Originally published by The Stanford Daily (November 26, 2018)
“The Other Side of the Wind” is an echo chamber, a hall of mirrors and an irreverent saga jabbing at Hollywood, macho-ism, literary figures and European art cinema. A disorienting ordeal with cinematic Easter eggs scattered throughout, “The Other Side of the Wind” is Orson Welles’ final film 50 years in the making, posthumously released. Held back by financial, legal and political obstacles, production of the film began in 1970. The film tells the story of a famous director, played by John Huston, returning from exile to make an inventive final film, also called “The Other Side of the Wind.” It’s a film within a film, the frame-film shot in a realistic, “cinema verité” style and the film-within-the-film made in the style of a 1960s European art film.
In many ways incomplete and incoherent, Orson Welles’s last film is also his last laugh. Since Welles left behind this unfinished film when he died in 1985, it is hard to know exactly what he was doing in “The Other Side of the Wind,” but it is at least clear that it is unlike anything Welles released during his lifetime. This is no “Citizen Kane” — but its depravity is perhaps the perfect ending to the career of a director that began on such a high note yet was unable to secure funding for many of his later projects.
At a screening at the 2018 Telluride Film Festival, producer Peter Bogdanovich called the movie Orson Welles’ “dirty film.” It has been two months since I first saw the film in Telluride, and its depravity still haunts me. Welles reveals the dark side of Hollywood as well as of his own personality, exposing himself and his peers. What I witnessed was a shock, a displeasure and an utter nightmare — I left disgusted, angry and thoroughly disappointed not only for myself but also for Orson Welles, who I felt deserved a better final film.
But maybe that is exactly the point. Welles is being honest, and it leaves one wishing he hadn’t been. For two months, I’ve struggled to put into words how I felt about the film and have waited patiently for its release on Netflix, dreading my compulsion to return to it. Before I could watch the film again, however, I needed to watch the documentary “They’ll Love me When I’m Dead” in hopes that it would help me understand the unpleasant “The Other Side of the Wind.” What you learn by watching “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (other than that the documentary is much better than the film) is that the film depicts the world Orson Welles occupied. One cameraman was so frequently abused by Welles during the making of “The Other Side of the Wind" that he collapsed more than once from exhaustion and had to be hospitalized. Welles was manipulative and fraudulent, exploitative and intrusive, and yet charming.
In “The Other Side of the Wind,” Welles makes fun of everyone from Michelangelo Antonioni and the Neo-realists with his plotless film-within-a-film to Vertov and his theory of the Kino-Eye. He jabs at Godard, Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart, Bernardo Bertolucci and Ronald Reagan as well as some of his closest friends and Hollywood big-wigs. It’s a film colored by an atmosphere of resentment and deceit on display. With co-writer and star Oja Kodar, Welles’ Croatian lover, parading around a barren landscape completely naked and adorned with misappropriated native American beads and jewelry, it is strange to see this film brought into the light and out of the shadows in 2018 amidst the current political climate and the #metoo movement.
Self-indulgent and distasteful, pornographic and exploitative in both its creation and its content, “The Other Side of the Wind” is a degrading cinematic catastrophe. It’s so vile, base and messy that it’s not just sad, but pathetic. Given the gargantuan amount of time, money and abuse that went into the making of this film, its cruelty far exceeds its satire. It is exactly the type of film Welles would never make, which makes one wonder why he did — or even better, why anyone bothered to finish it.
“The Other Side of the Wind” is a self-portrait as crude and self-destructive as Dorian Gray’s nightmarish picture. The film puts Orson Welles’ demons on display, a clever representation of his own fall from grace. It is unsettling, disorienting and profane. It is perhaps both a brilliant joke and a confession. The abuse and exploitation that John Huston’s character exerts upon his friends, partners and actors in the film echoes the abusiveness of Welles in real life.
Certainly, Welles succeeds in provoking and shocking his audience, but upon both of my viewings it has left me feeling depressed and dirty. It is a two-hour-long nightmare best left unwatched. If you’ve seen the film and discovered some genius I’ve missed, kudos to you, but the aura of despair that presides over the film is hard to celebrate. You’re better off watching “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” and revisiting “Citizen Kane.” Preserve your dignity. Preserve your opinion of Orson Welles. Avoid “The Other Side of the Wind” at all costs. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Originally published by The Stanford Daily (October 17, 2018)
Damien Chazelle has made a name for himself directing ambitious films often focused on jazz. At 32, he became the youngest person ever to win the Oscar for Best Director for his Hollywood movie-musical “La La Land.” While at first an unlikely candidate to direct a space movie, there’s actually something quite poetic about Chazelle being at the helm of “First Man.” Based on James R. Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong, “First Man” tells the story of another history-making young man — the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong. In addition to his engineering and aeronautic talents, Armstrong happens to have had a particular love for showtunes.
Chazelle’s “First Man” is so much more than a NASA story. As America races to land a man on moon, Neil Armstrong bears the burdens of tragedy at home and tragedy at work. From the opening shot, it is clear that the film is about Armstrong’s experience. We are confronted by the violent tremors of his cockpit as he endures a risky high-altitude flight. Chazelle chooses to shoot most of the film in close-up, if not extreme close-up, with a shallow depth of field. While this may have been a strategic choice to save money on set-building and set-dressing, it also thrusts us into Armstrong’s world and invites us to inhabit his personal space. This emphasis on close-up and proximity contrasts with the vast expanse of outer space, a frontier rarely shown yet narratively omnipresent.
Chazelle ensures that we identify primarily with this first man, and with the mission and its successes second. Instead of focusing on the scientific achievements, failures and challenges of NASA’s space program, Chazelle focuses on Armstrong’s emotional journey throughout the entirety of his training for the Apollo missions. By bringing the camera lens into intimate proximity with Neil Armstrong’s face, with the control panels and warning lights, with the characters’ sorrowful tears and shaking hands, Chazelle makes natural and relatable the high-tech world of astrophysics and strict protocol.
However, “First Man” is so narrow in its emphasis on Armstrong’s interior world that we crave a broader perspective. In her role as Armstrong’s wife, Jan, Claire Foy allows us to make sense of Neil’s aloofness and understand him from a different angle. She is more vocal than Neil, understated yet just explicit enough in her worry. She carries herself with an air of understated strength and dignity and yet is fiercely practical in her concern for her husband, her family and the risks warranted by the space race.
She is asked to go where no woman had ever gone before. Jan must not only confront the reality that her children might lose their father but that they might lose their father to the vacuum of outer space. With her voice firm and her eyes piercing, she demands her husband tell their two sons that he might not return from his impending Apollo 11 mission, a truth so grave he is almost unable to articulate it.
Chazelle’s “First Man” is understated and profoundly human, intensified primarily by the expert sound design and eclectic score. When the classic show tune “Oklahoma!” plays in the background of Jan’s pool day with the kids, it becomes apparent that it is the soundscape rather than the visual landscape that gives “First Man” its depth.
To shoot a film about the great unknown in such a personal way is perhaps the genius of Chazelle’s “First Man.” He subverts our expectations for the portrayal of outer space by instead using the camera to invade Ryan Gosling’s personal space. However, it is being able to feel the vibrations of the soundtrack in a theater with surround sound that gives “First Man” its lift. It’s as if you’re in the cockpit alongside Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins as they careen towards the moon. It’s as if you’re listening to your own heart race, your own breath catch, your own helmet shake as you brace yourself for a bumpy ride into an uncertain destiny. First and foremost, Chazelle’s film is the story of Armstrong, the man. Secondly, it’s an homage to the ones who dream even when the odds for success are unknown and unprecedented. Neil Armstrong has become an icon, but “First Man” reminds us of his humanity, his pragmatism, his sincerity and the trials he faced even as he prepared to make history.
Director Karyn Kusama with Nicole Kidman presenting their new film, Destroyer, on Friday night in Telluride.
Destroyer is far from your typical female cop film and whatever impressions you have of Nicole Kidman, I guarantee you that this performance will defy your expectations. She goes somewhere I’ve never seen her go before and proves without question her versatility and sensitivity as an actress. In what is sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance, Kidman completely transforms into a rough-around-the-edges, tough-as-nails LAPD detective with a troubling history and a guilty conscious as she attempts to track down a felon from her past. My head is still spinning from the story’s many layers of emotional and psychological complexity. Do not underestimate Destroyer— it’s one of a kind.
Kusama’s film is a must see, even if only for the sake of Kidman’s transformation. At Telluride, you stand in line for hours talking with film-loving strangers and whether they liked the film or not, everyone is buzzing about Kidman’s performance. We were all mesmerized and enthralled, on the edge of our seats throughout the entirety of the movie. It’s good news for women in film and I hope that filmmakers like Kusama get the credit they deserve. Both provocative and evocative, Destroyer confronts the audience with a story that is bloody and brutal, yet deeply moving and beautiful. Kidman strikes a balance between strength and vulnerability, redefining expectations of what a female character can be on screen. Her character, Detective Bell, isn’t lovable , yet she’s compelling. It’s about time we see women in roles that explore the complexities of the human condition without having to apologize for being too gritty or un-sexy
The Telluride Film Festival is truly one-of-a-kind. Every Labor Day weekend, dedicated cinephiles flock to the charming mountain town of Telluride, CO to watch a curated selection of the year’s most highly anticipated films. The catch? The lineup is not released until the day before the festival begins.
As far as film festivals go, Telluride is the perfect combination of low-key yet high quality. It’s devoid of paparazzi, red carpets, and awards but is secretly star-studded and usually a good predictor of Oscar nominations each year. It’s a place for filmmakers and film-lovers to gather and share in a completely film-focused weekend while nestled in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
In my family, Telluride is sort of a tradition. It’s a thing we love to go to when we can. My parents went every year for over a decade but kids, school, and sports got in the way. Last year, however, we rekindled our Telluride tradition. For my 21st birthday, my mom and I planned ahead, bought passes, booked flights and accommodations, and spent Labor Day weekend in Telluride watching movies day and night until our eyes hurt. It laid the foundation for my imminent entree to what would become a year full of filmmaking and screenwriting. It encouraged me to take the plunge into DIY production and reminded me of my passion for the cinema.
This year, however, we didn’t quite know what our Labor Day schedule would be like when the passes were released (and almost immediately sold out) in the winter. We sighed and said, “Maybe next time.” But on Thursday morning (Aug 30th), the 2018 Telluride Film Festival schedule was released and I shed a small tear as I read all the buzz about this year’s lineup during my lunch break at my summer internship.
On my way home from the office that evening, I decided to call my mom to help pass the time while I waded through hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic (I’ve been commuting from my family’s home in Orange County up to LA a few times a week and Thursday night traffic is particularly bad). When my mom answered, she cut right to the chase. “Hayley,” she said, “How would you feel about going to Telluride...without a pass...tonight?” Nearly cutting her off, I snapped, “Let’s go. What time do you want to leave?” And just like that, we decided to go to the 45th Telluride Film Festival on a moment’s notice. Over the course of the following hour and a mere 16 hours before the start of the Telluride Film Festival, my mom and I packed up the car while my dad booked us a condo, made some coffee, and hit the road. Hopped up on adrenaline and motivated by our spontaneity, we decided to drive straight through the night.
Now, the drive from LA to Colorado is a 12-14 hour long drive through 850 miles of mostly desert. We left at 10pm and had made it safely to the middle of nowhere by 2am, my mother and I belting show tunes and blasting the air conditioning to keep ourselves awake. It was all a little Thelma & Louise.
We took turns behind the wheel, and were glad to find an open Starbucks when we stopped for gas in Flagstaff, AZ at 5:30am. Re-caffeinated, we kept driving and found ourselves enraptured by the break of day and the beauty of the Arizona morning. We caught the sunrise just as we entered the Navajo reservation, the soft morning light turning the red rocks a hue of lilac and the desert sand a gentle shade of peach. Inspired by the majesty of the landscape, we forged on, eventually arriving in Telluride at noon sleep-deprived, stiff beyond belief, and hungry. We grabbed some food, checked into our condo (my dad miraculously found one online despite the short notice) and decided to queue up for a film. Without passes, attending the Festival means standing in lines for hours hoping to be let in after all the pass-holders have been seated. We started off a bit unlucky on Day 1 (Friday) as we were turned away from Damien Chazelle’s First Man and The White Crow before getting in to see Destroyer, a film by Karyn Kusama starring Nicole Kidman.
(Please forgive typos and let me know if you see one! I’m typing on my phone from lines for films and have gotten very little sleep in the past few days)
A Short Film by Ali Rosenthal
I'm producing a short film this year and we just launched our Kickstarter page. We would appreciate any and all support. Click the link below to contribute and read more about the project. Thanks!
Where to even begin? There’s a moment at the end of C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian where Peter and Susan tell Edmund and Lucy that they won’t be returning to Narnia. Their time was up. And yet, the elder Pevensies knew they had had their fill and their fun and that it was time to move on. There were more trips to Narnia in store for the younger two, but all the same, Edmund and Lucy, too, were ready to go home—for a while. My time in Oxford began with an immediate immersion in a world I’d long dreamt of but hadn’t dared to imagine actually existed. As an English major and a lover of stories and fantasy, checking into the Stanford House in Oxford last September was a dream come true. I have spent the past five months living mere yards away from where C.S. Lewis returned to his Christian faith and was inspired to write The Narnia Chronicles, a stone’s throw from where Alice in Wonderland was written, and a few blocks away from where the Inklings met and J.R.R. Tolkien studied and taught. The veil between fact and fiction is thin in Oxford and the overlap of worlds both real and imaginary is palpable. There’s something in the air here, something to do with Oxford’s thousands of years of history, tradition of cutting-edge scholarship, scientific discovery, and literary masterpieces. One can’t help but feel that if its’ ancient walls could talk, the stories they’d tell would keep us intrigued for many lifetimes to come. It’s real, and yet, it’s mythical at the same time. One moment, Oxford is Hogwarts, and the next, it’s The Shire. Moments later you feel as if you’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, or that the picture of Dorian Grey might be lurking behind one of the heavy, stone walls at the end of the corridor. You glance at the lamp post in the mist and feel like Mr. Tumnus might scurry down the street beside you, or as you peer at the vines creeping over the lofty wall, imagine a secret garden just on the other side. Oxford is a place that inspires the mind and stirs the soul, and it’s a place I’ll miss dearly. But like Lucy and Edmund preparing to leave Narnia for their second time, my time is up—for now—but, I have a hunch it won’t be the last time I’ll see this magical city.
A year ago, I was scared and confused as my volleyball career officially ended. It was a long decline, but I found myself one spring day hit with the reality that it was over, that my Olympic dreams would not come to be, and that there would be no professional volleyball contract waiting for me upon graduation. So, on a whim, I decided to apply to Stanford’s study abroad program in Oxford, even though the deadline had passed. I figured it was worth a shot. Studying abroad hadn’t been an option as a D1 athlete and so, when days later I found out I’d been accepted to the program and was going to Oxford in the fall, I was struck by God’s graciousness. He provided me with an opportunity I barely even knew existed. In September, I flew to England and embarked on a journey, one that from the beginning felt a bit like a second chance, a chance to make new memories, have different experiences, and explore other interests. In Michaelmas term (Oxford’s fall term) I studied C.S. Lewis with Dr. Michael Ward. If I didn’t already feel like I was in Narnia, reading almost every C.S. Lewis book was an educational experience that fed my soul as much as it did my mind. Just today, I visited his home, called The Kilns, with my parents and was amazed that I probably could have given the tour. Towards the end of November, I sort of accidentally found myself in the chorus of an Oxford production of Twelfth Night, my first time back on a stage since the end of my childhood theatre endeavors that culminated when I hit 6’0” and volleyball took off in 8th grade. Performing was my first love, and a passion I channeled on the volleyball court. To return to the stage was medicine in a way, reminding me of who I was all those years ago before volleyball got intense and before I had a clue what I even wanted to study. It’s amazing to look back at one’s life and see just how much has changed, but also recognize the things that have stayed exactly the same.
While in Oxford, I had the chance to explore my interest in film, too. I got to produce a short mini-series about sexual assault with a group of Oxford students. While the film is still in post-production, it was incredible to get to be a part of such an important project while abroad. This Hilary Term (Oxford’s winter term) I had two tutorials—one in Old English and one in Screenwriting. Both tutorials were extremely challenging and rewarding. In Old English, I spent the first four weeks of the eight week term taking a crash course in the Old English language while simultaneously translating hundreds of lines of Old English poetry. I wrote essays, too, beginning the second week and came away a bit brain-fried but intrigued by the language and further amazed by Anglo-Saxon literature. In my screenwriting tutorial, I spent the first few weeks writing short scripts. However, in the final three weeks of the term, I began and completed a feature-length screenplay. As my first feature-length screenplay, and as it was written in an insanely short period of time, I’ll be filing this one away as a reminder that it can be done despite the fact that the script is a long way from great. I lived this term a bit like a hermit, locked in my room writing furiously in what I lovingly (sometimes loathsomely) referred to as my writer’s lair. However, after basically learning Old English in a week and churning out 120 pages of a screenplay in the course of eight weeks, I’m headed back to the US a bit exhausted but also ready to take on whatever God has in store for me next. Post-brain injury, it is often scary to think about my future. There are days I can’t get out of bed and weeks where migraines seem omnipresent. There are still days where I can’t stop crying and moments where it seems impossible to carry on. But, God is walking me through this new chapter of my life, allowing me to suffer, and also helping me flourish and grow. As I prepare to leave Oxford in the morning, I am counting my blessings and feel totally overwhelmed by how lucky I am that what felt like an impossible obstacle and major loss was the very thing that allowed me to come to Oxford. Oxford has stretched me and challenged me in many ways, and soothed and healed me in others.
So, my time is up. I can’t help but feel a sense of loss that after tomorrow, I’ll no longer be waking up and walking out the door onto High Street. And yet, I can’t help but look forward to a giant kale salad and acai bowl when I get home. I’m going to miss the friends I’ve made here so much it hurts, but I’m looking forward to seeing my friends back in California. Oxford will forever be a part of my story, a part I’ll look back on fondly for years to come. Stanford, I’m coming for ya! Goodbye, Oxford. Don’t forget me.
“I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
As most of you know, I love cinema. No one calls it that any more, especially with the ease of access we have to digital media on our private televisions, computers, smartphones, tablets. But every time I walk into a cinema—and I’m proud to say I go pretty much once a week—I come back out a little bit different. Movies change how we see and understand the world. Film is an art form made up of images and infused with emotion. It is story-telling in its ideal form, in my opinion, mimicking real life and yet, it is anything but real. Films are finely crafted dreamscapes, manifestations of what we hope and fear and feel. And, it is for this reason that I have been unable, despite my best efforts, to not constantly watch films, study them, and try my best to make them.
I was raised by parents who work in entertainment. They were not glamorous Hollywood stars or executives, but hard-working, passionate people. They both took measures to protect me from Hollywood’s dark side and debunk the mythic of allure of the silver screen. And yet, they accidentally guided me right into the very state of ambition they’d hoped I might avoid. They taught me to watch films with a critical eye, to not take things at face value, to guard my heart and mind and to walk out of a theatre when the film was sleazy, offensive, or unedifying. They raised me to treasure stories and to appreciate their artistry. When we went to the cinema as a family, we always stayed until we had watched the very last credit. Every boom guy, every location scout, every catering company—we stayed and watch your credit roll by.
In high school, movies became my thing. My dad would receive Screen Actors Guild screeners each year, and over time, I was the one watching most of the films and telling him how to vote. I was an elite volleyball player in high school, and for me, that was a job I took very seriously. I didn’t go to parties and I protected my sleep and my muscles. As a result, movies were what I did for fun in the few hours I had to spare each week between studying for copious AP classes and recovering from dozens of hours of training.
One of my friends in high school was a movie addict. I say addict because he’d skimp on sleep to watch a full movie every single night. He would send me lists of classic films to see. Fortunately for me, this was right when Netflix was becoming ubiquitous and prestigious. I would download films from iTunes or watch them on Netflix and I quickly began my crash-course in film history. At some point, I decided that I would use the Oscars as a way to structure my DIY film school. It started with just trying to watch some of the Oscar nominated films each year. Then it became a mandate to watch all the Best Picture nominees. Now, I hold myself to watching all the Best Picture nominees, plus any film with a Best Actor or Actress nomination, all the films by Best Director nominees, and all the Best Screenplay nominated films for both writing categories. Beyond that, I try to watch as many nominated films as I can depending on my access to them and availability in my schedule, of course.
This year, my Oscar watching endeavour kicked off at the Telluride Film Festival where I sat with my mom in the front row of a fully packed theatre up in the Colorado Rockies as we laughed and cried at Greta Gerwig’s delightfully raw Lady Bird. We walked out of that screening and knew we’d just seen something special. I cheered (along with most cinephile females) when she received her screenwriting and directing nominations. The other nominated film we saw in Telluride was Loving Vincent, a hand-painted animated film telling the story of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. Fun fact: Saoirse Ronan is in that one, too. We met the director of Loving Vincent and making that film was a very ambitious labor of love, so I’m glad they got their Oscar nomination.
In November, Oscar speculation began to buzz and highly anticipated films hit the theatres. I have spent the last three months strategically going from theatre to theatre watching what I suspected, and then knew, to be Oscar-nominated films. This year, while there were some highlights especially in regards to history being made and diversity at last beginning to appear in the list of nominations, I was a bit disappointed by the Best Picture category. I feel that there is no one film that quite had the full package for me like La La Land and Moonlight both did last year. However, I prefer to focus on the positive. So much hard work goes into every film made, and each film touches different hearts and inspires different minds, and so, without further ado, I bring to you my must-sees, predictions, and excitements about the rapidly approaching 90th Academy Awards.
And the nominees for Best Picture are: “Call Me by Your Name”, “Darkest Hour”, “Dunkirk”, “Get Out”, “Lady Bird”, “Phantom Thread”, “The Post”, “The Shape of Water”, and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. In this category, I am refusing to make a prediction mainly because my favourite is not likely to prevail. I’ve already expressed my like for “Lady Bird” and highly suggest you go see it. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was my favourite (I saw it twice), and I would be thrilled to see Martin McDonagh et al. take home the Oscar for this darkly comedic, whistle-blowing, small-town story about injustice and community. As for the others, “Shape of Water” was beautifully made and creatively ambitious and “Phantom Thread” is oddly riveting, especially if you tend to like stories about narcissistic and controlling powerful white men. “Get Out” is extremely original and disturbing with great acting, but is also just a bit bizarre. “The Post”, “Dunkirk”, and “Darkest Hour” are all historical stories with acclaimed casts.
The nominees for Best Actor are: Timothée Chalamet for “Call Me by Your Name”, Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out”, Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour”, and Denzel Washington in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” It is my opinion that this is 2018’s strongest category. While Gary Oldman is likely to take home the Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill, the other four actor’s performances are much more emotionally compelling. If the Academy diverges from its tendency to honour big names and big stories, I’d like to see Timothée Chalamet take home the Oscar. Not only is his performance in “Call Me by Your Name” top notch, the emotional range of his performance is truly sensational….plus, he is twenty-two years old and easily of the same caliber as the legends in his category (for real, though, how cool is it that this twenty-year old, hard-working talent is nominated along side Day-Lewis, Oldman, and Washington?). Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread is captivating, but perhaps the most underrated performance this year was Denzel Washington’s in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” Washington plays a quirky LA lawyer and his performance is spot-on. Great film, too.
The nominees for best actress are Sally Hawkins in “The Shape of Water”, Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, in Margot Robbie in “I, Tonya”, Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird”, and Meryl Streep in “The Post”. All I’m going to say is that if Frances McDormand doesn’t win tonight I will cry. I watched this film twice and her performance as a fierce, imperfect mother is one of the most memorable performances I’ve ever seen. Go see it, please. Just do it. Otherwise, Saorise Ronan and Sally Hawkins give standout performances this year.
Moving on, the one film in the Supporting Actor category I didn’t get to see was “The Florida Project” which I have heard is very good. Sam Rockwell likely will and should take home the Oscar for Supporting Actor tonight for his performance in “Three Billboards”. In the Supporting Actress category, Allison Janney is the most memorable part of “I, Tonya”, and Laurie Metcalf gives a moving and honest perforce as Lady Bird’s mother in “Lady Bird.” Octavia Spencer is the best part of “The Shape of Water” and both Mary J. Bilge and Lesley Manville are compelling in “Mudbound” and “Phantom Thread” respectively.
Best Director will probably go to Guillermo del Toro. He takes risks and pulls them off in the soggy fantasy “The Shape of Water.” It would be cool, though, if we had a woman take home the Best Director award. Jordan Peele is a frontrunner for “Get Out”, as well. I’m rooting for Greta but have a strong feeling the father of one of my fifth grade classmates will be winning an Oscar for his cinematic and creative “The Shape of Water.”
Screenplays… I’ve been reading and writing screenplays like crazy lately. I think this year had a lot of good ones. I’d like to see “Call Me by Your Name” and “Three Billboards” win tonight. “Lady Bird” is another favourite of mine, as is “Molly’s Game.” “Molly’s Game” received its sole nomination for Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, but it’s a film you need to go see if you haven’t yet. I was quite happy to see a couple of women in the mix for the screenplay categories this year.
And now for miscellaneous thoughts and notes. Watch “Blade Runner 2049” if you haven’t. I was surprised to find that it is actually really good. Look for it to take home cinematography and sound awards tonight, and possible a Production Design Oscar. A big note is that a female cinematographer was nominated for her work in “Mudbound” which is the first time a woman has ever been nominated in that category. Her work is vivid, poignant, stunning. I am praying that “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” wins for best song. That song has inspired me though a very challenging academic term these past few months. Lastly, “Baby Driver” received a few nominations and rightly so. It’s precise editing and sound mixing far overpower the presence of a certain unsavoury actor starring in the film.
This year I watched 24 Oscar nominated films, and would have liked to have seen more. It has been a tumultuous year in Hollywood, however, it has been one of revolution, too. Stories matter and films have the power to change the current of our culture. My hope is that the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns will continue to make Hollywood a better safer place and that artists of all colours, genders, shapes, and sizes will be given a fair shot in an industry that has long been dominated by an insular circle of powerful white men. If you’re a powerful white man, I support you, and my hope is that you do not squander the power you've been given, but use it to make a difference.
Due to the gargantuan quantity of work I have to do this winter, the book club will resume in March. In the coming weeks, I have to read and translate quite a bit of Old English and in addition to translations and essays, will be attempting to write a feature-length screenplay in a very short period of time. Sorry (to the few that actually read this blog) everyone!
This week, we'll be reading The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin. The link to the newsletter can be found here.
Just as I was feeling like it might be time to give up this resolution, I remembered that I can do this and will do my best to continue to pick interest reads. This week, we're delving into a nice, short, relevant work of cultural theory dealing with art and machines and how modernisation changes how we can view and access art. Very cool.
Last week was Twelfth Night week. Here's a quote from a review for our show here in Oxford:
"Arguably, the beauty of the Shakespearean cannon is its ability to speak to us using the language of 500 years ago but in terms we understand, in settings we can relate to, and with layers of meaning that peel open only for us to peek in. Taylor’s production recognises all that, and more."
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
WEEK 3: JAN. 15-21
Due to an overwhelmingly busy week ahead of me, I will not be reading for the book club this week, but rather performing in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night here at Oxford, so if you'd like some thing to read, you may read Twelfth Night.
Last week I read Landskipping by Anna Pavord. It was a lovely way to get back into a British mindset, as Pavord writes about British landscape and how we relate to it in a deeply insightful way. Last summer, I went on a Stanford seminar entitled Language, Landscape, and Identity and traipsed all through the English and Welsh countryside and towns drawing connections between the land, language, and identity of the Anglo-Saxons. Now, I feel I am on my own journey of realising that I am profoundly moved and deeply drawn to the the English landscape, and am eager to explore more of it this ter
This upcoming week, I'll be reading Landskipping by Anna Pavord and invite you to join me in doing so. View the newsletter here and subscribe by filling out the form to the right.
Last week, I read You Can Do Anything George Anders. I’m en route back to the University of Oxford as I write this, so it is only fitting that I highlight a few of the takeaways from Anders’ book. First of all, there is no shame in being a humanities major. I know that many people out there are humanities majors (myself included), but I always feel like I have to defend myself at Stanford (a hub for techies and a university populated largely with engineering, computer science, and social sciences majors). However, being a minority at Stanford as an English major, I get dug in. I get defensive. I feel a rebel with a cause. I feel it is my duty to argue for the value of a liberal arts education. And while Anders validates and explicates the importance of a liberal arts degree, he also breaks down the so-called barrier between the arts and sciences and encourages his readers to look at where their humanities degrees and the tech sector intersect. He called me out for my stubborn, dead-set ways and inspired me to begin looking for opportunities where my critical thinking skills, eagerness to learn, versatility and adaptability, and story-telling skills might be in needed in fields other than publishing and entertainment. He encourages humanities majors to tell their stories. I giggled when I read that and thought to myself, “Hm, I can do that. It’s sorta what I do.” I made a note in the margins at one point. The note read: “Be an intellectual, and be an opportunity-seeking dare-devil.” I like that. What are we waiting for? Let’s go for it this year. Dream big, fail hard, and never give up. We are the humanists, the people that thrive “where feelings matter” (p. 5). [A nice follow-up read might be anything by Brene Brown, a fabulous author, researcher, and champion of doing hard things and supporting the importance of feelings.]
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My goal for the year is to read, read, read, and write, write, write. If you're looking for a resolution that doesn't involve dieting or selling your soul to Soul Cycle or dropping everything and taking to the great outdoors in full Cheryl Strayed and Chris McCandless fashion, perhaps you'd like to join me in reading what is certain to be an odd, interesting, and intellectually stimulating collection of books. My resolution is to read one book for fun every week (although longer books will be allowed two week reading schedules). Subscribe to the newsletter to the right, and welcome to The Daily Hayley.
WEEK 1: JAN. 1-7TH
You Can Do Anything by George Anders
This is the perfect book to set the stage for a year of bettering yourself and embracing the importance of the non-digital pass-time of reading. In an age of technology, the humanities are more important than ever before, so join me in reading a book designed to soothe the anxieties of every ambitious, but discouraged humanities major... written by a Stanford graduate, of course.
Looking for a New Years resolution that doesn't involve gargantuan quantities of kale juice or giving up coffee (which is utter madness, in my opinion)? If so, then you're in luck because my New Years resolution is to READ more and WRITE more, so I'm starting a book club! Well, I guess it is pretty much a book and film review newsletter, but I would like to invite you all to read long with me so that we can make 2018 great! Join me in my epic quest to arrive at 2019 well-read and full of knowledge across many disciplines, as my curatorial interests range from backyard gardening and medieval astrology to couture fashion and modern theology.
I don't know about you, but for me, 2017 was a wild ride. This year, in an effort to force myself to read more (and have a place to ramble about all the movies I watch), I'm giving myself a new platform to share my thoughts and motivate me to commit to something. My plan is to send out an email every Monday with a recommended book, film, some book/film reviews, and other literary/cultural odds and ends. Each week's newsletter will discuss the book from the week before briefly because we are all busy and don't need more noise added to our already cluttered lives. I've curated a reading list for the first five weeks so that you can start gathering books, if you wish. And if you don't wish to read along with me, feel free to use the newsletter as an eclectic booklist to work your way through as you please. So, here's to 2018. May we arrive at 2019 smarter, more sensitive, and well-read.
Week 1 (Jan. 1-7): You Can Do Anything by George Anders
Week 2 (Jan. 8-14): Landskipping by Anna Pavord
Week 3 (Jan. 15-21): The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin
Week 4 (Jan. 22-28): The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Week 5 (Jan.29-Feb. 4): The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
I spent Monday through Thursday this week in Provo, Utah at a place called CognitiveFx. I felt the need to blog about my experience for two reasons: first, it was a really neat and helpful experience, and secondly, because this blog is the reason I found CognitiveFx (well, they found me via this blog) in the first place. CognitiveFx. It's rad. Check it out. www.cognitivefxusa.com/
My internal monologue during treatment went something like this:
Day 1. “Okay, this seems doable and like it might help a bit.”
Day 2. “Apart from the headaches and the fact that this is an exhausting treatment schedule, it at least won’t be detrimental to my brain health. Lots of good mental exercises.”
Day 3. “HOLY CRAP, WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO ME? THIS BETTER BE WORTH IT. EVERYTHING HURTS AND MY HEAD FEELS LIKES IT'S GOING TO EXPLODE. Maybe this means the treatment is working? Clearly something is going on with my brain because OUCH!!!”
Day 4. “WOAH. I never thought that pain would end and now I’m reacting and processing faster and more accurately on all the brain games and cognitive exercises. Could this wizardry have worked? I think they might have rebooted my brain.”
And 24 Hours after the end of my CognitiveFx treatment, I feel the difference big time...
I woke up without a groan. I’ve been composing poetry in my sleep. I did three face masks this morning because #selfcare. I forgot to finish my coffee because I was already alert and on to the next thing. I started doing crafts after breakfast. I made a to-do list. My hands are not shaky. I'm not dizzy for the first time in ages. I have 85 tabs open on my computer (summer job hunting is not a streamlined process for We the Humanities Majors) and I’m not even frazzled by it in the slightest. I am finding my words faster. The world looks brighter and clearer (literally, although probably metaphorically, too). I completed my to-do list.
Leaving CognitiveFx yesterday afternoon was like leaving camp. The staff and other patients had become sort of like family in the span of just four days. For the first time in two years I left a doctor without feeling like I’d had to prove to them that 1) yes, you could get a concussion in volleyball, and 2) that I was not okay. For the first time in two years I met with a psychologist who GOT IT, who looked at me and didn’t try to define me as a psychological basket case and prescribe hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) of psychotherapy, but instead offered her support, counsel, and advice to help me through the remainder of my battle with TBI-induced depression and anxiety (TBI=Traumatic Brain Injury). She did not undermine my PTSD, she did not tell me that all my problems were due to some genetic emotional instability, and she articulated that the root of my psychological issues was the neurological disturbance that resulted from blunt-force trauma to the brain, a truth that few psychologists understand. During dynamic vision exercises my brain went a little wild and when I giggled uncontrollably with tears streaming down my face I was not looked at like a crazy person or given the loathsome gentle shoulder pat. Instead, I was seen, I was heard, and when I told the cognitive therapist that my weird emotional reactions to benign stimuli used to scare me a lot but now I’m used to it, he smiled and we both decided just to laugh through the bizarre brain moment. I spent four days in a world of people like me, and by like me, I mean those who understand and have experienced traumatic brain injuries. We all came from different walks of life, got our concussions in a variety of ways, but had all somehow found CognitiveFx. There’s an incredible short-hand between people who have lost their worlds and have found the means and strength to journey on regardless. It’s beautiful to see determination and love be the products of seasons of adversity. Don't underestimate the healing power that empathy and camaraderie can have.
It’s essential to have a support system and recognise someone’s pain even if it manifests differently than what you had ever imagined possible. Our culture is improving in recognising and supporting those struggling with mental health. There are incredible cancer support groups, Alzheimer’s research fundraisers, etc, etc. But we are way behind in supporting people with traumatic brain injuries, regardless of degree of injury. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The brain controls the whole body and when even a little thing is off up there, the chain reaction of repercussions can and do wreak havoc on sufferers’ lives. The science is progressing quickly. The evidence is becoming more clear-cut. But, we have got to insert TBI into our vocabulary. We have to understand that the word concussion is a term with connotations that do concussion-victims a major disservice. There's no such thing as a 'minor’ concussion. Concussions are cumulative. EVERY. HIT. COUNTS. You cannot undue brain damage; it happens at a cellular level. And, no one ever even uses the word brain in sports when we get concussions (at least, that hasn’t been my experience). We’re asked about symptoms, our heads, our vision, balance, and are told we are concussed (sometimes they even fail to tell us that much), but no one calls it brain damage or brain injury. I think we’d all be a hell of a lot more careful if we got pulled off of a court or a field and were told, “Hey, you just got hit pretty hard. We’re going to pull you out now because you just damaged your brain.” Sub-concussive blows to the head cause injury, too. I’ve been hit hundreds of times. I’ve been diagnosed officially with three concussions. I can guarantee I've had two more and have had many other hits that may have come close.
At CognitiveFx, for the first time, I was treated by a doctor who understood all of this, offered a non-invasive and non-medicated treatment plan to help me and my brain get functionality back. It’s not a magic wand that makes it all go away. Once that damage is done, it’s there, but thanks to neuroplasticity and cutting-edge research and resources, there are now ways that make it possible for those of us who suffer from TBIs to find new brain pathways to perform the tasks we once did effortlessly.
“But, Hayley,” you might say, “You seem fine.” Well, today, for the first time in two years, I would probably respond, “You know what, today I am fine.” But that has not been the case. “Seeming fine” took every ounce of energy I had and a strong reliance on my childhood theatre training to pull off. And I'm still working towards feeling not just fine, but good. When you have an invisible injury, you don’t get pity. Often, you are accused--oddly enough--of doing something wrong or failing to excel or of being weak. Brain injury is an internal battle. It’s your brain gone haywire, it’s pain that can’t be seen, it’s frustration you can’t even articulate because your ability to articulate has been reduced. It’s being exhausted and drained, but not being able to sleep. It’s trying to exercise because everyone in the world loves telling you that exercise is good for the brain, but every time you do, you end up with a debilitating migraine or tension headache or are so tired you can’t move for the rest of the day and it’s not because you’re out of shape. I’m rambling now (mainly because my brain is working so much more sharply after four days in brain boot camp that I’m too excited and can’t stop writing), but the point is that we need to change the way we think about, talk about, and treat Traumatic Brain Injuries. And no, I’m not exaggerating or trying to scare you (although if I do, that might be good). This is science, and although I’m not a scientist, I am a Humanist, and since I am much better at writing than neurology, this is my take on what living with and recovering from a TBI has been like. CognitiveFx treatment has rebooted my brain and laid a foundation for an upward spiral (shout out to Brené Brown for that term) towards better cognition, reduced pain, and a fuller life.
Bottom line, this is my HUGE thank you to the team at CognitiveFx. Thank you to Anna at CFX for tracking me down and Porter for making me smile even when I was nauseous and having a moment and to Aimee for ‘getting me’ and to all the neuromuscular therapists who eradicated my neck pain, and to the cognitive and occupational therapists who forced my brain to re-wire itself even when both it and I didn’t want to do the work, and to the MRI technicians and Dr. Fong for presenting me with images and charts that helped me understand where my brain was at, where and how it could improve, and celebrating with me when it did. You guys rock!
Love thy noggin.
P.S.This blog has led three people to CognitiveFx treatment…you could be next.
**Disclaimer: This is not an ad, just the musings of an excited girl in the process of healing from a traumatic brain injury.
"There would be a strong argument for saying that much of the most powerful preaching of our time is the preaching of the poets, playwrights, novelists [and film writers/directors] because it is often they better than the rest of us who speak with awful honesty about the absence of God in the world, and about the storm of his absence, both without and within, which, because it is unendurable, unlivable, drives us to look to the eye of the storm. "
by Frederick Buechner in Telling the Truth
My one and only grandfather passed away last weekend. Below, is the eulogy I gave at his funeral today. He was an incredible man....
In Memory of Bill "Cotton" Dunn a.k.a. Par-Par/Parpy; November 9th, 1937-October 7th, 2017
"We grandkids called him Par-Par. We should have called him Eagle. And this morning, I just wanted to hear Parpy’s voice. So, I pulled out my phone and listened to voicemails he’d left for me. He was the kind of man that when he thought of you, he’d give you a call. He wanted you to know when he was thinking of you.
He was funny and kind and generous. I will always remember his voice, his jokes, his love for Diet Coke and ice cream, the way he’d tell me that the raisins in my oatmeal were bugs. But most of all, I remember how much he loved his family and how much he cherished life. I was his first-born grandchild, his only granddaughter, and the first baby he got to see born. He never forgot that day, and he never let me forget it either. He may have been built like a Viking but he adored babies. He would go out of his way just to say ‘hi’ and ask to hold any newborn he set his eyes on. With children, he was as gentle as a dove.
As a little girl, there was nothing I loved more than visiting Parpy in Dallas. We were two peas in a pod. Not only did I have his white hair and blue eyes, but also his athleticism and strong will. He was stubborn as an ox. I think that’s why we got along so well.
I was an early riser much to the chagrin of my poor parents, but in Dallas, I had a morning companion. As a golf pro, Parpy was accustomed to waking up early. He would get up around five and before anyone else had woken up, the two of us would have gotten dressed, gotten donuts (we shared a love for apple fritters), hit a bucket of balls, and driven all over the neighborhood in the golf cart.
I went everywhere he went and quite literally wanted nothing more than to fill his shoes someday. It was my favorite thing to slip my feet into his size 16 golf shoes and waddle around. He inspired me. He was a talented and hard-working man and it was my goal to make him proud. He was my hero.
Parpy had such a fabulous sense of humor. I was the only granddaughter and was often forced into many games of Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Nerf Gun wars with my cousins, but Parpy was my ally. When I would get sick of “boy” games, I’d go find him. One time, I pulled out face paint and painted Parpy to look like an Indian chief. He was a good sport. Parpy had a knack for always finding a great parking spot, so in our family we called a great parking spot a “Cotton Spot.” He taught me to say yes ma’m and no ma’m and how to behave at a country club. He taught me that there was a proper way to ask to be excused from the table. If you finished your meal and said “I’m done” he’d look at you with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye and say, “No, I’m Dunn.” He was right. I was a Hodson.
When I was eleven years old, I got to go on a trip to Israel with Annie and Parpy. I’d sit next to Parpy on the bus as we drove between different sites and I think it was about that time that he started telling me, “Hayley Bop, don’t forget, I saw you first.” He had been there the day I was born, and it was his way of telling me, I love you more than you could ever know.
On that trip, we were offered the chance to get baptized in the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized. I hadn’t been baptized yet and I’m not sure Parpy ever had been either, and so side by side, in the catfish infested water of the Jordan River, we were baptized together. He had been there when I was born, and I got to be there when he was re-born. Every year, he’d call me on the anniversary of our baptism to wish me happy birthday.
When Parpy cared about something or someone, there was no holding back. He had come from nothing, had not one advantage in life, but if all the people in this room aren't a testament to how far he’d come I don’t know what is. Over the past week, his home has been filled with food and friends that have come to celebrate his wonderful life. He was someone people loved and respected. He never wanted anyone else to suffer, and yet, he himself suffered so much. He was a fighter with an unparalleled will to live and love. For twenty years, he’d been battling congestive heart failure, and even towards the end, he wanted more than anything to live life to the fullest.
I wish I could hear him say “I saw you first” one last time. I wish I could hold his giant hands one last time. But, he had given everything he had to give and today we celebrate his legacy. At last, he’s no longer in pain. He gets to live in freedom and fullness now. If he could say something here today he’d want us all to know that he might be Dunn, but he’s just barely getting started.
Parpy, you saw me first. Thank you for being the best grandfather a girl could have."
by Hayley Hodson
After a whirlwind month that included making my first short film, long nights in the edit room, a run in with a stomach bug, and a flight from Oakland to London, I have arrived in Oxford and hit the ground running. I arrived on Monday afternoon to the Stanford House in Oxford and have been busy ever since. At last, I am able to sit down and begin to write. We’re on a long train ride to Glasgow, Scotland at the moment, and as I hurtle toward my seventeenth country, I am trying to process the excitement and exhaustion of my last thirty days.
First, I am brimming with thoughts concerning the Stanford House and Oxford itself. I’ll be brief, as I will have months to elaborate more deeply. However, it is as if I’ve entered a fairytale. Within a one mile radius from my bedroom the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, T.S. Eliot, and Lewis Carrol studied and taught and drank and wrote. The architecture inspired the sets of Harry Potter, Narnia, and many other stories. The University is also twice as old as the United States of America. The history and accomplishments of Oxford are palpable as you walk down its cobbled streets.
The Stanford House is historical, complicated, and magical. Renovated from six old Oxford houses into one labyrinthine dormitory, it is easy to feel that you might make a wrong turn and end up in Narnia, or swear that a staircase has shifted since you last walked up it, or wonder if there is a potion room behind one of those locked doors, or find the garden to actually be the Secret Garden, or find that when you bump your head on a low doorway you feel quite like Gandalf in a Hobbit Hole, or wonder if you’re actually Alice in Wonderland and if you’ve grown too, too tall and that’s why everything around you seems so small. I do feel as though I’m living in a half-reality, a world where fantasy and fact mix… hm, Wizards vs. Muggles, Narnia vs. England, The Shire vs. Middle Earth, Wonderland vs. England—I sense a pattern here. What is it about Oxford that is so unbelievable yet so real? I’ll be studying C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in depth this term, so I’ll keep you all updated on my musings and findings of the magical city I’ve stepped in to. I would not be surprised to find a white rabbit with a pocket watch just around the corner or Mr. Tumnus waiting for me at the Lamppost just down the block. Pure imagination and stressed out students. Ah, yes, Oxford is wonderful indeed.
Now, concerning America. I spent the last three weeks at Stanford in an intensive film class. It was an introduction to film production and screen writing, although a trial-by-fire crash course is probably a better description. From basic camera operation to cinematography, sound design, dialogue crafting, to on-set directing, we learned and did it all. We had ten days at the end of the course to create a 3-minute short narrative film. The days were long, our resources limited, crews shorthanded, and yet, we all had an amazing time and not only learned so much but saw a film through from beginning to end. My co-director and I wrote a film about a naïve girl named Marie who had moved to LA to pursue a modelling career. Upon being rejected and told she wasn’t special, Marie digs within to find her voice and embrace the things that make her unique. It perhaps fell short of accomplishing exactly the vision we’d had, but nevertheless turned out to be visually interesting and emotionally resonant. Due to our lack of music rights, I cannot post the film, but if I know you personally and you are interested in watching, feel free to comment or fill out a contact form to request a link and password to the film. My big take away? I’m not half-bad at acting, I love deadlines, making things happen, and writing/producing/directing.
So, back to England. We visited Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, which was lovely. I also picked up my Student Delegate Pass for the London Film Festival and watched a screening of a strange Argentinian thriller that spent two hours setting up an intriguing and exciting political thriller with compelling elements of suspense just to end abruptly, everything unresolved. It didn’t even leave me wondering how the story ended but rather if perhaps their budget had run out. It was weird. I forget the name of the film. Anyhow, if anyone knows of cheap, safe accommodation in London, I am looking for somewhere to stay the next two weekends so that I can pack in watching as many films as possible without having to commute excessively from Oxford.
I’m still a bit jetlagged, but while dozing off on the train I had a thought I’d like to share:
No one can ever know themselves to be good. Goodness, in all its facets, is something determined by God and by others, not by oneself. However, greatness is different. Greatness is something one knows from within. Greatness, or what I call excellence, is internal and disregards the opinions, approval, and judgement of others. Excellence is radical—it can be radically good or radically bad—but excellence is not something another can take away from you. So, in all you do, pursue excellence. I encourage, of course, a humble and noble pursuit of righteousness in this pursuit of excellence, but I have convinced myself that it matters not if you think yourself good or bad. You won’t ever know if you are because it’s not for you to decide, but you can know you have achieved greatness, even if you appear to be failing miserably, based on your own knowing of you heart and soul and body and mind. Feel free to disagree, but the hazy in-between on transportation and fatigue can often induce some rather philosophical conclusions in me. The point? Be bold. Be a fool. Don’t settle for good. Good is safe. Great is terrifying. Do that.
To anyone who is actually reading this blog, I apologize for the very delayed final post concerning the Telluride Film Festival. I've been busy back on campus at Stanford taking a three week Write and Shoot Narrative Film Intensive class. Telluride prefaced the course wonderfully and it has been a blast getting to learn the technical side of cameras, sound, lighting, etc. in addition to honing story crafting skills and screenwriting technique. Anyhow, I did want to review our final day at Telluride (it was Sunday, Sept. 3rd for us as I had to leave on Monday to get back to Stanford).
We saw four movies on our last day. First, we piled into the Nugget Theater at 9:30am for a beautiful Finnish film about a Syrian refugee who crosses paths with a declining Finnish business man who leaves his wife and buys a restaurant. Oddly whimsical for a film about a rather somber topic, The Other Side of Hope revealed the various faces of human hardship, the universal beauty of goodness and kindness, and charmed the audience with its cynical and humorous tone. It did not disrespect or downplay the gravity of being a refugee or of losing your family, but nor did it discount the mundane bleakness that so often categorizes the later years of one's life. It was a film filled with joy and one I'd highly recommend seeing.
Next, we saw Angelina Jolie's new film, First They Killed My Father. Jolie has long been touched by the Cambodian people. She worked closely with her friend Loung Ung to adapt Ung's memoir for the screen. She sought permission from the Cambodian government to tell the story of the Khmer Rouge regime that devastated the Cambodian people not too long ago. It's a dark part of their history that many remember, yet few talk about. Jolie's film is long and still, cinematically beautiful and wonderfully human. She showcases the tragedy of the Cambodian genocide yet avoids politicizing it, instead telling the story in a way that is respectful and helpful to the Cambodian nation. While the film was at times slow and the dialogue sparse at best, it's young child star is remarkable and the story is quite moving. Jolie has brought Cambodia's modern history to the big screen, recognizing and uplifting a nation that has suffered unspeakable horrors in rather recent times. I must say, I was very impressed by Angelina Jolie.
Next, we saw Battle of the Sexes. As an admirer of Emma Stone, she did not disappoint. Steve Carell was fabulous, too. For those that were alive at the time of Billie Jean King's face-off with Bobby Riggs, the story is nothing new. And even for those who were not alive then, most know of Billie Jean King's powerful influence on women's rights and her demands for equal pay for female tennis players. She was a trailblazer and a great woman to whom we owe a lot. The bottom line is that the acting is good and I think it is important for all of us to revisit the roots of the women's lib movement. It's important to study our recent American history and recognize how much has changed and how much hasn't. Billie Jean King was fair and kind and tenacious in her demands for equality, balancing poise and strength in a way we should all take notes from today. That being said, I found the filmmaking itself a bit lackluster. Of course, the story is great and the actors are fabulous, but the film rang shallow as if it were trying to incorporate too many aspects of King's personal life and career and in effect, detracted from the stakes of the Battle of the Sexes, the setting of her time, and even the depth of her womanhood. In my opinion, the filmmaking and script missed the mark and regurgitated a story that many knew. It lacked the gusto and inspiration I'd expected.
Lastly, we decided to cap off our Telluride experience with a Werner Herzog film from 1970. It was called Even Dwarves Started Small. There is no denying that Werner Herzog is an iconic, versatile, dedicated, and talented filmmaker, however, his films run the gamut of genres and Even Dwarves Started Small may belong to a category of its own. One of the most horrifically discomforting, morbidly funny, tragically wrong, and absurdly uncomfortable films ever made, this film was visually scarring, thematically terrifying, and potentially quite inhumane. I'm still unsure as to what the story was about. It was more of an experimental display of Herzog's twisted nightmare, but in it's most simple form, it's a film about midgets that are kept at an institution for little people. A band of them revolt, wreak havoc, and cause mayhem on the institution's grounds. They smash things, set things on fire, abuse their peers, and display the most barbaric and eerily childlike mob mentality. This group of clearly oppressed (or disturbed) midgets destruct with reckless abandon at the stark institution in the middle of a barren, rocky dessert. If you want to enter a special level of hell, do watch the film. It will make you squirm in your seat and coat you with a level of shame you did not know was possible. It's appalling to watch fellow humans endure lead tortuous lives and commit such heinous acts, even if it is supposedly a fictional film. That poor camel!
My first Telluride Film Festival experience was magical. We had a Cinephile pass which, while limiting the selection of films we could see, steered us clear of the blockbusters and sent us to films with extraordinary artistry and powerful storytelling. On Day 2, we saw three films and a Q&A panel with some extraordinary women. We began the day at Hostages, a Georgian film about the Georgian hostage crisis in 1983 during the demise of the Soviet Union. It was a beautiful film and we had the honor of getting to stop and talk with the director (Rezo Gigineishvili) and the lead actor (Irakli Kvirikadze) not only about the making of the film, but about the power and importance of the story. We talked to them about what freedom means and about the parallels between Soviet times and the current political climate. It was one of those moments where film was a catalyst for coming together and discussing things that matter.
Next, we headed to the outdoor theater along Telluride's Main Street. We, along with seemingly every person in Telluride, gathered to attend a Q&A with Natalie Portman, BILLIE JEAN KING (!!!), Angelina Jolie, and Alice Waters. They talked about America, sustainability, femininity, humanity, artistry, and kindness. It was an insightful and exciting hour of listening to real life Wonder Women talk about their mindsets, values, and goals. Next, we headed up the gondola to the Chuck Jones Theater to see First Reformed. Out of respect for its immensely talented writer-directer Paul Schrader and fabulous lead actors (Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried), all I can say is that the opening shot is beautiful and the rest of the movie is, well, quite confusing and disturbing. Proceed at your own risk, but First Reformed is a disorienting cross between the delirium of Birdman, the pace of Silence, and the despair of the apocalypse, perhaps.
The last film we saw on Saturday was a welcome surprise. We were planning on seeing Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, but we got impatient and spontaneously decided to see if we could get into the 10pm showing of The Rider right around the corner from where we were biding our time with coffee. It turns out that our late night impatience was divinely ordained. It has taken me three days now to even begin to put to words my take on The Rider. The opening shot alone took my breath away. It's a story of America's heartland in some ways, a story of hope, a story of loss, hardship, and passion, a story of South Dakota cowboys told by a female filmmaker from Beijing, and its a documentary-ish film in which the characters are played by non-actors. It's full of contradictions and yet, it's those contradictions that make the film so compelling. Director Chloe Zhao fell in love with these Native American cowboys, their compassion, love of horses and rodeos, their hardship, their spirituality, their raw way of life, their connection to nature. For four years, she earned the trust of this tiny South Dakotan community and ended up creating a film that not only pushes genres but challenges the audience to feel in ways they perhaps haven't before. It's moving. It's grand. It's tender. I cried. A lot. The lead character (Brady), played by a real life cowboy named Brady upon which this story is based, is a top rodeo rider who suffers a severe head injury. I had no idea what kind of film I'd sat down for, and there I was, a girl in the audience who was able to go to Telluride because of a brain injury that had ended my volleyball career and left me with a free Labor Day weekend. It was fate. Brady struggles with identity and loss, disability and family dysfunction. His disabled sister is one of the most beautiful characters I've ever seen represented on film and even as Brady fights his own battles, he makes room in his life to tend to his little sister and his best friend, Lane, who is severely disabled in body and mind from a bull-riding accident. I'm not a country girl, but I am a girl who loved to play volleyball, who loved to jump and compete, who slowly watched my dream of being the best in the game slip away and my life change forever. Brady's story resonated with me. From the story, to the story of how the film was made, to the artistry of the film itself, The Rider is a must see. Prepare to cry.
Yesterday was Friday, September 1st, the beginning of a new month and the start of the 2017 Telluride Film Festival. Having begun our day with a five hour screening of director Errol Morris' made-for-Netflix genre-bending documentary mini-series called Wormwood, we totaled 585 minutes of film yesterday spending 13 hours in and sprinting between theaters. Wormwood, while unclear how it will translate to the "home theater" of Netflix binge watching, was one of the most captivating and powerful displays of filmmaking I've ever seen. Combing collage, compelling cinematography, documentary interviews, and fictional narrative scenes to expand the story, Wormwood is not for the faint of heart. Morris tells the story of a former Army scientist, Frank Olsen, who fell from the 13th floor of a New York hotel in 1953. Twenty-two years later, a journalist uncovered a story linking Olsen's death to an unlawful CIA experiment with LSD suggesting that Olsen may have been killed and that the CIA was probably involved. Olsen's son, Eric, finds himself embroiled in pursuit of the truth of his father's death. For over forty years now, Eric has chased that truth and in the process has uncovered secrets that he never could have imagined. LSD, germ warfare, CIA scandals, Hamlet, murder, and exhumations, oh my!
After a wearying five hours at Wormwood, my mom and I queued up to see Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club Encore, a director's cut remake of Coppola's 1984 hit. Having cut down the original film given the complicated circumstances surrounding the film's production in 1984, Coppola painstakingly tracked down lost footage and recut the film to better reflect what he had originally intended. The Encore included the moving Stormy Weather scene, a more robust representation of the lives of the black Cotton Club performers, and even more tap dancing. The Encore is a joyful and at times gory portrayal of 1920s Harlem culture, the Cotton Club, and Harlem mob society. It's a technical miracle and true treasure to see this film restored and recut in such a meaningful way. The highlight? The Q&A afterwards with Coppola and Maurice Hines and Gregory Hines's son. It was a historical moment seeing the impact that The Encore had on its surviving cast members, Coppola himself, and the audience.
After seeing Coppola's film, we sprinted to the gondola and rode up the mountain side to reach the Chuck Jones Theater to see Lady Bird. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (better known as an actress, perhaps), Lady Bird is a witty, delightful, and relatable film about a Sacramento high school girl (Saoirse Ronan) and her overworked, under appreciated mother. Addressing the topics of identity, ambition, mother-daughter relationships, growing up, parental sacrifice, and belonging, Lady Bird had me laughing out loud at times, crying at others, and almost always nodding in recognition of those quintessential coming-of-age moments we know all too well. This film is a must-see for any mother with a daughter and any daughter with a mother, and it's even better if you can see it with your mother/daughter. Gerwig's film is candid and nostalgic, filled with friendship and angst and more than a few perfectly hilarious moments of high school musicals, Catholic school shenanigans, and the imperfect definition of home.
Lastly, we rode the gondola back down to town in the dark at 10pm with six film-loving strangers. The gondola got stuck and for about five minutes we sat in total darkness suspended above the side of the mountains with six people we didn't know and couldn't even see. We chatted about schools and films and places and eventually the gondola started back up. Half of our gonodola car ran with us to make the 10:15pm showing of Loving Vincent, a film entirely hand painted with oil on canvas about Vincent Van Gogh's legacy and death. Written and directed by a husband-wife team from Poland, Loving Vincent is an artistic masterpiece that not only illuminated and honored the revered Van Gogh, but is in its own right an ambitious artistic success. A team of over 125 artists over the course of nine years painted this film, a labor of love that perhaps best reveals the impact that Van Gogh has had on the world. It's a cheery and honest film that probes the mystery surrounding Van Gogh's death and helps to paint a picture of the artistic genius that leaves you moved and appreciative of the challenges artists often face in order to pursue their work.
* I apologize for typos. I am writing from a coffee shop and typing on my iPhone.
My mom and I have just arrived in the tiny mountain town of Telluride, CO, an outdoorsy, quintessential Rocky Mountain outpost that attracts cargo clad film-lovers and top Hollywood talent each September for one of the world's most respected film festivals. Last year, Moonlight, which went on to win Best Picture at the Oscar's, premiered at the Telluride festival. After a decade of spending September in a gym and on a court, it's a dream come true to get to attend this casual, yet masterful film fest with my mom. Today, we're ferociously trying to figure out our schedule. The Telluride festival is unique in that it keeps it's lineup a secret until the day before it begins. The program broke this morning and we've been riding an emotional rollercoaster of excitement and giddiness ever since. We've discovered that Werner Herzog and Ken Burns will be here in person, that we'll get to see Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, Matt Damon in Downsizing, and Emma Stone (not to mention the real life Billie Jean King) and her co-star Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes. Guillermo del Toro is debuting another masterpiece, Angelina Jolie will be presenting her new film, and Natalie Portman has produced a documentary showing the horrors of the American meat industry. It's going to be a crazy, tiring, and fun next few days, but stay tuned for movie reviews, anecdotes, and everything in between. As a girl with a budding desire to learn and pursue a career in film, I'm ecstatic about this opportunity to watch and learn from the best that film has to offer. Check out http://www.telluridefilmfestival.org/ for more info on this year's SHOW and the history of the festival.
10 TV shows to watch to make you smile...
This year, I've watched more television than I ever have before. That being said, stories can be comforting, comedy can be therapeutic, and characters can help us make sense of our own crazy lives sometimes. Here is a list of shows that I have found to be uplifting and therapeutic this year. Take it or leave it, but if you're looking for the next show to binge watch, perhaps try one of these. These are my personal favorites, some old and some new and you'll also discover I have a love for British tv. Enjoy!
2. 30 Rock
3. Fawlty Towers
4. Gilmore Girls
5. Black Books
8. The Middle
Today was a migraine day. I’ve had a headache since 8am this morning. Probably longer, I was just too asleep to feel that throbbing pressure in the front of my head.
Today, it hit me how much I’ve lost this year. There is time I cannot account for, memories I know I have but it doesn’t feel like I was actually there, life I’ve lived that feels like a blur. It’s like I’m waking up from a trance, where I had these experiences and interacted with all these people and I was just a shadow of myself and now I’m trying to figure out what was real and what will last. I know some of you know all too well what I'm talking about.
I took an acting class this weekend. It was so much fun. But it was hard. Harder than it used to be. I used to be able to look a script, a speech, a vocab list, you name it and have it memorized almost immediately. It wasn’t like that this weekend. It was me agonizing over lines, rehearsing in front of mirrors, writing and rewriting, speaking and re-speaking the words over and over again and still never getting the lines I was supposed to memorize quite right. That was hard. It was a wakeup call that got me thinking about how much I’ve missed without even realizing it.
It’s like I’ve been alive, technically, but half asleep, at times half dead, and while I’m profoundly grateful to be standing on two feet, out of the thick of it, alive and well, I am having to face the fact that my current me is a new me, broken in some ways and better in others. It’s weird, meeting a new version of yourself. It’s a fascinating learning experience. It makes life interesting. You get to meet a part of you that was always there but has been hidden behind a knack for memorizing and the daily rigor of athletic discipline. It’s not really a new me, I guess, it’s just that my brain works a little differently now. It might not be forever, but I’m glad I get to meet this part of me that was hidden beneath the life I was living. It’s created space for me to exist differently.
Sometimes, change is hard because it happens over time but you become aware of it in increments. It can be exciting and it can be terrifying and it can be sad.
But, you deserve to take up space. Just because you’ve changed doesn’t make you any less worthy. It doesn’t take away your right to show up and try your best. Let go of expectations and enjoy the struggle, the journey, the triumph of transformation.
For those of you that are interested in what I've been up to in the U.K. these past three weeks, my classmates and I have collaborated to create a website cataloging our field trips and academic studies. Learn more about Anglo-Saxon culture, history, and landscape here!
CURATED THOUGHTS, PUBLISHED WORKS. MUSINGS, AND REFLECTIONS ON FAITH, FILM, TRAVEL, AND MORE