Author Archives: Brad Avery
Editor’s Note: If you’ve not yet seen John D’Amico’s Premake of Star Wars, do so now. One, because it’s phenomenal, and arguably the best Star Wars fan film ever, and two, because the following interview discusses it:
Brad Avery: So, you said on the Smug Film podcast that doing this took about three months of work. But in reality, this was the original idea behind Shot Context five years ago that you abandoned. You went on to run Shot Context for several years—what about the idea of drawing these connections between films spoke to you originally, and why did you decide now to revisit it?
I don’t know why I’m drawn to that because intellectually it seems pretty arbitrary, doesn’t it? Part of the reason Shot Context ended is there’s a limited amount of light you can throw by compare and contrast, and I felt like I was nearing the limit. But I’ve found that the whole exercise pays off in unexpected ways. It becomes a really good tool for contextualization (hence the name), and with Star Wars, the biggest challenge is a context one—we’re so numbed now to the movie as it actually is, this scrappy low-budget fantasy, and the idea of stripping it all to its ingredients is a pretty good shock to the system to see it that way again. I came out of the edit liking Star Wars more, both as a piece of crackling storytelling and as a piece of craftsmanship.
During this week’s podcast, in which Cody, John, and Jenna discuss the films of 1977, the conversation turns, of course, to William Friedkin’s masterpiece Sorcerer. I was glad to hear it come up, as just a few months ago I had the pleasure of being able to see it for the first time at the Harvard Film Archive. Not only was the new 4K restoration they screened unbelievably gorgeous, but William Friedkin himself was in attendance, and ended the evening with a Q&A.
William Friedkin is 79 years old, and while he occasionally discussed the craftsmanship involved in filmmaking or his philosophies towards storytelling, he mostly just told old man stories. And my God, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Friedkin talk, do not pass it up. Imagine your grandfather’s old glory day yarns he’s told a million times—now, imagine they’re about making The French Connection and getting innocent men off death row and visiting devil worshippers in Iraq.
It’s obligatory. Top 10 lists have become a staple of film writing. Web content producers have long known that humans have an innate psychological attraction to lists, and what causes it I can’t exactly say. Is it the compartmentalization of ideas? An enticing sense of exclusivity? Regardless, I love them. I can’t get enough of seeing what everybody’s favorites are, even when they start looking more and more like the same list repeatedly.
So, why not throw my hat in the ring with the rest of ‘em? I saw 54 movies this year (55 if you split Nymphomaniac) and out of those I liked about 30 or so. There’s still a lot of big ones that I either missed or haven’t been released in my area yet (namely Inherent Vice and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) but I’ll give you what I’ve got. And because we all love the suspense, it’s in countdown format:
Shortly after seeing Birdman, I happened to begin reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. While I’ve yet to finish it, both works have a strong focus on the creative process and what happens in the minds of artists. They also both share a strong disdain towards the popular works of their time. Miller writes:
“There is only one thing which interests me vitally now, and that is the recording of all which is omitted in books. Nobody, so far as I can see, is making use of those elements in the air which give direction and motivation to our lives…The age demands violence, but we are only getting aborted explosions…Passion is quickly exhausted. Men fall back on ideas, comme d’habitude. Nothing is proposed that can last more than 24 hours.”
In his review of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Armond White opens by declaring that “Neo-noir must be the worst movie genre. It’s an excuse for juvenile filmmakers to pretend cynicism while their imbecile audiences pretend sophistication.”
I can certainly see where he’s coming from. I haven’t seen A Dame to Kill For yet, but I have seen more than enough attempts at neo-noirs that think all there is to the genre is a femme fatale and an anti-hero in a trenchcoat. I’m talking about mediocre, flailing films like Max Payne—or worse, the attempts to bring noir to hip, younger settings like Assassination of a High School President and Lucky Number Slevin. They’re movies that look at the classics of the genre, fall in love with the aesthetic, but have no idea why or how that aesthetic works as it does. As Armond so aptly points out, Sin City and its ilk are all “pretending that it still means something to call a sexy woman ‘dame.’”