6 Movies I Find Unrelatable Because They’re Dick Flicks

  1. The Godfather: Note how this film is calledThe Godfather and notThe Godmother. Dick flick. This is about the complex relationship between fathers and sons, starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in an epic display of toxic masculinity. There’s violence and murders and mobsters and, given that I am clearly a chick with boobs and lipstick and blood that comes out of my vagina on a semi-regular monthly basis, I don’t understand why anybody would think I’d be interested in this movie.
  2. Citizen Kane: When I first heard the title, I thought, maybe this will be relatable, as I too am a citizen. But when I saw it starred Orson Welles, I was like, uggh, this is definitely going to be a dick flick. Of course I was right, as it is about the rise and fall of a newspaper magnate in the early 20th century. Now perhaps if this film were about a smart, young woman landing a job as the assistant to the demanding editor-in-chief of a high fashion magazine (wait, that’s The Devil Wears Prada…)
  3. 12 Angry Men: Pretty sure the name of the film is self-explanatory. I already have enough angry men in my life.
  4. Lincoln: Anyone who recommends this Spielberg film to me is an idiot. Presidential biopics are the ultimate dick flicks. In America, presidents are men. I mean, what would we do if we had a female president? She’d probably spend 24/7 on her Twitter bitching about everyone who doesn’t agree with her and lauding herself for passing a single shitty piece of legislation.
  5. Saving Private Ryan: This movie is about soldiers during World War II. Several brothers die in combat. Some other soldier dudes want to save the last brother. Every time I try to count the dicks in the movie, I lose track because it’s like, there’s a dick. There’s another dick. Hey, another dick! I know in today’s modern PC culture, I’m supposed to find every story universal, but the truth is, I just can’t connect to films that don’t feature love, romance, and a frivolous, cutesy ending that makes you want to go “Awww.” Ooh, has anyone seen A Christmas Prince?
  6. Whatever Wins the Next Academy Award for Best Picture: It’s been about 15 years since a film with a majority female cast has won an Academy Award for Best Picture (and though I loved Chicago, it’s pretty weird that it beat dick flicks like Polanski’sThe Pianistand Scorsese’s Gangs of New York — certainly collusion). So even thoughLady Bird has a near perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, my clairvoyant, manic pixie dream girl uterus suggests to me that it won’t be nominated Oscar.  Let’s be honest — it’s going to beWind River, a celebration of The Weinstein Company’s last hurrah.
  • Michelle Meyers is a writer based out of Los Angeles. She’s not afraid to make creepy jokes in front of strangers at parties
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Meeting Gumby’s Dad

By Eric Levy |

As a child, my favorite show was The Gumby Show. I related to Gumby’s love for knowledge, hopping in and out of educational books. My dream was to meet Gumby’s creator Art Clokey. It took me 30 years to see my dream come true.

I read an article about Clokey’s new claymation feature, The Gumby Movie. Now I had my reason to meet with him. I would write an article about the movie. After hours on the internet, I found Art Clokey’s phone number. I called him and, to my surprise, he answered the phone. We spoke for an hour and he invited me to his home in San Rafael.  

It was 1995. I flew to San Francisco and Clokey met me at the airport. He drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to a nondescript neighborhood.

Clokey, a young looking 77-year-old at the time, looked like the guy next door. Inside the house, I followed Clokey to the living room. Hanging on the wall was a 4 x 3 inch black man with a large afro. I asked Clokey who he was.

“He’s the messiah,” Clokey said. “Sathya Sai Baba.”

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He told me that he and his wife Gloria met the messiah in India in the late 1970s. “I held out a Gumby doll and he blessed it with a wave of his hand. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, ash began to appear from his fingers. It was sacred ash, and it was placed on Gumby. After that, things began to change for the better both for me and Gumby. When I returned to the U.S., the Gumby revival began.”

“Do you mind if I smoke?” Clokey asked.

I assumed he meant a cigarette, but instead, he began rolling a joint. He took a few tokes and offered me to join him. I gladly accepted and asked him if he was stoned while working on Gumby episodes.

“No, never.”

“Never?”

“No, never. But I experimented with LSD, mescaline, peyote, and hashish. It was after the first TV series in 1966 when a psychologist introduced me to the field of expanded consciousness through the use of hallucinogens. He said I could expand my awareness and become a better director. You have to be aware of your feelings to be a good director. But I’m telling you, I swear, I never made any Gumby episodes while under the influence. Well, there was one time when I tried smoking pot while making a Gumby episode. It didn’t work out. Looking at the footage, I saw I inadvertently got my elbow in the frame.”

Clokey told me that he spent the 1970s in the hippie community of Topanga Canyon, California. He went through a painful divorce with his first wife, who had worked with him on Gumby episodes. During the Topanga years, he experienced a tragedy when his 19-year-old daughter died in a car accident. During the proceeding decade, not a piece of clay touched Clokey’s fingers. He wanted to make more Gumby adventures, but he didn’t have the money to do so. Instead, he lived mostly off of Gumby syndication royalties.

His time at Topanga provided a new beginning for Clokey. That’s where he met his second wife, Gloria. She was a bio-energetic therapist at a clothing-optional Personal Growth Center. Her work involved the analysis of people’s personality types by examining their bodies.

“Hey, why am I telling you this part of the story,” Clokey said. “I just heard Gloria come in. She can tell it to you better than I can.”

He led me to the kitchen where Gloria was unpacking groceries she had purchased from a nearby health food store.

Clokey put his arm around me and announced, “Gloria, this is Eric..ah…sorry, what’s your last name?”

“Levy.”

“Yes, yes. Eric Levy. We had a really interesting discussion on the phone. I invited him over for the weekend.”

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Gloria extended her hand to greet me. It was a firm handshake. “A pleasure to meet you, Eric.”

The three of us sat around the kitchen table. “Do you like wheatgrass?” Clokey asked.

“I never tried it.”

“Oh, it’s great. Very nutritional.”

Gloria placed three shot glasses before us and poured the green liquid into them.

“I’ll go first,” Gloria said. She and Art downed it in a matter of seconds. “Your turn,” Art said.

With trepidation, I slowly poured it into my mouth. Damn. It tasted like turpentine.

“So? What do you think?” Gloria asked. I didn’t answer right away and she added, “It’s strong. It takes getting used to.”

“It’s so healthy. I’m sure you’ll find it at some health food store that sells it in New York.”

“I’ll check it out. Thank you.”

“Gloria, I was just beginning to tell Eric how we met. You can tell the story better than I can.”

“You’re the story master, Art.”

“But you can express it better than I can. You’re on stage.”

Gloria smiled and told me that when they first met “we didn’t hit it off. But then we saw each other again at a social gathering where no one had any clothes on, including us. I read his body and he looked unified.”

Following some other Art and Gloria stories, he asked if I wanted to see where he and his team created Gumby episodes.

I stood up with excitement. Clokey picked up on it, and commented, “I knew that would peak your interest.”

We drove a short way to a former high school building. “This is it, where I shot Gumby films in the nineteen eighties.”

That’s also the location, he told me, where Gumby: The Movie was shot earlier this year.  

As we walked to the entrance of the school building, Clokey unlocked the front door and informed me that the animators who worked on the Gumby episodes responded to a classified ad placed in newspapers across the country.

There wasn’t anything to see inside. He took me to the classrooms with ancient-looking wooden desks and blackboards that had seen better days. We squeezed into student-sized seats and I asked Clokey about how the Gumby episodes were created.

“Two words. Trimentional animation. It uses shadow, color and movement to induce sensations of the autonomic nervous system.”

He surprised me when he said that Gumby was also responsible for, among other things, sexual arousal of its viewers. That explains why I had the hots for Gumby’s girlfriend Tara! Thinking about it, she’s not a bad slab of clay.

Gumby and his pals, Clokey went on to explain, are made from plasticine, a dry powder mixed with oil that lasts forever.

Our next stop was at a small outdoor mall. We stopped in front of a door without any sign above it. I gasped upon entering. It was a Gumby museum. “This is the original Gumby,” he said, pointing to the Green Guy  who was inside a glass display case. Wow.

After introducing me to Gumby’s friends—Pokey, Prickle, and Goo; his nemeses the Blockheads; his parents Gumbo and Gumba; Minga, his little sister; Professor Kapp, the scientist; Denali,  his Mastodon pal; Groobe, the helpful bee; and his dog Nopey.

Clokey told me he was going shopping at a food bank and left me alone in a small screening room. He turned on the projector and there it was—a preview of the Gumby Movie.

It begins with a wide shot of the universe enhanced with Star Wars-type music. It then proceeds to show a snippet of a 1960s Gumby episode displayed on a TV, located on the moon, along with that really cool Gumby song. A blue clay guy is watching the Gumby episode while munching on some popcorn.  The camera tilts above the moon and a green plasticine monolith appearing among the stars. An electric charge runs through it, splitting into two pieces—one green and the other orange. The rectangular slabs race through the universe with the Earth as its destination. The slabs end up in Gumbyland, racing into a Gumby store. The orange slab lands in a Gumbasia Clay Set, and turns into Pokey. The green slab continues to a mysterious location. Pokey searches for the slab without any luck. Unbeknownst to him, it had  metamorphosed into his friend Gumby.

The little green guy, as he had in the original series, enters the pages of books and when he departs, he brings historical figures with him. It’s Clokey’s wink to us Baby Boomers who grew up with him. Gumby then enters the book “Exotic Dancers of the East,” but for that one, he rushes out without any scantily clad dancers accompanying him.

The film then gets tiresome when we’re introduced to Gumby’s rock band, the Clayboys. We watch as they perform at a benefit concert to save local farms.

That’s when Clokey returned.

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He saw that the film had ended and he asked, “You know what the message is?”

“Being a responsible person and the importance of education?”

“Well, yea. That’s true. But the major theme as I view it is, “the world needs Gumby.”

“Well, I certainly it does. That’s why I contacted you.”

“Hey, Eric, you like Indian food?”

Happens to be I did, and we drove a mile down the main road to this second-rate restaurant. He ordered a vegetarian dish and I had chicken tikka masala.

At the conclusion of the meal, instead of leaving the waitress a tip, he gives her a tiny rubber Gumby. She looks confused.

“You know who that is?” Clokey asked.

“Ah..no.”

“People never fail to surprise me,” Clokey commented. She doesn’t know who Gumby is? Isn’t he a 1960s icon?

“Well, you can call him Gumby,” he told the waitress, handing it to her along with some cash. “Keep him. You can have it.”

“Well, thanks. Thanks a lot, sir.”

Clokey drove me to the airport at the conclusion of my weekend visit. Ten years later, he died, but his plasticine creations will live on forever.

 

A Review of ‘Mudbound’

Upon its opening, Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” draws you in with period piece elements. There is a sense of underlying ominousness — albeit undefined — as we are introduced to the home front of the American South before and during World War II. Similar to Terrence Malick, Rees introduces her ensemble with voiceovers (which continue throughout the picture) that give articulation to the inner thoughts of the charactersin the same wandering, introspective way in which our thoughts are produced and relayed.

Weaved by race, war and economy — this story is one of many moving parts. Opening with a brothers burial for Pappy McAllan, the film jumps back to Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke, “Zero Dark Thirty”), a businessman from Memphis, who marries Laura (Carey Mulligan, “Drive,” “The Great Gatsby”) and decides to buy farmland and a house in Mississippi. The seller has swindled him on the deal, and the family — having sold and spent everything on the move — must live on the farm alongside Henry’s elderly, racially-prejudiced father. On the land lives the family of Hap (Rob Morgan, “Stranger Things”) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige, in a breakout, Oscar-nominated performance) and their children of various ages. While they are indeed renters, remaining racial prejudices make it seem like they are not welcome. The family constantly has to deal with requests from Henry (Hap for workand Florence for child care) and general mistreatment from Henry McAllan’s father. Hap knows the farmland through and through, however (much more than the city-familiar Henry), and proves crucial to the daily operations of the McAllan property.

Henry has a younger brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund, “Inside Llewyn Davis”) who leaves the U.S. to be a fighter pilot in World War II. The Jackon’s eldest, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell, “Straight Outta Compton”), is in the war, too — receiving a high honor for helping his fellow troops. While overseas, Ronsel falls in love with a native while in Europe and never quite forgets her upon returning home.

The story follows occurences on the farm while the two men are at war, the characters’ respective wartime experiences, and the aftermath of them returning — the bond they form, and the consequences of their presence.

Thus, the plot and its possible complications are set. Race, post-traumatic stress, intimacy, history, economic mobility and more themes of everyday life loom large in this film. What makes Mudbound special is how it’s able to drive home these themes, elicit emotion and make broad societal points all while not feeling forced. And it provides a good story, too.

Voiceovers workas an insightful tool to help us understand the characters and guide the plot. And while the film covered many years, the yearnings of the characters and their motivations seem to stitch together timelines — so the viewer never gets lost in the details. The digital cinematography, driven by the work of Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison (“Dope,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Black Panther,” and now the first woman ever to be Oscar-nominated for Cinematography), shows the lights, breezes and mud of the Mudbound world — translating physical and emotional hardships of farming, war and societal tensions from ideas to a tactile, tangible on-screen presence.

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2017 Sundance Film Festival

Dee Rees’ narrative has a powerful, moving, sad and tear-jerking climax, one set up by the previous two hours of artistic cinematography, plodding character development and weaved timelines. Dee Rees presents a circumspect inspection of these characters throughout the film, and they march into the film’s end fully formed and with agency, thus making the ending authentically weighted and powerful.

The viewer will surely react viscerally to what transpires, but that is the intention. These characters are a product of the time they live in and in many ways the times that came before them. The ending shows us that our past, and thus present, can never be perfect.

But when we focus on life and unifying things — such as the next generation, the bonds between characters because of life experience — society can begin to slowly trudge out of the mud.

A Review of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

In a world of cosmic indifference, many of us ponder the purpose of being decent. Many of us may wonder why we need to forgive — both ourselves and others — in order to move forward in a world that does not seem to care about right and wrong.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would argue that while the human condition and random chance guarantee unfortunate events, a capability for forgiveness is nevertheless necessary in order to deal with personal and worldly hardship.

The film, written and directed by Martin McDonagh (“Seven Psychopaths”), sees Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) agitating to get the police department of Ebbing, Missouri to pay more attention to the case of her murdered daughter, which has been lingering with no word for seven months. To make her point, she purchases ad space on three abandoned billboards on a rarely traveled road near her home, and has a single sentence printed on each with bold black lettering popping out on top of a red background.

Rather than a conventional murder mystery, the town’s reaction to Mildred’s actions and the development of the characters that dwell in Ebbing dictates the story that follows. Through the supporting cast, the likes of which include Woody Harrelson (“True Detective”) and Sam Rockwell (“Moon”), the film examines the human condition by taking conventional character tropes (the local police chief; the bad, disgruntled cop; and more) and adding layers of complexity on them that challenge our preconceptions.

McDonagh was inspired to write the film after seeing billboards about an unsolved crime in the Georgia-Florida-Alabama corner.

We learn, through this examination, that every human — no matter how typical or exceptional — is capable of both good and bad. And because of this simultaneous, unchangeable duality, everyone deserves a chance; barring atrocities, of course. Three Billboards shows its characters, some who are more likable than others, doing both good and bad things. We are left to be the judge, but by the film removing any sense or source of absolute moral authority, we realize that flaws are what make us human, and thus, capable and deserving of love.

While this thesis is certainly heavy, the film tackles this in a very understated way. A mix of seriousness, humor and irony, the film demonstrates rather than explicates. In other words, it is a full use of the motion picture medium par excellence. We are simply left to digest the actions as they unfold on screen.

The moving story (and the score), driven by the performance of Frances McDormand,  are the most outwardly emotional elements of the picture. The cinematography, on the other hand, is softer, and quietly achieves the film’s thesis through visual language. Reminiscent of “The Sopranos,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Fargo,” the shots — elegant captures of the mundane details of Ebbing and its characters — convey emotions just as powerfully as the rest of the film’s other elements.

Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes

In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, resolutions are not the answer; redemption is. This unconventional stance type may leave some viewers dissatisfied if they are expecting many of the film’s larger plot questions to be answered. In a sense, however, the resolution is that many things in life rarely go fully resolved. But the emotional effect of what happens in our lives lingers, and that surely affects us. That is what the film cares about — how we process things, how we look inward and outward to forgive, and how we deal and move forward.

YouTube, Where Are We Now?

As a creative writing major I have the complete support of my family in my life choices. Yet, on rare occasions they do give advice about my trajectory. It usually follows the same path: English majors end up teachers or poorly paid copy editors for the local Bugle are never able to support themselves with writing alone. They assert, surprisingly, the Rowlings of the world are rare; and since Oprah’s show is no longer around, her graceful gaze will never sell my books.

One article a family member sent recently had much of the same content.

It described a man who received a letter from a graduate school in philosophy saying that unless he absolutely had to, he should not become a philosopher. He disregarded the letter anyway and ended up a philosopher and later changed from that to become a writer. Although he was an accomplished author — with 20 books and a play to his name — he could not afford his kids’ Christmas presents with what he made from writing. He then goes on to say that he made his money off being a professor, and he didn’t know anyone who made their living off writing and writing alone.

Now, that’s the message my supportive and loving kin wanted me to hear. Leading me to think they did not read the last part of the article, which ends with, “So if you’re thinking of becoming a writer, don’t do it unless you honestly can’t imagine a life where you aren’t doing it.”

The author of that last note was none other than my own writing professor, Paul Buchanan, which my family member probably hoped would hit me enough to reconsider writing. Yet, at the end, the harsh truth of that statement is what hit me.

In the end I agree with everything in all the articles sent to me. There are hundreds of young writers just like me and who write at the same level. Sure, I may have a unique voice that comes through in the cadence of the words I choose. So do popstars, yet most of their stuff follows the same chord progressions and lyrical formulas and ends up all being the same. In the end, I thought about looking into other things.

So, around the end of 2016, I made the decision many college students before me had made. I decided I needed to make money. A lot of money. At the time, you see, I was not making a lot of money. I was working as a caterer, and although it was helping pay my room and board, I wasn’t satisfied with my meager income. I had no real need of a larger income. I simply wanted it for the usual things like video games, a car and food with more than thin noodles and sodium.

I didn’t want harder work than I already had, but few things are harder than catering to people who believe your name is either “waiter” or “late;” so this criterion did not eliminate much. The other thing was that I had to make a lot of money. This actually did eliminate many options. As I am an undergraduate writing major, jobs at places that even pay are not made easily available to me.

So, quite quickly, I was left with only a few options, all of them creative. Without boring you with my laborious process of elimination — see: paid the most — I ended up deciding my best bet was to make YouTube videos. Thinking that if I made a good channel with popular content, the ad revenue would put a lot of money in my pocket.

Around the world, people watch about one billion hours of video on YouTube per day

Starting off with what I saw the most common videos to be (video game “Let’s Plays”), I downloaded some popular games, got myself a microphone nicer then the webcam recorder I had and got to work. Fashioning myself as IStayFrosti, the zany, funny commentator who was slightly above average at video games and had a propensity to wear driver’s caps on screen, I took the stage by storm and started uploading two to three videos a week until January 2017.  

By that time I had amassed a total subscriber count of 97 on my channel and on average 60 views for my videos. To make myself feel better, I often remind myself that my freshman seminar class was roughly the same size. The point was that I didn’t make any money. In fact, I lost money by buying the microphone, games, driver’s caps, etc.

I had failed pretty spectacularly, and in the end my view count was so low YouTube’s —technically Google’s — ad system, AdSense, didn’t pay out a penny.

YouTube seemed to have been a source of easy money. I gleaned this in light of its more famous stars, like the Paul brothers, PewDiePie, and Markiplier. All of whom I would admit are talented but nothing special. For the most part someone like PewDiePie, the most subscribed channel on YouTube, didn’t even seem to have much higher production value than I did. I am fine with the idea he was making incredible amounts of money doing the same thing. He had been doing it much longer, after all. But I wasn’t ok with making nothing.

However, none of this stopped me from living a meager college existence through the spring and summer of 2017. Towards the end of summer I got an upgraded computer and figured it may be time to dust off my caps. This time I wanted to make sure I was going in with a money-making plan.

Luckily, I was given an excuse to pursue the knowledge I needed. A class of mine, a writing class, was centered around finding a field, hobby, or world you were willing to look into and become involved in. So, deciding to make my subject YouTube, I decided the best thing to do was to go out and interview a successful YouTuber.

After a little time thinking who would be the best person to interview, I realized I had no way of accessing most of them. Of my top choices, only one lives in the States, and he is in New York.

Then an angel came to me in the form of an incredibly pointless discussion on the Star Wars universe. After mulling over the fact that the seventh movie is simply a copy of the fourth, a friend decided to change the subject by showing us a video. The video was entitled “Drone Star Wars,” and the content was true to that. The video was made by a channel called Corridor Digital. After leaving my friends for the night, I spent quite a bit of time on my phone, looking up the channel. I realized I had actually watched videos from them a long time ago when the channel first started. The next day I went back to the friend who showed me the video, Calen Coates, and made him an offer.

The offer was simple. Calen would help me make a call-out video to Corridor Digital, a film studio about 30 minutes from my college campus. The premise was simple — well actually that’s not true at all. We made a pastiche of one of Corridor’s works called “There is No Time to Explain.” Corridor’s piece was about the inconsistency generally found in time travel movies or television shows, and how it’d be easier to not explain any of the rules regarding time travel. We made our piece, titled “A Humble Request,” about the issue of alternate universes. The plot revolved around two characters trying to get a message to Corridor Digital who were constantly thwarted by clones from other dimensions. Truly riveting stuff.

So there was an idea. I reserved a study room and borrowed an expo marker from an overworked librarian to clear us a creative space. After ten minutes of absurd ideas for certain clones and beats to the short film, we then spent another ten talking about how cool it would be to actually meet Corridor, finishing up with 30 minutes of coming together and creating an actual script.

We originally wanted it to be around five-to-seven minutes long but decided it would be best to keep it under three. This decision was made partially because we had a pretty rough deadline of getting this video out in two days — because Calen was starting a new job and school would pick up for both of us — but also because we knew if we sent something long, Corridor may not watch all of it.

After that we had to find someone to film the thing. We decided to film that same day because it was nearing golden hour, and we were both hyped like kids gifted a Lego set they could start building immediately. So we went back to our dorm and got Corry Williams, a film major who happened to be around, and gave him a camera.

If you were to watch it you would see Calen and me striding toward the camera, announcing our names. As I start to announce my intentions in the video, I am shot in the shoulder. The camera pans quickly to Calen and me, wearing ridiculous clothing. The video only escalates from there and was a joy to film. I do suggest that if you, for any reason, find yourself needing to scream loudly in public; bringing a camera along makes the whole thing pretty socially acceptable. Although you will still receive quite a few stares from passersby.

With the video complete, I bombarded Corridor Digital with links to the request everywhere I could think to put it. I followed five of their Twitter accounts, their Facebook, Instagram, and even one of their employees much smaller personal YouTube channels, all to send links. After that, I emailed their business email listed on their website. Finally I posted a link to their subreddit, asking the community to rally behind the video to make sure Corridor heard the request. Looking back, I realize I got overzealous. But for some reason in this digital age, a lot of people still do not check their emails.

A week went by… nothing. I checked every medium I sent them the link on and found no replies. I will say the Reddit post was doing well, and actually made it to the top of the subreddit. We got some very nice comments telling us how good the work was and how much support we had from the community. But that support didn’t carry us. At the end of the week, the post went to the second page of the subreddit and we were worried that Corridor would never see the work.

So, naturally, we made a whole new script for a second humble request. The working title, “Hear Us,” is still on my desktop as a folder, containing that rough script, some sound clips, and random adobe premiere assets. We didn’t have a time limit on this one, so we were going to go far bigger. However, I was checking my reddit the middle of that next week and saw a message from a user who in real life is one of Corridor’s co-founders. His name is Niko, and his message was, “Hey there, Niko here. I’m heading out of the studio for a week but when I’m back let’s see if we can figure out a time for you guys to visit.”

Calen and I read this together and were incredibly happy. I immediately replied. No return message for another two weeks. However, in that time, another person from Corridor, Nick, reached out. I replied. Again, no response. After a few days, I got an email from the business manager at Corridor, Christian, who said he’d love to get in touch. So, I replied again, and he replied! He said they were busy now but that they would set up a couple of phone calls so I could ask some of the employees what working there was like and how they got to where they are.

Before continuing with that, I should mention two other things that happened in the time I was reaching out to Corridor. One, after Christian replied, a fourth contact, Carmichael, reached out. What was interesting about his email, though, was that he started it out by saying sorry no one had reached out before him. A weird sentiment, considering he was actually the fourth. It made me think that the Corridor office either does not communicate well, or our video simply slid under all their radars.  He was like Niko and Nick, though, and never replied to my response. Second, I called Christian to ask a few questions. He answered the phone like one would if Pizza Hut called you back after you ordered.

“Um,” Christian started, “This is Christian?”

I say all this not to be mean. But, it was my first experience with a professional YouTuber. It was shocking to think that they had a business manager on staff. They were just a YouTube channel after all. I was still under the impression that the whole gig was easy money, and to think that they had an official office plan conflicted with the image in my head. Then, however, there was the awkward way of answering the phone. For whatever reason, that put me at ease. It made sense to me after all. Since that phone call, I have been informal in all my dealings with Corridor, and I still don’t know how to feel about that. I want to respect them as professional filmmakers, and in so many ways I do. But, I live in Los Angeles. I’ve seen corporate art studios and huge production companies. Warner Bros. doesn’t answer the phone, unsure of their company’s name. No, when intern Ilene answers that phone she is sure of herself, the company, and sounds like ambition incarnate.

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Warner Bros. Studio Facilities in Burbank, CA

While I waited for that call from Christian, I began learning about Corridor. They have a second channel, Sam and Niko, that uploads vlogs every other day. These vlogs are incredibly diverse in content. Some are behind the scenes of certain projects. Others are tutorials about how to do a specific effect in Adobe After Effects featured in one of their short films. My favorite vlog episodes show how the Corridor office looks and functions, most of the time showcasing oddities about the way they run their operation.

From this outside glance alone, I would sum up the Corridor office as follows: “Jank, but incredibly fun and effective.” Watching these videos I saw Corridor go through a number of avoidable crisis. However, I also saw them put out content consistently, without budging on quality. Not every short film was astounding to me, but all the work that went into each one absolutely was.

It gave me a lot of answers on how to do a YouTube channel the right way, but it also gave me a lot of questions. So when I got Christian’s offer to set up a couple of phone calls, I thought for an incredibly long time about who, exactly, I wanted to talk to.

For starters, I wanted a more normal conversation. The ones Christian set up were going to be strictly interviews, which made sense because that was what I asked for. So, when I changed my mind, I had to figure out a way to have a more casual conversation with one of the Corridor staff. The best way I found was to support them on their Patreon page.

For those who haven’t heard of Patreon or are unsure of its specifics, it is a website where you can support artists you admire for rewards. The more you support, the greater the reward. In Corridor’s example, after a certain tier you get a one-on-one conversation with one of their staff.

I won’t reveal the exact number of dollars I gave Corridor but I’m glad I spent the money. I’m glad that support mattered to them, and that I got two wonderful conversations out of it.

Those conversations would be with Sam, the company’s other Co-Founder. The two interviews would be with Jake and Wren. Jake is the lawyer/producer/other business guy at Corridor. He handles not only video production, but any legal work that comes from making original content on YouTube. Wren is the main visual-effects artist at Corridor and the breakout character of the Sam and Niko vlogs.

I chose the two interviewees for the same reason. Both guys started in education paths that had nothing to do with film.  Jake was a lawyer who happened to become a producer, and Wren went to school for mechanical engineering, only to become a VFX artist for a YouTube channel. As a relatively unsuccessful writer majoring in writing, that interested me greatly. I should mention that no one at Corridor, at least that I know of, actually has a film degree. This includes the two founders, Sam and Niko.

Sam I picked as my personal interview for the simple reason that I had the feeling we shared a lot in common. Couldn’t tell you why or how I got that feeling, though. Isn’t it odd that you can even get that feeling from simply watching a video about someone’s work?

Anyway, I set the interviews up and had them one by one.

I started with Jake. After going through some interesting technical difficulties setting up the call, I got through. Let me mention that this was the first interview I had ever conducted, and I’m not too proud to admit that I was sweating profusely. It started by repeating awkward hellos, then went into an exchange of how our days went. After finding some comfort that Jake’s day was also “good,” I proceeded to actually interview him.

I asked him how a law-school graduate ended up a producer for a startup YouTube channel. Jake answered that he had something that made even less sense. “My journey doesn’t make much sense on paper, but once you know the story it does,” Jake started.

“Even before being a lawyer, I went to school as a dual major in theology and economics.”

Starting in Notre Dame, Jake did a theology degree because some high school philosophy classes had made him interested in the subject. After making it most of the way through that major, he decided to pick up an economics degree. “My Junior year I figured I’d pick up something more practical,” he said. He admitted that theology does help the way he lives his life. However it does not affect, in his opinion, his work. From there he heard that his high school friend, Niko, was out in LA making films. He joined a band called The Keep that included both Sam and Niko, and, after starting Law school to help him become a music agent, Jake started working with Sam and Niko on the side. “I didn’t know how to work a camera, so production was what’s left,” he admitted. “Sam and Niko also—not so much anymore but used to—argue like brothers, and someone needed to be there.” After they started doing better and better with their videos, Jake started working for Corridor full time, both as their producer and helping keep the business afloat. “Law taught me to understand laws, contracts…we wouldn’t be as autonomous as we are without that background.”

Since 2011, Jake has been a partner with Corridor Digital and has kept their business independent by using his law education and constantly working to keep the business going.

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Corridor Digital is a small team of video creators, founded by Sam Gorski and Niko Pueringer. 

The next interview was with Wren.

No technical difficulties this time. Well, except the fact my computer died the weekend before, so I would be doing both Wren and Sam’s interviews on my phone in a dimly lit office my boss let me use. After we went through the required awkwardness of meeting over a video call, we got straight to the questions.

“I actually had done videos for a long time,” said Wren. “Engineering was a passion but I entered a YouTube competition called NextUp… I made it pretty far, and it inspired me to give the whole thing a shot when I left college.”

Wren didn’t end up winning that contest, but it brought his content attention. Some of that attention was from Corridor Digital, who hired him to work on a short film they made called “Omen.” He moved from his home in Oregon all the way down to LA to start his career with Corridor and has been with them since.

One part of the interview struck me, which I will go into later, but there is something I feel worth mentioning now. I asked Wren to give me his best guess on how long, on average, a video that goes to Corridor’s main channel takes to get out. His answer was two weeks. Corridor’s staff consists of a main team of seven people. They often bring in interns and other outside help to get videos done. On average, the videos on the Corridor channel are about four- to five-minutes long. To put this into context, when I was uploading content, my videos averaged 24 minutes, and they took me around an hour and a half to edit the audio, so my voice didn’t crack and the video didn’t look terrible.

Also, just looking at the vlog content, which average about 10 minutes, only two people work on those projects. They are all cinematically sophisticated and worthwhile to watch.

I say all this to point out one of the biggest things a YouTuber can do to be successful.

A great way to boost how many people see your content is to make darn good content.

How can you do this? Well, let me share Jake’s tips with some of my own input as a writer and student of art. These tips are to understand what you are giving to society, identify what exactly you are contributing, then figure out the value of that contribution. For videos, this is as simple as entertainment. For a bike company, it is transportation. Then, figure out how to achieve that purpose, how to be entertaining, for example.

After that, find people you work with well and who match your brand—the way you go about your work and what you do. Don’t take deals that take away from your brand.

If you make videos and a company, let’s say a company that makes really cool pencils, do not make your video about the pencil. Make the video how you would make your normal videos, the way only you can, using the pencil. Because at the end of the day the pencil company can make thousands of pencil videos, but only Corridor Digital can make a Corridor Digital video using pencils.

Moving off of my soapbox, my last interview was with Sam. Like I said earlier, I chose Sam because I felt we had the most in common. We both are from small towns in the Midwest, and we both love board games and Dungeons and Dragons. It was nice to have a calm conversation. We talked twice, actually, because I supported their Patreon for two months, and we discussed various things. I talked to Sam about his life and Tabletop RPGs in general. He shared some about his college experience. “I learned a little about a lot,” he said. “I knew how to work a camera, so I didn’t take those classes… I would think what would make for a good movie idea and say I want these classes that fit that idea.”

I then shared that I wanted to end up in game design and talked about the system I had in my head. It was nice to hear he thought the idea was cool, and he liked the original request video we sent them. In the end, Sam said he’d be happy to look over the system and suggested I look into getting it to Kickstarter to make it a reality, which I believe is the next step for me. But that’s another story for another time.

One of the things he brought up, and Wren as well, was an event called the Adpocalypse. You see, I had asked all three what it was like to work in a job I assumed was unstable. All three are husbands, with Jake being a father and Sam expecting a child in 2018. What I didn’t realize was that the whole gig was more unstable than I realized.

I’m not the only one who thought YouTube was a train to easy money. A lot of YouTube careers had been made through YouTube’s partnership program. That partnership program later became available to anyone with enough views. You can monetize any video you want. Google would pay out through their adsense program. Here is where the problem came. When any video had the possibility of having ads, companies realized their ads could end up on awful videos, anything from overtly racist to morally damaging.

So YouTube started demonetizing videos en masse and changed the way YouTubers make money. For starters, instead of being based on view count, adsense pays according to how much time is spent watching your content. Which, to a short film company like Corridor, is incredibly damaging. After that, it was incredibly easy to get demonetized by YouTube.

Not to argue that cursing should be commonplace, but I also don’t think it is a reason to demonetize content. Cursing was a pretty clear sign you would get demonetized, after that, though, the reason was often unclear. Some YouTubers would get certain videos demonetized, and they could not figure out why. This has been happening since 2012, but not on the scale it is happening now. Also, YouTube only officially declared they were doing this in August, 2016.

The term given, Adpocalypse, was not just made up by Sam and Wren, whose work has been hit especially hard. In the wake of thousands of gun reviewers, video game players, and even historians losing ad revenue that was keeping their YouTube-based businesses going, it is an apt term.

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Illustration: Konstantin Sergeyev

The Adpocalypse started with two major events. The first was the realization that terrorist groups were uploading monetized videos promoting terrorism. The second occurred when Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg, the most subscribed channel on YouTube, made a video that had men hold signs that read “Death to all Jews.” PewDiePie has apologized and stated the video was meant to be satirical. But, because of his close ties to many aspects of YouTube, like their new premium content, YouTube Red, and being the largest YouTube channel companies, he made YouTube feel the backlash.

So now, a common sight for a YouTube creator is a little yellow demonetization icon on their videos. This means the content has been flagged by one of YouTube’s highly advanced bots. YouTube uses these bots to determine which videos to flag for demonetization, and the only way for those bots to improve their filtering capabilities is for YouTubers to appeal and contest the flag.

In a blog post from YouTube I got from this Forbes Article talking about the new system and how the bots actually function. Here is how YouTube describes it:

“We’ve heard questions about why the monetization status is applied so quickly after upload (including with unlisted and private videos). This is because in the first few hours of a video upload we use machine learning to determine if a video meets our advertiser-friendly guidelines. This also applies to scheduled live streams, where our systems look at the title, description, thumbnail and tags even before the stream goes live. We know our system doesn’t always get it right, so if you see a yellow icon in your Video Manager and feel our automated systems made a mistake, please appeal. As noted above, an appeal gets sent to a human reviewer and their decisions help our systems get smarter over time. Deleting the video and re-uploading won’t help.”

The problem is that not every one of these appeals will be seen by a human.

“Because we’re a platform that has hundreds of millions of videos, we have to set parameters around which appealed videos get reviewed first to make sure we review those videos that are getting substantial traffic. Right now, our team of expert reviewers look at appealed videos with more than 1,000 views in the past 7 days. If you want to check the monetization status before making the video public, you can upload it as unlisted. If you think we got it wrong and your channel has more than 10,000 subscribers, you can appeal, and we will review your unlisted video regardless of view count. We do this because we want to make sure that videos from channels that could have early traffic to earn money are not caught in a long queue behind videos that get little to no traffic and have nominal earnings.”

Not only that, but it was recently shown that when a video gets demonetized, even if it is later found to not be worthy of the flag, YouTube makes the video harder to find than unflagged videos. The research was done by Maru, and here is the abstract of the paper:

We examine the relation between a youtube video’s monetisation status and their algorithm promotion. We used youtube’s official “DATA API v3” to get the top 25 related videos for 100k videos. This is equivalent to the related videos that you see on the right side when watching a video. We then scraped the related videos for information relating to monetisation status, views, etc. The corpus containing information of the scraped videos were then analysed in detail. According to our analysis Youtube is systematically suppressing content that have limited monetisation or have been completely demonetised. This will in turn lead to censorship of political ideologies, LTBQ+, mental health awareness, suicide awareness and prevention, etc.”

The research goes on to show the exact relationship between algorithm promotion and demonetization. To save time, the basic answer is that the severity of your demonetization determines whether or not YouTube will promote your content as related to similar content.

And in all honesty, I understand why that would be good. Content harmful to viewers or in bad form, like the recent Logan Paul fiasco, should be made harder to find. But, with the illogical bots and the fact almost any piece of content can trigger it means it doesn’t benefit anyone. Let me list the five categories content can be flagged for. Those categories are profanity, sexually suggestive content, tragedy and conflict, sensational and shocking, sensitive social issues. Those are incredibly broad topics. The comic code wasn’t that restrictive. Batman would have been demonetized after losing his parents or anytime Robin shows up in those shorts.

There are also these photos leaked by an anonymous YouTuber. These are leaked screenshots from a YouTube company email, explaining what to look for when reading appeals in each category.

So what can a channel do as all of this gets sorted out?

Sadly, not much. There’s so little connection between people. The bots operate by constantly-changing standards, and only so many independent appeals are heard. In the wake of this, many content creators state the solution is for YouTube to start communicating with them. However, at the time of this article no such grand attempts have been made.

I asked Sam once what he thought the people at YouTube were like.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Sam said, “I’ve never actually talked with a YouTube employee, just filled out forms to the company.”

So in the wake of rampant and unexplainable bots, what is there to really do? Well one option, which many bigger content creators are doing, is to change where revenue comes from. Patreon is the biggest alternative source. More and more channels make a Patreon account and hope their fans can keep the lights on. Many gamers or artists switch to streaming services like Twitch or Picarto, abandoning YouTube for greener pastures. The problem with these methods is that you need to have an audience willing to make the jump with you. For those who were scraping by on YouTube at its height, don’t have the numbers to make the alternatives work.

I reached out to a YouTuber I have followed for a long time. He has asked me not to use his channel name or real name, as he no longer wants to be linked to YouTube. He made videos about cutlery and Zippos. I myself have always loved Zippos and their various designs. He would review knives his followers sent him, and he would make vlog videos about his work as a mechanic, where he used the knives on various materials to see how they performed. He always spoke calmly and reminded me of both my grandfather and brother. Seven-thousand of us followed his sporadically uploaded videos, usually three a week, and we would go to the comments and discuss amongst ourselves what to send him next. At the time of writing, he has refused to reply to my questions any further, and if he ever reads this I hope he knows I never meant to embarrass him or make light of his situation.

Anyway, around June of 2016, I saw that his videos looked remarkably better, and his voice even crisper. He told us he had invested in new equipment, in hopes of making better content. He started monetizing the videos and saw the chance at extra cash, so he figured he’d invest more to make more. I won’t say where he got the money to invest, as it is not my place, but as of September 2017 he shut down the channel having lost a noticeable sum of money.

The simple truth was, his channel was too small, and no matter how much care he put into the video, he didn’t make it big.

Which is where I come to the fact that the biggest thing that makes you successful in the YouTube game is simply having luck. Sam admitted this himself in our last conversation:

“Had we not met Freddiew [a big YouTube channel now called Rocket Jump] and worked with them we wouldn’t be where we are… if a few hundred redditors didn’t like our content I don’t know where we would be.”

PewDiePie admits this as well. Stating in numerous videos he never expected to have 54 million subscribers, and that it was mostly luck that got him to where he was. Luck carried a man to a position of being able to ruin the system for everyone else.

That luck, however, can come with a lot of money. Almost every major channel is a part of an MCN, or multi-channel network. Every major YouTuber you or I could name is a part of one, Corridor included. These networks put channels in contact with each other’s audiences and also brands, to make sponsorship deals.

The largest MCN was Maker Studios, which is now Disney owned. These networks control YouTube, and it is nigh impossible to make it without one.

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In the end, YouTube is not as free a platform as I wanted it to be. You have to understand that I grew up in a time where the most viewed video was Judson Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance,” a video where an awkwardly-shaped guy danced to the biggest dance hits throughout the years. Everything from the Macarena to Ice Ice Baby. It was super weird, silly, and damned beautiful. There was a hope you got from watching the video because it was the opposite of mundane. Work is mundane, money is mundane, corporations are mundane. Judson Laipply’s majestic display was extraordinary, a single filmed moment of creativity mashed with a childlike glee that couldn’t be beaten. There were others like it “Charlie Bit My Finger,” “David After Dentist,” “Leave Britney Alone.”

YouTube was a place for the silly, where the corporate world didn’t matter and viral videos weren’t tied to money. That changed around 2010, we figured out how to link dollar values to these spontaneous videos. People did really well, too, and I loved the content then as well. Heck, I still love a lot of the content I see. But I now know the facts behind it, that it is done for money’s sake. That somehow taints it.

I have nothing against artists or creators making money off of their content. Trust me, as a writer I hope for one fateful day when my content is valuable. But, I’ve realized I don’t want YouTube to be a place of creators. People might hate this, Corridor themselves probably disagree with me from here on. But YouTube’s beauty wasn’t its easy money, like I thought for so long. It wasn’t the success of so many talented artists. The latter can be beautiful, and I support it, but not for YouTube. Seeing that sphere stripped away, I’ve realized that things like Patreon and brand deals are far better for creators and people who support creators. YouTube, thus, is nothing more now than a video storage space.

But that’s all it ever was, and it’s what I believe it should go back to. I hate seeing artists try to cater to robots that don’t give a damn about their work. Art is not meant for a robot’s eyes. It’s meant for a human being who can think beyond binary terms. Art is wasted so often on this site it bugs me. 400 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every ten minutes. I’m not going to declare all of it art, but a lot of it is. It will go unnoticed, it will be flagged, and it won’t make money. We put up a scaffold to a structure that is now falling apart, and all we can do is try to figure out what to do next.

I say let it goes back to its purest essence, and yes that means without the money. Because then we make the money elsewhere and set it up properly while keeping the beautifully weird strangeness of YouTube intact. It goes back to being a place of joy being the primary reason a video is popular—or sheer absurdity, which I think is fine, too.

I should mention I also hate our idea of YouTube being easy money. It can be for some, some very very lucky few.But, people like Jake and Sam work hard so their families get to eat and their kids are taken care of. For them, it is not free or easy money by any means.

Why do we even believe it’s easy money? I’ve learned that it wasn’t just me who thought so, and I believe it is for the following reason. When someone sees someone like Jake Paul, who I can only describe as a lovable oaf, or PewDiePie. How can they rationally conceive of their work as strenuous? The guy who paints houses for a living thinks his work is work because it’s physical, or it takes more time or more effort. He can’t admit to himself that these YouTubers put in commensurate levels of effort, sometimes far more so, because then he has to admit that he can’t do what they do.

I can’t do what the guys at Corridor do. I had to admit that, and it sucked. Early on in our talks I realized this but didn’t want to admit it. I made the request video, and, if I was invested in, I could get the same equipment they have. I could do it all, by myself even. I wanted to hold onto that so much because letting it go meant admitting my faults. The simple truth is I don’t have the drive they do, the ethic they bring to each video. I don’t have the skills necessary to make what they do, those amazing short films. I can maybe write like them, but any writer knows you can never truly write like someone else. I could spend time and try to become like them, and that’s what we all say. “I could spend the time.” That defense is exactly what allows us to make it without actually improving.

So, where does all of this end for me? If I’m being honest this whole experience has drained me in numerous ways. Simply because I don’t know what to do with it. I want to know how to make it, but it’s a slippery slope and honestly not one I suggest looking into. I wish I had a grand revelation to give about art in general or how to develop the greatest work ethic. The truth is, I can’t do that either.

The last thing I asked Jake before the call ended was, “What gets you up in the morning? Do you ever worry that it will all just not be there when you wake up?”

He took a second, possibly because of lag time in the video call.

“I don’t worry about it much, I get up because I like doing this and can’t see it any other way,” he said. “You just keep going forward, knowing it’s what you want to do today.”

 

The Chillionaires — “A Chillion Bars”

The Chillionaires a rap group from Brooklyn, NY. Members include Sky Scraper, Gucci G.R.A.Y & Ruciano. They recently dropped their highly-anticapted project, entitled “Who Wants To Be A Chillionaire?”

Prior to this, the group also release a project called “The Formula.”

Check out their YouTube page here.

Love & Obsession in ‘Phantom Thread’

Attention to detail. This quality defines a great garment, and is also a quality of diligent students of any craft.

Success in any vocation is likely due to dedication and discipline that trumps the extent an average person is willing to travel. Famous athletes, prolific writers, artists & world leaders all come to mind. Their drive and focus shape the routines and habits of their daily lives.

But what effect does this pursuit have on someone’s personal life? How do they connect with others? Such is the chief question posed by “Phantom Thread,” a new film from director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights”). In his second collaboration with Anderson, actor Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln,” “Gangs of New York”) plays renowned, fictional and London-based high fashion dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (a name Mr. Lewis came up with himself). His drive for excellent craftsmanship creates friction with his newfound partner, Alma (Vicky Krieps, “Pitter Patter Goes My Heart”).

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Mr. Day-Lewis and Ms. Krieps in a scene from “Phantom Thread”

While clearly talented, Woodcock’s success as a dressmaker seems owed in part to his ordered routines and unique personal world, tailored by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, “Maleficent”), whose terseness and clear-thinking counterweights his sometimes childish stubbornness. Dwelling in a fashion house — Woodcock’s house is not a home — is for dressmaking.

The film opens by showing the end of Woodcock’s previous relationship with an aging muse. The viewer’s sense is that these muses come and go, but the audience begins to feel that Alma, idiosyncratic in her own right, is a special match for Woodcock’s psyche. That match, however, comes with tension. The movie highlights growth in both their working and intimate relationships over an unspecified duration in the 1950s; and also shows particular ways in which they push each other’s patience.

“Phantom Thread” has a cohesive thesis that meditates on the interrelatedness of obsessive tendencies, success and love. What balance can one strike in order to both pursue a calling and find love? Are they mutually exclusive?

Anderson’s form is compact, focused and achieves the film’s desired aims of exploring these questions. With lush, but muted hues in tone with London’s overcast environment (in fact, Anderson used smoke effects to give even interior shots a certain grayness), the beauty in this film — from the sets, the costumes, and the shot compositions — blends harmoniously with the mood of the story. Like a perfectly tailored garment, the film’s visuals never draw attention to themselves. Shot on 35mm film and experimental in its use of exposures, the cinematography (there is no listed cinematographer on this film) is as fine-made as one of Woodcock’s dresses — and thus achieves the same understated elegance.

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(L-R) Lesley Manville, Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps

“Phantom Thread” is a precisely crafted film and its well-done moving parts — from technical to the acting — come together to rhythmically (perhaps frustratingly) explore the dynamics between two lovers, the walls between them and the motivations that drive them. This film fits particularly well in Anderson’s canon, adding onto his list of bold, sui generis character studies post “There Will Be Blood” (2007).

Likely warranting subsequent viewings in order to fully appreciate its richness, “Phantom Thread” is a layered and subtly daring piece of cinema that diligently examines the difficulty of loving, and of being loved.