Anything you can do, I can do on top of a drum kit in booties.
Wild Flag at the Bowery Ballroom
Here’s a really wonderful video about the art and mind of George Andrus who is the inspiration for Otis in Some Days Are Better Than Others. While I could have written about George, as McCormick affectionately talked about him when we met, nothing I could compose would give you the same endearing and fun jaunt into George’s world. Otis was played by David Wodehouse, a retired cruise ship comedian, who gave a very poignant performance, but scenes in the film were actually shot in George’s house, using his set ups for the soap films, which you see in this clip.
Again, the film just opened in New York, for a very limited engagement, and seeing it, much like reading a Vonnegut novel, can make you a better human.
If I could have a conversation with Matt McCormick, the filmmaker behind the visual poem about the interconnected lives of four lonely characters, Some Days Are Better Than Others [my review at the link], anywhere in New York, it would be in Gowanus. Not to sound scary as I’ve been told mob corpses used to float about the canal, but the up and coming neighborhood of industrial wasteland bordering Park Slope, would be the perfect place (at least for now) to hang out with someone who finds “valentines to failure” in abandoned buildings and loves “utilitarian accidental beauty,” as his award winning wry, yet moving short, the subconscious art of graffiti removal illustrates. McCormick’s first feature-length film, Some Days are Better Than Others just opened in New York, but it screened at New Directors/New Films in April, so we met in a comfy, café in midtown about an hour before he headed over to the MoMA for the second screening. He is soft-spoken, humble, and very kind. And it might not have been Gowanus, but truth be told, I’m incredibly humbled and thankful I got to talk to him at all.
New Directors/ New Films is particularly prestigious; it’s not a competition, but a showcase of the new master’s of independent cinema. However, McCormick has been making films, video installations, and music videos for years, and calling McCormick a New Director isn’t exactly accurate. I am convinced that we, as humans, and we, in the film community, would be better off if McCormick had left New York and stepped off the plane in Portland, OR, where he lives and creates, and headed straight to the set of his next feature film, yet unlike many of his festival compatriots, that’s not his immediate goal as he makes clear in the interview. (His most recent work, The Great Northwest, was recently shown in a gallery in Portland; he likes to describe his gallery work as “hidden,” which is typical of his humor and humility. You could also call it brilliant.)
McCormick is a true artist. He forges new ground with his work by looking at what the rest of us don’t see or don’t care about, and the result is visionary art with staggering intellectual depth, and an accessible, incredibly affecting emotional core. Here’s some highlights of our conversation, if you could call my nervous, stumblings and his insightful answers something that resembles a back and forth.
On his background:
I grew up in Broomfield, Colorado; you probably drove through it [I went to college in Boulder]. I went to school in Santa Fe, to study photojournalism and took some film classes and was exposed to history of avant-garde cinema, and it opened my eyes to all this crazy, weird experimental work I never really knew existed. I was reading Noam Chomsky, becoming less infatuated with big media. I was also in a band and having this typical thing that happens to a lot of kids that grew up in the suburbs and then move to go to school and get excited about art and music. First it was this hobby, and then it snowballed.
Why this is his first Feature Narrative:
I’m much more interested in working on my own terms. And that’s why I was doing all these little experimental films that I could do by myself, I could explore and make things and not have all the limitations of what happens when you go out and raise money and have a crew. Not to say that you lose control, but you lose options. You lose the ability to move at your own pace and at a certain point it becomes this big ship and you just have to go with it. Frankly, I’ve never had any real connections, never had any money. As my films and my career as an artist became more established, so did those of the people around me. I’ve been friends with Neil Kopp [one of the producers] for a long time. He had helped me with music videos, before The Shins were famous and we had $2,000 budgets. His work with Kelly Reichardt took off, and it was this very organic process of me and my community growing up together.
Ten years ago you couldn’t make a movie for $100,000 that’s going to look any good. HD and new technology allow you to make a really beautiful movie, and my stuff is very visual; that’s always been the number one thing for me. I didn’t want to shoot on mini DV, and I knew I couldn’t raise enough money to shoot on film, so why bother.
I have always been fascinated with abandoned buildings because they were these weird monuments to failure, for some reason there was this place that was built, some dream was motivating this, and something went wrong, something didn’t work out, for some reason, whatever that plan was, failed, so now you have this carcass of this dream, and I think that’s a great metaphor. All my work, I’ve wanted to make valentines to discards, a valentine to failure. We all fail all the time. It’s something even the most successful people, all of us, are so scared of, and deal with, and pretend that we’re not afraid of. I wanted to make, this movie that dealt with failure, not in any sort of way that come up with any big conclusion, but to acknowledge that most of us are total failures in one way or another and it’s okay.
I wanted to be sympathetic to all these characters, when you are feeling blue and there’s that one song that you listen to over an over, and then maybe you pour yourself a glass of whiskey, that’s kind of my motivation with this movie, it’s not a solution, or acknowledging a problem, let’s just acknowledge this moment.
On Accidental Beauty and Industrial Landscape:
I am much more interested in accidental beauty than in things made to be beautiful.
On the character James Mercer, of The Shins, plays in the film:
James and I have been friends for 16 years. He’s kind of what I imagine James or I would be like if he didn’t discover music, or I hadn’t discovered film. Dealing with the same worries both of us have had, but had nothing worked for us. He’s like a friend of ours. I looked at other actors, but I asked him to do it. I’d worked on his music videos, I knew he could do it, though he was like, “Are you sure you want me to do this?”.
On Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein:
Well, Carrie acted in high school…Are you a dog person? [Me: I’m allergic! I love them!] Carrie and I actually both volunteer at the Oregon humane society, which is obviously a big influence on the story. She’s a rock star, but we’ve spent many days walking dogs together. The dogs [like the buildings] are also discards of society, and it’s very sad.
On Thrifting and Renee Roman Nose who plays Camille, a thrift store attendant.
I love thrifting, seeing what other people discard. Back in the day, you would find photo albums with the pictures still in them. When I was Louisiana about 9 or 10 years ago, there was a lost and found notice about an urn that was donated to a thrift store…maybe someone died, maybe someone was evicted. It really hit me; it’s a great metaphor. It’s very heavy, a very complicated thing, and it stuck with me, and I knew I wanted to address it in a project. Renee [who plays Camille] is Native American, and she had this understanding of the concept of finding an unclaimed body and how serious that is, that was in way I woulnd’t have connected with it, so she really understood this character.
My frustration with the digital stuff, and it exists with movies, but maybe happens more with music, it almost feels disposable. I can download that, and I can delete it. I think investing in things is important; I know the things I love are the things it takes more time to find.
On New Directors/New Films: It’s such an honor. Movies showing at MoMA? Cant argue about that!
And there you have it folks! In lieu of not joining us for conversation, go see Some Days Are Better Than Others whichjust opened in New York. It is incredibly moving, stunningly well shot, and cuts to the core of what it means to be human. My great, great, grandfather once said “It seems to me that the greatest of all arts, is the art of living.” This film knows that to be true.
(All stills and set photos from somedaysthemovie.com)
Wild Flag- Future Crimes
From the band’s debut 7” LP, which I spent almost the entirety of Record Store Day chasing after. I never did find it, but according to Wild Flag’s Facebook page, they are opening up for Sonic Youth on the Williamsburg Waterfront on August 12th!!!
I mean, Carrie Brownstein, you are my Thurston Moore (and my Joey Ramone too).
The trailer for the hilarious, subversive, yet full of heart (but not for the faint of heart) Rid of Me, currently having its world premier at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film’s tag line bluntly and knowlingly states “Kids can be mean…adults can be meaner,” and I think many of us know that to be true.
Written and directed by James Westby, who is more than capable of capturing the female voice, the film stars Katie O’Grady, as Meris, who gives such an awkward, wall-petal performance, that it made it almost impossible to believe I was meeting her when I chatted with a beautiful, articulate, and friendly blond at the film’s after party. Grady’s performance, which is also a transformation, is complimented by the magnetic Orianna Herrmann, as Trudy, a punk chick whose f**K the world and then some attitude helps Meris loses herself (again) in order to find herself. This is a film for anyone who has ever been the victim of mean kids (raises hand), anyone who’s ever had their heart broken (raises hand), and anyone who’s ever wondered how they got where they are and hasn’t a clue how to find their way back (raises hand again).
And did I mention the film and filmmakers come out of Portland, Oregon? Whatever it is they put in the water there, the city really is producing wonderful, different, and daring independent film and television.
Jacquelyn Reyes at the world premiere of Rid of Me at the Tribeca Film Festival.
In sincerely, joe. p. bear, our hero and narrator desperately and endearingly muses, “I wish the good parts wouldn’t go by so fast and the sad part didn’t seem so sticky.”
As filmmaker, Matt McCormick, explained to me earlier today, his first, feature-length film, Some Days Are Better Than Others, is the longer version of this film, with a “slightly different approach,” he laughed. (He later mentioned how his films “cannibalize” each other, which has to be one the best articulations of exploring similar themes in one’s body of work.) This avant-garde short from 1999 was spliced together (right before the advent and widespread usage of editing software like Final Cut) from discarded 16mm footage. McCormick explained that TV stations and libraries were throwing away multitudes of film prints as the “digital revolution” began, and this film is a very literal example of how he examines the “discards of society,” in an attempt to “memorialize” what is “disposable.” McCormick also composed the soundtrack, which showcases an approach he also favored in the subconscious art of graffiti removal: “music that’s not always identified as music but has texture, tone, rhythm, and emotional content.”
Check back in due time for more about our chat!
Some Days Are Better Than Others is an official selection of the 2011 New Directors/New Films Festival. It screens in New York at Cinema Village April 29th-May 5th.