Corey Trench's Blog: My Growing Life

Do You Drive?
February 26, 2012, 10:59 am
Filed under: Film, Life | Tags: , , , , , , ,

If there’s one thing I know about movies, it’s that no one can account for taste. Some people just prefer certain films to others. I have yet to meet anyone who can tell me without a hint of irony that they simply loved Dude, Where’s My Car and the works of Federico Fellini in the same breath. I know people who like the former and I know people who go more toward the latter. So what makes one better than the other? Does the sheer absurdity and stupidity of Dude forgiven because it’s meant to be that way? Does the fact that Fellini’s 8 1/2 showcases his sense of cinematic surrealism in favor of telling a cogent story make it better because of his flair for style? What is this rubric that we give films to judge whether they are “good” or not? Well, in my opinion, it really depends on who you’re talking to.

I had a lengthy discussion with a fellow filmmaker about whether Drive was a good film. He felt the lack of certain story elements and character development really hurt the film’s effectiveness, and thus, considered it to be a bad film. I felt that the overall stylization of the film carried it along and gave me a real sense of satisfaction. The performances, art direction, sound design, cinematography, and score all felt like they were serving the style of the film. It’s a 70’s throwback with levels of grittiness and beauty. I love seeing the juxtaposition of beautiful people doing horrible, unspeakable things. I hadn’t seen anything like that since American Psycho.

I considered Drive one of the best films of last year. This statement received a major balking from my peers, everything ranging from, “But it was awful!” to “I have to question whether you’re a good filmmaker after saying that”. You get a bunch of passionate filmmakers together debating a film, it starts to get emotional. How can it not? Films ARE emotional! But, again, what makes them good?

When we go see a film, we’re really going for an experience. You sit in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers in the hopes that you’ll feel a sense of emotion from light and sound coming off the screen. Drive gave me a highly stylized and emotional experience. It was visceral, not intellectual. I wasn’t asking myself what Ryan Gosling’s motivation was because it was very simple: he’s in love with a girl and wants to save her. You know what this sounds like? A fairy tale. This is something the director has gone on record for wanting to achieve with this film. Okay, so let’s break down a fairy tale in terms of story. “Little Red Hiding Hood”. We get a lumber jack towards the middle of act 3. We don’t get any explanation of who he is or his backstory. He just comes in and saves the girl. Even “Red Hiding Hood” herself doesn’t have much in the sense of character development and motivation. She wants to see her grandmother. There we go, a story with archetypal characters. So does that make it bad? I guess you could say “The Great Gatsby” is superior to “Little Red” in certain elements of story. But it seems funny to say “Red” is bad based on that template. You could actually break down that story in such a way to where you could make it an argument for feminism. Most people would say, “Huh? How can you see that? It’s just a children’s story”. Yes, a children’s story that’s lasted for centuries. If it were bad, no one would remember it. “Little Red” is interesting because it’s grim and terrifying (Elements that contemporary audiences want to experience when they see a horror film. They want to be scared!) It gives the reader that emotional experience. “Will it turn out all right in the end?” It does. Spoilers.

So if Drive is a fairy tale with archetypal heroes and villains, is that enough to make the argument that the film is good? We still feel a sense of distance from the main character due to his lack of backstory, but, in my opinion, that only made him more interesting. He gives us the unexpected through his actions. It seems like his persona is as unrelenting as the film’s style. The director definitely didn’t wimp out on this one. He was going to make this film this way. Given to another director, they would just made it a regular action movie that looks like other action movies. Some would of called passé. Drive just isn’t. So, again, I would go back to the elements of craft that he employed throughout the film that gave the audience a ride, one that went backwards and forwards, and then spilled them out onto the floor. I was soaring with the characters when they were having a picnic to the tune of College’s “A Real Hero” and I was horrified when characters started getting killed off, and then felt a sense of release at the very end.

Whether or not I could convince you that Drive is a good film is really up to you. What do you really look for in a film? I like a good story, but sometimes I want more than just that. I want something I’m not expecting on a visual and aural level. I value a experience that will my blood going and stir something inside of me, reminding me that I still have my primal instincts intact. I want a film that takes risks with its audience, such as giving us a main character who rarely speaks.

“I just drive,” says the Driver.


A Fortunate Son — A Film By Father & Son

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“You better run, Corey.” Those were the words my father said as I began to run for my life, absolutely terrified of what may be behind me. It was wrong of us to come back to this place. Fun Farm wasn’t exactly what the name implied.

Sometimes the transition from childhood to adulthood can be blurry and ambiguous. But my father could name the time and place where it happened to him. He told me the story as if it was ancient history, but in his eyes, I could see he was reliving it as if it were yesterday.

Fun Farm, Goochland, Virginia, July 20th, 1969. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” My father was 15 years old, huddled with his family around their maroon colored, box-looking TV set, witnessing the United States’ historic moon landing. My grandfather commented on how amazing the whole thing was before he went to the barn to check a lighting fixture that had gone out, as angry clouds rapidly assembled overhead. Moments later, my father and his mother were lying on the barn’s floor, trying to resuscitate my grandfather. My uncle Ed sped up Fun Farm’s long dirt road, on his bike, looking for help. Despite the valiant efforts of rescue personnel, my grandfather died instantly and a young family’s future remained uncertain. My father was now the man of the house.

My parent’s house, Williamsburg, Virginia, December 2010. While visiting my family over the holidays, I had decided that we should revisit my father’s old home. “Why don’t we go back to Goochland and make a documentary film out of it? See what happens?” We had talked about making a film together for a long time. My father, semi-retired and looking for direction in his life, saw the opportunity to live out his fantasy of being a filmmaker. I saw the opportunity to explore some of our family history, including the circumstances of grandfather’s death, and give my father some closure. My father, Goochland’s lost son, was returning home. He told me he had not visited in over 40 years.

We were very excited on the car ride to Goochland, bonding as father and son. However, things began to get difficult once we started to search for Fun Farm. Goochland was a small town, but it turned out to be difficult to navigate with its thick forests. Fortunately, my father remembered the name of the real estate agent who was involved in renting the place to the family. She was 90 years old, Goochland County’s first real estate agent. She was very kind and was able to point us in the right direction. She also gave us a warning that getting on the property would not be easy because the new owner was very reclusive and very mysterious. It was an ominous beginning to our journey.

As we approached Fun Farm, I began to feel tense. The car bounced up and down as we drove down the dirt road. We finally stopped at an old, rusty gate that lay in front of a long, winding path. My father pointed out that the Fun Farm sign that he fondly remembered from his childhood wasn’t there anymore. He peered down the path. I could see in his squinting eyes that he wasn’t comfortable. He was staring down the same path that would lead to nothing but pain and misery. It became obvious that it was up to me to head down the path myself, deep into the woods of confusion and loss. He turned the car around in the other direction just in case I had to run from whatever lay beyond the gate. We decided to stay in contact using our cell phones.

I walked down the long path, alone, clutching my camera against my side. I thought about how ironic it was that I was going down the same path my father walked many times before, the same path that would transport me into his past. My steps were swift, but cautious. I began to get an eerie feeling, like I was being watched.

What happened next would prove to be the most terrifying experience of my life. I heard dogs barking in the background, the wind picking up behind me, and loud shouts from the forest. My father could hear the fear in my voice and told me to run. I did not look back.

Here is the proposal. We request $1,500 to revisit “Fun Farm,” the barn in Goochland, and tell the story of a father and son revisiting the past. The requested funds will help pay for my flight from LA to Richmond, VA; our stay in Goochland; entry fees for 10 – 15 film festivals; and the distribution of DVDs to the contributors.

We thank you for your contribution and putting your faith in this father-son collaboration.

Film Review: An Education

“Girls, they want to have fun.  Oh girls just want to have fun.”

Meet Jenny, the main protagonist in An Education, a film directed by Lone Scherfig and adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby.  Jenny (played by newcomer Carey Mulligan) is bored.  She lives in suburban London in the 1960s, attends an all-girls school, studies Latin every night, plays cello, and is ALWAYS in bed by 10pm.  Her parents are upscale, traditional, and seemingly dull.  Her father, played by veteran actor Alfred Molia, doesn’t understand Jenny’s passion for attending concerts and love of French culture (she sings to Juliette Greco records in her room).  He just wants her to get into Oxford.

An Eduction Poster

As you can imagine, Jenny gets more than a little swept off her feet once an older man named David, played by Peter Sarsgaard, comes into her life.  He’s charming, goes out to concerts and fine restaurants, loves the arts, and most importantly of all, wants to take Jenny to Paris.  What more could a 16-year old girl want?  He lives a fantastic life and she wants to be along for the ride.  However, the romance gets much more serious when David reveals that he’s not all that he appears to be.

Writer Nick Hornby adapted An Education from the memoir of Lynn Barber, the real life Jenny, who learned a great deal about personal liasons with older men.  He characterizes her 16-year year old self as a young girl who desires to be a woman.  When they’re alone the bedroom, Jenny tells David: “I want you to treat me like a grownup.”  But make no mistake, she still plays into David’s grand deceptions throughout the film.  And even when he reveals his underhanded ways, Jenny remains complacent.  After all, it’s all about having fun at this point.

Lynn Barber Photograph

Lynn Barber as a teenager.

Jenny reminds me of a time in my own youth when I was only thinking about the present and when everything was just about fun.  Why bother with such trivial things as your future?  You fail to see the point in such things when you’re that young.  Jenny pontificates to her headmistress (Emma Thompson): “If people die the moment that they graduate, then surely it’s the things we do beforehand that count.”

After viewing the film, I can honestly say that Carey Mulligan definitely has a shot at a Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  Her performance is arresting and captivating.  It was a bold decision to choose a little known actress such as herself for the lead, but she inhabits her role with a deep conviction that envelops complete verisimilitude. Hopefully, you will see more from her in the future.

Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan as Jenny in "An Education".

Novelist Nick Hornby presents a beautifully written screenplay with great dialog. My only complaint would have to be the tail end of the third act. Hornby admits that he wanted to give the story that “close call” feeling for Jenny as tries to put her life back together after the fallout with David.  It just might be a little bit too contrived. Any regular cinema goer will have already predicted the end-result of Jenny’s struggle before the ending credits start to roll.

But much like the film, the most enjoyable part of life is the journey, not the destination.