes to work for him after meeting at the funeral) and father seeking a son substitute to make up for past mistakes. Only Kurosawa tweaks with it and suggests that need is the co-dependent flipside of being existentially lost. Either way, you haven’t found your own identity.
The escaped jellyfish begins to multiply (how, it’s not said) and begin to invade Tokyo like some mysterious floating lantern festival. Kurosawa’s resolution of the story is subtle and not totally satisfying, but it is interesting that stripped of any horror trappings, his films still hold a hypnotic pull.