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Alternate Versions: 1.25 Years of (Documented) Speculation

Speculating on _On Spec_.

Watch On Spec (David Phelps, 2012, 23') online:
Notas (traducidas)

On Spec is being distributed by Lumière and is available to watch online December 19, 2012 - January 2, 2012


All audio recorded 12/13/12 at approximately 1am






Credits (approx 60-90 seconds)

Credits are written out by hand on a blank notepad. “Specters of the Age (Myths/Comedies): On Spec,” “August 17, 2011,” “Credit,” (with names) “Thank you,” (with names). Quote: “Owe a bank a thousand dollars, the bank owns you. Owe a bank one hundred million dollars, you own the bank.” — American proverb

—Outline for On Spec, 8/16/11



"...But, as my first (film) film, it’s a start, even if trying to extract some trace of something redeemingly real from this speculative world seems as dubious a venture, in 2012, as not trying at all. "

—Notes to On Spec, August 20,  2012






"Went to MA today to color-correct [film], and good thing too: guy would have naturalized it all, but I had him lower blacks, raise contrast, bring out colors, and it's a very different apartment than the one I lived in. All stuff shot with CCTV lens came out out-of-focus like pastels, while on-the-fly stuff looks more professional. Editing intrigues grow, but spent an hour to no avail just trying to match sound with one scene tonight. Was hoping to have done by end of September but looking unlikely."

—email from David Phelps to Gina Telaroli, 8/30/11








"Watched full screen at work with my good headphones on.  Notes after first watch. Maybe more later. 

Don't know if anything above is helpful or relevant since I haven't seen the entire piece but very much looking forward to seeing more.

An interesting piece to see only half of, especially in terms of pacing and build.   Also, generally wonder how it would be to watch this if I didn't understand the space.  

Really liked the opening--the building/mixing of the sound and effected shots of windows and the space that lead to a sole person looking at the camera in the darkness and silence.  Great cut from there to natural daylight and white room.  Using transitions as transitions. 

Like that computer screens don't belong to any specific owner.  Don't know who is checking their email or listening to what song. Or (maybe my favorite moment in the piece) who is filming Elizabeth when she's on the bed looking at the camera.  That shot an interesting contrast to the one of you and her on the computer (which maybe answers the above question). 

Interactions between you and Thomas feel staged to me, almost out of Fassbinder.  Not sure how I feel about those in contrast to more naturalistic scenes, the scene of you and Elizabeth in the kitchen with the donuts, for example. Maybe my least favorite moment? (or, a moment I like on its own but not where it is). 

The extreme distortions of Thomas in his room in his underwear with the towel didn't really sit right with me (not the distortion itself but the level of effects being used). It transitions nicely and I like how the saturation, color palette and effects are brought up later in that section though. 

Conversation at door at the end hard for me at the moment but that's likely because there's nothing to follow it.   Really first time in the movie we get to really sit with anyone (and it's very clear who that anyone is).  Also, first time any traditional conflict is introduced or suggested.   

Funny: only thing that really struck me as funny is scene of you and Thomas in the bathroom when he's cleaning.  Like how that played with the earlier scene of you two in the bathroom.  Oh, also, duh, reading Dan's email about the karaoke...."

—email from GT to DP, 12/9/11

"Curious you didn't mention how out of focus second part is.

Interesting that two parts I probably like most are the donut discussion and the special effects (that's Thomas waiting around for the bathroom in my room, caught on cellcam, and still waiting with a towel around his neck that he taps together, after narrative of second part). Probably points to problem of including things because I like them. Latter took a few days to get to, and love the way it turns garish pixels into sweeping bushstrokes that rewrite space and bodies as Thomas moves, only really seems representational as long as there's movement to discern forms—and that effect of him being lit as if from below. No need to mention conceptual baggage for why it's there or how I justified it to myself if it's not working, but could be an issue of it delving into straight avant-garde after toeing the line. May need to have it build. 

Elizabeth and donuts I'll probably keep. It's the one sequence I have a lot of shots of, but I like that one because all the barriers of fiction already start to crumble, and while the complicity of it kind of nags, I think it's leveled by the following cut (though a shot I botch as actor) to me as a kind of anonymous body walking back to room against sound of running shower.

For me, the two problems right now are the internal divisions in first and third parts (that make it difficult to tell which part is which), between windows and waking-up, and then between the special effects and the cuts into dusk. There's some internal mirroring going on there, but when these structures become tumorous they stop being structures."

—email from DP to GT, 12/9/11








"but some thoughts:

 - Prologue changes are great.  I would encourage you to keep going with it and take it farther.  Anything more than a flash of an image is unnecessary.

 - This feels much closer to the film you've discussed and written to me about.  I would encourage you to keep going in this direction, even though I can tell you want to be done with it.

 - (My perceived changes in) Audio is a better balance between the silence and noise of co-habitation and lives spent online.  Before it felt like a noisy noisy piece but here is also gets across the solitude of it all.  Is much closer to those 30's Gremillons--sound before image, instead of what I think the piece was before, sound over image.

 - Still love section 1.  Changes interesting. The most fully realized section, I think. Especially in balance between conception and execution (shooting and editing) (creation).

 - Section 2 still feels bloated to me but, I did, for the first time, see a connection between it (and therefore Elizabeth and Thomas) and the end of section 3 (her severely effected twirling). 

 -Split screens in section 4.5 reminds of something you wrote me re: one of my split screen Proof drafts.  That you can only compare things that are incomparable.  This is maybe why in-camera (literal) split screen of Melissa and balloons still doesn't really work for me and also why splitting that split with Thomas also doesn't work.  As you said, you only see the link. And while the link may very well be the thing (in content and form) it's still too much (or not enough).  And it almost seems like a cheap way to keep balloon conversation in there too--add some Thomas, take away some emphasis.  Showing only a few seconds of Melissa and balloon video, just the time needed to see the Girl in the chat window and the youtube titled "Fear of Balloons," would get same information across as what's there now. Everything is communicated in just that basic information.  The humor you find in trying to line up the timelines of the youtube could potentially work on it's own, or as it's own piece, but here I don't think it adds anything to the larger "narrative" or the aesthetic.  

 -  I'm glad the first half of your chat with Melissa is gone but what's left of it (Spanish/Balloon vid/Spotify) is now only your voice, your opinions.  It's a one-sided conversation.  I think this is a more honest depiction of how people communicate online (all presentation) but it still rubs me the wrong way, maybe because it seems out of balance in the larger film and really emphasizes your voice over all the other voices in the film.  I like the honesty of all of that, but you get that same point across with the saxophone stuff at the end in a much more interesting way."

—email from GT to DP, 7/12/12


"Thanks for this. First I've gotten. Part 1 audio changes were a blotch, just a technical disaster matching up sequences. Just discovered and reloading now.

Interesting on part IV. For me what it should be pointing out is the *falsity* of the correspondence, which isn't one. You see Thomas on the computer, and see the computer screen, but it's *not* his computer screen, as you hear me talking. So the viewer has to make a choice whether to match up audio or visual... An added layer of disembodiment in a section in which it's nearly impossible, even for me, to tell who's watching what and when. Just a collective, virtual consciousness within the movie—if not necessarily one in the shooting. See how you'd think it was on-the-nose if it was actually trying to say anything, but it's not..."

—email from DP to GT, 7/12/12 

“Re-exporting an HD cut, should be ready by tomorrow at rate these things go...

Digital vulnerabilities very frightening throughout process: audio has constantly been mixed-up, remixed, looped, rewritten, and sometimes scrambled and corrupted painfully. A sign of the lifespan this movie will have as long as I don't transfer it to film... as I'm not planning to.”

—email from DP to GT, 7/12/12











“Burned a DVD of ON SPEC yesterday and watched on the big TV with Kitty.  Felt very different than the times I've watched on various computers.  It's of course a different movie but I also think the size of screen and distance from the screen played a large part--the flicker in the prologue extending much farther out and the sound radiating all over the room.   The horizontal movement of the movie had a larger pull--as if elements were being pulled in and out as I watched.  Be very curious to watch it projected whenever you get yourself situated in an apartment.

A few specifics, for what it's worth:

For me, the addition of the text really changed the piece, not so much because of the specific words themselves but because of what they did they did to the frame.  In the opening you've got mostly those 4x3 images flashing by, along with the text.  The text not adhering to that frame and existing inside and outside of it, in conjunction with the flashing images, really erased any sense of a frame for me--whereas before, the opening felt very claustrophobic--like it was forcing you inside.  It opens up the movie and puts the viewer in a very different place when that first section starts.  The specific text was mostly meaningless to me other than as a dance.  The length and movement and placement of the text outweighing any context, except for a general sense of the political and the silly and the pointlessness of making any and all statements.

The first section is still everything I've said about it in the past, although coming on the heels of the new prologue, it seemed much less about specific people and only about movements and patterns.  This in turn also made the second section less about the people and more about the light (movement of bodies vs. movement of pixels).  The actions themselves the only way to overcome the content (the donut scene/the door scene).  Not unlike TRAVELING LIGHT really--just a different method of dealing with the problem. 

The third section felt very different to me this time--I totally lost a sense of structure.  I almost need to watch the thing again to really see why but I wonder if somehow being outside the space did it. I was legitimately surprised when the number 4 came up.  Perhaps though, it's because Elizabeth takes such control of the section...  Which, is a good way to transition to the Melissa/Electric Guy stuff.  It still made me think the most and while I mostly liked it all a lot more than I have in the past, I was equally, if not more, bothered by it.  Just gonna put down a bunch of contradictory thoughts and let you do with them what you will.

In a lot of ways, the moments with Melissa are  the movie's first (and maybe only) intimate moments--a combination of "performance?" and the distance between camera and screen. But, unlike the rest of the movie, those moments are without complicity or, the complicity is at least unknown. The only known is that you are the one in control.  You have the camera and control the images we see but you are also dictating all parts of the conversation and everything audio, visual, etc..   The parts where you make her image smaller and then sing a song to her instead of playing the actual song are both pretty perverse.  And, actually, kind of creepy, especially coming on the heels of a section where a woman takes control of the frame and directly preceding a scene where a worker (the Electric guy) is being filmed without his knowledge.   Melissa might be a voiceless image, but he is a disembodied voice and I go back and forth about issues of exploitation.  On one hand, the movie is a document of its own failure and when this scene comes up it reads as "we can't make a movie, so we'll just (secretly) film the poor guy doing the crappy job and let him make a point about movie-making."  On the flipside, of course, bougie kids on computers don't really have any experience while dude who spent day working does, is a valid point to make.   In any case, lots going on that is worth thinking about and that I'll probably continue to think about.

Other big for me this time was the silence.  Gave the piece a more internal rhythm, less forced, but also highlighted the theatrical nature of the thing.  I loved being able to sit with the simplicity of things like the sound of Thomas' cereal bowl.  It also made the inclusion of music seem more specific.

And, generally, Adorno:

"With the same justice, it can be asked  whom music for  entertainment still entertains.  Rather it seems to complement the reduction of people to silence, the dying out of speech as expression, the inability to communicate  people molded by anxiety, work, and undemanding docility.  Everywhere it takes over unnoticed, the deadly sad role that fell to it in the time  and the specific situation of the silent films. It is perceived purely as background.  If nobody    can any longer speak , then certainly nobody can any longer listen."

Laundry list of other tidbits:

- changing relationship of bodies in space, space in bodies, bodies and space, space and bodies, and space in space

- paintings.  like i said in postcard i sent with DVDs, El Greco and colors and light and sources of light.

- the avant-garde can be fun? maybe you'll be the next Owen Land.

- lots of things related to my project but this is another email or conversation”

—email from GT to DP, 9/12/12


"Thanks for thoughts: much appreciated, precision in particular. Does the intrusion of the screens into widescreen in part IV have any impact? Wonder if that's lost in free-form text at start.

Anyway, confirms my hope that text would change entire piece to make it somehow both more precise record (opposed to vagaries of prose) and abstract movement in which element exists in larger framework...

Kind of fascinated by what you say about part IV, because I can see it precisely, but it's the exact opposite of my own perspective on what's going on there: for me, both MG and the Con-Ed guy have forces of presence strong enough to overwhelm whatever perverse formal subjugations they have to undergo, and I really meant that section as a tribute to both of them—in a way, my manipulating Elizabeth's image to a series of dancing pixels feels substantially more fetishistic and perverse to me, though of course the emphasis is on her taking over the film (in the most structuralist segment) before the return to a virtual reality that makes photograms of us all. More to the point, both MG and the Coned guy are enacting public rituals—and wouldn't thrusting the camera in the Coned guy's face be somehow worse? And wasn't half of your next film done unawares? For me, however they're manipulated by sound and image, they're also left as beings apart from the sound/image, existing in a reality of their own to which our access is extremely faulty: which is the real subject at hand. Don't see the guy doing a crappy job at all, but a damn near noble one: one he's dedicated to in quixotically traveling door to door to fight one small clause in evil of a giant corporation... The next shot is the transcendental moment of Thomas rewriting the movie with light, but there's a material basis to where that energy comes from...

Anyway sounds like it's finally working, even with its problems. Let's see what happens..."

—email from DP to GT, 9/12/12





 "No clue how I'll edit it, and risk falling into trap of same hybrid film everyone in Europe is making these days, cheeky, didactic, self-reflexive etc. Would be easy enough to make a Gomes film but not the path I want to take. Will be job to pit those things up against modern habits generally, I guess. Original plan to edit sequentially was probably shot from moment I showed up 3 hours late. And no throughline to connect parts except in alternating with narrative, something Rouch etc did a lot better than I could a long time ago. But then, no real throughline to most days either. Possibly the spotlight to bring it all together. Video footage, at least, is spectacular for better or worse, and will post a bunch of clips over next few days. As an installation/exhibition, this would be a synch [sic]. And maybe self-contained films are more and more a romantic fallacy. But I think every type of movie I'm interested in is featured somewhere in there if this comes out, and will be a bit of a self-examination to see how I can put them in dialogue. Very excited, and again, probably thanks to you that this has happened at all."

—email from DP to GT, 8/19/11















All stills from On Spec with the exception of the following:

Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy, 1933)

Germinal (Capellani, 1913)

Summer Stock (Walters, 1950)

Process Red (Frampton, 1966)

L'amour fou (Rivette, 1969)

Resident Evil: Retribution (Anderson, 2012)

Borinage (Ivens, 1933)

Hippopotamus Hunt (Rouch, 1950)

Cattle Queen of Montana (Dwan, 1954)

Fascinating critical format for this sort of film. Nice work guys!

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