August 30, 2003
Weekend Shorts."Woody Allen has made a good film. The shock at the Venice Film Festival yesterday was palpable."
That'd be Thursday, but still. Good news, the kind that can counter the effect of a headline like, "Is it all over for Woody Allen?" And the good news comes from Fiachra Gibbons, who also reports, among other nuggets, that, while Tarantino didn't get Kill Bill ready this time around, either, "Venice is replete with big budget American films which failed to make the deadline for Cannes."
But before Woody fans break out the champagne, it should be noted that indieWIRE's Leslie Felperin is calling the response to Anything Else "mixed," while Screen Daily's Dan Fainaru pans it outright: "[U]ltimately this may well be Allen's saddest picture in years, a personal re-evaluation of his work seen in the light of the present, reaching a verdict that is less than flattering." Oh, dear.
Meantime, "the festival has already had its first minor scandal," writes Felperin. Seems that since she's only 15, Hana Makhmalbaf couldn't get accreditation - meaning, of course, she wouldn't have been allowed to see even her own film if the glitch hadn't been ironed out. Also in indieWIRE: the Telluride lineup.
The long, leisurely read for the weekend has to be Lynn Hirschberg's profile of Sofia Coppola in the New York Times Magazine. In the paper, Stephen Holden rounds up the good movies of the summer and Anita Gates, in anticipation of The Runaway Jury, compiles a list of court-room dramas.
Back to the Guardian:
"It makes us to know what already we are knowing," is a remark typical of the European assessments of Bowling for Columbine that The Stranger's Sean Nelson kept running into this summer. And it troubles him. Excellent, brief piece.
Loving cities and loving movies as I do, thrilling whenever the two overlap thematically somehow, I'm naturally drawn to a pair of pieces Ray Pride as done for New City Chicago:
The weather is miserable: that is one of the key truths about why there has never been a filmmaking culture here the way there is in New York City, or Los Angeles, or the Bay Area. A historical disdain for filmmaking under the rule of the first Mayor Daley, and an allegedly corrupt production system have also prevented the talented from staying in a city they might love, but one that cannot pay them a living wage for what they want to do with their lives.
Marc Savlov's Austin Chronicle article on the Austin Film Society series, "Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film" sent me to the AFS site. Nice. You can, for example, download a PDF copy of their newly relaunched magazine, P.o.V., which can be a little Chamber-of-Commerce-y, but also has a longish piece in there on that Dazed and Confused reunion a while back.
Christian De Sica will be playing his father, Vittorio, in a film depicting the making of La Porta del Cielo (The Door of the Heavens) for which the elder De Sica "used 300 Jews and anti-fascists as bit players to save them from the Nazis and fascists who dominated Rome." The Age has the story.
Oh, a piece on Ashton Kutcher. I almost made the mistake of clicking on elsewhere before I caught site of the byline: Heather Havrilesky. You know it's going to be about a lot more than Ashton Kutcher.
The Economist sums up the current state of the battle between Hollywood and digital pirates. No real news here, but if you haven't been paying attention, the piece works fine as a quick run-down.
The same could be said of Tobias Seamon's Morning News article on The Passion.
Listen, Greg Allen is looking for movie recommendations. Help the guy out, would you?
August 29, 2003
DVDs We Need, Vol. 3.If there's been a single running motif around here throughout this week, it's been the relation between reality, particularly political reality, and the movies - the lessons that can be learned by considering one in the light of the other and the dangers in going too far, that is, mistaking one for the other. But not just here, evidently. On Wednesday, Charles Paul Freund, a senior editor at Reason, "the magazine of free minds and free markets" (we'll get to that), took note in Slate of an interesting bit of reportage in David Ignatius's column in Tuesday's Washington Post:
Pentagon sources report one hopeful sign that the military is thinking creatively and unconventionally about Iraq. The Pentagon's special operations chiefs have scheduled a showing tomorrow in the Army auditorium of The Battle of Algiers, a classic film that examines how the French, despite overwhelming military superiority, were defeated by Algerian resistance fighters.
A Pentagon flier announcing the film puts it in eerie perspective: "How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas.... Children shoot soldiers at point blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."
This leads Freund into his "primer about this famous and controversial film, and about how the ever-shifting moral of its story relates to the Battle of Baghdad." It is awfully interesting that the Pentagon would be screening what Freund calls "the premier political film of the 1960s. It was studied by the campus left for its lessons in revolutionary-cell organization and was obligatory viewing for Black Panthers." But it's been embraced by libertarians as well. Freund has several bones to pick with director Gillo Pontecorvo over the way the film plays fast and loose with the facts of the Algerian War. His is a valuable primer first for painstakingly pointing them out, and second, for hammering home the obvious, that while "[t]he United States is not France, Iraq is not Algeria, and whatever the sources of resistance in Iraq, none is the equivalent of the FLN," there are nonetheless more than a few scenes that are going to resonate at that Pentagon screening.
Back in June, Kevin Beary was thinking the same thing: "Although nearly forty years have passed since its creation, Battle of Algiers is more timely than ever - especially for Americans, given the American involvement in a contemporary colonial war in the Middle East. One hopes that it will soon be available in videocassette or DVD in the United States."
Indeed, but the key word here is "colonial." It's because The Battle of Algiers is probably the exemplary anti-colonial, anti-imperialist film that it's been embraced by both libertarians and the left. Beary, who stresses Pontecorvo's disillusionment with the Italian communists following the Soviet put-down of the Hungarian uprising but doesn't neglect to mention that Pontecorvo didn't abandon his "communist convictions" altogether, is writing for a staunchly libertarian site, one that looks at least a bit more rad than Reason (which, a couple of years ago, turned to that cyberlibertarian extraordinaire, Louis Rossetto, co-founder of Wired, for advice on spiffing itself up). And yet, if you turn to last year's Sight & Sound poll, you'll find the film on the top ten lists of three critics and four directors, among them Ken Loach and Tim Robbins, neither of whom would get carded at the door to any leftish gathering.
I've never seen this thing, dammit. And now I'm burning to.
August 28, 2003
Shorts, 8/28.Brian Flemming has written Fair & Balanced, a one-act play blurbed as "a scathing satirical attack on Fox News Channel and its claim of ownership to the words 'fair and balanced.'" So what, you might be thinking. Whoever this Brian Flemming is, he must have written it pretty quickly, how good can it be? Myself, I'll know the answer that last one soon enough when I get a chance to read it (it was just released on Tuesday and I didn't hear about it until this morning). But my hopes are high. Because I've seen Nothing So Strange, the film he wrote and directed last year. Even wrote what would definitely count as a "thumbs up" review. Brian Flemming is also a co-writer behind Bat Boy: The Musical, which has won all sorts of awards and is even now, still, being staged across the country. And now, at his blog, he's describing Fair & Balanced as "vicious, profane, and written in the spirit of commedia dell'arte, which often mixes the scatological, the violent, the broadly comedic and the political." Now aren't you, too, intrigued?
So Venice has opened, Telluride is opens tomorrow and Toronto is just around the corner. It's going to be a fun couple of weeks, even if you, like me, will have to be soaking up second-hand stories from afar. Which leads us to today's Elvis Mitchell link, a talk with Stephen Sondheim about his role as guest director at Telluride this year. Also in the New York Times: Neil Strauss on Matt and Mike Chapman's Homestar Runner.
Also in indieWIRE: Eugene Hernandez on Palm Pictures' plans to remake Jimmy Wang Yu's Master of the Flying Guillotine - which gives me another opportunity to mention yet another new primer, this one on Hong Kong Action, written by Patrick Macias, author of TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion.
The Smoking Gun has done California - and perhaps, America and the world as well - a favor by rummaging in somebody's garbage and salvaging a copy of the August 1977 issue of Oui, wherein there's quite an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sample quote: "Bodybuilders party a lot, and once, in Gold's - the gym in Venice, California, where all the top guys train - there was a black girl who came out naked. Everybody jumped on her and took her upstairs, where we all got together." (I chose that one because it's about the only one with language suitable for a family-friendly blog like this one.) Sample quote from the campaign trail the other day: "I believe in prayer in school." To be fair, we all change and a lot of water can flow under the bridge in a quarter of a century. But hopefully, he'll be asked about this. His handling of the question could be quite telling.
Fightin' words: "New rule: DVDs are for losers... DVDs, you see, are evil because they now account for over half the money Hollywood makes, and they're all bought by the young, dumb, car-crash-loving male demographic, the same one that's given us MAXIM magazine, attention deficit disorder and George Bush." Since the slam comes from Bill Maher, I can take it with a smile, even though, except for the male part (and maybe the dumb part), I just really don't match the description.
For the Guardian, Jo Tuckman visits the set of Zapata, where writer, director and producer Alfonso Arau is kicking up a brouhaha with the liberties he's taking with the biography of the Mexican revolutionary.
A Considerable Town. The LA Weekly column is triple fun this week: Chuck Wilson attends the 30th-anniversary screening of Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon; Christopher Jolly spots Al Gore in Starbucks; and Michael Simmons takes in the Hollywood parade celebrating the 25th anniversary of Animal House, all the while thinking, "Here's a film that not only condones but revels in drugs, booze, screwing, anti-militarism, pro-slacking, pro-vandalism, and a profound lack of respect for what is referred to as common decency. Yet it's earned the love of successive generations of Americans..."
Most of us have read at least one story about the supposed death of hand-drawn, 2-D animation. They flooded the press in the wake of Finding Nemo's success and Sinbad's floppage. My thinking has been: This, too, shall pass. Nemo worked because it had a great story; Sinbad didn't (plus, as someone said, David Poland, I think it was, no one pays to listen to Brad Pitt). Well, the situation appears to be a lot more serious than I'd thought, as David Koenig outlines in this sad piece at Mouse Planet. Via BoingBoing.
August 27, 2003
Shorts, 8/27."Whatever unfolds before and after the October recall election (Oct. 7) is, sadly, California's grandest contribution to world culture, if not the medium of reality television this season." Glen Helfand's probably right. As much as we look forward to the release of Tanner '88 on DVD, by the time it's out, it may look like it was directed by David Lean rather than Robert Altman. But anyone seeking refuge from October's misscheduled summer blockbuster will have the fall season of movies, handily listed, dated and annotated and introduced by Edward E. Crouse as part of the San Francisco Bay Guardian's fall preview. There we also find David Fear's look ahead at Bay Area film events and Cheryl Eddy's choices for diversion, School of Rock ("this ain't no sappy piece of Disney junk") and David Zucker's Scary Movie 3 ("asses across America will be laughed off").
Here's another fall preview of sorts. Or is it advertorial? Just an ad, plain and simple? Can't tell. It's the fall line-up from New Line Cinema prominently placed at something called Movie City Centre currently being constructed on the spot where the now trimmed and gentrified Movie City Geek used to be. Gotta admit, that "re" in "Centre" does add a touch of class. At any rate, Movie City News, which is still where it's been, has David Poland paying very close attention to the new Matrix Revolutions trailer. Could Neo really be the bad guy?
Another preview, this one worthy of a bookmark if you're one to follow the festivals: Eugene Hernandez's "Subjective Guide to Autumn Festivals." Also in indieWIRE: The inaugural Global Lens series; and Dan Cox offers a foretaste of the Sundance Film Series. In the Boston Globe (via MCN), Lynda Gorov gets Robert Redford to talk about his reign as "indie king": "I'll go to a fund-raiser or whatever and someone will just about assault me, attach themselves like a bird dog, they just want to be a part of movies so bad... On the other hand, that's who we're supporting, the independent guy."
One of the staples of the fall season from here on in, like it or not, may be the 9-11 tribute. Or whatever you want to call it. Today's must-read is J. Hoberman's piece in the Village Voice bearing a title that says it all: "That's Our Bush! The President's Re-Election Campaign Kicks Off With a Shameless 9-11 Docudrama: Lights, Camera, Exploitation." Rather eerily, it serves as a footnote to yesterday's entry right here:
DC 9/11 also marks a new stage in the American cult of personality: the actual president as fictional protagonist.
There are, of course, precedents. "One of the original aspects of Soviet cinema is its daring in depicting contemporary historical personages, even living figures," André Bazin dryly observed in his 1950 essay, "The Myth of Stalin in the Soviet Cinema." It was one of the unique characteristics of Stalin-era Soviet movies that their infallible leader was regularly portrayed, by professional impersonators, as an all-wise demiurge in suitably grandiose historical dramas. So it is with DC 9/11, where documentary footage of the collapsing WTC is punctuated by the pronouncements of [Timothy] Bottoms's Bush.
...[C]asting a former Bush travesty in the role of the serious Bush only reinforces the telefilm's agenda, namely that the events of September 11 served to render divine Bush's dubious mandate.
"RGV's obsession with making script-oriented, low-budget, quick-turnaround movies is unheard of in chaotic Bollywood, where films always go over budget, are always behind schedule and rely too much on overpaid stars." Shailaja Neelakantan profiles director and producer Ram Gopal Varma for Salon. Over at Planet Bollywood, Siddharth Srivastava has a similar take on Schwarzenegger's political career as Shashi Tharoor's in the New York Times a little over a week ago. And, by the way, this would be an opportune moment to mention that, following our primer on German Expressionism, we've got a new one at the site on Bollywood.
Anyway, also in Salon, Charles Taylor attempts to answer the question, "Why do men love lesbian scenes?"
In the Guardian, Fiachra Gibbons reports on the round of fiery commentary from Oliver Stone at at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Bashed: Bush, naturally. Praised: Baz Luhrmann, surprisingly, since both directors are shooting competing biopics of Alexander the Great. Meantime, the winners at Edinburgh have been announced; Andrew Pulver writes about choosing one for the Guardian new directors award; and here's the front door to the paper's complete coverage.
Orson Welles biographer David Thomson has a modest proposal: Withdraw all prints, videos and DVDs of Citizen Kane: "Now, my plan for withdrawal is not playful. I mean it most strictly." Also in the Independent: Paul Schrader has been disengaged of Exorcist IV: The Beginning.
In his New York Times piece on Jack Kirby, Elvis Mitchell quotes Michael Chabon: "I don't think it's any accident that at this point in their history the entire Marvel universe and the entire DC universe are now all pinned or rooted on Kirby's concepts."
DVD news roundup. First, cracking them open and then telling other people how is not free speech, the California Supreme Court has ruled (Wired News). But, as John Borland reports at CNET, copying tools just keep right on proliferating. Nostalghia.com's Trond S. Trondsen takes "a closer look at the problem of overscan on consumer TVs and monitors."
Online viewing tip. "This is the most preposterous ad I've seen all year - and I love it. It's hilarious. And it only works because they got Devo's actual lead singer, Mark Mothersbaugh, to sing the sublimely stupid new lyrics." Well, I dunno. I'm usually right there with Rob Walker when he writes his "Ad Report Cards," but this time... Go, click, view, judge for yourself.
August 26, 2003
Summer Reading, 16.Summer's just about come to an end, and with it, our little series of summer readings. One more for now while I think up another way to occasionally post pointers to good, meaty reads that aren't necessarily buzz-worthy today but forgotten tomorrow. If the following looks like it'll be a little more heaviosity than you're up for today, I can recommend a leisurely browse through TASCHEN's line of film books, a light but genuine pleasure.
To set this one up. "Stalin at the Movies" is the title of Peter Wollen's review of J. Hoberman's The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism for the London Review of Books. Wollen calls the book "a cinematic montage of reflections on the long-drawn-out demise of the former Soviet Union," and he seems to have been inspired to draw many disparate elements from outside the book at hand into a montage of his own. I can't tell whether this snippet from Milovan Djilas's "record of his experience as a patron of the Kremlin cinema" is quoted by Hoberman or not, but it hardly matters:
Because of Stalin's remark that he was tired of gunfire, they put on, not a war film, but a shallow, happy collective-farm movie. Throughout the performance, Stalin made comments - reactions to what was going on, in the manner of uneducated people who mistake artistic reality for actuality. The second film was a prewar one on a war theme: If War Comes Tomorrow. The war in that film was waged with the help of poison gas, while at the rear of the invaders - the Germans - rebellious elements of the proletariat were breaking out. At the end of the film Stalin calmly remarked: "Not much different from what actually happened, only there was no poison gas and the German proletariat did not rebel."
(Emphasis mine.) Then Wollen writes:
Djilas's apparently innocuous phrase, "people who mistake artistic reality for actuality," seems to carry within it the secret that underlay Socialist Realism, in art as in life. Stalin not only mixed up actuality with artistic reality himself, but he sought to impose the same confusion on everybody else, compressing together document and reverie so that everyday existence and wish-fulfilment were magically combined. In the terms of this amalgam, "socialist" represented the reverie, "realism" the impression of actuality. The reverie, of course, was articulated in the first instance by Stalin himself as he imagined what the Soviet Union would be like, if only... if only... Millions were punished - exiled, put in camps, tortured, shot - for their failure to fill in those dots, so to speak, so that the happy coincidence of life and dream was endlessly delayed, only to be realised in films and paintings and novels. Meanwhile, in an effort to capture that troublesome "if only," revolutionary violence was normalised and generalised until it produced a society of informers, torturers and cronies, each of whom wondered in his private moments when he would awaken to the rapping on the door.
This passage on the "artistic reality for actuality" problem, a sort of blind spot, short circuit or malfunction shared by true believers in any ideology (since every ideology conjures its own imagery and/or iconography because it requires it, just as it requires murderers and/or martyrs) got me thinking about that entry back in May, "Mr. Bush Goes to the Movies." Now, let me leap to say that I'm not about to make some bone-headed comparison between Bush and Stalin. For one thing, I think that Brian Eno did a fine job about a week ago of explicating the difference between Russian propaganda and what he calls "prop-agenda":
It's not so much the control of what we think, but the control of what we think about. When our governments want to sell us a course of action, they do it by making sure it's the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone's talking about. And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images, devious and prejudicial language, dubious linkages, weak or false "intelligence" and selected "leaks."
But "prop-agenda" requires both a greater degree pervasive power (i.e., it can't be a bottom-up tool for change, only a top-down method of solidifying an already well-established power base) and finesse than mere propaganda. What I'm hoping is that the Bush administration has been so clumsy, so lacking in that finesse that Americans are beginning to lose focus on the agenda.
August 25, 2003
Shorts, 8/25.Kamera.co.uk has big plans for its future, "circumnavigating the globe in search of the brightest, most imaginative and most challenging cinema from around the world," in the words of editor Oliver Berry. On the itinerary: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, and finally, back home, when and where they'll attempt to "explain why, despite continual proclamations to the contrary, the British still aren't coming."
Things kick off with a special issue on Japanese cinema, starting with a "bluffer's guide" by John Gorick, a two-part feature on Takeshi Kitano by Tim Smedley (1, 2), a review of Kitano's Dolls, another of Hideo Nakata's Dark Water and Bob Carroll's piece on the rise and fall of the chanbara film.
Seems I'm way behind on catching up with the July/August issue of Reverse Shot, centering on a symposium entitled "This Means War." The introduction takes no prisoners, noting first that, days after the Bush administration launched Gulf War II, there was still only the briefest mention of "the world outside" in the New York Times Movies section. It's a problem that's been going on for some time:
By denying movies their status as the late 20th Century's most important format for intellectual and cultural exchange, apolitical criticism has managed to blunt their potential impact. If even the nation's most influentual critics can only judge movies only as cheap "entertainments" that exist in a cultural vacuum, it might be time to start reassigning the blame for the sorry state of American cinema from clueless corporate studio heads to their equally unimaginative counterparts in the realm of film writing.
And then there's the new issue of The Film Journal: An interview with Jim Steinmeyer, a magician and close friend of Orson Welles (there's more there than you might think), a talk with experimental filmmaker John Greyson, an analysis of Olivier Assayas's Demonlover, a look at Aki Kaurismäki's Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana, an appreciation of Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog and an interesting question: "Are the USA's Independent Films a Distinct National Cinema?"
Glen Garvin in the Miami Herald: "Its heroes were drunks and slobs and Peeping Toms; its villains were teachers and cheerleaders and anybody who was or would ever be grown up. It trashed militaristic ROTC Nazis and limp-wimp folksingers with equal glee. It was grungy rock 'n' roll in the slam-glam Age of Disco. It made audiences crazy. It was Animal House, and it was something." Indeed it was. Today in the New York Times, Elvis Mitchell calls it "one of the most influential movies of the last 25 years."
Also in the NYT:
In the Guardian:
In the San Francisco Chronicle:
Online viewing tip. "Read My Lips/Endless Love."
The BBC Creative ArchiveWhy has a BBC story about the BBC itself launched a big fat meandering thread at Slashdot? Because, as Danny O'Brien explains with right-on-the-money lucidity at his blog, Oblomovka, "This is a bigger story than it looks at first glance."
The gist: In a speech delivered in Edinburgh yesterday, Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, announced that the corporation will be making its entire archives - 80 years of film, radio and television, some of it the best in the world - available to the public. For free. As long there's no commercial repurposing going on, anyone anywhere will be able to tap into the resources of the BBC Creative Archive.
It's sort of amusing, but understandable in a way, that this morning's British papers, from the Guardian to the Telegraph see a more immediate concern, the survival of ITV in the face of the Murdoch threat, as the real story (and, of course, the American papers ignore the whole damn thing). But the decision to carry on doing what the BBC was created to do in the first place, to take its services to a new level made possible by a collapse in the cost of distribution, that's the story whose impact will be felt for generations.
Again, Danny O'Brien: "Content distribution is free: content restriction is costly... While the commercial companies fret over the dangers of P2P and zero-cost replication, the BBC has realised that this is its greatest opportunity." Read that entry, follow the links.
August 23, 2003
i am the god of luck, heretics all around,
here to bring luck to this dreaded shore;
i'm an agitator, kicking up dirt, unrenowned
and therefore - shut the door - illegal.
[inscribed] for fritz lang
[signed] bertolt brecht
Note: The object is here and the loose translation and botched rhyme scheme are mine.
August 22, 2003
Shorts, 8/22.At the Film & History site, John Shelton Lawrence takes Arnold Schwarzenegger's run for Governor of California as a cue to look at the current state of "'the movie frame game' the invocation of frames provided by popular films": "One is tempted to say, as my mentor Peter Rollins does, that the script for the current California scene was laid out in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)."
Among the more interesting of the many, many reads on the race recently have been Steven Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Krugman in the New York Times, Peter Schrag in The Nation and, in the LA Weekly, Nikki Finke, wondering if the Hollywood Democrats are cowards. Also of note: Kirstie Wilde nailed an exclusive chat about the race and Arnie's chances with Clint Eastwood for the Carmel Pine Cone.
But enough of the good stuff, back to the bombs. "John" at Plastic has found an interesting scapegoat popular among Hollywood execs for this season's surplus of box office flops: Teens instant messaging bad word of mouth, "sometimes while they are still in the cinema watching," according to Andrew Gumbel in The Independent: "Can the rise of an instant message culture also create an instant criticism culture - a hyper Darwinian world of survival of the fittest, where flops are immediately destroyed as soon as they are released?" Plasticians aren't buying it.
Meanwhile, Gigli continues to attract dumb-founded awe from the critics. In Audience, Rus Steadman asks, "What the hell were they thinking? No, seriously - what the hell were they thinking!?" He's come up with a rather amusing scenario. But for the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas, Steadman's question simply doesn't take matters far enough: "And by the time a frazzled Al Pacino shows up, delivering an indecipherable, seemingly improvised monologue before splattering one character's brains all across a giant fish tank, you’ve traded wondering 'What were they thinking?' for 'What am I thinking?'" For the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, though, Gigli is merely a symptom of a deeper problem, "the dearth of adult romances in our era."
The Spectator, "established in 1828, and... the oldest continuously published magazine in the English language," has for all these years, but especially under the editorial guidance of that "staunch Thatcherite," Boris Johnson, enjoyed raising a ruckus when it can. And this week's issue is no different. On the cover, no less, Deal W. Hudson (no relation, I assure you) praises Mel Gibson's The Passion as "a great work of art" and accuses its critics - not all of them, mind you, not all of them - as being "overwrought ecumenists and conspiracy theorists." You'd think a true friend of Mel wouldn't want to rouse unpleasant memories.
"What do Christianity, Zen, and formal mathematical logic have in common? If you look closely, The Matrix: Reloaded will tell you." Yes, the dissection and analysis just keeps on coming and heaven knows it's safe to say that it probably will for a long, long time. That's Eric Furze in Metaphilm, where you'll also find Za’chary Westbrook on The Animatrix: "It's The Prince for the electronic age."
Kung Fu Cinema reports that Tsui Hark will be filming a live action version of Initial D as well as both a feature and TV miniseries version of Seven Swords of Mount Tian. And more live action action: Gigantor, due on Japanese screens in the fall of 2004.
If Nicole Kidman can score an Oscar playing Virginia Woolf, what do you think Gwyneth Paltrow's chances will be playing Sylvia Plath? On the one hand, she's already got one. On the other hand, the movie she got it for was also a something of a literary tie-in. Oh, and there's this: Paltrow's real-life mother, Blythe Danner, plays Plath's real-life mother, Aurelia Plath. Well, while we have months to speculate about all this, John Brownlow, who's written the screenplay for Sylvia, and evidently, one about Christopher Marlowe as well, chronicles the uneasy birth of the film.
Also in the Guardian: Simon Hattenstone reports from the Sarajevo Film Festival and John Patterson wishes that the recently deceased Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope weren't clogging the airwaves: "They're edging out all the dead folks I really want to see, like Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan and Lee Marvin." Perhaps more to the point, he wonders, "if this enduring nostalgia doesn't also arise from a widespread wish not to have to gaze upon the present, on the haemorrhaging economy and rising unemployment, on what's been so disastrously wrought in the Middle East through lies and manipulation, or the ghastly triumphs of NeoCon-corporate feudalism." Possible.
One thing many Americans certainly don't want to be looking at is Buffalo Soldiers. Director Gregor Jordan tells Michael Bodey in Australia's Daily Telegraph about the hate mail he's been getting. Via Movie City News, where Gary Dretzka talks to Larry Meistrich, founder of Film Movement, the company with the "movie-of-the-month-club concept."
Kristen Kidder in PopMatters on the Hunting for Bambi brouhaha: "And why were the media so quick to jump on the story, pillory it, and then refuse to acknowledge their own participation in producing and promoting the hoax? Now that would be a story worthy of the nightly news."
The Onion: "Confused Americans Seek Steady No. 1 At Box Office."
USA Today's Andy Seiler looks ahead to a slew of musicals heading our way, particularly, De-Lovely, a Cole Porter biopic with Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, and Porter-related DVDs, either already out or coming soon.
Online viewing (and listening) tips. Fraser's new animation at Blogjam is pretty knee-slappingly funny. And so, too, are some of the comments: "This is a shameless degradation of a timeless historical event and no one has a right to butcher it. Shame on you all."
And finally, Steve Monaco has a terrific pointer to the A-Infos Radio Project, specifically to a speech, interview and press conference given by Michael Moore on a recent trip to Belfast. It's longish, and it's radio, but some time when you're ironing or washing dishes or simply staring blankly off into space, give it a listen. Monaco: "[I]n 50 minutes, he said more about what's right and (especially) wrong with his country than all nine of the Dems currently applying for the [presidential] gig have said in months. The best part is the chapter he reads from his next book, Dude, Where's My Country, where he talks about the Bush Administration's Reign of Fear, and his words and delivery are both funny and fire-breathing."
August 21, 2003
Quick festival roundup.Michael Arnold in Midnight Eye:
Questions about the international presence of Japanese film used to be waved away with one magic word: Kurosawa. Today however, as ultraviolent gangsters and animated adolescent girls replace the samurai and geisha standards of yesteryear it feels like we're searching for a new Emperor to wear the crown. We've gone through the roll call once with no winner so far. Aoyama, Kawase, Kitano, Koreeda, Sabu, Tsukamoto, Miike, Miyazaki...
Next up in the rotation is Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Which is why the North American premiere of Bright Future will be one of the most anticipated screenings in Toronto. Arnold reviews the film ("Maybe I should just put the Bright Future on hold until I'm ready to not understand what it means. Or maybe that is what it means."), Nicholas Rucka reviews Kurosawa's Séance (2000) and Tom Mes interviews the man himself.
Also in Midnight Eye: Jasper Sharp attends the 7th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival: "In case you hadn't heard, the Koreans absolutely love the movies. Screenings are packed, audiences are vocally enthusiastic and there are new screens popping up all over the country all the time. On top of that, Korean cinema is currently the hottest thing in Asia."
Even if you're not in Austin, the Chronicle tid-bitty coverage may have you taking notes on films to catch when they eventually make their way to your neighborhood, on screen or on DVD. But some events won't. Sarah Hepola on an evening with Frank DeCaro:
The Daily Show retired "Out at the Movies" this year, which means DeCaro missed out on this summer season of turkeys. "The Hulk really screamed for the 'Out at the Movies' treatment. Here's this green muscle man, and where does he head? He ends up in the Castro in San Francisco. And Gigli!" he exclaims. "We would have had to give it the good review."Speaking of which, the fascination with the biggest flop in years simply will not let up. More on that in an upcoming batch of "Shorts."
August 20, 2003
Shorts, 8/20.It's easy to laugh at Hollywood studio executives. Because they make it easy. And some of the people who laugh the hardest are the video store clerks who work next door to them. Elizabeth Segal has the delightful story in Salon: "One clerk at Vidiots, Santa Monica's indie Mecca for film rentals, says: 'I remember once getting a call from a studio exec who asked, "Do you have Citizen Kane?" I said, "Sure we do." He insisted, "But do you have the one with Orson Welles?"'" The thing is, at the very least, these suits are trying to tap into the encyclopedic knowledge of these film geeks. Lon Shimabukuro, co-manager of the Beverly Videocenter: "Some uninspired film industry person will run in here and pressure me with questions like, 'What should we remake this year?' or 'What are people renting?' or even 'What other movies do you have with big, fat Greeks in them?' They really don't know their stuff."
64 world premieres. 103 North American premieres. The stories and the lineups are all over the place, from the Hollywood Reporter to indieWIRE, but you might as well head straight to the site for the 28th Toronto International Film Festival itself. The fact sheet is fun, the film list, amazing.
The liveliest read today probably comes from Jim Ridley in the City Pages. That's because his interviewee, Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman cuts loose with fury at "the Nixon-Reagan-Clinton axis," Bush, naturally, and FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Spielberg and Polanski, but champions Sam Fuller, and of course, his own forthcoming book, Make Your Own Damn Movie!.
Dennis Harvey sets out to review The Adventures of Robin Hood in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and he does, eventually, but not without a detour into Errol Flynn's My Wicked, Wicked Ways first, "a scandalous bestseller and one of the few really great movie-star autobiographies ever." Also in the SFBG: Miriam Wolf's Harvey Pekar cover story and interview and Johnny Ray Huston's review: "[L]argely an indie assembly-line product of American filmmaking's malaise."
Clever. Ed Halter files a preview of the East Village Film Festival in the guise of a dissertation handed in by "Tiana Red-dick-Aziz, Department of Media History, Trump University" in 2041. Also in the Village Voice, a welcome sight: Richard Hell returns this week: "I came to Bresson late; I'm his new most devoted convert."
Made me look twice: "The Matrix makers are facing a dilemma after the Oscars Academy said they would not accept Matrices 2 and 3 as a single entry for next year's awards." Matrices? That Guardian staff, those agencies! Gregg Kilday has background on the story in the Hollywood Reporter.
Seems Gigli has stoked an interest in financial disasters. You know, bombs. Just yesterday, a friend sent a pointer to Kat Giantis's MSN Entertainment annotated list of "the 10 biggest turkeys of all time," movies "that tanked so spectacularly that their failures shut down studios and ended careers." Meanwhile, Stephen, over at Tagline, is thoroughly enjoying "Biggest Second Weekend Drops: Wide Releases That Fell 60% or More."
Along with an interview with Ben Affleck in which he pines for the good old days when he didn't have any money, Moviehole runs an item on a possible film based on a show that's just seen its last run on TV. The show's co-creator, David X. Cohen: "To me it seems that it would be very easy to make your money back on a Futurama movie. And any movie executives reading this right now I recommend that you take out your calculators and look at what I'm saying because it's true!"
Speaking of Matt Groening, Aaron Barnhart reminds that he grew up watching Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, the new DVD collection of which Barnhart was really looking forward to since he, too, was a fan as a kid: "Alas, not every 'classic' looks as keen as it once did to your impressionable 10-year-old brain... Now I'm wondering if The Simpsons will seem this lame when I'm 70."
Online viewing tip. An unusual Flash adventure for a defunct deodorizer.
August 19, 2003
Who will play this man?Craig sent along a pointer to a showbiz roundup in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day. It begins by catching up with Olympia Dukakis, who's got five movies "in various stages of production" at the moment. But then we get to the interesting bit: At the Nantucket Film Festival this summer, Dukakis took part in a staged reading of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces - in part, perhaps, to prepare for her role in the film: "It's directed by 'this young kid,' as Dukakis calls 28-year-old David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls). Anne Meara is set to play the mom, and Dukakis is a relative. Dukakis says Philip Seymour Hoffman is the prime candidate for the lead."
Well. That would be something, wouldn't it. The film has been haunting Development Hell for some time. From a Daily Variety story dated May 17, 2001: "Two major companies [Miramax and Paramount] are fighting over a project that's been in development for eight years." So, for a solid decade now, various directors, producers and actors, including Steven Soderbergh, Drew Barrymore and Harold Ramis, have been attached and detached and reattached and detached again.
David Gordon Green? I like it. For one thing, he's told Movie Habit, "I've been obsessed with [the book] since I was sixteen." That's a good sign, for starters.
Philip Seymour Hoffman? He seems to be everyone's frontrunner for the role of Ignatius J. Reilly, definitely the favorite on the IMDb boards, though it does seem that Jack Black, John C. Reilly and Oliver Platt have their champions as well. The nightmare scenario: Will Ferrell. Of course, the prospect of Adam Sandler in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie didn't exactly thrill the pundits, either; still, Ignatius calls for a little more range and depth than Barry Egan. Here he is, described by the author who created him, from a page at Bohemian Ink that also includes Walker Percy's "Foreword" to the novel:
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person's lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one's soul.
Back to David Gordon Green in Movie Habit: "[The film's] a character piece that could go the wrong way and become a cartoon of New Orleans and it's important to me to bring such an authenticity to the characters in this place, a sincerity to their humor and their sadness and everything. It's a big step forward in terms of a profile of a film I've never dealt with, so that'll [be] an education too and it may be beautiful and it may be stressful."
But he's still mum on who'll take the lead.
August 18, 2003
Elvis Mitchell came up with quite an opener for the New York Times's big whopping special section in Sunday's edition, "The DVD Comes of Age": "Has there been a single technological advance - even the advent of sound - that has changed movies as quickly and thoroughly as the DVD has?"
Bigger than sound, eh. Well, there's a debate there, to be sure, but I'm a bit too preoccupied at the moment to leap into it. If you're so inclined, start without me. Points to consider: What sound did to more than a few acting careers, its effect on the costs of production, its overwhelming reception among moviegoers and the comment by Francis Ford Coppola, probably made some time during post-production on Apocalypse Now, that sound is 50 percent of any film. At the same time, keep in mind the point made in Mitchell's title, "Everyone's a Film Geek Now," the fact that the changes we're seeing DVD make now were really set in motion, albeit a lot more slowly though no less profoundly, by the advent of the VCR a couple of decades ago, and the probability that the DVD will do away with certain commonly accepted notions such as "feature length" and "the definitive version."
At any rate, the special section's a delight for any film geek (which would mean everyone, wouldn't it?) and there's no point in ticking off links to every article when there's a front door to the whole thing. Even so, there are three of particular interest: Over at greg.org, Greg Allen generously highlights Veronique Vienne's piece on what David Byrne's been doing with PowerPoint lately when he's got his own fascinating article in there on the heavy traffic among traders of video art that builds to this slap of a quote: "'For videos, editions are fake,' says Pierre Huyghe, in a comment seemingly designed to alarm his dealer. 'When Rodin could only cast three sculptures of a nude before the mold lost its sharpness, it made sense. But all my works are on my hard drive, in ones and zeros.'" It's an issue that net.artists like Olia Lialina have been struggling with for years, but now, faster processors and cheap memory have introduced it to video artists as well.
Movie City News points to "A Great Q&A With Sofia Coppola And Her Lost In Translation Producer," and it is. Coppola and Ross Katz have fun stories to tell about Bill Murray, Japan and the soundtrack that's already generated a bit of buzz. Click the title, too, and watch the trailer. MCN's Ray Pride has seen the film and was evidently touched: "It's a feat of levitation, contemplation, mood and love, love, love..."
In the interview, Coppola says:
Then there are these advertising campaigns that you see in Japan: American actors endorsing products and being a little bit embarrassed about it. I'm affectionately poking fun at it; I don't look at it as hypocritical. It's just so weird to be in Japan and to look up and see Brad Pitt selling coffee, and see a Brad Pitt head floating in a vending machine.
According to Hugh Hart in the San Francisco Chronicle, the recall race is throwing old loyalties in Hollywood for a loop: "Ironically, as some longtime Democrats give serious consideration to Schwarzenegger's candidacy, a few Hollywood Republicans are less than impressed."
25 members of the DVDBeaver.com mailing list have created Top 20 lists at YMDb over the past week or so, and now, the results have been melded into a single collective Top 20. No doubt about it, it's a great list. These are, after all, some of the most well-viewed people you're likely to run across online. ("Well-viewed," by the way, is a term I'd like to see enter common usage; think of it as a counterpart to "well-read." But with a mere two syllables, it falls off the tongue a lot more easily than "cinematically literate.") Even so, there's a rounding-off at work here similar to one that produced the Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll last year. The individual lists (critics, directors) naturally had a lot more personality, an element of eclectic surprise.
If you can get around the trouble the site seems to be having today, Outlook India has a story by Sanjay Suri on how Mira Nair's next film, Vanity Fair, with Reese Witherspoon, Gabriel Byrne and Bob Hoskins, is coming along. For one thing, Witherspoon's pregnancy has been worked into the story.
Larry Cohen, interviewed by Gil Jawetz for DVD Talk: "I always love New York and try to work there as often as possible because it's the greatest city to shoot in and has the most fantastic backlot. The whole city is a great backlot." Good news: Q: The Winged Serpent is returning to DVD along with God Told Me To and Bone, featuring the performance that Yaphet Kotto considers his best.
Fresh at Film-Philosophy: "Who would dare to draw a box around such a film, such a monster? To simply immerse oneself in the questions is good enough." Richard I. Pope, "In Kubrick's Crypt, a Derrida/Deleuze Monster; or, An-Other Return to 2001."
Four - count 'em, four - Shelf Worthies, five Rentals and two Perishables in Bamboo Dong's new back-to-school "Shelf Life."
ICv2 has the full story on The Matrix Comics, due in stores in October, that is, at around the same time as the Reloaded DVD when the PR machinery will be revving up in earnest for the release of Revolutions in November. The publisher downplays that angle, though: "The bottom line is that we're not doing it to make a lot of money. We're just doing it as a direct result of people saying, 'we'd like to hold this,' and 'we'd like to put this on our shelves.'" Ok... By the way, looking for a film with elements of Hinduism the other day (never mind), I came across this in the Journal of Religion and Film: "Hinduism is one worldview that has not yet been applied to the trilogy and, depending on the curve ball thrown by the Wachowskis in Revolutions, it may or may not be helpful in the end. Despite that, let's press on..." Julien R. Fielding, "Reassessing The Matrix/Reloaded."
Anyway, I also have to point to this other ICv2 story simply because it's one of the great titles for anything anywhere: "ADV has announced the upcoming release of All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku DASH! Mode 1, the first volume of the OVA tie-in to the Nuku Nuku series."
Online viewing tips. Let's start with Norbert Rost's roundup of Bush-bashing Flash animation at Telepolis. The Broken Saints crew is actively encouraging you to download all 190 megs of their opus. And in their newsletter, they point enthusiastically to RantTV.
August 16, 2003
Land of the Rising FunGo Fish, the new distribution outlet set up by Dreamworks SKG to compete with Warner Independent Pictures, will be releasing Ghost In The Shell II: Innocence next spring, reports the Anime News Network. And ICv2, noting that the film will follow GF's first limited release, Satoshi Kon's Millenium Actress on September 12, adds: "It should be interesting to see if Dreamworks primarily uses Go Fish to compete with Warners for indie films or to gain a beachhead for anime feature films in the rough and tumble arena of theatrical exhibition." Meantime, once again, that 17+meg promo clip for Innocence.
Clearly, anime is on a roll. What's not so clear is just how lucrative that roll is, even when the numbers are offered up in a short, evidently very roughly translated news clip at Anime News Service seem to indicate that it's "about 3.2 times" as lucrative an export for Japan as steel. But I'm not sure, really, that that's what's meant. Still, it's hardly any wonder that, according to another snippet Natsume Maya points to, the Japanese Ministry of Culture will soon begin offering financial aid to promising anime artists. Hard to imagine such obvious logic ever clicking with the current administration in the US.
Also going on at the Anime News Service: A poll that's generated lively comments, "Is North America Ready for J-Pop?," and an interview with voice actress Luci Christian (Those Who Hunt Elves, Gamera 2 and 3 and Full Metal Panic): "This is not the sort of medium the majority of people know much about. You know, when I said I was doing it [anime voice acting], people automatically jumped to maybe I'm doing the porn stuff, and I'm like, 'No no no no no!', you know?"
By the way, back at ANN, Bamboo Dong has a new "Shelf Life" column up. Two Shelf Worthies, oodles of Rentals and three forget-about-it Perishables.
Over at Anime Tourist: "In an out of the way room at a recent anime convention, I was surprised to discover that they were not showing anime, but live action shows from Japan." The reviewer's intrigued but can't catch the name of the show he's watching. No longer a problem, now that there's The Dorama Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese TV Drama Since 1953. Fine of the Tourist to mention that the book "is published by the nice folks at Stone Bridge Press," but they really should have added that it won't be released until November.
Also on the non-anime front, Steve at Milk Plus writes, "Witness the death throes of one of cinema's most idiosyncratic talents!... [A]t least Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill (of which Pistol Opera is a loose remake) had a bare minimum of structure and sense attached... [Seijun] Suzuki has pitched headlong into total style at the expense of everything else that makes a film work. The result is a pile of gibberish, a Lisztomania for the Hong-Kong-action-movie crowd." Ouch. Granted, word of mouth on Pistol Opera has been bad, but it should also be noted that not all the reviews have been.
Great ScotsA little over a week ago, the Guardian ran a fascinating profile by Tim Cumming of a writer and editor I hadn't known much about before, the late Alexander Trocchi. It's a frustrating one as well, a story you've heard before: "But just as Trocchi seemed on the verge of success and literary prominence, he blew it, substituting reckless experiments in sex and drugs for experiments in narrative and form."
Recently, interest in his work has been revived by the likes of Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner and a film, Young Adam, based on one of his novels, has been making the rounds at festivals. The IMDB doesn't list a release date for the US, but it's hard to imagine that a movie with Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton and Emily Mortimer won't rouse the interest of one distributor or another. The film has, in fact, landed McGregor on the cover of the September issue of Sight & Sound and Ryan Gilbey writes: "His face, which we are so accustomed to seeing flare into life with romance or mischief, looks here as doomy as the river from which Joe and Les (Peter Mullan) drag a woman's corpse one slate-grey morning." But the piece is really about the film itself: "[Director David] MacKenzie's achievement with this difficult film seems even greater when you realise he has conjured a plausible nightmare from what is essentially your everyday tale of one man's fear of commitment."
The film also gives us an excellent excuse to revisit Andrew O'Hagan's Diary in Slate. The scene: Yesterday, at the Edinburgh Festival:
The feeling was summed up rather brilliantly several years ago in the film of Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting. Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his mates are sitting in a local pub nursing their pints as if nursing their wrath, when in walks an American tourist, a gentleman of a certain age wearing sky-blue shorts and a Nikon camera, asking for directions to the bathroom. The gentleman goes in, quickly followed by the pub regulars, who proceed to fleece the visitor of everything he's got. A title appears on-screen: 'The First Day of the Edinburgh Festival.'
Speaking of Ewan McGregor, there is some disgruntlement along the Royal Mile at the local-lad-made-good's nonappearance for the premiere of Young Adam... McGregor - like former local milkman Sean Connery - is a big hit with the ladies of Morningside, so his being tied up in Australia with the new Star Wars came as a bit of a blow to organizers fighting a rearguard action against neighborhood resentment.
Irvine Welsh is here, though... The last time I saw Irvine was in Chicago, and before that in Calcutta, so it's almost disorienting to see him on home ground. 'I'm shagged,' he said...
Finally, returning to the Guardian, Shane Danielsen, artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, has a bone to pick: "Amelie might charm audiences from Leicester Square to Launceston; Crouching Tiger might kick commercial ass in a way that second-rate Hollywood blockbusters can only dream of. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of foreign-language cinema continues to be viewed with suspicion and even fear: the irrational terror of the subtitle."
Shorts, 8/16.Sean Nelson in The Stranger on The Hire: "These ads were originally produced for Internet download, but have since turned up on DVD, and now, on the big screen. And like all advertising, they constitute a crime against art - not because they aren't artfully made, but because they are."
Shashi Tharoor: "Arnold Schwarzenegger has farther to go than he thinks. He may become governor of California, but he can't become God. That privilege is reserved for the Indian movie-star-turned-politician N. T. Rama Rao, who played so many mythological heroes in so many hit films that fans built a temple to him." Also in the New York Times: Elvis Mitchell on Johnny Guitar, Dave Kehr's chat with Hope Davis and Peter M. Nichols on that one last door of opportunity DVD opens for directors. In this particular case, Rob Marshall could nail the colors and add a song cut from the theatrical version of Chicago.
Movie City News has made a discovery it "salutes": The Los Angeles Times has taken Manohla Dargis's column out from behind the subscriber-only firewall. Topics this week: Terry Gilliam's Brazil (pretty far down on Manohla's list), film criticism ("almost by definition subjective"), foreign flicks (she makes a DVD wishlist that concludes, "And then I'd try to watch the collected Takashi Miike without throwing up"), news that Warren Beatty's Reds will probably be coming out on DVD next year, her favorite shots of all time ("The heartbreaking shot of the donkey surrounded by trees as if surrounded by an enormous leafy halo in Au hasard Balthazar is my current favorite - just thinking about it makes me happy") and a discussion of where people really see movies these days, in the theater or at home. So, you know, I'm glad, too, we can read her again. What is the LAT thinking, charging $4.95/month or $39.95/year for access to Calendarlive? MCN points to Mark Glaser's report in the Online Journalism Review.
Also via MCN: When the Oscar went to Danis Tanovic for No Man's Land in 2002, it meant a lot for the fledgling Bosnian film industry. And Catherine Seipp takes in the expanded TV-version of A Decade Under the Influence, the doc on films of the 70s premiering on IFC on August 20 (the DVD release, by the way, follows soon after The Kid Stays in the Picture, out any moment now) and DVD extra Go Inside: Animal House.
At the main site, we had big, hefty linkage to Bright Lights Film Journal yesterday, but it should be mentioned here as well that the August issue is out! While we're on journals, don't miss the Summer issue of Jump Cut, either.
In the Guardian:
Online viewing tip. It's a good thing this is the weekend, because this one's not exactly work-safe. At Punchbaby, a nice little ad for something called the Blue Planet Channel which... may never have existed in the first place?
August 15, 2003
Summer Reading. 15.
What this scene of cleansing the bathroom in Psycho demonstrates is how the "lower" perfection can imperceptibly affect the "higher" goal: Norman's virtuous perfection in cleansing the bathroom, of course, serves the evil purpose of erasing the traces of the crime; however, this very perfection, the dedication and the thoroughness of his act, seduces us, the spectators, into assuming that, if someone acts in such a "perfect" way, he should be in his entirety a good and sympathetic person. In short, someone who cleansed the bathroom so thoroughly as Norman cannot be really bad, in spite of his other minor peculiarities... (Or, to put it even more pointedly, in a country governed by Norman, trains would certainly run on time!)
While watching this scene recently, I caught myself nervously noticing that the bathroom was not properly cleansed - two small stains on the side of the bathtub remained! I almost wanted to shout: hey, it's not yet over, finish the job properly! Is it not that Psycho points here towards today's ideological perception in which work itself (manual labor as opposed to "symbolic" activity), and not sex, becomes the site of obscene indecency to be concealed from the public eye? The tradition which goes back to Wagner's Rheingold and Lang's Metropolis, the tradition in which the working process takes place underground, in dark caves, today culminates in the millions of anonymous workers sweating in the Third World factories, from Chinese gulags to Indonesian or Brasilian assembly lines - in their invisibility, the West can afford itself to babble about the "disappearing working class." But what is crucial in this tradition is the equation of labor with crime, the idea that labor, hard work, is originally an indecent criminal activity to be hidden from the public eye. The only place in Hollywood films where we see the production process in all its intensity are when the action hero penetrates the master-criminal's secret domain and locates there the site of intense labor (distilling and packaging the drugs, constructing a rocket that will destroy New York...). When, in a James Bond movie, the master-criminal, after capturing Bond, usually takes him on a tour of his illegal factory, is this not the closest Hollywood comes to the socialist-realist proud presentation of the production in a factory? And the function of Bond's intervention, of course, is to explode in firecraks this site of production, allowing us to return to the daily semblance of our existence in a world with the "disappearing working class"...
Slavoj Zizek, "Is There a Proper Way to Remake a Hitchcock Film?," unedited, as it appears at Lacan.com and not, in all likelihood, as it is published in Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out.
August 14, 2003
Shorts, 8/14.For a while, I was afraid that PopPolitics, a site that often shares writers (and sometimes, content) with PopMatters but has also run worthwhile reads of its own, was... well, if not exactly dead, abandoned. But about a week ago, I've just discovered, after what seemed like months of stagnation, two new pieces appeared.
Thomas Dodson's got a meaty piece on one way into the Matrix trilogy and the Wachowskis's world in general: "Although often overlooked in discussions of the film's references, the Marxist-inspired social critique of the Frankfurt School wouldn't be a bad place to start." And then there's Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.: "The combination of intelligent interviews and quiet moments merges into a thoughtful documentary on contemporary US politics.... Other American Voices does allow a minority view to come forward, but it also confirms this minority's worst fears."
In indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman wonders if Rana's Wedding might be a breakthrough for Arab films in the US. Meanwhile, in the Village Voice, Kaufman scores the best headline of the issue: Drink Diet Coke! Drive an SUV! Watch an Indie Movie!
Also in the Voice:
From here, we can segue into a roundup of Schwarzenegger stuff, starting with the Voice's Michael Musto ("Even as an actor, the guy has no experience!"), Rick Perlstein ("[Republicans] honor the example of history - which reliably demonstrates that lasting political success only rarely originates in the center."), a very hopeful James Ridgeway ("Schwarzenegger's plunge into California politics could turn into a booster rocket for former Vermont governor Howard Dean's presidential campaign.") and Ward Sutton's "Schlock 'N' Roll."
Then, switching coasts for more, the LA Weekly this week is practically a single-issue issue (while, discouragingly enough, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, online at least, is mum on Arnie... even as it presses ever onward in its crusade against PG&E. Sigh.). Of the ten or so pieces on the California recall in the LA Weekly, though, the most relevant here is Nikki Finke's argument that Schwarzenegger's move is "great news for Democrats nationally and Hollywood politically." It's not Ridgeway's argument; instead, it runs like this: "Everyone in Hollywood, even the most untalented and unastute, is still entitled to the First Amendment right to have a political opinion, to make it public and, if possible, to pull a Reagan." Too bad Warren Beatty missed the deadline.
Anyway, finally for today on all this, Slate's Daniel Gross suggests that if you want to know how Schwarzenegger will run the world's sixth largest economy, you might run a brief audit on Planet Hollywood.
I'm sure This is not a Love Song is not "the world's first online feature film," but the producers may be confusing the issue in that the thriller, based on a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty), probably is the first to debut online and in theaters simultaneously. As the BBC reports. Also: Bogart and Bergman were not an item on the set of Casablanca.
Harvey Pekar roundup: That link right there comes from M. Signalstation. Steve Monaco is looking forward to American Splendor. Two reviews: J. Hoberman in the Voice and Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press. Amy Kroin interviews its star, Paul Giamatti, for Salon. Dave Schulman meets the actual protagonist: "We end up not talking much about the movie, because there's too much else to talk about, and we have less than an hour until the alarms go off and the Movie People whisk Pekar away."
That's in the LA Weekly, where Scott Foundas also reviews the film and, on another page on another film, asks, "Are Harvey and Bob merely paying belated lip service to the film, keen on keeping their shares in George Clooney, Inc.? Or are they giving Confessions [of a Dangerous Mind] a second chance because - in a rare, Irving Thalberg-worthy gesture - they really believe in it?"
The Passion roundup: The Anti-Defamation League has now seen Mel Gibson's film and issued this brief press release outlining their concerns (if you're really in a hurry, scroll down to five bullet points). In Salon, Christopher Orlet briefly sketches what's known after two millennia about the execution of Jesus - and of course, what's not known now and, in all likelihood, never will be. And Matt at Rashomon recalls recent controversies with Christ as the point of contention.
In the Guardian:
Gregory Hines roundup. Deborah Jowitt in the Voice: "Dapper wasn't a word you'd use to describe him. He hunkered down into his dancing, his manner easy, his rhythms clear as a bell. But rarely simple." Mark Anthony Neal in PopMatters: "Gregory Hines was the last of the Song and Dance Men." Howard Blume in the LA Weekly: "Hines had always been there, gratis, to teach master classes to all ages, genders and races. And to emcee tributes to older tappers. Who would have imagined that he would not live to be old?"
In the New York Times, David Bernstein previews the next generation of filmmakers after the next generation of filmmakers: "But before Savannah joins the Martin Scorseses and Penny Marshalls of the world, she has to finish sixth grade. Toward that end, she also uses digital video technology for book reports and other assignments." Bruce Weber reviews Matt and Ben, a "deliciously spiteful sendup of Hollywood's naked emperors in general and Mr. Damon and Mr. Affleck in particular," and so does Laura Sinagra in the Voice.
The Oscar race is on. Well, it's never completely off, really. At any rate, compare and contrast David Poland and Jeffrey Wells's speculations on how the race might pan out. (For Wells's, scroll down to the balloons.)
"If you're a young Hollywood heroine today, you lip-sync your way to rock stardom overnight on an Italian stage, win passage of a bill by giving makeovers to members of Congress or solve murders by posing as a stripper cop." Laura Sessions Stepp in the Washington Post on "Hollywood's Material Girls." Back in the Guardian, though, John Patterson believes there's a healthy antidote to all this in Freaky Friday.
It's still summer, so let's wrap not with a viewing tip but another read. On the occasion of Francis Ford Coppola's recent trip to Brazil to scout not so much for locations as for ideas for Megalopolis, here's an excerpt from Michael Schumacher's Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker's Life and a review by Joseph McBride:
Schumacher gives ample evidence that Coppola's finest attribute as an artist is his penchant for taking risks. He succeeded in going far out on a limb with the dark, stylized look of The Godfather and in daring to confront the Vietnam War's heart of darkness in Apocalypse Now when that subject was virtually taboo in Hollywood. Even notoriously uneven works like One From the Heart, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish deserve admiration for the full-throated passion of their eccentric stylization.
August 13, 2003
Books and movies.An idea, a theme, a topic of conversation can warp your world. Or at least your present experience of it - for a while. You read a biography of Marcel Duchamp, and all of a sudden, you see his influence everywhere, you're plucking readymades off the street and your daughter is off to Bretagne with a friend. For example. You get obsessive about this sort of thing and you're in danger of becoming an idealogue or, in the worse case scenario, a conspiracy theorist.
Fortunately, you don't have to worry about that sort of thing happening around here. But ideas, themes, topics of conversation do fade in and back out again at GreenCine, and recently, having just seen Seabiscuit, one of our members last week inadvertantly launched what turned into a discussion topic on books and movies.
And what do you know. Within days, Tony Scott, also taking Seabiscuit as his cue, put in his coupla hundred words or so on the topic in the New York Times. And Movie City News is pointing to a conversation today between Kurt Loder and William Gibson. Loder points out the elements of the Matrix trilogy that "seem clearly borrowed from Gibson's celebrated Sprawl novels: Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988)" and then asks, "Why was a Neuromancer movie never made?" It's a pleasant chat.
But if this motif, most recently floating around back when Adaptation was fresh, is to stay in the air a bit longer, its most fun manifestation this time around may turn out to be Andrew O'Hagan's diary in Slate. Of his new novel, Personality, Jessica Winter writes in the Village Voice, "O'Hagan circumvents the fame-pathology bottleneck through sheer historical scope... and a prolific interplay of voices." Other nice things are said elsewhere, but what's got to excite O'Hagan most, despite his grand show of modesty, is the interest shown by the wheelers and dealers who package movie deals. An excerpt from Tuesday's entry:
Here's another theory: Most arts journalists assigned to write about books nowadays only get excited when there's some extra-literary matter to get their motor going. The greatest of these incitements to interest is The Movie Deal. "The rumor is you've already sold the film rights," said Ms. Australia.
"Yes," I said, "but there's a long way to go..."
"Well, the producers are speaking to people..."
"They're speaking to Catherine Zeta-Jones!"
Let's pause for a second. Now, it seems to me that even the dumbest writers begin to hear a headline coming after a little experience, after one or two spirited engagements on the journalistic field of play. He or she begins to know that the next sentence to come out of his mouth (if he's not careful) will be the headline.
"It's really too early to say," I dodged.
"Come on! It's Catherine."
"No it's not," I said. "I'm sure she's not even seen the novel and has no immediate ambitions to play a neurotic Scottish chip-shop owner."
Nice squeak through the fame-pathology bottleneck, O'Hagan.
August 12, 2003
Summer Reading. 14.
Hollywood's vaunted "golden age" began with the Code and ended with its demise. An artistic flowering of incalculable cultural impact, Hollywood under the Code bequeathed the great generative legacy for screens large and small, the visual storehouse that still propels waves of images washing across a channel-surfing planet. The synergistic spread of American entertainment, the whole global kaleidoscope of films, television, video games, computer graphics, and CD-ROMs, draws on the censored heritage for archival material, deep backstory, narrative blueprints, and moral ballast. Whether conventional retread or postmodern pastiche, Hollywood under the Code is the prime host to a long line of moving image parasites.
That four-year interval marks a fascinating and anomalous passage in American motion picture history: the so-called pre-Code era, when censorship was lax and Hollywood made the most of it. Unlike all studio system feature films released after July 1934, pre-Code Hollywood did not adhere to the strict regulations on matters of sex, vice, violence, and moral meaning forced upon the balance of Hollywood cinema. In language and image, implicit meanings and explicit depictions, elliptical allusions and unmistakable references, pre-Code Hollywood cinema points to a road not taken. For four years, the Code commandments were violated with impunity and inventiveness in a series of wildly eccentric films. More unbridled, salacious, subversive, and just plain bizarre than what came afterwards, they look like Hollywood cinema but the moral terrain is so off-kilter they seem imported from a parallel universe.
From the first chapter of Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty. Robert Gottlieb writes in the New York Times of this one and Mark A. Vieira's Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood that "the two books complement rather than detract from each other."
August 11, 2003
Shorts, 8/11.Wondering what to watch next? The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, with help from staffers Edward Guthmann and Carla Meyer, has compiled a list of 100 suggestions. It's a list, in reverse chronological order, of "great performances [that] have been, for one reason or another, unsung by either the public, the critics or both." The pointer comes via a friend who writes, "To the surprise of many of us here in the Bay Area, [LaSalle] has become very much worth reading, after years of being mainly the butt of jokes. He has delved deep into movie history, written a couple of good books (Complicated Women and Dangerous Men), and is now one of the few critics around these days who seems to have a grasp of cinema history."
When movie fans talk about the character of Michael Corleone, they just say "Al Pacino in The Godfather," they don't identify the character. In the same way, people refer to "Brando in The Godfather," "De Niro in The Godfather," and "James Caan in The Godfather." But not the late actor John Cazale. Cazale is forever "Fredo in The Godfather."
Do you know why? Because Cazale was so good in that movie, nobody thinks of him as having been acting. Cazale may have had a distinguished career that included roles in at least two other classics, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. Yet when we look at Cazale in The Godfather, we forget we're seeing a performance. As far as the public is concerned, in 1972 a bunch of actors got together with Fredo and made a great movie.
Speaking of lists, most people carry one either on their person, in some desktop folder or simply stashed away, consciously or unconsciously, in one of the darker corridors of the mind. And up at the top, it reads, "Things To Do Before I Die." Over at Hollywood Bitchslap, Brian Mckay has reminded me of one of the priority items on my own list: "See Tokyo."
Via Movie City News, the odd and oddly amusing story by the Independent's Nick Hasted on Exorcist IV: The Beginning, pitting director Paul Schrader against Morgan Creek, the studio that found itself watching a final cut and discovering that it was "some kind of post-colonial period-piece, a moody, intimate examination of faith. What they were watching, in fact, was the script they had paid for, which, rumour has it, they simply hadn't read."
And at MCN itself, Ray Pride on what he looks for in movies, a strange capsule review by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Buffalo Soldiers, Alejandro González Iñárritu's contribution to 11' 09' 01 and a Tom Junod piece in Esquire and a few more notable notes.
In the New York Times:
Two pointers that may seem to aim wide, but are nonetheless worthwhile: Metaphilm has been gathering some mind-tickling reads in its "Metaphlog" over in that right-hand column and Doug Cummings's filmjourney.org has been pretty amazing over the last couple of weeks.
It's official. Director Mike Newell has signed on to the fourth Harry Potter. Also in Screen Daily: Ketan Mehta's The Rising, costing a mere $20 million, will nevertheless be "the most expensive film ever to be produced in India" and will be released in three parts; Japanese horror flick Ju-on is doing very, very well.
August 9, 2003
DVDs We Need, Vol. 2.
Mimi Rogers plays Sharon, a bored and jaded directory-assistance worker who prowls airport hotels with her friends, looking for new sex partners. Sharon gradually becomes disillusioned with her life, and discovers a religious cult that believes in the upcoming 'rapture' whereby the true believers will be whisked up to heaven forever. The liberal fantasy would be to reject the rapture as too literal; the nihilist would go back to having sex; the religious fanatic might focus on the rightness of Sharon and her mates as they await the oncoming apocalypse. But [Michael] Tolkin tries something more complicated, more disturbing. He accepts the apocalypse; the rapture in his movie is real, not imagined, and he does not condescend. The believers are correct, the rapture does happen. But by the conclusion of The Rapture Tolkin has demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the demands of the God of the apocalypse are too great, too inhumane, too ghastly to accept. When Sharon refuses salvation, she does so not because she thinks she is at one with the scum, as would the apocalyptic nihilist; not because 'the rapture' isn't real, which would be the liberal version (the apocalypse always hiding in the closet, never making itself seen). She refuses salvation because God is wrong; God exists, but God is wrong. She turns her back on God, and the audience is fully aware of what she is giving up: eternal life in heaven. She goes back to the humble.
After The Rapture, most other attempts to confront the apocalypse seem a little shallow.
Steven Rubio, "Apocalypse, No," Bad Subjects, Issue # 15, September 1994.
Shorts, 8/9."As he arrives, it is too late. Mass has already begun. The taxi driver does not appear as a comic figure in this moment, instead he radiates the dignity of a man who has sold his soul out of pure love. This may be standard in French or Polish films, but for a German film, it is a tremendous feat." Andreas Kilb on Hans-Christian Schmid's Lichter (Distant Lights). Also in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Frank Pergande writes, "East Germany has been in fashion at least since the film Good Bye, Lenin! became a sensation throughout the country," which is true, but especially that "at least" part. Other films, such as Sonnenallee and Heroes Like Us helped get the "Ostalgie" ball rolling years ago.
Meanwhile, Netaji: The Last Hero, based on the last five years in the life of Indian independence fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, is shooting in Berlin.
The Guardian's John Patterson has a bone to pick:
Every time Tony Blair shows up in Washington to exult in his role as top sprig in the Figleaf of the Willing and to enjoy confabs and photo-ops with Gee Dubya, I have to wonder once again what we, the Brits, actually get out of this long-treasured, murkily defined "special relationship" between former imperial oppressor and former colonial upstart....
Meanwhile, in Hollywood and London, the movie version of the special relationship has long played itself out in like manner. Our cut-price actors come over and do their dirty work, as villains and baddies and psychopaths, even American ones, while the cream of their prohibitively expensive acting talent Concordes it over the pond to steal the lion's share of our heroic roles. Either way, we lose.
Well, not always. In the same edition, there's a report on how the UK film industry is doing nicely - not robustly, but nicely - "as suppliers of an offbeat, low-budget antidote to Hollywood."
Also in the Guardian: There are uncomfortable lessons to be learned watching Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy and Funny Bones, writes Paul MacInnes. And, with Freddy Vs Jason out soon, Kim Newman looks back at other monster and/or mastermind face-offs: "Part of the appeal of this is the idea that, on the other side of the page or the screen, there exists a world where all our beloved or feared favourites know each other."
This summer, docs are hot, hot, hot! writes Wendy Mitchell in indieWIRE.
Sneaky. NBC has already shot 10 out of a series of short shorts - one, for example, is four minutes - to be broken up into 30-second segments and buried here and there in prime-time commercial blocks. The idea is to keep people (and TiVos) from zapping ads out of their viewing, reports Josh Grossberg for E! Online. Via the SXSW NewsReel.
The upcoming release of Chicago in DVD gives Jennifer Dunning ample opportunity to write about dance in the movies in the New York Times. And, for the NYT Book Review, Terrence Rafferty reviews Ball of Fire, Stefan Kanfer's biography of Lucille Ball:
The question of why Ball was so much more effective as "a 16-inch TV image" should, I think, have generated at least a bit of reflection on the peculiar nature of early television comedy, an amazing number of whose stars were performers who, like Ball, worked in an extremely broad style: Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar and (most egregiously) Milton Berle. The notable exceptions - Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen - were essentially doing televised radio programs, an approach that conforms more closely to our current idea of TV as an intimate medium. But intimacy was not necessarily what the television audiences of the early 50's were looking for; and the screen was so small, and the black-and-white reception so erratic, that any attempt at subtlety was likely to be lost in transmission. The most popular comedians were those who, ignoring what we have come to think of as the special properties of the medium, went for huge, playing-to-the-cheap-seats effects.
Here's a stat from Mike Snider in USA Today that might serve as an update to this: "So far this year, studios have released nearly 700 direct-to-DVD films, more than double the number of new theatrical disc releases and nearly as many as older 'catalog' films." Via Movie City News.
Another update to an earlier entry. About two weeks ago, Ian Whitney offered an excellent summary of the severe problems with Miramax's dubbed version of Shaolin Soccer. Then, on Monday, Kung Fu Cinema announced with great fanfare that Miramax had decided to dump that version and release, albeit not all that wide, a subtitled version. Alas, the very next day, Miramax flip-flopped. The subtitled version will still see limited release, but there'll be a test screening on September 15th in Ohio of the dubbed version. If you catch it, let the testers know which version you'd have preferred to see.
Two recent and related reviews in Film-Philosophy: "Selling Space: King and Krzywinska's Science Fiction Cinema," by Anna Powell, and "Other Bother: The Alien in Science Fiction Cinema; Sardar and Cubitt's Aliens R Us," by Jon Baldwin.
Arghnold is laughing at you.
August 8, 2003
"You can't satirize this."Like Larry Gelbart, the comedy writer from whom that quote comes, I'm not even going to try to crack a joke about the latest development in California politics. As Gelbart tells the New York Times, the headlines are already way ahead of any comedian's imagination. Let's leave to the Guardian to sum up the present situation before a brief comment and then a batch of links for those inclined to wallow in the high hilarity:
He is the son of a Nazi police chief who once declared his love for the noted UN secretary general and war criminal, Kurt Waldheim, and who still talks as if he has just arrived on Austrian Airlines. His rise to fame owes more to steroids than charm, and he is best known for impersonating a robot. Meanwhile, his crude remarks about women have not helped him counter persistent allegations of groping.
It is not the most promising record on which to build your first campaign for American public office, but the fact is that Arnold Schwarzenegger has every chance of being elected governor of California on October 7.
For more on "Arnold's Nazi Problem," by the way, see Timothy Noah's "little refresher course" in Slate - which, we might as well go ahead and add, has quite a package on the whole mess California is in, including Ed Finn's recall FAQ, especially helpful since the "unorthodox process has also confused Californians and spectators alike"; Mickey Kaus's ongoing, frantic, reckless (yet fun) exclamations; and, most pertinent to this blog, a rerun of Virginia Heffernan's sympathetic review of Pumping Iron on its 25th anniversary: "But what most people... can't forget, are the horrible-wonderful scenes of mental conflict between the swaggering, comically vain Schwarzenegger - 'I was always dreaming about very powerful people, dictators, people like Jesus, being remembered for thousands of years' - and the guileless Ferrigno, a hearing-impaired former sheet-metal worker under the thumb of his carping dad Matty." Clearly another prime candidate for a release on DVD.
But before wading into more linkage, the brief comment: It's all too perfect. It may be absurd, it may be beyond satire, but it's all too, too perfect.
California is the global capital of instant gratification. Only Californians could take Americans' favorite form of instant gratification - shopping - and dream up a way make it more instantly gratifying. The dotcom economy was all about not even having to leave your home to do it. What's more, anyone in the country could bet that that's precisely what we all wanted by buying a piece of Yahoo! or Netscape and then lean back and watch that piece breed free money. The big, happy feedback loop was, as Jay Leno said of Schwarzenegger's story Wednesday night, "like the American Dream," only multiplied, then squared, then cubed... then popped.
And we don't even need to begin waxing poetic on this latest coalescence of Hollywood, America's "Dream Factory," and its politics. There'll be enough of that, if there isn't already. Just imagine what'll happen if Reagan slips this mortal coil during all this.
As Paul Krugman so succinctly reminded us days before Schwarzenegger announced, California has persistently led the American way of "I want mine and I want it now!" policy-making, be it domestic or foreign: "Proposition 13, the 1978 cap on property taxes, led to a progressive starvation of California's once-lauded public schools. By 1994, the state had the largest class sizes in the nation; its reading scores were on a par with Mississippi's."
Prop 13 was a loud and clear forerunner to Reaganomics, which, if you'll remember, drove deficits higher than America had ever seen them before. But a bizarre formulation was in the air: When the world goes bad, it's time to think about me. Peter Finch's nutsoid anchorman turned it into a slogan in 1976 in Network: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Echoed, of course, by Schwarzenegger on The Tonight Show. It's his slogan now.
A lot of Californians don't really care how their state became the nation's economic basket case (or that a bunch of bamboozlers from my own home state, Texas, had such a helping hand in creating the crisis; Enron, after all, is so pre-9/11). Krugman can write, "Replacing Gray Davis with someone more likable isn't going to pay the bills," but his words will most likely fall on deaf ears by the time they reach the left coast. What Schwarzenegger offers is instant name recognition and that persona: the fixer, the man-machine terminating his way towards a smash-up resolution. You can't even claim "towards the sunset," because fears that America has become a "cowboy nation" aren't the half of it. The phrase itself is an insult to cowboys. This is the era, as Neal Gabler has written, of Pax Schwarzenegger.
Anyway, to the bits for those who want to click on. First, a mighty rant from Ed Champion, who places as much blame on the Democrats as on the Republicans "one of the most undemocratic election scams in national history."
Then there's the Los Angeles Times, predicting that this campaign will be "the Ultimate Reality Show:
"It will be wall-to-wall," Marty Kaplan, associate dean of USC's Annenberg School for Communication, said of the campaign's TV coverage.
"It's entertaining. It's exciting. The circus has come to town. That's good for ratings."
The San Francisco Chronicle has had the good sense to have their movie critic, Mick LaSalle, chime in:
His has been a career built on incongruousness. Take the big lug and put him in a classroom (Kindergarten Cop). Take the big lug and make him pregnant (Junior). Take the big lug and make him a Southern sheriff, even though he has an Austrian accent (Raw Deal). Audiences have come to enjoy the presence of Schwarzenegger in unexpected situations, while his self-deprecating humor has always made it clear: He's in on the joke.
The point is, the audience is primed, and if "Gov. Schwarzenegger" sounds strange, well, strangeness is this actor's best friend. In fact, it's practically typecasting: Take the big lug and make him governor.
As for Schwarzenegger's actual chances, the New York Times wrings its hands in its lead editorial:
Candidates like this offer a particular challenge for the voters, who have to get past the screen persona and decide how much substance there is to the candidate himself. Unfortunately, this particular election seems custom-built to make that as difficult as possible. It frequently takes several months for a colorful newcomer to wilt under public scrutiny - remember how good Ross Perot looked at first?
The Guardian's lead editorial warns:
[I]t is important not to be too pompous about Mr Schwarzenegger's ambition for public office, as Democrats like senator Dianne Feinstein (who has decided not to run) and Mr Davis's campaign aides are in danger of being. The movie star's candidacy brings with it the sort of excitement and glamour - and sex appeal - that is routinely lacking in US (and British) politics.
Over at the New Republic site, instant analyst Josh Benson hits that point harder:
[T]he snickering from the rest of the country about the land of "fruits and nuts" is sure to reach a deafening level. But if Democrats laugh too easily about the nascent Schwarzenegger candidacy, the joke will be on them - and they'll cede the statehouse to the GOP for the rest of the decade.
August 7, 2003
The non-stop blitz.Nicole Kidman didn't have a whole lot to say at her press conference in Berlin way back in February, but that was hardly her fault. Quote-mongers packing the room were far more worried that she'd never love again than about her insights into the life and work of Virginia Woolf. But she did say something I appreciated: She doesn't watch DVD extras and tries to avoid any sort of E!-type behind-the-scenes programming (though she's contractually obliged to contribute to oodles of it herself). Because it ruins the "magic" of the film.
I agree. And yet, of course, I end up watching a lot of that sort of thing anyway. The temptation's too seductive. Ideally, you can wait a day or two after taking in the film, letting it sink in before gobbling up the DVD extras, reading the reviews and so on. But the blitz for each and every film, no matter how worthy or unworthy, weeks and months ahead the actual release and weeks and months after, is all but unavoidable. By now, the fact that the production around the production has become as large as, and sometimes, larger than the production itself is a horse way too dead to go on beating.
Even so, a month later, in Austin, I asked a panel at SXSW that included Film Threat's Chris Gore, the New York Times's Elvis Mitchell, Variety's Dana Harris, the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday, Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty, the San Francisco Examiner's Joe Leydon and the Dallas Observer's Robert Wilonsky if they could imagine a savvy producer deciding not to go that route. Could there be a clever way of working around the blitz, of convincing a distributor that audiences are sick of the overload and that now, more than ever, less is actually more?
Silent head-shaking all around. Nashawaty, who seemed most sympathetic to the cause, simply replied that there really didn't seem to be a way out: PR will go on screaming louder and louder to be heard above the ever-crescendoing roar while actually offering less and less of import.
But here comes Gary Dretzka at Movie City News with a very fine piece on how we got here:
It's become abundantly clear that these multimillion-dollar campaigns are mere preludes to the increasingly costly launch of a Hollywood movie in DVD, four months later. Along with foreign distribution, the frisky little tail of the home-entertainment industry now wags the dog of what's left of the studio system... Some astute observers of the scene have argued that profits from video have freed studios to spend obscene amounts of money on doomed projects, as long as a publicity-friendly star is attached, leaving those "small, personal films" to be bankrolled [by] others. The home-entertainment market has pulled more executive ass out of fires than the International Association of Fire Fighters.
But there is hope, and that's what Dretzka leads right off with, Gigli's lesson that there is such a thing as overexposure and that there's "a heightened awareness among marketing wizards that the public is turning its back on Hollywood star vehicles. Apparently, audiences have finally come to the conclusion that the movies themselves ought to provide a modicum of entertainment value as well." Until, of course, they run off and rent the DVD.
At the same time, let's not forget the age-old reminder recently warmed over by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:
Jaws may have opened big because Universal marketed it well and released it widely, but it stayed big because people liked it. And controlling what people like is something that even the most clever marketer can't do. For all the money and energy that studio executives invest in trying to build blockbusters, William Goldman's famous Hollywood precept - "Nobody knows anything" - still holds true. A few years ago, the economists Arthur De Vany and W. David Walls did a detailed study of two thousand movies and concluded, "Revenue forecasts have zero precision. In other words, 'Anything can happen.'"
And that is why, despite all hope, for the forseeable future, the floodgates of PR will burst once again each and every time a product gets packaged. Especially now that the packagers are all but guaranteed a return on their investment from the ancillary market. If "anything can happen," the last factor you want to toss into the package is risk.
August 6, 2003
Shorts, 8/6.Heavens, that George Thomas has been busy while I was snorkeling off the rocky coast of Croatia. That settles it. Beware of the Blog is a permanent link (joining post-vacation additions Masters of Cinema, Fraser Lewry's Blogjam, which has become an indispensable resource for that whole Japanese Flash animation phenom, and Net Art News). Thomas has picked up the pace, posting more sharp and succinct reviews more frequently, usually reviews of recent releases from India, often of complementary restaurants as well. Want to know more about Mr and Mrs Iyer, the film that "scored big at the 50th National Film Awards"? Thomas has your 30-second review. Get infected by his contagious enthusiasm for Darna Mana Hai, find out why becoming "India's first digitally enhanced film" won't save Qayamat: City Under Threat and then find out what to order for lunch.
Planet Bollywood pays tribute to "Yesteryear's King of Comedy," Johnny Walker.
Joy Press, who usually reviews books for the Village Voice, sits down with producer and indie heroine Christine Vachon to watch the current season of HBO's Project Greenlight (dismissed, but not lightly, by the New York Press's Matt Zoller Seitz as "another sausage factory"):
VACHON: It's like a dog smelling fear on you. Being on a set where the director has lost control is just sickening. No one goes the extra mile, there's a lot of eye-rolling... it just breeds inertia. If a director is in control, the crew follow their leader. But the second anyone senses the directors are not sure, people just swoop in.
PRESS: They sure are swooping in, like vultures with headsets. The producers and Erica and everyone else are badgering the directors with criticism. What would you do?
Also in the Voice:
Speaking of which. Kevin Smith writes at View Askew: "As far as all this worrying about what this weekend's Gigli reception means for Jersey Girl... well, don't waste your energy. We're gonna be fine (more than fine, I think). Apples and oranges. Shit, apples and blowjobs, really. No further prognostication necessary."
Ebert is wrong - it is nonsense to say that film theory has nothing to do with film. It's unlikely that movies would be edited the way they are if Sergei Eisenstein hadn't been interested in film theory - and Todd Haynes, a former semiotics major, probably wouldn't have directed Far From Heaven. But it's also true that the theory I read in school often felt removed from how movies make meaning in the real world with real viewers.
By the way, good luck trying to read anything in the Los Angeles Times now that the subscriber-only gates have been thrown up around its entertainment section. Sigh.
Slant's list of 100 Essential Films, begun months ago, is up to 16. You can't rush these things.
Countless Plasticians dissect the remains of the summer at the movies.
Grant Rosenberg in Time Europe on the pleasures of movie-going in Paris: "A typical week in the City of Lights offers some 200 examples of second-run and repertoire fare from around the globe spanning a century of cinema, most playing at 40 or so modestly sized, independent theaters. (That's about twice as many as in London, which has a larger population.)"
Emma Watson in Newsweek's story on how the third Harry Potter movie is coming along: "Alfonso is much more gritty than Chris ever was. He's really into the idea that [shooting] should be fluid and natural. People can be eating an apple during a take."
Lars Rudolph ("You might know me as the spineless bank clerk in Run Lola Run or the psychotic patient from The Princess and the Warrior") assesses America's chances for getting "hit again" over at Plight of the Reluctant.
The Guardian offers a handy guide to "the up-and-coming actors making British film great and starting to make their presence felt in Hollywood." Also:
Here's a hefty page for you. More than two dozen book reviews from the University of Nottingham's film journal Scope. Now that's some summer reading.
Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times: "At this point in movie history, I'd say, the sad-sack screenwriter really is a 'walking cliché' (on those rare occasions when he appears to be ambulatory at all)."
But then there's the luxury Diane Johnson enjoyed, not writing the screenplay for her novel, Le Divorce, but still "amazed at how many things the director, set designer, etc., added to my understanding of my own book." Also in the San Francisco Chronicle: Hugh Hart profiles Naomi Watts.
Sticking with writers for a moment. Jim Knipfel in the New York Press: "Look at William Kotzwinkle - the man writes dozens of serious, literary novels, but what's his claim to fame? The fact that he wrote the E.T. novelization, which sold millions upon millions of copies. With that in mind, I approached my agent and, in all seriousness, told her, 'What I really want to do is write movie novelizations.' She's a wonderful and smart person, and it took a bit to convince her that I wasn't joking."
Over at Anime News Network, Bamboo Dong finds Twelve Kingdoms, City Hunter and the latest volume of RahXephon "Shelf Worthy," but nothing of the same caliber at all a few days later. Reviewing Kai Doh Maru, BD runs across a not altogether unusual problem: "The art is beautiful, the experimental color schemes are unique, the 3D landscapes are well-rendered, the animation is absolutely gorgeous - and the story sucks. It absolutely, positively sucks."
Online viewing tip. M. Signalstation sends a pointer to a preview of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.
August 5, 2003
Summer Reading. 13.
In the semi-darkened cinema the girls paused to sit down in the central section of the stall seating, but I touched the one in the flowery pattern on her bare arm once more and shook my head, motioning to the front. The entire cinema consisted of stalls on a single floor; there was no upper area or balcony, but that didn't stop social division. Right at the front, below the screen, were four rows of large leather seats with metallic, imitation scallop-shell ashtrays built into the front of each armrest. I motioned to the girls to enter the second row together. The girl in the flower dress did so, but the one in the patterned dress hesitated and permitted me to step into the row before her. I did, but considered this remarkable, for its implication was this: I was going to sit in the middle with a girl on either side of me!"That Hollywood Movie With The Big Shark!" A short story by Alan Warner, author of, among other novels, Morvern Callar, on which Lynne Ramsay's film is based.
There I sat, on the leather seat between two girls, the one in the floral dress to my right and the one in the pattern to my left, the creases down my trouser legs close to their bare knees. I felt my breathing change with this thrill. Occasionally, as if I wasn't there, they would lean slightly towards each other and whisper something across me; their little voices had moved up in pitch to a state of excitement.
August 4, 2003
Talk about the Passion.The controversy over Mel Gibson's The Passion is gathering steam, but the question of who stands to gain or lose in the long run is only growing cloudier. This weekend, the New York Times delivered a one-two punch: first, the straight-up report by Laurie Goodstein on Saturday is laced with quotes from the pro faction that hardly serve the cause ("Mel Gibson is the Michelangelo of this generation"; or the wrap-up quote on the brouhaha from the marketing director of Gibson's production company, "You can't buy that kind of publicity"); and on Sunday, Frank Rich's scathing editorial.
Rich is probably in the right on this one. There is something terribly fishy, to say the least, about the way Gibson is rolling out this film. He's currently screening it exclusively, as Goodstein notes, to "evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, right-wing pundits, Republicans, a few Jewish commentators and Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah." But because some prominent Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have voiced criticism of the film, based on their reading of a script that portrays the Jews as bloodthirsty murderers, a script that perhaps has since been revised (but even if it has, how and why did that version get written in the first place?), they have been shut out. Rich quotes the ADL's Abraham H. Foxman, but again, Goodstein has the more to-the-point version: "If you say this is not anti-Semitic and this is a work of love and reconciliation, why are you afraid to show it to us?"
The core argument Rich begins with is the most damning and alarming: "Mr. Gibson bankrolls a traditionalist Catholic church," part of "a small splinter movement that rejects the Second Vatican Council - which, among other reforms, cleared the Jews of deicide." That's a serious and legitimate cause for concern. But Rich is so palpably upset he weakens his own argument by using a bludgeon where a scalpel would have been far more effective. The phrase "any Jewish people," for example, which he attributes to Gibson in his 11th paragraph, was actually uttered by Bill O'Reilly; we know this because Rich said so himself in the second paragraph. The "entertainment elite" snippet gets passed along to Gibson as well in a similar and just as unfair fashion.
That's called putting words into a person's mouth. Such tactics, combined with guilt-by-association accusations stretched way beyond the point of credibility (yes, the anti-Semitism that's part and parcel of a resurgent right-wing extremism in some European countries is worrisome, but what does that really have to do with Mel Gibson?), unnecessarily open Rich up to charges of hysterical over-reaction. Probably just the sort of thing evangelicals will be delighted to find in the New York Times.
And that, in turn, bothers the hell out of me because, again, Rich is probably, at bottom, right. I can only say "probably" because, of course, I haven't seen the film. That some Jewish leaders wanted Jesus out of the way can hardly be denied; it's how Gibson portrays them acting on that strategic desire that's key and none of us outside Gibson's hand-picked preview audiences will know until next Ash Wednesday.
To make matters murkier, here's another odd twist. In the widely praised An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (two of the laudatory blurbs on the back cover come from the NYT and another is clipped from Frank Rich's review in The New Republic), Neal Gabler informs us that Adolf Zukor, still just setting out in 1910 on the long and bumpy road that would eventually lead to Paramount Pictures, clung to the unheard of idea that features, rather than shorts, were the future of movies. To prove it, he shocked friends and family by snapping up the rights - for $40,000 - to a film that lasted a full hour and a half. Few believed anyone would sit still that long, staring at the flickering screen.
And the film? It was shot in Oberammergau, Germany. That's right; it was the Passion play that had been performed there every decade since 1634 and which, interestingly enough, went through an "overhaul," as Goodstein puts it, by both Catholic and Jewish scholars aiming to rid it of anti-Semitism. Goodstein doesn't date that overhaul, but it's hard to imagine it occurred before 1910. Zukor's greatest fear, however, was not a backlash from Jews, but rather...
...that the Catholic church might organize opposition to a film depicting Christ. According to one version, he booked the film into Newark first to test reaction, and when a priest strenuously objected that Zukor was usurping the role of the Church, Zukor begged for mercy, claiming that he would be broke if the film failed. The ploy, if it was a ploy, worked. When the film opened in New York, it did very well, justifying Zukor's faith that audiences would sit through movies just as they sat through stage plays.
60 pages later, we learn that none other than Louis B. Mayer, in an effort to lift the reputation of movies from the arcades and to bring in middle class audiences, showcased another film of the Passion play. In neither case does Gabler register any Jewish protest. What's different this time around? For all the changes that have taken place over the nearly hundred years since - and they are many and great - you can't help but suspect that it's the film and the undercover roll-out.
August 3, 2003
Summer Reading. 12.
Having written this almost 30 years ago, when I was living in Paris, I'm surprised to discover that I still agree with a lot of it, even though it seems to be written by someone else. It led, quite unexpectedly, to the first exchange I ever had in print with another film critic - an event masterminded by Richard Corliss, the editor of Film Comment at the time, who sent Ray the galleys of my article, and then kindly sent me the galleys of his responses. Under the circumstances, I'm still grateful to Ray for letting me off so easily.
Ray has argued that the dated aspects of films directed by William Wellman are more valuable than the relative 'timelessness' of those directed by Howard Hawks because they have more to tell us about the worlds they came from - which is another way of saying that film criticism can and should be a way of writing about the world.
Jonathan Rosenbaum in an Afterword to "Raymond Durgnat," Senses of Cinema, April 2002.
In the meantime, the July/August 2003 issue of Senses of Cinema has recently gone up and it's marvelously rich. And as for Jonathan Rosenbaum, another, more recent moment of reflection: "Even after 40 years I'm still not sure how I feel about A Woman Is a Woman (1961), Jean-Luc Godard's third feature."
August 1, 2003
Dog Days and Blurb Whores.
Welcome to August, a month where heat makes you do crazy things. This hasn't been a very wet or hot summer but it's definitely been American. Just a few little bits o' news and commentary today before I sign off for the week. David Hudson, if he survived his family vacation, will be back full-time next week.
Just a couple of things, then, before I sign off...
1.) Ewan MacGregor, in an interview in the Independent UK, declares his role in the upcoming in an interview in Young Adam is "possibly the most introverted and complicated part that I have ever played." He also sounds pretty tired of Star Wars (aren't we all?) and launches some shots at the British financiers who held up Young Adam. But the best part is sex, talking about his purportedly rowdy sex scene with Emily Mortimer, that is.
2) "Gigli" is making people giggle, unintentionally. Looks like the first true bomb of the Summer (which is impressive), a Glitter of '03. In the LA Times, Manhola Dargis calls it "nearly as unwatchable as it is unpronounceable" and that it would stink even without the two stars. Amusing, too, is the SF Weekly: "The best that can be said about it here is that it doesn't beat out The Ladies Man as the most abrasively awful film of the past five years, though whoever chose to greenlight a film about a mobster baby-sitting a retarded youngster who helps him to 'convert' a lesbian really should be fired." So, it's not good, is what you're saying?
3) Speaking of critics n' blurbs, this is nothing new but I've been thinking even more than usual lately about those people who for lack of a better term can rightly be called "blurb whores" -- pseudo-critics whose names and effusive quotes can be seen on every movie advertised on TV and in the papers. No matter how terrible the film obviously is, there they are, the Pat Collins and Jeff Craigs (does anyone actually listen to "Sixty Second Preview") and the Joe Schlabotnick of Spring Break Newsletter or whatever. People who make Gene Shalit look like Pauline Kael.
Anyway, here's an amusing summary of how the term "blurb whore" started.
And then I thought I'd open up a discussion -- what is the most ridiculous blurb-whore-blurb you've seen in recent times? I also like ads that take blurbs from reviews where the critic obviously didn't even like the film. "Interesting..." -- NY Times. (From a longer review, "The premise was interesting for about twenty minutes but then the whole film fell apart.") Here's a real one: "Completely over the top" -- aintitcoolnews.com, for Boat Trip. (Btw, is Cuba Gooding slumming or what?)
You can tell a blurb whore by how cutesey-catchy they try to be, summarizing their thoughts in dumbed-down sound bites. A good new example is: "This final sequel is icing on the wedding cake! You will love, honor and cherish 'American Wedding.'" --Amber Benson, WB-TV. Hey Amber, were you in my Russian Cinema film theory and criticism class at SF State?
Actually, since the arrival of Richard "I Like Everything" Roeper, "Two thumbs up!" sounds even more ludicrous.
So pick (on) your favorite blurb whore quote.
4) Courtesy AICN: The trailer for the new Woody Allen movie doesn't even feature Woody Allen, Sigourney, or any of the more adult stars of the film -- it focuses on Jason Biggs (from American Wedding to Woody) and Christina Ricci. Check it out.
5) Lastly, some other cool news: GreenCine's throwing its first ever Film Trivia Night, on August 7th in San Francisco. Sort of a celebration of our 1st anniversary, sort of an excuse for a party, sort of an excuse to give away some gifts, etc. It's at the Orbit Room, Market at Laguna, 7PMish. Here's the Craigslist announcement. Another one will appear on the GC site soon. I've been roped into hosting. Eek.
Summer Reading. 11.
[Bryan] Buckley's pieces are often anticommercials. They lack the soaring mountain vistas of car commercials and the wistful greeting-card sentiments of ads for long-distance phone companies. They tend to be snide, visually cluttered and anarchic; they can come across as both tasteless and pointless. And amazingly, they have a theme: the attempts of ordinary folks to contend with ruthless impulses and chaotic circumstances. William Ivey Smith, the costume designer for Broadway shows, including The Producers, who waded into commercials to work with Buckley - he designed the costumes for the Oxygen spot - tells me: "Bryan is an interpreter of American fears. He doesn't make commercials; he writes haiku."
Mark Levine, "30-Second Auteur", New York Times Magazine, February 3, 2002.