Don’t say I didn’t warn you… When my first videos were finished ahead of schedule, I told you it was rare. Now, it’s the last day of January, and I don’t have a film to present. Editing on this month’s film has taken longer than I expected, so it’s going to be a few more days. That being said, I’m pretty happy with the way things are turning out.
Here are the details: Essentially, the film is a brief history of my grandmother’s family. Her parents came from Corleone, Sicily; met and married in Manhattan and relocated to Staten Island after my great-grandfather’s business was threatened by the Black Hand. I interviewed my grandmother about her childhood and asked her to recount some stories. Interspersed are scenes of her and my mother making pork skin braciole, a traditional Sicilian recipe. The film culminates with a trip that my family took to the church in which my great-grandparents were married.
I never actually outlined the repercussions I would face for missing a deadline. So, I think I will force myself to create an extra video in the next week or two (outside of February’s). At any rate, January’s video will be up by the end of the week. Bear with me.
When describing this month’s film, I cited Scorsese’s Italianamerican as an influence (see my previous post). Another source of inspiration, from another of my favorite directors, is the recent The Thorn in the Heart by Michel Gondry. The film was quietly released last year in only a few theaters with little to no promotion. Given the personal nature of it, and its low budget aesthetic, I guess it didn’t seem like a good fit for a filmmaker who lately seems more interested in breaking into the Hollywood mainstream. It has now found a home on DVD from Oscilloscope (the Beastie Boys-affiliated label) and on is available on Netflix Instant view.
The Thorn in the Heart is a documentary Gondry made about his own family, namely his aunt Suzette. Suzette had been a school teacher for almost 40 years in various parts of France. Gondry takes her on a tour of her former work sites as she recalls stories from them and meets former colleagues and students. Interwoven are brief scenes that display Gondry’s knack for DIY filmmaking such as stop-motion animation, and sequences involving model trains (side note: in my opinion, it is this approach to film that Michel needs to make a return to, and stop focusing on the big-budget, star drive vehicles like Green Hornet). Also touched upon are personal familial stories, especially the relationship between Suzette and her son Jean-Yves.
In 1974, Martin Scorsese made a short documentary called Italianamerican. In it he interviews his parents about his family history, their parents’ migration from Sicily and life on New York’s Lower East Side. Shot a year after Mean Streets, Italianamerican revisits the same neighborhood to tell a more personal (and less violent) story. It touches upon many of the same themes, namely Italian American culture.
In his early career, Scorsese often followed his features with smaller-scale productions, such as short films and documentaries. As in the case of Mean Streets/Italianamerican, many of these films relate thematically, or explore similar ideas. Though not seen as often as his major works, they are no less interesting. The Film Forum produced a new 35mm print of Italianamerican a few years ago, but otherwise the only way to view it at home is via an out-of-print VHS tape. Someone has taken the liberty of uploading it to YouTube, so I am embedding that here (parts 2-5 are below).
One of the first lessons that you’ll learn in a screenwriting class is “write what you know.” In keeping with that spirit, I’ve decided to make January’s film a bit more personal. But I won’t be doing any actual screenwriting. Instead, I’ve decided to make a short portrait of my own family. Drawing on themes of tradition, cultural identity and yes, food, it will be an examination of the notion of identity and personal history.