DON’T LOOK BACK: The Pieces of the Puzzle

I’m a big fan of mystery. Where there’s a mystery, there’s a puzzle to be solved. And with any mystery comes clues. “Don’t Look Back” is no exception. You might catch clues on the first viewing of the film, but you’ll likely catch more on the second. In the spirit of celebrating the mystery of the movie, while simultaneously deconstructing it, here are some clues to enhance your viewing experience of the movie.

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Remember, if you look hard enough, you will find the answers:

1. Triangles.

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Triangular shapes — in the production design, shot compositions and blocking of the actors — appear in critical moments of the film. The house Nora inherits, an A-frame structure, is itself a triangle. The shape of the house reflects the shape of the characters’ journey throughout the entire movie:

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If the two characters are the sides of the house: where do they start, where do they meet and where do they split?

2. Green and Purple are complimentary colors.

complementary-color-wheelWho’s wearing green and who’s wearing purple? When are they wearing these specific colors? Do the colors ever switch characters?

3. Pay close attention to what is shown in mirrors.

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4. The Sputnik.

The Sputnik is a medium format twin lens reflex stereo camera introduced around 1955. It was developed and manufactured in Russia. Using 120mm film, the camera provides six 6×6 pairs (or twelve single images). As Peyton says: “It has two lenses. When I release the shutter, it takes two photographs of the same subject, simultaneously; but because the lenses are apart just so, each picture is slightly different.” Which replicates the way we see, with our eyes apart ‘just so.’

CM Capture 10When Peyton looks through the viewfinder, the image is reversed:

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We see through the viewfinder several times in the film. Think about the one time we see through the viewfinder and the image is not reversed.

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Who is holding the camera?

5. The Split-Diopter Lens.

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We incorporate a Split-Diopter Lens to divide the frame between Nora and Peyton. This enables us to have both foreground and background in focus as we execute a split point-of-view.

Nora and Peyton are divided, yet connected on the same plane of focus.

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Notice how Peyton is first introduced and what the frame looks like when cutting back and forth between Nora and Peyton:

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The 180 degree line is intentionally broken, placing both Nora and Peyton on the same side of the frame. This results in our eye remaining in one spot (as opposed to shifting left-to-right-to-left in a traditional shot-reverse-shot) — the characters change, but their position remains one in the same, the blur of the Split-Diopter the only thing dividing them.

6. What is Nora wearing on her date with Jack? How is she wearing her hair?

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7. Nora’s childhood bedroom.

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Her bedroom — the room that Peyton rents — was the site of her abuse. The scene of the crime. And it literally hangs over the rest of the house. What kind of memories hang over the rest inside a troubled mind?

8. Lithium.

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Prolonged mood disorders are very serious, and the last line of defense is often “Lithium.” Prescribing Lithium is an indication that a patient’s mood disorder is not only quite serious, but has been worsening over the years. It is not uncommon for a psychotic break to occur if one were to stop taking their prescribed dosages. What are some of the symptoms that might accompany such a lapse?

9. Pay close attention to the moments in Nora’s life when Peyton shows up.

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Why does she appear at these moments?

10. Whose eye do we begin the film with and whose eye do we end the film with?

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At the beginning of the film, the camera enters the popsicle stick house. At the end of the film, the camera exits the real house — the one the popsicle stick version was modeled after.

It’s up to you to put the clues together and discover the answers. It’s perfectly okay to “figure out” some twists and turns while watching the film, or to not fully grasp them until long after you’ve finished watching the film. The point of the movie is to put you, the audience, into the shoes of our main character, Nora, and experience the events in the film as she experiences them, as she sees them unfolding around her.

Now I encourage you to watch the movie…and then look back!:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

DON’T LOOK BACK: Television Premiere

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My latest film, “Don’t Look Back,” will be premiering nationwide on LMN (Lifetime Movie Network), Sunday, October 5th at 8:00pm (with repeat airings to follow):

http://www.mylifetime.com/movies/dont-look-back

I encourage you to tune in! I will be live-tweeting during the broadcast…and I encourage you to join me (@WDFilmmaker) on Twitter using #DontLookBack:

https://twitter.com/WDFilmmaker

The film is also available RIGHT NOW online through these platforms:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dont-look-back/id905543703
Amazon Instant Video: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Back-Lucy-Griffiths/dp/B00NBD067A
VUDU: http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!content/554110/Dont-Look-Back
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Don_t_Look_Back?id=SXpz_D_TcaI
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/20579

If you haven’t seen the trailer, you can watch it here:

Nora Clark is a children’s book writer whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton, who is not entirely whom she appears to be. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star alongside Tyler Jacob Moore (SHAMELESS), Roddy Piper (THEY LIVE) and Emmy Award Nominee Kate Burton (SCANDAL).

Here are some recent quotes from the press:

“‘Don’t Look Back’ plays on elevating levels of the human mind, and takes the psychological thriller to a sharp peak.” – Movie Pilot

“This is Roddy Piper’s best performance since ‘They Live!'” – Film Pulse

“The moody acumen ‘Don’t Look Back’ generates almost bristles with a sense of auteur bravado.” – Paste Magazine.

Please watch and help spread the word! #DontLookBack

Poster Exclusive: “DON’T LOOK BACK!”

As the end of summer approaches, so does the release of my next film: DON’T LOOK BACK.

Here’s an exclusive first look at the poster below:

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The film is a psychological thriller about Nora Clark (Lucy Griffiths), a prominent children’s book writer, whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton (Cassidy Freeman), who is not entirely whom she appears to be…

I was extremely fortunate to work with an amazing cast and crew who are all at the top of their game. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star in the film along with Tyler Jacob Moore, Roddy Piper and Kate Burton. Tyler was recently cast in ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME as Prince Hans, a character you may know from Disney’s blockbuster hit FROZEN:

http://www.cinemablend.com/television/Once-Time-Finds-Its-Prince-Hans-Pabbie-Rock-Troll-66492.html

Kate Burton was just nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Vice President Sally Langston on the show SCANDAL (Good luck, Kate!). And Roddy Piper – a childhood hero of mine, when I knew him as the infamous “Rowdy” – is perhaps best known in the world of cinema for his iconic role in John Carpenter’s cult classic THEY LIVE.

DON’T LOOK BACK is set to hit iTunes, VUDU and other VOD platforms in the beginning of September.

I will have more info soon, but in the meantime…keep a “lookout” for it!

NORTH BY NORTHWEST

In my metafictional satire, THE MIRROR, a version of myself attempts to help the enigmatic lifestreamer “Taylor” realize his dream of recreating scenes from some of his favorite movies.

As the two dreamers embark on a veritable journey back into cinema’s golden age, they attempt to recreate one of the most thrilling and iconic scenes ever to be projected onto the silver screen: Cary Grant running for his life from a crop-dusting biplane in Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST. As far as I know, this scene has never been recreated in its entirety.

In 2008, Vanity Fair organized a photo shoot that involved Seth Rogan inhabiting the role of Grant as he attempted to escape the wrath of the plane.

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But this was a mere still from a single shot of the scene.

It was not until Taylor — the one, and the only, @TaleOrTaylor — jumped into the middle of the famous scene and became the target of a shot-for-shot (more or less) reboot that it was fully recreated. He endured 3 full passes, the Boeing Stearman biplane missing him by just a few feet. This is the first time this death-defying scene has been authentically reproduced…and with NO computer-generated effects!

We’ve released the full clip of the scene. Check it out here!

As the master, Alfred Hitchcock, himself once said: “The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.” For a lot more cinematic hijinks, you can watch the entire movie on iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-mirror/id797187475

Thanks for watching!

Eulogy For My Sister

Last week, my little sister, Briana, passed away. While this site is primarily a vehicle for my professional pursuits, I felt it was an appropriate canvas upon which to pay tribute to not only my blood, but also a fallen artist.

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Briana has long been an artistic inspiration to me—she has inspired both my writing and filmmaking. My novel, “No Alternative,” would not have been possible without Briana—she is the genius behind the lyrics of Bri Da B and her personage was a springboard from which the life of the fictional character Bridget Harrison sprung. Bridget is the character I admire the most. When my parents asked me to deliver the eulogy at her funeral, I embraced the task—as best as I could under the circumstances—because I knew my sister would want me to write it as though it was, itself, a piece of art. It’s a tall order, and I’m not sure I succeeded, but I know she would have liked me to try. I consider this the most important writing assignment I’ve ever had, and I can only hope she’s happy with the finished product.

I delivered the following eulogy at St. Joseph’s Church in Bronxville, New York, on the morning of July 5th, 2014:

BRIANA DICKERSON CARDONE – September 24th, 1983 to July 1st, 2014

First and foremost, thank you all for coming today and being here for my sister, Briana. It means so much to me and to our family. I’ll ask you to forgive the somewhat scattered nature of this address, but such is the nature of life, of memory, of the bits and pieces of the everyday that both distinguish ourselves as individuals, and tie us all together as one.

These words I’m reading were written in Briana’s room—the room where she grew up when we were kids. It has since become the room I occupy when I visit the East Coast, and that’s because the moment I moved out, my father turned my old room into his office. I’m not sure I’m even allowed in it anymore. Her drafting table, where she created a lot of her artwork, has become my desk away from home. I wrote my novel there. And there was a reason for that: she had left her artistic mark upon the surface of that table, her residue of creativity, and I had always hoped I’d be able to harness just a little bit of her talent and funnel it into my own artistic pursuits.

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There’s a beginning to every story and this story begins something like this: when my mother was pregnant for the second time, she was lounging by the pool at my grandparents’ house, dipping her feet in the water, and my dad was videotaping it. He zoomed in on my mom’s belly and asked what was in it. I was five years old, scampering around the yard, and chimed in: “That’s Bri!” “Bri!” My dad responded: “Yes…after the cheese!” Until just last week, I would have sworn my sister was named after a hunk of coagulated milk curd, a cheese that was perhaps the object of my mother’s prenatal cravings.

In truth, Briana was named “Briana” because it’s Gaelic for “The Strong One.” And strong she was. Strongheaded. What can I say? She was Irish.

Briana was one of a kind; she not only loved art, but was also an extremely talented artist herself. I’m not just saying this because she dabbled here and there; I’m saying it because she was a true artist. She put her heart and soul into her art—her entire life was a canvas on which she asserted a style, a personality, and a truly unique way of looking at the world that not only affected me, but I’m sure affected a lot of the people sitting in this room.

She loved paintings, and she herself was a painter; she loved photography, and she herself was a photographer; she loved music, and she herself was a musician. She loved movies, too, but perhaps that was the one art form she’d let her brother have all to himself. Briana had been drawing for as long as she could remember, and as a child when she was asked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Her answer was always, “an artist.”

Her paintings remind me of Edward Hopper’s: a distinct rendering of lighting, cropped compositions, and a stillness that was both unsettling and calming. She was a huge fan of Hopper’s, but I imagine her saying something like, “Oh, don’t compare me to him, I’m no way near as good as him.” To that, I would respond, “You’re wrong.”

Anything Briana put her mind to and decided to learn, she did, and did herself…except for the guitar; I’ll take some credit there. I taught her the power chord. For those who don’t play guitar, if you know one power chord, you know them all. We would both practice together—when I’d play Nirvana songs, she’d play Hole songs.

But ultimately, the guitar wasn’t for her. It was too conventional. While my band pursued the spoils of alternative rock, Briana decided to rebel against the mainstream and become a gangsta’ rapper.

BriDaB

Briana recorded as Bri Da B and made two albums, “Around The Motherf***ing World” and “Hittin’ The Streets With My New LP.” She toured locally, performing at venues in Westchester and New York City. Her songs, “Gravy On Top,” “Print It” and “Pimptooth” were bonafide underground hits; at Fordham University, bootleg tapes and CD’s of her music circulated around campus and the buzz caught on. I can’t quote the majority of her lyrics here, unfortunately, for fear of being struck by lightning.

When I said Briana was one of a kind, it wasn’t just a platitude.

Several years later, a version of “Pimptooth” was covered by the cyberpunk collective ORDER44 and produced by the producer of the bands Interpol and The National.

While Bri Da B was a form of musical expression for my sister, it was also performance art. She was inspired by Surrealism at a young age. To quote my sister, “I was never one to run with the crowd, and the oddness and curiosity of the genre just really hit me hard and gave me the idea that I could express my feelings into my art, no matter how odd or abstract they were, and people could make whatever they wanted out of it.”

At the age of eleven, Briana started painting with oils, and later mastered several mediums. Ultimately, pastels became her favorite means of artistic expression. She painted landscapes, still-lifes and portraits. As a student at the Ursuline School in New Rochelle, she was awarded First Prize at her senior year Art Show. She created many works, both for her pleasure and professionally on commission. She admired the work of Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Hopper and the images of Alfred Hitchcock, Tim Burton and David Lynch. She was able to harness her emotions, which were at times unstable, and channel them into her art.

The way Briana saw the world wasn’t like the way others see the world, which is the gift and the burden, of a great artist.

Her favorite painting was Claude Monet’s “The Four Trees.” He painted the poplars from the limited perspective of a boat in the middle of a river. If he had painted them on the land from the opposite bank, the perspective would have been much greater. This has the effect of denying us the view of the tops of the four trees. Furthermore, were it not for his depiction of the riverbank, the tree trunks would be indistinguishable from their reflections in the water.

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In college, Briana wrote a fifteen-page paper on this one painting; I’ve never read the paper, nor do I know where it is today. But she certainly thought the painting merited such an analysis and it was clear that she loved it. When I look at the painting, and try to imagine how my sister saw it, I’m struck by the fact that it isn’t a complete picture. Perhaps it’s a suitable analogy of life, and in this case, her life: we will never have a complete understanding of it. However, we must embrace the parts we don’t see, because those are the parts we will miss, the parts that matter, the parts that, through faith and love, we know are true and pure and real. We cannot see below the trees—the roots, the dirt, the elements that give life to the trees. We cannot see the treetops, nor do we know where they end—they may end shortly beyond the edge of the painting, or they may extend further than we think. And what’s above the end of the trees; well, that’s a question as old as time.

The importance of the painting lies in its focus on the middle. There is comfort in the middle—there are no highs, but there are no lows—there is stability, there is symmetry, there is equality.

Our lives are limited, in length and in perspective—we can only see so much—but our lives extend beyond the scope of our limited resources. Briana’s life extends beyond her own into each and every one of you. Her life extends beyond her own and into her family, into her beloved husband, Anthony. When asked about Anthony, Briana would often respond quite simply: “He is not only the love of my life; he is my life.” Anthony, you meant the world to my sister; and my family and I couldn’t be happier you both found each other—I have no doubt you will find each other again.

Perhaps the four trees in Monet’s painting are Anthony, my mother, my father and myself—the past below us and the future above us—and this is the perspective through which my sister can see us now: she is with us in the present, and her presence extends to us boundlessly into the past and boundlessly into the future. We have become the impression that is perceived by my sister wherever she is now—or that’s how I’d like to think of it. I’d like to think of myself as the way she would paint me on the canvas of her perpetual imagination.

This Monet painting never meant a lot to me, but now it has become a symbol of Briana, and it means so much more.

Briana often had trouble realizing that people loved her as much as they did. Today is a testament of how much people really do love her. She had a hard time seeing and accepting what was so obvious to me and everyone else. But my family and I take great solace in the fact that there is so much love around her, and it’s this love that will keep her memory alive on this earth.

As a writer, I contemplate death a lot. My death, the deaths of my family members, including the death of my sister. It has fueled my art. My novel, while a work of fiction, was born from what I imagined my worst nightmare to be; I wanted to write about what scared me the most. And what scared me the most was losing my sister. Now, tragically, my worst nightmare has come true. However, in writing about it while my sister was alive, she had the opportunity to understand how very much I loved and cared for her—she said she looked up to me as an artist, but the truth is: it was actually me who looked up to her. She was, and will continue to be, my artistic inspiration. And I got to tell her that. For that opportunity, I am supremely grateful.

I wish I had another chance to say to my sister how much she means to me and to our family. But now this is my last chance, my one remaining opportunity, to say to all of you what I would like to say to her:

I love you so very much, Bri, and like I said to you in the hospital: “Goodbye, but just for now.”

***

As a tribute to my sister, I, along with her husband, Anthony, my wife, Rachel, and our brothers-and-sister-in-song, Jay, Alli, Liam and Andreas, recorded one of her favorite songs—the song we performed at her funeral—“Hear You Me,” by Jimmy Eat World.

Here is a link to it on SoundCloud:

Please feel free to listen and share and celebrate the life of Briana Dickerson Cardone.

“May angels lead you in…”

And…That’s A Wrap!

If you’re reading this, you can tell that I haven’t updated my blog for a while. That’s because shortly after my last post, I started production on my third feature film.

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The new film is a psychological thriller. It’s minimalist, but not even close to as minimalist as Detour. The shooting title was The Cabin, but it’s since been updated to: Don’t Look Back.

Here’s the logline from IMDb:

Nora Clark is a children’s book writer whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton, who is not entirely whom she appears to be.

We began pre-production in October 2013 and started shooting two months later in early December. It was a 14 day shoot, which isn’t that long, but not uncommon in the world of indie filmmaking. The movie is a contemporary thriller that has a bit of a throw-back quality to it; a quality that, as a filmmaker, I felt channeled the early work of De Palma and Polanski. It is a type of project that I’ve always wanted to explore as a director.

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I had a wonderful crew. I re-teamed with my Detour cinematographer, Rob Kraetsch, and first assistant director, Paul Yates, to shoot the film. It was my first project with producer, Andrea Ajemian, who helped bring the movie, which was built from a story by Michael Testa, to life. I also had the privilege of working with a terrific cast, including Lucy Griffiths (True Blood), Cassidy Freeman (Longmire), Tyler Jacob Moore (Shameless), Kate Burton (Scandal) and Roddy Piper (They Live). I must admit, I was duly impressed that we had two John Carpenter alums on set: Kate, who starred in Big Trouble in Little China, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who starred in the cult classic They Live. If I’m not mistaken, They Live still boasts the longest fight sequence in cinema history.

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You must remember Roddy’s signature line from They Live….if not, I’ll remind you: “I’ve come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

My first AD carried around a bucket full of bubblegum on set, just in case.

In all seriousness, Roddy was just amazing to work with; a true professional in every sense of the word. He plays against type in this film, and I strongly believe he’s gonna get some notice for his performance. It’s sure to hit a lot of nerves.

We just finished post-production, and the movie looks and sounds terrific. MarVista Entertainment is set to release it.

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Please stay tuned…I will be sure to post more info when the time comes. In the meantime, DON’T LOOK BACK!

REBEL WITH, OR WITHOUT, A CAUSE

Rebel

We’ve entered an age when everyone is on camera.

It didn’t used to be like this. It used to be an event to be filmed, a happening, something we would dress up for or prepare for minutes, days, weeks, even months in advance. When Norma Desmond said she was “ready for her close-up” back in 1959, her character had spent decades preparing for it. Not so today. Today, most people barely dress up, or wear anything at all, to be on camera. Not only that, they post it instantaneously on the worldwide web for everyone and their grandmothers to see. Though, I do doubt the web-surfing abilities of most grandmothers. Close-ups are not hard to come by, and who needs Cecil B. Demille to shoot it for you, not when you can snap a selfie.

We are reminded recently of what was once special about the art of the moving picture when footage of a screen test Marlon Brando did for the movie, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, surfaced.

15 minutes of fame has quickly become 15 minutes of non-fame (if some folks are lucky) because everyone is famous now. And a lot of people are famous for no particular reason. They are famous for the sake of being famous, an obvious, and perhaps unfortunate, byproduct of a culture in which everyone films themselves all of the time.

Our lives are quickly becoming the recordings of lives.

Human behavior is becoming a reenactment of a reenactment. The reflections of our lives that we post become reality, a reality that seeks the approval of a thousand strangers who determine the worth of our lives with one click of the “like” button.

Somewhere in between these two realities – that which resides in front of our eyes and that which resides in the wires behind a computer screen – is Taylor.

He is fact. He is fiction. He is Taylor.

DETOUR: Now On DVD!

My debut feature film, DETOUR, was released today on DVD through Kino Lorber.

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Here’s the lowdown: Trapped inside his car by a mudslide, slick Los Angeles businessman Jackson Alder suddenly finds himself in a situation he can’t talk his way out of.  With no hope of rescue, he must defy the odds, battling Mother Nature for his survival.

This also means the film is available on NetFlix.  Put the movie at the top of your queue and take the ride with Jackson.  I recommend watching it late at night, in a dark room, and with a sound system that includes a subwoofer.  We designed the home video experience to look, sound and feel like you are trapped in the car right there with him.

The rat’s rabbits are calling, the ladies and rabbits are calling…what are you waiting for?

The DVD is available for purchase on Amazon here:

http://www.amazon.com/Detour-Neil-Hopkins/dp/B00CBVWX5G/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1376422648&sr=8-3&keywords=detour

I SOLD MY JAG-STANG TO BUY A JAGUAR

Recently, I went on a Virtual Tour with my book, “No Alternative,” and at the conclusion of it, I wrote a piece about my purchase of a replica of Kurt Cobain’s guitar.  It was originally published on cabingoddess.com.  The article is still live on the site, and I recommend you check it out; I also thought I’d reprint here with a few additional photographs.

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I SOLD MY JAG-STANG TO BUY A JAGUAR.  But not any Jaguar, a scratch-specific replica of Kurt Cobain’s one-of-a-kind Fender Jaguar electric guitar he bought in a pawnshop in Los Angeles in 1991.

Fender recently set about recreating Kurt’s guitar to the ding in their custom shop and rolling the product out on the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s seminal and billboard-busting album, “Nevermind.”  I admit, at first, I thought this idea was pretty lame and the antithesis of what Punk Rock preaches (if it indeed, as a movement, preaches anything at all).  Why would anyone pay a cool grand and a few hundred dollars in change for a guitar that looks like it’s been beat to hell and back?   Punk Rockers are supposed to beat their own guitars to hell and back; that’s the whole idea of DIY.  This manufactured good, this product, this exploitation – as some might view it – lead me to the subject of creativity.

I remember how much I fetishized this instrument when I was a teenager, around the time I first picked up a guitar, the catalyst for which was the music that was created on this specific instrument by the late Kurt Cobain.  It was such an unusual guitar that we couldn’t just buy the damn thing, so back then we had to figure out other ways to replicate it.  I bought a limited edition Fender Jazzmaster in 1995, which looks similar to the Jaguar, with its enormous floating tremelo and bizarre switches, and shared indie cred with bands like Sonic Youth and Hole.  My friend and lead guitarist in the grunge band I was in at the time bought a reissue Fender Jaguar and had it professionally altered to come as close to Cobain’s original as possible.

I dramatize this teenaged obsession of ours in my novel, “No Alternative,” as two of the characters scrutinize a Japanese reissue of the Fender Jaguar in their local Sam Ash Music store:

“Kurt had a ’65,” Connor says.  He then proceeds to describe the instrument in fetishistic detail and recite the history of Kurt Cobain’s relationship to it:

‘Same sunburst color and bowling-ball pickguard, but Kurt gutted the shit out of his.  Got rid of that bridge ‘cuz the strings popped out – it was supposed to be for surf music, like the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and Dick Dale and The Deltones, designed to sound like waves crashing.  It couldn’t handle the thrashing he was giving it, so he replaced it with a Tune-O-Matic.  The strings stay put better, much better.  He disconnected the on/off and phase switches.  Biggest change was ripping out the single-coil pick-ups and replacing them with humbuckers: a DiMarzio PAF in the neck and a Super Distortion in the bridge, until the In Utero tour when he replaced it with a black Duncan JB.’”

About one to two years after Kurt Cobain’s death, Fender put the Jag-Stang on the market, which is a guitar based on a Jaguar/Mustang hybrid that Kurt Cobain himself designed.  He did not get a chance to perfect his design before he died, but Fender went ahead and put out the version they had work-shopped.  I, naturally, went ahead and bought it.  It was fine, but seemed cookie-cutter, and lacking the perceived soul that I was hoping would come along with guitar.  I removed the stock pickups and bridge and replaced them with what Kurt had initially intended to be featured in the guitar.  It sounded good, but still…something was missing.

Jag-Stang

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, perhaps I would never find it – perhaps no guitar could live up to a myth.  I ended up putting the guitar aside for a number of years and took up the drums (I was, frankly, sick of the lack of discipline and general mediocrity of the succession of drummers we employed in my band, so I decided to learn how to play the drums myself).  It was a great decision; I was a much better drummer than guitarist.  Kurt Cobain was known to say he was a frustrated drummer – he pined for the adoration of John Lennon, but wished for the anonymity of Ringo Starr.  However, the love of the guitar still had its hold on me.  As it turns out, once this instrument gets you in its grasp, it never lets go.   So, when the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s breakthrough album passed by, and the sounds of Nirvana and their distorted instrumentations came whooshing back into my brain, so did the image of this guitar: the image presented by Fender’s replication of it.

Why did it take them this long to catch on?  Or perhaps I was just stuck in the past and I hadn’t moved on.  Or, the converse, the world hadn’t quite caught up to me and my predilections.  Until now.  The beautiful thing about Kurt’s guitar is its timelessness.  First of all, it was a 60’s guitar that he used in the 90’s, and now it was being sold again, the way Kurt’s looked and sounded, in 2012.  This guitar was “steampunk” before the term became recognizable by the mainstream of pop culture (incidentally, the term was originated around the very same time Nirvana originated as a band – it just didn’t become fashionable until recent years).  It’s classic in its sunburst, surf-guitar sense, but sci-fi in its overwhelming use of shiny metal, moving parts and knurled knobs.  It even has a 50’s Fender “spaghetti” logo that Fender claims was never used on a Jaguar, that its use on this specific guitar is a complete mystery.  How did it get there?  And it was apparently there when Cobain bought it.  It had mods that seemed to incorporate genuine Fender hardware, but again, there’s no record of a guitar like this ever being officially produced.  Cobain’s guitar tech, Earnie Bailey, seems to imply that Kurt liked to use cheap pawnshop guitars to protest against the obsession with gear that the guitarists of 80’s hairbands preoccupied themselves with.  If they had an obsession with effects pedals, Floyd Rose Tremelos and glittering guitar straps, Kurt had obsession with breaking that obsession to pieces (literally by breaking his guitar, and sometimes his amplifiers, to pieces at the conclusion of his shows).  But, the exception was this particular Jaguar.  Perhaps when Kurt bought it for $300 at some podunk shop in LA, he had intended to destroy it right along with his other guitars.  But something happened – something must have indeed happened, because he never did break it.  He babied it, in fact.  Some kind of biological fail-safe had kicked in.  There was something special about this guitar.  He couldn’t kill it; it wouldn’t let him.  It no doubt had its hold on him.

Still, the first thing that popped in my head when I heard about Fender’s recent venture (particularly after I heard the price tag) was: lame.

It had the stink of buying a jacket in the department store that has safety pins integrated into the garment as a means of conveying a “punk rock” aesthetic; when, in all likelihood, the origins of safety pins in one’s clothes arose from the need to keep an article of clothing together while it was falling apart and the owner could not afford to replace it.  It had the stink of punk rock by JC Penney.  Same goes for brand new clothes with patches already affixed to the pre-ripped knees of jeans – the gall of some brands charging over $100 for such thing (and don’t get me started on paint-splattered dungarees).

There seemed no way around it: this guitar was lame.  But then I happened upon Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, walked inside and decided to take a look around.  And there it was.  And it was in my reach.  I knew it was in my reach because I could reach out and pick it up and place it on my lap and strum it.  The pictures I saw online did not do it justice: this thing looks amazing in person.  It had it.  It had what I had been looking for.  It had soul.  Every little crack Cobain had in the lacquer of his guitar was recreated on this guitar.  There were even holes in the headstock leftover from were Cobain removed his original tuners and replaced them with Gotoh versions.  They left the holes!  They’re selling a guitar with holes and cracks in it!  WTF?!  There was a ridiculous attention to detail.  The beauty of it is that it’s an exact replica; what Kurt’s guitar looked like the last time he played it, looked just like this.  And in addition to the aesthetics, you can play it, and not just ogle at it as though it’s some museum piece.  It’s functional, and pretty damn close to being art.  The aging on the instrument appears to be completely organic and not machine manufactured.  Each piece of metal has been oxidized and left in various stages of rust.  There even appears to be what looks like earwax in the crevices of the Super Distortion pickup in the bridge.  A whole lot of love, and apparently someone’s earwax, went into making this guitar, and honoring Cobain’s go-to musical apparatus.

kurt-reading-jaguar

But, as I was being seduced, I still had to remind myself: this was a fake.

This was, and still is, the guitar of my dreams.  It is arguably the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place.  I had a Jag-Stang, which was also a knockoff of a presumed original, so the way I looked at it was that I might as well sell this one and procure the better knockoff.  There was something in me that still had to have this guitar.  Even after selling the Jag-Stang, which itself has become a rare piece of equipment, the Jaguar was unfortunately still a bit out of my price range.  However, it occurred to me, what better guitar to buy used?  No one in his or her right mind can tell if it’s been used or not: it was made to look like it’s been used since 1960.  So I bought a used one, which was apparently in “mint” condition, whatever that means with respect to this instrument.  What normally would turn off a guitar buyer, namely cracks, blemishes and earwax in its electronics, turned me on immensely.  There was part of me that wanted to pick up where Kurt left off back in 1994, when I held a guitar in my hands for the first time.  I had begun my music-playing career by learning Nirvana songs (technically, they’re some of the easiest songs to learn and make for great material for the beginner guitarist) and my musicianship evolved from there.  I had put the guitar down for a long time, replaced it with drums, and as I hold this guitar now I am back to square one, back to the place that got me interested in the limitless sky of the sonic world.  It is already marked, marked by the man who so indelibly marked me.  And just as I had once thought, delusionally so, that I might assume the mantle and run with the torch of grunge to the top of the charts, I’m now left with the guitar that started it all, alone in my living room, hooked up to my Orange practice amp and RAT distortion pedal, strumming the opening chords to “Lithium,” the first song I ever learned to play on guitar.  But this time I’m not concerned with form, with style, with copying others before me – I’m letting the pick scrape against the pickguard, I’m nicking the headstock against the wall, I’m making the established buckle rash worse with my own belt.  I’ve bought a used guitar, a guitar that was used by my idol, which I plan to use and play just as hard, so that I may at some point later in life pass it down to someone else who will then be able to subtract the wear and tear he receives it with from Kurt Cobain’s wear, and be able to see the face of me marked into it.

As one of the characters, Megan, says in my book, “Nothing’s ‘original’ anymore.  I mean, think about it.  Everything gets recycled.  But, I guess, really, it’s what you recycle it into that matters.”  It’s not about creating something new; it’s about using what resources are available to you and putting your stamp on it.  The idea, the lyric, the melody is always the same, but it’s the way you present it, write it, and sing or play it, that is what makes it unique.  We are all influenced by others, whether we admit to it or not, that’s human nature.  However, it’s only when you are able to acknowledge that influence as a tool, and not an end in itself, that you are able to climb to the next level of creativity.  Don’t ever forget your influences, because they are what we need to recognize our ability and take the next step – they are the ground upon which our creativity walks.  Just be sure not to stand too long in one place, because the ground is always changing, and we got to keep on moving.


The “idea” is always the same, but what is 100% unique is the way your eyes, and ears, see, and hear, it.  It’s your personal perspective, your angle, of the idea that you must strive to share with the world.  It doesn’t matter if you’re generating that idea via the replica of Kurt Cobain’s guitar, or via a guitar that you built yourself, it’s the sound waves you generate from it that matters.  If it’s the former, there will likely be some punk with safety pins in his jacket criticizing you for the lameness of your tool.  But the kind of person to make that the primary source of his criticism, and not the execution of the idea – in this case the music its producing – is probably the kind of person who stuck those safety pins in his jacket not because it was falling part.  The nature of creativity lies in the making of something old into something new by making it your own.

THE GREAT, GREAT, GREAT GATSBY

THE GREAT GATSBY

As many of you have surely noticed, retro is the new chic. That’s not even a new observation. About a year ago I entered a Best Buy and there were more racks of vinyl records than there were containers of compact discs. Never in my life would I have thought such a thing was possible.

The trend of three-dimensional filmmaking, thus far, is what it is: a trend. It began as a fad, in the fad-era of the Fifties, and ended as a fad almost as quickly as it began, and now it’s back. But how long is it going to last? More importantly, what are filmmakers doing to advance the technique? How are we using the technique to advance our visual storytelling, and in turn, advance the art form? While the technical quality of stereoscopic filmmaking has increased, the basic idea has remained the same since the days of Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER. Two cameras film the same scene from two slightly different angles, which virtually mimics the way our eyes absorb and translate visual information. In 1954, Hitchcock’s film was projected via two projectors in a theater, and with the aid of 3D glasses, our eyes were directed to the corresponding projected image and the illusion of three dimensions was created. There is also evidence that the way 3D films were presented in the 50’s, thanks to Milton Gunzburg, was superior to the way that they are presented now. Current technology utilizes a beam splitter; ie. one projector projecting two images that merge into one when viewed through polarized glasses. Gunzburg’s “Natural Vision” uses two film projectors, which allows for both images the eye receives to be perfectly in sync with each other. It’s literally frame-for-frame lossless delivery, which eliminates the dimness, lack of fluidity and overall eyestrain we experience while watching contemporary 3D fare. There are only two theaters in the United States that can still project this way: The Film Forum in New York and The Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles. I can understand why this delivery system has gone the way of the Dodo; it’s not cost-effective in the least and if there’s even a slight problem with one of the prints (or digital files) being projected, the other projector can’t save it. The experience is ruined.

Because of the inflated ticket prices and inherent gimmicky-ness of modern 3D films, I rarely have a desire to see them. However, I heard Baz Luhrmann intended to shoot his adaptation of THE GREAT GATSBY in 3D as a means of enhancing the drama rather than amplifying the spectacle. I admit, this intrigued me, despite the fact that I am not a Baz Luhrmann fan. I think much of his style is overwrought and it stymies the drama in the material he explores. So, for someone who embraces spectacle with such open arms, I wanted to see him use a technique known only for its spectacle as a means to restrain himself. It’s what Hitchcock was attempting to do in DIAL M FOR MURDER, and it’s what Luhrmann is attempting to do in THE GREAT GATSBY…or so I thought.

THE GREAT GATSBY is a spectacle. It is a spectacle that boasts formalistically restrained scenes inside of it. Firstly, the 3D is fantastic; it’s probably the best 3D I’ve seen on the big screen since the effect has been back in vogue. But that’s not an indication of whether the movie is good or bad; it just felt more natural than most 3D movies I’ve seen. I give Luhrmann credit for that. The bigger question is: Does it advance the story? Yes and no.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel, “The Great Gatsby,” is filled with subtlety, nuance and social commentary. However, the character of Gatsby is the antithesis of subtle. He is the picture of excess in an era of excess. This theme is reflected in the way Luhrmann chooses to film Gatsby; that is to say, he shoots him in the gloriously excessive, but not necessarily modern, marvel of 3D. Filmmakers who are worth their weight in salt should strive to convey theme through their filmmaking, and Luhrmann does that. Furthermore, Luhrmann uses a visual technique that increases depth to highlight characters who are, ultimately, found to be shallow. This juxtaposition speaks to the very definition of irony.

The problem is that there’s not much beneath the spectacle. As much as Luhrmann would like us to dig through the excess and discover flesh and blood human beings, the shovels we wield can’t seem to penetrate through it. Drama is conflict; we need the realm of the naturalistic world to rear its head and fight against the artificial world of spectacle to keep us invested. Every film, even if it’s a period piece, should reflect the time in which it is made. I had no problem buying the rap music in the soundtrack, even though the film takes place in the Roaring Twenties. However, I have a much harder time buying the stylized acting. I’m a fan of the novel, “The Great Gatsby,” and therefore aware of the affectation that is embodied in Jay Gatsby’s saying: “Old Sport.” In fact, I did not have a single issue with the plethora of times it was uttered by Leonardo DiCaprio throughout the film. It felt, more or less, true to the novel. However, when the artifice begins to dissolve and real people emerge in the story, everything to my eyes and ears is still affected. Tobey Maguire is supposed to be our lens through which we observe the story and empathize with the characters; even if everyone else is portrayed as a caricature, he is supposed to be our set of regular eyes. He is the neutral set of eyes that watches from the billboard. But he is just as affected as everyone else. If we buy Jay Z’s “H To The Izzo” blaring from era-specific cars, why can’t we be trusted to buy the actors talking like normal human beings? Luhrmann’s commitment to depicting life as it was in the 20’s isn’t that much of a commitment at all, that much is clear. When the “greatness” is lifted from the characters, why not lift the veil of artifice completely? If Luhrmann goes to such great lengths to reflect our present day, why does that rubric not extend to the acting?

Fitzgerald’s novel explores the horrifying disparity that exists between our expectations and our reality. The green light is, after all, just a green light. If the first half of the film uses three-dimensional technology to contrast the emptiness of the characters, what better way to communicate Fitzgerald’s theme in the latter half of the film than to juxtapose the decrease in 3D spectacle with three-dimensional acting. Unfortunately, I think Luhrmann missed his opportunity, and consequently, missed the mark altogether.

Baz Luhrmann’s filmmaking choices aside, I was impressed enough with the hi-tech spectacle not to regret the extra burden it put on my wallet. But, I’m still not convinced that it will ever change the landscape of filmmaking. Until spectators do not have to wear cumbersome glasses and the images appear in front of us via hologram in a darkened theater, three-dimensions in film is still very much at its beta-testing level.

greatgatsby-cover-3dglasses

In the end, the green light is, after all, just a green light.

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache