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Tag Archives: Cool Apocalypse

R.I.P. Skip Haynes (1946-2017)

Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah’s “Lake Shore Drive” is, to my mind, the second greatest “Chicago song” of all time (after only Robert Johnson’s immortal “Sweet Home Chicago”). The question I have been asked most frequently about my first feature, COOL APOCALYPSE, is “How did you manage to get the rights to use that song?” Here, for the first time, is that story in full.

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A few years ago, when I was writing COOL APOCALYPSE, I did something no independent filmmaker should ever do: I wrote a well-known pop song into my script – in such a way that the entire movie would seemingly collapse without it – without first bothering to clear the rights. Hell, I didn’t know who had written or recorded the song, much less who owned the rights, when I was writing my little no-budget film. I had never even heard the song as a kid growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, but as soon as I moved to Chicago in 1993, I realized it was a local FM radio staple and immediately fell in love with its infectious melody and rollicking piano. When I bought my first used car a few years later, there were times when I would be driving down Lake Shore and it would come on the radio, which was always a magical experience. I would go nuts in that Volkswagen Rabbit, singing along and banging on the steering wheel. So I wrote a scene into the script where this exact thing happens to the characters played by Chelsea David and Adam Overberg. I intended the scene to be a love letter to both the song and the road that it paid tribute to.
 
When I discovered that Skip Haynes had written the song, I tasked my great producer, Clare McKeown, with trying to track him down. She reported back that she couldn’t find him. I did some internet sleuthing of my own and eventually found that he was the only surviving member of the band Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah and that he was currently living in Laurel Canyon, California, where he ran a dog rescue. He was still writing and recording music – only his new songs were all about dogs. I also found out that, much to my good fortune, Skip had not only written the song but owned the performance rights as well. I sent him an e-mail explaining that I was an independent filmmaker making a no-budget movie and that I had no money but was desperate to use his song. He responded right away by sending me his phone number and asking me to give him a call. When I called him up, he immediately and very generously offered to give me the rights to the song for a meager $40 then proceeded to reminisce about the good old days for another 30 minutes.
 
Skip was hilarious. He told me a story about how his manager had called him when he and his band were on tour in the early ’70s and told him that they had to start playing “Lake Shore Drive” at their shows. The band hadn’t realized that the song was getting radio airplay; so much time had elapsed between when they had recorded it and when it became a hit that they actually had to go to a record store while they were on the road and buy their own album in order to re-learn the song. He also told me that the band used to dose their Quaaludes with LSD and wash them down with a mixture of NyQuil and tequila. He called that a “Green Russian.” It was a very memorable phone conversation.
 
Last year I found out that “Lake Shore Drive” was prominently featured in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, something that pissed me off to no end. The film was a Hollywood tentpole with no connection to Chicago and it was going to make the song more famous than ever, which would also change how people perceived my own movie; I realized that some people were already watching COOL APOCALYPSE for the first time and saying, “Hey, it’s the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY song!” during the “Lake Shore Drive” scene. Nonetheless, when I heard that Skip Haynes passed away yesterday at the age of 71, I felt glad that he had found this unexpected Hollywood success late in life. I hope that he earned five figures from selling the rights to Marvel and that he was able to put that money to good use at the dog rescue and enjoy his last couple years on earth as much as possible. Rest in peace, Skip. Thanks to Bluetooth technology, I can now play your song every time I drive down Lake Shore Drive in your honor.


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Top 10 Home Video Releases of 2016

My top 10 favorite home-video releases of 2016 (and 21 runners-up):

10. Cool Apocalypse (Smith, 2015, Emphasis Entertainment DVD)

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I would be lying if I didn’t include my own first feature on this list. I love the package that Al Strutz of Emphasis Entertainment Group put together for the DVD-only release of Cool Apocalypse, which includes Pierre Kattar’s minute-long behind-the-scenes documentary and my own “director’s commentary” track in which I expound at greater length than I have anywhere else before on my influences, methods and intentions in making this little film. Thanks a million, Al!

9. The Assassin (Hou, 2015, Well Go USA Blu-ray)

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Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s martial arts film about a female assassin, played by the great Shu Qi, whose personal life conflicts with her professional life when she’s ordered to kill her ex-fiance during the waning years of the Tang dynasty. This is one of the transcendent film experiences of recent years: a sword fight among ghostly birch trees and a climactic conversation on a fog-enshrouded mountaintop are among the instant-classic scenes. Cinematography of borderline-supernatural magnitude like this (courtesy of Mark Li Ping-Bing who shot on 35mm) deserves a stellar HD transfer and Well Go USA’s Blu-ray certainly delivers in that department. The disc is a little light on extras — there are just four short “featurettes,” all of which clock in at less than four minutes a piece — but we should all be grateful for any chance to see and hear Hou talk about his work.

8. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Scorsese, 2005, Paramount Blu-ray)

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2016 was a great year for America’s greatest living artist: Bob Dylan turned 75-years-old, released an acclaimed new album of standards for the second year in a row, logged 76 more dates on his Never-Ending Tour (including a co-headlining gig at “Desert Trip,” the biggest concert event of the year) and, oh yeah, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Martin Scorsese’s definitive doc about Dylan’s early career – up through and including his earth-shaking European tour in 1966 – also got a spiffy “10th anniversary” re-release. The original version had only been available on DVD so Paramount’s new Blu-ray is a very welcome upgrade – with the D.A. Pennebaker-shot footage from Eat the Document looking better than those of us who first saw it via crappy VHS bootlegs would have ever thought possible. Among the plentiful extras is an insightful new interview with Scorsese in which he discusses at length his editing choices — including the film’s dazzling chronology-shuffling structure.

7. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Ford, 1949, Warner Blu-ray)

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For me, the second installment of John Ford’s celebrated “Cavalry Trilogy” doesn’t quite scale the artistic heights of the previous year’s Fort Apache but it is arguably the director’s most beautifully photographed color film and remains an essential work. Archivist Robert Harris wrote that this stunning new transfer was “taken from an IP derived from the original three-strip negatives, but so good, and with such accurate color (matched to an original nitrate), and perfect registration, that if I had to decide which way to go for the difference in cost, I’d do precisely what Warner Archive has done.” The accurate color is so crucial: the film features an expressive, boldly stylized use of color — nowhere more apparent than in the theatrical, blood-red sunset during John Wayne’s famous graveside monologue.

6. Napoleon (Gance, 1927, BFI Blu-ray)

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The way I feel about Abel Gance’s legendary Napoleon is the same way a former President of Columbia Records felt about Leonard Cohen’s music: I know that it’s great but I don’t know if it’s any good. It can be hard to reconcile the film’s dubious qualities – it is unquestionably pro-militaristic, nationalistic and hagiographic – with its status as a cinematic landmark and the apotheosis of Impressionism. Whether he’s capturing schoolchildren engaged in a snowball fight or French and English soldiers fighting for literally days on end in the wettest, muddiest battlefields this side of Kurosawa, Gance has the uncanny ability to use handheld camera (rare for a silent epic) and super-fast cutting to whip viewers into an emotional frenzy. Of course, the film itself is almost beside the point now: Kevin Brownlow’s restoration, nearly 50 years in the making and 5-and-a-half hours long, cobbles together prints from all over the world to very closely approximate what the film would’ve first looked like in 1928. It’s one of the all-time great restoration stories and every movie lover should make it a point to see this version.

5. Godard: The Essential Collection (Godard, 1960-1965, Studio Canal Blu-ray)

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Studio Canal UK released this sweet box-set, combining five of Jean-Luc Godard’s most popular early features (Breathless, Une Femme est une Femme, Le Mépris, Alphaville and Pierrot Le Fou) to surprisingly little fanfare in February. All of the discs are stacked with welcome extras — vintage making-of docs, introductions by Colin MacCabe, interviews with Anna Karina, etc. — and feature impeccable transfers to boot (with the notable exception of Le Mépris, which has always looked problematic on home video). The real story here though is that Une Femme est une Femme and Alphaville are receiving their Blu-ray debuts and look and sound better than ever in 1080p. One is a widescreen, riotously colorful musical comedy, the other is a high-contrast, black-and-white, neo-Expressionist sci-fi/noir. But they both function as dual love letters to the cinema and to Godard’s then-wife and muse, Karina, still one of the most ravishing screen presences in all of cinema.

4. Dekalog (Kieslowski, 1988-1989, Criterion Blu-ray)

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Sell your old Facets DVDs if you still can! The mighty Criterion Collection did Krzysztof Kieslowski proud with this amazing set that combines new restorations and transfers of all 10 one-hour episodes of the director’s legendary television miniseries Dekalog with the expanded theatrical-release versions of episodes five and six (AKA A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love). While Kieslowski is probably still best known for the later “Three Colors” trilogy that saw him move to France and work with notable Euro-arthouse stars like Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy and Irene Jacob, the Dekalog remains his supreme masterpiece: Each episode is set in the same housing project in Warsaw and corresponds — to varying degrees of literal-ness — to each of the Ten Commandments. The series dares to ask the question: how might these Commandments serve as the basis for ethical dilemmas in the modern world? The episodes can be watched in any order and discovering the ways in which the different stories subtly intersect (a major player in one episode may turn up for a cameo in another) is fascinating to behold. Is it television or is it cinema? Who cares? As the Criterion jacket copy states, it’s one of the 20th century’s great achievements in “visual storytelling.”

3. Early Murnau (Murnau, 1921-1925,  Eureka!/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray)

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Aw yeah. Masters of Cinema did silent movie fans a huge favor by bundling together five of F.W. Murnau’s great early German films (The Haunted Castle, Phantom, The Grand Duke’s Finances, The Last Laugh and Tartuffe) into one stellar three-disc set. If I had to list the virtues of this Early Murnau box, it would be endless: All five films are making their Blu-ray debuts, all are based on meticulous restorations by the redoubtable F.W. Murnau Foundation, all are presented with the original German intertitles and feature optional English subtitles, there are copious extras, etc. While The Last Laugh is the (deservedly) best-known film of the bunch, what a joy it is to see an undervalued mini-masterpiece like Phantom looking so crazy and beautiful in 1080p. Murnau is a God of cinema, someone who knew how to put emotion into camera movement — in the same way that someone like William Faulkner knew how to put emotion into a string of words — and being able to witness that kind of cinematic expressiveness in the optimum quality it’s presented in here made me ecstatically happy. Now where’s The Burning Soil, damn it?!

2. Pioneers of African-American Cinema (Various, 1915-1941, Kino/Lorber Blu-ray)

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University of Chicago professor Jacqueline Najuma Stewart curated this incredible and extensive compilation of early movies by African-American filmmakers, all of which were made far outside of the Hollywood studio system between the mid-1910s and the mid-1940s. It’s an impressive act of restoration and reclamation that stands as one of the most significant home video releases ever. Spread across five Blu-ray discs are a dozen feature films and twice that many shorts — totaling 24 hours of running time altogether. This set includes newly restored works by such relatively well-known
“race film” directors as Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams as well as a wealth of exciting new discoveries by previously unknown filmmakers who immediately qualify as what Andrew Sarris once termed “Subjects for Further Research.” Chief among the latter are James and Eloyce Gist, husband and wife traveling evangelists whose surreal visual allegory Hellbound Train depicts Satan as the literal engineer of a train taking the world’s sinners to hell.

1. The Jacques Rivette Collection (Rivette, 1971-1981, Arrow Blu-ray)

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There’s no way in hell anything else was going to top this list. Jacques Rivette has always been the most underappreciated of the major New Wave directors — mainly because his work has always been the most difficult to see. This imbalance was in large part redressed with Arrow Video’s mammoth box set, which was released 11 days before Rivette’s death in January. The centerpiece is Rivette’s greatest work, the near 13-hour-long Out 1, originally made for but rejected by French television. In this epic series Rivette intercuts the stories of two theatrically troupes rehearsing different Aeschylus plays with the stories of two con artists separately investigating a secret society with its origins in Balzac. The way Rivette gradually brings these various characters together — as if pieces on a giant chessboard — is alternately hilarious, terrifying and exhilarating. Only shown a handful of times theatrically and on T.V. over the decades, this cinematic holy grail was primarily seen by cinephiles in recent years as an illegal digital download of dubious quality with “fan-made” English subtitles. This new transfer boasts nicely saturated colors and beautiful film-grain quality via a 2K restoration of the original 16mm elements overseen by cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn. Also included is Out 1: Spectre, a four-and-a-half hour alternate version (not a reduction) of the original that stands as a major work in its own right; Duelle and Noroit, two delightful female-centric companion films from 1976 that function as mythological noir and pirate-adventure story, respectively; and the globe-hopping thriller Merry-Go-Round, an interesting but somewhat lesser work starring Joe Dallesandro and Maria Schneider. To pore over the contents of this set is to understand why Rivette is one of the giants of the medium. The Rivette renaissance will thankfully continue in 2017 as Cohen Media Group has acquired a whopping 10 more Rivette films for distribution.

Runners-Up (Alphabetical By Title):

3 Bad Men (Ford, 1926, Kino/Lorber Blu-ray)
Boyhood (Linklater, 2014, Criterion Blu-ray)
Cat People (Tourneur, 1942, Criterion Blu-ray)
Chimes at Midnight (Welles, 1965, Criterion Blu-ray)
Destiny (Fritz Lang, 1921, Kino/Lorber Blu-ray)
The Emigrants / The New Land (Troell, 1971-1972, Criterion Blu-ray)
The Executioner (Berlanga, 1963, Criterion Blu-ray)
The Exterminating Angel (Bunuel, 1962, Criterion Blu-ray)
Fantomas (Feuillade, 1913, Kino/Lorber Blu-ray)
The Immortal Story (Welles, 1968, Criterion Blu-ray)
In a Lonely Place (Ray, 1950, Criterion Blu-ray)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen, 2012, Criterion Blu-ray)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971, Criterion Blu-ray)
Muriel (Resnais, 1955, Criterion Blu-ray)
Night and Fog (Resnais, 1963, Criterion Blu-ray)
On Dangerous Ground (Ray, 1951, Warner Blu-ray)
Paris Belongs to Us (Rivette, 1961, Criterion Blu-ray)
The Player (Altman, 1992, Criterion Blu-ray)
The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Collection (Fassbinder, 1969-1978, Arrow Blu-ray)
They Were Expendable (Ford, 1945, Warner Blu-ray)
A Touch of Zen (Hu, 1971, Eureka!/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray)


Cool Apocalypse at the Siskel Center / The Lodger at Transistor

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I’m very pleased to announce that my feature film, Cool Apocalypse, while still in the midst of its festival run, will receive its Chicago debut at the Gene Siskel Film Center in November. The Siskel has long been my favorite local film venue and I am honored beyond my ability to express myself that they were interested in programming it. It will screen for two shows only: on Saturday, November 21, at 8pm and Monday, November 23, at 8:15pm. I will be present to introduce both screenings and participate in post-screening Q&As with producer Clare Kosinski and members of the cast. Tickets will not go on sale for another month but, because I am offering extra-credit points to the students in all five of my classes who attend, I suspect that both shows will be sell outs. I therefore strongly advise anyone interested in seeing Cool Apocalypse to purchase their tickets in advance. Tickets will be available for sale through the Siskel Center’s website and in person at the box office in October. Hope to see you at our hometown premiere!

In more recent Chicago film-screening news, I will be introducing a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger at Transistor Chicago this Saturday, September 19 at 8pm. I will be showing the BFI’s recent restoration of the Master of Suspsense’s first thriller, which is not yet available on home video in North America. The screening is FREE and BYOB. Here is the description I wrote for Transistor’s website:

The British Film Institute’s recent restoration of Hitchcock’s first thriller gloriously renders many heretofore unseen details in the film’s luminous Expressionist-influenced photography. Hitchcock fans who haven’t yet seen it might be shocked at how fully formed the Master of Suspense’s style was this early in his career: There are a series of murders, a ‘wrong man’ plot, a beautiful ‘Hitchcockian blonde,’ and a highly memorable kissing scene. (1927, NR, 92 minutes)

Hope to see you there as well!

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My New Film: Cool Apocalypse

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I am pleased to announce that, following the success of my shorts At Last, Okemah! and The Catastrophe on the U.S. film festival circuit, I am planning on shooting a feature-length film this summer. It is entitled Cool Apocalypse and it is a romantic character-based drama. It will unquestionably be the biggest and best thing I’ve ever done. I’m therefore in need of your help!

We are presently deep into pre-production and very excited about the movie we are about to make. Auditions are done and we will be announcing our phenomenal cast of actors soon. We will shoot Cool Apocalypse in black-and-white digital on the Panasonic GH3 (the successor to the camera on which Shane Carruth shot Upstream Color). You can learn all about it on our website. If you could please take a look at the site and think about making a donation we would GREATLY appreciate it. This film’s budget will be raised entirely through “crowd sourced funding” and virtually none of the cast and crew, including me, will be getting paid. Nearly all of the budget will go towards making the film look and sound as good as possible. As most of you probably know, independent filmmaking is very difficult, so every little bit helps. Donations of $25 and up are eligible to receive a host of exciting perks including tickets to Zanies comedy club in Chicago, HD downloads of the film, mp3s of the original soundtrack and even a speaking cameo in the film! Donations can be sent directly through the site but you can also contact me via e-mail if you would like to send a check.

My 39th birthday is coming up on June 14th; if you were thinking about getting me a birthday present, please make it be a donation to this movie. Or, if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, which I’ve written for four years as a labor of love for no pay, please consider making a donation to the film as a way of showing your appreciation. Independent filmmaking in Chicago is a VERY worthy cause. Even if you can’t make a donation at this time, please check out the website anyway and learn how you can help us merely by “liking” us on facebook and/or following the making of the movie on Twitter.

Thank you all very much in advance!

www.coolapocalypse.com


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