Friday, June 11, 2010

The Power of Music

Time and time again, when my motivation is gone, and I believe I’ll never be able to write another word, music comes to my rescue. Just hearing a song that could play as score under my story, all of a sudden inspires so many ideas I can’t write them down fast enough.

For a 1940’s prison escape movie I wrote, I listened to the soundtrack for Brokeback Mountain over and over again. A couple of the characters were from the south, and the haunting guitar helped me come up with images (a boy on a swing, a woman jumping on a bed throwing money up in the air,) that I never would have found on my own. One song on the CD, by the composer Gustavo Santaolalla, inspired the entire climax of the movie, in which the doomed men trying to escape are overcome. Every time I hear that track, I see the scene in my head.

For a project I’m finishing, which is set in the desert, I listened to Eddie Vedder’s score for Into The Wild. Again, his music inspired scenes, helped me add depth to the characters, and allowed me always to reconnect to the emotions in the story when my well ran dry.

I’m starting a project and looking for a new soundtrack. Something spooky, and Irish, and dark.

I hope I find it. I’ll need it to help me when I’m lost.

What do you listen to when you write?

The Wings (Brokeback Mountain)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In Praise of Movies About Real People

Going to the video store used to be a big treat for me. What would I find on the shelves? What had just been released? My heart literally used to race, and it would make my day—knowing I was going. Now, I find (yes, I still have a local dvd store that I patronize whenever I can) I just get depressed. Most of the shelves are filled with huge event movies. Spiderman this, or Bourne Identity that. What Marvel Comic can they trot out next?

I love big tubs of popcorn and summer movies as much as the next guy, but where are the little films about people I can recognize? Stories about actual human beings who live lives like mine? They are getting harder and harder to find. An exploration of the reasons behind this, could fill its own blog site. But that doesn’t mean we can’t sing the praises of independent films starring authentic human beings when we see them.

Here are few indie releases that have made my trips to the video store (or theater) worthwhile.

Mother and Child: Annette Bening, beautiful Annette Bening, who hasn’t felt compelled to mess with the structure of her face. A wonderful film that intersects the stories of three women and their complicated relationships as children and mothers. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Go see it.

Let the Right One In: I am a horror film freak. Those of you who know me, know that the quickest way to my heart is through scaring the hell out of it. This Swedish film is one of the best vampire movies ever made. And I think I’ve seen most of them. Small, terrifying, poignant. Yeah, ok, one of the characters is not an actual human being, but that’s what makes it great.

Lovely and Amazing: Nicole Holofcener is a wonderful filmmaker. She captures women, and in particular, Los Angeles, with perfect pitch. This is a lovely and amazing movie about a mother and her three daughters, all trying to find their places in the world. Starring Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer, there are several scenes that are unforgettable.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose: Let me start by confessing I have a huge crush on Daniel Day Lewis. I pretty much faint and fall over whenever I see his face. He’s fantastic in this film about a father and daughter who face the shattering of their isolated hippie existence, when he’s diagnosed with a heart condition. Not one ounce of corny-ness in it. Directed by Day Lewis’s wife, Rebecca Miller, this film is a stunner. Get ready to cry.

Mysterious Skin: A disturbing and deeply felt film by Greg Araki about kids living on the margins. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a gay hustler, is unbelievably good.

The Lookout: Again, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a high school athlete whose life is altered by a car accident. He now has no short term memory and is forced to take a job as a janitor at a bank. He’s targeted by criminals, and gets pulled deeper and deeper into a robbery. Riveting.

Limbo: Does anyone else miss John Sayles? I do. This film stars David Strathairn and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as a couple targeted for murder by drug dealers. They are trapped on a wild Alaskan island with her daughter and their survival is in doubt. The daughter finds the journal of a young girl left on the island years before and reads it every night. Independent filmmaking at its unresolvable, human best.