Last Sunday evening I was flipping channels when I came across a broadcast that made me say, "Hallelujah!"
It was the first NFL preseason football game.
Although college football is really my favorite more than pro, after several weeks of withdrawal following the end of the basketball season (I don't watch baseball), the sight of the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins playing in the annual Hall of Fame Game had me glued to the television for the next three hours.
I've often wondered why I still like football by far the best out of the major sports. It's not the violence and physical contact I crave so much as the blend of agility, speed and chess-like tactics. It also makes a big difference that I played football as a kid, and basketball and soccer: the three sports I still follow.
Naturally, my obsessive and fanatical Oregon Ducks support means that I'll soon switch religious interjections from "Hallelujah!" to "God help us!" That would be true for any upcoming Ducks football season, but after suffering the worst trauma in the team's history last year, I'm not sure if I'm less nervous or more nervous now.
Last year, for the first time in 114 years of fielding a team, Oregon could claim it was the best college football team in the country, with the best player as well in quarterback Dennis Dixon. Don't take my biased word for it, though. Look at how the Ducks were ranked #2 in the nation with three games to go, all against lesser opponents.
I'll never forget hearing Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN say in an early November broadcast, "Dennis Dixon is in the driver's seat for the Heisman Trophy. It's his to lose." Or Craig James on CBS, when asked what team he expected to see in the BCS national championship game: "I like Oregon."
When Dixon went down with a knee injury, those dreams of a spot in the national championship game and a Heisman Trophy died, and part of me with them.
Dixon and star running back Jonathan Stewart are gone to the NFL now, and Oregon has some very promising players replacing them in quarterback Nic Costa and running back LaGarrette Blount, as well as countless returning starters with star potential like running back Jeremiah Johnson and defensive back Patrick Chung. But it's unrealistic to expect Oregon to be in the running again this year for a national championship or even a prestigious January bowl game appearance. What constitutes a success this year? Twenty years ago I'd have cried tears of joy over just a winning season for Oregon, or a victory against Oregon State. Now an 8-4 or 7-5 season feels like a disappointment, or at least only a mildly pleasant experience.
Just once in my life I want to feel that brass ring of a championship: either the Ducks or the Blazers going all the way. I was too young to appreciate the Blazers' 1977 championship, and now as an adult I saw the most heartbreaking house-of-cards collapse for my beloved Ducks in a lifetime of supporting them. But if that championship ever does come to Portland or Eugene, naturally all the suffering will be worth it.
So yes, to borrow from the excruciating Hank Williams Junior, I am indeed ready for some football.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of my friend Ned, five of my new short videos are now conveniently available for viewing online. I had a deadline of Friday for entering these into the Northwest Film & Video Festival, so luckily it was a chance to put them on Vimeo as well.
Three of the five films are travelogues, while the other two scrutinize everyday household environments. Of the three travelogues, one takes place in Beijing, one in Kyoto, and the third in London, all made using footage I shot in the last year or two while visiting these places.
The Beijing video is called Forbidden City Rewind and consists of footage I shot in one evening. Although the production values are low, and the action just a few staid shots, I think of this film as symbolizing the past, present and future of China: its imperial, Communist and democratic/capitalist eras. The piece is comprised of three parts: first in the Imperial Ancestral Hall inside the Forbidden City (where I attended a fancy banquet last year while on a press tour for a museum opening), then outside the Forbidden City at the famous Mao portrait overlooking Tiananmen Square, and finally outside a row of small retail outlets.
In the first section, I used some repetition and backwards-footage to render the costumes and pomp of China's ancient imperial times slightly absud. That techniqe stops in the second portion, although the key shot is a long zoomout from the Mao portrait, with the iconic dictator fading into the distance.
The Kyoto-based video, called Kyoto Diner, is humbler in its ambitions. It simply captures about three minutes inside a 24-hour restaurant where I was eating during a trip there last year. All the shots are taken from my table, and offers a very localized focus on the wait staff and kitchen workers. (Update, 10/8/08: This film has been chosen for the Northwest Film & Video Festival at the Portland Art Museum/Northwest Film Center in November.)
The London video, Battersea to Chelsea, is more like a montage of sites we visited along the Thames, from a ceremony at St. Paul's cathedal to skateboarders to a view of the stunning Battersea Power Station. I particularly like the St. Paul's moment in which the priest, unseen by the camera, asks everyone to pray for the world "...in all its glorious diversity." Christianity can be so much more attractive when it's inclusionary and not privy to an us-or-them mentality. Even so, the film's long shot of Battersea Power Station, decaying and empty, feels just as spiritual to me.
Web Swingers is the smallest idea and shortest of the films. Last winter, I happened to notice one day several huge spider webs outside my house, swaying back and forth in the wind and rain. So I spent about a half-hour filming them, and voila. There is the least amount of editing and filmmaking in this short, but its simplicity and subtlety, the way it captures nothing but pretty webs and then stops, has its appeal.
My favorite of these five shorts might be Range of Motion, which is the one I spent by far the most time making. A couple years ago I got the idea to try and film the burners on our kitchen stove coming on and off in the dark, so as to render them as an abstract pattern of four circular forms. Later, I wound up filming various foods cooking on the stove as I cooked dinner. The food you see in the film wasn't created solely as video props. Valarie and I ate all of it. Although I think I consumer all the bacon myself. The music was done by Elias Foley, who has composed music to several of my past shorts as well, including Above & Beyond, Hello Nassau, Avenue & Interstate, and Electric City.
Watching these shorts online, some of them look darker than I intended, especially Range of Motion. But it always feels very exciting to see the little video pieces I've tinkered around with for so long see the light of day.