Monday, September 22, 2014


The following is a double review of two recent coming-of-age films followed by images, videos, and observations gleaned from a much longer essay for which these reviews were originally intended.
Jonas did not want to go back. He didn't want the memories, didn't want the honor, didn't want the wisdom, didn't want the pain. He wanted his childhood again, his scraped knees and ball games. He sat in his dwelling alone, watching through the window, seeing children at play, citizens bicycling home from uneventful days at work, ordinary lives free of anguish because he had been selected, as others before him had, to bear their burden. 
But the choice was not his.
The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry
When the first whispers of Richard Linklater's Boyhood reached my ears - or rather my eyes, since I "heard" about it on Twitter - I knew I would like it. Shot sporadically over an entire decade, the film anchors its universal coming-of-age tale in a very specific place (rural and suburban Texas) and time (the post-9/11 era). Onscreen we simultaneously watch Mason, the character, and Eller Coltrane, the actor, grow from 7 to 18. While widely acclaimed, this novel approach has also also been called a gimmick, implying that novelty masks an uninteresting story. But the approach is the story.

Monday, September 15, 2014


My response to Boyhood, The Giver, and the recent spate of "death of adulthood" articles is almost entirely written but won't be ready in time for Monday morning. Hence I'll hold off on it till next week and present some oldies instead. For the fourth time (but the first in two years) I am collecting IMDb comments (mostly) left many moons ago during the era when those boards were my main online cinematic stomping ground. Most notably, my first response to the epic and enigmatic Out 1 is recorded below: I wrote these words in the immediate afterglow of a very memorable screening. Enjoy. (And if you do, make sure to check out the previous round-ups.) Disclaimer: my opinions circa 2007 are not necessarily still mine although I suppose I wouldn't re-post them if I didn't think they had some merit (even if 2014 me disagrees with their premises).

Monday, September 8, 2014


(The following visual tribute contains spoilers)


Through the darkness of future past
The magician longs to see
One chants out between two worlds
Fire walk with me

• • •

Monday, September 1, 2014


Last week I posted an autobiographical film I made ten years ago, and next week I'll be covering both Boyhood and The Giver, each a coming-of-age film with a twist. In keeping with the theme, this week's visual tribute offers another walk down memory lane - for the characters of Neon Genesis Evangelion (a series I began covering a couple years ago, and plan to resume next year). Once again there are several layers to the long strange trip: Episode 21 features numerous flashbacks but when the show originally aired in 1996, these memories actually belonged to the future (the show's "present" takes place in a post-apocalyptic 2015, and the flashbacks begin in 1999). For me the timeline is even more interesting: had I watched the show when it aired, I would have been roughly the same age as the youngest characters but in terms of actual chronology I am the same age as the slightly older generation (who are around thirty in the 2015 scenes and went to college in the mid-00s). As is often the case, the sci-fi elements of the show provide an intense, amplified backdrop for the drama but the humiliations, heartbreaks, and losses are all too human. The trip down memory lane is not always a pleasant one. This is one of my favorite episodes and I hope you enjoy the striking pictures with or without context. Happy Labor Day...

Monday, August 25, 2014


Rather than a video essay, this month's Lost in the Movies video is an experimental film. It was created in 2005-2007, before I was familiar with the video essay form; nonetheless it overlaps with that approach (it is structured in part around a VHS tape of 1987 TV programs, particularly the Rankin-Bass cartoon The Wind in the Willows). Combining this found footage with home movies and original footage, the film depicts an inner/outer journey in impressionistic, hopefully enjoyable fashion.

Monday, August 18, 2014


It took longer than usual, but here's my latest round-up of the last twenty books I read, with excerpts from each (you can also check out previous #JoelsReadingList round-ups). After the first six books, which I selected randomly, a conscious pattern emerged. I began alternating fiction and nonfiction, hoping to balance between my instinct for information and a desire to spark my imagination. I also assembled a backlog of books that were thematically-linked, so that each title would lead subtly into the next based on a similar theme or subject; not only did I think this would provide an enjoyable reading list, I knew it would make for an interesting round-up when I finally published the result. These approaches emerged around the time I began reading Full of Secrets, a compendium of Twin Peaks essays; unexpectedly, that book also led to an unforeseen development. I became obsessed with Twin Peaks and David Lynch again and was soon writing, watching, and otherwise engaging with those subjects to the exclusion of much else. That's one reason, after moving at a fast clip, it took me forever to finish the reading list I'd assembled.

It also occurred to me, after the fact, that the last fourteen books in the lineup (and even perhaps some of the early ones) are all linked by an overarching theme: the importance of mythology - dreams, fairy tales, spiritual riddles - in making sense of life. Whether battling demons both literal and figural, struggling to purify their souls, or seeking the Grail itself, the authors, subjects, and characters involved in the following books exist in a realm limited to neither tangible, material reality nor otherworldly fantasy. Instead, they embrace both and risk getting lost in the quest for a greater truth.

Monday, August 11, 2014


The following interview was conducted in mid-July, between the release of Brad Dukes' book Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks and the release of the blu-ray Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, featuring The Missing Pieces (deleted scenes from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which I reviewed last week). The discussion includes spoilers for the TV show Twin Peaks. As an introduction to the conversation, I've included an overview of the book's accomplishment, modified and shortened from my original Amazon review.

As interest in Twin Peaks hits arguably its highest point since 1990 (when the show first aired), the well-timed release of Brad Dukes' oral history provides fans, new and old, with a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the magic was created 25 years ago...and perhaps even more fascinatingly, how it dissipated.  Interviewing almost everyone involved with the show, from co-creator Mark Frost on down, Brad weaves a spellbinding tapestry embracing everything from the nitty-gritty of recording technique in composer Angelo Badalamenti's New York studio to the fast-paced Hollywood packaging of the show for nervous executives to the ineffable magic David Lynch evoked with his hardy band of fellow travelers/co-conspirators on location in Seattle. The book's greatest strength is its ability to structure all of this material as something not only coherent, but narrative. Brad casts a sensitive and sympathetic eye on the many elements of this wildly diverse show - exploring each character and storyline in turn. While I (like many) am not a big fan of the second half of season two (after the killer is revealed), I was nonetheless absorbed and even touched reading about the actors' excited explorations of their characters. At the same time, the actors and creators themselves don't hide their disappointment with the turn of events, even as they're not quite able to explain them. Turns out that in the eye of the storm, participants had even less of an idea what was going wrong than those on the outside. Reflections does not offer a grand reveal of what precisely killed Twin Peaks, only more clues.

Among the areas Brad is able to explore more in-depth than I (at least) have seen before: the involvement of various writers and directors, most fascinatingly the contentious and autocratic presence of German director Uli Edel (whom Russ Tamblyn hated working for), the eccentric touch of Diane Keaton, and the disastrous blood-covered script submitted by heroin-addicted Jerry Stahl; the discussions between Mark Frost and Steven Spielberg, who expressed interest in directing the infamous season two premiere (until Lynch decided he wanted to do it himself); the loving detail lavished on Badalamenti's scoring, with due attention paid to his numerous and usually-overlooked collaborators in the studio; Kyle MacLachlan's always-controversial decision to nix Cooper's romance with Audrey (supposedly because his girlfriend Lara Flynn Boyle was jealous of her attention), which is fleshed-out but not solidified - although Sherilyn Fenn entertainingly harbors no doubts about what went down; Harley Peyton's increased involvement with the series to the point where he was basically running it while Mark Frost and David Lynch were off working on other projects, leading to some pointed confrontations with Lynch in particular; the personalities of various actors shining through in new and unforeseen ways - veteran actor Michael Parks gets some hilarious anecdotes about his confrontation with "gal director" Lesli Linka Glatter (who seems to take his condescension in stride), and Michael Ontkean surprises us as a more offbeat, soulful fellow (with a penchant to refer to himself in the third person) than we might suspect from his performance as the stable, easygoing Sheriff Truman.

The most prominent figure Brad was unable to interview is David Lynch, co-creator of the series and the most famous name attached to it. This is unsurprising - as Lynch is often loath to discuss his work - and also less unfortunate than it might seem, for that very reason: it's impossible to imagine the director letting down his guard enough to offer Dukes new information, or expose his reasons for apparently abandoning the series when it was at its most troubled (he would later return, but it was too late). That said, the absence of Lynch does create a bit of a void when it comes to his side of the story, particularly what the director sees as the centrality of Laura Palmer; for Brad, like Frost and Harley Peyton, Laura is more important as the gateway into the world of Twin Peaks than as a character in her own right (this also leads him to de-emphasize Fire Walk With Me). While this isn't a viewpoint I share, it's actually beneficial to the book because Brad's wideranging love of the show allows him to explore every facet with equal respect and curiosity, picking up on tidbits others might neglect. Twin Peaks was, after all, an entire world, populated with more characters than several other shows combined, a potpourri of different tones and themes and stories.

In our conversation, Brad and I discussed his discovery of the show as a precocious 9-year-old (with parents far more permissive than my own, it seems!), the development of Reflections, and the personalities involved - from the musicians to the writers and directors to the network execs. Surprisingly - in retrospect - I didn't ask him many questions about the cast, but he's already shared great anecdotes about Peaks actors in other interviews with The Red Room Podcast, Obnoxious and Anonymous, and Welcome to Twin Peaks. Check them all out, as I sought to avoid redundant questions. In the second part of the interview, we discuss the tumultuous second season of Twin Peaks. Questions include: Whose idea was it to go supernatural? Did Lynch and Frost really know who killed Laura Palmer? Was it a bad idea to reveal the killer? Should the reveal have come even sooner? What happened to the show, behind-the-scenes, when Laura's mystery ended? Brad's answers, often expanding on information from the book, may surprise you. Reflections, like Twin Peaks, is filled with secrets and while not all these secrets can be discovered, the investigation is half the fun.

That investigation begins on a summer night nearly a quarter-century ago. A nine-year-old Brad Dukes discovers his mother glued to the television, absorbed by the evocative images onscreen. Two teenagers are whispering in the spooky, mysterious forest. The Douglas Firs stir in the breeze...

Monday, August 4, 2014


Released as part of the 12-disc blu-ray series TWIN PEAKS: THE ENTIRE MYSTERY, "The Missing Pieces" compiles deleted and extended scenes from "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" into a stand-alone 90-minute presentation - as David Lynch has also done for "Inland Empire" and "Wild at Heart" (though I didn't know about the latter approach until after writing this response). 

This piece was written in the middle of the night after watching the scenes, and slightly revised the next day before I'd read any other responses. As such it represents my immediate, unfiltered impression. Needless to say, there are spoilers for all aspects of "Twin Peaks."

In a way, The Missing Pieces is a misleading title, suggesting ultimate clues which will unlock "The Entire Mystery" of the town of Twin Peaks. But that mystery is already unlocked, in radical fashion, by the prequel film from which these scenes were originally cut. That movie irreversibly remains the spiritual endpoint of the journey which began one lonely morning when Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) washed ashore, dead and wrapped in plastic, disturbing the melancholy tranquility of a sad small town. And yet...The Missing Pieces is a perfect title because this piece of the puzzle - not just a random collection of scenes but an experience with its own distinct mood and style - is a crucial missing link. It belongs between two worlds, the eerie yet oddly comforting community of the TV show Twin Peaks and the searingly raw, subjective psyche displayed in the film Fire Walk With Me. A fragile film-of-sorts, The Missing Pieces serves a poignant marker of the divide separating Laura from the neighbors who, despite their love, fascination, and frustration, finally could not help her in life and were therefore haunted by her death.

Monday, July 28, 2014


Cross-posted at Wonders in the Dark, where the 1955 version placed at #54 in the Romance Countdown.

"I think of this as a great rainy afternoon movie. You're flipping through the channels on one of those great lazy Saturdays...it's summer but it's raining outdoors and you're stuck inside. You come across a classic movie channel (AMC, TCM--take your pick) and pause. What's this? Ernest Borgnine? You always like him, why not stop for a moment and watch. It looks like it's just beginning. 'Marty'? Yeah, you've heard of it, vaguely. Won the Oscar or something, but it's been kind of forgotten. So you start watching and before long you're totally enchanted, completely charmed, by the simple story and realistic characters. Who can't sympathize with Borgnine's sensitive butcher, hanging out with his Italian friends and their goofy conversations about Mickey Spillane, all the while pining away with his heart of gold for a girl that his buddies call a 'dog'? The conversations have the kind of natural humor and warmth that remind you of the old days hanging out with your pals. As you watch the movie, you find yourself enthralled and you never change the channel, watching it till the end, realizing that you've seen this plot riffed on and spoofed on various TV shows, films, and cartoons over the years. When the movie's done, you're really excited--this is one of those films you discovered on your own and nothing can beat that thrill.

"Now, this isn't the way I saw 'Marty'--I rented it and now own it on DVD--but it's the spirit I get from it. I love the conversation between Marty and his best friend, its street poetry that's entertaining without being false, in the diner as their Friday night lays out ahead of them. I love Marty and Clara's walk, their honesty and his enthusiasm; you worry is he going too far, being too gregarious for the shy Clara? Will it work? I love the preparations for Sunday Mass, the fight between the married couple, and Marty agonizing over standing up his girl while his friends have an amusingly banal and silly conversation in which they keep repeating themselves. It's really just a charming and wonderful film, joyful even in its sad moments. If you don't enjoy it, what can I say, but my recommendation comes completely honest and from the heart. This is one of those personal favorites that also happens to be an underrated classic--but just underrated enough so that the joy of discovering it on a rainy Saturday afternoon remains undiluted." - Me, April 24, 2003, my first online review (IMDb)

Monday, July 21, 2014



Every month I am posting a new video essay. This month's video also doubles as an entry in Wonders in the Dark's latest genre poll, the Romance Countdown, where Lady and the Tramp placed at #57.

Lady and the Tramp is one of the great romances of all time…but it’s much more as well. In fact, the animated classic samples numerous mid-century film (and TV) genres. “Lady in Movieland” explores many of them while also observing Lady’s anxiety and eventual acceptance of a new member of the family (and what this means for her own comfort and independence). Hope you have as much fun watching this as I had making it.

Videos follow the jump. If you're also in the mood for something completely different (although it too involves an unwanted infant and dark nighttime attack), check out last month's video essay on David Lynch.