Thursday, June 25, 2009

Watch Macomber's "Blob of Ages" And Vote For It!

Our friend Shawn Macomber has stepped into the world of filmmaking. After writing about the Blobfest festival that takes place in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where the cult classic "The Blob" (1958 -- with Steve McQueen!) was filmed, Macomber was inspired to enter into the Blobfest film contest.

His gently loony take on the matter can be seen here:

And his article on the Blobfest here:


Monday, June 22, 2009

Get A Life, Holden, Even Though Your Brother Is Dead

Almost 60 years of misunderstanding "The Catcher In The Rye"

By Lars Trodson

'Two generations of readers have been told -- no, mandated to believe -- that Holden Caulfield is a rebel -- or, at the very least, rebellious. And so it is that two generations of readers of "The Catcher In the Rye" have misread, and been cheated out of the truly redemptive power and real meaning of the book.

Holden is not rebelling against anything; he is simply a young man trying to cope with the death of his beloved brother Allie. That is the real theme of the book, and the continued mislabeling and misunderstanding of "The Catcher In the Rye" is frustrating. The misreading of the book is now also costing it its most valued audience: young people who need to know that there is hope even against the most formidable obstacles of depression and loss.

That message is timeless.

Yet an article in The New York Times, titled "Get A Life, Holden", is egregious. Would any feeling person, any sensible person, tell a teenaged boy -- Holden is 16 or 17 years old -- to "get a life" as he was trying to recover from the loss of a brother?

They would not. But rather than examine the actual theme of the book, the article foments the most tired cliches about Salinger's accomplishment. The writer, Jennifer Schuessler, calls Holden an "alienated teenager..." He is the "paridigmatic teenager..." Let us hope that the loss of a brother so young is a never a "paridigmatic" experience.

But if we look at Holden through the lens of the loss of his brother Allie we can learn that even the most extreme grief can be recovered from. That is a lesson worth teaching.

The death of Allie seems to always be forgotten when discussing the book. It's Holden's misadventures, his loss of the foils before the fencing match, his encounter with the prostitute, his being kicked out of school, that seem to get the most lasting attention. But the death of his brother and his reaction to it is the core of his story.

No one seems to realize the book is one long scream for help and not a reflection of teenaged rebellion. Near the end of the book, when Holden sneaks in and talks to his sister Phoebe, she implores him to name one thing he likes.

"You don't like anything that's happening." It made me even more depressed when she said that. "Yes I do. Yes I do. Sure I do. Don't say that. Why the hell do you say that?" "Because you don't..."

After a few minutes of reflection, Holden is lost in thought and can't come up with an answer.

Phoebe says:

"You can't even think of one thing." "Yes, I can. Yes, I can." "Well, do it then." "I like Allie.," I said. "And I like what I'm doing right now. Sitting here with you, and talking about stuff, and thinking about stuff, and --" "Allie's dead -- you always say that! If somebody's dead and everything, and in Heaven, then it isn't really --"

"I know he's dead! Don't you think I know that? I can still like him, though, can't I? Just because somebody's dead, you don't just stop liking them, for God's sake -- especially if they were about a thousand times nicer than the people you know that're alive and all."

The title of "The Catcher In the Rye" comes from Holden's misremembering of a children's poem, and it is obvious that he sees himself as the catcher in the rye to prevent any more young people from getting hurt or dying.

"You know what I'd like to be? I mean if I had my goddamn choice?" "What? Stop swearing."
"You know that song, 'If a body catch a body comin' through the rye' I'd like --" "It's "If a body meet a body coming through the rye'!'" old Phoebe said. "It's a poem. By Robert Burns."

And Holden tells Phoebe how he interprets the poem:

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some kind of game in this big field of rye and all. Thousand of little kids, and nobody's around -- nobody big, I mean -- except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they are going over the crazy cliff -- I mean, if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy." Old Phoebe didn't say anything for a long time. Then, when she said something, all she said was "Daddy's going to kill you." "I don't give a damn if he does."

In this passage we not only see why people thought Holden was unstable, but we also now know the reason for his disaffection. He knows his brother Allie was pure, and genuine, and what he sees around him are people who began with this same purity only to grow older and become fake -- the number one example being his brother D.B. who started as a real writer only to become a "prostitute" out in Hollywood.

Holden's entire point of view, from everyone he meets, begins with the question as to why everyone and anyone can't be the person they started out as. Holden may very well feel that about himself.

It is difficult, at the very least, to call Holden a "rebel" when all he does is emulate the behavior of the most conformist adults around him. He swears, he smokes, he goes to bars, he chases girls, he reads books, he's unfailingly polite to adults. This is rebellion? Commentators and professors really need to stop saying he's a rebel.

Holden has no social constructs he wishes to dismantle and his moral architecture has no design. His reputation as a rebel is borne out of the fact that he is a pointed social critic, and an especially funny one.
We get a sense of this at the beginning of the book, when he meets Mr. Spencer, the headmaster of the school he has just been kicked out of, Pencey Prep.

"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules." "Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it." Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it is a game, all right -- I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game.

If you have a son, or brother, who dies before his or her time, then you will think there are no rules, and that is anything but a game.

Allie has an intense hold on Holden; he does not want to let go. When Holden has to write an essay, he chooses his brother Allie's baseball mitt as the subject.

"My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He's dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You'd have liked him. He was two years younger than I was, but he was about as 50 times as intelligent. He was terrifically intelligent. His teachers were always writing letters to my mother, telling her what a pleasure it was having a boy like Allie in their class. And they weren't just shooting the crap. They really meant it. But it wasn't just that. He was the most intelligent member in the family. He was also the nicest, in lots of ways. He never got mad at anybody. People with red hair are supposed to get mad very easily, but Allie never did, and he had very red hair."

You try to live up to that kind of reputation. "A boy like Allie in their class..." You try to live with that. You might want to try to give up, too, but it is not rebellion.

In The New York Times article, a teacher by the name of Julie Johnson in Winnetka, Illinois, says her students no longer have the patience to put up with Holden. "In general, they do not have much sympathy for alienated anti-heroes..."

This is sad, and too bad, because when Holden's story continues to be seen through the slight, and pathetically obvious reading of "rebellion", then students today will not be aware of the redemptive qualities of the story.

Holden has gone through a personal hell, and he has failed badly, and he wishes, yes, that the words "Fuck you" should be on his tombstone. And, yes, his language may be out of date, and he has no ability to text or call his friends on his cellphone, or to air his grief on Facebook or Twitter. But he is hopeful.

"I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all, and what school I'm supposed to go to next fall, but I don't feel like it."

Millions of readers, including myself, have taken away from that slight passage a sign of hope. It is not romantic hope. If teachers realize that "The Catcher In the Rye" is a story of redemption rather than a self-limiting story of teenaged rebellion than the novel will be better served.

We all need to remember what Holden says on the second-to-last page of the novel. By this time, we have seen Holden through failure, disappointment, the death of his brother, the loss of friends, his expulsion from school, and confusion.

Yet, as he stands in the rain, as he watches his sister Phoebe ride the carousel, he tells us, those generations of readers both past and present, that he feels "... so damn happy, if you want to know the truth."

Please, please let us all remember that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Big Fat Worldwide Film Review: Watch Our Movie, Send Us Your Thoughts

Elevation from Roundtable Pictures on Vimeo.

Now, we’re going to put ourselves on the line. We’re going to post our latest short film, and we want everyone to look at it, think about it, and let us know what you feel. We are not asking you to sugarcoat your thoughts. Lay it out there. Forward the film to family, friends – anyone who you think is interested in film.

Tell us how you feel about the writing, the lighting, the photography, the acting, the story, the concept, the execution. Anything.

The film is called “Elevation” and it’s about 8 minutes long. It features the acting of Lisa Stathoplos and Greg Trzaskowski. It was written by Lars Trodson and directed by Mike Gillis. That’s our little team. We were the entire film crew, and editors and we chose the costumes and the music, and we all talked about the look and feel of the film. There is nothing about the film that we didn’t plan – but whether we pulled it off or not is up to you to decide.

We want to hear from you because here is what happened. We made the film and sent it around to about 15 film festivals, both large and small alike. And we were not accepted to any. Not one. The problem is there is never any feedback. You simply get a little notice that says you didn’t make the cut. That’s after you fork over your dough.

Now – please understand this – we are extremely aware of the film’s attributes and its shortcomings. We know exactly where we think we came up short, but that’s only our point of view.

And people who have an interest in movies – certainly the people who visit us here at Roundtable Pictures – are articulate and thoughtful about them. So we are turning to you. Be as vague or as specific as you like. But please let us know.

The movie is appropriate for any age. Watch it once, twice, think about it.

We want to hear what you think, and then we’ll post our analysis based on what we’ve heard.

Thanks – from the “Elevation” team.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cassavetes and Rowlands and “A Woman Under the Influence”

By Lars Trodson

Mabel Longhetti is crazy by the time we meet her. Her husband is off on a job, and she’s alone at home. When she later walks into a low-rent tavern by herself and flicks the back of some guy’s head as a way to introduce herself, Mabel has us uneasy.

She takes the man home -- to her home -- the one she shares with her husband and children. As they fumble about the next morning -- a mini but expert examination of how people interact when the fake intimacy of sex has faded away -- Mabel yells out the name “Nick!”, which is her husband’s name.

The man, the one-night stand, asks who Nick is, and rightly says he’s not going to play the fool in a game where she’s trying to get back at this “Nick.” Mabel pantomimes throwing a few punches at the guy.

The sequence ends when Nick and his hard-hat buddies come back to the house after doing two long shifts at a local construction site, and the one-night stand is long gone.

So begins John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence” -- a movie I had been wanting to see since the day I saw a clip of Gena Rowlands in the role of Mabel during the 1975 Academy Awards. Rowlands was nominated for Best Actress and Cassavetes was nominated as Best Director; neither won.

I thought of the film again after watching and being disappointed by “Revolutionary Road” -- which we wrote about earlier here. I’m a huge Cassavetes/Rowlands fan, and the time seemed right to see the film. “Revolutionary Road” was lacquered and tidy, and you knew that the Cassavetes’ approach was going to be the exact opposite. So I was looking at it as a kind of corrective.

As is usually the case with Cassavetes, the movie is really a series of long set pieces. The opening scene of adultery leads to an equally long scene of the boys -- which includes Peter Falk as Nick -- eating a homecooked meal after a long cold night on the job. It is one of the most beautiful dinner scenes I’ve ever seen, with the banter interspersed with shots of Gena Rowlands’ unbelievably beautiful face -- a face made more beautiful by her expressive eyes and mouth. But she’s heartbreaking here, because she’s trying to connect with the men in a normal way. This is something that is just beyond her reach. “What’s your name?” she keeps asking each of the men.

The scene ends when one of the men sings an aria, and Mabel hovers uncomfortably close to the man’s face. When he stops singing, Mabel asks “Who wants to dance?” Nick mutters his displeasure, until he finally explodes: “Sit your ass down!”

Not only is the dinner ruined, the illusion of any kind of domestic tranquility is shattered.

Cassavetes takes an interesting and innovative approach to what happened to this woman. As the film progresses, the persona of Nick gradually emerges. He’s a tyrant and a bully - he’s mentally and physically abusive. We never see Mabel when she’s sane, but we do get to learn what made her break.

At first -- and this is probably because I’ve always like Falk as an actor -- I was annoyed by this performance. I wondered why he and Cassavetes were making Nick so abrasive. Why was he shouting? But the scene when he hits Mabel comes as an absolute shock -- and then I saw what was really happening. You first believe that Nick's character is simply frustrated and reacting to his wife's unsteady behavior, but you realize that it is Mabel who is the one doing the reacting to an unstable personality.

This is a menacing, uncomfortable movie. The scene where Nick and a co-worker take the children to the beach -- on what looks like a chilly day -- is truly harrowing. At one point Nick pushes his daughter down into the sand, bellowing that they were going to have fun -- and you just want to shout, “Stop, stop it!” You just want to get away from this guy -- and you no longer wonder why Mabel would want to get away from him, too. At another point Nick comes home to a little party Mabel is throwing for her kids and some of their friends, but the party has quickly fallen apart as Mabel acts increasingly distressed. Nick comes home, and confronts the neighbor upstairs in their bedroom. All the neighbor is trying to do is get his kids the hell out of the house, but Nick doesn't know what is happening and his violent nature comes through again.

After Mabel is institutionalized, the film cuts away to “six months later” -- which is the single nod to conventional movie storytelling that Cassavetes allows. The last third of the movie is devoted to Mabel’s homecoming. Nick botches even that - he’s invited too many people over. Almost everybody is kicked out, with only each of their parents left and a few other friends. When Mabel finally arrives she is clearly unwell.

Mabel announces that she wants even the few people reamining to leave because she wants to go to bed with Nick. Everyone, including the kids, begin to get uncomfortable all over again. As she begins to drift away once more, Nick continues to shout and implores Mabel to hold on. Cassavetes cuts to the faces of the children sitting at the table, and they looked terrorized. They all finally leave in the rain.

The movie ends quietly, on a bizarre note. Nick and Mabel simply start to get undressed, and Cassavetes uses a jaunty, bouncy kazoo over the end credits. It was the one move I didn’t get and didn’t like.

But the movie -- and certainly Gena Rowlands -- were flawless until that last moment. A beautiful, savage, heartbreaking film. I can't say that I'm going to watch "A Woman Under the Influence" again, but I was glad that Cassavetes made it, and made it his way. I needed to be reminded that movies can sometimes be deeply, deeply felt works of art.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Fake Life: The Utter Failure of "Revolutionary Road"

By Lars Trodson

When couples get to that place where they begin to despise each other, when they’ve run out of things to pick at each other about, the only thing left to critique is the physical: the body, the hair, the clothes.

If “Revolutionary Road”, newly out on DVD, had any connection to reality -- which it decidedly does not -- then Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Frank Wheeler would have had a field day with his wife’s voice.

I don’t know where Kate Winslet came up with this thing, but the strangulation you hear in her dire American pronunciation seems to have choked off the rest of her body. “Fronk”, April Wheeler says to her husband in what is more air than sound. There’s a reason she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for this film, and it wasn’t because this was a great performance that was overlooked. After a while I wanted to drive thin steel needles into my eyes rather than listen to any more of her braying.

There are few movies as emotionally dishonest as this one. My pet peeves -- “The Big Chill”, “Forrest Gump” (ack!), “St. Elmo’s Fire” and, yes, “American Beauty” -- now have a new rival for sheer ridiculousness.

How anyone liked this movie -- from its first disingenuous frame to the last wheeze of preposterousness -- is a true mystery. You really wonder how anyone could have looked at that film and said, yes, this is art. Even the studio execs must have watched the film and hoped that the teenagers who fell in love with those free spirits in “Titanic” more than a decade ago would be so desperate to see Kate and Leo together again that the movie they were in wouldn’t actually matter.

Speaking of “Titanic”, I think maybe Sam Mendes knew his vision of this movie was so bankrupt that he took the time to insert a tiny homage to his wife Kate’s earlier blockbuster.

In “Revolutionary Road”, April Wheeler commits adultery with her neighbor in a car outside a tavern they were drinking at. They’re making love in the car, and as the man gets on top of her he slams his open hand against the car window behind her. The gesture seemed so unnatural -- it isn’t anything anyone would do -- that it jumped into my head that Mendes was making a visual reference to the famous moment in “Titanic” when Kate and Leo finally did it and her open hand slams against the steamed up window of the car they were in.

Maybe it’s just me, and I was seeing things, but I doubt it. Then again, I was looking for anything to entertain myself at this point.

I know that the story of Richard Yates is a sad one, and I know this novel was not well received when it was published in 1961, but it doesn’t negate the fact that this was pretty thin gruel to begin with.

I never understood the Wheeler’s plight -- they always seemed more of a novelist’s vision of a suburban couple than any one you would actually know -- and despite the exactness of Yates’s prose, I also never understood why they or any one else would think the Wheelers were so special.

April wants to be an actress, yet clearly doesn’t have the talent for it. And nothing Frank ever does or says indicates that the world would be better off if we all knew about him.

Their desire to flee suburbia -- in this case a pretty well-heeled subdivision in Connecticut -- is wholly based on a poet’s notion that this kind of existence is inherently hellish. It isn’t. I just drove to my parent’s house in a neighborhood more or less like the one in “Revolutionary Road” -- it is the same house I grew up in -- and there was nothing stifling or deadening about that place.

And when the movie version was released, I wondered who would relate to this story. Movies are more devoted than ever to appealing to the common denominator, so you’d think that a movie that critiques suburban life would have a pretty small audience. Coupled with the fact that a nice leafy house in Connecticut would seem like a pretty good dream to most.

So I think the success of this was resting on the formidable shoulders of our two leads. As much as I like these two -- I’m pretty much a fan of each -- it was disheartening to see them so out of the scope of their own experience.

Both of them may have known heartache, and disappointment, and even failure, to be sure, but I don’t think either one of them has a clue about the endless days and nights of sameness that does kill so many dreams. Neither of them has known what it is like to go into the same office every day, in some cases for years, to work at something that you don’t love while also knowing that it certainly does not love you back.

You can see Kate and Leo floundering here -- relying on acting tics to get them through. They know nothing about the terror of the anonymous and quiet desperation so many people feel; they have no empathy, no bond. I almost, for a second, felt sorry for them, which is the worst thing you can ever feel for an actor.

At then end of the movie, Frank Wheeler is sitting in what is supposed to Central Park, watching his kids play. He’s sitting on a bench, and the trees are in bloom. Tiny sections of the facades of some old magnificent New York apartment building peek through the leaves ever so slightly. It is a measure of the movie that I was looking at the background rather than at the actors. And, suddenly, I thought -- are those buildings real, or were they digitally inserted? I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet money the shot was faked. Fake Central Park. Fake buildings. Fake acting.

Fake movie. What a shame.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Roundtable Pictures in the News

Updated: 8/17/2010



USA Today 

Spotlight Magazine

The Wire

The Portsmouth Herald

The New Hampshire Film Office

The Hippo

Aaron Standford Blog (actor)

New Hampshire Film Festival;jsessionid=1B54D5597252E8B88A007909B777BBF8

The Portsmouth Herald

Movie City Indie Blog

Film Babble

Foster’s Daily Democrat

New Hampshire Film Office

The Portsmouth Herald