SOMA Magazine July 2011 : Page 66

Film THEOREMS ON FILM Gabriel Leif Bellman was working as a producer at MTV in New York in 1999, when he purchased his grandfather’s autobiogra-phy at the NYU Bookstore. The writer-director was reading the first chapter on the subway on his way home when he noted that his grandfather’s father owned a store on Bergen Street in Brooklyn—the same street that Gabriel now lived on. Shocked by the coincidence, he grabbed his Sony VX-1000 and booked the first flight to LA. See, his gramps, Richard Bellman, invented a branch of mathematics in the 1960’s that allowed people to solve problems in a new way. Because of the timing and emer-gence of computers, this had a profound effect on the disciplines of medicine, engineering and economics. Math movies are unique (think A Beautiful Mind and Proof ) as they ultimately end up provoking the limits of the human brain and the capacity to solve problems. Throw in the complicated state of the American family, and you have the perfect premise. Growing up, Gabriel didn’t know that his grandfather had been a famous mathematician. In his first feature, Gabriel followed a family circus in Ireland ( Duffy’s Irish Circus , Cinequest 2005). But that was somebody else’s family. The grandfather that Gabriel knew as a young boy was paralyzed by a brain tumor and barely able to speak. Locked in that frozen body was ridiculously active gray matter—the man published more than 40 books and 600 papers, and also helped invent the atomic bomb. A great sub-ject for a documentary with one big problem: no footage of his grandfather existed, and he had been dead for 15 years. Having been trained in quick-cutting, Gabriel had to change his story-telling rubric as the film was unfolding and things like Facebook were launching over the 12 years of production. People want to see things as they are happening. If film is the language of the 66 present, how can we see and discuss the past as it is happening? The answer to that lies in this filmic equivalent of a dubstep remix—classical music mathematic call and response, where generations collide and elder Bellman drops Kurtis Blow-Beethoven beats and younger Bellman does his Jay-Z/Glenn Gould freestylin’ to keep up. A mash-up of math, time-lapse and revelations, Gabriel’s filmmaking highlights his background as a poet (he also wrote the librettos for two Operas performed at Juilliard and NYC Opera and has written13 books). This is not just a biography, but a meta-biographical multiplication table. Garnering critical praise for its raw, simple, real-time docu-mentation of secrets unfolding, what begins as a simple quest to interview people who knew his grandfather slowly evolves into a 12 year odyssey. At least three of the subjects die during the making of the film, Gabriel’s father contracts cancer (twice), and he finds out that the FBI targeted his grandfather because of a connection to the Rosenbergs. The Atomic Age and the nuclear family do not make it through the film intact. And this is how we see the past as it happens—through examination, conscious and unconscious editing, and (ultimately) incorporating it into our new view of the present. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.” For those of us in the God Is Dead-Nietzschean-Vortex-of-Now, where real-time status updates create a permanently evolving edit in a movie we all take turns narrating, The Bellman Equation remains that rare type of new movie—and Leif Bellman that rare type of story-teller, striking chords in Homeric journeys of prodigal sons who return home to create a world that escapes (and partly encapsu-lates) the world of their fathers. the fresh prince

Theorems On Film

Cam Archer loves images. A look at his work reveals a deep connection between that burning iris image of both photographers and filmmakers. Based in Santa Cruz, California, where the combination of beach and communal existence adds a shade of light to some of the grays Archer plays with, he made his splash at Sundance in 2006, working with heavy hitter Scott Rudin and the auteur’s auteur Gus Van Sant. The film Wild Tigers I Have Known followed a young boy coming to terms with his homosexuality. For its critically celebrated director, the success came with a cost: he was (somewhat) famous. For Cam Archer, this was not something to be happy about.<br /> <br /> His website ( is sparse—two images, following an image of the man (boy?) Himself, covering his face with his hand, looking as if he were photographed at the wrong time. Finding himself at Sundance again in 2010 for his second film Shit Year, Archer was open with his ennui. What did he do in between? Well, he directed music videos (a lot of them) and started using a lot of 16mm film. His short films shot on 16mm led to his feature film Shit Year being shot on 16mm (starring Ellen Barkin) and in black and white. One can’t help if the title refers To Cam’s feeling after his early success. After all, the film is about fading superstars and the loss of celebrity status.<br /> <br /> Archer’s explanation for the creation of the film is that it came to him in a dream—the image of a man dressed in black, whose attributes he eventually applied to the female character Colleen West. He has stated that he finds his film to be more “performance piece” than “real-life drama.” Perhaps because he is a bit older than he was when he made the adolescent daydream Wild Tigers or perhaps because his true love is for the still image, you get the sense that he would be happy just to take 3,600 still photographs and line them up, one per second, and let you run by as fast as you can and be left with the pictures in your head and let the movie create itself. Or maybe that’s just me. But there is no denying that Archer’s work stays under your skin. Part Todd Haynes and part Hanes Underwear, his music video direction plays with speed, slowing down time and superimposing images of very non-Hollywood looking people. His video of “Throw it All Away” for Zero 7, his grainy black and white imagery, his Elliot Smith look and feel and his emotive sexuality have him poised to have a love-hate relationship with fame for a long while. AdAm Pollock

Previous Page  Next Page

Publication List