SOPHIA HARVEY

Writer and Filmmaker. Visit sophiaharveyfilms.com for more.

Playing With Sounds

In the trees, where they play and winds dance colorful,

Owls muse, and consider, and wax philosophical

The sun, on the water, skips stones algebraical,

And the moon and the day fiddle semi-symmetrical.

 

Laughter, it echoes and bounces so quizzical,

And ants, they commune and command allegorical.

 

While the sputtering sparrow serenades bombastical

Mushrooms gather, and mutter nonsensical,

And the moss, it shimmers an aura cosmological.

 

Arrows in the sky, they guide lethargical;

But for pathless nobodies, it’s a fact noncritical. 

 

Berries and nuts serve oft gastronomical,

And sometimes the alligator croons quite lyrical,

Though ne’r do his tunes prove wholly lexical

(His parlance quite often seeming most typical)

But the fish say nothing, in an act so hospitable,

 

In the night it’s all dance and hunt illogical,

In this circus of nature, a world so fantastical.

 

Sophia Harvey Animation

A poem written and applied to a strange animated experience.

a thing unbroken

There is a tension created

By something that wont break

But must.

 

It goes against common wisdom

And the rules through which we carve our place in a world

To break a thing unbroken.

 

And however unwise the wisdom

Or unfounded the rules

We follow them.

 

And why?

When it aches to be broken

And there must be a reason–

 

But when the now unbroken thing

Lies in pieces on the kitchen floor

Is it common courtesy to sweep it aside,

Never taking time to relish the crack?

I Wonder

i wonder

mostly why things smell like they do,

or actually

why we have tastes,

or actually

does everything have taste?

can these begonias bear

this yuan dynasty porcelain?

i hope so.

Buttercup Festival, David Troupes

Minute Myth: Creation

The first in a continuing series of minute(ish) long Greek Myths told by Ryan McCabe in support of my upcoming film, Flowers with a Smile. Learn more about the film here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/flowers-with-a-smile-an-nyu-thesis-film/x/6517460

I’m Making a Film

Hello all,

I’m in the thick of pre-production right now with my latest film, Flowers with a Smile. We’re fundraising and getting materials together and doing everything we can to make it as good as it can be.

It is a love story between two people who cannot love and the turmoil that results from deep obsession. Elena, entranced by all things beautiful, falls in love with Marcus, the handsome and highly narcissistic ticket-taker at a local boardwalk house of mirrors. Over the span of their relationship, Elena is increasingly neglected as Marcus becomes ever obsessed with finding the perfect reflection. Ultimately, Marcus is defeated by his obsession while Elena learns to speak for herself for the first time.

Flowers with a Smile is based off of the Greek myth of Echo & Narcissus.

Flowers with a Smile Poster

I’ll be posting updates here as well as on our website, Facebook, Twitter and Indiegogo. Please check out our other pages and thank you for all the continued support from this wonderful community.

xo

Blue is the Warmest Color: Sexuality, Cinema, & Forget About Sochi

Blue is the Warmest Color Poster

I’ve just returned from seeing Blue is the Warmest Color for the second time. Before my first viewing, I was not aware of the enormous controversy that surrounds the film nor had I received word of its extremely explicit sex scenes — I had only heard from a friend that it was the most honest movie they had seen in years. And it is. I don’t believe that I have ever seen a film that expresses the complexity and raw emotion of first love as successfully. But it’s not the writing that’s causing a stir, it’s the sex, and I have to admit that it’s hard to ignore. Tonight, I saw it with my mother, and sitting together through the nearly 20 minutes (all told) of uncensored, unscored, uncropped lovemaking was a little hard to handle.

But in thinking about the experience, I’ve come to wonder why exactly it put me on edge. Let’s put the issue of homosexuality to the side for a moment and focus on the act of sex itself — or more accurately, its portrayal. I believe there are several things at play here, the first of which being good, old-fashioned, prudishness. Growing up in Connecticut, I was told there are three topics that are impolite to bring up at parties: money, sex, and religion. In testing the boundaries of my New England upbringing, I discovered that talk of money sours a conversation quickly, but that the latter two subjects can lead to great debate. Sorry, Connecticut.

Anyhow, I think that even in a theater in the West Village of NYC, a neighborhood notorious for its shirking of the Miss Manner’s playbook, this idea still exists. We are not a society entirely desensitized to the taboo, no matter how much we’d like to think so. And what’s keeping us from reaching that point is exactly the source exposing us to such titillations in the first place. Think of most movie sex scenes; they are lit with soft, complementary lighting, shot in suggestive close ups, and are usually accompanied by a romantic score. Generally, a sex scene can be achieved with as little as a bared collar bone. We accept that what we are seeing is sex, because that’s what we’ve accepted as sex, even if we are merely shown a thrusting silhouette.

Gossip Girl Sex Scene

There was an article circulating the internet recently that touched upon this subject in terms of the hit show The Bachelor. It discusses a shaky illusion of romance that covers up a mixture of debauched and Puritanical values. Many women vie for the attention of one man in the hopes of “winning his heart” – the audience is supposed to believe that no sex occurs on this show until the bachelor has narrowed it down to two prospects (with whom he sleeps one right after another). When one woman was a little too forward, seducing the bachelor before it was the appropriate time, she was admonished as a tramp. This is just one example of the media striking a weird balance between racey and utterly wholesome.

Juan Pablo Galavis The Bachelor

As a side note: this same bachelor has been revealed in recent news as a particularly boring genre of homophobe — brilliantly expounded upon here by Jon Stewart.

Because of this media puppetry, we are rarely exposed to true taboo. What I mean by that is raw, unveiled expressions of things that might make us uncomfortable. Perhaps, what I may never truly understand is why sex is taboo in the first place. Is it because sex, along with money and religion, has been at the source of almost all historical conflict? OK. If that’s true, why?

Let’s compare the topics for a second. In our currency based world, money is a means for survival, theoretical happiness, and power. If I had to guess, I might say that money has been at the root of almost every war in modern history.

Religion. Religion predates money. Religion was used as a means of education, explanation, and unity among people. A religion speaks to a person’s entire purpose, path, beginning, end, and how he or she looks at the middle. Even now, there are probably more people who deal in religion than any other kind of currency — except, of course, sex.

Sex came before both religion and money and is the ultimate unifier. Everyone has sex, or wants to — so why is it so off limits? There are hundreds of potential reasons as to why it has been made taboo (mostly political, I imagine) but is there something in the very nature of sex that’s repulsive? The answer may lie in something more personal. I believe that the un-romanticized sex scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color are uncomfortable because they hit the same buttons as the rest of the movie, just in a louder way.

Blue is the Warmest Color Screen Cap

Emotions in film and television are just as obscured and over-simplified as sex. The concepts of true love, love at first sight, love forever and always, etc. — these are concepts that unfold on the silver screen at a much higher rate than in reality. And I’m not saying that these things don’t exist, because I firmly believe that they do. What I’m saying is that the incidence of Lifetime-love-at-first-sight is far different than how it goes down in real life.

When director Abdellatif Kechiche hit us with nearly 3 hours of unapologetic reality, it ruffled feathers. Experiencing sex between two women at a wide angle, with everything on display, and no score to cover the moaning, feels voyeuristic. Without the veil of cinematic romance, we cannot comfortably sit in on their intimate moment. Just as we cannot (or I cannot) bear to watch as the two lovers realistically, and garnering equal sympathy, destroy their relationship because at the heart of it all, they just weren’t meant for each other. No love conquers all here. And the sex scenes are the same. They are emotionally complex, funny, and interesting — athletically impressive, even.

So perhaps we don’t talk about sex, not because of the political implications or religious implications, but because real sex, without fanfare or gesticulation, is far more powerful, the stuff of wars. It’s the moment when a person is most vulnerable and relating that moment to any sort of loss or shame may seem unbearable.

Now doubling the unfamiliar comes the fact that this love story exists between two women. Something that, in the context of this blog post, is hardly relevant but matters to a certain point. Already we are a society that is uncomfortable dealing with our feelings. It has taken years and years of cinema to catch up to the truths revealed by poets of the 19th century – and I would argue that we’re still far from it. Blue is the Warmest Color explores the themes of first love and self-discovery — universal experiences for all shapes, sizes, genders, and ilks. This may complicate the narrative for anyone who believes that homosexual couples relate any differently than anyone else on earth. They have all the same problems, all the same pain, and all the same sex. Maybe something Putin should watch. (ha! I knew I’d get Sochi in there somewhere!)

This, of course, brings up another point that I cannot ignore: the film was adapted and directed by a straight man. This fact has caused a lot of resistance from the LGBTQ community, specifically around the authenticity of the sex scenes. So maybe they are inaccurate, this is a subject I cannot speak to. Maybe the director pushed the envelope too far for the wrong reasons (a topic explored here by the New Yorker). I don’t know. I can only speak to my experience with the film as someone going in with no knowledge of the surrounding politics. And from that, I can say only that I hope for more. More reality, more controversy. And perhaps the latter will make way for the former to take hold. Until then, I will continue to offend at dinner parties.

**addendum: after finishing this essay, i realized that the three topics are in fact, “money, POLITICS and religion”. oops. but the concept still applies. 

Poetry for a Screenplay

Instead of regaling you all (are there any of you left?) with words of why I’ve been away and apologies for internet-neglect, I’m just going to jump back into this lovely blog world. I’ve been writing away, in between lots and lots of sound design (most notably for the fabulous short film The Perfect Man), and these are just a few poems that I wrote for my current feature screenplay project.

They are meant to be spoken word and will ideally exist in that way someday, but for now they are on paper, and now, they are here.

The character who “writes” these poems is a 24 year old living in Brooklyn, with an overly romanticized view of her own hedonism. She believes that you must be tortured to be an artist. Enjoy.

I.

If she could consider, she would

but when she stumbles she falls

and lips don’t part when they should.

She’ll quiver for you but not for herself

but that quiver’s a shiver for someone else.

She trusts no one but you, whoever you are tonight.

Take shelter in her heart, whoever you are tonight.

Reckless and feckless with bruised lips she trips

into a joy of her own.

But it’s a fleeting fog that rolls to the beat

of your morning exit.

And caves that drip Rock n Roll and leather scented illusions

harbor the merchants of her sanctioned delusions

and beckon to you, whoever you are tonight.

Your ink bleeds and your hard sleeves show soft skin below.

But she don’t play with lambs or tears, no, she don’t want to know.

So get your guns and leave your keys, whoever you are tonight.

II.

I see your swag, yeah, you wear it good

and I see those chicks you’re foolin’

and people been sayin you got a real mean streak

but you’re just my little boy flexin.

Behind those snears I see tears that are forgotten

and your palms hold love and pain but ain’t that the game

yeah, you’re just my little boy flexin’.

Ain’t nobody knows your glint is passion

and those shades hide more than scars skin deep

and ain’t nobody knows the fashion in which you hold me when we sleep.

We got the concerned and caring staring with hollow knowledge.

You can take your savior obsessions

and

forced

flase

confessions

and rearrange your own strange lives.

I ain’t got no question

and it’s my only confession

that he’s just my little boy flexin.

BOYTOY-ing around

Hello hello, this is a very belated posting of an EPK I did for a fabulous NYC-Boston based band, BOYTOY. I hope you enjoy!

All In (with sound)

A while ago I posted this video as a silent project, and I was sort of happy with it. Now that it’s fully sound designed, I’m much happier. Please check it out!

Perfect Nonsense: Harmony Korine and the Uncanny Valley

I am one of the many many fans eagerly awaiting the March release of Harmony Korine’s new film, Spring Breakers. In anticipation, and as a long time admirer, I decided to jot down some thoughts on his previous works. [beware spoilers]

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In the field of 3D animation and robotics, there is something called the “uncanny valley” hypothesis. It states that as an animated figure or robot becomes more and more life-like the human response is increasingly empathetic. Until, that is, a certain point where the figure is almost but not perfectly human. Here, the response turns to revulsion. This point is called the valley, or drop off. Accidental prodigy and bad-boy visionary Harmony Korine seems to elicit the same sort of revulsion with his films.

Kids (1995) - Harmony Korine and Larry Clark at the Cannes Film Festival

Kids (1995) – Harmony Korine and Larry Clark at the Cannes Film Festival

To begin to understand Korine, you must first know the origins of his career. As a nineteen-year-old college dropout in New York City, he met fringe photographer Larry Clark while skating in Washington Square Park. Clark was already an established outcast at the time, with a reputation for teen photography that was viewed as dangerous and “exploitative” by mainstream America. Upon making friends with Clark, Korine showed him a screenplay he had written in high school and Clark asked him to write a film about his skater friends. In two weeks in his grandmother’s basement, Korine wrote the script that would become Kids, one of the most controversial movies of the 1990s.

A first film for both writer and director, Kids (1995) chronicles a sex-and-drug-filled day in the life of several Manhattan teenagers. It highlights one teen, Telly, whose idea of safe sex is deflowering virgins. What might otherwise be dismissed as foolish hormone-driven behavior takes a much darker turn when we learn that Telly is infected with HIV. The film is powerful because of its realism and documentary feel. Most of this can be attributed to Korine’s incredible ear for dialogue. The realism in Kids is exactly what skyrocketed the film to the forefront of discussion at its release. At 22, Korine was already the target of the scorn and disgust of many Americans. There he has happily stayed, evolving his ability to shock and repulse ever since.

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What separates Korine and Clark from each other, is a thin line between sensitivity to and voyeuristic fascination with the vulgar and disturbing. Where Clark had been accused of manipulation before, it became clear that Korine found beauty in each of his subjects – one reason he has never been targeted as an exploiter. The Kids screenplay showed the beginnings of what were to become Korine’s trademarks. Non-story, seemingly aimless plotlines, realistic dialogue and bone-chilling subject matter have become reoccurring themes in the writer/director’s work.

From a visual standpoint, the Dogme 95 movement can be highlighted as a serious influence in the shaping of Korine’s style. As an artist with a similar ideology to the filmmakers of the Dogme movement, Korine was asked to participate in 1999.

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Julien Donkey-Boy was the first American Dogme film, and the sixth internationally. Although Korine broke or bent several of the rules, his film is considered a successful representation of the Dogme movement. The alienating aesthetic and dreamlike quality of the sequencing are products of the Dogme manifesto. Because of the limiting stipulations, Korine was forced to expand upon his already established style of extreme realism told through nightmarish aesthetics. He was required to use hand-held camera the whole time, so he played with that look. He was required to film completely on location, so each chosen shot has meaning and consideration behind it. Ironically, by joining the Dogme movement, Korine successfully created a product completely original and separate from anything else produced by Dogme 95. It seems that he is an artist who is stubbornly unique, unable to fall into any category except his own.

Again, what sets Korine apart from the others is his sensitivity to the subjects. He has an innate understanding of the people whose stories he’s telling and finds beauty and sympathy in their characters, even if they’re an abusive father, a cat-killing redneck, or a teenager spreading HIV. The result is a body of work that is comprised of intimate character study.

Julien Donkey-Boy is about a schizophrenic man and his family, and it explores the idea of love despite all social taboos. Korine’s grainy and nonlinear composition brings the viewer out of normalcy into a realm of deep, visceral connection with the characters. This concept of a purely character driven film is most perfectly expressed in the first ten minutes.

The opening image is one repeated frequently throughout Donkey-Boy. It is a blurry, televised clip of a female figure skater set to operatic music. The image is powerful, and although we cannot see a face, the movement conveyed is so engrossing that we connect instantly.

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Following this, we are immediately launched into a scene where a little girl and a bizarre man are in a field. We do not see the girl, although we can assume that we look through her eyes (POV). The grass is taller than we are, our vision is shaky, we cannot tell who is present except through voices. The voices are crisp and the dialogue is haunting. We know nothing about these two characters, but are instantly alienated. There is nothing to which the audience can connect. No faces. Very little that is familiar. The girl appears to have found a turtle, something that launches the man into a frenzy, violently knocking her over and beginning a tirade of garbled Bible verses. This is the first time we see a face clearly, something that is rare in Donkey-Boy; the man is leaning over the camera, leaning over us, drooling and yelling. At this point we are disoriented, confused and perhaps more than a little upset. We have met Julien.

The artfully telling sequence continues. We are confronted with a series of seemingly random clips portraying strange figures. A young pregnant woman in a leotard and tutu spins gracefully in a room, alone. She possesses the same beauty as the figure skater. We then see a man dancing in boxers to the radio in a separate room, alone. His clumsy movements are harsh in contrast to the woman’s. Next we see an old woman lying on a couch alone with her dog. We cannot understand her words, and neither can the dog, who struggles to leave her grasp. Then the scene cuts to a boy climbing a staircase with his hands, alone. We have met Julien’s family.

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Through only this opening sequence, Korine has told his story and developed his aesthetic. We have met all of the principal characters and we know their lives and struggles. Korine’s goal is to tell their story through non-linear experiences. Through moments. His goal is to illustrate the characters to his audience. He does not make any claims to the relationship between them, rather, that is something for the audience to feel. To navigate. To discover. And by the end of the film, to know on a deep level that surpasses anything a conventional or intellectual narration might convey. We are to come away from Julien Donkey-Boy with an understanding of love and beauty that we construct for ourselves through an intimate encounter with a family.

This process is successful immediately. Though the audience may be confused by the form, we already know everything that we need. The sequence conveys with the opening shot of the skater that this film is about beauty. It commands that we surrender our intellectual endeavors and connect with the film on an emotional level. It is overpowering. Once we are overpowered, there is a cold and disturbing switch to the scene in the field – the only part in the opening sequence with remotely comprehensive dialogue.

We know our main character. We know the illness from which he suffers, yet similarly, we know that he’s free. This is conveyed to us through the contrast of his unconstrained roaming in the grass and strange companionship with the isolated and sheltered way in which his family members are presented. They are each alone. We understand the pregnant woman’s connection to the skater, and we connect to her, although we do not yet know why. She represents to us a similar overpowering beauty. She and Julien are instantly portrayed as the only two aware of such beauty in the world. In comparison to the family, Korine suggests the idea that perhaps Julien’s schitzophrenic state, in the field of grass, is a better option than the bleak world which surrounds him.

Harmony Korine’s strict devotion to the power of image and the stories it can tell pays off in this opening sequence. It establishes a feel that follows throughout the film and leaves us profoundly affected at its close.

Gummo

Korine was a natural for an experiment in Dogme, he had already developed a hand-held, detached and slightly disturbing style with 1997’s Gummo, and has continued to explore the themes of alienation, isolation and dreamlike sequencing through his other main works, Mister Lonely (2007) and Trash Humpers (2009). Gummo, perhaps Korine’s most seminal and praised work, focuses on several characters in Xenia, Ohio after their town has been devastated by a tornado. Here again we are let in through character and not through narrative. Looking at Gummo, it is clear that Korine is unwaveringly original. What could be attributed to Dogme’s influence in Donkey-Boy, are stylistic choices clearly developed earlier. One could say that by participating in the Movement, Korine was merely exploring and deepening his own technique. At the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival Trash Humpers premier, Korine spoke on this. “I never cared so much about making perfect sense.” He said, “I wanted to make perfect nonsense. I wanted to tell jokes, but I didn’t give a fuck about the punch line.”

Korine must view life in this way – a joke without a punchline. In a way, it describes his work well. Often, Korine’s films leave us to draw our own conclusions. They are abstract “slice-of-life” vignettes, that do not come to any sort of contrived resolution. Frequently a character dies, but that does nothing to tie together story. Instead, it creates new avenues and realizations for other characters, just as in life.

harmony2

This “perfect nonsense” appeals to some. Korine has often been lauded as a poet and an avant-garde genius. But as critic Roger Ebert points out, his nonsense is not for everyone.  About Donkey-Boy, he said in the Chicago Sun Times that “the odds are good that most people will dislike this film and be offended by it. For others, it will provoke sympathy rather than scorn. You know who you are”. This statement is an excellent encapsulation of Korine’s work. It is by no means perfect, nor does Korine intend it to be. His films have been called “aesthetically lazy,” disturbing and slow paced. For some, these qualities are deal-breakers. For others, it is understood that they are intentional and crucial to Korine’s ultimate impact.

In all of his films, the writer/director focuses on subcultures of society and brings their specific ideals and idiosyncrasies to light. What draws him to these particular groups is hard to tell, but in them he creates beauty from the debased. Korine’s in-depth character studies and personal vignettes create a visceral experience beyond intellectual language. They kidnap you. There is a certain irony in this method. One might think that forcing an audience to engage with a film at an instinctual level would widen the scope of those with whom it connects. On the contrary however, this method seems to alienate and on the whole Korine’s work is left with a very limited following (although a devoted one).

If we have determined that Korine’s work is not alienating in the sense that it is closed off, why then, does it repulse audiences so unfailingly? Perhaps it is because once people are engaged, they do not like what they find. It seems that Korine manages to touch on that delicate “too real” area which causes the revulsion of the “uncanny valley” hypothesis. It is too close to life, with something disturbingly off. The films have the ability to pull you into a wretched, debased world and reveal it with brutal honesty and no consideration for social norms. It is not something most people handle well, and definitely not something most people would consider poetry. And it is because of this often horrific imagery that Korine loses his audience. They fail to see the honesty or brilliance that occurs with the impact of it. This sort of cult standing seems to be the only viable avenue for Korine. It is a fact that he does not write for mass consumption. But when his ideas do hit you, they hit hard.