Over the last few weeks I've been putting together a DVD compilation of the six completed short films I've made over the last two years. One thing I decided to include was liner notes about each of the works. I thought I'd include them here:
Kerra Skola consists of a single continuous shot: a trip through an automatic car wash. I simply mounted a video camera onto the dashboard of my car, paid $5 for the Triple Polish, and hit the ‘Record’ button. During editing, Rob Tyler and I employed techniques such as the motion-blur to render the machine’s brush twists and water sprays in a more abstract manner. I’ve always found carwashes to be a kaleidoscopic diversion from everyday life: a performance you watch through the windshield. And that was what I hoped to portray. (The title, incidentally, is Icelandic for “car wash”, or at least “car” and “wash”. I happened to be flipping through Rob’s Icelandic dictionary as we were editing.) Most of the audio is existing sounds from the carwash picked up with the microphone on the camera, which Rob then manipulated similarly to the visuals. We did add one external bit of external audio: radio transmissions from Soviet cosmonauts, which again was meant to emphasize the otherworldly atmosphere.
Tsukiji 5AM was shot entirely at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo on my first morning in the city. I’d woken up very early at my hotel with jet lag and remembered the market’s main period of operation was around 4-5AM. It was very important personally that I only minimally edit what I shot (everything you see comes in chronological order) to preserve the integrity of the original experience. With Andy Blubaugh’s help, I simply paired about fifteen minutes of footage into about seven, removing the redundant or otherwise unwanted shots. All the sound comes from what the camera’s microphone picked up. I also omitted narration or other ways of imposed storytelling. I wanted Tsukiji 5AM to retain the same wonder and bewilderment that I, as a foreign visitor, experienced being at the market. It’s an extraordinarily impressive operation, with so much coordinated chaos. But at the same time, seeing so much butchering makes the film, however unintended, an essay on human consumption.
Western Travelogue #2 consists of a series of images, most of them unrelated, that I shot with a Super-8 camera. I got in the habit for several months of taking the camera on various outings: a boat ride in Yaquina Bay on the Oregon Coast, or a walk through Portland Central Eastside industrial area. Each shot is followed by a couple seconds of black screen, because I think of this film as a kind of a moving slideshow, where each image is loosely related to the whole, but considered on its own as well. Although it’s completely non-narrative, there is still a kind of sequential change from urban landscapes at the beginning to natural ones later. The end montage of pigeons in flight is a good example of a recurring personal style: attempting to mine beauty from seemingly tattered, tarnished subjects, often with localized scrutiny that takes the subject out of its context to be viewed as more abstract physical forms and patterns. Mercifully, none of those pigeons managed to make a direct hit on me or my clothes. The music is a collaboration with Eric Schopmeyer, who skillfully articulated and transformed my vague ideas about melody, instrumentation and mood.
Super Terrific Shinjuku is a companion piece to Tsukiji 5AM. Shot on the same trip to Tokyo in June of 2004, it chronicles an evening I spent in the Shinjuku neighborhood, with its flashing neon and spectacle of shops, clubs and many, many people. I loved seeing so many neon signs in a language that I not only couldn’t understand, but didn’t even know any of the characters from. It made the patterns of light and color stand out to me all the more. I feel a little guilty about including the performing monkey footage, because I feel sorry for the poor animal. But in the end I just couldn’t resist.
Western Travelogue #1 is the first film I ever made. Shot on super-8, it chronicles three distinct landscapes: city, mountains, and beaches. It also includes narration in Japanese without subtitles; I’ve always been fascinated by the musicality of languages I don’t understand. I imagined this resembling a documentary about Oregon that I might have stumbled upon in a junk shop or thrift store on a decaying old film reel. I enjoyed the idea of viewers filling in the blanks, seeing images of towering fir trees or horses trotting along a ridge and imagining what these voices are saying about them. Thanks to Ned Howard for his work with not only the narration, but also the recurring waltz music in the background. The middle portion of mountains and forest land was photographed going to and from my aunt Laura’s funeral, and is intended as a tribute to her.
Nocturne began the same way as Kerra Skola, with my video camera affixed to the dashboard of my car. This time, however, the occasion was an 8-minute drive from my home in Southeast Portland at 3AM to a bakery in the Pearl District, crossing the Willamette River via the Hawthorne Bridge and passing through Downtown. What I hoped to convey was the juxtaposition of solitude and eeriness that came from traversing a dense urban environment that is all but devoid of people. Unlike with Kerra Skola, I didn’t use any editing techniques to enhance the action onscreen. With this film I wanted to maintain a greater sense of the reality from which this moment was born. That said, Ned Howard’s ambient musical score is essential to the film’s haunting tone.