Record Store Day

Happy Record Store Day

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.]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9b3U3t26vw[/youtube]

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.

“I must have more shots of the military!”

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.]

Edward D. Wood, Junior
Edward D. Wood, Junior

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.

More on that chunk of time in the next post.

Process: A Life’s Work and the Canon 5D by Guest Blogger Andy Bowley

Andy Bowley 5D

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.

The results?

[vimeo width=”500″ height=”300″]http://vimeo.com/12648502[/vimeo]

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

 

How to Conduct an Interview, Part 2: Asking the Questions

Andy Bowley, Cinematographer

Last week in How to Conduct an Interview Part 1, I dealt with preparation. This post features some pointers once you are sitting across from the interviewee with your questions in hand. Ready? Go!

(Note: Make sure to read this post’s comment by Andy Bowley. He’s worked with some great interviewers so he knows what he’s talking about. That’s him operating the camera, and me in the corner, trying to be invisible.)

Listen

You’ve organized your questions and they have an arc and everything. That’s great. But don’t be a slave to the pages in front of you. Interviews are best when they are more like conversations. With Jeff Stein, President of the Cosanti Foundation (Arcosanti) and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, I’d ask one question and they’d answer it and the next few follow-ups as well. I’d then ask the next logical question without having to look at my printed questions.

Shut Up and Listen Some More

You are not there to impress the interviewee with your knowledge of their subject. You are also not there to tell them your personal history. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, when you talk to you’re saying something you already know; when you listen you might learn something new.

That being said you don’t want to be a question-asking automaton. Be friendly and personable, and judiciously share a brief anecdote  or two to show that you can relate to interviewee , but don’t go over do it.

Be Expressive and Responsive

You will not see or hear me in A Life’s Work, so it is important that I not talk while the interviewee is talking, and that includes no hmmms, ahhhs, or ooohhhs. And those interjections, under ordinary circumstances, propel a conversation.  So I nod a lot, smile a lot, frown a lot, raise my eyebrows a lot. This gives the interviewees something to respond to. You need to show you’re interested, after all, because then they’ll be excited to tell you their stories.

Silence Is Gold

Don’t be afraid of silence. There is the small silence necessary after an answer so you’re not stepping on the toes of the answer and making for difficult edits, but there is also a bigger silence. I will pause once in a while and check my page of questions to make sure I’m covering ground, and this bigger silence can lead to unexpected places. Often subjects thinks they’ve finished answering, but then something comes to mind that they want to add during that silence. This is often the real good stuff. Another reason to do this is you may want a shot of the subject sitting silently — these can be interesting shots — and these pauses can provide that.

Be Ready to Improvise

Some people are talkers and don’t need you to ask questions. David Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is one of those people. I had the great, mind-blowing pleasure of shooting an interview filmmaker Roland Tec conducted with David Hockney and he was this way as well. They are unbridled and there is no way to control them, so you just have to let them go. When they give you a chance, sneak in a question and get out of the way.

You’re the Boss

While some folks cannot be reined in, it’s important to remember that you are still the boss. Be confident. You did the work and deserve to be where you are. There’s nothing to fear.

This is not always easy to do, believe me, I know. When I had to interview Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, I was very aware that I was interviewing a man who not only had been interviewed many times, as all of the subjects of A Life’s Work had been, but also a journalist who conducted hundreds, maybe thousands of interviews.

Full disclosure: The first few interviews I conducted, I had this at the top of each page of questions.
header

Rephrase Questions When Necessary

Come up with a couple of different ways to ask the big questions. The big questions deserve being asked more than once, and sometimes a simple rephrasing will yield the answer you could only dream of. Do this, too, if you feel you were misunderstood or if the answer given wasn’t deep enough for you.

Take Your Time

Don’t rush it. And if you can, conduct interviews you think will be lengthy over two days. As I’ve said elsewhere, everyone gets tired after a couple of hours. Sometimes though, you are hard pressed for time. In that case, try to take a little break, go to the bathroom, get water, stretch your legs. Talk about something unrelated to the topic, joke around.

Don’t Be Selfish

Though you are the boss, there’s no reason to be selfish. Invite the interviewee to ask you questions. I always ask the cinematographer I’m working with if s/he has any questions they’d like to ask of the interviewee. Their questions, and the subsequent answers, have been very valuable.

This has been a public service from A Life’s Work.

Was it helpful? I’d love to add to it. If you have questions or tips, please send them my way.

About the Clips

There are a bunch of original clips using footage shot for A Life’s Work on this blog. You can see a list of posts that contain clips by clicking here. If you visit the A Life’s Work Youtube Channel you can watch them without reading the text.

What’s With the Clips, Anyway?

Each time I put a clip up I have a little fear that someone will see it and think it’s part of the finished film. And then look at another clip and say, “Huh, what the hell are these two clips going to be in the same film?”

Editing at the MacDowell Colony, 2010.

Some are taken from the 36-minute sample editor Cabot Philbrick and/or I put together (“The Redwoods,” “Looking for Rare Gospel Vinyl,” “Jill Tarter on Growing Up in the 50s”), but most I edited especially for the blog. The film right now has a somewhat sturdy outline and many of those clips don’t fall within its parameters. Does that mean they won’t be in the finished film?

My Notebook

Some most definitely won’t be (“First Shots”)*, and others will most likely not be (“What’s My Favorite Tree,” though part of David Milarch’s answer and the archival footage might be). And the rest? Who knows? This blog has become a notebook for me, a way for me to focus what I’m working on and try some new things. Editing the clips makes me review footage and think of new possibilities. “Paolo Soleri Discusses Arcosanti Residents” is a good example of this. It’s quite possible that some of those shots and edits will make it in the final film, and that clip was really put together exclusively for here.

So, when you watch a clip, you might be seeing something like the birth of an idea that will be in the final film, or something that might make it to the DVD extras, or, in the case of something like “Ends,” just a favorite shot of mine that will only be seen here.

No matter where they wind up, it’s exciting for me to share them. Do you enjoy watching them? Let me know.

You can view most of the clips I mentioned and a LOT more by visiting the A Life’s Work Youtube Channel.

 

* “First Shots” and nine other clips are on Vimeo. These clips are mostly tangential, more like outtakes. They are usually just a series of shots or some weird little one offs such as this one: “Banter at the Allen Telescope Array.”

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/21320888[/vimeo]

 

Top 10 Gospel Christmas Songs

I asked Robert Darden, author of  Nothing but Love in God’s Water: Volume I, Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music and founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, to list some of his favorite gospel Christmas songs. Enjoy!

The songs are in quotes and can be found on the CD (or LP) in italics.

Odetta: Christmas Spirituals
“Rise Up Shepherd and Follow”

Died  December 2008. Legendary folk/blues/spiritual singer. Active in the Civil Rights movement. Influenced many artists, including Bob Dylan. Music historian/performer, legend.

from Black Nativity

Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Mary, What You Gonna Call That Pretty Little Baby?”

With arrangements by Professor Alex Bradford, gospel re-telling of Christmas story. Electrifying performances on Broadway in 1962. Took to London for several tours and revivals. Considered one of the inspirations for Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Two powerful voices – Marion Williams’ lower, warmer voice and Princess Stewart’s higher, raspier voice.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvaj-02z2HU[/youtube]

The Harmonizing Four

“Sweet Little Jesus Boy”
Little known group from Richmond, Virginia but very popular during the Golden Age of Gospel Music. Very traditional – rarely with instruments, a cappella, flat-footed jubilee style. Wonderful arrangements of old spirituals and hymns. Sang at funeral of Franklin Delano Roosevelt… best known for their speaker-rumbling bass singers, although sadly not on their few Christmas releases.

A Gospel Christmas Celebration
“Silent Night” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy
One of my all-time favorite groups … one of the last of the best gospel quartets to be formed … singer Joe Ligon is one of gospel’s last great shouters … and is the model for Wilson Pickett, who used to guest with them occasionally … called the “Temptations of Gospel” … still hard on the road today!

The Texas Christmas Collection
“Christmas Hymn” by Karen Kraft
Know virtually nothing about Karen Kraft … this was recorded for a small Austin label in the 1980s, heard she lives in Bryan-College Station … interpretation of a song originally written by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith – but the original doesn’t sound much like this!

The Legendary Groups of Gospel
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy

From Black Nativity
Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Joy to the World”
My favorite gospel soloist is the late Marion Williams … rarely in better voice than on this recording in 1962 … Most adventuresome gospel vocalist, endlessly inventive, taking chances and probably drove her accompanists crazy …

A Gospel Family Christmas

“Hallelujah Chorus” by Pastor Donald Alford and the Progressive Radio Choir
Most recent track in collection. The Progressive Radio Choir has been based and recording in Chicago since the 1970s. For a time, recorded with Pastor (now Apostle) Donald L. Alford, including their hit “He’s Alive.” Alford is now head of the Progressive Life-Giving Word Cathedral near Chicago, but the choir continues and this may be the best legacy of their short collaboration.

You can find some of these songs and many more great gospel Christmas songs on my Youtube playlist.

Want more  Christmas gospel music suggestions? Check out  The Twelve Classic Gospel Songs of Christmas by Bob Marovich.

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

Why Artist Residencies

Here’s a post from the early days of the blog, December 2009. It was written at VCCA, where I am right now, though I am typing this in C2, a composer studio, and not in the corn crib. I think it’s as timely as ever and worth reposting. And this one has especially good comments.

Last week I had the honor of being asked by Sheila Gulley Pleasants, Director of Artists’ Services at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, to screen my film Tango Octogenario to the VCCA Board of Directors and say a few words about the value and importance of artist residencies. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like this.

A name tag I didn't mind wearing at all.
Here’s one name tag I didn’t mind wearing.

Time and space are the most obvious gifts a residency provides, but just as important is the interaction between artists of different disciplines. I storyboarded Tango Octogenario at Centrum Arts and Creative Education. Could I have done that in my apartment? Probably. But while I was at Centrum I met a choreographer and told her I was making a dance film. She invited me to her rehearsal and asked me to videotape it. As I did, the ideas were buzzing in my head like bees in a hive. Many of those ideas then made their way into the storyboards. Could that have happened in my apartment? Not very likely.

Here at VCCA, I met a poet, Alex Chertok. I told him about A Life’s Work and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and he told me that his father owns a collection of rare jazz films. Did he have any gospel? I asked. Alex put me in touch with his father and sure enough, he does. Will I be calling on him for footage? It’s very likely.

And then there’s the deep stuff. Listening to the readings, looking at the sculptures and paintings, casually conversing in the bucolic setting or around the dinner table about art, travel, food, histories, who knows what’s seeping into our subconscious and how it will manifest itself in our work down the line? And the friendships that develop may be fleeting or lifelong, but they are always significant.

I hope that I give back half as much as I get from my fellow artists at residencies. I hope, too, that I can someday give back to these havens that have given me so much. For now, my screening and talk will have to do.

Thanks again for the opportunity, Sheila.

Lost Gospel Music Clip – Process

Before I get to the clip, some background. My first meeting with Bob Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project was in Chicago, August 2009. During our sit down interviews it became clear very quickly that I would have to go to Baylor University (Waco, TX) to shoot audio engineer Tony Tadey in action. And so I did. The footage with Bob and Tony was shot April 2010, the interview footage is from that Chicago meeting.

Here’s the clip.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxtEO1JGWoQ[/youtube]

First Things First

The first thing I wanted to do was edit the sit down interview. In this section I wanted to present the reasons why so much Black gospel music is lost, so I went through the paper transcripts and selected each bit where Bob spoke about this. I cut and pasted these instances and put them in a separate document and edited and edited and edited this text until I thought it contained the important information, had a narrative flow, and was the right length. But the spoken words and its transcription are very different. Sometimes what works on paper cannot be made to work in the audio. For example, a subject’s sentences may rush into each other, or an intonation might suggest he’s continuing to speak while on paper you can make the sentence come to a full stop. For this clip I was lucky and I was able to make the digital audio work without much hair-pulling.

When to Show What

Great. I have Bob’s sit down stuff strung together. I’m trying to make this film with minimal talking heads, but there are times when I want to show the subject’s face during the interview. So I marked the bits where I thought Bob’s face was especially expressive or telling us something in addition to the words he spoke. I definitely wanted to show Bob deliver the “pool of wax,” and “given them to you!” lines.

While I was editing the audio, I was thinking about what visuals I could put over it. I thought it might be an effective contrast to show the process of the music being preserved as Bob spoke about why it’s lost, so I decided to use the digitization process.

Before we shot anything at Baylor I had a made a few practical decisions. One was we would shoot a couple of 45s as they made their way through the process. The record I chose to focus on for this clip was The Unfolding Book of Life, by Rev. Cleophus Robinson on the Peacock label. I liked the title a lot. You’ll see it throughout the clip.

Establishing shot. I have footage of the Baylor campus and exterior shots of the library where the archiving and digitization takes place, and that will be used — must be used — at some point, but for the purposes of a discrete section like this it wasn’t necessary. So I decided to use the exterior of Tony’s office. I liked the little move (a Canon 5D on a mini dolly). The office nameplate was a simple way to introduce Tony. (In the whole film, we were introduced to Bob long ago.)

Gospel Music, Love, and Money

When I was choosing selex I was struck by how delicately Bob and Tony handled the vinyl, how much they smiled and laughed as they looked at the labels, how much they enjoyed each others company. There was a lot of love in that room.

Bob listed many reasons why so much gospel music is lost; I wasn’t going to order those reasons randomly. What in his litany would work with the love in that room? Collectors, definitely. That’s a special kind of love. And capitalism! In this case, the love of money trumping every other kind of love, including the love of doing the right thing. Showing Bob and Tony’s love for this music was a great contrast to what Bob was saying about corporations interested only in the bottom line. I knew I had to have this “on the fly” exchange during the capitalism bit —

Robert: “Man that is battered.”
Tony: “You can tell that really was loved.”

I was really excited about that one. The first minute came together pretty quickly, the images and spoken words had a nice symbiotic relationship.

Time to get out of Tony’s office and into the scanner room. Cinematographer Andy Bowley and I loved this room, what with that giant scanner and its high contrast dark and light. I liked the idea of contrasting the high tech and very expensive equipment in this room with the picture Bob was painting of mom and pop record labels that had no money for good record keeping, good storage, etc.

The Exciting and the Boring

Editing these shots in the scanner room I wanted to focus on light and the movement of light. You’ll notice the light traversing the bed of the scanner and the light shifting on Darryl Stuhr’s face. I wanted to time this sequence of shots so that we came back to Bob’s sit down interview for his line, “So when we got there it was just a pool of wax.” Light moving like that can evoke revelation and it can evoke the passing of time. I like to think here it evokes both.

On to the next challenge and another step in the process. Inputting of information needed to be shown, and though someone sitting and typing doesn’t usually make for exciting film, I do have a fondness for closeups of words materializing one letter at a time on paper or a monitor. So we shot Amanda Harlan entering the data — “Unfolding Book of Life” — and a closeup of the words “unfolding” on Amanda’s (and your) monitor. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

The transition from Amanda typing to Tony examining a 45 is my least favorite edit in this clip, and probably will not remain. I tried to make it work based on the tilt up of the camera, but it’s awkward and takes place off the beat during Bob’s audio — too much off the beat. If you watch the entire clip closely, you’ll notice that the edits occur during natural strong breaks in Bob’s speech — at the end of sentences or clauses. This one does not. I did like the contrast of “took them to the dump” and Tony cleaning the 45.

Lies

By the way, this part of the process, the cleaning, took place before the scanning, but I played with the truth a little bit. Us documentary filmmakers do that sometimes, play with the truth. Why did I do that?

I wanted to focus on Tony for an uninterrupted chunk of time. Two reasons: He’s the one who does the technical stuff. Bob is the first to admit that he is not the tech guy and he does not have the super sensitive ears of an audio engineer. Tony is an audio engineer extraordinaire. I also wanted to show that these endeavors, BGMRP, SETI, Arcosanti, Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, are not one-person operations. This is obvious, but up to this point in the film I’ve been focusing on one person per project. (I treat Jared and David Milarch as one person.) In focusing on Tony (and showing other people in the other projects — like the students at SETI) I’m hoping viewers will have an a-ha moment and see that these projects are undertaken by a community and have heirs. There is another reason I decided to spend so much time on Tony here, but I can’t tell you what that is just yet.

Wrapping It Up

We shot a ton of great footage of Tony working. I choose the shots I loved. I have a fetish for those little yellow inserts, so that had to be in there! The care Tony takes centering the 45 shows the attention again, the love. I wanted to draw out the needle dropping on the vinyl as long as I could because I think that moment is magical — a stylus finding its groove, very rich. Andy shot that with his Canon 5D and some bizarre old Eastern European lens and I love the look of it; the depth of field is amazing. (You can watch a clip of the 5D footage, put together by Andy. Gearheads can read about Andy’s equipment here.) And from here I wanted to go to the monitors. I asked Andy to shoot the heck out of the monitors because those lines and bars are mesmerizing. I played with the truth again by using a shot of the monitor that is not from the sound you’re hearing. I think I matched it well enough so that I could sneak it by, unless you are an audio engineer. (Sorry Tony, I know that drives you crazy, but I had to do it.)

And then a simple fade out.

Hope you enjoyed this look at how I put this clip together. In a future post I’ll write about the material that didn’t make it into this clip.

[cross posted on extracriticum.com]

Grey Gardens, People Get Ready, and A Life’s Work

So having thought long and hard about what makes Gimme Shelter such a great film, this led me to thinking about another Maysles film, Grey Gardens, and what makes that so exceptional. I’ve written about Grey Gardens here and on Extra Criticum, but let me just lift a comment I wrote on the E.C. post.

“The first time I saw Grey Gardens it made me very uncomfortable. I thought the Maysles were exploiting mental illness. Then I watched it again years later and I didn’t see mental illness but instead a couple of wonderful eccentrics caught in a relationship neither could (or would, if they could, I suspect) get out of. I saw a lot of my relationship with my parents in this film–the orneriness, the battle of wills, and the love, difficult love, too. The third time I saw it I found them to be very funny; I wasn’t laughing at them, but most definitely with them. One of my favorite moments on film is when Big Edie gets a call on her birthday, and she says to caller, who is singing Happy Birthday to her, ‘Are you going to sing the whole thing, Dear?’ You can’t script it.

I think what makes this film so powerful for me is that it can be viewed through all these lenses, and more. It communicates more like a poem than a narrative.”

What does this have to do with A Life’s Work? The shapeshifting quality of Grey Gardens reminds me of something Robert Darden said about People Get Ready, the classic gospel song written by Curtis Mayfield. No coincidence that Robert titled his excellent book, People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music.

People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden

… [in black gospel music] there’s messages revealed to people at different times, just like people talk about the Bible being a gradual revelation as people are more able to understand it, as they get sophisticated from baby Christians to full Christians. What they can handle is revealed to them. Maybe the songs that I heard just for the beat in the old days has something else that it’s telling me that I’m now, just now, ready to hear. People Get Ready continues to move me in any version. When I hear People Get Ready, there is something in that song that speaks to me.  And I don’t know what itch it’s scratching and I don’t know what it means but on that day it made me stop.

This is another thing great art does. It speaks to different people in different ways, and if the artist is lucky, he or she will have created something that speaks to one person throughout his/her life in different ways at different times. I suspect you can’t plan on doing that. The best you can do is hope it happens.

Here’s Curtis Mayfield.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOXmaSCt4ZE[/youtube]

Robert Darden on Completing Big Work

Robert Darden in Chicago, looking at a cathedral.
A Life’s Work’s Robert Darden wrote a post on his blog this week about what it feels like to complete a book he’s been working on for six or seven years. The book, Nothing But Love in God’s Water: The Influence of Black Sacred Music on the Civil Rights Movement, Volume 1 will be published by Penn State University Press.

This topic is, needless to say, something I’m interested. But in typical Darden style, it is not just about finishing a big project. It is also about time, regret, and the continued relevance of the book’s topic. Darden writes:

But here’s why I believe that a better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement is important today: It’s an on-going process. WAY too many people in this country of all races and creeds, of all genders and ages, still do not enjoy the full fruits of democracy. Too many poor people, too many people with differing ideas about sexuality, too many people with various physical, mental and emotional challenges do not share equally in the guarantees built into our Constitution. And when one person is denied their civil rights, we all suffer…

I’m very much looking forward to the publication of  Nothing But Love in God’s Water.

If you’re interested at all in the origins and history of gospel music, you must read Darden’s People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music.