Broken Embraces

(spoiler alerts!)

Broken Embraces
is the first Almodovar movie I want to rewrite.

First, let me say I was captive for the full 2 hours. It's beautiful to watch, and moving and funny in places.

But in the end I almost feel cheated. There was no murder (there almost was) no adultery (there sort of was) no hookers (a hint of one) no abused sons or nuns. None of the usual melodramatics Almodovar uses as his material But these histrionics that Almodovar uses in his movies are usually what he transcends to make astonishing, surprising, giant and humane works.

In Broken Embraces, Almodovar under-challenged himself. His task here seemed to be to make a story full of mostly reasonable if somewhat obsessed people. It's like was trying to make Husbands and Wives.

Broken Embraces is not:

--A movie about a secretary who wants to be an actress and occasionally sells her body to further her ends though that story is in there.
--About the gay son, in adulthood, who only upon his father's death musters the strength to transcend his father's oppressive hand though that story is in there.
--It's not about the obsessive business man with his fingers and strings in everything, though that story is in there.
--It's not about a fraught love affair, a secret son, jealousy and camaraderie over 2 decades of shared creativity, though that story is in there

In fact, I'm not sure what Broken Embraces is about, except being in love with Penelope Cruz.

In the end, I hate to say (because I'm sorry to make any artist fulfill my expectations) that what I want Almodovar to break my heart, to surprise me with another person who at first seems unlovable, or who commits acts that should make me want to turn away. But he makes me/you love them. Almodovar opens those people out and it almost feels like he's watching as you learn to love them.

In this new movie, you start out by loving Cruz, his star. Everyone loves her. Her only impropriety is a momentary glimpse and feels like a plot device. The only character you're don't much like at first isn't a real character, and you don't really know or like him more by the end. HR COSTIGANHe's too simple, he's just a type, like HR Costigan before Jaime Hernandez drew BAY OF THREES.

Here's what I would offer as possible rewrites:

--The Ernesto Jr character kills Lena. NOW why did he show up on Mateo's door when his father died?
--So Lena hooks on the side? What does that entail? WHY? What kind of actress is she anyway? Is she good?
--The son Diego is known from the beginning. Everyone knows anyway. Get the confession out of there.
--Lena shines when she is really loved. Show this in the film Mateo is making. The dichotomy between her normal fraught life and her vitality on screen when she is genuinely loved should be marked larger.
--Judit is full of potential. Who is she? She can never be a Lena, that's for sure. Show that.
--Who is Ernesto Sr? Chilean? Did he make his money under Pinochet? Who is he? Where is more of his trail?
--Mateo shines when he can aid his son Diego in writing the latter's dumb vampire script. Show that relationship.

All the above is latent in the movie, just not explored or opened much for consideration. Instead, it's a love letter to Penelope Cruz, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and movie making in general(and not even movies, just some vague notion of movie making.)

Almodovar usually breaks my heart, forcing me to see it in a new way while I pick up the pieces. Even the movies of his that don't instantly do this (I'm thinking Bad Education) are still stirring.

I'll see this one again and hopefully learn to love it. But I wanted my heart broken, dammit.


David Mamet vs Werner Herzog

A link to my new small essay on David Mamet vs. Werner Herzog.


I love Mamet's book. It's an arrogant, self-satisfied book, so laser-focused on telling a story that anyone in any medium will benefit from it. In detailed conversations with students and illuminating supporting essays, he describes what kinds of shots and scenes move a story forward, and which ones don't. If scenes and shots don't move the story forward, they're of no use.

In my mulitple readings of the book, I can only recall him mentioning one director by name who represents the type of filmmaking he has no use for: Werner Herzog. He says: "... listen to the difference between the way people talk about films by Werner Herzog and the way they talk about films by Frank Capra, for example. One of them may or may not understand something or other, but the other understands what it is to tell a story, and he wants to tell a story, which is the nature of the dramatic art- to tell a story." Mamet finishes this line of thinking with "The only thing the dramatic form is good for is telling a story."

Read more at Seth Kushner's Graphic NYC blog


Following Barney Banks, Chapter 3

Continuing notes and sketches from
Barney Banks, Extra Life.

Aug 1, 2009,

Finished page 17 - the first page of part 3 (in some numbering system) which was begun yesterday. Now concerned it's getting mundane, and where it isn't mundane, it's dumb. Video games? As a motif? Really? I realized today- at some point, if SHE plays the game (being an outlayer at first), it's a betrayal.

The original ideas, young adults, being emo and wearing real bear suits and stuff, is now becoming more about video games? I have to make sure that is not the case. But it does give Banks something to rail about, something to be RIGHT about, and angry about, especially when he can't even model a better behavior. Is living “emo” (protected, harmless, gentle) and in video games better than fucking up time after time like Banks? This might be a governing question...

Aug 2, 2009:

Drew page 18. 3 panels, but a weird sort of agony. It's always about the decisions. What would the characters be saying here? Eventually I found it, after a break to go to the farmer's market. Needed to get to the “I was in a war” stuff, to connect her working with his working, also to make her verbose. I'm finding that's important, believe her being wordy and alternately silent will drive Banks crazy, and puts her into a rambunctious range of character drives that I think makes sense.

Frustrated at this point that what seems to be happening is that the alternating “formal” bits will probably be imagined sections. I don't want this to be the case, but think that's where we're leading. Thinking I have to merge reality with imagination or vice versa at some point. Gary Panter says make it ricochet like pool balls to get you there. Or something. Next, the next sequence of dialogue is easy- something about trading war stories, interrupted by game playing, maybe he follows, or watches her go to the main building, the store...

Following Barney Banks. Roughs, ideas and worries up during the 2nd chapter

Trying to be transparent with the process of creating EXTRA LIFE. (on ACT-I-VATE, HERE) Most of these notes were written immediately after inking a page, or sketching some page, trying to document everything in my mind at the time.

July 28 2009-

Off the project happily for two weeks while teaching in Hawaii. I barely thought about this, except for during the plane flight in, where I made these sketches. Mostly looking for other crazy characters to introduce into the gallery of youngsters hanging around the campground where Banks winds up. I want them surreal, funny, possibly avatar-like, something someone might design for a lousy video game.

Next I sketched a few thumbnails for the next pages. Thinking what needs to happen is the introduction of MITCH, the box with dials and a handle that assigns something, or predicts something, or changes something, I don't know. These thumbnails so tiny, I got excited thinking I was working like Brian Eno here, the way he would throw out syllables and rework them until they made words. These half-sketched stick figures were just potential movement, potential compositions. (See Mitch HERE in Act-I-Vate, page 12)

Next, I get down to drawing again.

July 30, 2009-

Two new inked pages, inked quickly, I really don't know what's going on. This originally going to be a repeat- the characters both pulling the handle and changing instantly, but then what to do about that trail of paper receipts on the left side of Mitch? You can see from the margins (see sketches below) I thought- Banks picks it up, reads it; or other characters alternate and pick it up, or else maybe it gets left behind until much much later. I got bored with repeating the characters actions, and thought I should just have a character right now pull from the receipt, and then do something. I think one of the themes here is young people and their love of emo, animals, video games and other things I don't get.

July 31,

I'm sure I've ruined it. It's got all this video game imagery in it that I absolutely hate. I don't hate my version of it, but what I am doing playing with it? I have no idea what's going on. Part 2 is finished, and is not the formalistic treat I thought, but it is something. I opted for silent, and a rigid page structure. But I have to stick with the fever dream. If I am going to hit my goal of believing in whatever this project wants to become, and in my finishing it before the end of the year, then I have to treat it like a fever dream. I don't know what's going on, but I will stay with it. I can only try to parse it out, reflect a little, and move through the story forward.

More about part 3 later...


On a panel about Political Cartooning this week

On a panel about Poilitical Cartooning this Tuesday:

Moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos, featuring Peter Kuper, Eric Drooker, Tim Kreider and myself. I'm the cautionary tale.