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by Bill Gibron

14 Mar 2009

For film critic Paul O’Callaghan, life has always been a ‘movie’. Ever since graduating from NYU Film School, he’s been pursuing a dream to be a director. Of course, that goal got sidetracked when his self-professed “labor of love” - the Tampa, Florida cable access show entitled Your Life is a Movie, led to an association with local shock jocks Ron Bennington and Rob Diaz. As the “movie guy” on the nationally syndicated Ron and Ron Show, O’Callaghan (who goes by a shortened nickname, ‘Paul O’, on-air) became something of a celebrity.  Yet in the back of his mind, he still wanted to make movies. “I’ve never given up on the goal,” he repeats during a recent interview in his adopted hometown. “I just needed the right motivation to move forward.”

That drive came from his current gig as part of the Ron and Ron revamp, The Ron and Fez Show on XM Satellite Radio. “Here am I,” O’Callaghan says, “spending an hour or so a week talking about what I love (movies),” and so naturally, the conversation would turn toward his own aspirations. “I talked about it a lot,” he offers, “but what I really wanted to do was something big. This secret project I had that I knew no one would finance.” O’Callaghan is alluding to a mystery script that he has “squirreled away in a bottom desk drawer somewhere”, a possible blockbuster that he refuses to discuss. It’s one of several he’s written over the years. But when the time and opportunity came to actually get behind the lens and make a movie, O’Callaghan had to set his sights - and his scope - a great deal smaller.

Thus the small indie horror film Gap was born. “It’s about aging, about the state of the world”, the first time filmmaker confesses. In the movie, O’Callaghan plays a nameless man who, frustrated by what he sees around him, has decided to videotape a multi-victim killing spree. Speaking directly to the camera (with some intercut montages and title cards to suggest his mental state) the character spews an almost non-stop collection of missives, prophecies, edicts, and tantrums. Then the slaughter starts. “I wanted to work in a recognizable type,” O’Callaghan says, “something an audience could instantly relate to.” He also understood the basic foundation of the independent film business. “No one is going to give me, a first time filmmaker, a big budget like on a mainstream movie.” With horror, the movie could be made cheaply, easily, and have a kind of “instant recognizability” amongst the viewers.

O’Callaghan actually had the fans in mind when he made the movie, “It was highly collaborative at first,” he admits. “I got lots of input from the (Ron and Fez) listeners. We run ideas, improvise scenes. Sometimes, I would take on the character and we’d adlib something.” All this material then was filtered into O’Callaghan’s script, though there was room for improvisation on the set. “I gave the actors a basic outline,” he clarifies, “letting them know where the material was going.” But once he got into the character, O’Callaghan felt free to take the scenes toward places even darker. “There were definitely times when people were afraid of me,” he admitted. “I’m a big guy…an imposing guy, figure. It got pretty intense at times.”

Indeed, one of Gap‘s most impressive aspects is its fierce philosophical stance, a painful projection of popular culture’s destructive properties. “Yeah, a lot of the issues raised in the film are beliefs I hold personally,” O’Callaghan explains. “Not literally, but in general. I think society is going in the wrong direction. I think people, especially young people, are influenced by a media that feeds them nothing but garbage.” He points out that, in the film, he only kills “kids” under a certain age because they are the one’s most vulnerable to the corrupting influences around. “They don’t think for themselves”, he chides, “they’re sheep. They believe whatever society and the stupid news tells them.” As a result, in O’Callaghan’s mind, they are unprepared for the real horrors that face them once the truth is told.

But murder? “Yeah, it’s an extreme reaction.” He laughs it off. “My point is…Gap‘s point is…someone has to teach the world. The character (of the killer) sees himself as someone on a mission. School won’t teach them. He’s going to use these tapes, these lectures, as a way of communicating his ideas.” O’Callaghan admits that it’s heady stuff for a horror film, but genre titles are more readily accepted from first time filmmakers than larger than life, epic in scope ambitions. “As a novice director, no one is going to give me the money to realize my dreams,” he says again, realistically. “No, it’s easier to approach a recognizable film type, in this case, the horror film, and then try to inject some intelligence into it.”

Surprisingly enough, the shoot was relatively simple, according to O’Callaghan. “No real problems. Most of the cast came from the Ron and Fez audience.” But there were also elements at play behind the scenes which threatened Gap‘s completion. “While I won’t say the film was cursed…” he trails off, later admitting that there were tragedies all throughout the production. The most difficult of course was the untimely death of his wife Gail (who had a small role in the film). “It really added some perspective,” he admits, taking a long pause for some self-reflection. But it did not defeat him. “I felt I had to go on, to finish. I needed to get this done. It was therapeutic in a way.” Even then, O’Callaghan admits that it took several months in the editing room and post-production to get the film exactly the way he wanted.

“I had a vision for the film,” he explains. “I wanted it to be just like The Blair Witch (Project) . I wanted people to just ‘discover’ it, to think that what they were seeing was real, was happening.”  In the early stages of the idea, O’Callaghan tried to come up with ways where people could just ‘find’ the film (perhaps online or at conventions). “That was the whole premise,” he states, “to put people off guard. To see their reaction to something where they couldn’t quite tell if it was true, or just a put-on.” Of course, any and all publicity destroys that illusion. “Yeah, talking to you, or anyone, about the film really undermines that surprise or shock value. In some ways, the more I advertise, the more I destroy my concept.”

In the end, the final project speaks for itself. “The feedback has been decent,” he adds, “even the negative has been constructive.” O’Callaghan also understands that his first effort will be judged more harshly because of his critical past. “A critic is just asking for it,” he laughs, alluding to the notion that someone who used to derail movies for a living is just waiting to have the same thing done to his own offering once it hits the circuit. Still, by getting the word out, by fueling interest in the DVD currently available, O’Callaghan hopes to continue exploring his muse. “I really enjoyed the experience,” he states, “it was fun finally getting a chance to chase my dream. I have to do it again.” It’s a message Paul O’Callaghan wants the whole world to embrace…embrace, or else.

by Matt White

14 Mar 2009

Neil Young has been making a series of no budget music videos for his upcoming album Fork in the Road. The title track was released last month and now we have two different videos for “Johnny Magic” and one for “Light a Candle”. The first video for “Johnny Magic” was shot in Neil’s LincVolt; the electric car he’s been developing that was apparently the inspiration for the album. The second “Johnny” video features Neil’s dog, Carl, and “Light a Candle” features his wife, Pegi. The songs are as raw and ragged as the videos although “Light a Candle” is a lovely ballad.

“Johnny Magic” (version 1)

“Johnny Magic” (version 2)

“Light a Candle”

Fork in the Road is out April 7th.

by Rob Horning

13 Mar 2009

Danah Boyd, who has recently completed a dissertation about social networking, distills her conclusions in this lecture. Her academically oriented perspective is extremely useful in filtering out the hype about social networking driven by its commercial potential, and looking at it more as a social practice—what needs has it served, what needs has it created, and how thoroughly have we assimilated the technology that makes it possible. Are they more than online friend-management services? Are they altering the category of friendship itself?

Boyd regards social media as being born primarily to provide virtual spaces for young people to interact—places where people can show off and secure recognition, and where friend groups can be defined and police their boundaries. The influx of adults into social media shifts the emphasize toward commercial purposes—self-promotion and networking—and toward nostalgia. Hence the rolling (and unsettling) high-school reunion that Facebook is for people my age. Boyd’s point is that network effects fuel social media’s growth. We join if we think people from our high school are there (whether we are in high school now or were 25 years ago—no wonder it seems so adolescent) and maybe want to contact us. For adults, at least, the momentum of a network’s expansion seems crucial; the experience of being caught up in one as it expands exponentially is a heady experience—as we intuit when some forgotten person from the past contacts us. But this momentum is unsustainable—eventually it levels off. Does that take away the thrill of social networks with it?

It’s not clear whether the network effects of using social media have any durability, whether they are generated not by the experience of using social media but by the hype surrounding it. Users have tended to migrate from site to site as new services become more fashionable and old services become overpopulated with lame late adopters or worse, too many of those people who cause “contexts to collide”: As Boyd explains, “In choosing what to say when, we account for both the audience and the context more generally. Some behaviors are appropriate in one context but not another, in front of one audience but not others. Social media brings all of these contexts crashing into one another and it’s often difficult to figure out what’s appropriate, let alone what can be understood.” When your current friends get to see how you interact with people who knew you decades ago, or when parents can scrutinize profile pages looking for insight into their children’s social life apart from them, it can be problematic. The sites try to come up with ever-more-fine privacy controls, but these make using sites onerous and slip-ups are inevitable. The safest things to do are to move elsewhere or cease sharing—then the network effects that sustain social media can disintegrate.

Boyd isolates some characteristics that make mediated friendship distinctive and which make these sites, in my opinion, inherently unstable:

1. Persistence. What you say sticks around. This is great for asynchronicity, not so great when everything you’ve ever said has gone down on your permanent record. The bits-wise nature of social media means that a great deal of content produced through social media is persistent by default.

2. Replicability. You can copy and paste a conversation from one medium to another, adding to the persistent nature of it. This is great for being able to share information, but it is also at the crux of rumor-spreading. Worse: while you can replicate a conversation, it’s much easier to alter what’s been said than to confirm that it’s an accurate portrayal of the original conversation.

3. Searchability. My mother would’ve loved to scream search into the air and figure out where I’d run off with friends. She couldn’t; I’m quite thankful. But with social media, it’s quite easy to track someone down or to find someone as a result of searching for content. Search changes the landscape, making information available at our fingertips. This is great in some circumstances, but when trying to avoid those who hold power over you, it may be less than ideal.

4. Scalability. Social media scales things in new ways. Conversations that were intended for just a friend or two might spiral out of control and scale to the entire school or, if it is especially embarrassing, the whole world. Of course, just because something can scale doesn’t mean that it will. Politicians and marketers have learned this one the hard way.

5. (de)locatability. With the mobile, you are dislocated from any particular point in space, but at the same time, location-based technologies make location much more relevant. This paradox means that we are simultaneously more and less connected to physical space.

All the characteristics on this list are fleeting advantages that eventually become liabilities, at which point users have incentive to light out for the territories—head for a new, more exclusive site and build up network effects again. And online, there is always more undiscovered territory.

by Bill Gibron

13 Mar 2009

There is an argument/mantra among devout fans of cinema that goes a little something like this: “Critics are so hard on and hate (insert name of favorite movie here) because they are merely frustrated filmmakers themselves and can’t do any better.” To paraphrase Woody Allen, “those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, grab a camcorder and call themselves directors.” Thanks to DVD, and the so-called digital revolution, everyone with a basic knowledge of process, a hint of inspiration, and a script/screenplay spinning around in their head/bottom desk drawer thinks they’re the next Kubrick…or if not the late, great auteur, some manner of homemade genius. For them, the motion picture is not about exclusivity. It’s about jumping whole hog into the artform before there’s even a need for their input.

For years, Paul O’Callaghan has added his celluloid two cents on the current Cineplex crop as part of radio’s outrageous Ron and Fez Show. Before that, he was a Tampa, Florida cable access star with his review/preview show Your Life is a Movie. But unlike the cliché, his recent turn behind the lens is not some random outlet for his misspent muse. It’s actually the culmination of a dream he’s been holding onto since graduating from film school in the early ‘80s. The resulting experiment in genre exposition, Gap, gives new meaning to the term “unconventional”. By taking on one of the most stereotypical scary conventions - the serial killer with a desire to record his crimes - O’Callaghan has made a remarkable accomplished and anarchic piece of post-modern social commentary.

Gap is a movie that believes in ideas. It’s a film that follows a certain philosophy. Rebuking the clueless cow-like attention span of the average individual and adding it into the already ripe disposability of our poisonous pop culture, O’Callaghan’s killer (he plays the role himself) is more of a slaughter-bent sage than a manifestation of pure evil. By making these “tapes” (similar in style to the Blair Witch/Cloverfield conceit of first person POV insight), our clearly unhinged anti-hero is creating his Gospel. With each rant, with each frightened face he showcases (and then murderers), this demon dissects the human and finds its insides stuffed with maggots, the media, and a wildly unhealthy dose of “Me First” self-absorption. O’Callaghan’s character isn’t out to purge the planet, though. In his mind, seeing the horrific fate that meets anyone this selfish and simple will hopefully wake the world from its craven, crusty sleep. All they need is a copy of his visual primer.

Gap gets this point across via several divergent means. The first is through a thwarting of traditional horror film convention. When we hear that this movie centers on a killer videotaping his deeds while sermonizing about the various social “sins” he’s addressing, a wealth of gore-laden grotesqueries come to mind. Yet Gap has very little blood. We also anticipate lots of gratuity, including rampant nudity and a certain misogynistic view of the opposite sex. This also doesn’t occur. There are scenes where a particularly ghastly set up leads to an anticlimactic “apology” from our lead. There are also times when a certain strategy gets immediately circumvented for a more “direct” approach. If these descriptions seem vague, it’s because Gap would be ruined by too much advance knowledge. It’s better to go in, unprepared, and experience what O’Callaghan has to offer.

The murders are each handled in a different manner. O’Callaghan plays with the viewer, making them guess when our star will “snap” and procure his dance with death. Some of the sequences are sadistic and quite shocking. Others are almost comical in their nonchalant, farcical flippancy. Sometimes, O’Callaghan’s speech will be more horrific than the crime. In other instances, it’s all viscera and vivisection. Gap definitely keeps the audience off guard, making them guess what’s coming around the next corner, what the next shot or situation will have to offer. It also takes its title literally. The movie’s main theme is the massive ‘gap’ between reason and insanity, life and death, understanding and isolation, wisdom and misplaced contemplation. While we’re never sure if the victims deserve their fate, we clearly see that O’Callaghan’s character thinks so.

This doesn’t mean that Gap is flawless, however. As with any hands-on project, the casting process brings a few amateurish performances to the party - and nothing ruins dread like seeing an actress trying not to laugh while under a threat. In addition, the simple set ups of O’Callaghan speaking to the camera shows very little directorial panache. While he does eventually move the lens around in a more inventive fashion, the point and shoot awareness definitely undermines O’Callaghan’s ambitions. One wonders what he would be like with a bigger budget, a broader scope, and a cast and crew that could realize it for him. Still, as an initial foray into the dark, depressing world of independent creativity, Gap has its subversive charms.

And when you learn more about the production, about the motives behind this first aesthetic attempt and where the inspiration came from, you come to appreciate O’Callaghan even more. This is a man truly open to the process, who has seen the mistakes made in hundreds of horror movies (and mainstream Hollywood hackwork in general) and decided to go in a different direction. This may make Gap difficult for some audiences to accept. In general, we like our macabre measured out in certain, recognizable chunks. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t like having our expectations circumvented or destroyed outright. We want terror, taunting, titillation, and perhaps a tell-all wrap up at the end of it. It’s safe to say that, for the terror traditionalist, Gap will be a baffling experience.

Yet if you’re willing to redefine your expectations and come in with an open mind, Gap will give your genre prerequisites a good tweaking. There are elements of exploitation, mumblecore, comedy, tragedy, experimentation, and outright ridiculousness here along with a great deal of insight into the mind of a madman and our current cultural malaise. O’Callaghan’s killer isn’t some megalomaniacal psychotic with a generic God complex compelled to do the bidding of a higher power. Instead, he’s a troubled individual seeing the world spinning out of control and hopes to impart upon it some necessary “lessons” before things totally go to Hell. Visiting the ‘found artifact’ nature of this movie indicates that the trip to Hades may be inevitable. How we get there, however, may be our only - and the film’s - saving grave. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be pretty. Then again, no attempt at personal reflection ever is.

by PopMatters Staff

13 Mar 2009

Dillinger Escape Plan joins Nine Inch Nails live at the Soundwave Festival in Perth, Australia on 2 March 2009.

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