Sunday, March 10, 2013

Marina & Ulay - Sometimes Words are not Needed

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, both artists, had an intense relationship from 1976 to 1988 or so. To signify the end of their relationship, they walked the Great Wall of China, starting from opposite ends to reunite in the middle for one final goodbye. In 2010, Abramovic had a show "The Artist Is Present" at the MOMA, which included a minute of silence those in attendance who sat in front of her. This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in Darjeeling Limited, in which all of the brothers and their mothers just sit around the table in silence, communicating with their eyes. Anyway, Ulay went to the show, without Abramovic's knowledge and this is what transpired:

Heart-wrenching image. Sometimes, words are unnecessary, but I do think knowledge of their back story is needed to really feel what they must be feeling, in order to be moved by it.

Eat Drink Man Woman - A Moveable Feast

That opening scene in Eat Drink Man Woman, directed by one of my favorites, Ang Lee, always makes me happy. I know the guy is gutting fish and cutting up all sorts of other life form, but it's such a life-affirming scene to me. I love all the sounds and images of food preparation, all the steam and the frying. But what I didn't like is the part when the Chinese music comes on. I think the music takes away from the significance of the everyday moment and trivializes it, somehow, because it's such a typical Chinese tune. Here's what I'm referring to:

Ang Lee is a great director, so I'm not trying to criticize him, because I think it would be too boring for a mainstream audience if the music didn't come on. So I understand why he had the music. But I've always felt that the music took away from the meditative quality of the scene. I wanted to somehow take the music out of that scene, but I don't have the editing equipment to do so. Instead, I edited in other scenes of food prep in the movie with the opening scene and that's where the clips come from for this WRDSNDIMG creation. As for the quote, it's from the book A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.

That quote has always stayed with me. I guess the obvious connection to the movie and the quote is that they both have to do with food, but that's actually not why I brought them together to create this WRDSNDIMG. I think the more obvious visual for the quote from A Moveable Feast would be an overcast scene of a beach or something, like that. At least that's what I often envision in my mind when I hear that quote. I always picture sand, even though I think he's at a cafe or something in the book, I don't remember.

To me, the connection between these two entities is that they're both give me a similar life-affirming feeling and a sense of renewal, and, of course both appeal to the senses. I'm not sure if this WRDSNDIMG did much in terms of moving you. My favorite part is the end starting with "to make plans" and then the music comes on and the dough balls are released into the oil, as if they're going on a journey. At least that's what I think about in my head when I see that image.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Friday Night Lights - American Beauty

Unlike a lot of people, I'm not a huge fan of American Beauty. I thought The Ice Storm conveyed the same ideas in a less pretentious way. I felt moved by The Ice Storm, whereas I felt embarrassed watching American Beauty. Don't get me wrong, I love the visuals, as well as the powerful soundtrack. I suspect that the reason why American Beauty is so beloved, is because of the visuals and the soundtrack (i.e., images and sounds). So this is why it is a perfect candidate for my Words.Sounds.Images. experiment. I only watched this movie once back in 1999 and I still recall some of the stunning visuals and I remember loving the soundtrack, even though I can't recall it.

The problem with American Beauty, for me is the words. In fact, if it wasn't for the stunning images and sounds, I don't even know why the movie was ever made, because The Ice Storm explored the same exact concept, but executed it a thousand times better and existed before American Beauty. To me, the words and execution of the ideas in American Beauty were too obvious. I used to work in advertising as a Creative Strategist and there's a phrase in the biz: "your strategy is showing"--meaning that the creative execution of the idea didn't make a leap from the strategy. And to me, that's where Mendes, the director, failed with American Beauty. I could see exactly what he was trying to do, so I didn't get lost in the movie. I was watching the movie with my head, not with my stomach. I was constantly critiquing the execution of the ideas and couldn't get pass the embarrassment and cringe-worthy-ness of the execution to enjoy the movie. The deplorable thing is, Mendes was actually trying to be cryptic by being all metaphorical and shocking and such, but it only made his strategy that much more obvious. Regardless, there were many visually beautiful scenes in American Beauty. I could have just done without most of the dialogue and the story line.

One of the scenes that always stuck with me (again, I haven't seen American Beauty since it first came out, which was back in 1999, but I still remember this scene vividly) is the scene where the trash bag is flying around. Again, I could have done without the words, because what the kid said while the trash bag was dancing about was way too pretentious and, again, embarrassing--especially the part about there being too much beauty in the world he can't take it and the part about the paper bag being like a child begging for him to play with it. You see what I mean about the "strategy showing"? You see why there were so many cringing moments, watching this movie for a lover of words and ideas, like myself? Also, the way that kid spoke was pretty annoying on top of that. But it wasn't bad enough to ruin my pure enjoyment of watching the wind breathing life into the trash bag.

The reason why that trash-bag scene captured me so is that it would capture me in real life. And I loved that Mendes had the courage to put something so seemingly mundane in a major motion picture (actually it would have shown real courage if he did it without the bullshit voice over). But, to me, a trash bag flying around in the wind like that is not mundane. I mean, if I saw a trash bag flying around like that in real life, I would stop everything I was doing and I wouldn't care what I was late for. I would just stand there for the duration of the moment and just enjoy it. Why wouldn't anybody? It's a wonderful thing to see. And it's something I have definitely done before, but I've never seen a trash bag flying around with such control (and purpose) and freedom all at the same time for that length of time. So that's what I loved about that scene. It affords me the luxury of watching a trash bag fly around for over three minutes. I could completely get lost in it, free of any potential disturbances, such as rushed pedestrians. To me, that's luxurious. I know I'm going on way too much about the trash bag and some people might think I'm crazy for doing so, but those who really know me know I love the simple every day things like this. I mean, I have stood many times for literally 45 minutes or (sometimes in the blistering cold) to watch the Hudson River at night. Just watch the endless patterns that are created by the combination of the wind, light and water. When you can be fully present in the moment to these everyday wonders, it's easy to be happy. This is an aspect of mindfulness, but I digress.

Enough of American Beauty, lets talk about the other component in the mash-up: Friday Night Lights. To me, Friday Night Lights is one of the best drama series on TV and I know I'm not alone in this belief. Lots of people love Friday Night Lights. How could you not? It's got great characters, who are very well conceived and developed. And the dialog is honest. And it's got so many moving scenes (someone I know and love aptly refers to it as Friday Night Cries). One such moving scene for me is Tyra reading her college essay to Landry. I can understand why some would cringe at this scene, but it didn't make me cringe. It moved me, because it was honest. Sure she uses a lot of cliches in her essay, such as "I want to define myself, instead of having others define me", but I'm fine with all of the cliches, because it's the way Tyra would write. It's honest. And that's one of the things I love about it. I love that she uses simple words and expressed simple thoughts, such as: "I want to travel to Europe on a business trip", "big-hearted", and "I want to be important". This scene moved me, because of the ideas Tyra expressed (e.g., "now I find I can't stop wanting", "I want to lose and get over it", "I want to grow up and be generous and big-hearted, the way that people have been with me", "I want an interesting and surprising life", and "It's not that I'm going to get all of these things, I just want the possibility of getting them") and the emotion in her voice--a combination of desperation and hopefulness--especially the part when her voice breaks when she says "The possibility that things are going to change". It's heartbreaking. I'm not sure how people who haven't seen Friday Night Lights will take this scene. It's hard for me to divorce myself from what I know about the character, so I suppose I can't really fairly evaluate the words on their own. Maybe they just fall flat for non-FNL viewers, and I could understand why. I hope not, though. Maybe the emotion in her voice (i.e., the sound) can save the words for you, I don't know.

Anyway, I had these two elements I knew I wanted to do something with: the trash bag scene and Tyra's essay. And the more I thought about both of them, the more it made sense for me to "mash" (I hate this word for my purposes, because it sounds too rough and reckless, which doesn't describe what I'm trying to do with Words.Sounds.Images., but unfortunately, it's in the vernacular, so I'm forced to use it) them together, rather than finding other visuals and words to mash them to. I could probably go into minute detail why I chose to mash Tyra's essay up with the trash bag, but I'd rather just let you see it or not see it for yourself.

When I thought about doing it in my mind, I wasn't quite sold on the idea. I thought it was either a little too obvious or I thought I was trying too hard to make them mesh together--there was no in between. But when I sat down to edit them together, it pretty much worked right away. I was actually quite amazed at how easy it was. Tyra's essay fit perfectly in between the music from American Beauty. It was almost as if these two elements belonged together. Well, at least that's how it is for me. And, I don't mean this in a cruel way, but that's good enough for me. Don't get me wrong, there will be future "creations" (I still don't know what to generally call these things, I mean, in this case, it's a mash-up, but they won't all be mash-ups, plus, I don't like the word, "mash-up" for this purpose, it sounds a little too violent and loud for what I'm trying to do here in Words.Sounds.Images., maybe I'll just call them "WRDSNDIMG") I will have issues with, but this one seems to fit as well as I had hoped. All this being said, it's a trash bag flying around--pretty much anything fits into a scene where a damn trash bag is flying around. Am I right? In fact, all future WRDSNDIMGs will be different words with this trash bag flying around (I'm only half-kidding). Actually, if I was doing this solely for myself without any consideration for the viewer, then that's probably what I'd do. So, see, I do care about you.

The overall takeaway here is that the most important thing about writing (as well as any creation that is meant to move people) should be honest. To me, it doesn't matter how corny or cheesy something is, as long as it's honest. In fact, I rarely use the words "corny" or "cheesy" to describe something, because most things that are corny and cheesy are actually honest. I'd rather receive something that most may consider cheesy or corny if it's truthful than something that people may perceive as being profound, but is actually dishonest. To me, that's what American Beauty is. I remember having strong bitterness towards the movie, because it was lauded as something so insightful, when it was actually so dishonest, because it was trying to be profound by camouflaging the truth with all the pretentious metaphors and words, as well as trying to shock the viewers. In my eyes, with this WRDSNDIMG, I redeemed the beauty in American Beauty (i.e., the images) with words and emotions that are honest and hopefully breathed new life into both scenes to create a scene that is even more moving. At least that's the goal. Not sure if I accomplished it. I hope, at the very least, that it is enjoyable to watch.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Intro: Words.Sounds.Images.

For a very long time, since back in 2004, I’ve had this idea to combine words and images in a “new” way, for lack of a better word, to depict scenes that move people. These scenes are a hybrid of poetry and short story writing. And the images aren’t literal depictions of the text, but rather convey their own ideas that might even be separate from the text to add another layer of meaning to the scene. This blog, along with the corresponding YouTube Channel, is an evolution of this idea and adds another component: sound. 

Words. Sounds. Images. is a place where I’ll experiment with this idea with varying degrees of success, I’m sure. Sometimes, I’ll mash up words, sounds and images from pop culture. For example, I’ll combine words from a book with a scene in a movie or something like that. Sometimes, I’ll combine my own words, images and sounds. Regardless of the endless combinations, the overall purpose of what I do here is to move people.

So please follow this blog. Since these creations take time to conceive (and I also have a million other interests), I don't anticipate posting with a high degree of frequency, so I won't clog up your email. Also, feel free to share this and future posts. Thank you.