Saturday, July 28, 2012

higher ground | carolyn s. briggs

Higher Ground is a 2011 film that examines a woman's experiences in a slightly-post-Jesus-People church community through the seventies and into the eighties. Extremely accurately, and I feel sympathetically, observed - enough so that if you've fled that world, it will push a lot of buttons, and if you're still in that world, it will push a lot of buttons, and if you've never gone near that world, these folks will just look like loonies. I don't think any of those responses is really intended: like the book it comes from, it's a memoir, and simply aims to portray a series of experiences. Maybe I was the perfect audience member:  I only ever visited that world, and have never really stopped visiting, so it didn't rile me up - I mostly marvelled at how much they got right, and how little they condescended.  The Carolyn S. Briggs memoir was originally titled "This Dark World," which was changed to tie in with the release of the film - which is currently showing on Canadian Netflix. 

Do you have any regrets in writing This Dark World?

Sure. I wish I would have allowed for more time to pass, so that my perspective cleared a bit. I regret the book was edited in such a way that I appear to have wholly rejected my faith—which I have not ever been able to do. In writing memoir, one tells one’s story, obviously, but one also tells other people’s stories who may not want their stories told—especially from someone else’s perspective. I have wrestled with this reality and continue to as the film is released.

Where are you with your faith right now?

I could not live in a world without God. And this God is big enough to contain my doubts. Tobias Wolff says doubt is part of faith. Doubt and faith can co-exist; each informs the other. My faith infuses my doubt and my doubt infuses my faith. What else can I do but keep seeking God? Tolstoy advised a life of seeking God because that assures a life with God.

Do you consider yourself a Christian?

I understand that Christian hipsters are using the hyphenated word Christ-follower these days. I’m too old and not cool enough to be a hipster, but I love that idea. I am striving, pressing on, working out my salvation in fear and trembling. I can’t think of anyone or anything better to follow than Jesus Christ.

I titled the screenplay Higher Ground because I wanted to show Corrine as a character reaching for God, reaching for higher ground throughout her life. As Vera says in interviews, Corrine is not leaving her faith. She is leaving an impoverished faith.

from Carolyn S. Briggs' website

Friday, July 27, 2012

watching for... into the abyss

July 2012: currently showing on Canadian Netflix

Nine years after the murder of three people in Montgomery, Texas, in 2001, Werner Herzog patiently but persistently interviewed the convicted killers, as well as the victims' relatives, the chaplain who presides at the prison's executions, and a former executioner who has lost his taste for the work. As in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," the crime itself is unimaginably stupid (two nineteen-year-old boys set out to steal a car and wound up committing the murders), and Herzog's attention moves to the pathology that produced them and the devastation left in the wake of the crime. It is yet another of Herzog's leaps into moral chaos, but there are elements of love and self-knowledge in the families of both victims and perpetrators that are extremely moving. You come out shaken by the fathomless destructiveness of idiocy and the healing powers of belief and remediation. The New Yorker, David Denby

Saturday, July 21, 2012

notes on margaret

The DVD is out, including two cuts. The one that was in theatres, of which the director approved, and a second cut by the director himself. Since the editing of the film was a big brouhaha, it adds interest to see what Lonergan himself would have done - or, in fact, has done - with the film.

It's well known that there's been endless offscreen drama with this one, leading up to production and particularly afterward. There's validity on both sides of the controversy: the studios may well have looked at a film that doesn't have a story-driven structure and wanted an edit that would pull the narrative to the fore - and who can blame them, they stood to lose millions - while the director stuck to his vision, of a different sort of film altogether. More like a novel (that's not written by Stephen King or John Grisham), with a story that meanders, takes time to simply investigate a life, spends time on scenes and events that don't add to the flow or build momentum, but are simply experiences the character has.

Ursula LeGuin proposed what she called the "carrier bag" approach to fiction, as opposed to more linear, story-driven narrative. More observational, less cause-and-effect. It's very common, as I mentioned, in literary novels. And that's how Margaret feels to me.

Lonergan is perfectly capable of the well-structured story. You Can Count On Me is terrific that way, while also being non-Hollywood, non-King/Gresham. It's just that Margaret is different.


Lots of fun actors: Mark Ruffalo (whose break was You Can Count On Me), Stephen Adly Giurgis (who wrote Jesus Hopped The A Train and The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot), Jean Reno, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller, no longer skipping class - as in Election), and of course Anna Paquin.

The Lear scene reminded me so much of Frederick Buechner's great high school English class scene in Open Heart (97-101). An important scene for Buechner: he includes the whole section in Telling The Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (26-30). Far and away, two of Buechner's finest books.

I wonder how many films have names for titles - which aren't the name of a character in the film. Particularly effective here, and another of the touches that makes the film at least hover around the edges of Christian faith. As does You Can Count On Me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the amazing spider-man | anthony lane

The first “Spider-Man” came out in 2002, followed by its obligatory sequels in 2004 and 2007. If you are a twenty-year-old male of unvarnished social aptitude, those movies will seem like much-loved classics that have eaten up half your lifetime. They beg to be interpreted anew, just as Shakespeare’s history plays should be freshly staged by every generation. For those of us who are lavishly cobwebbed with time, however, the notion of yet another Spider-Man saga, this soon, does seem hasty, and I wish that the good people – or, at any rate, the patent lawyers – at Marvel Comics could at least have taken the opportunity to elide the intensely annoying hypen in the title.

Peter Parker is played by Andrew Garfield, who was excellent as the hapless Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, and he still bears the mournful traces of a smart kid who had to agree to an out-of-court settlement. If anything, he is rather too mournful. I know that years of sappy cinema have left me lachrymose-intolerant, but I really couldn’t understand why Garfield’s Bambi eyes kept glingint with a mist of tears. His closest friend is a skateboard, which I guess is a step up from Mark Zuckerberg.

The new batch of ten-year-olds, receiving their first hit of arachnomania – what will they have learned from this instructive film? One thing: if you want to grab a girl, as Peter does, you eject a strand of sticky stuff onto her from behind, then pull. Not true, kids. Don’t try it at home.

by Anthony Lane
excerpted from The New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

jason goode + dylan jenkinson | cannes

DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA was the first full-length play Jason Goode had directed. So how's this - he received word of his Jessie Richardson Award nomination as outstanding director for that show while he was at the Cannes Festival in support of his latest short film! Not many days in a person's life are going to beat that.

Jason and his creative partner Dylan Jenkinson were profiled in Light Magazine: here are excerpts, with the full article at the web site.

Still from the film shoot of LATE
with Sarah Deakins and Ben Cotton

Christian Filmmakers showcase their talent
by Christina Crook

Dylan Jenkinson and Jason Goode’s short film Late was their ticket to the world’s most illustrious film festival – the Cannes International Film Festival. The two Christians from Vancouver made good on their supporters’ dollars and pounded the pavement, drumming up interest for their short film.

Each year the festival previews new films of all genres from around the world. Founded in 1946, it is the world’s most prestigious and publicized film festival and is an invitation-only event. So, when Telefilm Canada called to tell Jenkinson and Goode that their film was chosen for Telefilm’s ‘Canada’s Not Short on Talent’ showcase at Cannes, they leapt at the opportunity.

Late, written by Sarah Deakins, tells the story of two strangers who struggle for a completely honest connection in a brief, chance encounter at a cafĂ©. Goode’s directing paired with Jenkinsons’ producing, created a stunning black and white film that showed to a sold-out crowd in France....

Jenkinson and Goode’s collaboration began three and a half years ago. “I remember talking to Jason about creating work that means something and I didn’t feel like I could do that by myself; I didn’t want to do it on my own,” confesses Jenkinson. The two traveled to a friend’s cottage on Galiano Island where they spent a day and night hearing each other’s stories. Goode had tried collaborations in the past but they didn’t seem to work, but in the case of Jenkinson, foremost a visually-driven producer, while Goode is more performance focused, they complemented one another well....

Jenkinson’s career in motion pictures began in 1998 with eight eclectic years in the physical production arena before transitioning into story development at Keystone Entertainment where he was the Development Executive for two very successful Disney DVD titles. In 2008 he attended the Producers’ Lab at the prestigious Canadian Film Centre.

Goode, whose directorial work includes the short films The Hitchhiker and the Leo-nominated The Planting, also recently directed John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Pacific Theatre in Vancouver. He holds a Masters degree from Regent College and is a dedicated stay-at-home father by day....

In the case of their feature film Numb, Goode came upon the script by award-winning screenwriter Andre Harden, a former artist-in-residence at L’Abri Canada, and resonated at once with it.

Numb tells the story of a debt-ridden couple who discover a map promising to lead them to a fortune of stolen gold. They partner with a pair of mysterious hitchhikers to enter the remote winter wilderness and recover the coins. What they soon discover is that the only thing more blinding than snow is greed.

“I love the quote from East of Eden that says: “There’s more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar,” says Goode.

Saturday, July 07, 2012


photo credit: Last Exit To Nowhere

transcendent darkness | scott derrickson | glen workshop jul 29 - aug 5

I've heard Scott talk about film - Taxi Driver, in fact - and that makes me think this would be terrific. Insightful, enthusiastic. He really loves movies - and he actually makes movies. 
Too, everybody I know who's gone to the Glen Workshops say it's a tremendous experience. (I'm talking myself into it!) What's great is that even for those of us who can't go, Mr D has provided a swell movie list, of films that may be included in the week. That REALLY is a good list...

Transcendent Darkness
Taxi Driver (1976, USA, Martin Scorsese)
Apocalypse Now (1979, USA, Francis Ford Coppola)
Blade Runner (1982, USA, Ridley Scott)
The Exorcist (1973, USA, William Friedkin)
The Shining (1980, UK/USA, Stanley Kubrick)
Breaking the Waves (1996, Denmark, Lars von Trier)
Seven (1995, USA, David Fincher)
Out of The Past (1947, USA, Jacques Tourneur)
Night of the Hunter (1955, USA, Charles Laughton)
Rashomon (1950, Japan, Akira Kurosawa)
Cries and Whispers (1972, Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
Repulsion (1965, USA, Roman Polanski)
Films that have provided the most transcendent experiences
for Scott Derrickson as a Christian and as a filmmaker

Scott Derrickson, the director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the upcoming Sinister, is a connoisseur of the darker traditions of cinema and uniquely situated to speak to the significance of Christian relevance within them. His own spiritual journey—from fundamentalism through evangelicalism and beyond—has been accompanied by an artistic journey that he will share with the class. This seminar and its accompanying discussion will be unafraid to confront the grotesque in the context of grace, in the grand tradition of Flannery O’Connor. In the end, Derrickson believes, confronting the darkness in us is often not only a prelude to understanding grace, hope, and redemption, but can itself be an experience of the divine. The selection of films, from horror to film noir and more, will be a guided tour through the films that have provided the most transcendent experiences for Derrickson as a Christian and as a filmmaker.

Derrickson graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in Humanities with an emphasis in literature and philosophy, a B.A. in Communications with an emphasis in film, and a minor in theological studies. He earned his M.A. in film production from USC School of Cinematic Arts. Derrickson co-wrote and directed the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which was loosely based on a true story about Anneliese Michel, and won a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and a place on the Chicago Film Critics Association list of the Top 100 Scariest Films Ever Made. Derrickson also directed The Day the Earth Stood Still starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, written by David Scarpa. Derrickson is currently attached to write and/or direct several films, including an adaptation of Dan Simmons' Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, a remake of the Danish thriller The Substitute (produced by Sam Raimi), a supernatural suspense thriller called The Living, and an action movie about the biblical Goliath. Derrickson recently agreed to team with producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) to direct Sinister, a mystery-horror crime film starring Ethan Hawke. He is also currently working on Two Eyes Staring, a horror film starring Charlize Theron, and writing the TV pilot Thunderstruck for AMC, which is based on the Hugo and Nebula award winning short story Hell is the Absence of God.

Taxi Driver art print by Joe Taylor