New Orchard Media

Highly Creative Video Production, Filmmaking and Education

Nathan Jongewaard is a veteran videographer, editor, producer, director, writer and teacher. He brings a lifelong passion for moving image media to every gig, every project, every lesson. He has hung his shingle, as New Orchard Media, in Alameda, California.

@neworchardmedia

Conflicting Advice

I was watching an episode of the hilarious workplace cop comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the other day. A character was trying to come up with a list for that dreaded review question, What are some of your weaknesses? Naturally, she could only come up with “weaknesses” that are actually strengths, like “being too conscientious.”

But I just thought of one for me.

One of my current classes is a screenwriting course. There is little in the way of a syllabus, so I’m running the class as mostly a lab. This feels appropriate anyway, since what one needs for writing is simply time set aside for writing. This format gives us the chance to incorporate other exercises, screenings and interactions in a productively ad hoc basis. Naturally, I also give each student a one-on-one during most sessions, giving me an opportunity to critique their writing.

Thinking about the class today, I suddenly recalled that when I ask students why they chose a particular path in trying to flesh out a story, they often tell me it was in response to my notes from last week. At that point I am usually in the midst of what turns out to be a line of conflicting advice. I tend to find this a bit amusing when it happens—whether because I am a bit of a sadist or because I am cultivating an absent-minded-professor thing, I’m not sure.

What occurred to me today was to wonder whether or not my apparently giving conflicting advice from week to week is a bad thing or a good thing. On the one hand, I can see how it might exasperate the students who, to some extent, are attempting assignments just because I created them, not because they make some larger “sense” to them. On the other hand, sending them first in one direction and then in another might actually be giving them an appropriate kind of writer’s “workout.” It might lead to stories that are more complete, more grounded. Maybe?

That’s the nice thing about doing your own review, I guess.

So far so bad

There are many kinds of movie fans, from MCU bros to delicate cineastes, and among them we recognize a cohort enamored of movies “so bad they’re good.” Thus, Bad Movies is a cult category, one that not everyone can get into because the movies, while possibly entertaining are still, you know, bad. Life is of limited duration after all and you never know which movie will be your last. It could be Wild Strawberries. Or it could be Hard Ticket to Hawaii. So, choose wisely.

I am one of those—an enjoyer of the “bad.” My favorite podcast, The Flop House, is dedicated to this category. I own on DVD—or in some cases even blu ray or 4K disk—a number of movies that are bad, such as one of the Transformers franchise, I forget which, and movies that are so bad they’re good, like John Rad’s Dangerous Men or my new 12-film Andy Sidaris collection.

But why don’t we ever talk about the movies that are “so good they’re bad?” I believe I am a member of this cult as well, though not always. These are movies that are inarguably great that are still difficult to watch for one reason or another. For example, how many members of the modern audience, even a highly-self-selected sub-group of cinephiles, would want to sit through F.W. Murnau’s indisputably great and stunningly beautiful and innovative Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans—or, for that matter, even knows it exists? This is a Hollywood movie that even won an Academy Award.

I am not intending to bemoan the current state of film literacy, which is just one of those things. No, I mean to say that there are a number of great films—and each year, a new crop of contenders—that have, how about, a very low watchability factor. They’re boring. Even impenetrable. I will further clarify that I passionately love some of these films. Take Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror, his kaleidoscopic, autobiographical traumnovelle from 1975. I must place this high on my personal favorites list (my fantasy Sight and Sound poll list, perhaps), but I can’t pretend it’s what I put on the TV on a Saturday night, in spite of its heart-stopping beauty and perfection.

Nor do I consider boredom a dead end as a film viewer. Sometimes it is necessary, with a certain type of film, to let go of narrative expectations entirely and sometimes even what we’ve been trained to understand as a film, and just roll with it. Filmmakers as various as Chantal Akerman, James Benning, Bela Tarr, David Lynch and Gus Van Sant have made stunning masterpieces that roll along for long stretches of real time.

This “slow cinema” has the effect of driving the viewer “out of the movie” and into a strange place for a filmgoer—herself. And as such a viewer contends with the duration unspooling before her, she realizes she is contending with herself. This begins to feel foolish, so she lets go. And discovers, perhaps a long while later, that she has sunk into a strange intimacy with the characters on the screen. Their time becomes her time. This effect can be mesmerizing and incredibly “real.” But you have to go through the boredom—which is not a quality we associate with a “good” movie.

As a film teacher, when I have screenings I have to think about how to walk the line with my young-adult students. If I legitimately bore them, they’ll tune out. But if I create a situation where instead of simply boring them, a movie bores into them, I will have succeeded in showing them something.

Movie Favorites: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In the Coens’ first two decades of filmmaking, they created one terrific movie after another—but their gleeful playing around with genre tropes, ironic homages to film history and formal exercises, while sometimes exhilarating (viz. the Danny Boy shootout in Miller’s Crossing), tended to leave their work just shy of greatness. There was a small distance there, which critics said was created by the overly cerebral, self-satisfied filmmaking of brilliant mimics, if not quite great artists.

On the one hand, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is susceptible to many of the same charges. On the other hand, there is much that is transcendent here—a screwball goof on Preston Sturges, prisoner comedies, musicals, gangster Americana and the Old South turns out to be a near perfect cover for a brilliant meditation on and summation of the sweeping cultural shifts of the 20th Century, particularly mass media and other technology, and a sharp critique of nostalgia and national mythologies.

In these ways the film far surpasses its own limitations and shortcuts and points the way to the more personal masterpieces the Coens would create in the coming years—from No Country for Old Men, to A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis.

Favorites of 2017: Kong Skull Island

Subtracting a star right off the bat for the script, everything else conspires to create an often glorious retro B-movie romp. From the  gorgeousity that is Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, their stylists and her Wonderbra, to the burnished sunset visuals, to the Vietnam-WW2-Lost World mashup storyline, it's a helluva lotta fun.
Gotta wonder, though, why Larson's embedded photographer isn't constantly taking pictures. Lots of possibilities there, instead of treating this gifted, Oscar-winning actress like mere arm candy for Loki. Which is not to say that she isn't stunningly perfect in shot after shot, unable to be anything less than exactly smart AND sexy at any given moment, and with perfect hair. But, girl, you should be running out of film on this crazy island, if you're this big respected photographer.

This illustrates what I mean about the script. Countless opportunities for creating character go by—for everyone—with no effort from the filmmakers in this regard; instead, we get an oddly rote Sam Jackson barking lame cliches and too many wasted supporting players.

John Goodman fares a bit better, as the nominal expedition leader, because he's John Goodman and thereby infallible. And when crazy John C. Reilly shows up as the Randy Quaid character, who's also weirdly the Tom Hanks character, there's just the right sense of the absurd.

Overall, I would much rather see this kind of movie—lovingly pop big budget B movie, but WITH A SCRIPT—than any "prestige" or "Oscar-bait" bullshit or any portentous superhero sequel. Or even than most indie films.

They say dialogue-driven movies don't play internationally as a way to paper over pure laziness when it comes to developing characters in films. But behavior doesn't require much dialogue, and it's behavior that makes characters more interesting; and interesting characters is what makes good movies great and great movies classics.

Which this Kong ain't.

The Stanley Kubrick Exhibit

Recently I finally made it to the Kubrick exhibit, about to close at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. It was a huge thrill for a giant Kubrick nerd like me.

A man at the salon

Got a haircut over the weekend. At the salon was a remarkable book, created by Crew, which I think makes hair products. 

Where there's man there's Crew.

Oh, believe me, I do. Sometimes twice!

At least not for white men.

Mm, yeah, that and a pair of testicles.

His eyes are telling you you're fat.

Okay, now you just gotta give me a fucking break with this shit. Jesus. Someone, somewhere wrote this. And someone approved it. Then a bunch of Hitler Youth posed for the pictures. And someone printed it and put it in my barbershop. But why? That's what I can't figure out. For the love of god, why?