Hal Hartley’s name has been dropped more than a few times here on PINNLAND EMPIRE (The School Of Godard, Storytelling, etc), but we have yet to review one of his films. I was watching this last night and realized how quietly brilliant it is so I felt compelled to write about it...
Not to diss Hartley's hometown (which he obviously has a lot of pride in) but I always found myself wondering how the blue collar town of Lindenhurst, Long Island could produce a filmmaker like Hartley with his deadpan, Godard, Bresson-influenced work. He must’ve taken the occasional trip out of Long Island and ventured in to New York City where he probably saw the European films that went on to influence his work and teaching. That's essentially what Amateur represents: Hal Hartley's departure from his comfort zone in to new territory. Due to budget and convenience, Hartley's first three films (Unbelievable Truth, Trust & Simple Men) all took place in Long Island. All three films, which share some of the same characters (Audrey's Father and his assistant Mike are in both; Unbelievable Truth and Simple Men) all deal with the same themes and elements: redemption, mystery, forgiveness, shady pasts, middle class & blue collar dysfunctional families, the importance people put on money or jobs and deadpan quirky humor. Even though Hartley's first three films (which have been dubbed: "The Long Island Trilogy") are set in Long Island there's always at least some kind of nod or mention of New York City or at least the LIRR (the commuter rail that schleps Long Islanders to and from Penn Station). After Simple Men (which was actually mostly shot in Texas, but fronted as Long Island) it was time for Hal Hartley to stop just mentioning New York City and actually shoot a film there. I don’t know why but Amateur always seemed like Hartley's most forgotten about film (outside of maybe Flirt) which is a shame because it’s very entertaining, fun, sad and insightful. His references to European cinema (specifically French and Swedish cinema) were more than obvious - a character named "Melville"(which may not have been a reference to Jean Pierre Melville but Herman Melville), scenes straight outta Godard's Band Of Outsiders as well as Bergman's Persona and he even cast Claude Charbol-muse; Isabelle Hupert in the lead (Hupert was the first actor outside of Hartley's regular Suny purchase/NYC cast of regulars. Since day one Hartley has always stayed true to his regular actors (Bill Sage, Robert John Burke, Parker Posey, DJ Mendall, James Urbaniak, Thomas Jay Ryan, etc) which is why actors like Jeff Goldblum (Fay Grim), Helen Miren & Julie Christie (No Such Thing) and Hupert have stood out so much in his work. Between what I consider to be two of Hartley's greatest films; Simple Men (1992) and Henry Fool (1997), he got quite experimental in the mid 90's with a bunch of quirky shorts and his 3 part feature; Flirt. Actually one of Hartley’s short films from the early 90’s (Ambition) could be seen not only as a precursor for Amateur (it takes place in Brooklyn) but as a precursor for today’s current young/young-ish residents of New York who all seem to live in the ultra-hip borough of Brooklyn because Manhattan rent is either too expensive or too played out. I guess Amateur got lost in the midst of that playful, experimental period. And like more than half of Hartley's work, the DVD for Amateur (which I own) is now out of print.
Amateur is a great introduction in to the world of Hal Hartley. It's full of his signature style & dialogue as well as his underrated talent as a film score composer...
Amateur (Hartley) Person (Bergman)
Amateur Band Of Outsiders (Godard)
Only Hal Hartley could come up with a plot like Amateur: A nymphomaniac virgin ex-nun that writes sub-par pornographic literature ("Isabelle" - played by Isabelle Hupert) tries to help a man ("Thomas" - played by Martin Donovan) regain consciousness after he's been pushed out of a window by his ex-girlfriend ("Sofia" - played by Elina Lowensohn). We soon come to find out that Thomas was a pretty awful human being that beat up, pimped out and forced Sofia to do pornography starting at a very young age. Just before Thomas was pushed out of the window he was involved in some shady business with a mysterious crime boss named: "Mr. Jacques" (like many movies in the early/mid 90's there was a pursuit of a floppy disk that contained sensitive information). At the beginning of the movie we immediately feel sorry for Thomas because all we know about him is that he's been pushed out of a window (he's essentially a new born baby/clean slate). But once we find out the kinda person he is/was we have to question whether or not he can be forgiven or if we even like this guy anymore. We never get any flashbacks showing Thomas as this evil person either. With the exception of Fay Grim, Hartley never relies on flashbacks. He relives the past through monologues delivered by his characters and Amateur is no exception. The title of the film is also an acronym for all the elements & themes in the story: Accountancy, Murder, Amnesia, Torture, Ecstasy, Understanding & Redemption. Amateur showed growth in Hartley. Anyone familiar with Hartley's work should know that up to this point things like redemption & understanding were key elements in his work. But things like Torture, Murder (with the exception of the talk of murder in Unbelievable Truth) and Amnesia were all new elements in the world of Hal Hartley. The character of Thomas is one of many mysterious characters created by Hal Hartley that brings up the question; can a person be forgiven or redeemed no matter what they’ve done in the past? Josh Hutton (Unbelievable Truth) killed two people but we know he didn't mean too and is essentially a good guy. Does he deserve forgiveness? Henry Fool had sex with an underage girl but years later he murders a man that's been beating and molesting his stepdaughter. Does he now get a pass? Do things cancel each other out? Maria (Truth) kills her father with one slap by accident (after he calls her a slut upon finding out she's pregnant) but she eventually changes from a bratty teenager to a responsible, mature adult who’s abused by her mother. Do we forgive her? Outside of this being Hartley's first film to be set in New York City or to introduce new elements, themes & actors, this was Hartley's first film to have a truly tragic ending (some may see Simple Men as a sad ending, but in my opinion it shows closure and redemption more than it does sorrow and sadness). Martin Donovan may forever be known to the general public for his roles in stuff Weeds and Saved, but outside of his underrated, academy award nomination-worthy performance in Trust (don’t doubt me until you've actually seen it), Amateur is the 2nd best performance of his career so far.
And on a side note I must say that Amateur and Pulp Fiction share many similarities between each other: a duo of hitmen, actresses modeled after Anna Karina's signature look, references to Godard, an ensemble cast of characters, a 1/2 serious 1/2 comedic look in to the criminal underworld, the pursuit of a mysterious document that holds some kind of important yet vague secret/power (in Pulp Fiction it’s a briefcase, in Amateur it’s a floppy disk). Both films were even released in the same year which would cancel out any kind of copying or plagiarism. Even though Tarantino and Godard make their love of Godard and cinema in general very well known, the two directors couldn’t be more different which is why the similarity between their two movies seemed odd to me.
Clean Shaven is like a feature length experimental film with a plot: a paranoid schizophrenic ("Peter Winter") has just been released from a mental institution and is searching for his daughter (she's currently living with a foster parent). I call the film experimental because it’s very subjective right down to the final scene, the editing is very playful & jumpy, you don’t know if certain scenes are real or fantasy, there's a lot of disorienting elements like distorted audio & sound effects mixed over random footage of street signs, dilapidated buildings and baby pictures. This is one of those films where it isn’t just the music or score that plays a major part in the atmosphere of the film but the whole AUDIO overall. When asked by Steven Soderbergh on the commentary track what films director Lodge Kerrigan was watching during the development of Clean Shaven he mentioned Polanski and documentaries on paranoid schizophrenics. That makes perfects sense as Clean Shaven is part psychological thriller (Polanski) and part drama/character study on the realism of someone suffering from mental illness. Besides the basic plot of a paranoid schizophrenic trying to track down his daughter, there's also a subplot involving a detective ("Jack McNally") on the trail of an unnamed serial killer who he thinks might be Peter as the killings have all taken place upon his release from the mental institution. And to add on even more layers of subjectivity, Detective McNally may or may not be suffering from some form of mental illness himself. Clean Shaven came out in 1994 so it’s obvious it isn’t the first film to try and show a realistic portrayal of schizophrenia & mental illness but it’s one of the few films to show it in such an experimental, disorienting, extremely raw & gritty way. Since its release it’s been very influential even if Lodge Kerrigan's name isn’t mentioned as much as other contemporary American independent directors (however the Criterion collection found it important enough to put out a few years ago). For example; no matter how much Werner Herzog and John Cassavetes have influenced Harmony Korine, do you honestly think a film like Julien Donkey-Boy or even Trash Humpers would exist without Clean Shaven? Kerrigan's focus on the dirt, filth, ugly things and the crevices most people don’t like to look at is all over Harmony Korine's work. And what about Cronenberg's Spider? Spider has the same disorienting atmosphere, subjectivity and experimentation as Clean Shaven. Even Ralph Fiennes' performance in Spider as a tortured schizophrenic is very similar to Peter Green's lead performance in Clean Shaven right down to specific mannerisms (the hunched over, paranoid scowl with slow unsure movements that Greene has in Clean Shaven clearly influenced Fiennes). Much like how Kubrick screened Eraserhead for the cast of The Shining in order to convey the kind of vibe he wanted or how Bertrand Bonello had his actors in The Pornographer watch the films of Bresson, I imagine many filmmakers use Clean Shaven as a reference point when delving in to the world of mental illness. Clean Shaven was so influential that it came full circle and inspired Lodge Kerrigan himself to make a very similar film in the form a Keane (another realistic yet subjective story about a schizophrenic man trying to find his daughter who may or may not even exist).
The character of Peter Winter is pretty interesting because the only back story we get about him is through the photographs his mother shows detective McNally. Peter's mother shows photos from when he was a baby up until recent. The pictures act as a timeline and you see Peter go from a happy child to a depressed adult...
I really tried to examine the subjective reality of someone who suffered from schizophrenia, to try to put the audience in that position to experience how I imagined the symptoms to be: auditory hallucinations, heightened paranoia, dissociative feelings, anxiety - Lodge Kerrigan
Clean Shaven isn’t a horror movie but it’s just as frightening as one. Unrest, tension, paranoia, fear and just the overall expectation of something bad happening outta nowhere is a big part of Lodge Kerrigan's world: Claire Dolan is stalked and eventually followed by two aggressive men who wanna have sex with her. Even though she stands her ground against them in their confrontational scene, there's no guarantee that those men won’t come back. In the same film Vincent D'onofrio's presence is quite intimidating (a lot of that has to do with his size) and you're never sure if he's stable or not. Keane is given the task of looking after someone's daughter but because he's unstable (and sometimes violent) you aren’t sure if he's going to do anything to the little girl he has to look after. Clean Shaven is filled with many uneasy and tense moments that linger in your head long after the movie is over. One of Clean Shaven's most famous scenes shows Peter getting out of his car to presumably attack a little girl. We see the girl, we see Peter step out of his car, next we see images that have nothing to do with the scene with audio of a girl screaming mixed with a dog barking. Then the scene cuts back to Peter getting back in to his car, the camera pans around and yet we don’t see the little girl anymore. Was there even a little girl to begin with? Is Peter seeing things? Who knows? I personally think that scene was a combination of reality and what’s going on inside Peter's head. But what’s most important about that scene is that it’s saying Peter is obviously dangerous and getting worse. This scene also heightens our anticipation and we worry more now because it’s never fully stated why he's tracking down his daughter. What will he do when he finally finds her? Does he plan to harm her? Another GREAT scene in Clean Shaven is the holdup scene where detective McNally happens to be in a bar off duty as its getting robbed and even though he has his gun and could possibly do something to stop it he gets scared, looks down and does nothing. And of course Clean Shaven's most notorious moment is the scene where Peter cuts off his fingernail because he thinks there's some kind of tracking device in his finger. Although this scene is incredibly difficult to watch, it’s important because Kerrigan took a stereotypical "crazy moment" (talking to oneself, wearing a tinfoil hat, etc) and showed us the reality. Plenty of people poke fun at or turn their nose up at people that are mentally ill and one of the common jokes always seems to be that they think someone is out to get them or there's some kinda tracking device that was put inside them by the government. In the nail scene Kerrigan shows the reality of that thinking and kinda makes us feel bad about poking fun at that kinda stuff. It’s been said by many, even the director himself, that whether or not Peter is the killer in the subplot of the story is open for interpretation but I think the final scene answers that question for me.
I set it up that Peter, who suffers from
schizophrenia, could be the killer, leading the audience down that path, but I withhold proof. There's no conclusive evidence that he is and if people feel that he's guilty, I hope that the picture holds them responsible for drawing that conclusion - Lodge Kerrigan
By the mid-90's every element in hip-hop (especially Rap) had gotten some form of shine on film with the exception of DJing & Turntablism. Graffiti was showcased in the classic documentary Style Wars as well as Wild Style and Krush Grove. Breakdancers & B-boys were also showcased in those same films along with more mainstream movies like Flash Dance. Sure, DJ's were also represented in those films but with the exception of Grandmaster Flash's segment in Wild Style, the DJ kinda played the background. And yes, movies like Juice did inspire many kids in the early 90's (myself included) to become DJ's but when you really strip that movie down, DJing & scratching wasn’t really represented as much as we were lead to believe by the movie trailer and advertisements. But there had yet to be a film that focused strictly on the DJ. Specifically the art of turntablism: scratching, battling and using the turntable as an instrument. In 1995 documentaries like Rhyme & Reason and The Show were dubbed "Hip-Hop Documentaries" when in reality they shoulda been called "Rap music & Industry documentaries". Around the same time, filmmaker John Carluccio had begun work on the extensive documentary; Battle Sounds (a film about the art of scratching & turntablism) which was completed in 1997 and became a hit among scratchers, battle dj's and turntablists all over the world. In fact the term; "turntablism" was created during the production of the film, essentially making it an artifact in hip-hop history. The documentary exposed the world to turntablists like; Mixmaster Mike (who later became the DJ for the Beastie Boys), Roc Raida (DJ for Busta Rhymes and was responsible for the scratches on many classic hip-hop albums) and Q-Bert (probably the most recognizable and well known turntablist ever). It also exposed a younger generation of scratch DJ's and turntablists to innovators and pioneers like Grandmixer DXT (grammy award winning artist who scratched on Herbie Hancock's Rockit) and Grandwizard Theodore (the man who literally invented scratching). But most importantly, the documentary showed that scratching was more than just moving a record back & forth and making a bunch of noise.
Unlike other documentary filmmakers who focus on a subculture (or in Carluccio's case, a subculture within a subculture) then abandon it once the project is over, Carluccio became a staple in the turntablist community - He was a consultant on the documentary; 'Scratch' (which wouldn’t have existed had it not been for a film like Battle Sounds), founder of the TTM scratch notation system (a system that allows DJ’s to note/write down their scratching like music notes and to use the turntable as a musical instrument) and has filmed/documented classic DJ battles (2000 DMC US finals), turntablist events like the Battle Sounds festivals and recently DJ Shiftee's 2009 DMC world championship winning set (see video below). His most notable & innovative post-Battle Sounds project would have to be "Hop-Fu" - a live hip-hop meets kung-fu project where DJ's (Excess & IXL) perform a live score using scratching over kung-fu films which has been going since 1998.
This edition of "5 Questions" might be the most personal one as it ties together pretty much the three things that make up what I do in life (architecture/design, film & scratching). Enjoy...
1. What are the last 3 movies you saw? (feel free to elaborate on any of them)
John Carluccio: Prometheus - Liked it, but keep those LOST boys (Lindelof) away from my sci-fi mythology. They will always break your heart.
Only When I Dance - Great documentary about Brazilian ballet. I'm a sucker for films like this (Hoop Dreams, Mad Hot Ballroom, Dark Days, etc)
Safe House - Average. South Africa is slowly becoming the new Hollywood thriller location.
2. Who, in your opinion, is the best active filmmaker working right now?
JC: That's tough, I like Woody Allen, he still surprises me. Paul Thomas Anderson and Darren Aronofsky are always dope. I find Phillip Noyce interesting he did Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American and Dead Calm which I really dug. I wish he would do more stuff like that. I use to say Martin Scorsese, but I think he needs to make a small low budget film again, like Coppola did with Tetro. I'll watch anything from those I just mentioned and Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, Nolan, Eastwood, Jarmusch, Spielberg, Mann, Nolan, Tarantino, Burton, Boyle, Del Toro....
Excess & IXL performing "Hop-Fu" DJ Shiftee's 2009 World DMC Set
3. As an architecture graduate who loves cinema, I must ask you: Why the shift from Architecture to filmmaking?
JC: Architecture is a great discipline. Some students at Pratt would call it Archi-torture. I loved it. It's a permanent art, so you have to really know what you're doing and make sure your design is on point. But there is also a limited amount of opportunity to be really creative and expressive in that world. I remember always hearing; "you die on the drafting board", referring to the age that you finally get to really design in that career. So I just had too much creative energy to wait for my shot. Film was more impact-full. A bit less restrictive and just spoke to my passion to communicate one on one with people.
4. Is Hop-Fu something you'd consider taking to television or would you be too worried about what networks would do to it?
JC: We actually had a development deal with MTV in 2001. Morgan Spurlock helped us get that deal. Kung Fu cinema is very exploitive, so I was open to MTV exploiting it too. It never panned out.
Roc Raida & Q-Bert in Battle Sounds (1995)
5. Outside of a movie like Juice or Wild Style, would you consider Battle Sounds to be the first true link between strictly turntablism and cinema?
JC: I'd have to say yes. The term was created at the same time as the production of the film in 95. You got to check out my latest turntablist project athttp://blog.dubspot.com/stylus/
BONUS QUESTION: What is your favorite film about or based in Brooklyn?
JC: Dog Day Afternoon, Do The Right Thing, Saturday Night Fever.
I know I'm not the first person to bring this up but...How do you go from being a grand jury prize winner at Sundance (during a time when that actually meant something) among a talent pool of directors like; The Coen brothers, Spike Lee, Hal Hartley and Todd Haynes to essentially becoming just a cult figure among snooty Black American film snobs and Steven Soderbergh (probably the only prominent figure in Hollywood that has kept Harris' name relevant)? People make all this fuss about the return of hermit filmmakers like Terrence Malick and Monte Hellman but at least they have more than a few films to show for. All Wendell B. Harris has to show for in 22 years is Chameleon Street (an important film in many circles ranging from hip-hop culture to the cult film world). Sure he's got that cameo in Soderbergh's Out Of Sight as well as in Roadtrip (...???), but as a director he's only got that one movie (which is a classic if I might add). Of all the filmmakers to emerge out of that indie/Sundance scene in late 80's/early 90's, how is it that someone like Wendell B. Harris gets left behind? And I don’t mean to insult the man by using the term "left behind", but...it’s true. And it’s not his fault. How is it that during the mini-explosion of black filmmakers and films in the late 80's/early 90's that Wendell B. Harris was essentially “left out” and not included (similar to Charles Burnett). When you look at that famous New York Times Cover from 1991 on the New Black Cinema movement you notice Harris (and Burnett) are left out. I don’t get it. Not to sound like a child trying to start beef but in my opinion Harris and Burnett are much better filmmakers than more than half the people in the photo below (no offense but its true). I know Black directors like Harris and Charles Burnett have gained notoriety in places like Europe (which is great) but on a certain level their films weren’t really made for them (not to say Europeans can’t enjoy and/or love Chameleon Street, Killer Of Sheep, The Glass Shield, etc), but Americans (especially Black Americans) should be the real demographic to embrace these kinds of films.
Top Row (left to right) - The Hudlin Brothers (House Party), Ernest Dickerson (Juice), Mario Van Peeples (New Jack City), Mid Row (left to right) - Spike Lee (Jungle Fever), Matty Rich (Straight Outta Brooklyn), John Singleton (Boyz N The Hood), Bottom - Charles Lane (True Identity)
Had Hollywood/American Independent cinema reached its quota of Black directors? Was one or two more too much? Here’s something else that strikes me as odd: Similar to film movements like The French New Wave, New German Cinema and even Dogma, the Black American director explosion was about collaboration and/or helping each other out. Melvin Van Peeples (who still continues to direct) essentially passed the torch on to his son, Spike Lee put out Drop Squad and other films made by Black directors through his 40 acres & a mule production company, Ernest Dickerson moved on from being Spike Lee's cinematographer to becoming a director himself and actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Cassie and Sy Richardson made it a point to act in as many movies directed by Black directors as possible. Where was Wendell B Harris' support from the Black film community when he needed it? Hey, maybe hands were extended out to him and he didn’t want the help. I don’t know, Im just asking. Let’s face it…in the realm of "Black cinema" (a label I sometimes embrace and sometimes hate) Spike Lee was essentially the poster child. His films were popular, almost all of them were great (with a few exceptions like Girl 6) and so many filmmakers and films branched out from him. I’m not even basing this off opinion. That’s just how it was. And even when a Black director put out a film that had absolutely nothing to do with him he found a way to tie himself to it by starting some kind of “beef” (like he did with Matty Rich & Straight Outta Brooklyn). I wonder if Wendell B. Harris had to go through the B.S. of movie studios wanting his films to be more like Spike Lee after Chameleon Street was released (just like in Hollywood Shuffle how casting directors wanted all the Black actors to be more like Eddie Murphy). Maybe the powers that be in movieland didn’t realize that it was ok to have more than two or three prominent Black voices in cinema.
Sure, Chameleon Street is somewhat of an obscure/cult hit TODAY, but what about 20+ years ago? These days Wendell B. Harris is working on an on-going fiction/documentary hybrid about Roswell and Aliens which may never get finished (he's been working on it for YEARS). But I'm gonna be honest (and I think many of you aware of Harris’ talent can feel me on this) I'm not interested in a documentary about Roswell from someone like Harris who must have a lot more to say in terms of race, racial identity, society, etc. Just sayin'. Between Obama and the current state of Black music to Oscar Grant & Trayvon Martin, we need Harris' voice more than ever.
Judging from Chameleon Street and various interviews, Wendell B. Harris strikes me as a progressive thinking, rule breaking and hardheaded figure that would possibly clash with producers or studios. The film he planned to do after Chameleon Street was supposedly an off-the wall re-telling of Grease so I can imagine how that went over when trying to pitch it or getting funding. But even the hardest headed of maverick, rule breaking directors have gone on to make a name for themselves or have at least been given a few opportunities (Alex Cox, Donald Cammell, Lars Von Trier, Melvin Van Peeples, etc). Kinda like what I said in my write-up on Chameleon Street last year: If movie studios all over the world have tossed money at someone like Alex Cox, why not Wendell B. Harris? What was it about Harris that made studios and/or producers stay away and not wanna work with him? It looks like he’s the true S.D. Sallinger of filmmakers. This is something that really needs to be looked in to.
In the late 90's Todd Solondz managed to become one of the most influential yet underrated American filmmakers of his time. He got worldwide acclaim and pretty much fathered the Sundance scene of the late 90's and early part of the last decade, yet he still stayed under the radar in comparison to his other contemporary American indie director peers like Tarantino, Kevin Smith and even Todd Haynes. After the success of Welcome To The Dollhouse and the controversy & hype surrounding the content & dark humor in Happiness his way was paved for success in the next decade. But one problem after another plagued his career and made this past decade a bumpy one for him all starting with Storytelling. But people get so caught up in the controversy around Storytelling (the fact that it was unfinished and Solondz apparently had a big falling out with Christine Vachon) that they forget it’s a great a movie (unfinished or not). Todd Solondz isn’t the first American filmmaker to emerge from the Sundance scene that was given a "major indie deal" only to run in to problems. If you read any material on American indie film from the late 90's you'll see that Todd Solondz, Todd Haynes and Hal Hartley are almost always mentioned in the same breath just as David Lynch and David Cronenberg are commonly associated with one another. From the late 90's leading in to the early part of the last decade all three of their careers kinda ran parallel with each other. In 1998 all three directors saw success with their films; Happiness (Solondz), Velvet Goldmine (Haynes) & Henry Fool (Hartley), were given bigger movie deals and strangely enough, all three directors released their next films around the same time yet again (between 2001 & 2002). Things seemed to work out fine for Haynes with 2002's Far From Heaven which got numerous academy award nominations and was probably Dennis Quaid's greatest (and most unexpected) performance to date. But Hartley & Solondz didn’t have the same "success" that Haynes had. After the surprise popularity of Henry Fool, Hartley's next feature length film (No Such Thing) was produced by American Zoetrope studios (George Lucas & Francis Ford Coppola) in 2001 and for the first time Hartley was working with a cast of actors like Julie Christie and Helen Mirren yet the movie, which is underrated in my opinion, "flopped". After Happiness, which was a minor crossover hit (being nominated for a golden globe and best picture at Cannes), Solondz got the attention of New Line Cinema and in 2001 he found himself working with his most diverse cast to date: John Goodman, James Van der Beek, Franka Potente, a pre-sideways Paul Giamati and even a cameo from Conan O’Brien! But Storytelling ran in trouble before it hit even hit the festival circuit. Solondz had censorship problems because of a sex scene about racial taboos involving Selma Blair where she was ordered to scream: "Nigger, fuck me" over and over again by The Wire's Robert Wisdom. Solondz was forced to cut the scene so he wouldn’t get an NC-17 rating (which is pretty much the “kiss of death” for a movie), but instead out of protest he placed a giant red box over the actors, which many people thought was silly and childish but I actually thought it was pretty funny...
And speaking of cut scenes, Storytelling took another major blow on the cutting room floor. The third act from Storytelling, which involves some kind of a graphic sex scene between a closet homosexual football player (played by James Van Der Beek), is one of the last films in an infamous group of rare & unfinished movies like Terrence Malick's Lanton Mills, Werner Herzog's A Game In The Sand' and Quentin Tarantino's My Best Friends Birthday that we'll probably never get to see. For reasons that still remain unknown 11 years after the film’s release, the third part was cut from Storytelling making it an incomplete film. Some speculate that because Van Der Beek's character in Storytelling was a high school football player that it conflicted with Varsity Blues (which was released a year earlier) and some mysterious studio powers that be had his part cut from the film. Or did it have anything to do with Van Der Beek being on Dawson’s Creek and a gay character wouldn’t sit well with the family friendly fan base? I don’t know if I buy either of those reasons because during the time Van Der Beek was on Dawson’s Creek he starred in Rules Of Attraction which featured just as much vulgarity and sex as Storytelling. He also made an appearance in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back which had an average one gay joke every 2-1/2 minutes so it couldn’t have been that either. To this day I find myself googling around trying to find that one interview or write-up that clearly explains what the problem was involving the third story from Storytelling but I have yet to find it. But this major cut in the film still didn’t stop the promotion (actually by the time it hit theaters a lot of people didn’t even know that a big part of the film was missing). Todd Solondz gave the pedophilia a rest this time around and addressed issues like racism, white guilt, the America family and he even addressed his nay saying critics in a not-so subtle way. Solondz still focused a good portion of the film on youth which is common in just about anything he does. The film is made up of two unconnected stories ("Fiction" & "Non-Fiction") that both take place in New Jersey...
The first story centers on "Vi" (Selma Blair); An untalented journalism major with dreams of being a writer. In the middle of the story she's faced with whether or not she should sleep with her black professor who clearly has a "thing" for young white women. Fiction not only deals with the so-called taboos of interracial curiosity and racial fetishism but it’s also a comment on the taboos of sexual relationships between college professors and their students (sure, both sides are adults but there's an ethical factor to consider). Fiction was also made to address Solondz' critics who found his previous work disturbing and gross.
Non Fiction - The second story is about a documentary filmmaker (Paul Giamati) and his attempt to make a film about an everyday American teenager (Steven Weber) and his family. But a series of surreal and unexpected events occur that affect the production (hypnotism, paralysis and murder). Non-Fiction features a surprise cameo from Conan O’Brien and is one of John Goodman's last memorable performances.
It’s commonly agreed among most Todd Solondz fans that Happiness and Welcome To The Dollhouse are his definitive films. In my opinion Storytelling should be added to that group of "definitive Solondz films". But because it’s been clouded with Terry Gilliam-like post production problems and faced some HEAVY editing, most people have forgotten about it. Storytelling stands as an important film in Solondz' career. It showed growth and his ability to tackle new subject matter just when people were starting to pigeonhole him all while still maintaining his unique darkly quirky sense of humor and that key dream sequence that comes with every one of his films. In the same way Solondz had us laughing at the absurdity of 11 & 12 year olds calling each other faggots in Welcome To The Dollhouse or depression and perversion in Happiness, Solondz had us laughing at everything from racism to a family being set on fire in their sleep in Storytelling. Sorry, but it’s just as much a Todd Solondz film as Happiness is. Just as the ensemble character/crisscrossing plot movies were starting to die down in the late 90's, Michael Haneke (Code Unknown), Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), Guy Richie (Snatch) and Alejandro Inarritu (Amorres Perros) breathed new life in to the genre at the start of the new decade. When connecting the stories seemed like the "in" thing to do, Solondz went the route of his peer Todd Haynes (Poison) and separated the stories. Was he intentionally trying to make some kind of a statement against those kinds of movies? Of course not. His last movie prior to this was Happiness (one of the more popular ensemble films of the late 90's). But weather he meant to go against the grain or not, Storytelling was still a breath of fresh air.
Shoot him again...his soul is still dancing- Nicholas Cage
By now you should all get the general idea of what a "Misunderstood Masterpiece" is by the movies I've covered so far. They're movies with ridiculous sounding plots like; Trouble Everyday (a horror/drama/psychological thriller about an unnamed disease that gives people killer libidos) & Demonlover (an erotic espionage thriller about the deadly, backstabbing underworld of animated pornography), or remakes/loose adaptations of classic films like Solaris and Ghost Dog (a loose remake of Le Samourai) that all received undeserved amounts of hate upon their initial release but are slowly starting to get the recognition they deserve for being strangely brilliant. These are the kinda films that follow in the footsteps of Maverick filmmakers like Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg. The kinda of movies where some type of a drug (strong marijuana at the very least) played a role in the development of the script or at least the basic concept. The kinda movies where you have to say; "ACTUALLY, I liked that movie a lot." Those movies that get 20% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and bad reviews, but 10-20 years later they're in some kind of a retrospective at the Moma, Lincoln Center or Film Forum.
I can’t think of any other recent film that fits the above criteria more than Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans...
Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (a loose remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 indie masterpiece) has become that movie where people have to start defending it before they even finish saying how much they liked it. It’s that movie where you have to start talking about it with a preface like; "I know you're not gonna believe me when I say I like this, but just hear me out..." What’s also interesting is that in the last decade or so Bad Lieutenant has been one of the FEW great (yes, great) films that Herzog has put out along with The Wild Blue Yonder and Grizzly Man. Rescue Dawn teetered between being bad and pointless (I don’t care how dedicated or how much weight Christian Bale lost for his role), Into The Abyss was a disappointing and almost disrespectful documentary that showed Herzog acting all buddy-buddy with sociopathic murderers and not even Michael Shannon's presence could save My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done (probably one of Herzog's worst films ever, which is sad because it had an amazing ensemble cast). It goes without saying that Nicolas Cage and remakes aren’t a good combination. And I'm not just saying this because making fun of Cage's recent cocaine & pills-fueled performances have become the "in" thing to do these days. I'm actually a fan of Nicolas Cage from time to time when he delivers performances like he did in Adaptation, Red Rock West or Wild At Heart. But with remakes like City Of Angels (a remake of Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire), The Wicker Man (a remake of the cult classic), Kiss Of Death and Bangkok Dangerous (a remake of a famous Thai action film), history has clearly shown that Cage is poison to a remake. Just doing a remake alone is an uphill battle from the start since 10 time outta 10 you're gonna get naysayers and diehard fans of the original hating on it before it even comes out. I went in to Bad Lieutenant expecting to see an epic disaster so bad that it would be entertaining but to my surprise it turned out to be one of my favorites of 2009. And I knew I wasn’t crazy because by the end of the year I saw Bad Lieutenant on the top 10 & 20 lists of everyone from Roger Ebert to various writers & contributors to magazines like Film Comment and Cahier Du Cinema (I know that just because some highly decorated film critics like something doesn’t automatically make a movie great, but it still means something). Most people who end up seeing Herzog's remake are usually in disbelief at how good it was and the few people that hated it still end up talking about it. Next to Bad Lieutenant I can’t think of too many other films in the last 5 years that have gotten me into heated debates/arguments/conversations about everything from the current state of cinema to racism and police brutality.
Werner Herzog doesn’t strike me as someone who needs to take drugs to make something that’s strange and far out. He's just a naturally unique and quietly quirky human being where "strange" just comes naturally to him. But I’m sorry, he must have taken some peyote or mysterious herbal drug while coming up with the idea to remake Bad Lieutenant, which he claims he never actually saw (sounds like bullshit to me, but whatever). And the more I think about it no other actor could portray the role Nicolas Cage played because when you think about it, his real life kinda runs parallel to the character he plays in Bad Lieutenant. In the film detective Terrence Mcdonagh was a once promising police officer but years of drug abuse, gambling, corruption and a crippling back injury are catching up to him while he's working on a gruesome murder case (an immigrant family has been murdered by a local drug kingpin). In real life, Nicolas Cage was an A-list actor (I guess he still kinda is) but years of bad movie choices and bankruptcy have forced him to act in just about any movie that comes his way so he can make money to get himself outta debt. The basic plot of Herzog's Bad Lieutenant is pretty similar to the original: both films are about a corrupt, out of control, drug & gambling addicted police officer who's life is spiraling out of control. But at the same time Herzog takes a few liberties and changes some stuff around. In this version our main character has a partner (Val Kilmer), its set in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina (the original is set in New York City), there’s no outright religious symbolism (a staple in Ferrara’s work) and we get more of a glimpse in to the main characters' love life (Eva Mendes). And even though Keitel’s performance is WAY better than Cage's, Cage seems more likeable (even when he points a gun at the head of an old lady). Throughout the film Cage's character is suffering from a permanent back injury and he does an amazing job at making it believable. You grunt and squint along with Cage as he hobbles through the film or strains to stand up. He's the kinda antihero you don’t actually want to be or emulate. You just wanna watch him from a distance. He's like a fascinating train wreck. And no matter how corrupt and fucked up Cage is at no point in the film did I laugh WITH him or think he was cool. Throughout the entire film I’m laughing at him as Bad Lieutenant is essentially about someone who thinks their above the law but in reality they're on a downward destructive path that’s so unbelievable all you can do is laugh in disbelief as we watch him accidentally snort heroine instead of cocaine just before he has to go to work, steal police evidence, blackmail college athletes to throw games he's betting on or wear his gun inside his belt instead of a holster because he thinks he's some kind of a cowboy. Bad Lieutenant is pure insanity. Herzog once again captures the egomaniac, alpha white male who goes too far when trying to abuse power reminiscent of so many roles that Klaus Kinski played under his direction (Cobra Verde, Fitzcaraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God). Herzog even puts a little of himself into Cage’s character. Some of the lines in the film like “Do fish have dreams?” and “his soul is still dancing” are quotes and questions from the book “Herzog on Herzog”.
Bad Lieutenant has what seems like intentionally over the top moments that kinda come out of a comic book (the dramatic music, the reactions of some of the actors to certain situations and pretty much the last ten minutes). On the surface this seemed like an odd choice for Herzog that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of his filmography. As far as the cinematography goes this may be his most polished-looking work to date. In fact, after the release of Bad Lieutenant there was a great book of stills taken by Herzog's wife that got published. But at the same time there's many Herzog-like elements to Bad Lieutenant outside of Cage's insane Kinski-inspired lead performance like randomly beautiful scenes involving iguanas and crocodiles (as we all know Herzog loves animals and nature), odd musical choices reminiscent of the dancing chicken scene from Stroszek and Herzog's fascination with people from the continent of Africa. Bad Lieutenant also features an eclectic supporting cast of actors like Brad Douriff, Michael Shannon, actor/director Vondie Curtis Hall, Xzibit, Faruza Baulk and Shea Whingham who has probably my favorite scene in the movie (see below). Don’t judge this until you've actually seen it because chance are you'll be pleasantly surprised.
So far we’ve covered everything from Julia Roberts’ unrealistic portrayal of kidney failure in Steel Magnolias to David Cronenberg’s cutting edge use of parasites to replace human organs in Shivers. Now I’d like to address something that’s been kinda bugging me since my transplant four years ago…
Airport 1975 and its parody; Airplane! had something that many disaster films don’t have today: characters in the midst of a crisis that are dependent on some form of medication or a machine to live. We don't see that too often in disaster films these days. And this isn’t just a problem with today's disaster movie genre either. In today's thrillers & horror movies where we see characters trapped somewhere and can’t go out or make a sound because they'll be eaten by zombies (Dawn Of The Dead, The Descent, Rec, etc), killed by vampire-like mutants (I Am Legend) or trapped on an elevator (Devil), we rarely seem to have a character in need of liver meds, hearts meds or...kidney meds. The only recent film to even kinda touch on this was Con-Air when Nicholas Cage’s friend needed insulin on the hijacked plane but they couldn’t get to it. On television there was an early episode of Lost where one of the people stranded on the island needed an inhaler or she'd die from an asthma attack. But that’s about it. Sure more television shows have been focusing on kidney transplantation (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Family Guy, American Dad), but never under the extreme circumstances that I’m talking about. Is Hollywood blind? Adding this kinda element to a thriller or horror movie would work on two levels. It would add realism to an otherwise unrealistic plot. I mean let’s face it; in this day & age there seem to be more & more legitimately medication-dependent people in this world due to organ transplants than ever. Let’s say in 2012 that zombies really do attack and a group of people are stuck together in a shopping mall or an abandoned house to hide from the brain eating monsters and can’t go outside. The odds of someone running out of or needing medication at some point in the near future is highly likely. This would also add excitement to the story. Another monkey wrench thrown in to the spokes. Speaking from personal experience, the most kidney meds I keep on me on a regular day is two days worth. And for those of you asking why only two days worth; it’s because there aren’t any pill cases compact enough to hold the 24 pill a day supply I need without being a fucking nuisance in my pockets. If that zombie attack hit RIGHT NOW, in 36 hours I'd be pretty screwed (although I could be as healthy as a horse and I'd probably still die due to the fact that I'd be a black person in a zombie scenario. History has only proven that we don’t last in these movies). But think about it for a second - if there was a character in need of meds in a short period of time or they're organ would fail ultimately killing them, this adds a new mission to the story. A group of people would have to venture out among the zombies, mutants, whatever to make it to the closest pharmacy (where the zombies would obviously be waiting) to get the medication for the dying organ recipient before it’s too late. And this wouldn’t be a quick task because they’d have to fight their way behind the counter then proceed to read the labels on the bottles to make sure they got the right meds (it would certainly suck if they did all that work only to bring back cold sore medication to a kidney transplant recipient). It would be a nail biter, wouldn’t it? And naturally everyone wouldn’t make it back (probably the sacrificial token black guy).
Both Airport 1975 and Airplane! involve the same commonly forgotten subplot where a little girl is in need of a kidney transplant but the plane taking them to their future life saving organ malfunctions and someone has to land the plane before it’s too late (obviously if no one can land the plane then everyone will die, making the transplant irrelevant but whatever). They weren't just the "sick girls" that they're commonly labeled as. They had a specific illness and that illness was kidney disease (had they needed a heart transplant or had sickle cell you'da remembered). But between the two movies, people were too distracted by pedophile jokes, Charlton Heston's rugged manliness, jive talk and Leslie Nielsen's brilliant deadpan performance to remember. Even though these movies were made in the mid-70's the subject matter is more relevant today. Due to mass kidney swaps these days which sometimes involve up to 20+ people all over the country, planes are required to take ‘em from one end of the country to the next for a transplant. I guess Airport 1975 and Airplane! were just ahead of their time...
Working with non-professional actors can be a gamble at times because, well...they can’t always act and don’t always posses the skills to convey different emotions or transform in to the character that the story requires. Sure there's exceptions and there are directors out there who have the power to create a world where not being able to traditionally act can work (like the deadpan/almost emotionless world of Robert Bresson) but for the most part it’s a role of the dice. Non-professional teenage actors have been the safest bet in recent years with films like; George Washington, Fish Tank (the lead actress only), Elephant (although it did feature Matt Malloy & Sam Bottoms) and Paranoid Park because these films pretty much just require our lead teenage actors to essentially be themselves (this doesn’t mean that these movies aren’t great, btw). But I can’t think of too many films with non-professional adult actors that have really worked in the last decade outside of a few exceptions. One of those exceptions would have to be the Tarkovsky-influenced work of Carlos Reygadas who somehow managed to get everyday people who have never stepped in front of a camera to cry, murder and have real sex in his first two films (Japon & Battle In Heaven). With his third film; 'Silent Light', he took the use of non-professional actors to another level by using a demographic of people who you'd least expect (Mennonites) and made a film about love, adultery, spirituality and self reflection. Let’s be honest...adultery, spirituality, love, etc aren’t exactly the kinda things that pop in your head when you think of Mennonites. On television and in film they're painted as emotionless people who do nothing but work and fear god. But Carlos Reygadas tried to dispel that myth with Silent Light: the story about a family man ("Johan") who's torn between his wife; "Marianne" and the woman he's been having an affair with ("Esther"). I know the idea of cheating Mennonites may have you scratching your head, but at the same time...why not? We've already seen plenty of films about adultery where the husband who's too busy with work or having an affair with another woman pushes his wife away forcing her to be with another man, or the other scenario where we see the mean, bitchy wife who doesn’t appreciate her husband causing him to look for love somewhere else. Why not put a new spin on the genre by incorporating non-professional actors, religion, faith, spirituality and a BLATANT sympathetic look at the adulterers (which may not sit well with people who have been cheated on in the past).
One noticeable thing that Carlos Reygadas did this time around was draw influence from a director outside of just Andrei Tarkovsky. Don’t get me wrong, the slow, numbing pace and atmosphere of Silent Light is the same as Japon and Battle In Heaven and it has its share of Tarkovsky influenced moments...
'Nostalghia' - Tarkovsky 'Silent Light'-Reygadas
but its biggest influence would have to be Carl Theodore Dreyer's Ordet (specifically the funeral scene at the end)...
'Ordet' - Dreyer 'Silent Light' - Reygadas
Silent Light also bears a striking resemblance to Chantal Ackerman's work in both pacing and imagery. The scene in the beginning where Johan sits at the dinner table and breaks down is right outta the beginning and opening scene of Ackerman's Jeanne Deilman...
Neither Johan or Esther are made out to be bad. They come off as two people who can’t fight their love for each other even if it means destroying Johan's family. Johan and Marianne are probably two of the most complicated & complex characters Carlos Reygadas has ever come up with. There are plenty of films out there where a religious figure (usually some sexually repressed priest) has the hots for some pretty young thing, but it’s also presented as a sin and those characters look to god for help to make these urges go away. But In Silent Light, Johan not only looks to god, but he also goes to his religious father for advice about what woman he should be with. And to Johan's surprise the advice he gets is somewhat unexpected. Although I obviously recognize that what Johan is doing to his wife is dead wrong, I never find myself going; "oh this guy is a scumbag!" like I would do to other cheating male characters. I feel like I should, but I can never bring myself to think that about him like that. There's even a scene where Johan has the nerve to try and get Marianne to look at Esther's point of view about all of this (pretty ballsy for a man to try and get his wife to see things from the perspective of the woman who’s cheating with her husband). And this has nothing to do with me being a man and automatically wanting to sympathize with the male lead. Through the actor’s performance I genuinely believe he's a man who can’t fight love. Marianne's approach to this ordeal is a strange combination of passive aggressive, compliant, hurt with a touch of taking the high road. From the start of the film she's well aware that her husband has been unfaithful to her but her stance in the matter is being quiet and letting him decide who he wants to be with. It’s the kind of performance that will have people debating and arguing forever. Is she just another weak housewife character that essentially allows her husband to be with another woman or is her character a strong saint of a woman who's being the "bigger person" in all of this? That remains to be seen by the end of the film. Johan & Marianne's children are also an interesting element to the story because these naive, cute, innocent-looking children whose presence is felt all throughout the film has no idea of the intense drama that’s going on between their parents (the opening scene where the family has breakfast together highlights this). A lot of the hype around Silent Light came from Martin Scorsese’s praise of the film. Say what you will about Marty as a director these days but his love for (good) cinema hasn’t seem to have left him. Normally I'm not a fan of big name directors like Scorsese giving a co-sign to a smaller, art house film that they had nothing to do with because they're name becomes more synonymous with the film than the person actually responsible for it (similar to how Quentin Tarantino always seems to co-sign a film that has Asian people in it). But that didn’t happen with Scorsese and Carlos Reygadas. What it did do was give this film, which is easily one of the best films of the last decade, the push that it needed because otherwise it may have fallen in to that film festival circuit/one week run at a local art house cinema category.
I just feel like I'm...bumping into walls - Sean Penn (The Tree Of Life)
Usually when someone sees a scene in a movie that KINDA reminds them of something in their own personal life they go: "oh man, that is SO my life" or "that's totally me." But 9 times outta 10 they're overdoing it and just wanna relate to something in a movie so that they can feel cool. Even as much as I love movies VERY RARELY do I see a scene that reminds me of something in my own life. Last time I checked they haven't made any biopics on left handed, diabetic, djing, autocad drafting, kidney transplant recipients with odd mannerisms and an unhealthy fascination for cinema. Even the scene of discussion doesn't even fully relate to me. For those of you who haven't seen The Tree Of Life or this specific scene in particular, a lot of Sean Penn's angst has to do with the loss of his brother which still haunts him (I imagine this scene probably works on an even deeper level for Penn as he lost his brother in real life not too long ago). I'm an only child so I don't know anything about the loss of a sibling and would never try to relate anything in my life to something like that. But what does standout to me is the setting (some kind of an architectural or design firm) along with Sean Penn's aimless/disoriented wandering through his office full of marked up & redlined drawings that look like they're in their 80th revision and probably have 80 more future revisions to go before the job even goes in to production. For those of you who don't know me well, I'm not crazy about my career and often find myself questioning why I do what I do. I spend the majority of my work day thinking about movies or music while my desk is covered under highlighters, bad sketches and floor plans. I think a big part of the reason as to why I've stayed in my field for so long is because I went through one of the toughest undergrad programs (architecture) and cant just give up after all the work I did for five years.
It’s kinda difficult to make out what Sean Penn is saying in this scene (and throughout most of the movie in general) because all he does is mumble. But the one line that does stick out at around 2:52 is: "I just feel like I'm bumping into walls". Naturally this is a line that just about any human being can relate too, but in the world of design I don’t know if there's a better tagline. When you graduate from school with a design-oriented degree you seriously think that at age 22 or 23 you're gonna be designing skyscrapers and have articles written about you in Architectural Digest. But in reality you're measuring staircases, making sure the hallway or corridor you design is wheelchair accessible, renovating kitchens or trying not to get thrown under the bus by one of your co-workers. And even if you are lucky enough to be part of a team that does design a building you can’t really do what you want because of all the codes you have to follow. I don’t know about you guys but that sounds like "bumping in to walls" to me. This scene also brings up envy (lol) - even though I'm not crazy about design or what I'd do, I would kill to work in an office like Sean Penn's office in The Tree Of Life. The imagery in this scene has some of the best looking architectural shots since Lodge Kerrigan's last two films...
These are all the thoughts and feelings that this particular scene brings up inside of me. Its that subconscious link between cinema and architecture (two things that encompass a big part of my life) that few filmmakers have been able to show. When I watch this scene I'm reminded of the time when in a few short months I crossed paths with three completely different filmmakers (Karim Ainouz, John Carluccio and Apichatpong Weerasethakul) who all studied architecture in school but moved on to film instead. Was this just a coincidence? Was some spiritual being or higher power trying to tell me something about what I should really be doing with my life? What is it that makes architecture & design suck so much that turns people towards film? In a way this is partially what The Tree Of Life is about - Random thoughts, questions and the subconscious. And in my opinion this scene highlights that and its proof that the movie is a success.
Architecture/Design/Space Planning/Urban Planning/etc can be a pretty stressful field. You're either always stressed out about the insane amount of work you have on your plate combined with the ridiculous deadline you have to complete it by. Or...you're stressed out about the LACK of work you have sitting at your desk for 9 hours with nothing to do. And when you’re jaded & cynical it’s even worse because you have to force yourself to care about something you couldn’t give two shits about. I know this applies to many jobs out there but in the world of design it’s dangerous because there's a lot of money at stake (money you won’t be seeing any time soon) and its easier for mistakes to be made. What’s also frustrating is the misconception most people have about the world of architecture and design. I can’t tell you how many times I've grit my teeth or clinched my fist inside my pocket after hearing someone say; "oh you must be making the big bucks, huh?" I know they mean well but at the same time I just wanna casually say; "shut the fuck up."
Terrence Malick strikes me as someone who's never stepped foot inside of an architecture studio or design firm as he comes off like someone who'd be more at home in a field of weeds chasing butterflies. Yet he somehow "gets it" in this scene. I think many of us in this field have had the very same "what am I doing?" or "what does it all mean?" phone conversation (usually with a peer or someone we went to school with) that Sean Penn is having in this scene. I'd love for these moments in the video below to be turned in to a feature film. I know this won’t be happening any time soon because Terrence is currently working on two new films at the same time (and editing a third film). But maybe this blog entry will cause some kind of a cosmic butterfly effect that gets him to make his next film about Architecture (although that probably won’t happen). But until that cosmic moment happens we still have Peter Greenway's Belly Of An Architect (a possible blog entry for July)...