Sunday, June 12, 2011

Viral Fundraising Mashup Video No. 2 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video Mash-up No. 2 - by Jean Baugnon from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 24 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 24 - Parking Garages from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 23 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 23 - Thrift Store Special Report from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 22 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 22 - Driveways from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 21 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 21 - Harakiri from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 20 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 20 - Movies from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 19 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 19 - Television from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 18 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 18 - Corporations from mike brune on Vimeo.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Viral Fundraising Video No. 10 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 10 - Baseball & Obesity from mike brune on Vimeo.

Congratulations! - Thank you for donating Video No. 1

Congratulations! - Week One Thank Us from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 9 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 9 - The Woods from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 8 - Congratulations!

Viral Marketing Video No. 8 - Graduation from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 7 - Congratulations!

Viral Marketing Video No. 7 - Milk vs. OJ from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 6 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 6 - Global is the new suck. from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 5 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 5 - Meat & Potatoes vs. Hollywood from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 4 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 4 - Unmarked Cars from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 3 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video - No. 3 - Objectivity from mike brune on Vimeo.

Viral Fundraising Video No. 2 - Congratulations!

Viral Fundraising Video No. 2 - Whodunit? from mike brune on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Sahkanaga - A Photo Essay - Part 4

Two years ago in May 2009 my family suffered two of its biggest tragedies – the death of Pat Brune, my grandfather, and the rapid onset of my grandmother’s (Pat’s wife) dementia - which was a direct result of losing the man she was married to for almost 60 years. Gramps, as he was affectionately called, was the patriarch of our family. He was a father, husband, gardener and Cadillac-owner. He could often be seen caning a chair, driving a riding lawnmower over his half-acre yard or exalting the Nutrageous Candy Bar. These events brought my father as near to emotional collapse as I’ve ever seen him. He cried often. He asked for help and he demonstrated that even the most stoic men have their limits. You always need your family, but sometimes you REALLY need your family. This was the first time I experienced death on the level that it can (or cannot) be comprehended by those left living. The doctor brought us all into the room and explained that there was nothing more they could do and that is was only a matter of time. This doctor ceded control over my grandfather’s life to my grandfather’s heart, which didn’t have the strength to beat any longer than another twenty-four hours. This lack of control over life seemed unfair and I was petulant. I remember telling my brother Matthew, “They just told us Gramps is going to die and there is nothing we can do.” Imagine that. My family is Catholic and we’re all healthy and strong. I have three brothers and we can scrap like hooligans if need be. Physical strength is futile in these situations.

Two years ago in Feburary 2009, I was asked by John Henry Summerour, a filmmaker and fellow Southerner I had met at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival the year before, to read his script Sahkanaga and join his production team as a 1st Assistant Director. I read the script and I loved it. I thought it was bold, touching and personal. His short film Chickamauga, on which Sahkanaga is based, screened along with a film of mine and we tag-teamed a Q&A of attentive moviegoers in a large meeting room in downtown Birmingham. I was struck then by his restrained, beautifully shot film about a boy who finds a dead body in the woods. Everything that drew me to that short film was present in the script for Sahkanaga. I was eager to work on the film.

When my grandfather was hospitalized a week before I was supposed to travel up to Chickamauga for pre-production, I informed John I might be a bit delayed. He said, “Take all the time you need.” I did not know then, walking westbound on North Avenue across Peachtree St. toward Emory/Crawford Long Hospital, how quickly Gramps’s condition would deteriorate. For the next several days, my family and I built a home in the Cardiac Care Center. My brothers would arrive after work or school. My parents were semi-permanent residents like so many others before them. We could not bring flowers or food inside. My grandfather asked for fried chicken, but we were told not to oblige him. He was on a strict diet – strict meaning bland and colorless hospital food. To this day, I regret not walking over to Gladys Chicken and Waffles, just a block away, to buy some fried chicken and smuggle it in under my shirt.

My father called me around 130AM on Wednesday morning and said that Gramps had passed. I drove over to the hospital. My father and grandmother were there in the room. Gramps lay there dead. The funeral home was notified and their crew dispatched to us. My mother, who had gone home for a shower and some sleep, was driving from Alpharetta. This was the end. I’d shed enough tears the day before during the “Your grandfather is going to die and there’s nothing we can do” speech that I had none left. I just felt motivated to help, to be there, to be present, to be around family. The hardest part – caring for my elderly grandmother who was knee-deep in clinical dementia and excruciating grief – fell to my crippled father and mother. Where will she stay? Who will take care of her? Why is she blaming the hospital for Gramps’ death? Why are she and my dad fighting all the time? She can’t use a telephone. She can’t drive. She can’t cook. She can barely dress herself and needs a cane to walk. How can she possibly think she can take care of herself? Does she not realize it? I wish she could have held a press conference, but we kept our mouths collectively shut and decided to ‘be there’ for her.

I felt conflicted about leaving for six weeks following such an earth-shattering event. On the one hand, I felt like I was leaving my family when they needed me. On the other hand, I had made a commitment to work and to a film that I believed in. As insignificant as the latter may sound, it was not just another job. Had it been, I would have replaced myself. Perhaps it was a way to cope, to not become lost in grief, to avoid despondency and self-pity, to ‘get back to work’. Perhaps not. As anyone who has worked on a film will tell you, it’s a demanding job. It demands your time and energy and, when the stars align just right it demands your soul and your heart. But moving on is a natural part of grief. One cannot, or should not, grieve forever.

A week or so after the funeral, I headed north on I-75 toward the northwest corner of the fine state of Georgia. Chickamauga was the destination. Mountain Cove Farm, my home for the next six weeks, was in a valley of hay and cornfields between the mountains. It was a brand new five-bedroom house with borrowed furniture, one phone line with an area code I’d never seen before, six New Yorkers, a sound mixer from Jersey, a musician from Birmingham, an adopted kitten named Crash and me. I remember walking into the garage one day before shooting and seeing production designer Kay L. with a can of black spray paint standing next to a prop crematorium-incinerator made out of wood. It stood about five or six feet tall and was probably only one fifth the size of a real crematorium b/c it was going to be filmed in shadow in the foreground of one or two shots.

Another item that was called for in the script were dead flowers. Well, if you’re asked to go out and buy dead flowers, you can’t really do that because chances are your local Florist doesn’t sell dead flowers. You buy flowers that are alive and wait for them to die. Moreover, who decides when flowers are dead? Is wilted the same as dead? Maybe dead flowers are actually dead. Maybe they are just dying. They’re still alive and there’s nothing you can do, but they’re not dead yet.

Our story followed a teenage boy who finds a dead body in the woods and keeps it a secret, for better or for worse. Based on true events that befell many of the residents of the Tri-State area around Northwest Georgia, Sahkanaga was filmed with the support of the surrounding community. We filmed in the Walker County Civic Center, which during the scandal served as a refuge for bereaved who wanted the ashes of their loved ones examined by specialists to determine if the urns on their mantles contained the remains of family or just concrete dust. Several Sheriff’s Deputies who appeared in the film served when the scandal broke. Many involved in the film had relatives whose remains were called into question.

During the six weeks that followed the family of Sahkanaga was built. We woke together, went to work together and ate together. With any independent film, you see the family of the filmmakers come out in full force to support their sons, daughters, brothers and cousins. Movies bring people together. Whether you are making them or watching them – movies magnetize people. They build families all their own. Perhaps the same can be said of traders on the NYSE or coal miners in a mountain – their work synthesizes them into a single force with a mission.

The cycle of this film comes full circle as it has (or had) its premiere this week in both Boston and Atlanta. May Sahkanaga live a long and healthy life and be welcomed into the grand cinema canon we all cherish.

I'll leave you on a lighter note with this last photo. Taken on a mountain overlooking Mountain Cove (We are down there somewhere.), some fine soul inscribed a message that future generations can learn and pass on to their children. It sums up not only a generation, but this whole crazy world we live in. You may need to click and enlarge the photo to read it. It's carved into the rock.

"Fuck da haterz"

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Photo 1 - Setting up a shot in the Sheriff's visitation scene
Photo 2 - Me
Photo 3 - Pathway to overlook from highway
Photo 4 - Kay L., Janet S., and Gennaro M. on porch
Photo 5 - Rosey the kitten's grave (No kitten was actually harmed in the film though some may argue it was traumatized by living with a bunch of film people.)
Photo 6 - See above.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sahkanaga - A Photo Essay - Part 3

The crew for Sahkanaga consisted of both paid and volunteer personnel. Pictured above from left to right are Sahale J. (2nd AC), James M. (1st AC), Damian W. (DP), Rodman S. (Key Set PA), Gennaro M. (Gaffer), Trevor N. (lead actor), and Michelle C.(2nd AD). I had asked everyone to pose as if they were campers on some excursion in a Hollywood horror film, pre-murder. Most people seemed to embrace the direction, but several clearly were not in the mood to pose for a picture. Then again, maybe they're conveying something deeper than cannot be captured with a photo.

Here is a photo of John S. and Kristin R. (lead actress) overseeing the building of a 25 foot (approximate distance) dolly set up in a cemetery.

John S. rehearses a scene with Kristin R. and Trevor N. in the woods behind that same cemetery. They are in the bottom right hand corner. You can see Kristin's white shirt.

I hid in the garage for this shot because they were filming in 360 degrees. That is John S. in the Piggly Wiggly shirt. Though normally a cute and lovable icon, the wiggly piggly here actually looks rather sinister. Two mottos used on Piggly Wiggly t-shirts are "I dig the Pig!" and "What happens at the pig...stays at the pig!" The latter was more famously used for Las Vegas, which never credited Piggly Wiggly with the creation.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sahkanaga - A Photo Essay - Part 2

So, as I said, we filmed Sahkanaga in and around Chickamauga in northwest Georgia in June of 2009. The key crew members (Producer, Director, DP, Gaffer, Production Designer, Gaffer and 1st AC) lodged in a house together at Mountain Cove Farms for the duration of pre-production and principal photography.

Our first set of photos is of Mountain Cove Farms, an 11,500 acre tract of picturesque land bordered by Pigeon Mountain on the east and Lookout Mountain on the west. Mountain Cove Farms is at the very southern end of what's known as McLemore Cove, which lives in the greater Chickamauga Valley.
This is the entrance to Mountain Cove Farms from Highway 157. Cows grazed on one side of the road. It led to a winding road cutting through the mountains down into the valley. The heifer in the bottom right corner watched me while I took his or her photograph.

This picture was taken as I was driving away from the house for the last time - back to Atlanta. This was our home during the production of the film. We lived here, worked here and shot many scenes from the film just a stone's throw from the house. It was a newer house meant for tourists I imagine. It had four bedrooms, rented furniture, one phone line with a strange area code, six New Yorkers, a sound mixer from New Jersey, a musician from Birmingham, an adopted kitten named Crash and me living in it. In order to notify the Fedex man, someone hung this homemade cardboard sign with our address: 856. 856 Dougherty Gap Rd. We often had important packages sent to another address because mail service was spotty.
You'll notice in the first black and white photo, the land stretching up to the house is bare, but in the second, it's flush with hay. The second photo was taken before the hay was harvested. We filmed during the fever of hay season and saw the mobile hay balers in action on more than one occasion.

I see the appeal of the living in the mountains, removed from urban life. To be able to wake up every morning and walk outside to the porch and sit in a lawn chair and look at the mountains and drink some orange juice (If I drank coffee, this would sound more literary, but I like orange juice.) is a great luxury. It's quiet. It's peaceful. It's unknowable. It's similar to waking up near the ocean. It's a place where the world seems infinite and human life is intertwined with the Earth. During these moments you feel like a guest, like someone is pampering you, but in reality no one is. I remember talking to John S.(writer/director) about the film we were making and he said, (Forgive my paraphrasing here, John.) "When we die, our bodies become part of the Earth again. As sad as death is, there is something comforting and right about that." He may have never uttered those words, but that's what I took from it. With that, I'll leave you with this photo of John lying on a driveway collecting his thoughts (or catching a quick catnap) during one the shooting days.

Sahkanaga premieres in Atlanta this Friday at 6pm at the Atlanta Film Festival. Go see it.

Sahkanaga - A Photo Essay - Part 1

Here is just a little taste of some 35mm black and white photographs I took while on the set of Sahkanaga back in May and June of 2009. Working on that film (I was the 1st AD.) was one of the highlights of my life. I will post some each day leading up to the dueling guns premiere of this wonderful film at the Independent Film Festival Boston and the Atlanta Film Festival.

Go see it!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Abandoned Movie Theaters or Our Churches are Crumbling

For 74 more photos of movie palaces, castles, cathedrals, chateaus, citadels and just plain old houses, click here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

David Foster Wallace Speaks About Mike & Ike Italian Ice

So, I’ve reserved the conference room in our office all day today in order to conduct a solo taste test of Mike & Ike Italian Ice, a chewy candy from the Just Born corporation. Typically, an employee may only reserve our conference room for two hours. So, to get around this, I went around to numerous employees and vending machine restockers claiming the conference room sign-up sheet was actually a civil union petition for my home state of Illinois. Surprisingly, the people in my office are not quite as open-minded on this matter as those resupplying us with Butterfingers and Sprite.

I received from a friend of a friend employed by the Nabisco Corporation marketing department sample instructions from a taste test recently completed in San Diego for a new type of cracker and I’m applying these rules to the taste test. They are as follows: (1)

1)Don’t take a test if you’re sick. I am feeling well today.

2)Don’t eat or drink anything strong before the test. No garlic or coffee because those tastes linger. (2)

3)Do not smoke before testing. Smoking deadens your taste buds. It interferes with your nasal epithelium, which affects your sense of smell, which is linked to taste. Nicotine, when it enters the brain, can tie up nerve centers typically involved with taste, thereby reducing the brainpower you have to devote to tasting Mike & Ike Italian Ice. Very important.

4)Avoid strong perfumes or fragrances. I hope showering with soap doesn’t count.

5)Avoid talking during the evaluation. I am alone and will try very hard not to talk to myself.

6)Please turn off your phone. I left it at home.

First of all, Mike and Ike(3) is a chewy, fruit flavored candy with five flavors to each box. The different flavor themes are Original Fruits, Tangy Twister, Tropical Typhoon, Berry Blast, Italian Ice, Redrageous!, Lemonade Blends, Jolly Joes and Mike and Ike Zours, which is a sour-infused blend. The Italian Ice flavor is a relatively new addition to the Mike and Ike family and capitalizes on what is historically a cool summertime street dessert sold from wheeled carts. The candy version is not served cold, but at room temperature and just in case you’ve hastily purchased the candy for the first time and been wooed by the cool, icy-colored box into thinking it belongs in the freezer, there is a kind warning reading “To enjoy this Italian Ice, you do not need to freeze this product.” I would have capitalized the word ‘THIS’ just for clarity’s sake, but Just Born clearly knows its customers more intimately than I do.

The flavors are Lemon, Orange, Cherry, Blue Raspberry and Watermelon and I’ve poured out the entire box on the large conference table to accurately judge the color against the dark Formica. Atypical with the Italian Ice flavor is that they are actually inside a small, antiseptic white bag whereas most Mike and Ike candies just rest comfortably in a rectangular box board case with a convenient (though impossible to perforate without a Bowie knife) finger-sized dispensing slot. When opening this opaque bag, there is a powerful synthetic fruit fragrance to the candy, triggering flashbacks to former olfactory addictions to glue and turpentine. The pastels of the candies, shaped like inflated child's Tylenol, seem ripped from an Easter Sunday coloring book and my first taste is the lemon. Lemon is one of the most common frozen Italian Ice flavors and the Mike and Ike captures the modesty of the flavor quite well, to the point that you barely remember which flavor you just consumed. Most consumer lemonades should take a hint from this candy, in my opinion, and take it down a notch.

I decide to engage the watermelon next and it instantly calls to mind Big League Chew, which, having never played baseball as a child, I don’t have much experience with. Again, the taste comes and goes like a drive-by shooting. The cherry tastes quite like that artificial cherry flavoring found in most cough drops but not in actual cherries and I realize I’m only twenty minutes into this taste test. How I am going to fill the next seven hours is a slow-growing tumor metastasizing on the conference table next to my pool of Mike and Ike candies. I decide to smell the bag again and it has surprisingly lost none of its original scent. I inhale deeply, letting the fumes of the candy seep deep into the bronchial branches of my lungs, where hopefully they won’t rot away my ability to breathe like the candies will my teeth's ability to grind peanuts.

Mike and Ike prides itself on being both ‘naturally and artificially flavored’, yet it’s unclear which flavors are flavored naturally (and what that means) and which ones are flavored artificially (process also unclear). The ingredients list confoundingly includes pear juice from concentrate yet there is no pear-flavored candy. There is not even a relative of the pear within this flavor assortment.(4) I picture crates and crates of unsold pears day after day watching their apple, orange and banana brethren fly off in trucks to school lunches, grocery stores and sandwich shops when just before they begin to rot, the JustBorn team arrives in blue, embroidered vests to whisk them away to be squeezed down into juice concentrate and then inseminated along with magnesium hydroxide and Red #40 into a line of candies that doesn’t even claim pear as a flavor. Perhaps JustBorn should consider Pearnado! as a potential flavor for us Midwesterners sick and tired of seeing apples and bananas walk away with all the gold medals. We used to have a pear tree in our front yard that annually bore fruit, which the garbage men plucked and ate and left half-eaten in our yard. Pears are clearly second-class fruits. Apples are immortalized in the idiom ‘American as apple pie’ and cherries remain an omnipresent cocktail garnish while bananas provide the rare potassium in our diets and countless opportunities for phallic jokes, leaving the pear unknowable and unrecognized. It’s patently offensive to the pear to include it in the ingredients list.

Mike and Ike also boasts itself as a gluten and fat-free candy, though including ostensible selling points for healthy eating habits on a box of sweets seems to portray a candy in the clinical stage of denial.

1 - It is not clear if these rules are listed in random order or in order of importance.

2 - Since I am a coffee drinker and beginning this taste test in the morning, this is most regrettable as I might either fall asleep or grade every chewy Italian Ice flavored Mike and Ike with the bitterness and anger of a man denied his morning cup of Joe.

3 - Mike and Ike, despite being a box of dozens of individual candies, seems to be both a singular and plural noun, in the same category as deer, fish, squid and sheep.

4 - I consider an apple to be cousin of the pear. The closest relative to a pear in Mike and Ike Italian Ice is probably the cherry, but I’d label them no closer than second cousins once-removed at best.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Mahmoud Didn't Shoah - Another letter to the President of Iran

Dear Mahmoud,

What happened to you last weekend?! Are you okay? I waited and waited and waited, but you didn’t show up. A world leader’s schedule is probably very busy and I will just assume something came up. Maybe there was a hiccup in your nuclear program that you had to attend to. I’ve never owned anything nuclear, but I imagine whatever it is requires a lot of upkeep. My Corolla, even though it’s a Toyota, needs constant attention.

Well, since you missed out on the movie, I’ll do my best to go over the bullet points (no pun intended) and some of the moments that most impacted me. However, I warn you that this recounting is a woefully inadequate substitute for experiencing the film in person. I can unequivocally state that I’ve never seen anything like it. Before I go into the film, I thought I’d set the scene for you a little.

I brought the following snacks to the movie: two clementines, one apple, a PB&J and Mike & Ike Italian Ice. My companion (Yes, I thought you might not make it so I invited someone else.) brought mini-boxes of NERDs. I also bought some popcorn during the second half. Outside the theater, my companion saw a man doing jumping jacks and upon finishing, he said, “Alright, I’m ready.” A man in the row in front of me brought microwave popcorn. I’m not sure where he microwaved this because movie theaters do not offer that service here (maybe they do in Iran?). Perhaps it was under his seat or he popped it at home and then brought it with him, which would have made it cold. During hour three, a woman in front of me leaned over to her husband and said, “What does SS stand for?” Her husband replied, “Secret Service.” Actually, sir, it’s Schutzstaffel, but I think she got the idea. A few audible ‘Oh my God’s and muddled gasps of exasperation were uttered as well, in addition to numerous sighs (mostly by one woman sitting in front of us) during the last two hours, when the film takes a strange turn chronologically and narratively by focusing on the Warsaw ghetto.

-Well, the movie opens with long scrolling text describing Simon Srebnik, one of the only two survivors of Chelmno, an extermination camp in Poland. An important note here is that this was not a concentration camp, but an extermination camp, essentially a killing factory designed for rapid, efficient killing of Jews and other people the Nazis weren’t fond of. We’ll talk more about this later. Anyway, Simon was only a boy while at Chelmno and was kept alive because he could sing beautifully and excelled at jumping and running contests among the inhabitants. He was actually executed with all the other Jews before the Soviets were to arrive. Shot in the head, the bullet luckily missed all vital brain areas and when he awoke, he crawled to a neighboring farm and eventually found his way to a doctor. He’s a modest, humble man who shows no signs of being shot in the head as a boy and when Claude Lanzmann (the director) brings him back to Chelmno, Simon remarks at seeing just forest and empty fields, “It’s hard to recognize, but it was here. They burned people here.” He says this very matter-of-factly.

-A survivor of the Vilna ghetto who unloaded corpses from the gas vans into mass graves said that the first time he unloaded them, he cried. On the third day, he saw his wife and children, placed them in a mass grave and asked to be killed, but the Germans wouldn’t kill him because he was still strong enough to work.

-Jews working in the camps were punished if they referred to corpses as ‘victims’ or ‘corpses’. Instead, they were told to use words like ‘rags’ and ‘puppets’.

-The Germans renamed some Jewish cities with German names after resettling Jews.

-A historian says the Final Solution was an invention, like a combustion engine or the Bessemer process. It was mechanical and industrial.

- The Treblinka gas chamber used a tank engine to create the deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

-Gas vans had hoses funneling the exhaust fumes from the van into the cargo area with all the Jews. They were driven to the mass graves and on arrival, the Jews would be dead. If they drove too quickly, they would still be alive and so they had to driven at a specific speed.

- Some gas chambers could kill 3000 people in 2-3 hours.

- A mother slit her daughter’s wrists herself to escape being killed by the Nazis.

- The Treblinka memorial consists of jagged stones, each representing a Jewish town or village that was exterminated at the camp. You heard that right - entire towns were wiped out.

-Lanzmann and company drive around Europe in a van resembling a VW bus visiting Chelmno, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and other sites. It is white with a thick red racing stripe that runs around the chassis. It reminded me of an ambulance – a documentary ambulance.

-A camouflage unit made up of Jews was charged with taking branches from trees and weaving them around barbed wire to disguise it. This was an important part of making an extermination camp not look like an extermination camp.

-Another example of this includes an ‘infirmary’ with a red and white cross painted on it. In actuality, prisoners who entered this building were led to the edge of a ditch where bodies were continuously burning. They had to strip naked and then sit on the edge of the pit before they were shot in the back of the head. Then they fell in the ditch and burned. This is an example of the point the historian is making when he says ‘invention’. Someone had to invent or think of this in order to create it.

- In the Warsaw ghetto, one often had to step over the dead bodies of fellow Jews as one walked down the street. These dead bodies were Jews who had either starved, contracted disease or were just executed. I may be leaving out another method of execution, so forgive me for that.

- Oftentimes, right outside the ‘funnel’ at Treblinka, as people undressed and realized what was imminent, they would evacuate themselves. In other words, there were five or six rows of shit and feces outside the gas chambers, according to Franz Suchomel, an SS officer. It’s called ‘death panic.’

- Abraham Bomba, a survivor of Treblinka and barber who cut off the hair of Jewish women before they were gassed, is interviewed at his busy barbershop in Israel. He is cutting the hair of a customer during the interview. He describes a barber friend of his whose wife and daughter arrive to have their hair cut at Treblinka. He stops and cannot continue. He is filmed in this silent struggle for what seems like an hour as he tends to his customer. Lanzmann waits, then asks him to go on. Bomba cries, composes himself and eventually goes on. His friend could neither speak nor warn his wife and daughter of what was about to happen because the SS were right behind them and punished any talking with torture or death. In addition, since many of the incoming Jews had no idea what was going to happen, those working in the camp felt it was pointless to tell them they were about to die. I read on Wikipedia that some of this hair was used for make yarn-socks for U-boat crews. So, a German U-boat solider may have casually said to his mate, “My socks are made from the hair of a Jewish woman who was gassed at Treblinka.” Sounds unspeakably awful, doesn’t it?

- Claude Lanzmann asks this barber to imitate how he cut the hair of the Jewish women in the camp. The barber complies and demonstrates on one of his customers. This is a good example of the level of detail Lanzmann demands of his subjects.

-There is not a single swastika in the movie. There is one old photograph of a Nazi for a few seconds, so there could be a swastika on his uniform, but that’s the only possibility.

- The historian also describes in vivid detail the cost of running these trains. Someone had to pay for them. It was not free. He describes that when many Jews from Greece were forcibly removed, that in some instances their confiscated belongings and wealth were used to pay for their own transport to the death camps. Yes, some Jews essentially paid for their own voyage to the death camps.

Well, I hope this gives you an idea of what the movie is like. I’m afraid I cannot really do justice to such a landmark ten-hour film in just a short letter. Roger Ebert has a wonderful review of the movie here. The film is currently making the rounds here in the US, so this is the perfect time to book it for a theatrical engagement in Tehran if you have any favorite indie movie houses? Or maybe the Tehran Regal 16 might show it? In the USA, chain movie theaters don’t usually show long movies like that.

The film continues to play at the Gene Siskel Film Center for another week if you can make it up this way. If not, I’ll let you know about other upcoming films that might interest you. What kind of movies do you like? Comedies, indies, documentaries, sci-fi, comic book movies? The Music Box Theatre is showing Death Wish 3 tomorrow night. Do you like Charles Bronson?


Mike Brune

P.S. The ticket was $20. Can you reimburse me? They wouldn’t give me a refund.

*Thanks to Script-o-rama for making the film’s transcript available online. Thanks to Wikipedia, too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My 2nd letter to my new cinematic Pen Pal - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

For clarity's sake, you may want to read our first correspondence here.

Dear Mahmoud,

We’re less than a week away from the screening of Shoah at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago and I wanted to check in and make sure that your travel plans are in order. Are you flying into the O’Hare or Midway airport? I have bought our tickets already. You can pay me back in Iranian money so that I can add it to my foreign currency collection. Is your photo on the currency? It should be $20 total. I went to the actual box office to buy tickets so we could avoid those unjust Ticketmaster fees. Do you have Ticketmaster in Iran? If you do, let me give you some friendly advice for your next election: Get rid of it. The Iranian people would love you for it and probably overlook any prior human rights violations, election tampering or squandering of their country's reputation.

Since there is not assigned seating, I wanted to inquire about where you like to sit when you go to the movies. As a head of state, you’re probably used to a private box in the balcony with a security retinue. Regretfully, they don’t have private boxes or a balcony, but I can assure you that even though I might not be much to look at, I’m a pretty tough cookie and can easily protect you from anyone throwing popcorn. However, if someone tries to stab you, I’ll probably get out of the way. My health insurance deductible is quite high. Don’t get me started on health care!

So, do you like the middle or the back or the aisle? You don’t seem like a front row kind of guy, though for this movie it might be best if you were up close. If for some reason your flight is delayed and you’re running late, I can save you a seat. Normally, I don’t like to do that because of all the dirty looks and questions this generates, but I’ll make an exception in your case. Believe it or not, some people are just as intolerant toward ‘seat-savers’ as they are toward Holocaust deniers. Nevertheless, you’re traveling quite a distance to be here and I want to make sure you get a good seat.

When I told a friend you were joining me for this film, she explained that your presence might cause a disruptive uproar at the theater because of some of your previous statements regarding Israel, the Holocaust, et al. We certainly don’t want the viewing experience of this special screening marred in any way, so I have a Chicago Cubs baseball cap and jersey for you to wear so you won’t be recognized. Do you have baseball in Iran? It’s our national pastime and quite a wonderful game. If it was spring or summer, we could attend a game. They might even let you throw out the game ball since you’re a President. Our Presidents do it all the time. Better warm up that arm just in case there’s a pickup game!

I hope to hear from you soon and I hope you’re as excited as I am about the movie.

Celluloidally yours,


Thursday, January 13, 2011

David Foster Wallace Speaks about Holiday NERDS Rope

I've recently fallen in love with the writing of DFW and here is a little tribute to his genius:

Most people who work at East Coast magazines rarely frequent places that sell NERDS Rope let alone ingest it. Our Editor-in-Chief didn’t even know it existed and when presented with a sample, mistook it for a souvenir from Honeydukes, the sweetshop at Universal Studios’ Harry Potter Theme Park, which now sees more tourists per annum than most European countries. Our Managing Editor thought it resembled a ‘holiday’ vertebral column(1) his son made in his 1st grade science class. A grizzled proofreader said it looked like someone ran down the bead aisle at Michaels with a glue-soaked Twizzler. He asked me if there was a razor inside of it. I told him I was about to find out.

The Holiday NERDS Rope is in a festive, sparkling green package cinched up tight on both ends. Dancing, flying, laughing, cavorting and plummeting along the wrapping are little red, green and white NERDS – tiny, bi-pedal creatures in stocking caps that resemble either shaved, dyed rabbits or cartoon germs. Didn’t I see these things battling my white blood cells in a seventh grade video on influenza? Wonka’s press kit states these are anthropomorphized versions of the candies, which begs the question of which human characteristics they possess. Are they loyal like a labrador or compassionate like a hospital nurse or violently insane like the Kool Aid man/pitcher? The packaging is not clear. NERDS look neither intelligent nor good conversationalists, but rather romping and brainless with the groupthink of lemmings in a gymnastics class with no teacher. No razor, by the way.

It’s easy to open and presented on a cheap, long cardboard shelf that slides out like a security deposit box. Tootsie Rolls and Almond Joys have this same shelf to ostensibly keep them from being bent or broken in transit from the candy factory to your grocery store. It would be elegant if the cardboard wasn’t perforated and almost as flimsy as the rope itself. There is something just unclassy about perforations. Why they try to intimate shapely elegance with a primordial, formless candy kids will undoubtedly whip their friends with is beyond me.

The package’s eating instructions call to mind phrases you might hear at an underground S&M club. Bite it! Chew it! Twist it! Pull it! I was so terrified by these commands I WHACKED it against my desk in a panic and the NERDS flew around the room like shrapnel from a claymore. My coworker still has a NERD in her tympanic membrane, giving all words entering her left ear a Wonkafied absurdity.

The taste is described as Soft Gummy Rope Covered With Tiny Tangy Crunchy NERDS Candy.(2) No commas are used, so these flavors may happen individually or in a simultaneous pell-mell attack reminiscent of Doughboys charging over a German trench. Be warned. It’s actually quite fragrant with a cherry fruit garden smell and the taste, like most candies whose main ingredients are dextrose, sugar and corn syrup, is more complex to describe than most mathematical proofs.(3) It’s quite delicious and wipes away the entire taste of the Indian food I had for lunch (as well as years of hard-earned tooth enamel) and leaves my mouth feeling like a dentist has pressure washed my mouth with microscopic sugar crystals. I washed it all down with a glass of milk. Merry Christmas.

1- Santa’s spine would be classified as a holiday vertebral column. It’s red, green and white and evidences years of chimney-induced back injuries.

2- Cinta Sauve y Masticable cubierta con Dulcecitos Agrios y Crujientes NERDS. The packaging is also in Spanish as Wonka is clearly targeting the Latino/Latina demographic.

3- There is a hint of strawberry, watermelon, cherry and the white NERD is what I refer to as a mystery flavor due to the Airheads candy, which produces a white taffy candy called white mystery, a secret flavor with Fort Knox type security. The white mystery Airhead tastes remotely berry-flavored with a hint of lemon, lime, watermelon, (not the flavor of a garden-grown watermelon, but of a laboratory watermelon flavoring, which is different), banana (again, laboratory banana) and green apple (which is actually acidic like a granny smith apple). As a child, I used to think the white mystery Airhead took on the flavor of whatever you were thinking before you opened it and the candy through some inorganic form of ESP discerned your thoughts and embodied that flavor. It generally worked except for the time I wanted it to taste like root beer. You might be wondering what laboratory banana or watermelon tastes like. The flavors are more like fragrances laced on pieces of hardened sugar. Some are astonishingly close to their natural counterparts, like banana, and some are not, like artificial flavorings for grape. A banana flavored NERD, for example, tastes like a banana pumped full of steroids, biologically enhancing the flavor to limits Mother Nature clearly did not intend.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Open Letter to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Dear Mahmoud,

How is Iran? I hope things have settled down for you since the election. I wanted to extend to you a personal invitation to join me at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, IL, USA on January 22nd, 2011 for a special exclusive presentation of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, the Holocaust documentary from 1985. As a filmmaker and avid moviegoer, I can assure you this is a rare treat to have such a celebrated film presented in 35mm on the big screen. I approach each of these screenings with great care and try to find a companion who might glean the most from the film. Naturally, you came to mind. As one of the most vocal and visible Holocaust deniers (or do you prefer revisionist?), I thought this would be a great way for you to spend a Saturday and get out of Tehran for the weekend. Get away from it all, as we say here in the US.

Do you go to the movies much in Iran? I know you have a vibrant film community there and many films are banned, a designation which here in the US can bestow a little extra cache on the movie, translating into strong word of mouth. I guess we have that in common. I’m also envious that your country exiles filmmakers. Sadly, we don’t do that here though we have many directors who would be excellent candidates. Did you see Transformers?!

You might be apprehensive about Shoah’s length – a whopping ten hours and six minutes. Well, this is where I can be of assistance. If you need to use the bathroom at hour three, go right ahead. I’ll pay extra close attention and bring you up to speed on what the Nazis did to the Jews while you’re in the john (that’s how we say ‘bathroom’ here in the US). If you feel like you’re falling asleep, the cafĂ© has caffeinated soda and a wonderful coffee bar to keep you awake and alert. They also have wine, but that generally puts me to sleep. How about you?

Shoah, which means ‘annihilation’ in Hebrew, is subtitled in English, which I know you don’t speak very well, but I’m certain the message of the movie will come across even if you can’t understand a single word. So what do you say? What does your calendar look like on January 22nd? If that’s not good for you, what about January 29th? Or you could visit Chicago for an entire week and see it over the course of two nights and also take in our great architecture, have a real Chicago hot dog and see some improv comedy?

I’m looking forward to seeing you and I hope you haven’t seen the movie already.

Cinematically yours,

Mike Brune

P.S. The popcorn is on me. I hope you like extra butter.