September 30, 2003
Shorts, 9/30.A.O. Scott in the New York Times: [M]ovies like Majid Majidi's Baran, Hassan Yektapanah's Djomeh, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar and his daughter Samira's At Five O'Clock in the Afternoon do more than simply document the sufferings of Afghans at home and in exile. They appeal not only to the audience's conscience, but to its curiosity and imagination as well. A deep, even primal fascination exists for stories about people whose bad luck or inherent pluck propels them away from home and out into the world. Such people may, in the modern world, provide statistical fodder for policy debates, but they are also, archetypally, the heroes and heroines of fairy tales, picaresque novels and pop-culture epics. Scott also has an appreciation of Elia Kazan running today. So does David Thomson in the Guardian; Slate reruns Jacob Weisberg's 1999 piece. And thanks to Ian Whitney (follow those Running on Karma links as well) for pointing to Richard Severo's piece in the NYT on Donald O'Connor. Also in the NYT:
September 29, 2003
Elia Kazan, 1909 - 2003."Elia Kazan, the immigrant child of a Greek rug merchant who became one of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood history, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 94.... Mr. Kazan also received an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1999. The lifetime achievement award was controversial because in 1952 Mr. Kazan angered many of his friends and colleagues when he acknowledged before the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had been a member of the Communist Party from 1934 to 1936 and gave the committee the names of eight other party members.... Arthur Schlesinger thundered, 'If the Academy's occasion calls for apologies, let Mr. Kazan's denouncers apologize for the aid and comfort they gave to Stalinism.' Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro extolled him, Mr. De Niro calling him a 'master of a new kind of psychological and behavioral faith in acting.'" - Mervyn Rothstein, today's New York Times. "Probably no single individual could have broken the blacklist in April 1952, and yet no person was in a better strategic position to try than Kazan, by virtue of his prestige and economic invulnerability, to mount a symbolic campaign against it, and by this example inspire hundreds of fence sitters to come over to the opposition.... It soon became clear that whatever Kazan's motives, his reputation as the epitome of a betrayer would outlast the Party's ritualistic indignation. When HUAC asked the folksinger Tony Kerber, another Group Theatre alumnus who had been named by Kazan, whether they had known each other in the Party, Kraber responded, 'Is this the Kazan that signed the contract for five hundred thousand dollars the day after he gave names to this Committee?' To the day he died in 1977, Zero Mostel, who made it back to a stardom he had never known before he was blacklisted, referred to Kazan as 'Looselips.' Sidney Zion, the editor of Scanlan's Monthly, a brash magazine that flourished briefly in the 1970s, once ran an article called 'Hello, Informer,' and to accompany it, he republished Kazan's 1952 ad and sent him a check for $150. No matter how unrelated the occasion, few serious interviewers fail to ask Kazan about his informing." - Victor Navasky, Naming Names, 1980. (Thanks, Ed). "To be considered an 'actor's director' is a double-edged sword.... A Hawks or a Welles or a Visconti or a Fassbinder is not primarily known as an 'actor's director,' but as a film artist who integrates the work of his actors into a larger and all-sided aesthetic effort. One of their films is instantly recognizable in a fashion that a Kazan film never is.... As for Kazan, somewhere around page 600 in his autobiography he sums things up fairly well: 'For years I declared myself an ardent liberal in politics, made all the popular declarations of faith, but the truth was - and is - that I am, like most of you, a bourgeois. I go along disarming people, but when it gets to a crunch, I am revealed to be a person interested only in what most artists are interested in, himself.' A remarkable comment.... In applauding Kazan the members of the Academy are applauding themselves. What are they saying? 'In similar circumstances, we would behave in precisely the same way.'... As James P. Cannon, a genuine anti-Stalinist, observed two months after Kazan's HUAC testimony, in regard to another specimen of the McCarthy days, Whittaker Chambers: 'American capitalism, turning rotten before it got fully ripe, acclaims the stool pigeons and informers, who squeal and enrich themselves, as the embodiments of the highest good they know. By their heroes ye shall know them.'" - David Walsh, WSWS, 1999.
September 28, 2003
Donald O'Connor, 1925 - 2003."The man who performed the most sensational solo number in the history of musical comedy is dead. 'Make 'em Laugh' was like an expression of Mr. O'Connor's showbiz philosophy. Using a movie set as a backdrop, he danced, did acrobatics, tumbled to the floor, engaged in a one-sided fight with a dummy, and ran up a wall to do a backflip - singing most of the time." - Roger Ebert. Make 'em laugh
Make 'em laugh
Don't you know everyone wants to laugh?
My dad said "Be an actor, my son
But be a comical one
They'll be standing in lines
For those old honky tonk monkeyshines"
Now you could study Shakespeare and be quite elite
And you can charm the critics and have nothin' to eat
Just slip on a banana peel
The world's at your feet
Make 'em laugh
Make 'em laugh
Make 'em laugh
September 27, 2003
Weekend Shorts."In this world of the perpetually vanishing present, in which only the thing not yet unwrapped can truly be trusted as new, Bill Morrison's Decasia sticks out like a leper's thumb. This film doesn't so much savour the past as make perverted love to the silver, shimmering dead." Do explore the site. Do watch a clip or two. I've wanted to see this film since last year's article on it in the New York Times Magazine (like several other reviews, it can be read at the site as well), and now, Jonathan Jones brings word that it's making its way to Europe. Also in the Guardian:
September 26, 2003
Returns.I'll have to keep it brief today (look for "Weekend Shorts" tomorrow), but a bit of good news at least: Rick McGinnis, feisty and opinionated, and therefore, a great read whether you always agree with him or not, is back and blogging. And how. "Yes, I'm back, and yes, this is a bloody huge entry."
September 25, 2003
Online viewing tips.For a few months before launching GC Daily, we were running a sort of mini-blog at the site proper. Entries would often sign off with an "online viewing tip," an odd tick you'll see here now and then as well. A little something to watch, usually, though at times, just pretty pictures or a labyrinthine puzzle worth exploring. As a little experiment, I thought I'd round them up and post them here, but I ran into a few surprises. The first was simply how many there were, so right off, I settled on dealing with a little less than half of them, saving the rest for another day if this whole idea plays halfway decently. The second was the realization that this would be no quick cut-n-paste-n-run sort of link dump. About half of that half are no longer out there. Gone. 404. Or, as John Cleese might say, "This is an ex-online viewing tip." We're not dealing here with ancient runes chiselled into stone tablets that have since turned to dust. Or the fading pigments of centuries-old paintings. Just little files that no more than a year ago, definitely, and in most cases, just a few months ago, were still there. But aren't now. Many of them might actually still be out there, only they've moved and there's no redirect from the original URL, so they'll have to be rediscovered all over again some day. But some are truly gone. Some may be sitting on a private hard disk somewhere, but have disappeared from public view after a server blew or a domain name lapsed or what have you. You want a jolting reminder of how ephemeral this medium is, poke around. You don't have to stray far from the well-beaten paths. Is it a problem? If all you've got in mind is the disappearance of some cute little Flash animation, no, not really. Pull back a bit, though, and you begin to see all sorts of problems, and they more or less fall into two basic categories: the organization of information and the preservation of information. (Or media, or art, or stuff, whatever you want to call it.) The first is the lesser of the two problems. Move that cute little Flash animation and Google won't know about it until enough people discover its new location and adjust their own references to it accordingly. But if it still exists at all, there are enough curious minds scurrying around that eventually, it'll turn up again, like the love letters of a famous poet or politician, stashed in the secret compartment of an antique desk, now discovered and sending a new generation of biographers off on a new tangent of their careers, or the previously unknown screen tests of a long gone Hollywood icon. The global library shudders and shifts a bit, but its foundations don't budge. But at least those papers and that can of film are still around to be found. The impermanence of the digital media we're racing to load all our culture onto is not a new worry, of course. But just as an update, a reminder: It hasn't been taken care of yet. Digitalization has done wonders for film culture, no doubt. The DVD brought pristinely restored film classics to places they'd never been before, i.e., just about anywhere but a select few arthouses in major cities, and whatever form film's equivalent of the "celestial jukebox" eventually takes, may it carry on the trend, and hopefully, affordably, too. But the speed at which this transformation is taking place - just as an example, Kodak is announcing today a major shift of focus away from film; Kodak! - has me wondering whether there really might be something after all to the title of an article that Wired News ran in 1998: "No Way to Run a Culture." You see this sentence? "While most consider digital data to be the ultimate repository of information, participants at last weekend's "Time and Bits: Managing Digital Continuity" gathering at the Getty Center, warned that in reality, society is courting disaster." Try clicking that link. "The specified server could not be found." Well. On to the fun stuff, the stuff that's still there. Arranged in no order whatsoever, not chronological, not alphabetical, not thematic, a few online viewing tips.
September 24, 2003
Shorts, 9/24.A BAMcinématek series of films directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshirô Mifune has PopMatters film critic Josh Jones writing up a sort of primer on their collaboration. The film-by-film run-down may be well-traveled ground for some, but many who may not know that "all moviegoers have felt [Kurosawa's] influence whether they know it or not" ought to find it handy.
September 23, 2003
Shorts, 9/23.The editors of Reverse Shot believe demonlover is "one of the most fascinating and relevant films thus far in our very young 21st Century." Accordingly, the September/October issue is all about Olivier Assayas: Six articles on various aspects of demonlover - shortish, but still, six - plus seven on his other films and a three-part interview.
September 22, 2003
Shorts, 9/22.Newsweek very much wants you to see a certain movie on October 3.
Spots, 9/22.The morning after the Emmys is as fine a time as any to point to TeeVee's anti-Emmy TeeVee Awards (intro) and round up some of the recent TV-related verbiage out there. PBS's series on The Blues is being treated as the event of the season, and for contributing directors, you could certainly do a lot worse than Scorsese, the executive producer of the series as well, plus Wenders, Pearce, Burnett, Levin, Figgis and Eastwood. Still, the New York Times's Jon Pareles gives the sum of these disparate parts a decidedly mixed review. Nancy Franklin, writing in the New Yorker, isn't exactly blown off her couch, either. Also in the NYT, Jim Rutenberg captures some of the desparation at ABC, where suits and writers alike are hoping It's All Relative, one of 19 new sitcoms spread out over 6 networks debuting this season, will save the very idea of the situation comedy. And Alessandra Stanley ponders God's TV comeback. Fimoculous is chock full of TV stuff recently: R.E.M.'s Morning Team, "TiVo'd," a still-fresh piece from the always astounding Joshua Allen and "Things Viewers Never, Ever Say," such as, "Oh, they're LIVE at the State House. Well, alright then. There was no way I was going to believe a pre-packaged story about the budget."
September 20, 2003
Weekend Shorts."The night view is very beautiful, a spill of endless jewels glittering in limpid air; chains and towers of light that stretch as far as one can see. This is the mad, rich woman America; with the courage of her convictions, her rich madness." That's John Fowles, writing in March 1964 in Los Angeles. He's there because William Wyler is adapting his book, The Collector. Things did not turn out well for the movie, but for the journals, due out in the UK in early October and excerpted in the Guardian, they turn out splendidly. On Terence Stamp: "Terry has created a sort of dream life-style for himself. He says whatever comes into his head, does what he likes, lives like a sort of Hamlet without neurosis, eternally white-shirted, open-throated, thrusting, on the crest of the wave." On Samantha Eggar: I took Sam out this evening, to hear Segovia and to try to get to the bottom of the mystery of her nothingness. I felt like Seneca locked up with Poppaea... or something. A pretty corrupt Seneca, as I have done my best to get her [in] the sack these last days; and like everyone else have indulged wholeheartedly in the favourite sport on the Columbia lot - making fun of her behind her back. And so on. Read it now or save it for dessert. Also in the Guardian:
September 19, 2003
Austin, Texas.That's the place to be this weekend, and for that matter, the next couple of weekends as well. Just listen to Marc Savlov running out of breath trying to get it all into his "Short Cuts" column in the Austin Chronicle.
September 18, 2003
Shorts, 9/18."Here is a potentially remarkable career taking shape. A sprightly 42 (and looking considerably younger than that), Michael Winterbottom has already directed some two dozen films and telefilms." So begins Scott Foundas's quick assessment, laced with quotes, of the versatile, prolific yet accomplished director.
September 17, 2003
Our Japan thing, plus shorts.Quite a bit of overlap in the film departments of the duelling NYC alt.weeklies this time around. And why not. After all, there's an Olivier Assayas retrospective in town, opening tomorrow, and his demonlover is, as Film Comment dubs it, the "movie of the moment." Can't ignore that. But let's start with this, from the Village Voice's Michael Musto: "Last year, the big indie movie trend, for whatever reason, was Douglas Sirk homages, and a couple of seconds ago, it was kids mutilating themselves and/or each other (Thirteen, Zero Day, Home Room, Party Monster, and soon Elephant). Well, drop your rifles and pick up your sake glasses because now it's quirky romances with a rarefied Japanese twist." No kidding. Musto mentions Sue Brooks's Japanese Story and, of course, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. But drop the quirky romance criterion and take a second look at the fall schedule. We've got Japan on the brain this season. Quentin Tarantino cross-dresses the samurai flick in Hong Kong action attire with Kill Bill, Assayas has his demonlovers chase after hentai, and let's not forget the Yasuziro Ozu retrospective next month. One could strain for some sort of explanation - the Japanese economy is finally on the mend, helping Japan to reclaim some of its former global mindshare or some such - but that'd be quite a stretch. It's more likely simply a confluence of individual interests and experience on the one hand - Coppola's lonely nights in Tokyo, Tarantino's grazing on, Assayas's long-term interest in pan-Asian modernity - happenstance in the release schedule on the other hand. At the same time, there's something to what Assayas tells Dennis Lim in the Voice: It scares me that independent films are not evolving fast enough. Mainstream films are at least somehow connected with a collective subconscious. They're collective works - there's a director, but ultimately no one made it, the machine created it. Without knowing it, they end up expressing pretty complex things about our fears and obsessions, even when they have the most primitive narratives. Something like Terminator 3 - on the one hand, it's a conventional third installment, but it's also a movie about how men are scared of the modernity of femininity. To me that film was saying that men are outdated, but girls are so connected, so much sharper, and a major threat. Pop culture as the most telling set of symptoms of whatever's ailing us at the moment? Hardly a fresh idea, but it's expressed well and with a twist, a reminder that independent work might tell us something about the next five minutes, but it's far from reliable; whereas pop can only speak to the present moment, maybe the past five minutes, but is far more often right on the money. Ok, but what about the film. Lim is impressed, though he does note that demonlover "start[s] to fissure somewhere around the halfway mark - a detonation that may at first seem Lynchian, akin to the rupture that splits Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive in two, though it's more of a terminal hemorrhage in this case." J. Hoberman more or less agrees, but over at the New York Press, Armond White isn't having any of it: "Problem is, like any Prada-wearing hipster, Assayas easily accepts moral defeat." While he's at it, he takes a swipe at David Cronenberg's Spider for good measure. It's left to Saul Austerlitz to recommend the retrospective anyway. Also in the NYP: Matt Zoller Seitz's substantive and fair obit for Leni Riefenstahl: "One can no more imagine moving pictures without Riefenstahl than one can imagine the alphabet without the letter 'E.'" By comparison, it's difficult to know what Michael Atkinson is after with his two paragraphs other than maybe a prose poem. Then again, Voice critics have been leaking that, with the paper's new design, their word count has been considerably snipped. Even so, besides the usual reviews, there's still room for:
September 16, 2003
Shorts, 9/16.The dead-tree version of the October issue of Paper looks like it'd be fun to flip through. Available online is Frank Owen's Party Monster package: profiles of Macaulay Culkin, Chloë Sevigny and producer-writer-directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. The film's based on Disco Bloodbath, a memoir by James St. James, who's profiled in the New York Times today. While we wait for the new issue of Filmmaker, there is at least one new short piece up. Andre Salas talks with Passionada director Dan Ireland. Heather Havrilesky watches K Street for Salon: "'Look how we get to play, play, play wherever we want with whomever we want!' is the smug message of this project... Instead of blurring lines between fiction and reality, K Street sharpens them, making us so aware of the manipulations and setups and improvised moments that we can't remotely get involved in the drama." You've surely noticed that the lesbian kiss is the fashion statement of the season; Bollywood has, too. Via Beware of the Blog. "The bittersweet realities of a post-Communist world are threatening to create a mini movie genre." Allan Hunter in Screen Daily on Vodka Lemon. At Movie City News, Gary Dretzka goes chasing after the answer to the question: Whatever happened to Ripley's Game with John Malkovich, "exactly the kind of stimulating and intelligent motion picture that's now become an endangered species in Hollywood"? Turns out, no one seems to know, really. Also at MCN: Ray Pride on Lost in Translation and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Speaking of which. Ann Hornaday spends some quality time with husband-and-wife team Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellán for the Washington Post: "It's a love story." Doug Cummings announces a poll for the "DVD of the Year" hosted by the moderators at the amazing Masters of Cinema. There's no rush; this'll take months yet, of course, "but you may wish to start thinking about which disc you'll pick." Doug's also been reading Fritz Lang: Life and Work, Pictures and Documents, a book reviewed in the Winter 2001 issue of Bookforum by one of my own favorite writers on film, Geoffrey O'Brien. Online viewing tip. Rob Walker on the new Converse ad: Converse is the no-BS yin to Nike's all-style-and-image yang... The clever thing about the "First School" notion is that while it appears to push the idea of an "authentic" basketball shoe, it's really more about an "authentic" fashion statement. That sounds like an oxymoron, and strictly speaking it is. But in marketing, and maybe everywhere in pop culture at this point, "authentic" doesn't really mean authentic. It means "not so obviously phony."
September 15, 2003
Shorts, 9/15.Having gone a little bonkers over the weekend, let's keep these shorts short.
In Outlook India, Sheela Reddy surveys the coming onslaught of books and movies about Indira Gandhi now that there's a full-blown nostalgia wave going on. Quote from Kamleshwar, the screenwriter for Aandhi and another upcoming loosely-based-on-the-real-life biopic: "Wherever you go, people talk of her, wish she was here now. They are feeling the vacuum."
For the Globe and Mail, Ben King describes what it's like to be an extra for a Bollywood production - there's even a sidebar telling you how you can, too.
The Deal, a TV movie about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, may not sound like riveting entertainment when you first hear of it, but consider that the director is Stephen Frears. Tim Adams preps us before talking with the director: "Frears's film, scripted by Peter Morgan, borrows much of the substance of its story from James Naughtie's book The Rivals. It has, since it was announced, enjoyed an intriguing little history of its own." Also in the Observer:
Toronto wrap-up No. 1: Eugene Hernandez does the honors at indieWIRE. And how. Quite a report, the gist of which, if you haven't heard, is that Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi and Denys Arcand's Barbarian Invasions came away with top honors.
In the Guardian's Toronto report, B Ruby Rich says she quite likes Jane Campion's In the Cut. Her take on Meg Ryan's career move - "So long typecast as the kittenish girl next door with clean-cut sex appeal, she thoroughly reinvents herself as Frannie, an introverted schoolteacher who, opening up to the kinky seductions of a homicide detective, becomes the target of a serial killer" - is shared by just about everyone - except for Ryan herself, as we read in Moviehole.
In the New York Times:
Rex Sorgatz has found the uber-meta MP3 of the moment.
Bamboo Dong's fallen for a robot. She's still got time to watch anime, though: 3 shelf worthies, 5 rentables, no perishables.
September 14, 2003
Sunday Shorts.Thanks to infuriating connection problems, these "Weekend Shorts" have a new name. There's a lot to catch up with, so fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy entry.
As Doug Cummings writes at filmjourney.org, "The latest issue of Film Comment has been released and thankfully it's better material than the magazine has generally offered the past year. Its article on Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) and his centennial celebrations is particularly of note, particularly since it's online."
There's also a piece on Olivier Assayas's demonlover: "[T]his elegant cyberthriller captures a certain state of the contemporary world with the acuity, sensitivity, and precision of a seismograph registering the planet's tectonic shifts."
But back to the Ozu article, where Richard Combs writes, "The remarkable imposition of the Ozu 'image' beginning in 1949 depends on a narrow range of subject and theme, worked through a comparably narrow range of stylistic choices-choices made from the common pool of classical or mainstream movie techniques," and reminds us that that is certainly not the complete picture. If for no other reason, the program for the retrospective, with film descriptions by Derek Lam, looks like a feast.
Like many of us, Matt Clayfield is eagerly awaiting the Criterion release of Tokyo Story. A footnote: Richard Corliss's overview of the relationship between Japanese film and Hollywood, part of a special issue on Japan in Time back in April 2001.
"The American firebombing of Japanese cities in 1945 is the defining imagery in the new documentary film by Errol Morris, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons of Robert S. McNamara to be released in December by (Catch the irony) Sony Pictures Classics." Larry Calloway's perceptive piece on the film and its historical context - "[McNamara] is not actually doing mea culpas... He does not follow the postmodern argument... that genocide is an absolute crime and that America throughout its history has failed even to recognize it" - comes by way of Matt Langdon's Rashomon. See also Matt's father's review of the film and our own conversation with Morris.
Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney have run into severe trouble with their show, set to premiere Sunday night on HBO, K Street - there's a clip there in which they and their star political consultants explain the concept of the show, a "fusion of reality and fiction," incorporating behind the scenes wheeling and dealing on Capital Hill (though, of course, those scenes wouldn't be behind anything at all anymore, would they?) and featuring cameos by some of the Senate's better known faces. But now, as Greg Allen and others are noting, Trent Lott and George Voinovich, the Republican chairmen of the Senate Rules Committee and Ethics Committee, have just thrown a hefty wrench in the works. They say the show flies in the face of a ban on filming in the Capital for "commercial or profit-making purpose." Now what? Greg offers a solution: "[G]et the crew - and the talent - some press passes and slap some CNN logos on those cameras."
The logos might not hack it, but the passes conceivably could. At any rate, Greg makes some interesting associations between who's appeared on camera so far and who's collected the most contributions from the cable industry. On top of that, the folks at Boycott-RIAA.com take note of who's on the guest list for the red carpet premiere. Worth a peak.
The 11th Cine Latino! fest kicks off on September 17 and runs through the 21st in San Francisco, where the World According to Shorts is already underway (wraps on the 17th) and RESFEST (9/18 - 21) events are also happening.
Question. Is it time to start worrying that Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is getting too much good press? Here's what's supposed to be a little movie, "a tiny movie," as Bradley Steinbacker puts it in the Stranger, and yet: "It is as close to a miracle as you're likely to get this year." And then along comes a massive cover package in the LA Weekly: Ella Taylor's profile of the director, Juan Morales's chat with Scarlett Johansson, Scott Foundas's review and assessment of Bill Murray's career and John Payne's appreciation of the soundtrack.
Then, in the New York Times, there's Elvis Mitchell's rave ("[O]ne of the purest and simplest examples ever of a director falling in love with her star's gifts. And never has a director found a figure more deserving of her admiration than Bill Murray") and AO Scott's laudatory profile of the star; and Slate's David Edelstein, who hasn't liked a lot of movies recently: "This is the Bill Murray performance we've been waiting for: Saturday Night Live meets Chekhov." And so on and so on. You want to yell out, "Don't peak too early, Sofia!", but it may be too late.
Speaking of Slate, by the way, it's there that Ed Finn tackles the question: "Can Wham-O Sue Over Dickie Roberts?"
Daniel Kraus, a filmmaker himself, has a rip-roaring conversation with Cabin Fever director Eli Roth. Also in Salon, Charles Taylor: "Next to the Hong Kong action picture So Close, nearly every Hollywood thriller of the summer looks like an elementary-school project thrown together the Sunday night before it was due. Director Corey Yuen's work here is fast, exciting and, above all, clean."
Top ten Bollywood bad guys? Planet Bollywood's Vijay Ramanan runs them down.
In the Guardian:
Microsoft aims to have Windows Media Series 9 supercede MPEG-2, "a compression standard that is the foundation of satellite, cable, video-editing systems and DVDs," reports Stefanie Olsen in CNET. Apple, in the meantime, is quite pleased Manito director Eric Eason uses Final Cut Pro - and that he's quite pleased to talk about it.
Peter Campbell in the London Review of Books on what technological advances are doing to an art form that's been too often sidelined in the past: "Early video art was very often a way of recording performance art. Now more of it takes the form of pictures which move but which are not, in the ordinary sense, moving pictures."
HIM: I can't stand it. I can't stand it anymore!
HER: You're going to make me cry.
HIM: I know, honey, I know, me too.
HER: No, don't. - Pretend like I just told you a joke.
They both laugh.
September 12, 2003
Johnny Cash, 1932 - 2003.Johnny Cash was, of course, not known for his movies, but there's a mighty, iconographic overlap between the Man in Black and, at the very least, the American Western: the outlaw as a beloved and admired hero with a mile-wide anti-heroic streak running right up under the skin. Just sample this bit in Bob Townsend's fine obit in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and tell me some screenwriter isn't sharpening a pencil (or firing up Final Draft) right now:
Embraced by presidents, preachers and punks, he performed at the Nixon White House and on evangelist Billy Graham's crusades. He also staggered through outlaw days, when he infamously kicked out the footlights at the Grand Ole Opry, and got caught trying to smuggle amphetamines across the Mexican border in his guitar case.
Whether it'd really make a good movie or not, who knows. It hardly matters; he lived out the tale for all to see, always aware of its potential as legend, never shirking from exploiting it, yet never afraid to reveal his deepest, most disturbing flaws, above all, in that almost frightening but intimate voice of his. Like frail iron.
John Ritter, 1948 - 2003.Could the deaths of two more different celebrities be announced on the same day than Johnny Cash and John Ritter? Oddly enough, Ritter was the son of a country singer called Tex, but that's about it. Other than maybe - and this is the sort of thing only a random stroke of destiny could get you thinking about - the idea of what it is to be a man and how that idea has evolved over the last few decades.
You think of the way Bogart haunted Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam or Springsteen visited John Cusack in High Fidelity and that would be the only sort of scene imaginable that these two could share. "Buck up, kid." In all three cases, though, it'd be the one with the insecurities who's our protagonist, the one we're meant to identify with. And of the three, Ritter would be the most "normal," the statistical compromise settled on in some Central Casting office in Omaha.
There's no getting around the running motif in Ritter's career, whether it's Skin Deep (the one with the then-infamous duelling glow-in-the-dark condoms) or Real Men. But if I were going to throw a tape in in his memory (since it's not out on DVD), it'd be Peter Bogdanovich's underrated Noises Off.... There's the evidence that his true calling wasn't delivering sitcom one-liners but outright farce.
September 11, 2003
Thanks a Million
A quick pointer to an event of our own. On Thursday, September 25, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, GreenCine will present its first Eclection Film Screening, with a brand new print of Thanks A Million (1935). On the eve of our own wacky gubernatorial election, the film's story - which the All Movie Guide calls a "sharp satire of small town politics" - is suddenly relevant again.
Thanks a Million chronicles a troupe of entertainers who are hired to liven things up at a political event. When the candidate for governor is too drunk to make his speech, the lead crooner from the troupe (played by Dick Powell) steps in, and the crooked political backers decide they want the entertainer to run for governor instead. Doesn't sound so implausible these days, does it? Thanks A Million is an undeservedly obscure film that has long been out of print and unavailable on VHS or DVD – so this is truly a one-in-a-million opportunity.
The screening is free to the first 300 people (GC members and non-members alike) who go this Thanks a Million screening link and fill out the form. We'll send you a postcard good for admission for two to the screening (which, as with any free screening, is never guaranteed, so we advise getting there early to ensure admittance).
It'll be great fun, or at least, a lot more fun than a fairly nauseating recall race. Okay, enough advertising. Thanks (a million)!
9/11x03.For a while there, it looked as if "September 11" would mean one thing and one thing only. It may be a sign of some sort of collective recovery, then, that the US and UK papers this morning are running, besides their 9/11 packages, articles on another grim anniversary, the 30th since General Augusto Pinochet's military coup toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. And the German papers are marking yet another: the 100th birthday of Theodor Adorno.
So, for today, three pieces, none of them "news." A break from the buzz. Starting with what I still consider to be a remarkable article J. Hoberman wrote for the Village Voice just three months after September 11, 2001. If I were compiling some sort of broad 9/11 anthology and could include only one film-related text, I might very well choose "All as It Had Been." Here's how it begins:
For everyone who saw the events on TV, movies offered the only possible analogy - blockbusters are what bring us together, all at once, around the world. The moving image and synchronized sound are how information is transmitted. The blockbuster's lingua franca is violent action, and since the collapse of the Soviet empire, those sounds and images have belonged overwhelmingly to the American-run multinational force conveniently designated "Hollywood." The movies are stamped on our DNA. Thus, the déjŕ vu of crowds fleeing Godzilla through Lower Manhattan canyons, the wondrously exploding skyscrapers and bellicose rhetoric of Independence Day, the romantic pathos of Titanic, the wounded innocence of Pearl Harbor, the cosmic insanity of Deep Impact, the sense of a world directed by Roland Emmerich for the benefit of Rupert Murdoch.
On September 11, the dream became reality.
Patricio Guzmán's The Pinochet Case (2001)
It's also in the Voice that Michael Atkinson wrote, almost exactly a year ago: "Possibly the most riveting and vital historical document ever put on celluloid, Patricio Guzmán's three-part 1975-79 guerrilla epic The Battle of Chile is an unforgettable experience." Yes, another DVD we need. It seems to have been in 1998 that Andrea Meyer spoke with Guzmán for indieWIRE:
I made the film because I was passionate about what was going on. It was like opening your window and seeing a whole social movement reveal itself right before your eyes. We were contemplating history right in front of us - Allende talking, fights on one side, struggles on the other, the police... It was a huge spectacle.
[...] Something like this only happens to a country every hundred years. Like in Portugal, Nicaragua, Cuba. In Cuba, the first five years of the revolution were absolutely magical. And then afterwards was a different story... For us, it was romantic. Beautiful. It's as if everyone in your country fell in love.
And finally, Theodor Adorno, who once wrote (with Hanns Eisler), "one cannot see the film as an isolated art form of its own standing; it rather must be understood as the most characteristic medium of our present mass culture which uses the techniques of mechanical reproduction." From "Chaplin Times Two":
There is something about the empirical Chaplin that suggests not that he is a victim but rather, menacingly, that he would seek victims, pounce on them, tear them apart. One can well imagine that Chaplin's cryptic dimension, or precisely that which makes this most perfect clown more than his genus, is connected with the fact that he as it were projects upon the environment his own violence and dominating instinct, and through this projection of his own culpability produces that innocence which endows him with more power than all power possesses. A vegetarian Bengal tiger: comforting, because his goodness, which the children cheer, is itself in a compact with the very evil that in vain seeks to destroy him - in vain, for he had already destroyed that evil in his own image.
September 10, 2003
Shorts, 9/10."Why would one attempt to cinematically recreate literary incoherence?" asks Ashley Allinson in his contribution to the Senses of Cinema "Great Directors" series. His subject is David Cronenberg, his question pointed at the case of Naked Lunch and the one possible answer he puts forward isn't particularly encouraging to those looking forward to the recently announced Criterion release on DVD: "One conclusion that can be drawn is that Cronenberg adapted a screenplay from the Burroughs mystique, not directly from his text, as many argue, a snuff pastiche enveloped within Cronenberg's 13 years of adaptation."
More from David Thompson:
David Cronenberg has described his "adaptation" of Burroughs' book as if he and the author had ventured into The Fly's telepod together and produced an unexpected hybrid. This is not any kind of direct transposition of an intangible and hallucinatory text, but a film on the act of writing itself, with fictional narcotics as a guiding factor and the biography of Burroughs as an anecdotal reference point... If its virtues lie in its vices, then the dangerous liason between Cronenberg's vices and Burroughs' was simply too much for any one feature film to contain.
Frankly, that's just the sort of review that has me anticipating the "unexpected hybrid" all the more.
More news via the DVD Talk newsletter: Francis Ford Coppola seems to be something of a Guest Star on the DVD that comes along with the latest issue of McSweeney's, described at Powell's as "[a]n instant classic of the DVDs-attached-to-literary-quarterlies genre." DVD Talk describes Coppola's "Director's Audio Commentary": "The result is HILARIOUS as Coppola comments on footage he's never seen with long tangential tales spawning off some of the most mundane aspects of the segment."
Back to Coppola for a moment and another DVD on the way. Yes, it's One From the Heart, the movie Coppola feels was "assassinated" before it ever had a chance. He tells the Toronto Star's Geoff Pevere why. Meanwhile, Armond White who, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, never reads a film quite like anyone else, has this to say about Lost in Translation:
Although I defend Sofia Coppola's performance as Mary, the cosseted Italian-American princess in the criminally undervalued The Godfather, Part III, her recent turns at film directing suggest that she wasn't really acting. It's hard to think of other filmmakers who tried this hard to make a virtue of privileged-girl petulance or other films by women that so evidently bought into patriarchy and the male point of view.... My interpretation is not necessarily what Coppola intended... It's poignant proof of complex father-daughter dynamics that Sofia Coppola translates her personal family tension into Lost in Translation's very chaste girl-to-father-figure rapprochement.
Festival round-up? Let's go:
Two non-Toronto related interviews: Iranian director Jafar Panahi in the Independent and Ewan McGregor in the Observer on, among many other things, Young Adam (see also our recent chat with Tilda Swinton).
In the run-up to 9/11/03, Danny Schechter lifts the hood off DC 9/11: Time of Crisis and peers deep inside for Alternet: "Laugh if you will - as are many of those familiar with all the deceptions and contradictions in the President's post 9/11 responses - but don't underestimate how a well-produced story technique can shape and 'embed' a pro-Bush narrative in our brains." Also: Ric Burns takes New York Times readers' questions concerning the WTC.
September 9, 2003
More DVDs We Need
Preston Sturges would have celebrated his 105th birthday on August 29th; I celebrated it by watching Sullivan's Travels for the 8th time, and then by reading Anthony Lane's often wonderful collection of reviews and essays, Nobody's Perfect. In it is a piece on Sturges which neatly encapsulates this enigmatic film director. Lane writes:
By trade, Sturges was a screenwriter who became a director. To us, that seems old hat, one of the paths by which the ambitious get to run their own show, but back in 1940, when The Great McGinty came out, it was very new hat indeed; the opening credits proclaimed "Written and directed by Preston Sturges," and it was the first time in the history of talkies that the two passive verbs had appeared together onscreen. From that conjunction sprang a whole tradition of filmmaking: literate, spiky, defensive, markedly personal, and almost always funny. One cannot say that without his example there would have been no Billy Wilder or Woody Allen, but it was Sturges who made the breakthrough. The fact that all three men use movies to caution us against the perils of overestimating human nature is, needless to say, sheer coincidence. In the course of an eight-year spree, Sturges directed eleven features; in the first five years, he set off one of the most deafening fusillades that moviegoers have ever had to face. The Great McGinty and Christmas in July came out in 1940, The Lady Eve in 1941, Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story the year after that, and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero in 1944.
Lane also concocted a useful list of the things that Sturges found amusing:
- What you do with No. 1 when No. 2 gets hold of you.
- And vice versa.
- Falling over.
- Fat people.
- People in fancy clothes.
- People who talk funny.
- Politicians who get away with it.
- Politicians who don't.
- Gambling. (Note: Try not to confuse this with No. 15.)
- Misunderstandings. (Ditto.)
- A lion with its head in your lap.
Fired together, the prejudices of Preston Sturges constitute a broadside against the blandishments of an orderly life.
Obviously some of the items in the Sturges pantheon are on the dated side of the humor scale, but many more of them are not. And put together, as Lane says, his perspective overall is still wonderfully appropriate. And in today's chaotic and circus-like political atmosphere, a good dose of Sturges is what we really need. When The Palm Beach Story (which Lane calls his favorite Sturges), Hail the Conquering Hero, and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (a hilarious WWII screwball satire in which Betty Hutton is married to a man she can't recall and does her patriotic duty with one of the war-bound soldiers, becoming pregnant with septuplets) come marching on to DVD, the world, or at least my little corner of it, will be a better place.
Leni Riefenstahl, 1902 - 2003.
"They kept asking me over and over again whether I was having a romance with Hitler. 'Are you Hitler's girlfriend?' I laughed and answered the same way each time: 'No, those are false rumours. I only made documentaries for him."
"Artistically, though, her distinction as a trailblazer remained intact, and her influence has gone multimedia. Think of the big events - rallies, US presidential inaugurations, even sporting events - that are essentially huge photo-ops. 'There you have her genius, but also that of Hitler,' says Thomas Elsaesser, professor of film studies at the University of Amsterdam. 'They thought up the idea of an event that exists only to be recorded by the camera, shot and edited so as to give the mass spectator the illusion of being the disembodied, ubiquitous eye of God.' Open a magazine and look at the muscly ads, like those for Calvin Klein fragrances. 'The aesthetics of this heroic vibe were taken from her movies,' says Polish artist Maciej Toporowicz, whose video Obsession juxtaposes Riefenstahl clips with other Nazi-era footage and samples of modern advertising that use what he calls 'fascist iconography.'
"Few movie fans realize how many of Riefenstahl's ideas and images have slipped into recent film. In addition to Verhoeven, George Lucas echoed her in this year's Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones; snippets of Triumph of the Will appeared in Oliver Stone's The Doors; and James Cameron's Titanic took many details from her little-seen 1954 film Tiefland, about a woman who falls under a tyrant's control but eventually finds freedom. 'I was sitting in the theater thinking, "I've seen these scenes somewhere before,"' says film scholar Robert von Dassanowsky. 'Isn't that the hallmark of a truly influential artist, that her work survives and influences, even detached from her name?'"
Jeff Chu in Time, August 26, 2002.
"[W]hat does the fact that Riefenstahl is a woman have to do with her continuous and overwhelming image as unrepentant Nazi agent?... Certainly Riefenstahl's political taint is not unique. Other artists tolerated or supported European fascism and continued their stardom in the postwar era: Céline, Roberto Rossellini, Salvador Dali, G.W. Pabst, Douglas Sirk, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan, Gottfried Benn, Ernst Jünger, and Gustaf Gründgens, among others.... The absence of women in this list is glaringly obvious."
Robert von Dassanowsky, "'Wherever you may run, you cannot escape him': Leni Riefenstahl's Self-Reflection and Romantic Transcendence of Nazism in Tiefland."
But then again, a year ago, I wrote elsewhere:
Another nasty flare-up from Leni Riefenstahl's past, just days before her 100th birthday. Kate Connolly explains the situation quite well in the Observer.
I can't point you to another Riefenstahl-related piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung because faz.net tosses stories into its pay-per-view archive these days almost immediately. But in sum, she gave a television interview on Thursday that Niklas Maak, one of the FAZ's better writers, dissects expertly.
The interviewer was Sandra Maischberger, an award-winning and popular journalist in Germany, who, to sum up Maak's argument, didn't do her job. She didn't ask about the Gypsies forced to act as extras in Riefenstahl's Tiefland, nearly half of whom went on to die in the camps, even as that controversy was brewing. She didn't, in fact, press her on much of anything but did ask, as Maak writes, "one of the oddest questions: 'You and Marlene Dietrich have one thing in common, namely, that you were both unpopular in Germany after the war. She was unpopular because of her propaganda against Germany in America; you were unpopular because you did just the opposite and were even officially seen later as a fellow traveler. What does this mean? That a woman in a higher position can't do anything right?'
"'Well,' answered Leni Riefenstahl benevolently, 'I can understand Marlene's behavior one hundred percent" (as if Marlene Dietrich's emigration to the United States were an irritating but excuseable faux pas). 'It's perfectly understandable that she, who had many Jewish friends, hated everything that had anything to do with National Socialism.' Were there perhaps other reasons? No further questions from Frau Maischberger..."
Maak steers to the following: Maischberger is "for the entertainment industry what Gerhard Schröder is to politics: the prototype of a professional, friendly generation of pragmatists who's nobody's fool and who won't reveal in the least what they're after, what they stand for, what really moves them. A generation that finds everything 'interesting' with a critical distance that becomes a pose."
Maak's argument would have been, well, more interesting, though, if he'd taken into consideration the actual brutal pragmatics of the situation: Had Maischberger fried Riefenstahl on screen, Riefenstahl's company would have fought the broadcast, or, had they suspected Maischberger might have even considered pressing her at all, would never have granted the interview in the first place. In which case, of course, Maischberger should have refused to conduct it.
September 8, 2003
Shorts, 9/8.So Jonathan Demme is remaking The Manchurian Candidate with Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington. That seems to be the occasion for Louis Menand's piece in the New Yorker on the movie and the book, though he buries it way down there towards the end. The article is terrific on the historical context and repercussions of both the film and novel, but the focus is on the author, Richard Condon:
Michael Crichton writes books that any idiot can film; he practically supplies camera angles. But Condon's is not an easy book to film, in part because its tone is not readily imitated cinematically, and in part because much of it is, or was in 1962, virtually unfilmable. Strange as the movie is - a thriller teetering on the edge of camp - the book is stranger.... Some people like their bananas ripe to the point of blackness. The Manchurian Candidate is a very ripe banana, and, for those who have the taste for it, delectable.
Also in the New Yorker: Noah Baumbach eavesdrops behind the couch ("Maybe you wish Disney was your parent company, too. Any associations?") and David Denby reviews two movies I'd very much like to see.
I don't know about you, though, but the fall preview in Sunday's New York Times left me rather... unexcited? Maybe because I'm already looking forward to Lost in Translation, Dogville, maybe a couple of others. And of course, The Return of the King. I haven't really drilled into the month-by-month breakdown yet, but I can't help wondering: Is that all there is? Not a good question to have lingering in the air after a ho-hum summer like this one. Anyway, also in the NYT:
The festival round-up.
John Boorman in the Guardian: "The blockbuster movie, now utterly dominant and crushing better films, is set to destroy the Hollywood studios; the monster is turning on its makers.... The American military, able to crush every opponent, is in danger of bankrupting the US. Is there an inherent flaw in a system whereby everything gets bigger and bigger until it collapses under its own weight?"
It's nearly all "Shelf Worthy" this week for Bamboo Dong.
September 6, 2003
And the winners are...The Official Awards of the 60th Mostra were announced this evening. At first glance, it looks like the jury has done a fine job of spreading their nods around evenly and fairly. Andrej Zvjagintsev's The Return may have nabbed the Golden Lion, but Marco Bellocchio's Buongiorno, notte, the film many were pulling for (and there were a lot of Italians who simply hoped any of the four Italian entries would come away with something) was recognized with an "Award for an Outstanding Individual Contribution" given to Bellocchio for the screenplay.
Takeshi Kitano scores the Special Director's Award, Sean Penn wins the Coppa Volpi for Best Actor (and, to hear Sean Axmaker tell it, it sounds like it was well-deserved) and the Germans are particularly proud of Katja Riemann this evening.
September 5, 2003
Oh, joy."Hail and Hosanna, it's happened, good news too good to be true." Well. That announcement may have been buried way, way down in Glenn Erickson's "Savant Newsletter," but it certainly caught my attention. Turns out, the songs of joy are well-warranted: "Anchor Bay has announced that they're releasing the LONG, 4.75 hour Until the End of the World to DVD in Spring of 2004."
The moment they start accepting preorders, I'm there.
Back up to last October. Mark Wickum was writing "text supplements," the DVD equivalent of liner notes, for Anchor Bay's "Wim Wenders Collection" and posed 19 questions via email which Wenders answered generously yet succinctly. The resulting interview, in fact, is probably about the best quick intro to the man and his work around. Now, of the original New German Cinema triumphirate - Herzog, Fassbinder, Wenders, the three who, right or wrong, achieved the most international fame and acclaim - Wenders is the most often disparaged.
There are a couple of reasons for that. Of the three, Wenders is the most accessible and least idiosyncratic. The same might be said of his work, but that's not such a clean argument. Secondly, he has an unabashed affinity for contemporary pop culture. And, while all three have made at least one dud, Wenders's triumph-to-dud ratio is the least pretty.
But here's where one of my own affinities comes in. I like directors with spotty track records. I get a little suspicious and uneasy with straight-A directors ("What, every Bergman is a masterpiece?"). I'm trying to avoid the phrase "takes risks," but I'm glad that, say, after the Godfathers, Coppola didn't say to himself, "Ok, there's my modus operandi." I'm glad he made One From the Heart, and I'm glad to have seen it. It may not "work," but it's a fascinating document in its own way; the question, "What were they thinking?," so often posed derisively, can actually be a fairly helpful way in to a better understanding of the films that do "work."
Actually, Coppola and Wenders, who managed to fail together with Hammett, are an interesting pair in the light of next spring's release. It must have been at around the same time, two decades or so ago, that each dreamed up his Really, Really Big Film. For Coppola, it was Megalopolis; for Wenders, Until the End of the World, or as some like to call it, UTEOTW.
The major difference between them, of course, is that UTEOTW actually got made. But that certainly was not the end of that. Back to that interview with Wickum. Wenders:
The Reader's Digest version I was forced to release at the time would have broken my heart if I had left it at that. I knew that. And I felt I owed it to my actors, to my crew and to the musicians who had worked on that fabulous score, to finish the real work we had done. It had epic proportions, that was for sure. Together with my editor, Peter Przygodda, we added another full year after the delivery of the commercial version at the time, at our own expense, and finished what I considered "the real film." Of five hours. Which exists since then and which hopefully will see not only the light of day in the form of DVD releases, but also a few theatrical screenings here or there. I have shown it four or five times already, and EVERYBODY who saw it had the same reaction. "Wow! Now we get it. That's a whole different ballgame!" At the time we had to condense the film so much that all the fun had gone out of it. The "message" had become very heavy, if not to say heavy-handed. The very narrator had become more or less a side character, for instance.
Blessed, or just really, really lucky, are those who have seen that full-length version. Glenn Erickson is one, and he has his theories about what Wenders was after, too. German critics are especially unkind to Wenders, but when he showed the 5-hour UTEOTW in Munich, the Süddeutsche Zeitung absolutely raved. And take it from me, the SZ is not a paper given to raving.
I have yet to be blessed or get really, really lucky. But I am so looking forward to next spring. And so glad the DVD format has launched this ongoing wave of restoration and reclamation of cinematic history.
Shorts, 9/5.Peter Lennon revisits The Spirit of the Beehive with director Victor Erice: "Perhaps not for the first time, a lack of money helped forge a masterpiece; he was driven to make a 'poorer film,' entirely powered by his own imagination." Back in 1999, Derek Malcolm wrote: "I once showed a dozen or so classic non-American films to students at the Royal College of Art. To my surprise, despite the fact that the list included the work of such world-renowned directors as Luis Bunuel, Satyajit Ray and Kenji Mizoguchi, the film they fell in love with was Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive." Looks like another DVD we need.
Also in the Guardian:
"The Piersons are back, and the New York independent film community is happy to see them home," announces Dave Kehr in the New York Times.
Those Tagliners are having a good laugh at the expense of the oppressed celebrity class again: "On one poster you can actually tell I'm starring in the movie and that, you know, perhaps I've got an equal part to Angelina, and on the other I look like I've sprouted out of her bloody chin! I mean, what's she playing in this one, a bloody ethereal goddess?"
"[I]f it doesn't have a hobbit in it, they should ask themselves... is this scene REALLY necessary?" asks a friend. But that's not enough for Amanda. She has a dream: "[E]ventually, someone will make the all-hobbits LOTR."
September 4, 2003
20 sets of tips, plus short shorts.If you're a filmmaker in any way, shape or form, the must-read of the week is "The Buying Game," indieWIRE's "Guide to Acquisitions Execs at 20 Film Companies." There usually isn't nearly enough response to indieWIRE articles at the site, but this one's generated some well-deserved applause. Gary Meyer, who, as a co-founder of Landmark Theatres, should know, comments: "I urge anyone interested in this business to read it, make notes, take a copy to film festivals, bookmark the piece for future reference, and forward the link to others."
Hands down, the three most important festivals for these execs are Sundance, Cannes and Toronto. Berlin gets a frequent honorable mention with specific regard to foreign films. But one of the top three opens today: Toronto previews from David Poland and USA Today.
Fresh reviews from Venice from Screen Daily: Once Upon A Time In Mexico ("Rodriguez' appetite for twisted baddies and creative killing seems, if anything, to have increased with the years"), The Return ("[D]oes everything a Hollywood picture doesn't... spare, rigorous visual conception"), The Human Stain ("[S]ome stirring moments of drama. But they don't add up to a satisfying whole") and The Dreamers ("]T]hree parts Last Tango and one part Novecento").
This just in, 6 pm CET Our own report from Venice. Sean Axmaker sets the scene and offer his own takes on the new films from Bernardo Bertolucci, Takeshi Kitano, Christopher Hampton, Bruno Dumont, Babek Payami and Raoul Ruiz.
Forrester Research is forecasting a relatively rapid decline for both the CD and the DVD. By 2008, about a third of all US households will be able (and so, probably inclined) to call up and watch movies streamed to them. Reuters's Jesse Hiestand quotes a Forrester researcher: "The idea that anyone who has video-on-demand access to any movie they are interested in would get up and go to Blockbuster just doesn't make any sense. [The decline] begins with rentals, but eventually I think sales of these pieces of plastic are going to start going away because people will have access to whatever they want right there at their television set." More from CNET.
"A human look is much more than the movement of hundreds of points of skin on the face," Dr. Ulrich Neumann tells Eric A. Taub in the New York Times. Simulating the human face is hard, but they're getting there, and filmmakers are keen to see it happen sooner rather than later. Also: A NYT editorial on the probable merging of GE and Vivendi Universal's media assets and a catch-up piece on the Big Brother Africa phenom.
The Writers Guild is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a fun billboard campaign. FX Feeney, who writes the accompanying story, also previews two local programs of films by Chris Marker and Elio Petri for the LA Weekly, where Nikki Finke lambasts the media for not lambasting Schwarzenegger.
"Does it matter if the world loses its rich diversity of film cultures and one nation dominates international cinema? Or have we all grown so used to ubiquitous Hollywood that it seems churlish even to ask the question?" Cherry Potter fumes in the Guardian. Where we find seven online viewing tips.
September 3, 2003
Shorts, 9/3.We begin, once again, in Venice...
Robbins at the Oscars, Kitano in Venice.
Speaking of Artforum: "How is it that a British doctor fifty years dead, an oddball amateur who made advertisements and corporate training films, instructional works, and propaganda for the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Information, is suddenly being discovered as one of the great eccentrics of film history?" James Quandt on Richard Massingham.
Also at the Forum, also in the Voice: J. Hoberman accompanies his review of "two Columbine movies," Zero Day being one of them, with a list of eleven cinematic landmarks of "Schoolyard Terror." Plus: Ed Park has an update the mess Miramax is making of the release of Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer, Ed Halter on Hollis Frampton's Magellan Cycle and Michael Musto buries a telephone chat with Penélope Cruz.
Sean Clarke in the Guardian: "[T]ime and time again we find that British films admit of only two plotlines. They are: 1. It's really terrifically brutish being working class. 2. It's really terrifically spiffing to be middle class."
DVD news. It may seem pretty elementary to many of us, but for many, it isn't: Brendan I. Koerner offers a primer on getting around those blasted regional codes in the Voice.
Gary Dretzka at Movie City News is glad there'll be a DVD release of Pumping Iron in November, but: "[T]he movie I wish MGM would release on DVD is Bob Rafelson's offbeat 1976 comedy Stay Hungry, in which newcomer Schwarzenegger portrayed a fiddle-playing body-builder in training for the Mr. Universe contest." Co-starring Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. I actually caught about the last half of this or so on TV one late night a few months ago. If it had been 1976 instead, it'd have been a waste of time, of course. But in 2003, the movie's too much of a curiosity not to stick with to the end.
ICv2 reports that 3.5 million The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers DVDs were sold on the first day of that release; and Tokyopop will be releasing the first collector's set of Marmalade Boy DVDs next April.
Halle Berry in Gothika.
Highlights of New York magazine's fall preview: First, that John Frankenheimer retrospective. Then, besides blurbs on a couple of dozen up-n-comings, a few short (very short) talks with Human Stain screenwriter and director Robert Benton, Under the Tuscan Sun "stud" Raoul Bova, Kill Bill's Uma Thurman, Gothika's Halle Berry, Sylvia's Gwyneth Paltrow and The Station Agent writer and director Tom McCarthy.
"'I decided to make a Dogme movie about a power outage,' she says, shrugging and smiling at the absurdity of the situation. 'It makes you look at the things you need to work out.'" Caroline Palmer profiles Twin Cities filmmaker Ayesha Adu for City Pages.
We let MTV's Video Music Awards parade on by without comment, and in fact, would have forgotten about them altogether if it weren't for the stone cold fact that 87 percent of all blogs out there are still sporting a shot of that kiss. So, what the hell. We'll point to Marina Hyde's mercifully brief yet somehow satisfying verdict: It was "the most corporate pucker-up of all time." Still, the best piece on the VMA's remains Neal Pollack's.
But seriously. "By all reports, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a good Lutheran who spent most of his life in a linden-lined Saxon town, playing organ, siring children, and writing church music." But musicologists have turned up a disturbing trend. The Los Angeles Times's Scott Timberg reports: "These days, when you hear Bach in a film, he tends to accompany serial killers, Nazis and mad scientists." Via The Morning News, where we also find our first online viewing tip: "Videos from the talent show that brought us Matrix ping pong."
Online viewing tip No. 3. Sometimes at Pleix.
September 2, 2003
Shorts, 9/2.Given lemons, Greg Allen knows how to make lemonade. Delicious and refreshing, too. No one involved has a particularly good time on press junkets, but from the moment "Sofia enters and joins our table. Cue greetings. We all feel protective of her immediately, just like Wes Anderson predicted..." all the way through to that little tidbit we really wanted to know about...
BW: What is this we've read about you and Spike? That you're breaking up and you moved into the Chateau Marmont?
SC: I don't know where they get this stuff in the Post. I mean, I like to read gossip, too. They said it was from a close friend or something? Do they just make this up?
Everyone (protectively, and in unison): Oh, they DO. They DO.
... Greg has made his interview with Sofia Coppola (and his characterizations of his fellow interviewers) a fun, fun read.
Coppola and her Lost in Translation star, Bill Murray, have been quite a hit in Venice. While Murray entertains the press corps, the movie itself is getting those thumbs up all around. "An enormously accomplished, highly affecting story of loneliness and human connection," raves Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily. And Reuters quotes "one American critic" as saying, "It's the best movie I've seen yet. My only question is why isn't it in the main competition?"
So what else is going on in Venice? Peter Bradshaw: "One of the most unexpectedly pleasurable things about Venice was the new Lars von Trier film: The Five Obstructions, a collaboration with Danish documentarist Jorgen Leth." The Guardian critic also lets on that Johnny Depp has stolen another show and that, while it's evidently baffled some viewers, Manoel de Oliveira's new film is "sublime." Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Bernardo Bertolucci is worried that his entry, The Dreamers, based on Gilbert Adair's novel, The Holy Innocents, will be "coming out amputated, mutilated in the United States." And Leslie Felperin offers her "midway" report in indieWIRE with early word on the new films from Takeshi Kitano and Michael Winterbottom.
Ian Whitney passes along good news: We are about to be treated to a cleaner, finer-grained Rules of the Game than has been available for years and years. View a clip of what we've got at the moment; dive into James Leahy's hefty piece on Jean Renoir at Senses of Cinema.
Spinsanity has been on Michael Moore's case for a long, hard time and, as much as I admire Moore's chutzpah, and for that matter, his politics, I also think he tends to overstate his case at times, often to his own detriment. Moore shouldn't object to efforts to keep him honest; he should appreciate them. Today, Brendan Nyhan focuses on a slight but important variation in the DVD version of Bowling for Columbine.
Hugh Hart checks up on two "indies," one that could be "shaping up as the biggest indie film of all time," Around the World in 80 Days with Jackie Chan, and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, about which the director says that splitting it will keep it from getting "pretentious." Right... Also in the San Francisco Chronicle:
In the New York Times:
We Interrupt This Empire... opens the Other Cinema fall series on Saturday at Artists' Television Access in San Francisco. Then, it's off to Amsterdam for Next 5 Minutes, the festival of tactical media, back to SF, LA and so on. There's a tremendous amount of online viewing behind most of URLs, much of it unlike anything you'll see on your living room TV.
Seanbaby rounds up "The 10 Eightiest Movies" for The Wave.
Slave Labor is previewing eight pages of its new Bollywood comic, Bombaby.
New "Shelf Life": 4 shelf worthies, 6 rentals, no perishables. Also at Anime News Network: A report from Otakon 2003 in Baltimore (not much yet from the Big Apple yet, though) and an interview with voice actor Monica Rial.
Anime Tourist lives up to its name, launching a series of Eric Ng's brief glances at real-life landmarks appearing in anime, beginning with the Tokyo Tower.
September 1, 2003
Charles Bronson, 1921 - 2003."Charles Bronson was one of my favorite actors in the '50s and '60s. I first saw him in a television series called Man with a Camera - I was into photography, so the idea of a heroic crime-fighting photographer seemed pretty cool."
"At the height of his career, Mr. Bronson was hugely popular in Europe; the French knew him as 'le sacre monstre' (the sacred monster), the Italians as 'Il Brutto' (the brute). In 1971, he was presented a Golden Globe as 'the most popular actor in the world.'"
Bob Thomas in the Chicago Sun-Times.
"But reporters who checked out his stories found no police record, no assault and battery, no predisposition toward violence. In fact, they learned that Mr. Bronson's hobby was painting and that he was a quiet, personable, gentle man.... There was no question, however, that Mr. Bronson had known hard times.... By the time he was 16 he was working in the coal mines, earning about $1 for each ton of coal he clawed out of the earth."
Richard Severo in the New York Times.
"Westerns really are about politics, and The Magnificent Seven were kind of a Peace Corps/Green Berets combo. This fairy tale of mercenary killers being elevated and transformed by a noble cause is not an outgrowth of the 'adult psychological' western of the '50s, but a new kind of western where history (even John Ford's history) is irrelevant, and the trappings of style and affectation are all. Yul Brynner struts around, Steve McQueen acts alternately coy and petulant, Robert Vaughn broods and whines, Charles Bronson is the sour hardass, and James Coburn does a zen act. Poor Brad Dexter thinks he's in a movie from the '40s, unfortunately, and Horst Bucholz is having fun playing Roy Rogers. After four years of television packed with Western shows focused on shootin'-iron talents, the Western had finally reached the stage where the star's basic job was to be a mobile weapons platform, in boots."
Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant.
"It opens with a riff on High Noon as three expressive gunmen - Woody Strode, Jack Elam and Al Mulock - wait for a train, bothered by a drip of water and a buzzing fly, and [Sergio] Leone stretches out what ought to be dead screen time into an operatic crescendo of suspense (scored by the great Ennio Morricone) that pays off when a granite-faced Bronson, stepping into the Eastwood No-Name role as the vengeance-seeking Harmonica, arrives in a shimmering haze to face down the killers in a few brief, eventful seconds."
Kim Newman, reviewing Once Upon a Time in the West for Empire.
"When it comes to conservative vigilante revenge fantasies, one should always go back to the granddaddy of the entire genre: Michael Winner's Death Wish.... Bronson is his usual stoic self through much of the film, though at one point he becomes nearly giddy with his power over criminals and even cracks a smile."
Mark Zimmer in digitallyOBSESSED
"The story makes no sense whatsoever and most of the performances are awful, but that's not important in a Charles Bronson vehicle. His is an implacable movie presence, quite unlike any other. It's good to know that he's still in there, squinting at the bad guys and occasionally dispatching them with as little effort as possible."