In the breaks between working on Blumenthal, I've been devouring as many of this year's independent films as possible. I often watch movies in search of inspiration as much as I do for entertainment, and at this point in the post process, I feel I could use a little boost. I still have a lot to see still including some of the higher profile ones including The Artist and Shame. There have been a couple of films that have really stood out to me, though. Mainly because they are breaths of fresh air in relation to my own material. Ironically, I've been turning to much weightier material than that of my own recent work. By weightier, I'm really referring more to the mood of the films than the subject matter itself. The following aren't so much reviews as much as they are just me sharing what is moving me to continue my own work at this point in the process.
A few weeks ago, I received a screener DVD of Jeff Nichols's Take Shelter. The film is a slow burn of a man's descent into apparent paranoia with his family and his nagging premonition of an apocalyptic storm approaching. Nichols and his cast do a terrific job with a fairly simple yet substantial story. He's extremely deliberate with what he shows you and how he shows it. Subtlety and restraint are demonstrated in every shot and the more heightened moments of drama never have to work too hard to have an impact on the viewer. I was so intrigued by the film, that I sought out Nichols's first feature, "Shotgun Stories". I liked it even more.
Made for very little money (still more than Blumenthal), the film follows a family feud in small-town America. The writing is superb, specifically the character development. Nichols has an important gift of showing compassion and sympathy for all of his characters, good guys and bad. With that solid foundation, his actors, cinematographer, and designers have a wealth of specific choices to make and the support they need to make a really good movie.
The other film I stumbled upon on the flight back to LA from NY was Mike Mills' second film, The Beginners. First, let it be said that an airplane is a terrible place to watch a movie. The sound and picture couldn't be worse and the seats are anything but comfortable. Even with these elements working against it, The Beginners really landed with me. With a story that could easily have been told in a conventional narrative, Mills consistently makes inspired choices with how he conveys the action and mood of the film.
The movie is filled with sad characters that search desperately for love in whatever way they know how. But Mills doesn't let this bring you down, he fills the movie with humor, light, and grounded reality. It had me hooked in mid-air, and got me all sorts of excited to come back and work on my own film. The Beginners was also shot on the RED One like Blumenthal, so I was also interested in the picture quality and overall aesthetic.
Lastly, I saw Sean Durkin's first feature, Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene. Some really impressive work in there. Two scenes in particular were brilliantly bone-chilling. But, I have to give a huge shout out to my producer, Garrett P. Fennelly and his/my Act Zero team who worked on that film. Terrific costume work from our own David Tabbert as well. Congrats, guys!
So while watching movies isn't really an active part of me making my own movie, it certainly is integral. At different points in the process, I tend to focus on different elements of other movies, depending on what part of the process I am currently in. Now that I am nearing the end of the edit, I'll soak up anything and everything I can latch onto for inspiration, particularly when it comes to the tone of a film.
Most of what is out there in the indie-sphere right now is a good deal darker than the film I've been making. But when a film edit is handled well and the tone is set from the first frame of the film, there is a universal skill at work there. This is the craft of shaping the final product that I am interested in at present. In other words, what is the final hand that serves up the movie and tells us how to take it in? As we move into more music, color, and sound work I can't wait to further define the world of Passing Harold Blumenthal.