the candler blog

Scorcese on Cinema in Context


Martin Scorsese in The Times Literary Supplement:

Every time I get back into the editing room, I feel the wonder of it. One image is joined with another image, and a third phantom event happens in the mind’s eye - perhaps an image, perhaps a thought, perhaps a sensation. Something occurs, something absolutely unique to this particular combination or collision of moving images. And if you take a frame away from one or add a couple of frames to the other, the image in the mind’s eye changes. […] This “principle”, if that’s what you could call it, is just as applicable to the juxtaposition of words in poetry or forms and colours in painting. It is, I think, fundamental to the art of cinema. This is where the act of creation meets the act of viewing and engaging, where the common life of the filmmaker and the viewer exists, in those intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless. This is where a good film comes alive as something more than a succession of beautifully composed renderings of a script. This is film-making.

A rousing defense of the cinema from one of its greatest students.

Scorsese’s article is about one of cinema’s fundamental conflicts: its relationship to the other arts, namely literature. The portion I’ve quoted above, though, resonates with me because of the current climate of film appreciation online. So much digital ink is spilled over scenes and shots and spoilers and trailers and the like.These things are fun and interesting, but they are not cinema.

The “intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless” is a beautiful definition of cinema. The complexities of this art form come from its inherent dichotomy, that there is craft in both instant and a span. You cannot have cinema without the frame, but the frame is not cinema.

We get so lost in the minutiae of film that it helps to step back and look at it as a whole form. Scorsese offers just that opportunity in this essay, which I’ll link again because it’s a must-read.

This Piece of Film Criticism Woke Me Up This Morning

Cannes, Criticism, Movies

Look, I had to wake up anyway. After snoozing my alarm a few too many times, I snatched my phone off the charger and started scrolling through Twitter. This is an unhealthy habit, scrolling through piles of hot takes on depressing news, I know, but some habits are tough to kick.

I can’t remember the tweet that led me to Bilge Ebiri’s Village Voice piece on Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. I don’t even know why I clicked on it. Cannes news can be a bit numbing from afar, with most articles that bubble up covering all the same festival buzz. (What got booed!? Who was chummy on the red carpet!? Almodóvar v. Smith because Netflix!) The piece even has a hallmark headline for the sort of piece I was in no mood to read: “The Best Film At Cannes Almost Didn’t Make It There On Time.”

But! I’m glad I clicked it, because reading the piece invigorated me. It reminded me that great criticism happens every day, and that I need to seek it out.

What’s so great about the article is that it is both criticism and journalism. It offers, expediently, a history of Cannes latecomer films, setting the stage for the premiere of Ramsay’s film. Ebiri then reviews the film in question on its own merits before weaving it into the context of this year’s festival, and then puts this year’s festival in a more macro context against all other Cannes. All in under 1200 words!

It’s criticism because it goes deep on the film. (“In Ramsay’s cinema, emotion is memory, and it feeds the present and the future.”) It’s journalism because it reports facts from the ground. (“We’d already heard, even before it all started, that Thierry Frémaux’s programming committee had viewed Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here in incomplete form but had still included it in competition because they saw ‘the potential of an artist, a poet, and an author.’ All fest long, there were rumors that Jonny Greenwood was still finishing his score, that the film was due to arrive right before the premiere. Would the screening even happen?”) And it’s just plain great because of descriptions like a “95-minute nervous breakdown of a movie.”

Last week I published a piece here about regaining my enthusiam to write. Reading great writing is a solid way to get motivated. Bilge Ebiri provided that shot in the arm for me today. He cut right through my own cynicism about the sameness of so many articles that cross my path.

And now I need to see that movie, too. Added to the list.

Joe Steel’s WWDC Apple TV Wish List


Joe Steel isn’t asking for much from an updated Apple TV, though I don’t know that he’ll get any of it. His piece reads more as a critique of what Apple offers than a wish for what could come next. In the TV space, Apple, one of the pioneers of digital entertainment1, is years behind. Hoping change is coming soon.

(via Six Colors.)

  1. QuickTime and Apple Trailers were a delight long before YouTube, iMovie could cut HD well ahead of the curve, buying movies digitally didn’t make much sense before iTunes, etc.

Rewatching Dr. Strangelove

Movies, Reviews

It’s been years since I last watched Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Current events gave me a hankering to revisit it, so I rented the Blu-ray and popped it in last night. Some stray thoughts.

I’ve always remembered the overtly sexual mechanics of the film’s opening sequence, but I had forgotten Pablo Ferro’s beautifully designed titles. Over the years, graphic design has become a more central daily concern for me, so I sit in wonder of the gorgeous lettering. From card to card I stand mystified by the creative placement of each word. It feels at once perfect, everything in its place, and yet completely wrong, setting fire to common sense.

I was planning to add in a remark about how organic and alive these titles feel compared to the similar but much drier titles to Men in Black, but it seems those were done by…Pablo Ferro. Go figure.

One thing that feels so shocking by today’s standards is how compact Kubrick, along with Terry Southern and Peter George, manage to keep a narrative about the end of the world. If a film about an impending nuclear holocaust were made today, there would be at least one sequence where you see wide shots of public squares around the world reacting to the news. You would see people running in the streets. Or at the very least, given the secrecy of the scenario, scenes of happy life going on undisturbed. These sorts of macro scenes are crutches that help set the visual stakes. Dr. Strangelove brilliantly resists this urge, limiting itself to three main locations: Ripper’s base, the War Room1 and Major Kong’s plane, with only a brief moment in Turgidson’s mirror-clad hotel room. Kubrick gives the audience enough credit to understand the stakes.

I forgot just how good Peter Sellers is as President Merkin Muffley.2 His extended call with the Russian premier is one of the most brilliant bits of one-sided telephone. It’s Bob Newhart level good. I tend to think of him as Dr. Strangelove, desperately trying to control his right arm, but it is the Muffley role that, I would argue, requires a higher level comic genius.

Speaking of the good doctor, I noticed on this viewing that he is introduced at the exact halfway point of the film. I think he may appear in a single shot prior to that, but it is when his name is first uttered that he bursts into the film, changing the mechanics of the story. It feels as though the film’s title is a setup for a joke whose punchline is Strangelove’s entrée.

George C. Scott’s comic timing is a thing of beauty. He lands every single laugh. Line’s like “I’d like to hold off judgement on a thing like that, sir, until all the facts are in” and “He’ll see the big board!” could so easily be dry, but coming from him they’re centerpiece bits. I need to catch up on more of Scott’s films, but he is always a towering figure in anything I’ve seen him in. Even in a frothy picture like Not with My Wife, You Don’t!, he seems to work at one speed: intense.

It doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but it blows my mind a thirty-something James Earl Jones sounds exactly like an eighty-something James Earl Jones.

Another little something: “WORLD TARGETS IN MEGADEATHS.”

Something I never took note of before last night is the film’s visual effects. Any viewer can discern that they are looking at miniature aircraft superimposed over flying footage, but great care is taken to match the lighting conditions and movement of the planes to the background footage. The effect works well, perhaps better than audiences need it to. Kubrick, of course, was a detail-oriented filmmaker.

I forgot there is a comedic beat between when Slim Pickens takes his iconic ride on a nuclear missile and the film’s concluding “We’ll Meet Again” sequence. Another stroke of genius to have a room full of powerful men discussing, to the bitter end, the sexual Xanadu they could have created underground if only they had had the foresight. Kaboom.

I can’t quite figure out if Dr. Strangelove, a political satire steeped in the blackest cynicism of its era, is timeless or not. The film plays just as well today, but perhaps it is because the Cold War looms larger than we’d like to admit.

I hope I don’t wait as many years to revisit the film again. No doubt, I will find even more in it the next time around.

  1. I feel like the ingeniousness of the design and use of the War Room set goes without saying at this point. One thing I noticed on this viewing is how smart the sound design is as we go around the table. When the camera is far away, so is the sound. It’s not a necessarily audacious choice, but it’s an important one that helps deliver some of the absurdities of the situation.

  2. Incidentally I also forgot how great the character names are. “Strangelove” is tame when put next to Jack D. Ripper.

Getting Back To It


I recall, often, something John Gruber wrote a few years back when Andrew Sullivan gave up blogging:

Blogging isn’t hard work in the way that coal mining is, but above all else it demands enthusiasm. There’s no other way to keep going — blogs cease when their authors run out of enthusiasm.

Admitting you’ve lost your enthusiasm is hard to do because it’s practically admitting defeat. I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel on the candler blog. I can admit that my enthusiasm has waned, but I refuse to be defeated.

I take great pride in having built a home for my thoughts on the web. When inspiration strikes, I love being able to publish my work at an outlet I control completely. But I suppose that diminished enthusiasm has caught up with me, keeping me from writing regularly.

I want to get back to it, though. Perhaps I need to tweet less. Or maybe there is something about my writing workflow that has gone wonky. I’ll work through it, and I’d like to do so on these pages, if you’ll indulge me.

This is my second post in a row about blogging. I’ll try to avoid that. I don’t know that I’ll write about the same sort of stuff I’ve always written about film, technology and the like. Probably, I will. To be honest I don’t know what I’ll write next, which has always been the fun of having a site like this.

The Deck and Blogging in the Future


Well, shit. Yesterday indie web ad network The Deck shut down. John Gruber, whose Daring Fireball was a founding site, wrote a beautiful post-mortem last night. The network simply couldn’t stay afloat as web publishing goes through its current upheaval. Social is eating everything, including ad revenue. It’s frustrating, but not surprising.

I always aspired to be a member of The Deck. When this site was at its most productive, it was a part of the InfluAds network. Later I switched to Fusion Ads. Both operated on a similar principal to The Deck: one well-designed ad per page. But then BuySellAds, which operates the Carbon network, scooped both up. Under BuySellAds I watched Fusion’s payments go from a small monthly pittance to literally nothing. So I cut ads entirely.

The candler blog turned eight last week. I often joke that I started the site right at the end of blogging but got stuck with the name because the domain I wanted wasn’t available.1 It’s quaint, in 2017, to have a site with blog right in the name, but I don’t plan on changing it any time soon. Blogging is so old now that its detractors have set their sights elsewhere; writing on your own website has become old media.I don’t know what the future of publishing is. Medium thinks it has an idea, but, uh…they’ve said that before.

Social is gobbling up time, attention and traffic. Once it was a boon to the open web; now it’s an alternative to it. The biggest loss is not that sites like this one may shrivel up, it’s that the next wave of writers won’t even consider owning their own little slice of the web.

The Deck going away is a loss made all the more frustrating by the fact that there isn’t really an alternative to it. Writers will always find a way to write, though. My hope is that the next generation of writers will find a way to put their words on the web on their own terms. Social doesn’t offer that. Blogging always has, and always will.

  1. Hint: just remove “blog.”



Seven years ago this week I visited Austin for the first time.

Four and a half years ago I moved here.

Two and a half years ago I met the woman of my dreams.

On Saturday, we got hitched.

There’s not much more to say, really. Our wedding was beautiful, and we’re both bursting with joy that we were able to share it with family and friends. I wanted to share it with you, the folks who read this site. It seems silly for me to go on writing here without mentioning such a major milestone.

I’m covering my eighth SXSW, which starts tomorrow. (Well, today, really.) My relationship with this festival is strange. Had it not been for this film fest in the heart of Texas, I don’t know that I would ever have had the courage to move here. Which means I may never have met my wife. I’m glad I did.

Anyway, time to load up on films. Look for my writing here and on Death and Taxes.

Oh and if you’ve been reading the candler blog for some time, you won’t be surprised by our guest book. Very happy we were able to make this happen.

(Photos by Nicole Ryan Photography. Texas-sized Field Notes by Draplin Design Co. and Industry Print Shop.)

Scriptnotes: A Refugee Story

Link, Movies, News

In a break from regularly scheduled Scriptnotes programming, screenwriter John August spoke with his Quote-Unquote Apps collaborator Nima Yousefi about Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim1 refugees and others from entering the United States. It’s a great, simple listen that almost brought me to tears on my ride home last night.

Nima does amazing work with John. When he was just a baby, his family fled the Iranian Revolution for the US. Any delay on their asylum in the US was life or death. That’s not hyperbole; it’s fact.

Listen to the episode and let Nima speak to his own experience. His most salient point is that we are talking about people here. Real people. It’s easy to offer up armchair commentary about an order that won’t make a dent in your daily life. But just think about the fact that we’re talking about human beings here. This is happening, and it’s happening on our watch.

  1. The White House wants you to think this isn’t a Muslim ban, but it is. Just read the order (emphasis mine):

    Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.

    All seven countries covered under the EO are Muslim-majority countries. Meaning Muslims from those countries, according to this text, cannot emigrate to the United States as refugees. Hence: a Muslim ban.

2016: Films Watched, Books Read

Books, Movies

Ah, 2016, you horrible mess of a year, goodbye forever. Well, goodbye in just another moment. First I’d like to take stock of all the movies I saw and stuff I read. Then we can move it along to 2017.

Last February I wrote a bit about how I would try my best to track my viewing throughout the year. For the most part I managed to keep a decent log in Day One, but it wasn’t a perfect solution. Getting the films out of the app so I could organize them in a list proved frustrating. It made me wish I had stuck with Letterboxd all year.

Anyway, in that same February post I set the following goal for myself:

If I can do it, I’d like to try and keep a ratio of at least 6:1 in terms of old vs. new films I watch this year. In other words, for every six films I watch I should see at least one 2016 release.

How did I do? I saw 65 older films and 31 new releases, 2:1. Not bad! But 31 is way too low. Last year I saw 35 new releases, so this is kind of a let-down. I think the list of older films I saw this year is extremely well-rounded, but I feel like I barely saw any of the major new films of the year.

So let me just get this out of the way now: my goal for 2017 is to see at least 50 new releases and maintain that 2:1 ratio of older films.

I can’t really do a top 10 list this year since I feel like I missed so many great films. Films I enjoyed the most, in no particular order, would probably be Hail, Caesar!, Miles Ahead, Green Room, Little Sister and Morris From America. I was a huge Sausage Party booster when it premiered, but my enthusiasm wore off a bit when it came out in theaters.

If those films are any indication, it should be clear that smaller, more independent films are where all the action was in 2016. Rogue One is probably the best tentpole film of the year, but look at the competition… I know few will agree with this, but of the superhero films (set Rogue One aside for a moment) last year I probably enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse the most. Pound-for-pound it felt the most visually interesting.

I was a voracious reader in 2016. Somewhere along the way I got into comics. I’m still working my way through older titles, though I dipped my toes into single issues with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s run of Black Panther. I’m still not quite ready to be a guy who hits the comic shop up every Wednesday (single issues confuse the hell out of me) but I’ll keep reading what I can.

My favorite comic discovery was probably China Miéville’s Dial H, which is so, so good. That led me to his The City & The City, a wild concept executed perfectly.

I really tried to branch out my reading last year and I think the list below shows I did a decent job doing so. Some of the reading had purpose, scratching little itches about ideas I had at the time. Some was just a distraction. The Aeneid almost destroyed my reading streak for the year, but I powered through and I’m glad I did. A curiosity: why is The Odyssey perpetually filmed but The Aeneid is practically invisible in cinema. It seems the only movie version of the tale is Giorgio Venturini’s 1962 The Avenger. It’s on YouTube

So here it all is in one place: stuff consumed in 2016. The films link to IMDb, the books and comics go to Amazon.1 I tried my best to keep the links as useful as possible, pointing to the info I would want to know. I indicated if I saw films at a festival. All of the new releases I saw this year were either DCP screenings or seen at home. I indicate if the older movies were seen on film or DCP; otherwise I watched them at home. Books and comics are in the order they were read.

New Releases

Older Films

Books Read


  1. These are affiliate links. I thank you in advance if you use them.



I have a tiny slice of the internet here on the candler blog, and I can do with it as I please. So I will take an editorial stance, a quiet protest of letters: I will not give Donald Trump an honorific.

Here, on these pages, and in my tweets and Facebook posts and whatever other scraps of writing I have editorial control over, he will either be Mr. Trump, Donald Trump or plain old Trump. Nothing more.

It’s a small but important reminder to me that he is not my president. He represents hatred and bigotry, cronyism and corruption, mismanagement and failure. He is an American embarrassment, so I’ll withhold the honorific until he earns it. He’s got a long way to go.