Many many years ago I worked in a record store in Hackensack, NJ with a whole mess of great people, many of whom I’m still in touch with. (Hi Rita, Sam, Bob, Jack, Helen, and Wayne.) Though it was a chain store and not an independently owned shop, it was still very High Fidelity. Oh, the lists…
A certain kind of person works in a record store, then and now. Then the customers ran the gamut, from Kenny G. fans to people who couldn’t wait to get the latest Ministry 12″. Now, it seems the only people who visit record stores are more apt to dig for that Ministry 12″. Well, maybe not Ministry.
Certain things have been gained with the digital revolution where music is concerned. But some things have been lost, too. I miss two things. 1) That tactile sense of holding an LP, reading the liner notes, staring at album cover art groovy enough for framing. 2) As the number of record stores continue to dwindle, the face-to-face interaction with other folks interested in music is disappearing. And I think that’s a shame. (Yeah, I know, you can find folks with similar musical tastes online, but it isn’t the same, really, than, you know, leaving your house and talking to someone.)
So, to honor Record Store Day and the interactions that happen in such establishments, I put together the following blog-only clip from footage Wolfgang Held shot at Hyde Park Records in Chicago, when we first met Robert Darden. Mine is the low voice you hear in the beginning, talking about the Redd Foxx LP being displayed above the gospel section, “the sacred and profane in one eyeful.”
Big thanks to Redd Foxx and the wonderful customer for making this pretty special. I hope you like it. And why not celebrate the day by going to your local record store and taking part in the festivities. I understand many of you ditched your turntables, so maybe you can buy a cd while you’re there. [Do people still have CD players.]
So, what was the last CD/LP/45 you bought?
Click here to view a clip from the documentary, A Life’s Work (work in progress), featuring more footage shot in HPR.
Artist Rita Flores, who was one of my co-workers all those years ago, today coincidentally posted a piece about the joys of record stores on her blog, Through the Lava Lamp.
Here’s a clip I’ve been working on. As the title of this post suggests, it’s about how chance and the unexpected can play a major role in what we find ourselves doing, the discoveries we make, and the passions that fill us.
I’ve always thought of this clip as kind of the equivalent of a sidebar in a magazine article. Will it make it into the finished film? Don’t know. Some pertinent information is contained in it, but the whole thing? Maybe I’ll flip a coin to decide.
I’d really like to know what you think of this clip, since it’s quite different than the other clips up there. And please feel free to like it, share it, comment on it, etc. You know I always love hearing from you.
You can help finish A Life’s Work. Yes, you! Donating to the film is easy and all amounts ($5-50,000) are welcome and appreciated. More than $1,600 has been given to the film so far, and that without the big hyped up push of crowdfunding.
Not that long ago I went to an event near my home, Midsummer Night Swing. It’s put on every summer by Lincoln Center. They erect a dance floor in one of the plazas, invite some amazing musicians to perform danceable music of many genres (swing, merengue, salsa, disco and more), and let the paying public on the dance floor while a whole other dance scene takes place beyond the dance floor. There is a lot of joy concentrated around Lincoln Center when Midsummer Night Swing is happening.
I started attending Midsummer Night Swing when I first moved into this neighborhood. It inspired a screenplay, Wigs by Coco (1999), that was set in the then burgeoning swing revival scene, and later it inspired Tango Octogenario (2003). I went several nights this year, but anticipated tango night most of all. I had hoped I would see an old friend, Alex Turney, one of the stars of Tango Octo.
And I did. Alex is in his 90s now, not as spry as when we filmed him and his wife, Jean, who died several years ago. But he was still on the dance floor. I yelled his name and he and the person he was with, an attractive woman of about 40, turned. (Alex is beloved and has many people who check in on him and take him where he needs to go, whether that’s a doctor’s appointment or a milonga.) They found me on the perimeter of the dance floor — I was not one of the paying public. He didn’t recognize me at first, but when I repeated my name and added “the filmmaker” it came back to him. He began to gush about me to his companion in superlatives that make me uncomfortable. But what touched me most was when he began quoting lines from the press materials I used to send out. (Alex requested every little Tango Octo thing that I created, postcards, poster, stills, press kit.) Alex said, “’the portrayal of seniors as active, vibrant, and independent is a much-needed antidote to the stereotypical representations of America’s graying population.’ Who writes such a beautiful thing? Can you believe it?” Alex is quite the sweet talker.
I once heard Alex say, “Tango is a three-minute love affair.” One might say the same thing about making a film. You work very intensely with people, you share meals, war stories, secrets, and then suddenly it ends, and you’re on another set with another crew where it happens again. It lasts longer than three minutes, but it’s still pretty brief. I’m not sure if people who are born with that tendency gravitate to the profession or if they become that way because of the profession. This happens with documentary filmmakers as well, often with their subjects. Filmmakers woo them to be in their film, lavish attention on them, making them feel special. We share our secrets with them and get the subjects to share their secrets in front of a camera.
And then we leave. And what’s worse, the trust we established with our subjects is violated, because we reveal all those secrets to the world, edited in a way they can’t control with moving pictures over their words they did not intend to be there. It’s part of the deal, and if you can’t stomach it, documentary filmmaking is not for you. Sometimes I have a difficult time stomaching it.
Anywho, note that I did write “some.” I know many filmmakers who develop lasting relationships with their subjects and crew. I happen to think I’m one of those filmmakers. Alex Turney and I, we are bound for as long as life will allow. He knew that and expressed it once he saw the finished film at New Directors/New Films. We don’t see each other frequently, and mostly that’s my fault, but judging by the way Alex held my hands that night, frequency isn’t an issue.
It’s the same with the subjects of A Life’s Work. I like to think that we will be linked for a good many years and, in my fantasy world, the subjects are also entwined, though they’ve never met each other. (Yet!)
This tight bond the work creates, it’s one of my favorite things about filmmaking and compensates for the less savory aspects. I don’t know that I’d do it if that weren’t part of the deal.
Coda: I started writing this July 17. On July 18th, I was surprised to learn William Swearson was stopping in NYC for a couple of days. I met Will on the second SETI shoot in 2007, while he was spending his summer in the SETI REU program (Research Experience for Undergraduates). I offered him my couch and he took me up on it. Will is one of the students I stayed in touch with and he contributed one of the most moving posts on this blog. We had a swell evening full of good food and stimulating conversation.
Coda coda: On July 19th I received an email from someone putting on a tango event in NYC on July 20th. They wanted to screen Tango Octogenario. Alex Turney was to be present and I was invited to attend. I did. It was a small affair. Alex and I sat in the front row, and afterwards answered a couple of questions. When it was over I said goodbye, hugged Alex, and as is his way, he kissed me on the cheek. I love that.
Here’s Alex and Jean and I after I called “that’s a wrap” (there is no sound) and a clip of me thanking Paolo Soleri for sitting down to speak with me. You can read more about this clip in this post.
In August I had the pleasure of seeing a gospel trio called Como Mamas. They were pretty great, but I was really excited to see the folks who were to take the stage after them: Eddie and Brian Holland of Motown fame. Along with their partner Lamont Dozier, they wrote more soul classics than anyone except perhaps Smokey Robinson. Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, I Hear a Symphony, Baby I Need Your Loving, How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)… it’s a long list. The Holland’s recounted the genesis of these songs and Eddie sang excerpts, accompanied by a pianist.
Two highlights: Brian Holland told a story about running into Burt Bacharach in an iHop in L.A., where Bacharach told him I Hear a Symphony was one the greatest pop songs ever. Can you imagine what that must have felt like? One of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century telling you that you wrote one of the greatest songs ever? In an iHop no less?
The other highlight was Eddie Holland’s answer to the moderator’s first question, “What was your musical background?” Eddie said, “Did you hear that group [the Como Mammas] that was just on? That was it. Sunday. Saturday. During the week. All the time. That’s where the soul comes from. Right there, man. That music.”
But soul music didn’t just get its soul from gospel, it also got a lot of its style. That’s clear from the following one-minute outtake from A Life’s Work, wherein Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project shares an anecdote. It involves The Temptations, The Mighty Clouds of Joy and how the hit song, “Do You Love Me?” became a Contours song. Bob tells it in his highly entertaining, frenetic, and inimitable way. Enjoy.
I’ve been editing a section of A Life’s Work that relies on some archival footage, so I’ve been searching and watching and thinking and searching and watching and cutting. A new post about archival footage coming soon, but here’s one I wrote back in 2009. Think of it as Archival Part I.
[The title of this post if from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.]
I share with Ed Wood a fondness for stock footage. There, I hope, the similarities end. In fact, I don’t even like to call it stock footage. I prefer to call it “archival.”
I think it goes back to when I was in high school and my history teacher included some AV as part of a lesson on the Great Depression: “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.” Here was a voice singing about poverty and desperation, traveling over time and space, and punching me in the gut in 1978.
And that’s how I like to use archival. It’s evident in the SETI clip and the redwoods clip. That footage of redwoods being felled (from The Redwood Saga) looked a lot differently to people in 1940 when those images were first seen than it does to people now. Then it was a sign of progress: those trees were being used to build an America that was economically growing. Watching it now it seems like a mass execution. With the Soleri clip I posted I didn’t do that, not exactly. There I wanted to show Frank Lloyd Wright’s L A R G E presence; interviews you see or read with Soleri invariably begin with an introduction that includes his apprenticeship with Wright, and in Dome House you see Wright everywhere, except, as Soleri points out, in the table. (In another Soleri section I use archival extensively to show the passing of time.)
I also have a feeling that when I’m using archival and home movies I’m working with found objects and incorporating them into a bigger canvas. I’m repurposing, in a sense, and I like that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about archival these days because I’m about to edit some new footage–the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project sections of the sample. These sections will add about eight minutes to the sample, which will bring it in at 35 minutes. It is now beginning to look more like a film than a sample.
But how to use it to advance Robert Darden and the BGMRP’s stories, and of course A Life’s Work as a whole? What footage do I choose? Where do I place it? How much? If I use gospel performance footage, what performer(s), which song(s), from when during the golden age? Big questions. Some of them have obvious answers, others don’t.
But finding answers to those questions is an exciting part of the process, and I’m grateful that I’ll have a chunk of time to examine those questions.
Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley and originally published in June 2010. I’m putting up this “encore post” because shooting video with the Canon 5D has recently come up several times at my day job. That, plus I just like this post and Andy is an awesome writer.
I know. You’ve been wondering after reading this blog: what’s Licata really like to work with in the field? Sure, he seems measured and nice and all when he’s tapping away in his socks, all warm and cozy in his New York apartment–but what’s he like in the trenches? Is he a screamer?
Well, no–the opposite, actually. He’s a wonderful collaborator. But more importantly for my sake, he is well in touch with his inner geek.
Example: When he invited me to shoot the work being done by the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project in Waco, I suggested we do some macro work with extension tubes and obscure Ukrainian/East German lenses to get close-up shots of needles and grooves.
His initial response? “Ooooh”
I told him it would be tweaky and slow working with these lenses, which would sometimes allow us just a millimeter or two of effective focal range — and that we’d have to mount them to a Canon 5D DSLR and go through a not-yet-tested workflow.
His response? “Great. If you can think of more possibilities, bring ‘em on”
Just what I hoped hear. A director with patience. But more importantly, another geek who understood. I was excited. But time was short.
I began to test my macro set-up the next day. I was training for a trail race at the time, running every morning along the paths that cut through a wooded section of Central Park. Along the way I found a pinecone–perfect for the test–and maybe useful for A Life’ s Work.
My Manhattan pinecone had lots of interesting shapes and exuded its own woodsy charisma, but I needed to make it move for the camera. Not having enough time to construct a motorized turntable, I biked to the hardware store, bought a lazy Susan, plunked it under a metal Ikea filing box (the heaviest thing with a flat surface I could find in my apartment,) mounted my Zeiss Jena 80mm lens on an extension tube and tilt adapter, and shot some test footage with the Canon 5D.
I liked what the lenses did that day – but the lazy Susan filing box turntable system was less than optimal. No matter. Much of the macro stuff I hoped to shoot in Waco would be moving–records spinning, needles dropping–and if all else failed I could use my new Kessler pocket dolly to make the moves.
That night, I somehow managed to pack all the gear (lights, grip gear, tripod and dolly) into two checked bags. I was leaving for Waco early the next morning.
Tune in next week for Here’s Andy’s post about the shoot and some beautiful HD footage. If you want to read Andy’s tech notes about the pinecone test, click here.
Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody, but he considers the coolest thing on his mantle to be an old Pentacon six medium format camera, which now sits next to his beloved Manhattan pinecone. He has found a lot of other things while running through wooded sections of Central Park, but doesn’t want to talk about it.
E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t
I was in a patch of Michigan forest admiring a pine tree, one tree among thousands. I stopped and stared at it. “There’s something about that tree,” I said. “That tree speaks to me.” I felt a little embarrassed that I said such a New Agey thing. David Milarch then instructed me how to hug a tree.
It was like a dream, or a memory of a dream, but the video below tells me that it did in fact happen.
When Milarch started schooling me, I told Wolfgang Held he could turn off the camera , but he kept rolling. I’m so glad he did because this is one of my favorite bits. I suspect it won’t make it into the film, but I’m so glad I have it. And I’m glad I can share it with you.
The other shots: writer Jim Robbins (The Man Who Planted Trees) relaxing against a giant redwood tree in Roy’s Redwood Preserve, California (where I’m told they shot the speeder bikes scene in Return of the Jedi), David and Jared Milarch visiting some of their friends in a forest in Michigan, me among the Bristlecone Pine trees in the White Mountains of California.