the candler blog

The Movie Lover

Link, Movies

Pauline Kael, reflecting on her career in The New Yorker, 1994:

My pieces belong to the breakneck era before people could rent videos of old movies and before distributors began to supply reviewers with videos of new movies. (Reviewers can use the video as a text.) I wrote at first sight and, when referring to earlier work, from memory. This had an advantage: urgency, excitement. But it also led to my worst flaw as a writer: reckless excess, in both praise and damnation.

One of my problems as a writer in recent years is that I approach my words with too much caution. Deliberation is one word for it. Procrastination is another.

The urgency and excitement Kael writes about is something that has long been missing from my process; I wonder, often, how to get it back.

The Candler Manifesto

Writing

The candler blog is now twelve years old. I sat down recently to write a little about it, only to realize I was saying the same stuff I had said on the site’s fifth and tenth anniversaries. So I just started reading my old work.

In my trip down memory lane, I came across a document I had forgotten about titled “Candler Manifesto.” This was something I had written to be the first post on this site, but ultimately never published. It explains my original intention: a website about movies written by people who make them.

“Critical practitioners,” I called the people I wanted to write here. As in people who worked in movies for a living but would turn a critical eye to them for pleasure. “Rather than give in to the coldness of the process, we will use our experience to find a greater appreciation of the cinema.”

Lofty, but not entirely untrue. My work in film and television does influence how I view works. Weirdly, my experience writing here about non-cinema things has also influenced my professional life. The tech and productivity articles that have proven more durable on this site have seeped back into how I do my work. If the candler blog’s cinema beginnings seem strange to the modern reader, it doesn’t feel all that strange to me.

Why a manifesto? I don’t know. Sounds creepy to me now. I think I was going for something along the lines of the Dogme 95 “Vow of Chastity” when I titled it, something bold and attention grabbing. I don’t think the piece backs up the title, but you can be the judge of that.

In the end I didn’t publish it because, well I don’t know. It felt like the sort of thing that would be accompanied by a real editorial plan, which I didn’t have. I sent the piece to friends in hopes they’d want to write for the site. Some did, but most just sort of said it was a neat idea and moved on.

Eventually I just decided to start the site and go by the seat of my pants. That, I think, was the right decision, but I do wonder what would have happened if I really had built the candler blog of this forgotten piece, which I have finally published for all to see.

“Obviously I can’t stay here.”

Link, Technology, Writing

Annalee Newitz, parsing a variety of issues at Substack, this week:

Substack’s business is a scam. They claim to offer writers a level playing field for making a living, and instead they pay an elite, secret group of writers to be on the platform and make newsletter writing appear to be more lucrative than it is.

Me, in 2013:

What if I told you you could be published alongside writers from (but not in) The New Yorker for the low low price of free? In a nut, that’s Medium: a slick, magazine-like publishing and reading platform that writers should be so lucky to contribute to.1

I don’t get the whole newsletter thing, so I never really bothered to figure out how Substack works. Sounds like it’s Medium, but worse.

  1. I’m linking to a piece I wrote here that quotes a piece I wrote on Medium. The Medium version looks a bit wonky now and, at one point, wasn’t loading at all. For posterity, here it is on archive.org.

Blogging from BBEdit again

Link, Writing

Dr. Drang:

I’m going to write soon about how and why I decided to move back to the Mac for most of my work (the M1 is a big part of the story, of course, but not the whole story), but for now I want to go over how I’ve organized the tools I use for writing and publishing this blog from a Mac.

Oh, hello, article designed just for me at this very moment. I’ve been trying to customize my setup in BBEdit a bit lately. Some great ideas from Dr. Drang at the link.

I used to have all sorts of scripts and workarounds and things, but they’ve all broken for a variety of reasons. Looking forward to tinkering and building out my own little system again.

My Writing Workflow is All Messed Up

Writing

A nice thing about having written a blog for awhile is I can go back and see if my younger self has an answer to a current dilemma. Here’s me, 9 years ago:

Life is short and the considerable time I spend wondering which app has the best Markdown implementation is time thoroughly wasted. Write more, shop less; all of this will end someday.

Oof. As the kids say, I feel seen.

To my younger, apparently wizened, self I say to hell with it. I’m going to ponder the dumb question of how I write anyway.

Jason Snell kinda opened this whole thing back up for me with a piece on his search for the perfect iOS writing tool. His issue is that he can’t quite find a solid iPad app that comports with his Mac writing workflow. My problem is that I don’t even have a decent writing workflow on my Mac anymore. It’s all just gotten away from me.

I used to push text around from folder to folder, app to app, without much care about how it got there. Dropbox, for the longest while, was the linchpin of such operations. Then, at some point, I started preferring library type apps, like Ulysses, Drafts and Vesper. I loved being able to dash off a note and know it would be saved somewhere. I didn’t even need to name the files; there were no files, practically speaking.

But it wasn’t to last. My Ulysses library has grown bloated. A bad sync years ago has left me with multiple copies of a ton of sheets, and no easy way to weed out the duplicates.1 Drafts, similarly, has become a silo of disorganization, a messy hoard instead of a manageable archive.

And so I am drawn to the idea of keeping my writings organized on disk instead of loaded in a library. At present, I have no idea how to do this. Should the files just be named whatever I want to call them, or have date-based filenames? Should I make a bunch of subfolders with dates? How granular? It’s a processn…

These days, on the Mac, I prefer writing in BBEdit for reasons I can’t quite explain. It just has a certain solid feel to it, the kind of feeling that great Mac apps have. Organically, I’ve found over the last few months I just end up there. Most any note I have to jot down or text I have to paste, it’s happening in BBEdit.

So, assuming I settle on a naming organization, the questions become: where do I save these files and how do I access them on my iPhone and iPad? iCloud Drive seems to work well enough for saving. It even retains the different versions of the file so I can go back in time and see if I scratched out a brilliant idea.2

As to working with documents on other devices, I’ve been messing around with Taio. It’s a powerful app, but something is missing. I don’t quite know how to explain it. In exactly the same way BBEdit feels solid Taio just…doesn’t.

I don’t know, I’m still tinkering with it. Around every corner writers (including, to an extent, Snell) are recommending iA Writer. I haven’t used it since the whole patent thing, but maybe it’s worth another look on iPad.

If I ever settle on a form of document organization, I’ll need apps to conform to my system and not the other way around. Maybe soon I’ll wrap my head around all this and have a better writing workflow. Yeah, that’s it; it’s just around the corner.

  1. It should be easy to figure out which documents contain the exact same text, and it would be if the duplicate files were just some text files on disk.

  2. I didn’t…

Why Don’t I Write the candler blog Anymore?

Writing

Why don’t I write the candler blog anymore? This is a question I think about often. Is it because I’m too busy at work? Or I have less to say of late? Maybe it’s that my writing workflow has broken down. Could that be it?

All of these reasons are true. But all have been true before.

I’m increasingly convinced that the reason I don’t write the candler blog anymore is that I don’t write the candler blog anymore. Publishing this is one step in changing that. Hello again.

Tot and Writing Again

Apps, Writing

For a few days now I’ve been messing around with Tot, the new app from The Iconfactory. Smarter minds than mine have put it through its paces if you want a more traditional review. The short explanation is: Tot is a scratchpad for Mac and iOS with seven notes. It’s Stickies only way better.

I wasn’t looking for a new scratchpad app. I’ve never really used sticky notes, be they digital or physical, to great effect. Tot is not here to solve problems I have. And yet I am drawn to it. I want to use it. That feels huge.

Almost everything I write these days, I write on paper. Since I’ve been publishing so little, I rarely write digitally unless it’s work-related (emails, documentation, spreadsheets, etc.). This is due, in part, to a breakdown of my workflow. Putting a new app through its paces turns out to be the perfect opportunity to try to refine, and really re-establish, my digital writing habit.

When I was writing a lot, I wrote almost everything in Ulysses. I still love it, but I find myself less inclined to fire it up to do some leisure writing. The years-long corpus in there makes me second guess the inclination to use it as a scratchpad. This, of course, is all in my head; a blank sheet in Ulysses is no different than an empty note in Tot. It just doesn’t feel the same. Tot feels friendlier, less imposing. I’m writing in it right now.

I’ve tried so many apps for just jotting things down over the years. Drafts works to a degree, but I don’t like using the Mac app.1 NVAlt never fully clicked with me, though the concept has always had a certain allure; we’ll see if the forthcoming nvUltra is a good fit. Agenda, well I don’t actually understand how to use Agenda. Apple’s own Notes app is far too busy for me to fully commit to; it solves none of my problems and instead creates new ones. When I open BBEdit there will always be loads of untitled documents with scattered bits of text, but I’ve never found a great way to actually organize that system in a meaningul way.

Vesper probably came the closest to a notes app I enjoyed using every day. Of course it had no Mac app and lacked some basic comforts, but its simplicity was part of the draw. It’s one of the only tagging systems I’ve ever actually committed to. When Vesper shut down, I transferred my notes, tags and all, to Ulysses, but I never ended up using it the same way. I just stopped taking those kinds of notes. In a way, Tot hearkens back to Vesper. As simple as possible, beautifully executed.

I use a great deal of paper. There are nights when I sit down before bed to write a page in my planner. I may switch over to write for a bit in a Field Notes memo book before, if there’s anything left in my mind, opening a larger notebook to fill a page or two. Across the different books, I’ll repeat myself. I’ll mention that I had written a similar thought in one of the other books.

None of this is efficient or even particularly useful; it’s rarely productive. What can I say? I like to write. Not in the sense that I like to be published (I do) or that it brings me joy to compose a coherent thought (it does). I’ve found that sometimes, most of the time, I actually just like to write.

I like to write with pencils and pens and different colored inks. I take notes at the movies. Over a beer, I may take out a pen to get down a funny thing a friend said. In meetings, sometimes, I will rest a notebook on my laptop (probably open to a note-taking app) to jot down a few important points. Writing is just something I do a lot.

I used to like writing digitally, but life has changed for me. Maybe I write less on a computer because I stopped having fun doing it. A new notebook is a small investment that adds a little jolt of happiness into my life. Changing the ink in my pen is a cheap excuse to actually sit down and commit something to the page. Perhaps on a computer what’s been missing has been just a little extra delight.

Tot is a fun app that has already made me rethink how I write. On both Mac and iOS, it is a great place to focus on just your words. The sync is rock solid thus far, and on both platforms it feels completely stable.

Here’s something unique I haven’t heard much made about: Tot syncs cursor position and text selection. If you’re working on a long note on your Mac, launching that same note on your iPhone will open it at the same spot. If text is selected on iPhone, it is also selected on Mac. I haven’t seen this in any other text editor, but it’s instantly useful for me. I wrote this piece in Tot across two dots, switching from Mac to iPhone continuously as my schedule allowed. Having it always launch right where I left off is huge.

A few stray thoughts:

  • Tot on iOS is called Tot Pocket, but I just call it Tot because the two versions have feature parity save for one thing: you can’t change the Markdown font on iOS
  • Speaking of Markdown, I am fine with the stripped down version Tot uses, but I hate underscores and prefer emphasizing text with single asterisks
  • For some reason the iOS documentation leaves out the fact that Tot can be automated through the same URL scheme available on the Mac. I’m thinking up some shortcuts for lists I plan to keep in Tot
  • Folks are well on their way to adding more automation to Tot on the Mac
  • The dock icons on the Mac are gorgeous and I wish iOS allowed automatic icon switching to match
  • I’d like fot the Quick Keys palette to offer regular characters like a hyphen or an ampersat, since I actually use them, but I realize I can just access them from the keyboard

Tot is free on the Mac and costs $20 on iOS. That’s the cost of a few notebooks and less than a box of Blackwings. Other apps are cheaper, but so what? Using Tot is a joy. It has made a space for itself in my life and, in turn, I have made the time to write. What is that worth?

  1. I could go on and on about why this is the case, but I fear I’d come off too harsh on a developer who is clearly more at home on iOS.

10 Years of the candler blog

Announcement

I don’t remember starting this website. I really don’t. What I remember, mostly, is learning web publishing while I had a decent amount of free time on my hands at one of my first jobs out of college. Once I figured out how to host my own blog, I transferred a bunch of my MySpace posts to my personal site and kept at it, writing reviews and observations regularly.

The candler blog was an idea that incubated for years. The original concept was as simple as it was lofty: people working in the film industry writing about film. Think Cahiers du Cinema meets Projections, but for my film school friends. I had planned on calling it just “The Candler,” and I worked through a few ideas to print it, like a newsletter, before giving up on it.

Until one day I just up and started the site. No urls for “The Candler” seemed available, so I added “blog” to the name, worked up a design incorporating a recent photo of mine, and just put the thing online. A full decade later, here it is, still going, at least in some fashion.

When I think on the impact this site has had on my life, I almost can’t believe it. It was through this site that I found my way into being an editor for Heeb Magazine, from there writing for a variety of different outlets. I’ve interviewed filmmakers and movie stars, I’ve covered film festivals and movie premieres. My writing here helped link me up with the team behind Fountain, the plain-text screenwriting syntax I played the smallest role in getting off the ground.

It was this site that opened the door to covering SXSW for me, which brought me to Austin a few times, giving me the confidence to actually leave NYC when the time came. So now I live in Texas, where I met my wife and set down roots.

It’s a strange thing. I’ve tried various advertising models on the site, and I’ve been paid for my freelance writing, yet I never found a way to make the site generate any meaningful income. I have worked in post-production all these years, maintaining (or trying to, at least) the candler blog through it all. This website has never been my livelihood, and yet it feels as though my career would be nothing without it.

For ten years this site has been my little plaything. To the readers who have been here this whole time, or have just showed up today: thank you for coming around to my little pocket of the web. You helped keep this little project going so many times, whether you knew it or not.

And so, it’s 2019. The web is certainly changing, but not so much that a simple blog can’t find a few readers. I’ll keep this thing going for as long as I can. I hope you’ll be back to see what I’m up to.

A Conversation With Myself Regarding Documentary Cinema

Movies

As the dueling documentaries on Netflix and Hulu about the failed Fyre Festival went live, I knew I’d be goaded into watching at least one of them. I had no interest as the story seemed to have been told plenty of times already. And yet, as more and more friends started talking about it, I figured it was time to watch one.

I picked Netflix’s Fyre, directed by Chris Smith. The film dredged up a number of thoughts about documentary cinema and how we watch and process non-fiction media. Instead of reviewing the film itself or composing an essay, I decided to make my internal monologue a little more external.

So here is a conversation between myself and myself, parsing my feelings on the matter. If this isn’t helpful, I have only myself to blame.

I’m wondering why you say you didn’t even want to watch either film on the Fyre Festival. The idea that you would balk at taking the time to watch a feel makes you sound rigid, incurious.

That’s a fair point but not one that’s really going to change my mind. I would say it’s less that I’m incurious and more that I have a disinterest in watching something that I would rather read.

Read?

So many documentaries today, especially those that are made for television, feel as though they would be better served by a lengthy magazine article. I don’t see what the moving image adds to the story.

I’m going to come back to your “made for television” sideswipe later…

We can talk about it now…

…I think you’re being obtuse when you say you don’t see what the moving image adds. It adds, of course, the moving image. It makes it sound as though you would discount the entire advent of cinema since, well, we have books and theater; why have a new thing?

Except you’re exactly right. You’re agreeing with me without seeing it. The cinema is not literature, it is different. And so is the documentarian a journalist? Hopefully. But bringing pictures to a story, especially now that moving images are everywhere, is only part of it. There must be a story told through pictures, that could not be told another way. Documentary is not illustration, but illumination.

So you do like documentaries?

Of course!

But you’re generalizing that most made today don’t meet your rigid standard?

First of all, I should maybe clarify that my standard, my rigidity as you put it, is merely personal. This is whether or not I like these films, whether I think they’re worth my time to watch. They are a wildly popular form. Clearly no one cares if I dislike 90% or whatever of those that come out.

What are some documentaries that you do like?

Oh, any Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles. I loved Marwencol. Queen of Versailles was enjoyable.

So direct cinema.

Yes, I’m a fan.

Should all documentaries be direct cinema?

If they were, I’d be happier but documentary would still be a niche form.

Okay you referred to Fyre as made for television…

Sure.

Are you making fun of it? In other words, are you trying to take it down a peg by suggesting it’s something other than cinema?

Look, Netflix is a direct-to-video streaming service. This is not necessarily a judgement on the quality of the work, but this is how it works. If there were no awards screening requirements, no Netflix film would ever play in a theater. Why? Because they’re a television network. The proper way to experience Netflix is in the home or on a device.

We will quickly find ourselves in the weeds here, but whatever is on Netflix is television.

Even…

I know what you’re going to say and I guess, yeah, even Roma. I watched it on television. Most people did.

And you think that takes something away from the experience?

Who’s to say? Maybe I would have enjoyed Roma more in a theater. Maybe the same goes for Fyre. But we’ll see. Maybe this year a made for television film will win Best Picture.

See you’re being difficult, clearly. You are trying to poke fun at Roma, a beautiful and cinematic film, because Netflix released it. Why can’t you just judge the film on its merits?

Why isn’t a turtle a giraffe? No one knows. If calling the film that premiered on a television network made for television is bad, I don’t know how we’re supposed to talk about this?

The other end of this is: where do you draw the line? Is every moving image everywhere cinema? Are they all worth our time? Good luck catching up on all your YouTube…

We are off track.

Clearly…

Fyre

Yes. It’s just a dry retelling, with one exception: everything after the festival. They did a good job there. Finally, three-quarters into the film, we get to something interesting.

So doesn’t that make it worth it then?

You may have me there. But I’d much rather watch something else and not know the ending.

And I feel the opposite.

A Little Bergman Reading

Books, Movies

It’s been quite an Ingmar Bergman January for me. I’ve been slowly working my way through Criterion’s monumental box set in chronological order. (I’ve only gotten as far as 1949’s Thirst.) Though I have not begun reading the gorgeous book of essays that accompanies the book, I did, by chance, have reason to read a little bit about Bergman.

The New York Times, for awhile now, apparently, has had a podcast devoted to its Book Review section called, aptly, The Book Review Podcast. Recently, the hosts welcomed the paper’s co-chief film critic A. O. Scott to discuss a new book he reviewed, Unquiet. The novel is a work of fiction by Linn Ullman, the daughter of Bergman and actress Liv Ullman. Per Scott, it is not a salacious autobiography, but a thinly veiled retelling of a girl growing up with monumentally famous parents.

Liv Ullman, of course, is the star of many of Bergman’s most famous films, including my personal favorite (so far!), Autumn Sonata, a devastating but beautiful film. Linn, her daughter, is herself a celebrated writer, though apparently the subject of her parents has long been off limits. She does not, apparently, reveal much in Unquiet. Here’s how Scott describes it in his review:

For readers anticipating a book-length gossip-column blind item — or a score-settling peek into the intimate lives of famous people — “Unquiet” may be disappointing. The real-life celebrity of the almost-fictional characters, including Linn Ullmann herself, several of whose books have been international best sellers, is both a lure and a distraction. … The enigmas of “Persona” and the emotional shadings of “Scenes From a Marriage” are unlikely to be illuminated by any new revelations about their maker and star.

Adding Unquiet to my list of books to read. Next up to view: To Joy.