Saturday, December 1, 2007

Chuck Close

Perhaps the most frustrating thing to me about being a dumb filmmaker is the lack of opportunities I get to practice my craft. I just can't wake up in the morning and announce that today I am going to make film. Like Blanche Dubois, I am dependent on the kindness of strangers (well-paid teamsters, SAG members, and other crew types.) I don't know if I would be a better filmmaker if I had more opportunities, but I certainly would be a different kind of filmmaker. I would really like to explore different visual styles and techniques.

All of this brings me to Chuck Close the photographer and portraitist, one of his self-portraits appears here. For more than thirty years Close has explored different versions of the same form. Typically he takes a photograph of his subject and then creates a grid on a canvas and paints huge portraits from the picture. Over the years his method has remained the same, but his style has changed.

Earlier in his career his portraits were photorealistic. Stunning giant portraits of his subjects that worked on the viewer differently from various distances. By the time you get close to a nine-foot tall face you see it very differently than from across the room. Today his portraits are much more abstract- see above- yet he still works within this same process of taking a photograph and creating a grid. Close's paintings take months to complete but they all start with that 1/100th of a second image which captures his subject and over the years he has returned to the the original photographs to make new portraits. I am envious that he can return to the same source material and create new works of art while exploring new artistic territory.

To me his process has many benefits. Everyday he can work on little pieces of his paintings. Each square of his grid becomes a mini-painting with its own abstract style. He can stop the work and return to it on and off for weeks. Each grid builds positively on itself and over time he has a finished portrait. The key here is belief in the process. Close has created a system which works for him and within that system he is free to change his style.

One final thing about Chuck Close. About 20 years ago he had a major stroke that rendered him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Since then he has done all of this work from a wheel chair with a paint brush strapped to his wrist.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Future is Unwritten

Career opportunities are the ones that never knock
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock
Career opportunity, the ones that never knock

Last week my friend Dan took me to see The Future is Unwritten, the documentary about Joe Strummer, the man who wrote those words. It’s a really great piece of filmmaking and it helps if you are a fan of the band The Clash and punk rock but there are several things that make it stand out as a film.

The film opens with an amazing image of him recording the vocal track to White Riot. They have taken out all the other musical tracks and all you hear is Strummer screaming the lyrics into a microphone. It is an arresting image and draws you into the film immediately. Slowly the instrumental tracks fade in and White Riot as we know it plays, but until that happens all we see is a mad Brit screaming into a microphone.

There is no narration. The entire Strummer story is told through pictures and interviews with friends and colleagues. Hard to pull off, I have tried, but it really works. This technique drops the viewer into the film and we find our own path rather than have someone lead us.

Many of the interviews are done around a campfire at night. Interesting the first couple of times you see it, then frankly annoying…until near the end of the film when we discover Joe Strummer loved campfires and towards the end of his life he began inviting people over to sit around a campfire. Suddenly this visual style had meaning.

Julien Temple directed. He is best known as a music video director, but clearly the subject had meaning to him- he was friends with the band in the 1970s- and had a lot of his own archived material in the film. The Future is Unwritten is clearly a labor of love. When we saw it at the Music Box Theater it was the only theater in the country screening the film, though it had a successful festival run. If you are a fan of the Clash or just want to see an artist at work see the film.

Joe Strummer died from an undiagnosed heart defect on his couch in December of 2002 shortly after returning from walking his dog. The day before he mailed Christmas cards to his friends, cards he designed and created. They arrived just as those friends were learning about his passing.