June 30, 2003
Shorts, 6/30."A frothy comedy is an unexpected place to find a clarion call to movement building. But that's okay, because it's this very unexpectedness that gives the movie its impact." Arianna Huffington in AlterNet on Legally Blonde 2.
And the director, Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, is one of the characters John Horn follows around for a long, rambling piece in the Los Angeles Times. The premise is rather weak - sometimes, franchises change directors - but it hardly matters. It's as good excuse as any to visit Alfonso Cuarón, Jonathan Mostow, Herman-Wurmfeld and Jan De Bont.
Also in the LAT:
But back, briefly to pop movies and pop politics. Milk Plus suddenly flooded its pages over the weekend. Besides a batch of new reviews (and a wonderfully mixed batch it is, ranging from The Wicker Man to Sunrise to CA: FT), "Shroom" asks an excellent pair of Questions of the Week: "What film best represents the positive aspects of American politics, culture, history, and/or society? Why?" The second is the same, with "positive" replaced with "worst." And "allyn" asks, "Can I wait to answer this question until after I've seen Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde?" Tee.
Since The Nation won't let us read Stuart Klawans online anymore, it's good to see him appearing at least occasionally elsewhere. In the New York Times, he previews a series at the Film Forum, "The Freed Unit and the Golden Age of the MGM Musical": "No movie executive today can tap the wealth of talent that [producer Arthur] Freed had under contract at MGM, backed up by all the costumers, carpenters, electricians and painters he might need [and] no modern studio executive has comparable artistic credentials." Also in the NYT: Frank Rich on why the kids are alright (but the adults really, really aren't).
After taking in the compilation film 11'09"01 and Alain Resnais's Night and Fog and Hiroshima mon amour, Doug Cummings reflects on "how we view tragedies of unspeakable horror through cinematic means."
And in the Observer:
Two via Movie City News: First, Mel Gibson has previewed his controversial The Passion at the New Life Church and Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. The verdict: A solid thumbs-up from Ted Haggard, New Life's pastor and president of the National Evangelical Association. And second, Ethan Hawke is to star in the first movie ever financed by an IPO.
New Yorkers and Californians bump into movies in production almost as often as the good citizens of Prague. No news there. But when a movie came to Matt Hinrichs's neighborhood in Arizona back in the 80s... that was news. A neat handful of recollections.
Most know Anne Parillaud as Nikita, as in La femme.... Now, she's appearing in Catherine Breillat's Sex is Comedy as... well, basically, Catherine Breillat. Fiona Morrow chats her up for the Independent.
Katharine Hepburn, 1907 - 2003.
"To her fans - and what Americans are not among her fans? - Katharine Hepburn exists in a class apart from, say, Joan Crawford. She stands for fierce Yankee independence, patrician liberalism and authenticity of character, not Hollywood vindictiveness, self-promotion and glitz. Even her participation in one of the movie colony's longest-running extramarital affairs somehow transcended its provenance in tabloid gossip to become the stuff of legendary romantic Americana." - Frank Rich.
"From 1932 to 1945, she had it in her to be the most interesting, difficult, challenging woman in American pictures. Why? I'd guess it had to do with her confusion, for she loved movies while disapproving of them." - David Thomson.
"It was The Philadelphia Story. I knew then that she was different. She is that rare creature, her voice immediately bringing to mind her astonishing face. She is a member of that club of very few actresses who at their sound are totally identifiable. An immediate vision." - Lauren Bacall.
New York Times complete coverage.
Personally, my favorite portrait was snapped by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
June 28, 2003
Note.Just a note today about a few things going here and at the main site.
A few days ago, having run across the Le Nouvel Observateur interview with Jean Baudrillard on the Matrix series, I was cursing the fact that I don't speak French. Well, David, who not only speaks French but quite evidently is French, has done us a generous favor by translating that interview. (And I need to rig my email program so that it reads something like, "Le samedi, 28 juin 2003, à 02:03 Europe/Paris, David Hudson a écrit:" Doesn't that just beat "you wrote:" hands down?)
Reading the interview, it's pretty clear that Baudrillard thinks the Wachowski brothers have made a fundamental "mistake" by, if my reading is anywhere near on target, creating the very sort of "dream, utopia, phantasm" they set out to blow the lid off of. His reaction to the movies is, in fact, pretty much what William Merrin thought it would be. He's the prof who wrote "'Did You Ever Eat Tasty Wheat?': Baudrillard and The Matrix" for the journal Scope a few months ago. A clip:
The Matrix represents, therefore, precisely that form of film-making that Baudrillard does, or would, oppose. Here the technical capacities of the medium are the point, and the advertised star of, the film, and a technologically produced hyperrealism dominates its aesthetics as we linger scopophilically upon the quality of the film and upon its look; upon the cybernoir tones, shades, and metals of the fashion and technology on display. Arguably the stars of the film for our identification are not Neo and Morpheus but their clip-on shades, leather coats, machine guns, and mobile phones. This is film itself as a techno-chic object of consumption; as style, statement, and pure sign-object. And if it is possible to identify so completely with the shade-adorned, VR enhanced, kung-fu-programmed and hyper-armed video-game characters, do we not thereby lose the right to side with Neo in defence of the "100% pure, old-fashioned, home-grown human"? Shouldn't we really be rooting for the machines?
Even so, I wonder if all three - Baudrillard, Merrin and Taiuti - aren't missing out on a bit of the fun the Wachowskis seem to be having. In a book like America, for example, Baudrillard himself comes very close to not only describing the cinematic nature of reality in the US but also to celebrating it. The "dream, utopia, phantasm" of the world the Wachowskis have created, mixing and matching elements from the simulacra that appeal to them most, is seductive, and that's part of the point. If you find yourself tempted to root for the machines, excellent. Then they've done a fine job of avoiding the pitfall of sketching a straightforward and sterile pro-humanist tract.
Anyway, I'll leave that hanging for now to point out that it is Gay Pride Weekend and, on a fluke and at the last minute, we got in touch with some terrific people and threw something together. Just wanted to thank the quick wits of Annalee Newitz, Gary Morris, Owen Thomas and Brad Erickson here, too.
Do keep an eye, by the way, on that list of "Recent Reads" over there on the right. Hope, for example, that you haven't missed Tom Tykwer's fine article on Punch-Drunk Love. And hell, let's make the title of that film the theme for the whole weekend.
June 27, 2003
Shorts, 6/27. Lolly Pop Edition.Online hanging around, wasting your valuable time tip. I have to begin with this because I just checked the clock and got slapped with the realization that a serious chunk of the afternoon has been lost to one of the most fun sites I've run across in a long, long time. Stop me if you've heard this one (because many, many people have, evidently): The Hot Spot Online. It's this ice cream shop in Islamabad with outlets in Lahore and Karachi. Really. But it's also, oh, so much more. Countless Bollywood and Lollywood posters, postcards, billboards, reviews (including reviews of mainstream Hollywood flicks), and best of all, trailers and clips and... gaw.
If you haven't explored it before, you might wish I'd saved mentioning it until the weekend. But having followed a link from Wiley Wiggins's News of the Dead a second time, but only further, I could no longer keep the joy of discovery to myself.
In other news. It's Friday, so there's lots in the Guardian again:
Yet another terrific week at The Stranger: "In our 2003 Queer Issue, gay and lesbian writers are asking that you straight people - no, insisting that you straight people - start taking the bad along with the good of gay culture." So, for example, Mary Martone is hoping straights will take lesbian film and literature off her hands:
We have to be careful, though. These are people who are not used to having to work to stomach a movie. You might be able to sneak in Personal Best as a sports thing ("Ya-Ya Sisterhood meets Prefontaine!") or Entre Nous as just another inexplicable foreign film, but you can't gut-punch them with some Claire of the Moon/Bar Girls double feature.
Meanwhile, over at indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez says, but seriously, folks, and surveys the "State of Queer Cinema."
His Short Cuts paint a bit of background on the news that Renée Zellweger will be portraying Janis Joplin in the forthcoming biopic, and then, he points to the new site for Secondhand Lions, a film that had just wrapped shooting somewhere out there in central Texas when Robert Duvall presented Assassination Tango at SXSW. So I watched that trailer. Oh, dear. As for Michael Caine's accent, well, it's hard to tell since the editor seems to have cut away each time he opens his mouth, but... I dunno, I dunno. Then again, he probably thought the same thing about Renée Zellweger playing a Brit.
Then Shawn Badgley's got a shake-yer-head story about the Drunk Film Fest. Not a series of films about alcoholics. No, that would be too easy. This is Austin, remember. This is about getting drunk before making the movies.
Reviewing the Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film series in the New York Times, Elvis Mitchell makes an interesting point: "What Heroine and Swordswoman demonstrate entrancingly and, oddly, with poignancy, is that silent films - like animation - offer the truest manifestation of a national artistic personality."
And in the LA Times today, first, a piece that'll have you humming a certain line from The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Susan King on "Musclemen heroes of Italian cinema." And John Anderson, wrapping up the Seattle International Film Festival.
David Poland has begun sorting out Matrix Reloaded (parts 1 and 2) and reveals that Andy Klein will be taking on the same daunting task for Salon. If it's going to be anything like their analysis of Mulholland Drive, that'll definitely be something to look forward to.
June 26, 2003
Shorts, 6/26.A short. To read. The Last Hour of Guy Debord. A film by David Cox.
On an otherwise relatively quiet day, Screen Daily reports that Lukas Moodysson's "latest project Terrorister – En Film Om Dom Domda (Terrorists – A Film About Those Who Were Sentenced) is a gritty and unflinching documentary about some of the young Swedish activists who were imprisoned following the riots that took place at the EU summit in Goteborg in June 2001."
Now, even though there has been a documentary on the riots that followed a month later in Genoa, if only someone of Moodysson's caliber - or Errol Morris's - would do some digging into what has been revealed since about the Italian police instigating the violence then and its repercussions on the global justice movement now.
A.E. Souzis caught a short series in May honoring the work of the late cinematographer Conrad Hall and writes in PopMatters: The four films in 'Light and Shadows: Conrad Hall' - Cool Hand Luke (1967), In Cold Blood (1967), Incubus (1965), and Fat City (1972) - aptly demonstrate Hall's artistry and underline his inventiveness."
It's all undead all the time at the LA Weekly film section this week. Ron Stringer talks to Guy Maddin, Andrew Johnston talks to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, and John Powers reviews their new movies, respectively, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary and 28 Days Later.
June 25, 2003
A summer on the brink.Here it is, midsummer, and a gloomy sense of a world on the brink settles over the cinematic landscape. Hardly surprising, given the number of wars we've seen, global and local, before this new century has even gotten up on its toddler feet. Not to mention portents of impending biological catastrophe for which the anthrax and SARS scares are thought to be mere rehearsals. Environment-wise, the planet could blow any decade, evidently, and let's not even get into the economy.
Whether any of this really has anything to do with the resurgence of comic book movies is a question it'll probably take a bit of historical perspective to answer. But it takes a threat of imminent doom to yank a superhero out of retirement and, as widely commented on as the weather, they're back. As Armond White puts it this week, "Marvel Comics is now - unarguably - the leading source of today's cultural myths." That leads, by the way, into a chillingly well-reasoned damnation of the screenwriter-director team of James Schamus-Ang Lee as "a younger, pedigreed, even more pretentious Merchant-Ivory."
Yulie Cohen Gerstel
But to turn the other brow, the movie press is steeped in dread this week, primarily because a mere two theaters in this big wide world, the Film Forum and the Anthology Film Archives, both in New York, of course, have lined up a series of dark and heavy (and long) documentaries. Don't think for a moment that that's unfair. Reading reviews of Anand Patwardhan's War and Peace, Ilan Ziv's Human Weapon and Yulie Cohen Gerstel's My Terrorist by J. Hoberman and C. Carr in the Village Voice and Stephen Holden in the New York Times, I can only hope that they'll do well enough in New York to break out of New York.
It's not a case of "if they can make it there..." It's more that they have to make it there, in what's still, for better and worse, the capital of what a friend (with amusing regularlity) calls the "east coast media establishment," to be given a shot at all at struggling for survival in any other market.
I'm sure it's not pleasant tracing India's devolution from Gandhian nonviolence to its current "nuclear mania," as Hoberman puts it, or gritting your teeth through an explication of why "the privatization of reconciliation" (C. Carr) has become all but the only option in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or coming to terms with the "unsettling conclusions" at the end of a history of suicide bombing, but I certainly hope any of these will eventually be available to me as alternative viewing choices to an evening with a green id.
Shorts, 6/25.Speaking of superheroes. Very nice piece today in the San Francisco Bay Guardian from Annalee Newitz:
Ever since a conservative doctor named Fredric Wertham started making noises in the 1940s about the homosexual subtexts in many comic books, comic book geeks have known - or feared - that there was something just a little queer about their textual preferences. It's hard to deny the sexual implications in books that follow the adventures of nerds with secret identities and social outcasts with superpowers.
Reviewing Manito in the New York Press, Matt Zoller Seitz offers a one-paragraph history of neorealism (the 4th graph if you're really in a hurry) and then argues that digital video has ushered in a new phase of American neorealism, a group of filmmakers - David Gordon Green, Rebecca Miller, Peter Sollett, for example - who "could be the creative saviors of American fiction filmmaking, if the industry would have the guts to give them a comfortable budget and leave them alone." Also in the NYP: Sarah Shanok on Trembling Before G-d.
On July 8, the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator begins shooting with Martin Scorsese behind the camera and Leonardo DiCaprio, John C. Reilly, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale and No Doubt's Gwen Stefani in front of it. Frank DiGiacomo profiles the man who's made this movie happen, "Hughes obsessive" Charles Evans Jr., son of Tootsie producer Charles Evans and nephew of the most (in)famous Hollywood Evans, Robert. And, also in the New York Observer: Andrew Sarris on François Ozon's Swimming Pool.
On the occasion of Friday Night's run (in selected theaters in selected cities, of course), Dennis Lim spends a few moments talking music with the Tindersticks for the Village Voice, which leads me to point you to Kinoeye's special issue on Claire Denis, and of course, our own interview with her.
June 24, 2003
Fanime.She's known to the considerable anime contingent at GreenCine (which, I should immediately add, overlaps generously with several other contingents; I'd count myself as part of at least half a dozen) as hneline1. Not only for the well over 200 separate DVD reviews she's written but also as a lively conversationalist in the public discussions and a frequent attendee at anime conventions. And she's just returned from Fanime Con 2003 in Santa Clara, California, bearing first impressions...
General Stats to My Eyes:
50% in cosplay 50/50 male-female average age early 20s ethnicity very mixed attendance over 5000 LOTS of stuff to do: panels, guests, anime screenings, asian live action film screenings, cosplay contest, dance event with live bands, art shows, fan music videos, dealers room...
...and oodles of previews of anime heading our way. Eventually. Her favorite? Hiraku no Go. About which other GreenCiners have questions - about this and other series, about bootlegging and fansubbing and overall changes in the industry - and for which hneline1 has answers.
Meanwhile, Anime News Network's Bamboo Dong has filed quite a hefty "Shelf Life" column this week. "Shelf Worthy" of course is Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, but also the volumes of His and Her Circumstances and Noir. Only two "Perishable Items" but nearly a dozen rental recs.
The Fever."I'm not the only American of non-Indian descent who's caught the jolly folly of Bollywood. A few other critic types, notably the trend-setting, retrospective-begetting David Chute, have found in Indian-pop cinema some of the same exuberance and craft they earlier detected in Hong Kong movies." Time's Richard Corliss chronicles his submission to "the grip of Bollywood fever."
On a related note, you may remember our pointing to the exhibition "Bollywood Dreams" by the photographer Jonathan Torgovnik. For the Los Angeles Times, Shashi Tharoor reviews both that exhibition and the book, starting off with a quick backgrounder and then segueing into the work at hand:
His most poignant photographs... are of the fans, the ordinary men, women and children whose loyalty and recidivism sustain India's film industry. Torgovnik includes several shots taken inside movie theaters, of sari-draped women with babies in their laps, of working-class men, some in tattered shirts, mesmerized by the screen, and of the haunting eyes of a boy reaching through the ticket window. And most touching of all, there are pictures of urchin children climbing trees to catch a glimpse of the filming of a movie many of them may not ever be able to afford to see.
Meanwhile, George Thomas carries on blogging profusely. About many things, really, but mostly about Bollywood movies and music.
Shorts, 6/24.Disney and Dali, together at last! Via Movie City News comes this story in Animation World Magazine of Destino, a short dreamed up in the 40s but only just completed with a big push from Roy Disney. Producer Baker Bloodworth:
Destino was ultimately recut from eight to five minutes because some of it was incomprehensible. Dali had always said, 'If you understand this, then I've failed.' There's some truth to this but we also wanted it to be watchable. Roy was very conscious of holding an audience. We pulled together the love story and compressed. And yet there is a long baseball sequence that no one could make sense of that we only touched on.
Yep, sounds like Disney doing Dali. Even so, kudos for reviving the project at all. Google turns up another piece on the film in the Boston Globe by Christopher Jones with a lot more background. Theft and intrigue, it seems, were involved in the demise of the project in the first place.
"I didn't want to give it a film look, I just wanted to take away the video look. To give it more of a sexy or sensual look, which film has in its very nature and video doesn't. So there is a similarity between what I was trying to do and what film does. It's not necessarily to make it look like film, but to make it look as sensual as film." That's cinematographer Andrew Dunn talking about shooting Robert Altman's The Company on HD video at DV.com. It's an extensive, fairly tech-heavy but more-interesting-than-you-might-think piece, laced with quotes from Altman as well.
Paul Matwychuk talks to Bret Wood in Salon about Hell's Highway, his doc on those hideous driver's ed films from the 60s and 70s: "They're shocking in a way you wouldn't expect. A lot of people think it's just going to be massive amounts of blood. What's more shocking is that people are wearing recognizable clothes and they look like your parents' friends from when you were a kid... You can't relegate it to the world of make-believe."
"His arrival on Hulk went largely unnoticed. The entertainment press obsessively chronicles the hiring and firing of actors, directors or screenwriters on movies, but composers usually get short shrift." Yes, even Danny Elfman gets overlooked when it comes to red carpet time. Patrick Goldstein makes up for it a bit, though. Also in the Los Angeles Times: Here come four big-budget movies set in the 19th century.
Baudrillard on the Matrix.Dammit, where's my French. Ah, that's right, except for the rudimentaries, I never had it in the first place. Really too bad, because Le Nouvel Observateur has released a special Matrix issue which, in and of itself, isn't all that thrilling except: They've gone and interviewed Jean Baudrillard about the series. The only thing I can pass along, unfortunately, is the brief quote supplied by the Perlentaucher team, which is where I first got wind of this. The quote (and remember, this is two steps away from the original since I'm translating a German translation of the French) is in response to a question about the explicit application in the films of his theories of the virtual and of simulation:
"What we have here is essentially the same misunderstanding as with the simulationist artists in New York in the 80s. These people take the hypothesis of the virtual as a fact and carry it over to visible fantasms. But the primary characteristic of this universe lies precisely in the inability to use categories of the real to speak about it."
Well. If anyone runs across an English translation, please do drop a comment.
June 23, 2003
DVDs We Need, Vol. 1.Werner Herzog in Burden of Dreams:
Of course we are challenging nature itself. And it hits back. It just hits back, that's all. That's grandiose about it, and we have to accept that it's much stronger than we are.
Kinski always says it's full of erotic elements. I don't see it so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course there is a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing. They just screech in pain.
It's an unfinished country, it's prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is the dinosaurs here. It's like a curse weighing on the entire landscape. And whoever goes too deep into this has his share of that curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It's a land that God, if he exists, has created in anger. It's the only land where Creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at what's around us, there is some sort of harmony. It is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle, we in comparison to that enormous articulation, we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel, a cheap novel. And we have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication and overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the stars up here in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the Universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle, it is not that I hate it, I love it, I love it very much, but I love it against my better judgment.
June 21, 2003
Shorts, 6/21.The article I expected to appear a lot sooner after Gus Van Sant picked up the top awards at Cannes last month has finally popped up in the British monthly, Prospect. But with "Cannes vs America," Mark Cousins heads off in a different direction than you might think. The bone Cannes has to pick with America, he argues, is not a political but an aesthetic one.
Manohla Dargis on Luis Buñuel: "The director of Belle de Jour, mellowed by life, was no longer hostage to the reflexive 'No,' to provocation for provocation's sake. He had abandoned Surrealism - just as he had abandoned God - but he remained in thrall to the mysterious, the irrational and the unknowable."
And, in general, the weekend editions of the Los Angeles Times are pretty darn bountiful:
Screen India interviews Uday Chopra, who explains why the answer to the first question about his new movie is "No": "Is Supari a deliberate attempt to go for a change of image from the soft romantic teenager in Mohabbatein and Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai you've played so far?"
Now that the "Goodbye, Buffy" wave has subsided, a few outlets have decided to eulogize Sex and the City, even though its final season has just begun. In the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley writes, "The city has changed, and the sex has grown a little stale, but the show continues to fascinate." Salon's Stephanie Zacharek asks, "Would the 1998 Carrie Bradshaw be able to stand the 2003 version?" "But," adds Heather Havrilesky, "a sanctimonious, mixed-up Carrie was just the tip of the iceberg-wedge salad... the party's over."
Back to the NYT: David Freeman reviews Norma Barzman's The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate.
"I went to a flat Sergio was renting in New York and, as the sun made its way across the sky, he told me, shot for shot, the entire movie. And what he told me that day was what he ended up filming." And that may have been the last pleasant memory Elizabeth McGovern has about Once Upon a Time in America. At least that's the impression you get from Fiona Morrow's interview with her in the Independent. Also: Sheila Johnston talks to Charlotte Rampling and Carole Bouquet.
"There are so many homoerotic overtones between Ben and Owen's character that it's just absolutely hilarious," says Juliette Lewis of Todd Phillips's remake of Starsky & Hutch. "Leave it up to Todd to hire me for the T&A factor in the movie, when I'm so not that girl."
In the Guardian:
Natsume Maya translates some fascinating figures from an article in Newsweek Japan on the worldwide growth of Japanese anime and manga. For example, the market for anime in the US has quintupled to $500 million since 1999.
Anime News Network's Bamboo Dong deems only two titles "Shelf Worthy" this week - Crest of the Stars and vol. 3 of RahXephon - but opens with a pretty amusing story. Meantime, yes, I do find these figures fascinating, which is why they keep popping up here. ICv2 passes along an announcement from Toycom regarding its Hellsing figures, to be released in time for Halloween.
Carol Strickland in the Christian Science Monitor: "Making art from cartoon figures today 'is like painting a Madonna in the Renaissance,' says [Lawrence] Rinder [curator of contemporary art at the Whitney]. With cultural literacy at a low ebb, a riff on Superman communicates more universally than Bible stories, mythology, or fairy tales. Archie and Veronica have become our Aries and Venus." Animation inspires not only great art but great food as well (via Weblogsky). Happy weekend.
Oh, yes, the online viewing tip. Vintage Flash: www.BADCOP.de.
June 20, 2003
Summer wind.You know we may have at last been blessed with an at least interesting summer blockbuster when critics are split as widely as, say, Bradley Steinbacher, raving in the Stranger ("may be the most grown-up - and most emotionally fucked-up - comic-book movie ever assembled"), and Tony Scott, panning in the New York Times ("incredibly long, incredibly tedious, incredibly turgid"). Oddly, it's a pleasure to run across so much disagreement in a season when we're so often subjected to the sight of a zillion critics all struggling to come up with a unique way of saying the same thing, e.g., highway sequence: wow, Zion sequence: snooze.
It's almost - almost, but probably not quite - enough to prompt me to actually see The Hulk in a theater rather than simply wait for the DVD as originally planned. If only to see how closely this one follows the Inverse Cost and Quality Law (ICQL) as explicated by David Foster Wallace in a 1998 article for Waterstone's Magazine (recently rediscovered via Metaphilm). Back then, DFW began with a solid assertion, namely, that the 90s had spawned a new genre:
Special Effects Porn. "Porn" because, if you substitute F/X for intercourse, the parallels between the two genres become so obvious they're eerie. Just like hard-core cheapies, movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park aren't really "movies" in the standard sense at all. What they really are is half a dozen or so isolated, spectacular scenes - scenes comprising maybe twenty or thirty minutes of riveting, sensuous payoff - strung together via another sixty to ninety minutes of flat, dead, and often hilariously insipid narrative.
Several hundred words and 17 footnotes later, DFW boils things down to two corollary formulations of his ICQL. The first is obvious: "The more lavish and spectacular a movie's special effects, the shittier that movie is going to be in all non-F/X respects." The second, we can only hope, will not prove true in the case of Ang Lee: "There is no quicker or more efficient way to kill what is interesting and original about an interesting, original young director than to give that director a huge budget and lavish F/X resources." It may or may not prove true for this single outing, but we do know that F/X alone do not put a crimp in Lee's style - see Crouching Tiger - and we know that his talents and range are solid enough to withstand a popular and critical bump in the road - if, in fact, that's what The Hulk turns out to be. And if it does, the culprit here would seem to be not F/X themselves, but rather, money.
David Poland's ideas on how the cogs and wheels of the summer blockbuster machine actually spin, particularly on the PR end, comprise an argument that he admits, halfway through, "gets a little schizophrenic." But basically, it boils down to this: He wants more access earlier to the stuff of scoops. Not a surprise ending. Nonetheless, all the surface material he glides over to get there - who lets whom in on what when - is kind of interesting and serves as another reminder - a lot spicier, if more disheveled than USA Today's - of the ever-expanding role of the Net in all this.
Finally for today (look for a load of shorts tomorrow), Poland's colleague at Movie City News, Ray Pride, follows some finely written praise for The Eye with a hit-n-run stab at Slavoj Zizek, claiming that the "goofy academic"'s take on Matrix Reloaded is "a reductionist political perspective."
Did Pride read the first three paragraphs of what Zizek actually wrote? That's where Zizek covers himself from that very accusation quite conveniently, claiming that all readings of the Matrix series are suspect (and that would have to include his own) since the Wachowskis "are not philosophers, but just two guys who flirt with and exploit, in an often confused way, some 'postmodern' and New Age notions in the service of science fiction" and the films themselves "function as a kind of Rorschach test, setting in motion the universalized process of recognition, like the proverbial painting of God that seems always to stare directly at you from wherever you look at it - practically every orientation seems to recognize itself in it."
Granted, Zizek goes on to treat the films as a text, albeit an unself-aware one, on which he then hangs a tall order: In the third film, the Wachowskis are going to have to "produce nothing less than the appropriate answer to the dilemmas of revolutionary politics today, a blueprint for the political act the left is desperately looking for." But come on. Zizek knows that's not what'll be served come November. Inherent in his text is a wish he knows will go unfulfilled. Zizek has always been a much more fruitful source of provocations than of conclusions.
June 19, 2003
Audrey Tautou and Jean-Pierre Jeunet are teaming up again. Amelie made more money than any other French movie in history, so they're being rewarded with one of the biggest budgets for a French movie ever. Reuters's story is brief, but it seems to be fullest to be found at the moment.
It's an odd page, but hardcore Hitchcock fans might want to pay it a visit: The MacGuffin is featuring a daily series of guest posts by 'xperts. Entails heavy scrolling, but profs and authors really are filing generous chunks of text each and every day.
"Yes, the smell of beer and horse manure wafting from Animal House is still redolent, 25 years after its release." James Verini attends a special screening of "the college comedy that launched a thousand imitators and untold numbers of campus disciplinary hearings (and Kevin Bacon)." Also in the Los Angeles Times: Scarlet Cheng on the troubles indie director Eric Byler has had getting his film Charlotte Sometimes accepted by the Asian-American community; and Kevin Thomas, filing from the Los Angeles Film Festival, on the "disturbing and provocative" documentary Flag Wars (very touchy subject: gays and lesbians upgrading a neighborhood to the point where African Americans - "many of them elderly and impoverished" - can no longer afford to live there), Takashi Miike's Graveyard of Honor and Masato Harada's Bounce Ko Gals.
In case you haven't caught this on other blogs - Geisha Asobi, for example, or Boing Boing - there is one helluva thread over at Rotten Tomatoes bursting with pix and videos of a massive turnout for the premiere of Matrix Reloaded in Osaka. Click through all six pages and counting for the sights and sounds of a seemingly infinite number of Agent Smiths, more than a few Neos, Trinitys... you get the idea. Time for just one video? A reasonably sized and energetically cut mix by Macar Cube is highly recommended.
It's Double Blockbuster Day at Moviehole with interviews with Hulk director Ang Lee ("I don't really like 'summer' movies myself...") and T3 director Jonathan Mostow ("We technically could enter this movie in Sundance").
Meanwhile, Christopher Macdonald revisits the fansubbing controversy at Anime News Network.
At the New York Times, Thursday means a new issue of Circuits, and this week, David Pogue not only reviews DVD recorders, he also offers brief and comprehensible background on why the market's flooded with incompatible formats. Eric A. Taub gives his piece on the state of digital projection a sense of place while Steve Lohr profiles a program to digitize newsreel archives so they can be used as teaching tools. Sounds dry, but hey, it opens with a quote from Martin Scorsese who then returns to talk about visual literacy.
Online viewing tip. "FW:Fwd is an exhibition of viral films by international artists which explores new ways of accessing work online... You are looking at the opening selection of films which have been chosen for their diversity - of approach, content and technique." Which is why you won't like them all but are bound to find at least one or two that you do. Via ArtKrush.
June 18, 2003
Shorts, 6/18.25 up. Once again, Filmmaker Magazine has gone off in search of the 25 most up-n-coming people in indie film: "Our self-imposed edict to fly lower below the radar makes it only a bit harder to make these selections each year." It's a tough job, but "our track record here is pretty good." Which they can prove by catching up with the 25 they highlighted last year.
Filmmaker also talks with Danny Boyle, whose 28 Days Later opens in the US next Friday, and Alex Garland, bestselling novelist (The Beach) and screenwriter on this one. They're getting around these days. Dennis Lim chats with them for the Village Voice as well (and offers a fun sidebar, a sort of top seven virus movies list).
Rory Kennedy's making the rounds, too. You may have seen the interview in indieWIRE, for example. Well, what sets Filmmaker's apart is that the interviewer is Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.). Kennedy's doc, Pandemic: Facing AIDS, tells five stories of people doing just that; in the interview, she retells "probably the most intense [story] for me in making the documentary," and one can only imagine. It's harrowing enough just to read it.
Leave it to the terrific Armond White. With a less-than-engaging selection of new films this week, he turns his attention to something he can sink his teeth into, namely, what in the world Jennifer Lopez might have been thinking paying shot-by-shot homage to Flashdance in her most recent video, which "compresses the essence of Flashdance into about three minutes (movie-trailer length). Coincidentally, this reduction tells almost everything we need to know about the state movies are in."
Jason Kottke seems surprised - no, more than surprised, maybe even genuinely alarmed:
In short, the Matrix thread is unexpectedly large, and depending on how you look at it, is anywhere from 10% to 36% of my entire site, and significantly more than 50% of the total output since May 15th. If you were to look at all the content of the site in the aggregate, you might come to the conclusion that kottke.org is a Matrix Reloaded-related site even though it's been chugging along Reloaded-free for more than 5 years.
That's his bolding, by the way.
The New York Times's Rick Lyman fills out the background on a vote to merge the Screen Actors Guild with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Proponents "argue that while Hollywood studios and television networks are consolidating into bigger and bigger global conglomerates, the best way for performers to magnify their clout is similarly to band together."
In the Guardian:
David Chute profiles "a world-class film director, one of Thailand's best," who also happens to be a prince. Really: Prince Chatri Chalerm Yukol.
John Malkovich, who's just directed his debut feature and has played directors more than a few times, fuses an evidently favorite role with the great pretender he's just played in Ripley's Game for Color Me Kubrick.
So, is a decent production of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy actually on the way after all these years? If Variety's to be believed, yes. Not that the BBC production was awful, exactly, but a genuine made-for-the-big-screen version would be more than welcome.
Rebecca Traister in the New York Observer on James Schamus:
The screenwriter, low-budget-film pioneer, Columbia University professor and now studio executive's radically diverse experiences must gel perfectly. A summer blockbuster that he wants everyone to know is a really smart film, The Hulk will be Mr. Schamus' attempt to prove that a professor can make an action movie, that an action movie can be a thoughtful movie, and that a thoughtful movie can make millions.
On a related note, in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Charles Russo, noting that "the American movie audience is - for better or worse - currently in the midst of a comic book superhero-to-cinema trend that will ensure at least two such movies for the next few summers," offers a bit of cultural context and a list of "some of the more mature offerings of the comic book world."
Online viewing tips. Wiley Wiggins points to a collection of clips shot on MiniDV at the Dazed and Confused reunion. Also: Tagliners Stephen and Alistair Reid sort through the recent trailers for your viewing pleasure.
June 17, 2003
Reading and watching Iran.Film-Philosophy runs a remarkable Letter from Tehran:
We are those simpler souls, who sought to steer clear of any sort of political fuss in this accursed corner of the planet. We eliminated every shred of ambition from our lives and instead of seeking solace in morphine or heroin, in acid, joints, gangs, bribes, theft, womanizing or any of a thousand other afflictions that may have afforded us comfort, we chose instead to turn to culture and art and cinema... What do Mullahs care about such things?
The wave that brought the Mullahs. Detail from a photo by Kevin Kelly.
The occasion of the letter signed "F. Parsa" is the arrest of Mahmoud Vakili, a "filmi," a "term and an occupation which must not exist anywhere in this world other than in this wasteland. He collected films on tape and on DVD, threw them in his shoulder bag and rented them to people." Porn, in all its varieties, as the writer points out, is freely available on nearly every corner of the city, but "films by Ford and Hawks and Von Sternberg and Griffith, as well as by Lynch, Jarmusch and Kusturica and Aronofsky and Almodovar and Von Trier" and on and on seem to have posed some sort of threat and, "Neither George Bush, nor Mohammad Khatami, neither the anti-war Europeans nor the 'innocent' Palestinians nor the Conservatives really give a damn about us. They all have their own agendas."
Desolate stuff. One wonders, or I should say, someone like me who knows so shamefully little about Iran wonders, how this totalitarian nightmare coexists side by side with a national cinema currently being hailed around the world? I'm not the first to wonder, of course. Reviewing Hamid Dabashi's Close-Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present and Future last year for the London Review of Books, Gilberto Perez wrote:
How can it be, people sometimes ask when I recommend an Iranian movie to them, that a country under an oppressive Islamic regime is producing such good cinema? One answer is that the Islamic regime has kept rapacious Hollywood out, thus giving the local talent a chance to develop. Dabashi's book helps us towards a better explanation. It sketches a history of Iranian cinema in the context of Iran's encounter with modernity.
And what follows in Perez's piece is a summation of that history too lengthy to quote here, and of course, with a heavy emphasis on Abbas Kiarostami, but what stands out is how very crucial poetry was in the birth of contemporary Iranian cinema in the 60s.
Photo by Abbas Kiarostami
Fascinating, but the outline of the origins of this cinema doesn't really answer the question. Stephen Nottingham comes closer in his "introduction to Iranian Cinema." What emerges is an image of authorities and artists working around each other, almost playing off each other in order to come up with something acceptable to both parties. Yes, there was a crackdown on imported films, which gave the artists a bit of breathing room. But not too much breathing room. As Nottingham writes, "Iranian film has a distinctive look and feel, in part because of censorship restrictions."
Recently, in the GreenCine discussion forums, a GCer was wondering why so many Iranian films "are mostly sad and involve little kids." Nottingham writes, "The trials of children enable social criticisms to be made without making forbidden or direct criticism of the Islamic regime." But we can't oversimplify, either. Variety critic Robert Koehler replied to a similar question on the Film-Philosophy list by pointing out that the assumption that most Iranian films are about children is a misconception brought about by the limited number of movies that get distributed outside Iran in the first place...
...not unlike the '60s distortion that all Swedish films were about characters in existential or psychological crisis (Bergman) or that all Italian movies were about the bored rich (Antonioni) or fat women (Fellini), or that all French films took place in cafes (Godard) or bed (Truffaut, Malle, etc.). Too often, a country's dominant image results from the export of just one or two artists abroad; in Iran's case, the actual breadth of subject matter is astonishing.
And now, we've come to another turning point. The Boston Globe editorializes, "History rarely flows in straight lines, seeming to prefer an unpredictable course of ebb and flow, so there is no way of knowing whether the dramatic street protests in Tehran since last Tuesday against Iran's clerical dictatorship presage an imminent fall of that regime." And if they do? Lives like F. Parsa's might become a lot easier.
At the same time, the opening up of Iran would surely mean a sudden influx of Hollywood fare and increased pressure on Iranian filmmakers to compete. It's a perverse irony what all would probably happen to Iranian cinema in the wake a big globalized embrace and somewhat reminiscent of Philip Roth's comments about central European literature flourishing behind the Iron Curtain, tackling issues of life and death while American literature wallowed in the burbs, or Lotte Eisner's assertion that German Expressionist cinema was so outstanding because the times were so hideous.
But assuming F. Parsa and Mahmoud Vakili are real human beings, I'll opt for their well-being over that of the movies'.
Shorts, 6/17.Richard Roud on Robert Bresson, Jonathan Rosenbaum on Walt Disney, Tom Milne on Carl Theodor Dreyer and more: Doug Cummings offers a few choice excerpts from a great find, Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, at filmjourney.org.
"If this column saves even one person from watching another 90 minutes of a reality-based show - or leads to one more Frida rental tonight - my mission on Earth will be complete." But Gary Dretzka's talk with composer Elliot Goldenthal in TV Barn about his award-winning and "wonderfully imaginative" score for that film - and about the San Francisco Ballet's production of Othello - is a lot less flippant than that snippet might make it sound.
Well done, Marilyn Berger. Her obit for Hume Cronyn in the New York Times: "He said he found film easier than the stage, but less satisfying. Nevertheless, he said it was necessary to accept lucrative film parts if he and Miss Tandy were to do plays off Broadway at wages that barely paid for the car rental to get them to the theater, no less the food and the rent."
"Part playground and part hands-on gallery, the Ghibli Museum is designed with a sense of fun in mind, but its exhibits also give inquisitive minds plenty to wonder about." Dawn Matus tours Hayao Miyazaki's "living fantasy" for the International Herald Tribune. Also: Leiji Matsumoto and Daft Punk's hour-long space opera, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, is to be released on DVD in December. Both stories via Anime News Service.
The Iron Giant, The Third Man, Ballad of a Soldier. Just a few of the films that make men cry - by their own admission. The Couch Pundit rounds up the confessions. And adds one of his own: Robin and Marian. As it happens, I saw that one myself on an airplane many years ago. I was in the midst of a, how shall we say, romantically stressed situation. And I just bawled. Right there on the plane. Terribly, terribly embarrassing, but you know how, as with laughter, when you try to suppress tears they tend to come on all the stronger, with a terrible vengeance? Yep, that's the way it was. Shudder to remember it now.
Online listening tip. Thekit.org interviews artists, critics and musicians. A little over halfway down their audio page, you'll spot an interview with Michael Snow who talks about Wavelength, of course, and the relationships between experimental film and painting on the one hand and with Hollywood on the other.
June 16, 2003
Wanna see it again?The year was 1978 and a commentator for the German weekly Die Zeit had a little something to get off his chest:
There we sit after more than thirty years - the Empire in ruins, the East German homeland lost, Berlin divided, Prussia abolished, the old society with all its values destroyed, the new still without contours, the world filled with the rattling of weapons, hearts filled with secret fears, of atomic catastrophe, of inflation and unemployment, of terrorists - and, despite all that, ever again Hitler, Hitler, Hitler - one can't stand it!
Another quarter of a century later, that same conservative writer, if he's still alive and wishing the world would please move along, must be going out of his mind. Scanning the weekend papers from Berlin, New York and London yesterday, I began to wonder about the persistence of Hitler not only as a static icon of ultimate evil, both visually and rhetorically, but also as a dramatic narrative, a story somehow cinematically more engaging than that of his victims - hence, his ever-active presence in collective memory. In this week's column for Telepolis, I do some of that wondering out loud. I should add that, on the one hand, obviously, we must never forget; but on the other, is it possible to overdo it? And for dubious reasons to boot?
"Sieg Hohl," by the way, is a play on "Sieg Heil" and could be loosely translated as "empty salute." That poster is one of over 100 artworks, including objects and films (which they'll hopefully put up on the site some day) created at a design school in Dortmund as a collaborative effort to counter right-wing extremism in Germany.
June 15, 2003
Shorts, 6/15.I've pointed to reviews of both these books before, but this is a very fine pair in today's Los Angeles Times Book Review: Jonathan Kirsch on Leslie Epstein's San Remo Drive: A Novel From Memory and Michael Frank on Rebecca Solnit's River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. From the first:
The neighbor whose Doberman pinscher frightens the Jacobi boys is Thomas Mann, living in exile in the Palisades, and the family friend who sets up a movie screen in the Jacobi living room to show "an early cut of Sunset Boulevard" is Billy Wilder:
"'You're dead!' shouted Bartie, addressing the floating corpse of Bill Holden. 'Shut up, shut up, shut up! You can't be talking!'"
And from the second:
Ah, California: Using Muybridge as her conduit, Solnit builds a case for the state having produced an alternative modernism, a kind of balancing pendant to the artistic and literary modernism that emerged in Paris in the 19th century. California's modern experience, she argues, is an "amalgamation of technology, entertainment, and what gets called lifestyle." She even goes so far as to nominate the moment when the railroad baron Leland Stanford engaged the photographer Eadweard Muybridge to see if he could make an image of a horse in motion as a creation story behind California's two significant transformations of the world, Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Claire Danes broke with California at a young age only to return quite suddenly and in a big way: "So the script was sent over and within hours I had to decide whether I was going to commit myself to a film with the largest budget of all time." Garth Pearce interviews her in the Sunday Times. Another young "veteran" interviewed in a British paper: Kieran Culkin in the Guardian.
"Up with Down With Love," insists Peter Merholz. Earlier: "Should couples feel compelled to see every movie together? Seeing a film alone is not a signal of the end of your love - it's just a reflection of different tastes. In fact, it can be very liberating." Say Amen, somebody.
Patrick McGilligan, biographer of Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Robert Altman, George Cukor, Fritz Lang and the list goes on, talks with LeRoy Collins, who starred in Oscar Micheaux's last film, The Betrayal.
"This 10 day festival will be, simply put, the biggest, most thorough set of screenings ever done anywhere in the world, of stereoscopic films from the 1950's." The World 3-D Film Expo is to be staged at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in September. Also coming down the pipe: A 3-D children's film from Bollywood with Anupam Kher.
Francis Ford Coppola has helped bring the most expensive and most successful movie ever made in Thailand to the screen, reports Sheila Johnston in the New York Daily News. The Legend of Suriyothai, says Coppola, is "the story of these extraordinary queens manipulating power with all the tools at their disposal: sex and betrayal and poison." Via Movie City News.
In the New York Times:
No other Australian films have influenced world cinema and popular culture as widely and lastingly as George Miller's Mad Max movies. From a horde of trashy Italian exploitation films to the hip homage by the Coen brothers' Raising Arizona; from a low-budget, leftist allegory like Diesel to a grandiose Hollywood epic like Waterworld; from Australian rock videos by John Paul Young, Rose Tattoo and the Angels to the delirious, supernatural or sci-fi fantasy-thrillers of Tsui Hark in Hong Kong, Luc Besson in France and Guillermo del Toro in Mexico; from post-punk fashion to cyberpunk fiction - the trace of Max is everywhere.
Peter Barton keeps one helluvan exhaustive and up-to-date site on them as well, right here.
Joseph Connolly watches his novel of the English seaside become the "funny, swift, sexy - and very, very French" film, Summer Things.
"The latest trend from the movers and shakers of the film world is a return to 1930s-style on-screen modesty," reports Edward Helmore in the Observer. The blame gets spread all over, but two of the prime culprits, evidently, are Washington, and of course, the Internet.
In USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna lists a few of the new scenes we can look forward to in the extendedspecialdeluxealmighty 4-DVD edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers released on November 18.
June 14, 2003
"The paradox of the 'outlaw'.""If we ever get out of this mess and manage to create a sane, liberated society, future generations will look back on Guy Debord as the person who contributed to that liberation more than anyone else in the twentieth century." Thus begins the Introduction to the Complete Cinematic Works, a fairly, well, spectacular new publication coming out this month from AK Press.
Most people I know were first introduced to Guy Debord the same way I was, that is, via Griel Marcus's Lipstick Traces, as the founder of the Situationist International. Besides his writings and art, his posing about and genuine political agitation, Debord made films. But when his friend and producer, Gérard Lebovici, was assassinated in 1984, Debord clamped down on the circulation of his films and they've rarely been seen since. Now, his widow, Alice Debord, has asked Ken Knabb to translate the texts of the films into English. There's quite a lot already to sort through at the Bureau of Public Secrets site; the book is next, and then, sometime next year, English-subtitled versions of the films are to be released as well.
Here, by the way, is the preface to Debord's Contre le Cinéma (1964) from which the title of this entry is nabbed.
June 13, 2003
A Short Tale of Two Media.We begin, of course, with obits and appreciations. There are two appreciations on the New York Times editorial page today, one for Gregory Peck and one for David Brinkley. Naturally, the paper also runs lengthy obits: Peck and Brinkley. There are other obits and appreciations elsewhere, everywhere, but let me just point to two more for Gregory Peck, the Guardian's and the Los Angeles Times's and then leave the pointing at that for now.
Having just made the point below that parallels are tempting, I guess now's the time to add that coincidence can compel them all the more. While still active in the latter decades of their lives, both men seemed to have gradually faded into color from a time when history was being made in black and white. Each, though, seemed essentially rooted in their chosen medium.
One of my early, vague memories of Brinkley, the more cynical of the two, the faster wit, has him at the news desk, having just joined his co-anchor, probably Chet Huntley, for ongoing coverage of the first moon landing. I believe this was Brinkley; I'm not even 100 percent sure, but it would certainly be like him. And he tells Chet (let's just assume it was Chet) that he walked to the studio and, as he walked through the streets, he realized that they were all perfectly quiet except for the sound of televisions, countless televisions, a television in every living room, all synched to coverage of this event. I think I may even remember that he said he could make out what Chet was saying even as he was still blocks away from the studio.
So by 1969, the third truly mass medium, after movies and radio, had become the most massive. And Hollywood was falling apart, about to hand the reins to stoned auteurs who'd find their own ways of reinvigorating the movies. Gregory Peck would do some fine work in the 70s, and later as well, but he was very much a star, very much of a period when movies came from a place that suddenly seemed farther away than the moon.
Shorts, 6/13.Why the Nation will rarely, rarely allow us to read Stuart Klawans online is way beyond me, but suddenly, the magazine has allowed two film-related pieces wander out of the gate in a single week. Neither of them, unfortunately, by Klawans. And in fact, you have to wonder why the Nation has run the weak plea for "amnesty" for Bob Hope at all, online or off. I, for one, am not buying into it. But the review of Connie Bruck's book on Lew Wasserman, When Hollywood Had a King, even though it is yet another review of that book, somewhat makes up for the Nation's neglect of film enthusiasts. Because the review is by Thomas Schatz, author of The Genius of the System and a former prof of mine.
And speaking of the system, Dinitia Smith reports in the NYT on the next book, San Remo Drive, from Leslie Epstein who grew up in Hollywood, "trick-or-treating at the homes of Thomas Mann and Gregory Peck."
Mark Webber in the Guardian: "New York is often seen as the creative hub of experimental film-making, but the postwar avant-garde - that movement that led directly to the explosion of 'underground film' in the 1960s - began in Los Angeles, in the shadow of the Hollywood sign." Even Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, the quintessential avant icon, was made in the Hollywood Hills.
Sean Nelson doesn't watch TV but he does watch what he calls "DVD TV." His arguments for what makes that sort of viewing better ring true, but they also sound like good arguments for just going ahead and getting a TiVo.
So it's late and you're flipping channels and you stumble over an old movie and there's that guy, the one that looks like Nick Nolte but isn't, the one whose career might well have turned out a lot better if, in fact, he didn't look so much like Nick Nolte. But who is he again? You used to know. Given the initials, you could probably guess. But fortunately, we are blessed to live in the same age Google lives in, and so, there is always an answer to every question just a few clicks away and without all that irritating guesswork. It may not always be the right answer, but it'll always be there. This time, I found the right answer:
Okay, so Gary Busey does look kind've like Nick Nolte. Sometimes a lot like him. But Gary and Nick are two totally different people. Nick Nolte is the Oscar-nominated star of Prince of Tides and 48 Hours who was People's sexiest man alive in 1992 and posed for the cover of Playgirl in 1979, and who now looks like this. Gary Busey, on the other hand, smokes cigars.
Point taken, but where is he now? As it turns out, Busey World has the answer to that one, too. Believe it or not, Gary Busey has got a reality TV show premiering next week.
June 12, 2003
Gregory Peck, 1916 - 2003.
"Inside of all the makeup and the character and makeup, it's you, and I think that's what the audience is really interested in ... you, how you're going to cope with the situation, the obstacles, the troubles that the writer put in front of you." From an interview with CNN.
And on To Kill a Mockingbird: "I put everything I had into it - all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children. And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity."
Shorts: Parallels.That image was snapped by Jonathan Torgovnik, who's got a show going on now through July 5, "Bollywood Dreams," at the Stephen Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles. There's a book on the way as well. On another artsy note, the Architectuur FilmFestival Rotterdam runs from June 18 - 22 and very few of us will be able to go. Nonetheless, the site is definitely worth a look.
Another day, another festival. But the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival is actually about something other than a particular city's prestige, and this year, it opens just as Israelis and Palestinians are killing each other even more ferociously than they usually do. Tomorrow night, the festival will screen Rana's Wedding, a bit of info that's of no use to you at all if, like me, you're not in New York. But you can read Nancy Ramsey's New York Times profile of the Palestinian director, Hany Abu-Assad, who says, "Working on Rana's Wedding was a hell. A whole culture has grown up around these checkpoints. From East Jerusalem to Ramallah is about 10 kilometers. If there is no barrier, it can take 10 minutes. With the barriers, it can be two hours. So you have to find a way to avoid them."
Parallels are tempting. I'd bet you could grab any two objects at random, set them on the table and be able to think up at least half a dozen characteristics they share. Same with abstract ideas. Or historical periods. But the exercise begins to get interesting when the same parallels are drawn by different people, people not connected with each other in any other way, stumbling over the same associations. The sudden emergence of a set of comparisons doesn't necessarily mean that parallel holds water, but it does make it worthier of consideration. A discussion along these lines is going on right now on the Nettime mailing list, for the most part a very reasonable and considered and not hysterical discussion of whether or not the US is gradually becoming a fascist state. Reviewing Derek Jarman's Jubilee for PopMatters, though, Todd R. Ramlow draws a different parallel, one between the US now and...
England in 1977, as well as the film's imagined "1977." The parallels are striking. The economic downturn, rising unemployment, and reduction of taxes for the rich are increasing gaps in the distribution of wealth. The FCC's recent relaxation of media ownership regulations seems positively Borgia Ginz-esque. The US government's answer to its own dwindling prestige worldwide has been the invasion of Iraq, the war on terrorism, and the reassertion of its imperial might. All this is subtended at home by the public's political quietude and knee-jerk patriotism. The music is certainly loud enough in America, so we don't hear the world falling apart. But this time, it's "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The "What is Queer Cinema?" discussion is still going strong at indieWIRE. Very strong. Good stuff on the role of festivals and cable TV in the evolution of NQC and on foreign queer flicks, plus the team traces down some of the early 90s original NQC players. All backing up a summary piece, Jenni Olson's "The Current State of Queer Cinema: Taiwanese Tomboys to Singing Campers."
Moriarty: "I was wrong."
The man of the hour in Los Angeles is KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, subject of a new doc being shown at the LA Film Festival, The Mayor of Sunset Strip. He gets a cover story in the LA Weekly - "(He's truly the Where's Waldo of rock.)" - and two sidebars, interviews with the film's producer, Chris Carter, and director, George Hickenlooper. And then Kevin Thomas kicks off his list of four festival picks in the Los Angeles Times with Mayor.
Rob Reiner's Alex & Emma, a romantic comedy with Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson loosely based on Dostoevsky's The Gambler, opens next week, so he's making the rounds, getting interviewed, for example, here at Moviehole. Interesting bit on When Harry Met Sally:
I had been single for ten years, been making a mess out of my dating life, and I've made a movie. I said I'd make a movie about what this is. So, I make a movie about this and, for the life of me, I created a bad ending in my mind. I had the two of them get together because I had never been and couldn't get with anybody. I said how does this happen? How can this happen? It doesn't happen. I can never be with another woman and be friends and also be romantic with her. It's not going to happen. So, I just made that happen because I think people don't want them to not be together and so we'll just do it.
Hollywood, eh? Here's the guy who made This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride and Misery, and he slaps on a stinkin' Hollywood ending. But get this, very next sentence: "So I fell in love with my wife while I was making the movie, met the woman I wound up marrying, and I've been married 14 years." Awwww.
"Just remember, kids, every time you cherish an anime title, a pervert made it happen." Heavens. Quite an opening argument for another round of reviews from Bamboo Dong at Anime News Service. At any rate, deemed "Shelf Worthy" are Voices of a Distant Star, Full Metal Panic, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, DNA2 Vol. 3: Mutation and Master Keaton. Then comes a slew of rental recommendations and three "perishable items."
Online viewing tip. ArtKrush points to the homepage of Tadashi Kumai which is indeed pretty rich. Explore the artwork and watch the movie, a juxtaposition of CG animation and silent 8mm footage that works.
June 11, 2003
Shorts, 6/11."Well Moriarty certainly stirred up the shit yesterday didn't he?" He certainly did. Harry Knowles is talking about the rant that launched a thousand replies at Ain't It Cool News, the one by Drew McWeeny blasting the scores of people who have, weeks before the movie's premiere, posted pans of Ang Lee's The Hulk based on an unpolished work print circulating out there. The mystery of how it got out in the first place is the subject of a brief report in the Los Angeles Times, but for David Poland, the long-term story here - very long-term; his ruminations come in two parts - is the evolution of AICN, and by extension, the evolution of the film industry as it scrambles to simultaneously protect itself from, and of course, use online vortexes like AICN.
Meantime, there are festivals to keep up with and, for Leonard Klady in Movie City News, tomorrow's opening of the Los Angeles Film Festival is an opportunity to consider how the "surfeit of film festivals" in general has also prodded the evolution of the industry. Jessica Hundley, in the LAT, sticks closer to the LAFF itself, but though organizers are giving it their best shot, both writers agree that LA has a long way to go before it's got a major festival in the city.
But major may not always be better. There's a lot to be said for focus and a manageable schedule, for organizers and viewers alike. The San Francisco Black Film Festival, for example, begins today and runs for a modest five days (I get a few words in on it here) and the San Francisco Bay Guardian critics prep for their city's International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival with capsule reviews of highlights, Dennis Harvey's take on the state of camp ('It's a reverse elitism that understands how - with a little wishful thinking on the part of the viewer - the excesses, foibles, and clichés of 'normal' society can be seen to parody themselves") and Lynn Rapoport's piece on Barbara Teufel's Gallant Girls ("Part documentary, part drama, the film is an accounting of the years between 1987 and 1991 in the West Berlin district of Kreuzberg, as lived through by a group of anarchist punks battling the state, the press, and the International Monetary Fund").
"Hedonism was never more nonchalant," enthuses J. Hoberman as he reintroduces Trouble in Paradise and provides a swift overview of the career of its director, Ernst Lubitsch, on the eve of a 34-film retro at NYC's Film Forum.
A relatively new issue of The Film Journal is up, with more on "Fringe Cinema," a talk with Gus Van Sant about Gerry and Elephant and pieces on digital filmmaking, New Queer Cinema, Caligari, Hal Hartley, Elizabeth, Groundhog Day and a healthy batch of reviews.
Stanley Kauffmann huffs and puffs and announces in the New Republic that he'll review serious science fiction but won't bother with any of the Matrix films. "Adolescent fodder," he snorts. I've always kind of liked Kauffmann, remember seeing him on Dick Cavett when I was a kid, but heavens, I'm afraid his age is beginning to show.
For Anime News Network, Jonathan Mays interviews Cindy Yamauchi, a key animator for Akira, Ranma ½, and Record of Lodoss War: "If you absolutely want to be anime animator, I suggest first learning Japanese. There's absolutely no way around that; you need to know the language. I don't care how creatively talented you are. It doesn't mean anything if you can't communicate."
In Salon, David Ng interviews Amir Naderi, "an Iranian-born director who, after revolutionizing cinema in his own country, moved to the United States in the early 1980s and has been working here ever since." I particularly like this comment: "New York for me is not America. It is its own country." Sometimes a foreigner's eyes see clearest.
The LAT's Lorenza Muñoz traces the various stops and starts as distributors try to nail that viable Spanish-language market in the US.
Samuel G. Freedman gathers some interesting reactions from black religious leaders on the casting of Morgan Freeman as God in Bruce Almighty. Also in the New York Times: Somini Sengupta files a report from Bunia, Congo, where boys and young men take a break from the ferocious war by watching "Congolese music videos and one shoot-'em-up movie after another."
Online viewing tip. The Tokyo-based creative collective Devilrobots has put together a DVD and called it Evil Gold with 26 segments, A to Z. Click there to see a sample, more or less divided into three parts, the third of which looks most interesting to me. But then, that's just me.
June 10, 2003
Shorts, 6/10.Yesterday, indieWIRE launched a discussion with the question, "What is Queer Cinema?" Among the guests is B. Ruby Rich, widely credited with coining the term "New Queer Cinema," and she's quick to bring up a point that's so far getting made a few times over in a few different ways (more than once, interestingly enough, with reference to Six Feet Under):
Scarcity was an element in the success of the New Queer Cinema (NQC) eleven years ago (twelve years ago, if you go back to the 1991 Sundance, the preparatory year in which Poison and Paris Is Burning won the jury awards that first put everyone on notice). There were so few films that "everyone" turned out for them, critics were curious, festivals were eager, and a movement was created. A decade later, each film is not a circled date on the calendar of every queer household any longer.
How did I miss this? Greg Allen interviews Christoffer Guldbrandsen, the Danish director of the doc The Road to Europe which caused quite a ruckus several weeks ago by capturing top-ranking EU officials (among them, German foreign minister Joschka Fischer) expressing sentiments in near-privacy that varied from their own public statements. Hmm... That might sound rather dry, but Guldbrandsen, who very evidently knows the tradition he's working in, is most definitely not.
Darren Hughes finally makes it through John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence, "the single most painful experience of my film-watching life," and wanders on to Cassavetes champion Ray Carney's site for a bit of reading pleasure, the best moments of which he readily shares.
Online viewing tip: Gollum's MTV Awards acceptance speech, via Tagline, where the gents'll lead you to more clips. Also: The trailer for Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, via AICN, where there's a huge discussion going on about "That HULK Workprint You All Claim To Be 'Reviewing'..."
June 9, 2003
In a world...Maybe you've seen that book Our Final Hour stacked in stores, or maybe you've read reviews. One of them, on the cover of the New York Times Book Review a couple of weeks ago, summed it up pretty succinctly: "Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, a professor at Cambridge University, one of the world's most brilliant cosmologists and a longtime arms control advocate, gives civilization as we know it only a 50-50 chance of surviving the 21st century."
Well, civilization as we know it has pretty much always been teetering on the edge, but having so recently lived through a period Bruce Sterling sharply identified almost immediately after 9/11 as the Belle Epoque of the late 20th century, 1989 - 2001, we're feeling the return to the ol' teeter all the more. Which is probably why star curators Molly Nesbit, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rirkrit Tiravanija have chosen a particular Buckminster Fuller quote - "Today the world is too dangerous for anything less than utopia" - as a launching pad for their Utopia Station, blasting off from Venice and spreading out across the globe over the next several years. Part of the project involves posters done up by over 160 artists, and fortunately, they've asked at least one filmmaker to contribute: Agnes Varda.
On another art-related note, Cindy Sherman. An old favorite. A retrospective has just opened at the Serpentine Gallery in London which'll include many of the incredible Untitled Film Stills, several of which you can see here; or, better yet, just start here and click those little black arrows on the right all the way through until there aren't any anymore. In the Observer, Laura Cumming recaptures the surprise they sprang all those years ago:
Part of the pleasure lay in spotting the stylistic allusions - Hitchcock or Hawks, Fellini or Godard, New Wave or Italian New Realism. So authentic was the pastiche that people who saw these so-called stills often told Sherman they had seen the original movies as well. But the films were imaginary and the photographs had all the involving values of fiction. Some of the story was given, or could be deduced, but the rest you imagined, the characters developing in your head.
And finally, in another act of imagining oneself into another world, Jillian Mcdonald slips into something a little more comfortable, namely, scenes selected from films with Billy Bob Thornton and slowed down to the dreamy pace of the accompanying ballad. Of meandbillybob.com, Curt Cloninger writes for Net Art News, "Far from being cynical and campy, the overall effect is unexpectedly sad and poignant."
Shorts, 6/9.A couple of DVDs coming out tomorrow are enjoying a bout of pre-release PR. Let's start with Giant, "forged from the hubris of Hollywood and the sturdy bravado of Texas," writes Dana Calvo in the Los Angeles Times: "The results were winning." The cool million Warner Brothers spent on the digital version will likely prove to be a winning strategy as well.
For the New York Times, Simon Romero visits Marfa, Texas, population 2300, where, of course, Giant was filmed. The "legacy," writes Romero, of "the 1956 film that captured the transformation of Texas from an aristocratic ranching economy into a state dominated by rough-hewn oilmen, persists." And will no doubt resonate in the era of Bush II, heir to loads of that rough-hewn oil money.
For a very fun, related browse, zip through Texas Monthly's guide to Texcentric Cinema.
Reviewing Hideo Nakata's Dark Water in the Observer, Mark Kermode recaps the state of horror: "In the same way that the Italian giallo maestros like Mario Bava and Dario Argento had inspired John Carpenter and Brian De Palma in the Sixties and Seventies, now Japanese film-makers such as Hideo Nakata and Takashi Miike emerged to lead international horror cinema out of the wilderness."
Focusing on Asian ghost stories, and in particular, Ringu and The Eye, Terrence Rafferty concurs: "Serious filmmakers like Kenji Mizoguchi, Masaki Kobayashi and Stanley Kwan have worked in the genre without shame and without a hint of condescension to the shades and specters and odd bits of ectoplasm that populate it. And the films of Mr. Nakata and the Pangs have absorbed some of that mournful dignity; it's as if the filmmakers were discharging a solemn duty, honoring an obligation to the spirits they invoke."
The ethics of fansubbing are hashed out at Anime News Network in two editorials. Christopher Macdonald lambasts Anime Junkies for making titles available that have North American licensors (and heavens, they lambast right back) while Daniel DeLorme argues that it's time for fansubbers to abandon IRC for BitTorrent.
An intriguing quiz this week at Couch Pundit: "When the Golan brothers threatened to stop funding the film, the director went to their office with a chainsaw and threatened to cut off a finger-joint a day from his hands right in front of them if they didn't cough up the dough."
Ian Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett in London's Sunday Times:
As Jaime Hovey, assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, memorably put it last weekend: "James's transformation from murderously efficient prick to stylishly accessorised dildo" is neither interesting nor sexy. Hovey was giving a lesbian or "queer studies" reading on James Bond at a two-day conference on The Cultural Politics of Ian Fleming and 007 at Indiana University in Bloomington, 200 miles south of Chicago.
Ian Fleming would have been amused...
Reviewing the Die Another Day DVD, though, Doug Pratt sticks to the basics: screen ratios, soundtrack encoding and a grudging admiration for "an enjoyable adventure, bouncing all over the world, fooling around with all sorts of gadgets, and depicting a life of suave luxury, punctuated with energetic violence." Sadly, no mention of Castro, cyborgs or dildos.
Also in the Sunday Times: Ariel Leve on "one of Hollywood's leading power couples," producer Cathy Konrad and writer-director James Mangold. Together, they've made Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted, Kate & Leopold and Identity. That's what you call a mixed track record. The partnership, though, is intriguing.
Speaking of Cop Land, a shock for me because I was actually rather touched by the performance Sylvester Stallone turned in, the Italian Stallion plans to write and direct Rampart Scandal in which he'll also star as controversial LA detective Russell Poole who investigated the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.
Online viewing tip: 80s Ending, a shortish parody of the last few minutes of every movie to hit the metroplex during that very odd decade.
June 8, 2003
Show [fill in the blank] the money!The German Film Awards were handed out on Friday and there were no surprises. Good bye, Lenin!, a film for which the term "bittersweet" seems to have been coined in the first place, swept up seven Lolas (yes, they bear probably the most resonant name in German film history). Reuters's coverage is amusing and undoubtedly confusing to those who don't know how the German film industry is structured. On the one hand, the GFAs are described as "the world's most lucrative film competition" with a total of $3.4 million given to the winners, but on the other hand, they're "Germany's equivalent of the Oscars."
But of course, besides a mighty box office boost an Oscar can bring, the Academy does not award checks along with its gold-plated statues. So what is that $3.4 million all about then? As it happens, that's currently the subject of a lively debate that seems to be pitting Germany's federal minister of culture, Christina Weiss, against just about everybody in the German film industry. The Deutscher Filmpreis is, first and foremost, a form of government subsidy for the arts. Not the only one, but for film, the major one. It's only relatively recently that the awards ceremony has evolved into a red carpet affair. But the awards themselves, that is, the cash, are meant to subsidize future projects.
So, for example, the 500,000 euros for Best Film that went to Stefan Arndt and X-Filme for producing Good bye, Lenin! are supposed to be applied to the next project; same with the considerably more modest financial reward, 10,000 euros for Best Direction, that went to Wolfgang Becker. You can easily imagine the question cineastes and artistes have been raising for years: Doesn't this system reward those who are already successful and pass over those who really need the help?
It's a question that will only be asked with greater intensity as new rules for qualifying for subsidies have been drawn up by Weiss and her ministry. It'll be tougher. A film will have to score points by being invited to film festivals (and not just any festivals, but A-level festivals, Cannes, Berlin, Venice), and what's more, those points will only count if the film has sold 50,000 tickets. It gets much more complicated and terribly German, but I'll spare you. The gist is, as Katja Nicodemus points out in Die Zeit, two of the films up for awards this year, Züli Aladag's Elefantenherz and Eoin Moore's Pigs will fly, wouldn't qualify under the new system, despite the fact that they've both been critically lauded and have both found substantial audiences relative to their low, low budgets.
Daniel Brühl in Good bye, Lenin! He won best actor for this performance and for Elefantenherz as well.
To be fair to Weiss, though, she does have her reasons. The current system is partly a result of the government's having thrown money for years, particularly in the 80s, at auteur-riffic films no one ever saw or wanted to see. But the main line of reasoning has to do with the extreme crisis the German economy as a whole is currently floundering in and the enormous debts the government is facing. In short, Weiss has been assigned the task of coming up with a system that pays for itself. Not directly, of course. But her plans to shift funding away from production and more towards marketing denote the outline of the overall scheme: Make German films more popular around the world, creating a demand which will then lead to more production, more jobs and so on.
In other words: Don't dangle art out there and expect the world to bite. Instead, create an economically viable environment in which to cultivate art. It's that old dilemma about art and money all over again: Which is the cart and which is the horse?
June 7, 2003
Weekend Shorts."The story's got all the elements. It's got humour, pathos, drama, relevance and topicality." That's Robert DeBitetto, senior vice-president of programming for A&E, on the network's plans to make a movie based on Gail Sheehy's Hillary's Choice, possibly starring... Sharon Stone? At any rate, the story's also got international appeal. The Hillary Blitz is global and it's already underway. The German newsweekly Der Spiegel, for example, gets a weekend jump on its prototype, Time, by publishing excerpts from her memoir in the issue out today. Here's bigger shot of the cover and there's Sharon Stone... Maybe.
On another political note, though we've already laid it on thick with regard to The Weather Underground, just a couple more pointers: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks to founding member Mark Rudd and two more notable reviews in Slate and indieWIRE.
As Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre prepares for Monday's 20th anniversary screening of The Right Stuff, Susan King talks to director Philip Kaufman and cast-folk Ed Harris, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey and Pamela Reed. Also in the Los Angeles Times: Young non-actors who turn in terrific performances and Emanuel Levy, arguing that the "mass spectacles" we've been seeing each summer since the 80s are actually a return to the aesthetics of the silent era and "a philosophy that sees moviegoing as an experience meant to stir emotions rather than provoke ideas."
Xan Brooks reviews Joseph McBride's Searching for John Ford: "Depending on your stance, [Ford's] films either confirm him as the great fraudulent myth-maker of 20th-century American culture, or as the medium's most influential artist. McBride shows that the two need not be mutually exclusive."
Online viewing tip. A-Kon 14, the massive anime convention that drew 7200 attendees to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, wrapped up a few days ago, but a zillion cosplay photos are now up and browsable at the galleries.
June 6, 2003
Shorts, 6/6.A widely reported news item can sometimes lead to a really nice find. The item: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Stormare and Bud Cort have all signed up for roles in Wes Anderson's next film, The Life Aquatic.
Now, that last link there will take you to wesanderson.org where you can also find Variety's brief story on the new film. But just look at that site. Isn't that precisely the way a site for Wes Anderson should look? The site that a dapper dresser, politely quirky director (as opposed to an aggressively quirky director, along the lines of, say, Todd Solondz) of movies populated with amusingly quirky characters (as opposed to the frighteningly quirky characters of, say, Happiness) deserves? Well done and a pleasure to browse, too.
So after 3 hours, all the producers had left because I hadn't strung two sentences together, because I would actually faint and get dizzy. I wouldn't fall down but I would get so dizzy that I would start to faint, hyperventilating, fainting and Ang came over to me and all the producers were gone and I was on my haunches rocking back and forth and Ang said, "Do you think it's time to string two sentences together?"
"I'm telling you all this because I know you want to know. Everyone loves a true story, the stranger the better." That's actually how Paul Berczeller's oddly moving story in the Guardian ends, not how it begins. He set out to make a Chris Marker-like film about a Japanese woman who went searching for the million bucks she saw buried in Fargo. Funny, true, but it also turns sad, and yes, strange.
Also in the Guardian:
Michael Sragow in the Los Angeles Times:
Even today's most jaded moviegoers, suspicious of idealism or sentiment, will get snagged in this movie's web of personality and intrigue. For when set against The Great Escape< today's blockbusters are the comic-dramatic equivalents of starvation diets. This film contains a baker's dozen of distinct characters, all limned with clarity and color. Compare that accomplishment with the current box office champ, The Matrix Reloaded, which defines its heroes and villains mostly by couture.
Also in the LAT: Barbara Taylor Bradford, the one-woman bodice-ripper factory, has shaken Bollywood by putting a stop to a 260-part TV series with a single lawsuit. Ramola Talwar Badam reports.
"Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins can plead the case for saving the spotted owl, but Sinatra and his pals were instrumental in putting Kennedy into office. That's power." Tara Taghizadeh in PopMatters on the Rat Pack.
Pixar is the next Disney, Chris Suellentrop argues in Slate, and that, he says, is both good and bad news.
Briefly reviewed in the Austin Chronicle: W.C. Fields: A Biography by James Curtis and Sunkissed: Sunwear and the Hollywood Beauty 1930-1950 by, coincidentally, Joshua James Curtis (not the same guy).
Online viewing tip. Edward the Less, via Craig P, who says, "It's a rollicking little online series voiced by the talents from Mystery Science Theater. Très funny in a Black Adder-ish sort of way, though the animation is less animated then comic book panels zoomed in and out on."
June 5, 2003
Late but still quite bright.The biggest and best news today for movie-lovers will be the new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal. It's dated May but, though I check the site fairly regularly, I hadn't noticed until today. And sure enough, editor Gary Morris comes this close to an apology: "We're late because the zeitgeist couldn't keep its hands off our string!"
Anyone who doesn't love Bright Lights doesn't love life, that much should be clear right off.
So things kick off with a longish piece (but not the longest [and that's only part two! Part one is here]) on Hollywood's perpetual desire to pump out product that's both "new and the same." Not a fresh topic A. Jay Adler's chosen, but he's deepened it by pointing out that this strategy is practically as old as cinema itself.
Then there's Richard Shaw's piece which starts off mighty: "Nowhere in the history of European art cinema, nor alternative cinema generally, is the fickleness of critical taste more marked than in Ingmar Bergman's fall from 1960s auteur preeminence to recent neglect." He then argues that'd it be a big, big mistake to write the man off. (By the way, you may have seen that he's just received a film preservation award.)
More: Morphism's Scott Thill on Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, Robert Castle on Fellini's Orchestra Rehearsal, Seth Nesenholtz on the sheer campiness of Will Smith, Megan Ratner on Powell and Pressburger's I Know Where I'm Going and Gary Morris himself on what recent arthouse flicks get right and wrong while tackling queer life and on the "undisputed leader" of the 70s-era "porno chic" movement, Wakefield Poole and his interview with Holly Woodlawn, and of course, that's just scratching the surface.
It may only appear four times a year, but not only is Bright Lights worth the wait, it can take three months to exhaust the resources of each issue anyway.
Shorts, 6/5.What was I just saying about festival season? Today sees the opening of Newfest 2003, the 15th New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (Ed Halter does the rundown in the Voice) and on the 10th, Outfest opens in LA (Brian Brooks does the honors in indieWIRE).
Peter Hames, author of The Czechoslovak New Wave and editor of Dark Alchemy: The Films of Jan Svankmajer, recently attended the 16th Finále Festival of Czech Film, an event that blends new work with films from "Czech cinema's most turbulent decade," the 60s. As his report appears at Kinoeye, that page itself becomes a mini-portal to a national cinema pretty darn rich for such a relatively small country.
For Filmmaker, Jeremiah Kipp interviews AJ Schnack, director of Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, the two Johns being, of course, Linnell ("the introspective one") and Flansburgh ("the showy one"), which is to say, They Might Be Giants.
Turning to anime, ADV will be releasing Volume 1 of the new series directed by Katsuihiko Nishijima, Najica Blitz Tactics, in August. Which wouldn't exactly be news if there weren't also a Pantyriffic Collector's Edition being simultaneously released for nearly twice the price. Why so expensive? Well, besides the artsy box, it'll also come with, that's right, panties.
The official site for The Animatrix is running interviews with directors Mahiro Maeda and Shinichiro Watanabe and producer Mike Arias. Speaking of the Matrix yet again, at Alternet, Annalee Newitz asks, "When was the last time you saw a special-effects blockbuster with hot, sweaty sex in it? Especially multiracial, multipartner, out-of-wedlock sex that didn't spell doom for its practitioners?" For all of Reloaded's problems, there is that.
Online viewing tip. In the wake of the Bunny brouhaha, it's good to remember that Vincent Gallo has a body of work that stretches back several years. You won't see much evidence of that at his own site, but there are more than a few clips to look at and listen to at the Vincent Gallo Appreciation Page. Interesting stuff, though none of it has me particularly hot to see The Brown Bunny.
One more for early risers in the States. The Open Cultures conference in Vienna, all about "free flows of information and the politics of the commons," is being streamed live. Today's session is already underway and will wrap up at around 8 pm CET, making that 2 pm on the east coast, 11 am on the west. Tomorrow's session runs from 12 noon to 8 pm CET, meaning if, say, you're on the east coast and really interested, you'd start viewing at around 6 am.
June 4, 2003
Shorts, 6/4.Rob Walker's sharp and brief dissection of an ad for the Chevy Impala (which you can view from that page) is a good film-related segue to a non-film-related article I'd like to point to anyway: "Keepin' It Unreal."
Also in the Village Voice this week are two pieces on Sam Green and Bill Siegel's doc, The Weather Underground, J. Hoberman's review and Tom Smucker's open question: "The New Left's gone, not as an attitude or memory, but as an institution. Why?"
A quick run-down of related reads: Elvis Mitchell's review in the New York Times, Armond White's in the New York Press, Rob Nelson, briefly, in Mother Jones, Ron Jacobs, not briefly at all (he's the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground, after all), ruminating about a year ago in Counterpunch and our own Craig Phillips's interview with Mark Kitchell, director of Berkeley in the Sixties.
Back to the Voice. The backlash against Vincent Gallo's naysayers has begun in earnest and it looks as if it won't be long before it's critically incorrect to snub The Brown Bunny. Mark Peranson sorts out what the man said, how he was misquoted and generally appeals for a tolerant second look at the film. But the most detailed breakdown of the "scandal" has to be Frank DiGiacomo's blow-by-blow account (sorry) in the New York Observer. Interesting, isn't it, that not only could Lars von Trier not score a prize at Cannes (though many, like J. Hoberman, think he should've), he couldn't make his scandal ("anti-American" remarks; like that would be a big surprise) stick, either, upstaged as its been by Gallo's... bunny.
And back to the NYT. Dave Kehr looks at Controlled Chaos, "a fictionalized account of the four years [Azita] Zendel spent as an assistant to Oliver Stone." Which reminds me of a story in this morning's Berliner Zeitung, a profile of Heidi Ewing, director of the short doc Dissident: Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project. That film, profiling the Cuban human rights activist, was shown at Tribeca this year instead of Stone's Comandante. You may remember that HBO sent Stone back to gather more footage and cut together a more balanced portrait of Castro. Anyway, in the BLZ story, Ewing gets in touch with Oswaldo Payá again - who tells her he's been contacted by none other than Oliver Stone.
"It was expected to be a modest hit at best... But much like the film's protagonist, Shane has endured." Michael F. Blake in the Los Angeles Times on the classic, 50 years on. Remember the surprise when Woody Allen chose to watch it a couple of years ago with the NYT's Rick Lyman?
If you've got loads of free time on your hands and enough disposable cash to not mind spending about three times as much as you'd really have to (few people have both), you can build your own TiVo. Of course, it wouldn't actually be a real TiVo. So, what's the point? Customization, flexibility. Leander Kahney explains the appeal of MythTV. Also in Wired News: Katie Dean on the smut-filterers vs Hollywood.
Apropos of today's Daily 5 at GreenCine: Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the premiere of WarGames. A thought: Though we no longer slap phone receivers down on our modems to get a connection, hundreds of years from now, Neo and Co. will still be racing to find a phone booth.
Online playing tip. Uncle Roy All Around You.
June 3, 2003
GC Daily: Now Owned By Viacom
(from Craig P:) Oh boo hoo, the megacorporations who own most major media outlets were really struggling to make ends meet and needed Uncle Sam to come to the rescue with its Magic Deregulation Pill. Didn't we go down this road before? This is all following the recent trend of two-paper towns becoming one-paper towns, from Cleveland to San Francisco (unless you count the Examiner as a real newspaper, which I don't). So here's the story, as reported on Alternet:
The FCC voted along strict partisan lines Monday morning to further loosen restrictions on media ownership. Thanks to FCC chief Michael Powell and his two Republican colleagues, a single broadcast network can now own stations that reach a combined total of 45 percent of the national audience. Worse, the commissioners also voted to lift the cross-ownership ban that prevented a company from owning both a newspaper.
By the way, in case you missed it or still don't believe we live in an oligarchy, Michael Powell is the same one who happens to be the offspring of Secretary of State Colin Powell, increasing the level of insidiousness even further. (Is it just me or does Powell the Younger look like a black Casey Affleck, with an extra-smarmy "I know what's good for you" look on his face?) Recent TV coverage of the war/ invasion/ whatever in Iraq demonstrated that US media companies aren't interested in providing a serious range of analysis and debate. Alternet gives a fine overview of what was at stake with the FCC decision.
One part of the agreement that jumped out to me states that a corporation can own two TV stations in the same metropolitan area market, but only one can be among the top 4 stations in the ratings. So, big deal right? So what happens if that second station, not in the top 4 when purchased, works its way up to the top 4 while still owned by the same corporation? Is the corporation forced to sell? No, of course not -- and then they'll have two stations in the top 4, giving them free reign to feature double the news or political coverage with essentially the same point of view. Oh, and in larger markets where there are at least 18 stations, like Los Angeles, a company will now be allowed to own three stations. Okay, so I grew up near LA, and will admit that it was often hard to tell the difference between some of the newscasts, reaching as they were wont to do for new lows in blinking vapidity (picture Futurama's year 3000 newscasts with the giggling bubbly blonde lady accompanied by the hulking, evil alien, and you'll have seen an only slight exaggeration on Fox LA's newscasts). However, LA, like San Francisco, and most other large metropolitan areas in the US has always offered several quality newscasts, ones not actually sinking to the lowest common denominator. And this could potentially allow one corporation to own the NBC, CBS and ABC station in a major market. Now picture how the ruling could essentially effect such crucial tenets of American democracy as local political races, and local events.
Now, one could argue that this won't change our media landscape much -- that things already suck, and that ClearChannel Communications already owns practically everything -- so why should you care? At last count, the right-leaning company owned 13 radio stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. When the company purchased popular SF hip-hop and soul station KMEL, one of its first items of business was to fire popular DJ Davey D Cook, ostensibly for "budget cuts." Yeah, and it had nothing to do with Cook's on-air interview with local Representative Barbara Lee (who was the one Rep. to speak out against a war after 9/11) the week before. That same week, that same Clear Channel -- owner of more than 1,100 other radio stations nationwide -- distributed a list of 150 songs it suggested its stations not air in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.
I've compiled a few other compelling reasons as to why you should think that this FCC decision is corrupt and stupid.
Here's one story, relayed via Eli Pariser at MoveOn:
At 1:30 on a cold January night, a train containing hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic ammonia derails in Minot, North Dakota. Town officials try to sound the emergency alert system, but it isn't working. Desperate to warn townspeople about the poisonous white cloud bearing down on them, the officials call their local radio stations. But no one answers any of the phones for an hour and a half. According to the New York Times, three hundred people are hospitalized, some are partially blinded, and pets and livestock are killed. Where were Minot's DJs on January 18th, 2002? Where was the late night station crew? As it turns out, six of the seven local radio stations had recently been purchased by Clear Channel Communications, a radio giant with over 1,200 stations nationwide. Economies of scale dictated that most of the local staff be cut: Minot stations ran more or less on auto pilot, the programming largely dictated from further up the Clear Channel food chain. No one answered the phone because hardly anyone worked at the stations any more; the songs played in Minot were the same as those played on Clear Channel stations across the Midwest.
This is the new reality we're faced with now after this FCC decision.
Another reason this sucks: Disney, CCC, Fox, Viacom and GE (owner of NBC) are all thrilled with the decision. And on the other side, hell, in the strange bedfellows department, you have the NRA and MoveOn, on the same side of the argument.
Some further reading on the matter: Tom Shales, the Washington Post's media columnist, thinks Powell is trying to make a name for himself. Also interesting in that column is the quote from media mogul Barry Diller (now the owner of USA Networks, and the founder of Fox Broadcasting), who said that he's "upset that this has not produced enough conversation and dialogue. The way Michael Powell has gone about it is to hide the issue as much as possible, organizing it to avoid debate and hearings, and getting it done largely under the cover of night."
Also an important read is the Columbia Journalism Review's Neil Hickey, who provides an in-depth look at all the issues and players involved in this battle. And while we're at it, where have all the women gone, asks Cheryl Rivers. Those op-ed pages are looking awfully male these days.
So why should you not give up hope?
Because even though it's looking less and less like a democracy these days (and Canada's looking better and better, South Park invasions notwithstanding), and freedom of speech is being trampled into the ground (just ask the woebegotten Dixie Chicks) -- hey, this is still a democracy. You can still write.
Conservative columnist William Safire is on the same page as Ted Turner about something, and a lot of ordinary citizens are mad, too -- MoveOn got 180,000 people to sign on to a formal protest. You can spread it around. Next year's an election year: You can still vote, too. While you're at it, you can still turn off these radio and TV stations.
Shorts, 6/3.With well over 660 film festivals staged each year, it's always festival season. But summer, when everyone's feeling particularly festive, always seems to have a busier schedule. For indieWIRE, Brian Brooks preps for the Frameline San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (June 12 - 29) and Christopher Henderson previews the New York manifestation of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (June 11 - 26). On the 13th, its online counterpart, the Media That Matters Festival will be viewable for all of us, even if we don't live on one of the coasts.
While we're ticking them off, one more, back in San Francisco. By comparison, the SF Black Film Festival is short (June 11 - 15) and young (this'll be its fifth year), but it's growing fast and, what's more, focuses on workshops and panels as much as it does on watching movies.
Susan Wloszczyna kicks off a package with a very USA Today opener: "If you recently caught a movie at the multiplex, clicked on the TV remote or attended a Broadway show, you may have noticed the world looks a lot more gay lately. And we aren't just talking about happy and carefree." Pretty cringe-worthy. Even so, there's a bit of a look forward to gay moments coming soon in mainstream entertainment and a handy cut-out list of "watershed moments."
In the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein takes in two docs on the 70s, "Hollywood's last golden era," and finds that while Easy Riders, Raging Bulls "offers more entertainment value," A Decade Under the Influence is "more illuminating, with the respectful tone you'd expect from a graduate school seminar." Hm. Put both on my list.
"An entire dream factory that was built around virile boys and their unquestionable love has exchanged brimming youth for what is called 'character role'... They are aged between 37 and 43 today but Shah Rukh, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol, Anil Kapoor and Suneil Shetty will not go quietly into the night." Manu Joseph in Outlook India on Bollywood's aging Romeos.
Bamboo Dong is back with a fresh batch of DVD reviews at Anime News Network.
"He has directed more than 50 films in the past 10 years... But where Kitano takes an impassive, understated approach to his movies, Miike favours excess. Lots of it. He must be one of the most gifted directors ever to apply himself to the creation of thoroughly tasteless movies." Steve Rose meets and talks with Takashi Miike. Also in the Guardian: Adam Roberts on sci-fi's long love affair with Mars.
Online viewing tip. Wim Wenders has done a series of ads for Audi (and this isn't the first time he's done TV commercials, either). The best way to view them - there are several, strung in a row, with recurring characters and all as if this were one single coherent narrative; it isn't, really - is to go to this month's News Reel at his official site and there, scroll down - on the lower left corner, you'll see the billboard for The Other Side of the Road. That's it.
June 2, 2003
Mainstreaming anime.It doesn't seem that any particular anime film or series, no matter how lauded, will be solely responsible for the mainstreaming of anime in the west. Despite its Oscar and festival awards, its rave reviews and family-friendly appeal, Spirited Away has still grossed just under $10 million in the US (though it's earned over $250 million outside the US). But a piece in Sunday's Los Angeles Times suggests that, just as Tarantino stirred up interest in Hong Kong action flicks in the 90s, it could be a series of Hollywood live-action films that finally tips the scales in anime's favor in the 00s.
That series would be the Matrix films, of course. "Inspired by the film they inspired" is a close look at the Animatrix collection, a broader skim-over of the cross-cultural exchange that's been going on between Japanese animation and Hollywood fare over the past several years and a brief intro to the work of the masters.
If you're past that point, go straight to the news pouring out of the conventions via Anime News Network and the typically humongous Anime Report from AICN. At the same time, though, as it seeps into other media, such as the Gameboy, and claims more hours on US television, you can't help wondering if going mainstream is necessary a good thing for anime. As the "computer animation consultant" Michael Arias is quoted as saying in the LAT piece, "The American film industry tends to absorb things, chew them up and spit them out in a processed, diluted form. My biggest fear is that Japanese animation will eventually become McAnime."
Shorts, 6/2.I've forgotten which class it was but I've never forgotten the final exam. After an hour or so of short answer stuff, we were shown a film which we'd then analyse right there on the spot. This would be the early 80s and the two profs were fairly confident that none of us kids would have seen the film before - no one would have a head start - and they were right. After a series of remarkable black-and-white still compositions, a single breathless moment of movement and a surprise ending whiplashing us through a time warp, the lights went up and a collective groan filled the room: disappointment that it was over, awe at what we'd just seen and a general reluctance to set pen immediately to paper rather than switch the lights back off and watch it again.
20 years later, there's no way you could show Chris Marker's La Jetée to a room full of film students and expect that not one of them has seen it before. Thanks primarily to 12 Monkeys, the cat's been out of the bag for some time. Starting Wednesday, lucky New Yorkers will have the chance to take in much more of Marker's work at the Anthology Film Archives and, in the New York Times, David Thomson lays the groundwork.
Maybe we should start a "David Thomson Watch" around here. Just the day before, he was reviewing John Walsh's Are You Talking to Me? A Life Through the Movies in the Guardian. The bottom line: Thumbs up for this "vivid memoir." Two more memoirs are reviewed in the NYT: Public Places: My Life in the Theater, With Peter O'Toole and Beyond, by the actor's former wife, Sian Phillips, is praised by Ben Brantley as a "sparklingly cleareyed memoir" (first chapter) and The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris (first chapter; the New Yorker's party report), by Gene Kelly and Karel Reisz's former wife, Betsy Blair, is championed by James Toback: "I know of no other book, written from inside that mythical-historical Hollywood world, or from outside it, that comes close to so vivid an evocation of its mood."
Good stuff in the Los Angeles Times lately. There's Manohla Dargis, fun as ever, listing her favorite westerns and: "I've said it before, I will say it again: There is something deeply twisted about a country that allows its children to watch human beings eviscerating one another, in gloriously realistic gore-a-vision, but won't allow adults to watch other adults engaging - or even pretending to engage - in mutually consensual sex." Amen. Then, a piece on the filming of The Bridge of San Luis Rey with its outstanding cast: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Bates, F. Murray Abraham, Geraldine Chaplin, Gabriel Byrne and a smorgasbord of Europeans. "There are 12 fantastic characters in the story, and I just scribbled a name down of my favorite actors for each one," says writer-director Mary McGuckian. "I thought, oh well, let's be really ambitious. I never for a moment thought that they'd all do it." It took some serious campaigning, but they did. And then there's David Chute on "a new pan-Asian 'fusion cinema'."
If you've been reluctant to sample even the best of Bollywood, even as a rental, yet you get Turner Classic Movies, your chance to catch up will be tossed right into your lap starting on Thursday as TCM launches its Hooray for Bollywood series of 12 top Indian movies. On the other hand, if you're an old Bollywood pro, you'll want to check George Thomas's Beware of the Blog fairly frequently. Terrific batch of posts on Friday, for example.
The Guardian reports on that full-page ad Sean Penn took out in the NYT while Salon runs the actual text. Adds Gary Younge: "Presumably Sean Penn would not have paid around $125,000 (£76,000) to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times on Friday to write an essay against Bush if he thought he could read it elsewhere."
June 1, 2003
Sex and privacy.Three links pop up on the radar. All of them have something to do with sex yet, because they're all revelations about three entirely different sorts of people, it's hard to imagine a trio of such different types of stories. And yet again, they all have something to do with sex and privacy, with how much we really want to know about the private lives of public figures.
We can begin with the least delicate, least problematic of the three. At the ripe old age of 69, Richard Chamberlain has come out. Please. Chamberlain's sexual orientation has probably been one of the least well-kept secrets in show business - for decades. But, fine. Myself, I'm pretty much of a hardliner when it comes to outing: Don't do it. It's up to each individual to decide how much s/he wants to reveal about what goes on behind closed doors (though if it goes on elsewhere, it can hardly be up to that individual any longer). That said, though, the message Chamberlain has been inadvertently sending out over all these years - stay in the closet or kill your career - hasn't been of any help to anyone, himself included.
The next one is slightly more problematic because, on the one hand, the hero of the tale, Vincent Gallo, deserves not one iota of slack. Anyone who casts himself on the receiving end of a notoriously long and explicit bout of on-screen fellatio and then submits the film to the world's top festival really doesn't have much claim left to privacy when it comes to his sex life. But the story Roger Avary tells on his blog doesn't involve Gallo alone. Seems the arrogant auteur has, how shall we say, "marked" a photo of Christina Ricci. Now... does broadcasting this tidbit constitute a violation of Ricci's privacy in some way? Not sure what to think about that one, but something's not right here.
And then there's the developing story of Larry Wachowski, a story neither of the brothers can be in the least happy about seeing develop at all. But two weeks ago, Thea Bloom, the woman he's in the process of divorcing after nine years of marriage, put a stop to any Matrix profits going to him. Movie profits - where they come from and where they go - are fair game.
But then word began to get out and about regarding the troubles in the relationship that have led to the divorce in the first place. Wrapping up its story on Larry Wachowski's affair with a dominatrix, the Daily Mirror writes, "The Wachowskis have always shunned the limelight, insisting on a no-publicity clause in contracts. But as lawyers prepare for Larry's showdown with Thea, he's now learning that there is no such thing as a Hollywood life out of the spotlight."
No doubt. But then the story takes another twist. On Friday, David Poland wrote that the filmmaker "is now in the process of changing his sex." This revelation is couched in quite a bit of self-flagellation ("Do I just want to be first?") and sincere moralizing ("None of this is ours to judge") and I'd point out that it's all a bit too sincere if I weren't piling on myself even as I type.
Which I can't feel too guilty about, either. It'd be one thing if Larry Wachowski were keeping both the affair and his evolving transformation private but, though he isn't taking questions yet, he's certainly not bothering to hide either in very public appearances. Which brings up back around to the story we started out with. How he handles the changes he's going through is, of course, up to Larry Wachowski and Larry Wachowski alone. But he's in a position to help others traveling down similar roads. The bottom line is, I hope he'll be taking questions when he's ready.