Notes on a theme

It’s happened again. I hit a certain point, usually every twelve months, sometimes sooner, where I get annoyed with my WordPress theme. This layout for my website that I have handpicked from dozens of options, that at the time of choosing I was most satisfied with, has now outstayed its welcome. Its geometries, its fonts, its white spaces, no longer hold any appeal, and I find in them nothing but frustrations.

Why? Why do I care this much?

An academic career shifts and morphs like sand dunes. I’ve only been in this game some eight or nine years and I can already look back over the different, distant chapters, each with their own opportunities, challenges, roads taken or ignored. The one constant has been this site, with its patient recording of my achievements and publications. The site is more personal, too, in that among the more formal, reviewed outputs, there are half-formed thoughts, works in progress, and other fleeting words, images, visions.

It is a mode of performance, but one that is not held in the strictures of yearly reviews, promotion criteria, or key performance indicators. It is a more accurate record of the long periods of absence, or busy-ness, or chaos, or calm, or joy, or sadness, or heartbreak, that this life I’ve chosen can encapsulate.

This year has been very, very long. It began with the passing of a close colleague, and it feels as though we have been dragging ourselves through two long semesters of teaching, trying to stoke the fires of thinking, innovation, writing, and making sure a brave and supportive face is put on for our students: this face is never a mask, but like a mask it’s harder to wear on some days more than others.

This year has also held opportunities: travel, creative work, and in the last few weeks, a great acceleration in word output in order to complete a first working draft of a manuscript. I’ve watched some wonderful films, and managed to leave the house on multiple occasions to Have Some Fun(tm).

In short, perhaps, it has been a year like any other, with many ups and many downs. I have a week still to work, and I plan to spend most of that week watching, thinking, and writing.

All years are similar, then. Some ups, some downs. Each year is a variation on a theme. So maybe that’s why I feel this annual need to change mine.

Inhuman Screens

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I am thrilled to announce that I’ve been invited to present at the inaugural Inhuman Screens conference, convened in conjunction with Sydney Underground Film Festival.

I’ll be presenting my research on drones and cinematography. This work considers the embodied experience of flying a drone, and some of the philosophical/existential questions that experience raises, as well as how drone shots might be brought into the language of film distinctly from other aerial footage.

All speakers, keynotes and primary stream, comprise many of my film theory faves, so I look forward mostly to getting my presentation over and done with, and simply basking in the awesome to follow.

Tickets available at the Inhuman Screens website.

the daily DAN

 

A week ago, I posted this on Twitter. Must’ve been something of a shock to my Twitter followers, as I haven’t really used that social platform in quite some time.

The push to take up this challenge came partly from current research — I’m looking into Casey Neistat’s vlog practice for an article — but also partly from a need to kickstart my own creative practice. The short film we shot in July last year has sat pretty well dormant in post-production for over a year, and I’d barely touched any kind of creative software during that time.

I needed to get back into shooting, back into editing, back into writing, to get myself back up to speed with both the gear, the software, and with my own creativity.

The video-a-day thing hasn’t worked: I don’t think it trucks too well with a full-time job, relationships, family and such, but I’ve done five thus far, and fully intend to keep going, shooting and cutting whenever I can, until I reach the promised fourteen videos.

It’s been enormous fun: sometimes shooting new stuff, sometimes delving into the archives, always cutting something new, something fresh. Recording voiceover and featuring myself in the videos is not easy: as much as the challenge emerged from analysing vloggers, I don’t really want to be the main focus. That said, I received some feedback that the voiceover would lend itself well to a video essay, which may well be one of the videos to come.

Creativity begets creativity

On Monday, a few days into the challenge, I opened Final Draft for the first time in a year and smashed out the first draft of a short film I’ve been thinking about for a long time. And I think a few colleagues and I are going to shoot it — quick’n’dirty style — late next week, so expect an upcoming video to be something of a behind the scenes.

The producer of last year’s film and I are also spending three hours in an edit suite tomorrow, to finish off this damn short. Nothing like time pressure.

Don’t sweat it

Perfection is overrated. I think this is a lesson from Casey. But I’m learning to not kill myself over the edits, over colour correction, over getting the timing or the music just right. Do it quick, get it done — the satisfaction of a completed video far outweighs the hours you may have spent to get things perfect.

More reflections, hopefully to follow, but for now, here’s the playlist…

Vale Anthony Bourdain

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This city is the self-proclaimed centre of democracy, science, and culture. Unlike many other self-proclaimed centres, though, this one’s claims tend to be borne out by history.

I landed yesterday, blinked and nodded politely as my lovely driver gave me the rundown on the city he’s doubtless done a million times before. Got to the apartment, dumped my everything, found a cold beer in the fridge and toasted my own arrival.

As I took my first few tentative steps out into the streets, an all-caps message arrived from my partner: Anthony Bourdain was dead.

Before we get into this, it must be said that I never met the man. But it’s testament to his talent as a presenter, as a writer, as a storyteller, as a presence, that the news of his passing felt like a punch to the fucking gut.

Between a full-time job each, my partner and I struggle to find time to sit down and smash TV shows — particularly those of the intellectual variety. But during a prolonged fortnight of illness some two or three years ago, The Layover popped up on Netflix, and we destroyed it. Since then we’ve watched nearly all of No Reservations and every episode of Parts Unknown, and between us we’ve read most of the words he wrote. Tony was a source of wisdom on many things, most recently how to prepare garlic: a quick Google that settled a light-hearted argument at work.

Every episode of his series was meticulously planned and shot, playful and experimental, and always accompanied by the most beautifully constructed narration. His crew were seemingly eternally devoted, and clearly thinking above and beyond the necessities of the job; Zach Zamboni’s extended philosophical essays on cinematography have turned up more than once in my reading lists for class.

I was desperately looking forward to seeing the episode Tony shot in Hong Kong that was directed by his girlfriend Asia Argento and shot by the inimitable Christopher Doyle. Now I’m not sure I can bring myself to see it, knowing what we all now do.

In how many fathoms of darkness must a soul be swimming in order for this to be sweet release? Surrounded by those who would take a bullet for you, in how much pain does one need to be to take this action? It must have been insufferable, insurmountable.

I’m just stunned. I’m still getting over this, and will be for some time. In many ways I’m glad to be travelling, at the moment. Anthony Bourdain brought travel down to earth, to the people and their stories, and to the food that locals don’t think twice about scoffing — Tony saw cities not as tourist traps, but as living, breathing places where people do indeed pass through, but people also live, work, and die.

There’s not much to say. Just: thank you, Anthony Bourdain, for your words, your wit, and your way of seeing the world.

in transit

My head knows what time zone I’m meant to be in, but my body has no idea. I’ve reset all my clocks, but apparently it should be 2am, so naturally I’ve just sat down with a beer. I haven’t really slept; dozed on the plane here, and had a quick power nap once I realised how long my layover would be.

I have to kill eight hours in Abu Dhabi, in the gigantic circular Skypark that houses all the cafes, bars, duty free. Those observing Ramadan are indulging in the wee hours before the sun comes up. It took me longer than I’m proud of to figure out why some people didn’t take meals on the flight from Melbourne.

From my vantage point at the SkyBar I can see the tiny glass box in which three men are quietly smoking. I feel like the haze should be thicker, but clearly the ventilation problem was sorted out long ago.

I’m on my way to Athens. I’ve read a lot about Athens; studied it in high school. I’ve hard it’s just one of those places to have to experience. So I’m looking forward to doing just that. Speaking of soaking up places, I’m meant to be filming on this trip, so maybe I’ll finish my beer and go do that thing.

rolling

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It’s been ten years since I owned a bike. I started, as so many kids do, with a little BMX, then around my late teens I was gifted a refurbished hybrid to get about the backroads of the Hawkesbury hills. When I moved on campus, the hybrid became a handy mode of late-night transport between my 4×4 cell room and the computer labs (that had better internet, and printers).

But given the lack of space available, the only place I could store the bike was lashed to a post outside my room. It wasn’t ideal, and it wasn’t too long before rust started to appear on some of the more delicate-looking bolts and parts. Before it progressed too far, I decided to throw it on ebay. Since saying goodbye and handing that bike over to some rando who frankly could’ve looked happier to acquire such a beloved machine, I’ve wanted another bike.

Cue several years of stop-start savings, getting close only to have some life event empty the coffers, getting up there again, repeat ad infinitum. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got one: a mid-range cyclocross bike that handles road and trails with ease. It’s a joy to finally be out there again — it’s cliched but I really have missed that mixture of agony (uphill) and bliss (downhill). Melbourne is good place to have a bike, too, with a surfeit of dedicated paths and trails and bike lanes on most major arterials.

Here’s to many happy spins henceforth.