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Film

Who is Vesto?

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For an astronomy class our senior year of college in 2001, my friend Tom Keefe and I made a short film called In Vesto’s Legacy about the American astronomer Vesto M. Slipher (1875-1969). For over thirty years, Slipher was the director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. (A moment nicely fictionalized by Michael Byers in his novel Percival’s Planet, with Slipher in a supporting role.) Slipher was also responsible for discoveries that Edwin Hubble built upon to find galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Tom and I were surprised we hadn’t heard of Slipher so we wrote a film – an extended sketch, really! – where Vesto’s great-grandson visits campus to discuss his ancestor’s work. Our friends in the class who were also uninterested in taking a final exam played all the roles. (This was in the days before YouTube, so the film isn’t online and hopefully Tom, who now runs his family’s real estate business in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, is too busy to change that.) Tom and I later made another short film on 16mm called Pretender’s Dance under the Vesto Productions banner and when I began my publicity consultancy in 2012 my first thought was to call it Vesto PR. As well as remembering our creative collaboration, a type of work I’ve been lucky to continue, the name seemed right given Slipher’s role in astronomy – helping others achieve greater heights in a more concealed role.That’s what I hope to do for my clients. For many years, I held staff jobs while taking on the occassional project, and now I’m thrilled to turn toward my consultancy full-time starting in 2017. This video below shows my girlfriend Isabel Brito-Farre on a Vandercook press at The Arm in Brooklyn, NY in December 2016, making postcards to advertise my business.

Flawless Masterpiece

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Earlier this month at the Morgan Library, Martin Amis and Ian Buruma discussed some of their favorite films during a special event hosted by Antonio Monda, artistic director of the Le Conversazioni literary festival. Short clips of the films were shown, then the writers spoke about each, breaking into Siskel and Ebert-esque bickering on a few occassions. Amis picked The Godfather, Blade Runner, The Wild Bunch, and Raging Bull (Amis: “It just stares you in the face that it’s a flawless masterpiece.”), while Buruma chose Blue Angel, Once Upon a Time in America, Ikiru, and Sunday Bloody Sunday, which was directed by Buruma’s uncle, John Schlesinger. Buruma considered that 1971 film his uncle’s best, for its sensitive depiction of a gay romance. Amis recalled seeing Blade Runner with his father Kingsley, an early champion of science fiction, who believed Ridley Scott, in adapting Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for the screen in 1982, was the first director to realistically create a futuristic, SF universe on film. As Kingsley Amis aged, however, he became easier to please at the cineplex, as Martin remembered in one of the many funny bits from his memoir Experience (2000):

I will promiscuously mention in this note that my father once told Christopher Hitchens and me to fuck off after we took him to Leicester Square to see Beverly Hills Cop. No: he liked it and we didn’t. And I think we must have curled our lips at him. Most uncharacteristically he walked away on his own and had to be coaxed into the next pub or cab.

Le voyage dans la lune

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Both Hugo and The Artist, which together won 10 Academy Awards on Sunday, honor cinema’s earliest days, when motion picture pioneers applied their exuberant imaginations to learning how to use an emerging technology. By the time of The Artist, as silent films gave way to talkies in the 1920’s, there were established cinematic conventions and storytelling techniques, but just 20 years earlier, when Georges Méliès cranked out over 500 films after seeing what the Lumiere brothers cooked up in Paris in 1895 – it was the first time anyone had done anything. Screening this month at Lincoln Center is The Extraordinary Voyage, a documentary about restoring Melies’s A Trip to the Moon (1902), a zany 20 minute film about a few folks, wearing hats and colorful long jackets, who are shot to the moon in a cannon, take a nap, swat an alien with their umbrellas, then safely return to a parade welcoming them back to Earth. One of the best parts of Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is the mystery of Méliès being unravelled by the two curious children, and the film archivists Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange have that same spirit in The Extraordinary Voyage, as they labored intensively, over ten years, to restore A Trip to the Moon. We’re lucky they did.