A Brief Oral History of the Life of Arthur Watts Clark

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Last year I conducted an interview with one of my heroes, Arthur Watts Clark, which was recently archived with the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) at the UNC Chapel Hill Center for the Study of the American South. I have known Mr. Clark for over a decade and feel very privileged he agreed to share some of his life story with me. Mr. Clark was born in 1922 in Seattle, Washington and is a retired Air Force major general, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, living in Chapel Hill, NC. His work in the civilian sphere took him to the chairmanship of the Home Security and Peoples Security life insurance companies. During the course of the interview, Mr. Clark provides a great overview of his storied life, including his family, experience in the military, and a glimpse into his wealth of travel adventures worldwide. Included here is both the edited version of the interview which is on YouTube and a link to the unedited (audio only) interview with accompanying Abstract and Field Notes on the SOHP archival site. I am very excited to share this piece of history and hope more people will get to hear his story!

SOPH link:

Southern Oral History Program: Interview B-0086 with Abstract and Field Notes

Contigo

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Zinnfandel Films is back! It has been over a year and a half since I last posted a video, so I am very happy to bring you all Contigo. This is my newest short film, which has been in the works for almost a year (from first draft to final cut). The entire story came to me after reading a quote from Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Cien Años de Solidad. Márquez was a beloved and critically acclaimed author from Columbia (known lovingly as Gabo) who died earlier this year. I feel it is important to apologize to Sr. Márquez and his estate for taking a few quotes from his novel out of context and using them for my own story. Márquez’s incredible words do a phenomenal job of conveying ideas that I could never even dream of expressing on my own. His words are italicized and in quotation marks to distinguish them from my own.

I don’t want to talk about actual plot details of Contigo because I don’t want anyone to go into it with any preconceived notions. However there are a few more elements I want to discuss here. First of all, the dialogue is entirely in Spanish (with subtitles in English of course!). Spanish was really the only way I could make this film in order to preserve the beauty of Márquez’s words, and I realized it is the best language for what the film looks at. Also, I use three songs in the film from famous Mexican trios: Trío Los Galantes, Los Panchos, and Los Tres Ases. These songs are also in Spanish, and I toyed with the idea of putting subtitles for the songs as well but decided against it because I want the focus to be on the visuals. Interestingly, due to copyright laws to some of the music, my short film has been banned in Germany (my first banned film!).

This project was a great opportunity to work with a variety of new people. First of all my younger brother James did the camera work. He had never done anything like this before, and I think he did a great job! I also had the fortune of working with a former sitter of my younger siblings, Hildy Donner; she really fits well in the film. One of my roommates, Bradley Saacks, both helped in the translation and did a good job in his role in the film as well. Finally, I brought a very good friend of mine, Ryan Beale, on board to produce. I also want to thank the Media Resources Center at UNC from which I rented the equipment and edited the film (and all of my previous projects).

I hope you all enjoy Contigo, and I look forward to feedback!

Jerry

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Sweet Smell of Success

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“I’d hate to take a bite out of you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” – J. J. Hunsecker

“In the swift, cynical Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, Burt Lancaster stars as the vicious Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, the unprincipled press agent Hunsecker ropes into smearing the up-and-coming jazz musician romancing his beloved sister. Featuring deliciously unsavory dialogue, in an acid, brilliantly structured script by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, and noirish neon cityscapes from Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell of Success is a cracklingly cruel dispatch from the kill-or-be-killed wilds of 1950s Manhattan.” – The Criterion Collection

1.  Meet Mr. J. J. Hunsecker, a man who can make or break you just by snapping his fingers. The picture is telling; Falco looks at him with jealousy and disdain, but only because he is behind his back. Of course the moment he comes into Hunsecker’s sightline, Falco puts on one of his “forty faces.” In this frame, Hunsecker is dishing out harsh criticism (a common occurrence) to a philandering senator, though not in the typical overt fashion. As the most powerful person in the microcosm of this film, he is too good, strike that, too great a man to engage in such petty exchanges. Instead he coats his message in a drizzle of linguistic maple syrup; sweet and complex, but sickening in high doses. I also want to call attention to the lighting in the frame. The film does a truly masterful job of depicting the sleaze and immorality of its characters through very high contrast, and indeed noirish, lighting.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 2.48.42 PM2.  There are a lot of things being said in this frame, and I’m not talking about the dialogue. Four faces, each strong and calculated, shoot daggers at Sidney Falco as he takes it all in his usual, manipulative stride. Falco is placed under similar fire in more than one other occasion in the film, as he tries to wheel and deal his way up the ladder of “success.” One of the films minor characters tells Falco that he has “the scruples of a guinea pig and the morals of a gangster.” It’s an amusing if not entirely accurate picture of a man who smiles only if it can get him somewhere.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 3.28.48 PM3.  This image tells the whole story of J. J. Hunsecker. A domineering character that looks down upon the city and everyone in it, for he knows and truly believes himself to be God. We only see this shot for a short time, maybe less than 5 seconds, and so it can easily be overlooked. It is for that very reason that I have included it here; in reality it is one of the most essential shots in the whole film. Rarely are we afforded the opportunity to see J. J. alone, and even less are we shown his point of view. Here we get to see inside his head, through his eyes, and feel what it’s like to be “successful.” The feeling we are left with is not one of inspiration or admiration but of pity.

The Credits: It could be noted that the film seems to overexaggerate the inhumanity of Falco, Hunsecker and the rest, but that’s simply too naïve an observation. The truth of the matter is, many people equate power to success, and don’t care what it takes to get there. Sweet Smell of Success is an incredibly appropriate title for the film. Success, when viewed in this way, surely can smell sweet, but it tastes bitter. Sidney Falco is a warning to us all what can happen when we lose sight of ourselves. Hunsecker is meant to represent the type of empty success that so many strive for, and when (as Falco illustrates) you hate the man you want to become, where does that leave you? I’ve seen this film three or four times over the years and it is one of my all-time favorites. The acting is superb, the dialogue sharp and intelligent, and it puts life into perspective. This movie is often overlooked, which is unfortunate, but at the same time it provides us all the chance to see a hidden gem.

Reel Rating: 9.4

Il Momento della Veritá

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“Don José, the only reason I’m a torero is to make money. When I have enough I’ll retire. It’s the only reason I risk getting gored.” –  Miguelín

The Moment of Truth (Il momento della verità), from director Francesco Rosi, is a visceral plunge into the life of a famous torero—played by real-life bullfighting legend Miguel Mateo, known as Miguelín. Charting his rise and fall with a single-minded focus on the bloody business at hand, the film is at once gritty and operatic, placing the viewer right in the thick of the ring’s action, as close to death as possible. Like all of the great Italian truth seeker’s films, this is not just an electrifying drama but also a profound and moving inquiry into a violent world—and it’s perhaps the greatest bullfighting movie ever made.” – The Criterion Collection

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1. This film is comprised of a series of “moments of truth” as a matter of fact. And none is more important than what is depicted above. Here Miguelín takes a leap of faith, literally. Coming from such humble beginnings, he knows he must try any way he can to get attention. Having received some training from faded legend, Pedrucho (and exhibiting some innate talent), Miguelín feels he must take the next step. He ultimately decides to jump into the stadium, mid-bullfight and prove himself. This act comes to define Miguelín as a character. This moment shows his deep-rooted confidence in himself, and develops him as the bold character we all wish we were a little more like. He was tired of being on track to become a small town farmer, dreamed big, and committed to seeing it through. The third step in this progression is what sets him apart from most people; the bravery to try.

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2. Here we see a small fraction of the crowd that gathers to watch the spectacle of torero v. bull. And while it is the fortune that initially draws Miguelín to the profession, fame (as we have always been taught) can be just as powerful a drug. The film often depicts the reactions of the crowd up close, in a voyeuristic and documentary fashion. Laughing, pointing, and cheering seem to contradict the carnage that occurs in the stadium when viewed in our modern, PETA-inspired, animal rights perspective. And while I do not necessarily condone the violence, it cannot be denied that bullfighting has played an important role in the culture of Spain for centuries. The event is shown not unlike the gladiator battles of yore; where men live and die to defend their honor.

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3. This is what the title of the film most directly references. Having lulled the bull into confusion through a magnificent ballet with the red cloth (known as the muleta), the torero sizes him up and draws his sword. As he sets his aim, and looks into the bull’s eyes, the moment of truth commences. This is the moment which determines the fate of both bull and man. Francesco Rosi does a great job of showing the connection that is felt between Miguelín and the bulls he fights. There is almost an unspoken, unexplainable respect that manifests itself in Miguelín’s face as he rises to his toes before driving the sword through the bull. We are afforded close to a dozen opportunities to experience this moment, which makes the film a truly “visceral plunge.”

Bottom Line: Bullfighting might be a fading tradition as it continues to be outlawed in various areas, but The Moment of Truth captures the sport at its greatest. Rosi crafts for us a film which shows the beauty and grace that belies the grotesque imagery. All of the fights and gore are real (no stunt doubles, no dummies, and no CGI!); it’s unlikely we’ll every see anything like it again. It is certainly not a movie for the faint of heart (or stomach), but it reveals human nature in its most raw and unfiltered form. It should also be noted that while filmed entirely in Spain, the film is in Italian. This may seem at first strange until we consider that we make movies in other countries all the time and have all the characters speak English! Somewhere deep down, I wish I was more like Miguelín, but I can honestly say I won’t be staring a raging bull in the eyes anytime soon (at least not until I’ve had my peanut butter and jelly).

Reel Rating: 6.7

Also, I would like to note that I am changing the reviews to 3-frames as you can see. This format will evolve as I work on it more and more, but I think this is a better place to be. And in case you were wondering, shaving a movie to 3 frames is VERY hard!

 

 

3-Frame-Reviews

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Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 11.17.50 AMIn an effort to make my reviews shorter, more frequent, and a little more modern/edgier, I’ve decided to move away from my long essay format in which I cover more than necessary plot details and (admittedly) some over analyzation. Instead I will be selecting three frames from the films I review which in my mind serve crucial roles. This does not necessarily mean that they are the most “important” to the overall action and plot development (although this will certainly play a role). Frames can be selected for a variety of reasons: intensity, construction, beauty, importance, etc. (or maybe I just really liked it!). Under each frame I will discuss its importance and talk about how it adds to the film. Selecting only 3 frames from a whole movie (films are shot at 24fps!!) will be challenging, but that’s part of the fun! I will of course be including my Reel Ratings as well. To cover the requisite plot information, I will be using (with appropriate citation and due credit) the plot summaries provided by Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection whenever possible (and other sources if necessary). My hope is that my reviews will be more accessible, interesting, and digestible for you all and that I can provide them more frequently! Maybe TWR can even start some sort of trend! Look for reviews in the new format to appear soon. Thanks as always for your support and interest. Please drop a comment to let me know your thoughts when I do post them!

Jerry

Above frame of Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Hold the Ladder

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Here is commercial I made for a company called Lock Laces. Ultimately they decided not to use it in their campaign (such is business, such is life!). I once again teamed up with the Samia brothers, who worked on Till Sunbeams Find You, with Richard as my camera operator and Arthur as the boom mic operator. The commercial also features a very talented young neighbor of mine (I won’t say more here as it would compromise the effectiveness of the commercial). And if you are new to TWR, I am the guy in the commercial; nice to meet you. Additionally, the commercial features the music of the great Django Reinhardt (whom I was introduced to by Woody Allen in Sweet and Lowdown). In my admittedly unprofessional opinion with regards to the world of advertising, I felt the best approach to this project was to make a very short commercial (run-time is only about 20s) that people would  want to share (who has the patience for anything longer these days??). In doing so, I felt the visibility of the company would propagate. As the company decided they did not want to buy the finished product from me, I still retain all rights to the material and I do not benefit monetarily or otherwise from how many people watch it. That legal stuff being said, I still would like to share my video with the world and hope you all will enjoy it and, in turn, share!