He pulls off such a sturdy performance in Foxcatcher that it seems unfair to compare Steve Carrell's role as John Eleuthère du Pont (ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist) to his character in The Office, Michael Gary Scott. But thoughts of the hapless manager of Dunder Mifflin's Scranton branch kept ghosting up while watching Bennett Miller's new film. The connection was cemented by one quote from Foxcatcher Wrestler Dan Mayo, interviewed on TV just after du Pont surrendered to police in 1996. "He was strange in some ways," says Mayo, "but he had such a good heart and he meant well, that you dealt with his different ways of dealing with things." Such a line feels like it could have easily come out of a talking head describing Michael Scott on The Office.

Both men fancy themselves leaders of men, use the rhetoric of inspiration, but are not themselves inspirational. They have nothing practical to impart, and ultimately feed off the effort and success of others and congratulate themselves by association. They clank around in the armor of platitudes, and one wonders what kind of spindley frailty is inside. The inner person found in The Office is ultimately endearing and redemptive; the occupant found in Foxcatcher is... Well, you'll have to see the movie.

Of course du Pont was a real man, and it's impossible to know the definitive guts of a human. But we know the outside, and can guess some at the inside. The du Ponts were old money, American royalty - "A Dynasty of Wealth and Power" - who made their fortune with gunpowder and kept the wealth in one place by arranging marriages between cousins. John du Pont was an heir to that wealth and power. His greatest achievement in life - other than penning a few bird books - was being born into that family.

He knows what achievement looks and sounds like, but no idea how to build it from the ground up. This is baldly obvious when du Pont takes on a gold medal-winning wrestler, Mark Schultz. A moving meat machine - played quietly by Channing Tatum - du Pont has no idea how to pilot Schultz. It's Mark's brother David - played so wonderfully and kindly by Mark Ruffalo - who has the learned, caring sensitivity to guide and inform him. Du Pont's attempts are so clueless but performed with such confidence that he can - like Michael Scott - pass as absurd, harmless, and - in the face of better judgement - charming.

When asked at the Film Society of Lincoln Centre what attracted him to the material, writer and director Bennett Miller said "I thought it was funny. Seriously... It was funny, except the outcome was horrible."

And this is the ongoing tension in Foxcatcher, the pall that darkens the large absurdity of a character like John du Pont, and the world and reality he builds around him at Foxcatcher Farm. Whether or not he's unsound, du Pont certainly doesn't know what he's doing, only how to try and make it seem, with speeches, with uniforms, like he knows what he's doing. "What does he get out of this?" David asks as he finds out about this blooming mentorship. Not sure about it himself, Mark responds cluelessly, but confidently: "America. Winning."

In my review of the exceptional documentary The Overnighters, I touched on the idea of American exceptionalism, that belief that Americans are inherently blessed, are predisposed for success. Arguably, there are two types of exceptionalism: passive and active. Active exceptionalism is fueled by the belief that America is blessed, but acknowledges that work is still required, that greatness needs to be renewed constantly. But a person who is passively Exceptional needs only to exist to be great. Their exceptionalism is inherited, victory is certain. 

When a person like du Pont, a proponent of passive exceptionalism, is forced to live in a reality that doesn't care about that inheritance, things won't end well. Foxcatcher, like The Overnighters - and like, excuse me, The Office - dwells on the broken promise of achievement that a person thinks was made to them. The chanting of "USA! USA! USA!" that closes Foxcatcher feels as damning as it does celebratory.


The opening shots of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining are majestic and haunting. The camera soars over water and mountain, finding a vein running through that wilderness, spotting a measly yellow VW Bug struggling along that road. A synthed-out Dies Irae ("Day of Wrath") plays and we know, without yet knowing anything, that something terrible will happen to whomever's in that poor Bug. It's a credit sequence, so we don't really question the shot. Most films open with establishing shots that locate their subject and telescope in. This soundtrack and swoop, though, suggest that this is a malevolent POV (point of view). The camera behaves like a bird of prey stalking Jack Torrence, finally taking him as he enters the Overlook hotel.

Of course The Shining has little-to-nothing to do with Birdman. I've just seen Alejandro González Iñárritu's ceaseless stunner the once, and get the feeling that it'll take another few viewings to suitably unpack the thing, bulging as it is with ruminations on celebrity, art, fulfillment, the self, reality. At its core is Riggan Thomson, an actor who made his nut as a superhero before anyone cared about superhero movies. Riggan's washed up and attempting to get people to see him freshly with a stage adaptation of the canonical Raymond Carver story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." At the forefront of Riggan's mind now is his reputation, how he's seen. He may have superpowers and he definitely communicates with his albatross, Birdman.

There are no cuts in Birdman. A shot in a contemporary movie will last a few seconds, and there are thousands of them. Done well, you don't really notice the cuts, they accrue to form a spacial, detailed reality. A shot in Birdman is all of Birdman. Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark is the only film I can think of that is truly done in a single shot film, because of course Birdman's continuity is cheated, à la Rope, though pretty seamlessly. In a century of film, the idea of the cut, the assemblage of reality, has become subliminal. We forget that we're not passively seeing something so much as we're being actively shown something. The frequency of cuts in movies today tells us just how far film has gotten from live theatre.

What cutting also lets us do is be in the moment, but not necessarily of it. However, with a single sustained shot, as with live theatre, we're sort of trapped. One of the reason that I'm having such a problem articulating my reactions to Birdman is there aren't really any moments of pause. It's a difficult film to take notes during. Like live theatre, it doesn't stop moving until it's over. And while early films were often just a wide shot of what's effectively theatre, Birdman is full of close-ups. The actors stress the frame. They feel sometimes like their trapped in the consistent shot. It's live theatre. They can't leave.

There's a duality to live theatre that film doesn't have. With film, you're watching a record that's been severely monkeyed with. These performances happened, a guy cried or a car flipped, but any initial reality ends up being mostly chopped out and reassembled into an experiential fiction. But with live theatre, you're watching something fake and something real all at once. The pretend moment and the actual moment rest on top of one another. Keeping one fluid shot, Birdman - a film very interested in the relationship between performance are reality, character and person - maintains that special tension of the live performance better than anything I've ever seen. It's not really live performance, but it has something of its essence.

Another effect of the cut - the cut to scene coverage, or the cut to an object - is it implies a visual ubiquity. The camera becomes an omniscient 3rd person narrator. But with no cuts, the camera becomes a fixed point of observation. An individual view. The only time we ever really see this POV used in movies is in horror movies, when the omniscient camera briefly enters the killer's view, usually hiding in the bushes. This becomes unsettling because the viewer is now seeing the action from a specific vantage, from a specific character. And if we don't know who's doing the seeing, it's all the more disturbing.

And so it begs the question: who's doing the seeing in Birdman? The camera roams freely through the backstage of the theatre, glommed on to the characters. I want to say it was Roland Barthes that stressed we, as readers, always have to ask who's narrating. In film, the camera is the closest thing there is to a narrator, and so the question becomes ever more pressing as the film goes on. To whom or to what does this single view belong to?

I thought back to that opening helicopter shot in The Shining. How that shot is/has a personality. Of course that shot, that POV, is The Shining. It's the story itself that hunts down and scoops up the characters. A point detractors make about The Shining is that Jack Nicholson is too broad, that there's no descent into madness. But what transition do we need? As soon as the POV gets a bead on the Bug, Jack is trapped in the narrative just as he and his family will become trapped in the Overlook. He becomes an actor forced to play out the same scenario over and over. But the POV is also us, the audience. We trap the family. We wouldn't be watching the movie if we thought it was about a struggling writer who takes his wife and son to hotel for the winter and gets all his work done and has a fun time in the hedge maze. We maybe don't want to see him hack up his family, but we sure came to see him try his best.

 I said before that, with the single camera so close, the characters in Birdman seem trapped. And indeed they are. They're trapped like the Torrence's are. They're trapped in the machinations of a fiction. They're trapped like the titular bit players in Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, they're trapped like "the shadows" of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The characters are trapped in their roles, as the characters are trapped on the stage. As it's we, the audience - gawking at them from our single POV - that cages them, until they've gone through the meat grinder of human drama we came to see. After it's done, after we've left, who knows where they go.


He spent his last nights on the roof of the house he was losing, drinking and looking at the Santiago Canyon Fire. The smoke was some muscular, see through chest of buff and jonquil with this beating tangelo heart inside. Was the fire more or less beautiful when he considered everything it was destroying, everyone it was displacing? He’d come down off the roof and there those people would be on the news, their befuddled zombie staggering, saying “We’ve lost everything.” The next night he’d clamber back up and decide that beautiful is beautiful, even if the beautiful thing was taking fucking everything from fucking everybody. 

On his final day in Orange County, he phoned in an anonymous tip ratting himself out for the fire—just to see if anyone would come find him. He went to Arizona, moved in with his step-brother Chad and his family. They had a place in the Catalina Mountains that was a perfect size for just them. A month in, Chad’s five-year-old Grayson told him he hated him and wished he’d never moved in.

“I hate you, too,” he told the kid, then gave him a shove. The kid went over without resistance and he was fine. Not a scratch on him.


She was a terrible speller, so why should she have improved for her note? She had hanged her decision on overwhelming loveliness but we were all sure she’d meant loneliness. Kayla had been overwhelmingly lonely. Too, we’re guessing didn’t feel lust in life as much as she did lost in life. She wasn’t incorrect, exactly, just sloppy. Kayla was one of those people who hid her terrible spelling with even worse cursive. 

“I feel like we should maybe correct this, maybe type it up,” one of us suggested, holding up her note. “Other people and her parents are going to read it.”

“Kayla was probably in a hurry, or not thinking clearly,” another one of us submitted. “I’m sure if she’d had the time or wherewithal she would have put this stuff down right.”

“But she never cared about getting it right before,” I said, snatching the note away, accidentally ripping it a bit. “Why would she care about it now? I feel like she didn’t care because she always trusted she’d be understood.”

In the end we agreed that one of us should be over the shoulders of Kayla’s parents or the other people when they read the note, just in case they needed clarification. Just so we could tap at her terrible handwriting and say something like, “I don’t think she actually means love here.”


Within the first week a coyote made off with Devito, the family pug. The next week, a deer hopped the fence and drowned in the pool. The twins had come home from school and found it. They poked at it with the skimmer before deciding to just play dumb when their dad made the discovery. The deer stayed there two days. The twins suspected their dad was waiting for them to declare it. 

The twins didn’t like Arizona, hated Sierra Vista. They got nosebleeds and heard the heat gave you dick stones. 

Bored one weekend, they borrowed the car and grabbed a bat for mailbox baseball. But there were no mailboxes in the neighbourhood. The mail went to these many-slotted monoliths at the end of the block. So they settled for dragging the bat out the window for the sparks.

Sometimes they hated the desert more than they missed their mom and brother.

Two months in, there was a story on the news about a hunk of charred rocket ship garbage falling out of orbit and landing on a ranch nearby. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it had. The twins rode their dirt bikes out to look but didn’t get past the string-thin cattle fence, scared it was electrified as well as barbed. They spent forever daring each other to crawl under.


Before the baby there were things to learn, shit to get deft at and master.

"Buying stuff is not the same as doing stuff or learning stuff," the girl he loved who he'd babied-up said. "Remember."

At the guitar shop he demurred over banjos, figuring furrowed indecision would pass for knowledge. In the end, he bought the third most expensive. "I'd get the Gibson," he assured the clerk, "but there's a baby on the way."

At home he put a finger pick on each finger, made cat claws.

"I think that's too many picks," the girl with the baby in her said.

"We'll see," he said, as he tried to figure out what was wrong with the internet so he could get on and prove her wrong.

Over the months, he ruined two good pots trying to make chocolate, cut off the tip of his finger buzzing wood for the crib, and his left arm still smarted sometimes from the shock he got putting another light in the nursery.

After the baby came out of the girl's body, he didn't like holding it. Not for lack of love or want, but a certainty that he would drop and kill the thing.


Cowboy Buck wiped icing onto his socks as inconspicuously as he could. The RSVP’d kids had gone to a hockey game instead, but Buck had been paid for the full afternoon and the horse trailer wouldn’t be back until four. The birthday boy’s dad and Buck talked housing prices and factory closures and ate birthday cake in the living room while the kid sulked in the den and while the cat watched Buck’s horse Buttermilk stand and blink in the backyard.

The cat joined the men in the foyer, but the kid didn’t come when called to come say goodbye to Buck. “Tell him to hang in there for me,” Buck told the dad. “Nine more years and he can get drunk about it.”

A squeaking noise came out of the cat. And then another, raspier report. The cat tried to back away from what it was choking on but Buck corralled it. With one hand he forced its mouth open and with the other pinched down into its throat. Out came a wet elastic from an unused birthday hat. 

“Here,” Buck said, handing the elastic over to the dad like it belonged to him.


Welcome to the new site, whoever you are. To save me the trouble of hauling all my old crap into this new home, why don't you root around in the garbage I filled up my previous space with:  http://andrew-n-hood.blogspot.ca/ 

As I sober up and grow bored, I'm sure I'll to blabber in this space.