My Cool Friend

My Cool Friend

I work a lot with the documentary filmmaker, Mary Trunk. She is one of the coolest people I know because she has never stopped giving priority to her creative interests. She makes art every day, drawings, photos or digital images. She has produced and directed four independent feature documentaries, numerous short films, and she nurtures new talent as a film professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University Film Department.

Prior to all those accomplishments she had her own dance company in San Francisco called The Trunk Company. This was just before Silicon Valley ate the Bay Area Bohemian scene for lunch. Coincidentally, we both lived there but didn’t know each other. I went to a ton of dance concerts back then and almost for sure saw her perform. Oh, what I would give to be able to go back in time, see our crossing paths and hear a voice say, See that women? She is going to change your life.

Her documentary process is unusual. She films for a long time, three years for her first film, two for second, seven for her third and six for her most recent. That’s 18 years of filming! She doesn’t film every day or even every week, but she is tracking her subjects over a longer period of time than most documentary films do. I’ve only met a few people as committed to a vision as she is. It’s not that she comes off ultra-intense, it’s more just her nature. She doesn’t get bored or tired. She likes to go very, very deep. The stuff that is interesting to her doesn’t come right away and she is fine with waiting.

I edited her last three feature documentaries, and most of her other projects, since we started working together back around 2007. I am extremely lucky my sensibilities harmonize with her vision. We collaborate well and really enjoy each other. It’s been a truly life altering creative relationship.

Thanks to her, I have made the best thing I think I’ve ever made. Or I should say I’ve edited the best thing I have ever had the privilege of editing. We did it together. I didn’t do it. But for my contribution, it’s the best I’ve done. I am so grateful to have been part of it and so excited to share it!

Her latest feature documentary, Muscle Memory, is premiering at the Fargo Film Festival in March. I am so excited to go and see it in a theater with an actual audience.

Muscle Memory looks at the power of first obsessions to haunt the totality of our lives. The film follows eight former college dance majors over six years. Together again after several decades, the dancers use the language of movement to convey the emotional terrain of remembering.

Here are a few of the comments we have received:

A nuanced meditation on being an artist and the connections formed in the optimistic crucible of youthful creative expression.

Muscle Memory transcends documentary conventions, “documenting” the past but acting and feeling and testifying more like a work of art than a work of documentation.

This film is not just about dance. It’s about the choices we make.

It felt very personal to me even though it wasn’t my story.

It brought up so much of what’s inside, most spiritual thing I have ever seen.

Mary and I edited the film over five years, not continuously, but regularly. We knew it was a complex film and would take us a while to discover and choose which connections to make, which dances to pair with which stories, how to go back and forth in time, how to track each character over their 30-year journey.

Mary wanted the film to be dynamic and gave me permission (and the footage) to make it dance. She was ruthless, in her diplomatic way, about removing anything boring and anything she found aesthetically underwhelming. Sometimes I would push back because I had worked so hard on a scene but as I gained some distance from the editing, I’d realize she was right. That’s actually quite comforting, to trust your collaborator’s instincts. She gave me permission to go wild and she helped me rein it in. The result is something that pushes the boundaries but also has boundaries.

I think it’s fair to say we both didn’t want it to end. Yet we did want to share it with the world. I am very proud of this movie; it moves like a freight train on the wings of a butterfly. Don’t know what that means? Check it out! I will let you know when additional screening opportunities become available and the film moves into wide release.

She Cannot Make

She Cannot Make

Because I do this process so often, make faces out the stuff I see while walking the dogs, I’m always ruminating over where “art” comes from? I make the faces quite fast, acting on impulse to see what will happen. Outside of the impulse, there are no premeditated ideas. The faces are so surprising to me. Even after all this time, they continue to be new and mysterious. I am convinced it’s because I am “drawing” with my animal senses and not with my intellect.

My intellect wants to convince me this is wrong, that what I am doing can’t possibly be intelligent (meaning good?) if she is not involved. She’s pretty convincing and I sort of believe her except the evidence supports a different conclusion. I am so used to thinking that intellect is intelligence. But there is a nonverbal intelligence at play here. I think that is really why I do this, to interact with this nonverbal form of intelligence. To see if I can get better at using it. To learn from it. 

I don’t think I would want that form of intelligence to balance my check book but that’s not the point. I am not trying to get better at this so I can submit all our concerns over to sensory perception. But for art making, I can’t help but wonder if intellect can only use what intellect already knows. She’s good at analysis but not good as life force. She can’t make things come into being. She can only evaluate, categorize, critique, imitate and replicate. But she cannot make.

Faces from the first four years (2015-2019)

I have two new additions to this website, Video and Gallery. You can access them on the top menu.

Tire Tread Face

Tire Tread Face

THE PROCESS

The dogs and I walk by a demolition site and see a weathered board covered by a muddy tire tread. I need to make a face on this!

It’s really hard to make upright faces because gravity removes most of the items I like to work with. What could I use? Mud? Plenty in the vicinity. My first attempts are bit heavy handed. It’s not looking great. I keep adjusting as best I can. I scrap around the eyes and put a mouth line in. I’m still not feeling it.

When walking the dogs and making my faces, I give up a lot. Frequently the face does not come together. No character behind the features. No emotion. Sometimes I give up right away. Who cares?! And other times I struggle for a while. I wasn’t sure about this one. I wanted it to work but the constraints were so constraining. I was thinking that maybe I hated it.

I stepped back and looked hard. The nose, the problem is the lack of nose definition. I added a final smear and took a few photos. I wouldn’t know if I liked it until later. The dogs need to get on with it peeing and pooing.

My work is so imprecise and precarious. With more tools and more time, I would have more control, I could really craft the face. But to what end? I am not trying to call forth an image in my mind, I am trying very hard to see what is actually in front of me and react to it in the moment. I am not trying to wrestle with it, I am trying to coax it. Not control but respond. Not pontificate but listen. The reward is always a total surprise, something I never in a million years could have made if I “tried” to make it. Responding quickly forces unexpected solutions. I am really grateful to each face for “coming” to me.

Turns out I like this one. Very alert expression. They are looking back at me as intensely as I am looking at them.

FAME

While I was making this face, I saw someone down the street watching me. That doesn’t happen often. Most people in Los Angeles couldn’t care less what their fellow Angelinos are up to and hurrah to that, I hate being conspicuous. A few blocks later I run into this person and they ask me if I am Sidewalk Face! OMG! I am having my 15 minutes of fame. They are a fellow Instagrammer who could tell we live in the same neighborhood. I like meeting people and exchanging goodwill but most of the time I prefer to be in the shadows. What I’m doing looks odd and though the faces are obvious in my photos, they aren’t necessarily obvious while I’m making them. I always look around before I stick my hand in mud. It would be embarrassing for someone to see me playing in the dirt. There’s just no explaining it.

FREE ART SUPPLIES

When I started this project, I didn’t have a concept or a goal, just a vague urge to make some faces outside. Six and a half years later it’s quite deliberate. The first few years I picked up so much stuff. I was carrying around at least 5 pair of broken sunglasses. On every dog walk! I did have a lot of items I could use to construct a face but as I wrote about in the Bags of Crap series, I had so many I filled up one bag, stopped using it, and then filled up another. Eventually I organized it all thinking that would solve the problem, but it didn’t. The bag may have been super tidy buy it still weighed six pounds and I kept not taking it with me. I don’t like to be weighed down. Now, I don’t carry anything but a few seeds and sticks. I prefer to approach each face with whatever is around. Very minimal.

The reason, as I stated above, is I am not trying to achieve a specific outcome. It’s more like a game, what can I do with only what I have in front of me? That doesn’t mean I don’t want it to look good. But why would looking good only be an option of time and material? I am of the opinion that the best faces come together really quickly. When that happens, I bypass the anxious part of me that wants it to look like something I have already seen. I want it to look like something I have never seen. I also want it to look organic to the scene. Too much manipulation makes it look manipulated. I want it to look like it came on it’s on accord.

I find it liberating to have an art practice where so much is totally random including the medium itself. It’s a small comfort that art exists beyond consumerism, beyond a studio, beyond my intention, beyond my control. Something delightful can come from almost anything, including a muddy panel of badly degraded wood.