January 31, 2004

Scope, February 2004.

Beineix's hand
Advertising has never invented anything except what artists have invented… It appropriated the Beautiful which the cinema of the New Wave had rejected, which makes certain ignorant critics say that beautiful equals advertising. It kidnapped colour, which the cinema no longer violated, so preoccupied was it with being true to life, which makes certain cretinous critics say that colour equals advertising.

That's Jean-Jacques Beineix, as quoted by Phil Powrie and quoted again by Patricia Allmer for her essay in the new issue of Scope. The argument: Cinéma du Look, so often derided for "celebrating and propagating consumer fetishism and commodity capitalism" - Allmer, for example, quotes Ferdinand Cuel on Diva: "You think you are watching a film; you are just window-shopping" - actually fights the spectacle, as defined by the Situationists, "with its own weapons... Cinéma du Look turns back capitalist ideology onto itself, and re-turns aesthetics, co-opted by capitalism for advertising purposes, to the realm of art."

Also in this issue:

  • Martin Barker on ways to consider ancillary materials in our overall understanding and reception of a film.
  • Lori Hitchcock watches Shunji Iwai's Swallowtail Butterfly with Mikhail Bakhtin... so to speak.
  • Phil Hubbard on how Brits watch movies.
  • And actually my own favorite section of any issue of Scope, the book reviews. There are 26 this time around.
  • 13 films are reviewed.
  • And news and views are passed along from five conferences.
  • Good thing it's the weekend.

    Posted by dwhudson at 5:10 AM

    January 30, 2004

    "Film-makers on film: the archive."

    Hugh Davies in the Daily Telegraph: "Helen Mirren is leading a new charge through Hollywood by mature actresses.... Her rivals are Diane Keaton, 58, in Something's Gotta Give, Jamie Lee Curtis, 45, for Freaky Friday, and Diane Lane, 38, in Under The Tuscan Sun." It's a follow-up of sorts to Charlotte Edwardes's piece on Searching For Debra Winger.

    Now then. We don't often link to the Telegraph around here because you have to register to read it; yes, it's free, and yes, the New York Times is available only via free registration as well, but the obvious general assumption anywhere you click is that everybody can and does access the NYT, one way or another. The Telegraph's site can be a bit moody now and then, but there's definitely one feature worth the hassle: the "Film-makers on film" series.

    Since March 2002, the Telegraph has been interviewing filmmakers, getting them to talk about one particular film each that's meant something to them over the years. In the most recent, Claude Chabrol tells Sheila Johnston why FW Murnau's Sunset ""took my breath away and for me is still the most beautiful film in the world." There are currently, by my rough count, over 70 of these little gems gathered so far, all accessible via this single page.

    Just to whet your appetite, it's there you'll find, for example:

    Pickpocket

  • Jules Dassin on Charlie Chaplin's City Lights.
  • Atom Egoyan on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.
  • Aki Kaurismaki on Jean Vigo's L'Atalante.
  • François Ozon on Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows.
  • Lynne Ramsay on John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence.
  • John Sayles on Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo.
  • Paul Schrader on Robert Bresson's Pickpocket.
  • And on and on.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:12 AM | Comments (5)

    January 29, 2004

    The book on Harvey. (And other books, too.)

    In the New York Observer, Jake Brooks writes that when the final nominee for Best Picture was announced on Tuesday morning, Seabiscuit, "an audible gasp could be heard from the gathered crowd. It was a little after 5:30 am Pacific time, but suddenly movie executives on both coasts were wide awake and reaching for the speed dial. Cold Mountain, Miramax's award-season thoroughbred about the cost of war and the strength of love, had been beaten by a 75-year-old horse."

    Harvey Weinstein himself did a rather interesting thing. He gave an interview to Salon, but more specifically, to Rebecca Traister. She's the reporter on the receiving end of one of Weinstein's infamous tantrums, as described in Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures and recapped by Elizabeth Spiers a few weeks ago. It's a cooler, more tolerant Harvey he's presenting himself as here, all thanks - no kidding - to a low carb diet, evidently. However calculated or uncalculated, sitting down with Traister and calmly explaining why Cold Mountain has not been snubbed by the Academy (when it clearly has been) is not a dumb move at all.

    As countless Sundance reports have it, Down and Dirty was the underarm accessory at the festival this year. To catch up with a few reviews, mentions and so on:

    Your Call
  • First off, Biskind will be a guest on Your Call, the radio show hosted by Laura Flanders, today, Thursday, 10-11amPT/1-2pmET. If you're reading this too late, there is an archive. Among the questions to be addressed: "Did 'Indiewood' destroy the independent film movement, or are the new digital technologies making for a truly independent film renaissance?"

  • In the same "Book Club" at Slate, David Edelstein and AO Scott have been chatting about this one and the latest from J Hoberman, who happens to review a few books himself - they're on the blacklist - in the Village Voice. But in his opener, Edelstein introduces The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties as a book that "conjures up an era - the 60s and 70s - in which movies were woven into our political and cultural lives in a way they just aren't anymore," while Down "sets out to chart the rise and the studio appropriation of what had looked to be a revolutionary movement in cinema, the "independent" film, yet gets all gummed up in a couple of titanic (or maybe sociopathic) personalities."

  • Down also prompted another piece from Scott in the New York Times: "[P]erhaps the strangest legacy of the indie-film boom... is that a movement passionately committed to defending the integrity of cinema as an art form has helped to spawn a film culture obsessed, as never before, with the arcana of commerce."

  • Matt Zoller Seitz calls the book "a nasty, extremely personal prosecutorial document: the Starr Report of independent cinema" in the New York Press.

  • John Anderson in the Washington Post.

  • %&$@#!! New York magazine's guide.

  • Esquire's Adrienne Miller.

  • Jay Rayner in the Observer.
  • Development Hell But there are also other books of note out. As for Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood Animal, for example, Michiko Kakutani warns in the New York Times that the book offers nothing but "large heapings of egomania run egregiously amok." Surprised?

    "Did you know that The Beatles were actually interested in bringing The Lord of the Rings to the screen? John Lennon as Gollum anybody? (And, yes, that was seriously considered)." For Kamera, Laurence Boyce reviews Tales From Development Hell by David Hughes. Also: Richard Armstrong reviews Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin.

    Doug Cummings incorporates a solid mention of The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America in his excellent entry on a recent benefit screening of the film.

    And as for that other book, cinetrix says it best: "For those of you playing at home, today's Times piece [by Newsweek Wall Street editor Allan Sloane] is the third review of Denby's tell-all the paper of record has run in the past 30 days. Here's hoping every angle is finally exhausted because the cinetrix, for one, sure is."

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:46 AM | Comments (1)

    The photographers.

    "Like [Gus] Van Sant, [Sofia] Coppola name-checked [William] Eggleston as a guiding influence. 'It was the beauty of banal details that was inspirational,' she said at the time of the film's release." Steve Rose, in turn, name-checks a slew of other filmmakers in the whose work bears Eggleston's influence: Harmony Korine, David Gordon Green, Kathryn Bigelow, David Byrne, Susan Seidelman, David Lynch and Larry Clark.

    Pink Bathroom

    "Pink Bathroom, Sprague Factory" (detail), David Byrne at LipanjePuntin Contempary Art Gallery in Trieste

    Photographers have swarmed the Guardian's pages recently, thanks mostly to Peter Conrad previewing the exhibitions Cecil Beaton: Portraits at National Portrait Gallery next month and Bill Brandt: A Centenary Retrospective at the V&A in March. And he remembers Helmut Newton: "Though the designers and the glossy editors may not have noticed, he was a satirist, who exposed the perversity of the industry for which he toiled."

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:35 AM

    "OK, here's why you're wrong."

    That's Andy Ross to Tony Nigro in a whiplash-fun, all-week-long "Movie Club" a la Flak. The subject at hand: the Oscar nominations, naturally.

    Greg Allen joins the gaggle of New Yorkers parsing the nominations at Gothamist. (Greg also points to the night they watched the Globes.)

    David Poland, Gary Dretzka and Leonard Klady all do some savvy collating and commenting in Movie City News, where you'll also find your way to Roger Ebert's take: "This year's nominations, announced early Tuesday, showed uncommon taste and imagination in reaching beyond the starstruck land of the Golden Globes to embrace surprising and in some cases almost unknown choices. It's one of the best lists in years."

    Writing in the LA Weekly, Nikki Finke disagrees: "It will be a crushing bore. No suspense. No surprises. No Michael Moore... So let's handicap this lame race, shall we?" (Note to Ms Finke: I blog yet somehow manage to breathe through my nose.)

    In Salon, Brian Libby nabs Fernando Meirelles's reaction to City of God's four nominations.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:33 AM | Comments (1)

    Ron O'Neal, 1937 - 2004.

    Superfly He died on January 13, the day before the special edition DVD of Superfly was released. But as Emory Holmes II writes in the LA Weekly, there was a lot more to Ron O'Neal than Youngblood Priest: "His abiding passions were opera (he had a superb voice), theater, and the social and political absurdities of American life."

    But the must-read remembrance is Matt Haber's:

    Quentin Tarantino, a self-styled "white Negro" like [Norman] Mailer, used it to express Jules Winnfield's (Samuel Jackson) anger in Pulp Fiction: "Well I'm a mushroom-cloud-laying motherfucker, motherfucker! Every time my fingers touch brain I'm Superfly TNT, I'm the Guns of the Navarone!" Even the toe-headed dork from The Real World: New Orleans named his Web site Supa-Fly.com.

    None of these people quite gets what Superfly is about, mostly because they think it was a glorification of crime, ghetto nihilism, and machismo. It most certainly was not. It was all about, as one character said, "gettin' out of the Life," not the pleasure of that life.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:31 AM | Comments (2)

    Wrapping Sundance.

    Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly:

    One of the great things about Sundance is that it compels all but the snobbiest of reviewers to rub shoulders with ordinary Joes, whether at screenings or on the mobbed shuttle buses that ferry people between theaters. It's here that critics are reminded that the moviegoing public is a congenitally generous species. Most people go to a movie wanting to embrace it, and this is a quality to respect even when we jaundiced reviewers beg to differ.

    CSA: Confederate States of America

    CSA: The Confederate States of America

    The LAW's other critics also find something to embrace. For Scott Foundas, it's the winner of the Grand Jury Prize, Primer. For Ernest Hardy, it's CSA: The Confederate States of America and Brother to Brother: "By not reducing the complexities of race, identity, politics and culture to pedantic dialogue or rote poses, [Kevin] Willmott and [Rodney] Evans have helped Sundance make good on its aspiration to present exciting and provocative Negro cinema." And Ron Stringer: "The fire this time was ignited by a documentary called Tarnation from 31-year-old cineaste in extremis Jonathan Caouette."

    A perhaps-last Sundance and Slamdance 2004 round-up would naturally begin at the Movie City News and indieWIRE specials and then maybe notice along the way...

  • Anthony Kaufman in the Village Voice, which promises more come Tuesday.

  • David Ansen for Newsweek, a "Web Exclusive," which means he's got breathing room.

  • Joe Conason, who co-wrote The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton with Gene Lyons, jokes that he might add an "author's cut" of the film to the DVD.

  • Elvis Mitchell on the winners; and his "Critic's Notebook."

  • Alexandra Jacobs in the New York Observer.

  • B Ruby Rich in the Guardian and Anne Thompson in the Observer: "I predict a dozen breakthrough successes."

  • Heather Havrilesky in Salon on the scene and on the films.

  • A handful of Austin filmmakers who attended offer their brief impressions while Marjorie Baumgarten takes on the big wrap-up for the Austin Chronicle.

  • Jonathan Wells for Res.
  • Posted by dwhudson at 11:29 AM | Comments (1)

    Shorts, 1/29.

    Bhoot

    Bhoot

    Manu Joseph in Outlook India on Ram Gopal Varma: "He is producing or planning about 10 films at the moment, most of them to be released this year in an open war against the old mafiosi of Hindi cinema and their way of telling a story through joint families and karva chauth."

    And over at Planet Bollywood, Susan Ferguson writes: "If you combined Mel Gibson, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, a rockin' Fred Astaire, and an occasional pinch of the young Jerry Lewis - you might get somewhat close to describing Shahrukh Khan - or SRK as they call him in India."

    Das Parfum Tom Tykwer directing Patrick Süskind's Perfume? Maybe it's a sure thing; maybe it isn't. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Michael Althen seems to think it is. We'll see.

    Polia Alexandrova talks to Bulgarian director Ivan Nichev in Central Europe Review about his own films and promoting Bulgarian movies in general:

    I have participated in many international festivals through the years. I'm always asked the same questions: "Did your secret service really kill [the exiled dissident] Georgi Markov with a poisoned umbrella in 1978?" or "Were you really involved in the attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II?"... That is why, especially now, when everyone is talking about how Bulgaria will become a member of the European Union in 2007, there is a huge need for people around Europe to hear the truth about Bulgaria and get to know this country better. I decided to do something to speed up this process, since a film is a product that can easily enter anyone's home.

    Via Movie City News, Johanna Schneller in the Globe and Mail on Mystic River, In the Cut, Thirteen, 21 Grams, House of Sand and Fog and Monster: "In all these movies, the American dream is glimpsed, then laid to waste by laziness, hard-headedness and myopic stupidity. According to the country's brightest filmmakers... that trilogy has now replaced life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in defining the American way."

    "[T]he real reason why Nichols's Angels feels so different from the Broadway version has less to do with the difference between stage and screen than with the difference between 1993 and 2003." Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books.

    "And then one afternoon in 1956, while a freshman, all my interests came together as I watched Sergei Eisenstein's 1927 silent masterpiece October: Ten Days That Shook the World, about the Russian revolution. I knew instantly I could combine storytelling with the innovation and technology of cinema." Francis Ford Coppola for Time. Also: Amanda Ripley on online piracy.

    Michael Atkinson's "semi-annual Stuart Byron Movie Trivia Quiz" in the Village Voice. Also: A series of remembrances of Uta Hagen.

    Film prof Michael D Gose offers his "Thoughts on How to Decide if a Film is Any Good" at Metaphilm - check the "Metaphlog" on the right of the front page for loads o' good linkage, too.

    Meryl Gordon profiles GreeneStreet Films partners Fisher Stevens and John Penotti for New York.

    Observateur: Moore "There are few golden rules to be gleaned from the movies, but let me propose the following: Don't, under any circumstances, fuck with time." Michael Agger in Slate on The Butterfly Effect. Also: Michael Hastings on " the political odd couple of the campaign season," Wesley Clark and Michael Moore.

    For the New Yorker, Hilton Als visits Charlize Theron: "She motioned to her assistant to write this down: 'Note to self. Do not become Halle Berry.'"

    Nikki Finke remembers Ray Stark in the LA Weekly. Also: Steven Leigh Morris reviews Baz Luhrmann's La Bohème and David Mermelstein talks to the director.

    Wayne Alan Brenner's daughter is looking forward to Ushicon, Austin's anime convention but, "I'm experiencing something more like trepidation."

    "Even 10 years ago, mixing animation and documentary would have been both impractical and taboo," writes Jason Silverman in Wired News. Those days are gone.

    In the Guardian and Observer:

  • "The film has a singular aim: a confrontation, in the best sense, between the courage and determination of those like Nath, who want to understand, and the jailers, whose catharsis is barely beginning." John Pilger's shudder-inducing piece on S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine.

  • Kirsty Scott on The Firebird's Nest, the screenplay Salman Rushdie is working on, based on his own short story; the film is to star his partner Padma Lakshmi.

  • Fightin' words from Richard Eyre: "Middle-Earth is a country inhabited by the people who voted Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" the best song of the millennium and Star Wars the best film of the decade. The faith of the Middle-Earthers is perpetual childhood; their currency is emotion on the cheap; their epiphany was Princess Diana's funeral. Middle-Earth is the Kingdom of Kitsch."

  • Kiku Day slams Lost in Translation for "anti-Japanese racism." Sigh.

    Mark Kermode on the "endless nightmare" of the making of Exorcist: The Beginning.

  • Tim Adams meets and profiles Paul Bettany.

  • Alex Cox: "There is something deeply sexually ambivalent about the western, its heroes, and its villains. Its tales take place in the mental space of adolescent boys, where men are men and women have barely been invented." David Thomson has more thoughts on the western in the 21st century in the Independent.

  • John Plunkett on the boom British movie magazines are currently enjoying: "Empire, Total Film and [music mag] Uncut now boast combined sales of nearly 400,000 copies a month, up 25% on two years ago and 43% on 1998."

  • Stuart Jeffries on several good - and one bad - French film about the Resistence.
  • "And it all goes back to the day of my first commercial audition in Dallas. The product was Lactaid. And it was between me - and Renée." Molly Norton remembers in Salon. Also: "Mel Gibson played the pope like a cheap lute." Cintra Wilson introduces her interview with the Rev. Mark Stanger:

    But very chillingly, in the interview after the showing, Mel Gibson said the reason that he had [his cast] speaking those original languages - and I didn't misinterpret him, because he told a long story to illustrate it - he said, "If I was doing a film about very fierce, horrible, nasty Vikings coming to invade a town, and had them on their ship with their awful weapons, and they came pouring off the ship ready to slaughter - to have them speak English wouldn't be menacing enough."

    How did that hit you?

    I almost puked.

    In the New York Times:

  • Peter M Nichols on the role the Capturing the Friedmans DVD is playing in the ongoing judicial process surrounding the complex case and on The Spook Who Sat by the Door, buried, pulled or smothered when it was released in 1973.

  • Stephen Kinzer hears Turks tell him their memory of the fallout from Midnight Express taints their prohibitive reaction to Atom Egoyan's Ararat.

  • Matt Haber on the amazing Sid Laverents, who's being celebrated with a retrospective at the American Cinematheque in LA: " Following his own whims rather than any cultural movement, he turned himself from a one-man band into a one-man independent movie studio."

  • "In recent months, males ages 18 to 34 have watched the Adult Swim cartoons in numbers that consistently beat David Letterman and that either beat or tie Jay Leno." Rob Walker examines why.

  • Neil Genzlinger talks to Brooke Adams about Made-Up.

  • Anne Thompson profiles ILM special effects wiz Stefen Fangmeier.

  • Dave Kehr on Jafar Panahi, at home neither in New York nor in Tehran; and on trilogies.
  • Un Chien Andalou

    Un Chien Andalou

  • Terrence Rafferty on The Rules of the Game, Frank Rich on The Fog of War and AO Scott on Luis Buñuel.
  • This entry's winner for Best Link in a Foreign Language: For L'espresso, Silvia Bizio talks to Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman about La giuria (The Runaway Jury), diretto da Gary Fleder.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:26 AM

    Where is Spalding Gray?

    Spalding Gray on the cover of New York "I keep getting these phone calls from fans saying, 'I'm sure he's just gathering material.' I wish that were true." Alex Williams gets awfully close, and at times, uncomfortably close to Kathie Russo for his New York cover story on the disappearance of her husband, Spalding Gray, during what must be, obviously, an emotionally raw period in her life.

    In the New York Press, Douglas Davis explains what Gray means to him: "He saved my sanity."

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:20 AM

    January 26, 2004

    Berlinale 2004: Preview.

    Squeezed in between the Globes last night and the Oscar noms tomorrow (keep track of all this at the MCN Awards Scoreboard), was, today, the press conference unveiling the full lineup, program and anything at all having to do with the Berlinale, known more formally as the Berlin International Film Festival.

    Berlinale 2004

    This'll be the 54th. Not for me, of course, but for them. February 5 through 15, that's where I'll be, and you know I'll be reporting as faithfully and as often as possible on all I see and hear. Fair warning, though: I go for the films. If some star runs off with some other star and doesn't reappear until the next morning, you'll probably hear about it from somebody else first. Same goes for acquisitions, that sort of thing. It's not that I'm not interested. I am, but the days are short and the films are long and many, so for those 10 days or so, real life will be passing me by. So be it, I'll catch up later.

    Fortunately, I've already written up a brief historical chronology I can simply refer you to so that we can move straight into what we have to look forward to: 394 films, 67 of those, shorts. Naturally, I won't be catching all of them. I'll be concentrating on the Competition, catching the odd showing in the Forum or Panorama when I can.

    As for the conference, the numbers, the sponsors and so forth, I'll spare you the details, but this much should be said: The ever-charming Dieter Kosslick, the festival director you can barely make out on the far right there, and his team did a splendid job of almost introducing absolutely everything within the time period they'd set out for themselves, half an hour. They'd even rehearsed! So, out of respect for their efforts, just a few of the barebones essentials.

    There are two geographical emphases this year, running throughout every program: South Africa and Latin America. I would add: Africa in general, actually, because there'll also be a special program devoted to the "Nigerian phenomenon," as Kosslick called it. You may have seen, for example, the recent piece in the Guardian on Nollywood. The BBC sent Nick Moran to make a movie in Nigeria where film is the boomingest industry in the young democracy. It wasn't exactly a blast for Moran. "Day four," he writes. "This is when things start to go belly up." But Kosslick and Co. had a grand time. They went down there and asked those in the know for guidance. Here's an industry that produces 1200 "films" on video a year. Who could help select just a few to show in Berlin? Why select any of them, came the reply. You just tell us what you need for your Competition, your Forum, your Panorama... and we'll make the films for you!

    Thing is, they'll also be showing films from India that have fallen through the cracks between Bollywood and the arthouse, and there'll be a film from North Korea, and there'll be three young ladies flown in by the German army from Kabul to report on the festival for the folks back home, and all in all, I think what happened is: They set out to have two geographical emphases and ended up with a genuine festival of world cinema on their hands, which is wonderful. Bravo.

    "All in all, there's a certain seriousness about the films in the program this year," says Kosslick, "you can't help but sense it." But wouldn't that be all but inevitable, given what all went down in 2003? Of course, as Kosslick hastens to add, there'll be moments of irony and fun, "and above all, hope," and that's as it should be, too. All in all, though, this team has its collective finger on the pulse of the planet right now.

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:02 PM | Comments (1)

    January 25, 2004

    Sundance winners.

    Primer

    Primer

    It's a wrap. The juries and audiences at Sundance have announced their awards. The full list is here, but worth mentioning is that the two toppers - Documentary Grand Jury Prize winner DiG!, directed and produced by Ondi Timoner, and Primer, directed, written, and produced by Shane Carruth - both have sites to poke around in and, another positive aspect of filmmaking in this Modern Age of the Net, you can read (hopefully real) congrats to Carruth and others in the discussion area following indieWIRE's awards story.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:14 AM

    January 24, 2004

    Leaving Park City.

    Slamdance Jonathan Marlow, on Slamdance, the parties, the good, the bad and the ugly.

    It's in the name. "Film Festival," with the expectation that the emphasis is on "Film" and yet some festivals seem to gravitate more around the parties than the films. Indeed, there are plenty of folks in Park City that never see a single film during January. Wait, drink, sleep, repeat. I would wager that there are more people that attend the opening night party of Slamdance, for instance, than actually attend all of the Slamdance films combined. It's a shame, honestly, because the line-up at Slamdance this year was truly exceptional.

    Big City Dick For instance, Sundance is known for its documentaries and yet the Slamdance fare was equal to (or, in several cases, superior to) the selection of its big brother. Take Big City Dick, a film about the fantastic composer Richard Peterson, more widely (and unjustifiably) known as a street musician in Seattle. Perhaps I could relate a little more with this film than most filmgoers, given a lengthy conversation with Peterson several years ago about the television show Sea Hunt, one of his many obsessions. Then again, maybe not - the doc received the Audience Award for Best Film (congratulations to the directing trio of Scott Milam, Ken Harder and Todd Pottinger).

    Bruce Bickford Another award winner, this from the jury for Best Documentary Feature, went to another Seattle-based subject, Bruce Bickford, for Brett Ingram's Monster Road. If you're familiar with Frank Zappa's surreal animated films from the 1970s, you're somewhat familiar with the outrageous work of Bickford (who even made an appearance at the festival to support the film). Among other documentary highlights on the program this year were Mark Neale's exilerating MotoGP film Faster and the Japanese fetish photog-doc Arakimentari, featuring interviews with "Beat" Takeshi and Bjork!

    The 'dance of Slam also strays into fictional territory occasionally. Fest co-founder Dan Mirvish's new film (a musical, oddly enough) Open House received its work-in-progress premiere at the fest. Star Sally Kellerman and nearly a dozen other members of the cast and crew were on hand for the screening. Expect it to make the festival rounds to other cities in the months ahead.

    Meanwhile, back to where we began - there are twenty or more parties every afternoon/evening in the snowy hills of Utah. It isn't possible to attend them all (although some will try). Parties for products, parties for films (some of which should be considered "products" as well), parties for celebrities, parties for filmmakers, parties for the thinest of excuses.

    One fantastic development at this year's festivities was the introduction of the Queer Lounge, where TLA (and others) held their fabulous get-togethers. Let's face it, this was the most consistently worthwhile place to make a (nearly) daily appearance and the one venue I look forward to visiting next year.

    Other events were circulated to the usual restaurants and businesses along Main Street (or in the outer-reaches at lodges in Deer Valley and elsewhere). Riverhorse was the spot for some of the better (if more crowded) occasions, for IFC/Target (an odd pairing, admittedly) and Showtime on consecutive days. One festival known for its parties, GenArt, combined with FCUK to throw a little gathering. You'd think an organization that prides itself on its celebratory shindigs would arrange for something a little more interesting - despite an appearance from The Roots, the evening was lackluster.

    Park City group

    Chance arrangements will occasionally find an unusual assortment of characters together in the same room. Left to right: JD Ashcraft (Director of Marketing & Advertising, indieWIRE), Miles Shozuya (Western Regional Sales Manager, Fujinon Inc.), Craig Yanagi (Market Development Manager, Sony), Jonathan Wells (Editorial Director, RES Magazine), Shannon Gee (Film Critic, Seattle Times), Naomi Nito (Product Planning, Sony), Jonathan Marlow (Content Acquisitions Director, GreenCine), Andy Spletzer (Film Critic, The Stranger).

    The same could be said of the nightly Premiere gatherings where, amazingly enough, you wait in a lengthy line to get in only to wait in another line to pay for your own drinks (with the world-famous "Utah pour"). Of couse, you could have paid for the privilege to attend the Democratic National Committee fundraiser (at $1000 dollars a head) or $60 bones to see Macy Gray at Harry-Os at different points during the week.

    Among the folks that get it - UTA (along with Amazon) put a show on at the Palms Lounge that had me winning thousands of dollars of fake money at their gambling tables and (finally) dancing like nobody's business with woman-of-many-talents Shannon Gee, along with Mario Van Peebles and fifty other folks crammed into a shoebox of a room.

    Finally (although earlier in the week), a few words on the Crown Royal party that was mentioned earlier (and documented in photographs) by Dennis Woo. The American public does itself a diservice with its fascination with no-talent "celebrities" who can only claim name value, wealth and stupidity as assets. Considering that I saw this joke of a lady and her similarly lack-of-worth entourage at a number of these events can only suggest (I would hope) that her 15 minutes are nearly up. Clearly, there is no accounting for taste in America.

    -- Jonathan Marlow

    The full list of Slamdance award winners.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 PM

    January 23, 2004

    Park City dispatches.

    GreenCine acquisitions fellow Jonathan Marlow, now on his way to Rotterdam, sends parting words from Park City, and below, a note from GC Managing Partner, Dennis Woo.

    sundance-logo-sm.jpg

    With thousands still scrambling from screen to screen in the snowy mountains of Utah, both the 20th installment of Sundance and the 10th for Slamdance are set to wrap this weekend. Another festival season has begun in earnest. Fortunately, as goes Sundance, so (usually) goes the year at the cinema.

    By all accounts, including my own, the movie selection in Park City this time around was stronger than it has been in recent years. As always, these events provide a swell opportunity to see a few films that I've missed at other festivals (the outstanding Last Life in the Universe, the exhaustive "visual archeology" documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself and the exceptional Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring) and skip a few that I've already seen elsewhere (Guy Maddin's wonderful Saddest Music in the World and Takeshi Kitano's haphazard Zatoichi in particular). Twenty films, fifteen shorts, one dozen parties in five days (and naturally very little sleep). Sadly, Lars von Trier's anticipated Dogville and Andy (Infernal Affairs) Lau's The Park will screen after my departure. Skipping the films with established release dates (Good Bye Lenin! will simply have to wait) leaves a short digest of the best of the rest.

    Fiction remains something of a grim spot for Sundance. However, there were a few highlights. Napolean Dynamite, one of several films snapped-up in the opening days of the festival, is a likeable if largely forgettable comedy in the mold of Welcome to the Dollhouse (or, to paraphrase dear friend and fellow critic Andy Spletzer, "Election for morons"). Performances are strong (although San Francisco audiences could easily mistake the lead character as a pastiche of a Kasper Hauser sketch) and the story, such as it is, continues to slightly charm the viewer throughout its reasonable duration.

    Never Die Alone Never Die Alone, the latest from DP-turned-director Ernest Dickerson might very well be his best film to date. DMX plays a despicable, deceased drug dealer alongside David Arquette as a writer who befriends the hoodlum (and spends the rest of the film try to unravel his secret ascension and abrupt fall). Following a screening at the Egyptian, an audience member asked if Donald Goines (the author of the book on which the film is adapted) had seen the film. Dickerson politely (if solemnly) informed the questioner that Goines died nearly thirty years ago.

    For fans of Versus, director Ryuhei Kitamura returns with an exceptional entry into the samurai genre with this tale of a band of hitmen (including the lovely Aya Ueto as the female assassin Azumi of the title) trying to spare Japan from a few warlords bent on starting further battles to splinter the peace. While the manga-adapted story is full of the expected stereotypical plot-points, Ryuhei's abilities abound with clever innovations (less wire-fu and more 3D-assisted action sequences). The feel-good chicks-kick-ass film of the festival (even more so than D.E.B.S.).

    There are plenty of first-timer efforts worthy of note. Two, in particular, are the Russian film The Return, a meditative, atmospheric tale of two boys on an ill-fated trip with their recently-returned father, which strays seemingly into ponderous Tarkovsky-lite territory, at least in terms of camera movement, and One Point O, a futuristic Cronenberg-influenced tale that is beautiful to look at if somewhat frustrated by absurd plot holes. Both filmmakers (and eight others) were selected as Variety's "10 Directors to Watch."

    No one will deny that Sundance excels with its documentary selection. The awful repercussions of capitalism surface in The Corporation and the superior (and shorter) Super Size Me, both eventually essential viewing for the entire country. Still, for all of their greatness, a rather surprising black comedy by the legendary Robert Young makes the same points in Below the Belt while potentially reaching a broader audience not already inclined to see a film on the topic. (Look for an extensive interview with Young at GreenCine in the relatively near future.)

    In the Realms of the Unreal could be said to be this year's How to Draw a Bunny, although Henry Darger's works in the former do not translate to celluloid as well as the Ray Johnson materials in the latter. Documentaries on artists, particularly deceased ones, are always a tricky business.

    DiG!

    Artists are one thing, musicians are another. Seemingly an immense amount of good footage and a terrific central rivalry between two bands - the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols - makes DiG! one of the most fascinating "behind the music" films in quite some time, chronicling the price of a rock-and-roll lifestyle and the pressures that drugs and fame (or lack thereof) can create for any band.

    Jørgen Leth returns to Sundance for the second consecutive year with The Five Obstructions, a collaboration between the celebrated filmmaker and his friend Lars von Trier. The simple premise has Leth remake a short film (five times) that he released in the 60s but, in each attempt, with a different series of obstacles, each more complicated than the last. Remarkably, the variations prove to be endlessly fascinating.

    Finally, in a rare screening of Melvin Van Peebles's classic Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss (the "making of" which is documented in son Mario's latest, Baadasssss, also at the festival), director/writer/star Peebles had a bit of advice for all of the filmmakers in the audience. "Don't let the motherfuckers beat you down." As true today as it was then.

    -- Jonathan Marlow

    Meanwhile, Dennis Woo sends word that Persons of Interest, a doc about American 9/11 detainees, is definitely worth catching when and if you can. Also: "I hugged Patty Hearst." Hm. She was on hand for Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the SLA. Dennis has also evidently been enjoying his newfound role as a member of il paparazzi, snapping away in the direction of a certain dreadlocked film critic and, once he slipped into the Gersh Agency Party, Paris Hilton, of all people. The highlight of the evening, he assures us, was being asked, in no uncertain terms - to leave.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:59 AM

    The score for 04.

    "Contrary to perennial cliché, the past week premiered films more surprising and stimulating than December's bloated and unpalatable prestige flicks." Armond White is bullish on January, specifically on Torque and Teacher's Pet, with Crimson Gold and Peter Pan receiving honorable mentions.

    So is 2004 going to be a good year for movies? Two previews: In the San Francisco Chronicle, Hugh Hart blurbs 46 major releases between today and April 30, sprinkling buzz on those blurbs where he's got it. And in Movie City News, David Poland picks out 17 opening between now through December he thinks might stand a chance come next Oscar season.

    A highly subjective shortlist of films there may well be reason to have at least some hope for, in alphabetical order, gleaned from those two pieces and a recent discussion at the main site:

    Brother Gilliam

  • Wong Kar-wai's 2046.
  • Martin Scorsese's The Aviator.
  • Richard Linklater's Before Sunset.
  • Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm.
  • Takashi Miike's Chakushin ari.
  • David Gordon Green's A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Lars von Trier's Dogville.
  • Barry Levinson's Envy. With Jack Black and Ben Stiller.
  • Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
  • David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees.
  • QT's Kill Bill Vol. 2.
  • The Ladykillers. From the Coens, with Tom Hanks.
  • Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic.
  • Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Un long dimanche de fiançailles, with Audrey Tautou.
  • Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries with Gael Garcia Bernal.
  • David Mamet's Spartan.
  • Fairly safe bet: Oodles of articles about our ongoing 70s thing (Anchorman, Starsky and Hutch, and to an extent, The Stepford Wives).

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:36 AM

    January 22, 2004

    MovieMaker 53.

    MovieMaker "When the new year rolls around at MovieMaker it means two things to our staff: the annual Park City issue had better be at the printer and our annual countdown of America's top 10 moviemaking havens better be part of the editorial mix," writes James L Menzies, introducing the last half of that package: "But the biggest story of the year has to do with things really being bigger in Texas - Austin and Houston, to be exact."

    Austin has, in fact, moved up from #4 to #1, "well ahead of such notoriously crappy film burgs as New York City (No. 2), Los Angeles (No. 7), and (suckers!) Houston (No. 10)," gloats the Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov (who's also got an email interview with Satoshi Kon in the current issue, by the way).

    As for the Sundance half of the fresh issue of MovieMaker, Jennifer M Wood asks "Sundance alumni" Wayne Kramer, Liz Garbus, Keith Gordon, Sandi DuBowski, Mark Decena and Brad Anderson, "What's it worth to be a charter member of the Sundance club?" Screenwriter Brian O'Hare passes along his notes on the Sundance Producer's Conference, indie writer-director-producer Rick Schmidt takes questions and Jim Jarmusch lays down his five "Golden Rules": "Rule #1: There are no rules."

    Also online: Rustin Thompson on poker movies and interviews with Wayne Kramer (yes, again, but much more thoroughly this time), cinematographer Fred Murphy, screenwriter and InkTip founder Jerrol LeBaron, editor Steve Rosenblum, DV Awards founder Martin Rhodes and Pittsburgh Filmmakers executive director Charlie Humphrey.

    And no, the Scarlett Johansson cover story is not online, but really. There's more than enough already out there, don't you think?

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:25 AM | Comments (3)

    January 21, 2004

    He said, she said.

    San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond's take on The Fog of War: "Errol Morris may be an accomplished documentary filmmaker, and there are plenty of valuable moments in his latest work, but as a political interview, the movie is a flop." Why? The one question that counts is held to the end and then Morris lets Robert McNamara get away with the most evasive of answers.

    McNamara in Newsweek

    But Susan Gerhard listens to more than the words exchanged. Before getting to her argument, a few words from Morris himself in our interview with him this past summer:

    I think a successful interview - it's an odd thing. There's this idea that in an interview, you pull things out of people, that you're involved in some gigantic tug of war.... To me, the most interesting stuff that I've heard in interviews has come from people offering me information, not my somehow cajoling them into saying stuff. The most interesting stuff has come out of a need to tell me something. And I don't even know enough to ask the right question. I don't.

    In the eyes - and ears - of the SFBG film critic, the real making of Morris's film went on long after the interviews. It's all in the context Morris constructs around the Q&A, the sights - "images of chemical warfare, missiles dropping, nations destroyed" - and sounds, specifically Philip Glass's "assertive" soundtrack: "Which may be why Morris gives [McNamara] so much room to speak, even when he's evading; it's Glass who gives us the real interpretation. Glass's take comes through loud and clear in wind and strings: be afraid, be very afraid."

    The juxtaposition of the two interpretations, both of them perfectly legitimate, of course, is revealing: the editor, zeroing in on the actual nuts and bolts of the content; the trained critic weighing the full cinematic spectrum.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:32 PM

    "Wistful, elegant, humane."

    Natalie Wood A child star, insecurities, bouts of depression, brief affairs with men who were clearly poor fits from the outset, occasionally a fine turn on screen but often cast in stinkers, and then, despite a fear of water, death by drowning. Writes Stephanie Zacharek in the New York Times Review of Books:

    With all that built-in drama, [Natalie] Wood's story would be hard to mess up, and if Natalie Wood: A Life were simply solid and readable (and it's both), that would be enough. But this biography has a wistful, elegant, humane quality that feels out of place in the American cultural landscape of 2004. This isn't just the story of one beloved, bedeviled actress: Lambert's book also represents a lost mode of thinking about movie stars.

    The first pages of Gavin Lambert's biography - it begins with the Russian Revolution - are a click away.

    Scott Eyman, who's working on a biography himself (Lion of Hollywood: The Life of Louis B. Mayer), reviews the book for the New York Observer, though it's actually more a review of Natalie Wood's career.

    Liz Smith (yes, Liz Smith) compares Lambert's Natalie with Suzanne Finstad's "excellent and extremely sympathetic 2001 biography," Natasha. On the one hand, Smith detects Robert Wagner answering Finstad's dirt on him via Lambert's authorized bio; on the other hand, "Lambert knew Natalie. Friends of the actress, who would not speak to Finstad, spoke to Lambert."

    Just so you know.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 PM

    Sundance so far...

    Time: The Blair Witch Project As news spews on from Park City, the most obvious idea for an entry at this point is probably going to be the best one: a filter of the best sources. Starting with the majors:

  • Movie City News. Excellent blend of on-the-ground coverage on the left side of the page; mainstream news stories blogged on the right.
  • indieWIRE. Definitely the go-to source for anyone remotely associated in any way with the biz or simply extraordinarily interested in the fest. Sundance, after all, is the event of the year for iW.
  • Blogging Sundance. Sponsored by Sundance itself. Jason Calacanis promised news, reviews, talks with directors... and he's delivering. Especially good entry: Sundance 2004 Deal Tracker; especially good remark: "IndieWire.com breaks most of this news then people quote them without credit."
  • More blogging going on:

  • Dan Webster's doing some serious blogging at Movies & More.
  • Cyndi Greening has a few fine entries at her main site, but for the sake of swiftness, at least for now, she's joined up with Alec Hart on Alastik Cynematik Sundance.
  • Pete Vonder Haar is hitting the parties and has the pix to prove it at a perfectly cromulent blog.
  • Articles, blog entries of particular note:

  • Francine Hardaway on Monday.
  • Kyle Minor at McSweeney's. (Day 1.)
  • Five years ago, The Blair Witch Project premiered at Sundance. Both Sean Smith at Newsweek and Jesse McKinkey at the New York Times had the same idea: Whatever happened to those guys?
  • Also in the NYT: Elvis Mitchell and Sharon Waxman.
  • In the Village Voice: Ed Halter on Utah's other indie scene, Mormon cinema, and Anthony Kaufman surveys the industry (just now, I heard Charlie Kaufman, presumably no relation, chiding me for using that word) and quotes former PR fellow Reid Rosefelt: "Wall Street is the engine behind independent film, and as Wall Street surges, so too will indie film."
  • Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM

    January 20, 2004

    Online viewing tip.

    Bogart Stop me if you've seen this one. After all, the credits show that O. Sharp's noir version of The Lord of the Rings has been around since 2001, so this is probably old news for every single last one of you. But a GCer by the name of Cinenaut dropped mention of it in a discussion, and well, it should be passed on.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:54 PM

    January 19, 2004

    Cinemarati Award Winner

    cinemaratilogo.gif

    Not one to toot our own horn here, we'll do this quickly and humbly, proudly, not loudly: GreenCine Daily has won a Cinemarati Award for Best Film-Related Web Site.

    We'd like to thank the members of Cinemarati, the "web alliance for film commentary," for bestowing us with this honor. To quote the great orators Wayne and Garth, "We're not worthy, we're not worthy!"

    Some of the other winners of their partially straightforward, partially off-beat categories: This small arthouse flick called Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, for Best Film; Best DVD: By Brakhage; Peter Sollett won the Orson Welles Award for the Year's Best Directorial Debut for Raising Victor Vargas (here's wishing Sollett many productive years ahead before he ends up in TV wine commercials); amusingly, Best Song went to "More Than This," which Bill Murray crooned karaoke-style in Lost in Translation; and, cool -- Tim Orr, for Best Cinematography, for his lovely work in All the Real Girls.

    And while we're at it, a shout out to the other fine cinematic web sites up for a Cinemarati alongside GC Daily, all worthy of a link and a nod, and of this award:
    Bright Lights Film Journal
    DVD Beaver
    Midnight Eye
    Senses of Cinema
    The Tulse Luper Suitcases Web Archive
    The Fog of War
    Masters of Cinema

    Congrats to all. We're sincerely humbled by this honor and hope to continue to meet with the respect of our peers in 2004!

    Posted by cphillips at 11:59 AM | Comments (9)

    Issues.

    The Lord of the Rings cover story in the Jan/Feb issue of Film Comment isn't online, and at the moment, the 2003 Wrap-up and best lists don't seem to be there, but quite a lot else is.

    secret-things.jpg

    Secret Things

    Contributors admit to their guilty pleasures of the year, Frédéric Bonnaud explains why "Jean-Claude Brisseau is the most atypical of great French filmmakers," and the mag runs Scott Eyman's 1978 interview with William Wellman.

    Then Philippe Garnier introduces the late Grover Lewis's portrait of just-as-late character actor Timothy Carey, "a rough-hewn, riveting beastie who, starting in the heyday of noir, slouched his way toward some backlot Bethlehem." In the interview that follows, the one that begins with the question, "Are you generally known around the industry as a farter?," Carey tells Lewis how he lost his role in The Godfather Part II:

    Francis and his pals were sitting around his office and I brought a box of cannolis and Italian pastries as gifts. I said, "I brought you this gift to pay respect to my friends," and I reached down into those dripping cannolis and pulled out a gun - boom boom! - and blew the hell out of all of them. And then I shot myself and staggered over and fell on Roos's desk - all the contracts went flying. And Coppola grabbed my blank gun and shot me back - bang bang! - like a kid.

    Unfortunately, Coppola was the only one in the room to get a kick out of it. Alan Licht then takes a brief look at The World's Greatest Sinner, which Carey starred in, produced and directed, and which John Cassavetes said had "the brilliance of Einstein." If all that sparks your interest, Licht offers the following click: timothycarey.com.

    Most historical overviews of Hong Kong cinema written since the handover in 1997 have ended on a pretty downbeat note. Simon Jones's, though, part of kamera.co.uk's Hong Kong Issue, suggests there may be a revival going on just now: "Successes such as the Pang Brother's 2002 Thailand/Hong Kong co-production The Eye have perhaps shown the way forward, repositioning Hong Kong as the middleman for triumphant co-production ventures within Asia." Also in the issue:

  • Leon Hunt on martial arts films.
  • Bob Carroll on the collaboration of John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat.
  • Colin Odell and Michelle le Blanc on Jackie Chan.
  • Bob Carroll again, briefly, on Infernal Affairs.
  • Ingo Ebeling on the long-running Young and Dangerous series.
  • Time Regained

    Time Regained

    The new - the second - issue of the pristine Rouge is an annotated filmography of the work of Raúl Ruiz and coincides with the series "An Eternal Wanderer at the festival in Rotterdam.

    Posted by dwhudson at 11:32 AM

    January 17, 2004

    "I am not for 'art for the people.'"

    John Waters

    My first art-speak review was for Pink Flamingos. I still cherish it. It was an incredibly well-written essay for the Museum of Modern Art, which described how one set of characters in the film symbolized Communism and the other set symbolized Capitalism. That was complete news to me.

    John Waters, talking to Artnet Magazine assistant editor Ana Finel Honigman.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:50 AM

    January 16, 2004

    Filmmaker, Winter 2004.

    Filmmaker Winter 2004 "I'm not a contrarian at all. I don't accept that term, and don't like when it's applied to me either." Armond White speaks his mind in an interview with Matthew Ross, who gets him to deliver immediate verdicts on Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, Claire Denis ("doesn't buy convention in any way"), Gaspar Noé ("a fraud"), Wong Kar-wai ("brilliant work"), Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Sofia Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson and Todd Solondz.

    Just one of the highlights of the Winter 2004 issue of Filmmaker, up now, with its special section on Sundance. Howard Feinstein talks to Lars von Trier about Dogville: "I think that having such good actors in minor parts makes the town alive in another way. Because they are so good, so you only have to see them for a very short time and you get the whole character." And Carol Nahra casts an admiring eye on Jørgen Leth and von Trier's The Five Obstructions.

    Danny Schlechter asks Jehane Noujaim about her doc on Al-Jazeera, Control Room.

    Mary Glucksman sorts through the numbers, the acquisitions, the trends in indie film in 2003 before segueing into six enlightening case histories. Sidebar: The 2003 Sundance Theatrical Box Office Chart.

    As for other features, Andy Bailey has a sort of counterpart-companion piece with Michael Musto's ode to New York on film: "California Dreaming" examines four films that're all about Los Angeles.

    "Working as a short-film programmer for the Sundance Film Festival and a programmer for CineVegas, I watch a good percentage of the approximately 3,500 to 4,000 short films produced in the US every year." Mike Plante on the ones that work. Sandi DuBowski (Trembling Before G-d) describes making his first DVD and Scott Macaulay watches Microcinema's DVDs.

    Then: Anne Thompson on the screener ban, Noah Cowan on this season's foreign releases, Graham Leggat on the convergence of film and games, specifically in the case of The Lord of the Rings and the Super Eight, the magazine's Greil Marcus-like list of Good Things. And more. We like this magazine.

    The new blog at the site is already shaping up nicely as well. Very nicely. Example: Filmmaker's "25 New Faces" at Sundance. And did you know that Wil Wheaton is blogging?

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:33 AM | Comments (2)

    Shorts, 1/16.

    "If there are film-makers reading this who like to complain about the difficulty of financing their movies, consider how 1990 began for Siddiq Barmak: up to his knees in snow, walking across some of the highest mountain passes on earth, his party's horses dying, having to abandon most of his gear in order to keep going, all so he could slip from Afghanistan into Pakistan to seek funds for a feature film. The trip was unsuccessful." Fortunately, as James Meek writes, Osama has since been met with prizes and praise around the world.

    Osama

    Also in the Guardian's Friday Review:

  • Harvey Weinstein himself explains why he just had to see Cold Mountain made. You'll laugh, you'll cry: "We've never lost sight of our roots." Which is actually true, if you think about the ways Miramax marketed its first films.
  • Molly Haskell on what the afterlife looks like in the movies.
  • "It's not much of an exaggeration to say that all contemporary escapism begins with The Thirty-Nine Steps." Robert Towne, currently at work on a remake, as quoted by Geoffrey Macnab.
  • Take the painters on film quiz. 9 out of 10, if I do say so myself.
  • Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger on Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Heart: "[D]espite being a triumph of production design and photography, the film is finally as vacant as the world it creates."

    It's a "Mann's World" at the Pacific Film Archive. Anthony Mann, that is.

    Jean-Baptiste Andrea says, Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands? Good. Carlos Reygadas's Japón? Bad. Then, the interviewers and interviewees currently paired off in the Independent are: Ellin Stein and Christopher Guest; Matthew Sweet and Ian Holm; Ryan Gilbey and Robert Benton.

    "I'm starting to get into doing projects that just aren't even possible on a film. That's what's so great about the new technology. It allows you to dream about things that weren't even possible before." That's Robert Rodriguez, talking to DVDFile's Peter M Bracke, who asks him if he'll ever work with film again: "Can't go back, not at all."

    IndieWIRE's Sundance coverage is whipping right along: "Bigger and Busier... More People and More Marketers," Andrea Meyer on what the first time's like, and pix.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:29 AM

    Uta Hagen, 1919 - 2004.

    Uta Hagen: Respect For Acting
    In 1999, she called her whole goal as an actress "the spontaneity that comes without planning." Whenever possible, she uncovered the drama behind the comedy - or the comedy behind the drama. As she said, "Somebody with wit and a sense of humor sees the most tragic event without the sentimentality, sees in any life experience something ludicrous - which is probably why Chekhov is my favorite."

    Mel Gussow in the New York Times.

    Robert De Niro studied at her studio. So did Al Pacino, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker and a long red-carpet's worth of awards-show honorees.

    [...]

    [Uta] Hagen's life literally was acting. She was a two-time Tony winner who helped counsel countless others to success, via personal instruction, videos and two influential books.

    "We must overcome the notion that we must be regular...," a much-quoted Hagen axiom went. "It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre."

    Joal Ryan for E! Online.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:24 AM

    January 15, 2004

    Shorts, 1/15.

    Marrit Ingman surveys the ongoing program at the Austin Film Society, Neorealism and Beyond: Italian Cinema, 1948 - 1970 (January 13 - March 9):

    neorealism-and-beyond.jpg

    Humble though it seems, the Italian neorealist movement influenced the making of movies in Europe and across the globe for decades to come - technologically, artistically, philosophically. Its watermark is perceptible in the films of New Wave France, of the former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, of directors working in the contemporary Middle East and Asia. Neorealism taught the world that the lives of everyday people are remarkable, even beautiful, and that their struggles against poverty, mistreatment, and despair are representative of the human condition.

    Also in the Austin Chronicle: Anne S Lewis interviews Joseph Tovares, who's got a new documentary, Remember the Alamo: "Texas history is very messy; everyone is always taking from somebody else."

    "Director's Bureau is really sort of an arranged marriage between me and Roman Coppola. I didn't really know him, I knew Spike and Sofia. But I thought, 'Oh, this must work, because I like everyone around him.'" Readymade interviews Mike Mills, whose debut feature, Thumbsucker, based on the novel by Walter Kirn, features Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio and Keanu Reeves. Nice start. Via greg.org.

    "Chalte Chalte was a hit. Baghban was a hit. Kal Ho Naa Ho is a hit. What is their secret formula?" asks Sunil Gautam at Rediff. Answer: "Mediocre stories, hackneyed emotions and dollops of self-pity.... The bad news is, we love it." Via Beware of the Blog.

    Rebecca Traister points to a lively discussion regarding the casting of Brokeback Mountain, probably Ang Lee's next film. Based on Annie Proulx's short story, it is, as one anonymously quoted Hollywood exec puts it, "gay cowboys!" Also in Salon: Amy Reiter interviews Toni Collette.

    Steve Monaco's "No-Life Top 10." It goes to 5.

    When Woody Allen fired Annabelle Gurwitch, she joined up with ten other actors to to perform Fired! on Broadway, "an evening of tales, some lurid, some humiliating, of being sacked from acting jobs," as Carol Rocamora describes it. Also in the Guardian:

  • Kate Stables's seven online viewing tips.

  • "Two people in a room, one of whom is trying to be painted by the other." Doc maker Bruno Wollheim tells his version. So do those two people in a room.

  • Following Maev Kennedy's report on British films' booming budgets, Andrew Pulver wonders if Brits are getting their pounds' worth.

  • Geoffrey Macnab meets Vikram Jayanti to talk about his new doc, Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine, but both are rather distracted by his other new doc, The Golden Globes: Hollywood's Dirty Little Secret.
  • Michael Fox in SF Weekly:

    I glanced up at the marquee. "DETOUR WITH ANN SAVAGE IN PERSON JANUARY 16." She was quite a dame, that Ann. Cruel, some said. Heartless. Nah, she just looked out for herself. She'd heard every line men peddled and seen every weakness, and learned that a smart broad didn't count on them for nothing. Hell, she'd even turned down an A-list director who'd asked her out! Any break she'd ever had she'd made herself.

    ann-savage.jpg

    The event is the Noir City Film Festival, presented by Eddie Muller, author of a healthy handful of books on the subject as well as our noir primer.

    Cahiers du cinéma, January issue table of contents, courtesy of Craig Keller.

    "Ah, the first Kaurismäki experience. Terri Sutton remembers it well in City Pages.

    "Blowing up buildings is an image you don't want to see anymore." Roland Emmerich tells USA Today's Andy Seiler why he's switching to tornadoes, hail and snowstorms, floods and so forth.

    Dan Engber describes the work of Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar which makes use of technology that "descends from Muybridge's pioneering work in the 19th century and finds its modern parallel in the special effects studios around the Bay Area." Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Dennis Harvey on Victor Sjöström, Lynn Rapoport The Company and David Fear on The Statement.

    "When people learn that I have seen the movie, they generally ask two questions: Is it really anti-Semitic? and Does it end with the Resurrection? I could honestly respond 'No' to the former question and 'Yes' to the latter, but instead I hem and haw." Patton Dodd reviews Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ (and reports on his uncomfortable onstage interview at "the evangelical megaministry Focus on the Family") in the inaugural issue of The New Pantagruel (via Metaphilm).

    The film will be released on 2000 screens, reports Sharon Waxman in the New York Times. She's been busy. She also reports that Harvey Weinstein's lobbying members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association pretty darn hard in the run-up to the Golden Globes.

    The New York Observer's Andrew Sarris has taken his time to compose his end-of-the-year lists, emphasis on the plural. And well he should. After all, as he reminds us, he's been at this "for close to half a century."

    With top ten lists fading, though, Oscar predictions are the next wave where math and cinema meet. And the most fun of these is probably going to remain the Michael Musto's. David Thomson registers his predictions in the Independent.

    Meantime, the screeners are already on the loose. First it was Something's Gotta Give, now it's The Last Samurai. A second screener has been found online. And now House of Sand and Fog and Cold Mountain screeners have popped up at eBay. If I were a conspiracy nut, I might go so far as to suggest that, to prove a point, the MPAA... but nah, I'm not a conspiracy nut.

    That's via Movie City News, where you'll find an eye-popping press release for Jonathan Caouette's first feature, Tarnation. Gus Van Sant, who's signed on to executive produce after seeing a rough cut calls it "the shit." John Cameron Mitchell, who'll be editorial consultant, says it's "the most powerful and original new film that I've seen in years." And it was made with Apple's iMovie for a grand total of $218.32.

    sweet-smell-success.jpg

    The Sweet Smell of Success

    Back to Musto and the Voice:

    In Hollywood's eyes, New York is generally either a glistening paradise of glamour and romance or a backstabby cesspool of depravity and lies. I've always preferred the latter vision, not only because it may be more accurate but because it's usually tinged with a barbed, titillating wit that makes the cesspool seem like so much fun.

    This entry's Battle of Algiers links: Leslie Camhi in the Voice and Armond White in the New York Press, where you'll also find Matt Zoller Seitz on Rolf de Heer's The Tracker and DVD reviews: Emir Kusturica's Underground and that whole Indiana Jones thing.

    The European Commission is taking Hollywood to court.

    Rip Torn: Arrested.

    Spalding Gray: Missing. More.

    In the LA Weekly: Anna Ciezadlo, briefly, on filmmaking under extraordinary circumstances - in Iraq; and Ella Taylor reviews Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers.

    Bob Davis reviews Tony Lee Moral's Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie for Film-Philosophy.

    Empire talks to John Woo about the musical he'll be making, "something he's previously described as a cross between The Killer and Cabaret."

    Deborah Wilker details Disney's shutting down of its Orlando-based animation unit in the Hollywood Reporter and, on another front, Chris Gardner quotes Bernardo Bertolucci: "The Dreamers is finally making it to the US in its uncut version. I'm relieved - in so many ways - that the distributor has had the vision to release my original film. After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:51 PM | Comments (1)

    American Sucker

    american-sucker.jpg After Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, the buzz of Sundance, recently reviewed by Dwight Garner in the New York Times, etc., etc., the other book causing a stir in Film-Related Blogdom is David Denby's American Sucker. Which isn't really about movies, but we get to blog about it anyway because Denby is, of course, a film critic at the New Yorker, a critic evidently admired across the board by the participants of Slate's "Movie Club" last week, though I tend to agree more with Jonathan Rosenbaum who takes Denby to task more than a few times in Movie Wars, most succinctly when he calls him "the film critic who can be counted on most regularly to express American doublethink with the least amount of self-consciousness."

    Reviews of American Sucker in print have been generally negative. Slate blurbs a few; the quote from the New York Sun nails my overall impression so far as someone who hasn't actually read the book: "he seems more ashamed to be thought unintellectual than to actually be lowdown and deceitful." But the rhetorical volume is cranked up considerably at, for example, Persistence of Vision, where Liz writes that Denby...

    ...has somehow contrived to put the bloated carcass of his financial ego on display in the hopes of eliciting our pity cash.... Denby turns out to be one of the of hoards of "investor class" late-Boomers who, dazzled by the prospect of astronomical returns, threw their extra cash into an investment arena known to be fraught with risk, then had the gall to be all aghast about it when the bottom fell out.

    Liz then recommends reviews by Chris Lehmann in the Washington Post and one in the New York Observer whose URL seems to have slipped off somewhere, which is too bad, because this bit, in my book, applies equally to Denby and Anthony Lane: "Mr. Denby is a capable writer. The problem here is not the author's prose but his judgment, which is serially bad (an alarming failure in a critic)."

    Especially when it comes to real life and, as chronicled in the book, Denby's is a "monumentally selfish (and really quite uninteresting) personal journey," at least according to Adrienne Miller in Esquire. Richard Gehr goes strangely soft on him in the Village Voice. But let's let cinetrix at pullquote have the last word: "Like I'm going to throw my limited cash away reading about that whiny perv with his boo-hoo four-room apartment on the Upper West Side and sweet New Yorker gig."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

    Let the fests begin.

    "Beginning only a week apart, the Sundance Film Festival (January 15 - 25) and the Rotterdam Film Festival (January 21 - February 1) will wake the American and European film industries out of their holiday stupor with the year's first cinematic unveilings." Anthony Kaufman does a bit of comparing and contrasting at indieWIRE, quoting contributor Stephen Garrett: "It's like night and day."

    sundance-logo.jpg

    The winter festival season has begun, with the lineup for the Berlinale (February 5 - 15) beginning to take shape and indieWIRE's Brian Brooks and the Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov already peaking ahead to a decidedly political picks at SXSW (March 12 - 20) in Austin.

    But of course, today, it's all about Sundance, especially at indieWIRE. Wendy Mitchell introduces the eighteen first-time feature filmmakers in the fest while Eugene Hernandez offers advice: "How to Survive and Thrive in Sundance."

    The official online fest won't be the only one in Park City. As Jason Silverman writes at Wired News, Slamdance's Anarchy and TriggerStreet.com will also be presenting films.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM

    MoveOn.Up

    "It was the first time in a long while where I felt proud to be an American." The Almighty Margaret Cho blogs her night as a judge of MoveOn's Bush in 30 Seconds competition. Blogs fellow judge Moby: "michael moore and al franken and chuck d and janeane garofalo and rufus wainwright and margaret cho and many many more all contributed to making it a wonderful night."

    childs-pay.jpg

    Now that a winner's been chosen, the marvelously understated Child's Pay by Charlie Fisher, the .org is aiming to air it during the Super Bowl if the funds can be raised. In Salon, Michelle Goldberg calls it...

    ...a subtle, elegiac and nearly wordless indictment of the burden Bush is shunting onto future generations with his deficits. It was made by Charlie Fisher, a 38-year-old advertising executive and father of two from Denver, a fiscal conservative who was a registered Republican until 1992.

    That's important. 30 seconds of fire-breathing and preaching to the choir wouldn't get anybody anywhere. As Seth Stevenson writes in Slate, "this one might actually change some minds."

    Julian Brookes offers background on all this at Mother Jones.

    Update: Michelle Goldberg explains fully and fairly why CBS has declined to air the ad. Rats.

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 PM

    January 13, 2004

    From 'bots to Brownlow

    What better way to end a weekend that began with a viewing of Mystery Science Theater 3000's take on Eegah!, by attending a "symposium" on bad movies featuring Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (a.k.a. Tom Servo), and Bill Corbett, of MST3K fame? That's just what I did on Sunday, as part of the Sketchfest at San Francisco's Cobb's Comedy Club. Some of the highlights:

    mst3k_silhouette.jpg


    • Mike's theory that a disproportionate number of bad movies feature primates (see: Ed -- featuring monkey-ish Matt LeBlanc; Any Which Way You Can; Most Valuable Primate-- which incurred Nelson's wrath for featuring a monkey playing hockey, and one who can shoot the puck through the net, no less; Dunston Checks In)... easy pickings perhaps, but hard to argue with.
    • Corbett's dissection of the incomprehensible script that is The Fifth Element ("those of you who thought [the fifth element] was Boron were wrong," quipped Corbett).
    • Nelson's revelation that he did audio commentary on the upcoming DVD release of Reefer Madness (to be released, appropriately enough, on 4/20.)
    • Corbett, who not only had the unenviable task of following the inspired Trace Beaulieu as the voice of Crow T. Robot on MST3K but of following Nelson's monkey thesis (the flinging of), held his own while knowing when to let Murphy and Nelson riff.
    • Murphy, who now does movie-related segments on NPR's Morning Edition, presented his open letter to Ben Affleck, which concluded thusly: "Don't forget to act, too." (Added Murphy, "with the exception of American Splendor, movies based on comic books unilaterially suck.")
    • The gang's agreement that they would like to revisit the show again in the not too distant future (although not "next Sunday, A.D.," to reference a lyric from MST's theme song) comes at a time when the show's reruns are about to stop airing on the Sci-Fi channel; as a form of catharsis: their amusing take on the Sci-Fi channel's head honcho's dislike of the show (paraphrasing Mike: "You'd think, given the quality of the programs Sci-Fi makes themselves, that they'd be more open to a program like ours"); Comedy Central's vague desire to make the show "edgier," which the gang likened to the Simpsons "Poochy" episode.
    • Even more amusing: their imitation of Barry Diller, one-time head of Universal (now of USA Interactive), as a cloven-hoofed beast. According to Nelson and Murphy, Universal completely screwed up on the release of MST: The Movie, including, it was revealed Sunday, by chickening out and disallowing the MST gang from having musical numbers in the film. The reason? The day before Universal flacks had this discussion, they had witnessed a test screening of the Adam Sandler "comedy" Billy Madison, in which a musical number tested so badly, Nelson quipped, that test audience members practically broke their thumbs off hitting the negative response button. Universal then assumed all music was now officially "bad" and thus forced MST to cut those bits from the film. Too bad.
    • Mike Nelson and the 'bots

    • Proving the quality of the beloved and sorely missed TV show's core audience, the Q&A session featured mostly intelligent questions and some amusing repartee. Among the gang's favorite episodes (all more recent ones, probably due to memory issues): The Girl in Gold Boots and Space Mutiny. (My own faves, not that you asked: Pod People and the probably never-to-be-released-on-video-due-to-the-stubbornness-of-producer/distributor-Sandy Frank Time of the Apes -- which certainly proves Mike's theory about monkey movies. (MST song re-enacted at the event: "Sandy Frank, Sandy Frank, he's the source of all our pain..." etc.)

    • Last tidbits -- Actor least pleased with MST's mockery of them: Joe Don Baker, whose amusingly lumbering Mitchell was deservedly skewered in Joel Hodgson's last MST3K episode -- but the gang is not worried about Joe Don's wrath, figuring they could easily outrun the portly B-movie actor if they ever ran into him; actor surprisingly pleased: studly one-time Tarzan Miles O'Keefe, whose Cave Dwellers (nee Ator) was the source of one painfully funny episode.

    Come back, Satellite of Love, we miss you now more than ever.


    180 degree about face, or Geeky In a Different Way:

    Who's done more than just about anyone to preserve cinematic history? Kevin Brownlow. The American Society of Cinematographers agrees, and is honoring Brownlow with a special award in February, at its annual Outstanding Achievement Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Brownlow is a longtime British film producer and editor who gained deserved fame for his work archiving and restoring aging films. He's also written some fine books, including ones on David Lean, Mary Pickford, and perhaps the best tome written on silent film, The Parade's Gone By...; made some memorable films, including the "what if" historical film It Happened Here, which revealed an unsettling picture of an alt. England, where pro-German collaborators and home-grown fascists hold the reins of power. Congrats to Brownlow.

    Speaking of documentaries, we just ran across a story that would make swell fodder for one: This inspirational (and we don't mean mawkish) story from the BBC, about a cinema buff with a handcart bringing films to Calcutta's poor, using a 107-year-old projector. Thanks to Mark Larson for the tip!

    Posted by cphillips at 10:08 AM

    January 12, 2004

    Shorts: Post-weekend Glut Edition.

    You'd think we'd have all had enough of top tens by now, but when you belatedly discover that Jonathan Rosenbaum's got his out there, that's no time to stop. And of course, there's more than just a list here. The intro touches on studio ad campaigns ("a sinister omnipresence that almost feels like official state art"), the screener ban and critics' perks, Miramax's strangehold on the distribution of Asian films in the US, and 2003 as the year of the doc and the DVD.

    25th Hour

    25th Hour

    Then: "Let me start with a tie." Not only is #1 a tie - Spike Lee's 25th Hour (it opened in Chicago in January) and Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold - but so are #s 6, 8, 9 and 10.

    Biggest surprise: Cold Mountain at #7. Good heavens. That, plus Craig's slipping it onto his list at #11, has me dreading it a little less when it opens the Berlinale in February (albeit not in competition).

    Chicago Reader "But there are too many good movies showing in Chicago for even two people to cover - last year alone the Reader reviewed 1,122 features and shorts programs," writes JR Jones. Reason enough for his own top ten, where you'll find Marion Bridge at the top and a few more surprises below.

    Also in the Chicago Reader: Fred Camper's got a great piece on Vincente Minnelli ("Not many realize that Minnelli was born in Chicago, in 1903...") and Elizabeth M. Tammy trashes Mona Lisa Smile: "...for the rest of the film [Julia] Roberts is laughing and smiling hugely as always. It's why you like her if you do, although in uncharitable moments I'm reminded of Raymond Chandler's line from The Long Goodbye: 'She opened a mouth like a firebucket and laughed.... I couldn't hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed.'"

    Slipping in just a few more lists: Robert Koehler, who writes for Variety and CinemaScope, is one of the most insightful contributors to the Film-Philosophy list. His choices, in alphabetical order, are anything but the sort of films you think of when you think of Variety.

    For Res, Holly Willis selects the top five shorts of 2003, and from Sandy Hunter, the top five music videos.

    Persistence of Vision is back, weaving a yarn from Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures to Kristin Scott Thomas. By way of David Gordon Green, i.e., the scenic route. Which we always prefer.

    Writing in Time, Jeffrey Ressner doesn't have that luxury, of course. He must cut to the chase, clipping quotes re: Harvey Weinstein: "'He's like a little Saddam Hussein of cinema,' says Bernardo Bertolucci. 'He's a true vulgarian,' says Kevin Smith. 'The devil himself. Satan! Lucifer!' says Spike Lee.... Whether or not Biskind's book becomes a pulp nonfiction hit, one thing seems certain: he'll never eat lunch in Tribeca again."

    Also, Time's two Richards, Corliss and Schickel, write up the seven great performances of 2003.

    Biskind is interviewed for a piece by Sean P Means, part of the Salt Lake Tribune's Sunday Sundance package found via Movie City News. But Biskind's take on the fest won't be the last word. We learn that John Pierson has updated and will be re-releasing his book as Spike Mike Reloaded; he sez:

    Instead of blaming Sundance for becoming this monolith, you really have to look at all the other parties - press, all media, distributors, the other various and sundry agents - for essentially ceding all their power to Sundance. It wasn't an invasion, and it wasn't an unfriendly takeover. Step by step, company by company, they decided to let Sundance decide what the cream of the crop was.

    John Sayles is quoted as well: "The phenomenon has happened to them as much as because of them. I think they've done a pretty good job of not getting overwhelmed."

    Also in the Means/Trib package: Docs, Slamdance and tips for getting into screenings.

    If you've submitted a film to Sundance or Slamdance and got turned down, your rejection email/letter is worth five bucks at the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Via Brian Flemming (who was not rejected).

    Lake Placid More festival news: Brian Brooks in indieWIRE on Lake Placid (June 2 - 6) and Outfest's Fusion (July 8 - 19), "a new festival spotlighting films by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people of color."

    "Richard Linklater's Waking Life is one of the most influential of all modern films - because, first, he showed how to make, in postproduction, a consumer-camera digital film look like a commercial theatrical-quality film, and second, he demonstrated that inexpensive feature-length animation was within the reach of ordinary filmmakers." That's Roger Ebert, who has had unkind words in the past for DV, in MacWorld, scanned in at Wiley Wiggins's News of the Dead, where we also learn that Frontier, filmed entirely in Bulbovian, will soon be out on DVD.

    "Tony, I salute you: How do you manage to turn out these cogent, erudite posts at a rate of two a day?" J Hoberman's aside to AO Scott in last week's "Movie Club" at Slate (where the motto could easily have been taken from the Marx that went unmentioned, namely, "Hello, I must be going") is amplified by the appearance of not one but two of Scott's think pieces in the New York Times just hours after the "Club" adjourned:

  • "It may be that American movies, after years of strenuously avoiding the downbeat and the desolate, have belatedly discovered the ancient formula of feeling bad as a step toward feeling better."
  • And a consideration of the lessons to be gleaned from The Fog of War and The Battle of Algiers. More on Fog from Roger Angell in the New Yorker and on Algiers (a talk with Saadi Yacef) from Lisa Bear in indieWIRE.
  • Also in the NYT:

    Millennium Actress

    Millennium Actress

  • "If Mr. Miyazaki is Japan's Walt Disney - a beloved cultural institution, who even has his own museum in Tokyo - Mr. Kon has no obvious peers in American animation." Dave Kehr on Satoshi Kon.
  • Frank Rich on Biskind's book and on how Miramax has become the monster it set out to slay.
  • Wallace Shawn answers Deborah Solomon's questions exactly as you'd expect him to.
  • This'll probably be Frasier's last season, reports Bill Carter.
  • Stacey D'Erasmo: "You can conclude from the glossy surfaces of The L Word that L stands for latte or Lexus and stop there. Or you can notice that in some of its less flashy moments the show has staked a claim on Large: as in a larger, denser, more ambivalent imaginary world, populated by imperfect and riveting citizens of all sexual stripes. Call me an optimist, but my money's on the latter."
  • Leslie Camhi on Anna May Wong (more below).
  • Randy Kennedy on "credit creep."
  • Back to the New Yorker for a moment. Hilton Als catches Bette Midler's new show:

    "I've seen the young people," she said, casting a sidelong glance at the audience. "I've seen Christina Aguilera," she sniffed. "She was wearing pasties and garters! All these new girls are so trashy!" Beat. "And do I get a thank-you note? I opened the door to trash! I was trashy before any of these girls were born!"

    And James Kaplan has a looong profile of Larry David.

    Daily Show news from the Hollywood Reporter: "'This is the year the show is going to go the next level,' said Bill Hilary, executive vp and general manager of Comedy Central, citing the series' 'Indecision 2004' campaign," reports Andrew Wallenstein, while Andrew Grossman writes that "Jon Stewart may as well be Walter Cronkite" and has the numbers of folks getting their news from late night programming to back it up.

    At TV Barn, Aaron Barnhart: "Among other things, 2003 will be remembered as the year that DVDs changed the way we watched TV." And in more ways than are immediately obvious. Family Guy, for example, didn't do all that well in its initial run but has since sold so well on DVD Fox is thinking of resurrecting the show. Also: Audio descriptions for the blind take up little space on a DVD and studios have already paid for them. So why aren't they appearing on DVDs? "Perhaps Hollywood feels it's selling enough DVDs already. Yeah, that's it."

    In the Guardian and Observer:

  • Richard Grant conducts a big long amusing interview with Christopher Guest.
  • The paper runs Stig Bjorkman's interview with Lars von Trier (and Ann Hornaday reviews Dogville in the Washington Post). Ingrid Thulin
  • Derek Malcolm says goodbye to Ingrid Thulin: "The fact of the matter is that no other woman actor - not even Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, or Eva Dahlbeck - could express as much of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's complex, often tortured view of womanhood as Thulin, who could match his intricacies step by step."
  • Geoffrey Macnab on Ivor Novello.
  • Fox is dreaming up a reality soap that may never end, reports Julian Borger.
  • Barbara Ellen: "It seems that [Anna] Kournikova and now [Scarlett] Johansson are a new breed of beautiful young girl - monstrous, snotty, self-important, but nonetheless to be applauded simply because they are capable of revelling in their beauty and sex appeal rather than doing the traditional female thing of sitting passively and gratefully and letting others enjoy it for them."
  • Somewhat related to Scott's piece in the NYT, but not really, is Stuart Husband's on "feelbad movies."
  • "It's like a professional marriage, and the offspring are the movies," says Martin Scorsese in a statement announcing that he and Robert De Niro are writing a memoir together. That's the news hook for this week's links to a French magazine: Paola Genone interviews Scorsese for L'Express, while Christophe Carrière talks to Wim Wenders (who actually speaks French quite well; cool photos, too). The occasion for both chats is the premiere in cinemas of Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey. Via Perlentaucher.

    Apurva Lakhia may be directing a biopic based on the life of Salman Rushdie.

    According to Bob Thompson in the Washington Post, Robert Altman said these very words to Neve Campbell: "Neve, I just need to thank you, because this was the best experience of my life."

    It's been a while - too long - since we've heard anything about The Corporation (our own last mention was in October), but via MCN, fresh word comes from Alexandra Gill in the Globe and Mail:

    The interview subjects include all the usual lefty crowd (alongside [Michael] Moore and [Noam] Chomsky are Canadians Naomi Klein and Maude Barlow). Achbar, however, deliberately provides equal time - and respect - to the other side, allowing CEOs, right-wing economists and business lobbyists enough rope to bolster the film's claims, and even present some of its most damning indictments.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:10 PM | Comments (2)

    January 9, 2004

    Mitteleuropa, West.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't the only Austrian on Californian minds these days. In the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas reviews Ulrich Seidl's Dog Days, then touches on Ruth Mader's Struggle...

    struggle.jpg

    Ruth Mader's Struggle

    Brushes the work of Michael Haneke, Barbara Albert and Nikolaus Geyrhalter and writes:

    The push-and-pull between heightened realism (what Herzog calls "ecstatic truth") and exploitation is at the heart of an entire wave of recent Austrian films that have taken, as their whole or partial subject, this essential dilemma: how to survive in a culture where we are constantly consuming images that tell us how we should live our lives, or becoming the images ourselves. (There is also a certain predilection for using shopping malls as the locations for sex orgies, but that's a discussion best held for another time.)... Collectively, these films are cause for excitement."
    A bit further up the coast, Mark Nichol blurbs the Berlin & Beyond fest in San Francisco; amazingly, it's the ninth: "Also, nearly one-third of the films deal with immigrants and interracial relationships, eloquently demonstrating that Germans are striving to come to terms with the ever-growing presence of foreign residents in their nation."

    Anna May Wong in Pavement There is, oddly enough, a German connection to Sandi Tan's piece in the LA Weekly on UCLA's Anna May Wong retrospective as well. The path is not direct, but follow closely: You go to the Archive's calendar, find the words "Rediscovering Anna May Wong" and click: "Like many of her African American colleagues, she sought greater opportunities in Europe, where she made three remarkable silent pictures, including the glorious and newly restored Piccadilly, which opens our program, and two German films, Song and Pavement Butterfly, with director Richard Eichberg. Wong's collaboration with Eichberg recalls Louise Brooks' films with GW Pabst (also included in this Calendar)." Hm.

    "At 75, Yacef doesn't look much different from the handsome, charismatic figure preserved in the grainy black and white film. It's tough to reconcile the fact that this man, dressed in a black sports coat and turtleneck, armed with a warm smile and quick laugh, once helped kill French civilians on a daily basis." Salon's Christopher Farah meets and interviews Saadi Yacef, who wrote the book The Battle of Algiers would be based on - and starred in the film as well. See also: Ella Taylor's review, and before we leave the LA Weekly altogether: Christsine Pelisek on Jason Roe, co-editor and designer of "an edgy national DVD zine, Remote, which features music videos, video art and short documentaries."

    "After an hour I went in, and said to Kiarostami, 'I like this story. I think I want to do a film about it.' Abbas said, 'In that case, I will do the script for you.'" Jafar Panahi has a fine long talk with Nick Dawson in indieWIRE.

    Siddharth Srivastava in Planet Bollywood on the very idea that Aishwaria Rai might kiss Pierce Brosnan in the next Bond film: "A kiss in this country is big deal. It has affected relations between India and Pakistan, although at most times it takes much less."

    In the New York Times:

  • Caryn James: "Splitting. Screens. For Minds. Divided." is the title; 5-alarm sentence: "Television and movies are echoing the cluttered screens of the Internet."
  • If you thought Tanner '88 was just the beginning, Jim Rutenberg confirms your worst fears and giddiest projections.
  • Jennifer Dunning previews the Dance on Camera Festival 2004.
  • In the Spectator, Rob White reviews Emily King's Movie Poster, a book that reproduces, along with hundreds of others, the original poster for Sergei Eisenstein's October, featuring the face of Trotsky before Stalin began revising history (and Trotsky's destiny) and the poster was ditched for another. James Goodwin in Screening the Past: When fifty years later [Eisenstein collaborator Grigori] Alexandrov published his memoirs, whose reliability is in many respects questionable, he claimed that Stalin personally intervened and censored the film in the course of a 4 am visit to the editing room on the anniversary day of the Revolution."

    Anyway. Some purges are more momentous than others. Like Eugene Hernandez in indieWIRE, Jeffrey Wells sees foreshadowing of Bingham Ray's departure from the MGM fold as president of United Artists in the final pages of Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures:

    Friction had been especially heated between Ray and MGM CEO Yemenidjian, who was so angry about Ray's militant anti-MPAA position that he told Ray during a late October phone conference he had "a choice between shutting up and getting out." There was a pause after Yemenidjian delivered the ultimatum. He said to Ray, "Are you still there?" Ray replied a la Jack Benny, "I'm thinking."

    Wells's current column in Movie Poop Shoot also offers another opportunity segue into the lists again, though this one's not a year-ender. "The Top 100 MVP's - Most Valuable Players" runs in the February issue of Empire and "since my original copy ran a bit longer than what was published I'm running a 'writer's cut' version, just for inclusion's sake." Halves 1 and 2.

    AICN How could we have forgotten to point Harry Knowles's 2003 list? Especially when he reminds us what makes Harry Harry and why we're glad he's around. Bits and CAPS like this:

    Personal Favorite Film Experience of 2003:

    Watching TEENAGE MOTHER happen to the BNAT 5 audience. It was bliss. I have been told that I resembled a mad scientist whose creation was killing all the right people while this film played. As I have stated, this is the single greatest work of cinematic terrorism that I have ever seen. That PARAMOUNT PICTURES ever released it is astonishing. Must be seen with a packed unsuspecting audience to truly get the desired effect. To have picked this film out of the list of the 60 some odd obscure exploitation titles that Tim League had recently acquired... then see it play out the way it did... BLISS.

    Kung Fu Cinema Kung Fu Cinema will be announcing their awards at the end of the month, but their nominations are already up.

    Meanwhile, the not-to-be-confused-with Kung Fu Cult Cinema is being updated again. News items galore to read about over there: Five Deadly Venoms remastered; a second volume on Takashi Miike from Tom Mes; an update on Clean, reuniting (well, professionally, anyway) Maggie Cheung and Oliver Assayas; the next John Woo; Jackie Chan possibly leaving Hollywood for good, forever, amen. Would be a terrific trend to start, wouldn't it.

    Latest Guardian quiz: "How well do you know the Coppolas?" I have to admit that cinetrix did slightly (but only slightly!) better than I did. Also:

  • Molly Haskell introduces the Dorothy Arzner retro at the National Film Theatre in London.
  • J Hoberman on the 60s, "a period in America when movies were political events and political events were experienced as movies." (And we can look forward to David Edelstein and AO Scott discussing Hoberman's The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties in a future "Book Club" at Slate).
  • Jonathan Jones: "Vermeer painted more than two centuries before the invention of cinema, but he anticipated the way films make a world and fill it with light."
  • "Is there an inherent flaw in a socio-economic system whereby everything gets bigger and bigger until it collapses under its own weight?" John Boorman argues in the Age that the blockbuster will kill Hollywood. To hear his arguments, you'd think he's right, but you know, we've been hearing similar arguments for decades now. Via Movie City News, which also points to a Saul Landau's take on The Fog of War and the not-so-surprising news that, for all the other positive signals coming out of Turkey recently, a screening of Atom Egoyan's Ararat there has been indefinitely postponed.

    The FLOW Foundation will unveil its first annual Black History Month Film & Discussion series in Washington DC, highlighting, among a zillion other things, Steven Torriano Berry's 50 Most Influential Films in Black History.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:32 PM

    January 8, 2004

    Blush.

    Cinemarati More lists, more awards, but hold on: Cinemarati, an .org of online film critics among whom you'll find the likes of Acquarello (Strictly Film School), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), the Flick Filosopher herself, MaryAnn Johanson (who's got her own "Best and Worst of 2003" list going as well), and many others, has nominated us for an award (Best Film-Related Web Site), which is a shock in and of itself, but doubly so because of the amazing company they've placed us in. Just look at these other nominees:

  • Bright Lights Film Journal
  • DVD Beaver
  • The Fog of War
  • Masters of Cinema
  • Midnight Eye
  • Senses of Cinema
  • The Tulse Luper Suitcases Web Archive
  • If there were ever a time to murmur, "It's an honor just to be nominated," then sit back down and quietly enjoy the rest of the show, this is it. That's not just false modesty; those other sites, as regular readers will recognize, are definitely among our favorites as well.

    By Brakhage Of course, the Cinemarati will be voting on more than just Web sites. Very much like the idea that they'll be considering the year's "Exceptional Achievement in Criticism," for example:

  • "Liner Notes: By Brakhage," Fred Camper.
  • "Noe Exit," Jessica Winter.
  • "Faster, Pussy Wagon! Kill! Kill!," RJ Smith.
  • "In Search of the Code Inconnu," Robin Wood (not online, unfortunately).
  • "Awakening to A.I.'s Dream,"Gregory Solman
  • "The Eastwood Variations, Kent Jones.
  • "Their Souls for a Freebie," Armond White.
  • "Straw Dogs," Dana Knowles.
  • Oh, and movies, too, of course. For Best Film, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Kill Bill: Vol. 1 lead the pack with ten nominations each; Raising Victor Vargas, Lost in Translation and American Splendor have each received eight. What's more, they'll be going about choosing their winners out in the open for all to see, in a public forum.

    Short shorts:

    Via Greg Allen: Elizabeth Spiers has posted some juicy excerpts from Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, albeit with a bit of (fun) paraphrasing. Also: Three new blogs from Jason Calacanis that, well, so far look mighty similar: The Unofficial Sundance Weblog, The Documentary Film Weblog and The Independent Film Weblog.

    Doug Cummings: "Some titles which highlighted my viewing year." An amazing list.

    Matt Langdon on Cuban Story.

    kamera.co.uk Nine kamera.co.uk writers, spread out over three pages (1, 2, 3) weigh in with their best-of lists. Readers have voted LOTR3 best and Matrix Revolutions worst of the year. "Is anyone surprised?" asks editor Oliver Berry. Of course not; the real substance here is each writer's top three + one worst.

    Howard Dean does not, repeat, not have a cameo in Ninja III: The Domination, reports John Gorenfeld in Salon. Also: Charles Taylor on Hou Hsiao Hsien's Millennium Mambo and Scott Rosenberg on the "Bush in 30 Seconds" hoopla: "In reaction to the controversy, MoveOn organizers say they will vet more carefully in the future. An alternative they should consider: Vet less."

    Geoffrey Macnab interviews Bill Murray in the Guardian.

    New Line is promoting The Butterfly Effect with brief essays by Harlan Ellison, Bruce Sterling, Ed Bryant and mechanical engineering prof John Lienhard.

    In the Austin Chronicle, Shawn Badgley asks RA "Jake" Dyer what motivated him to write Hustler Days: Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America's Great Age of Pool: "It was my own love of pool, which can be traced to both films - The Hustler and its sequel, The Color of Money."

    "Really, the timing couldn't be better for a Kaurismäki retrospective in Seattle, this being winter and the economy being what it is." Andy Spletzer in the Stranger.

    indieWIRE's "Top 20 Undistributed Films of 2003."

    Ray Pride writes informally yet sharply about his favorites of the year. Also at Movie City News: William Goldman, barking amusingly, and even more amusingly, Gérard Depardieu musing via Systran.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:40 AM | Comments (4)

    January 7, 2004

    Rise and fall.

    Down and Dirty Pictures No one but staff at Simon & Schuster and Peter Biskind himself had seen a copy of Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film until this past weekend, but already, at least two reviews are out.

    Whose first impressions could you possibly want more than those of indieWIRE's founding editor? In all its various evolutionary phases, that publication has probably been following indie film more closely than any other. And Eugene Hernandez does not disappoint. His piece is not so much a review as a primer of what those of us who've been eagerly (maybe even a bit perversely) anticipating this book can expect. He's even called Biskind up to check on a few hot points and to get him to nail the gist:

    "I found myself saying [on a book tour] that the independent scene carried the torch of the 70s, in the 90s," Biskind told indieWIRE. Yet, those familiar with Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls will notice a different approach to this decade. It is not about the films, it is about the business of the movies, that's the story that, according to Biskind, defined the 90s. "This is a distribution and marketing story."

    It's the story we've needed between covers for a while now. John Pierson's Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes is fine and fun, but it's also a first-person narrative that unravels too early, that is, when Pierson seems to go sour on the scene. As for the films themselves, well, we do already have at least a few of those books. We've needed a single wide perspective on the entire arc of the story (and this one takes us all the way up to the screener ban brouhaha, evidently), if for no other reason than to try to see more clearly what went wrong. As Hernandez interprets Biskind, we don't have to squint too hard: "Indeed, the book could have just as easily been titled, The Rise of Miramax and the Death of Independent Film."

    In a surprisingly bland review for the New York Observer, Christopher Carbone suggests simply adding "and Fall" to Biskind's subtitle. Carbone does pinpoint Biskind's appeal in a parenthetical observation that follows the only sentence in all the book's 500+ pages both reviewers quote:

    "Judged by one of its original, loftier goals, an institute to help outsiders, Sundance has failed," Mr. Biskind writes. "Women, Native Americans, African-Americans, and the poor still don't have equal access to the camera." (Mr. Biskind's book is testimony to his impressive range: He switches easily between rank gossip and pious sentiment.)

    Related reading: Back in April 2000, Peter Biskind talked to seven key players in the whole indie thing for The Nation. The participants: Allison Anders, Alexander Payne, Kimberly Peirce, John Pierson, David O. Russell, Kevin Smith and Christine Vachon.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:32 AM

    Big Daddy.

    Robert Altman "If you question anything, you're a bad guy. And I just won't accept that. So fuck 'em all." That's Robert Altman talking to Salon's Amy Reiter on or around the day Peter Biskind's Dirty Pictures finally appeared. The resonance is bracing. Both Easy Riders and Pictures are, in a way, tales of innocence lost, or at least independence. Decade after decade. But through it all, there's always Robert Altman.

    Burrow through the links Salon sticks at the end of the interview for some fine reading: Stephen Lemons assesses the "brilliant career" on the occasion of the 25th anniversary party for Nashville back in 2000:

    His stature is such that at this point, we might as well declare him a national treasure and get it over with. Young filmmakers, notably Magnolia and Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson, worship him.... Whether or not his next film is a critical or commercial success, the ultimate outsider is at long last the Big Daddy of American cinema. Is there any other active director, since the death of John Huston, who could lay claim to that title?

    A few clicks further in and you'll find Ray Sawhill placing Nashville, "an X-ray of the era's uneasy political soul," in its historical context and rounds out the resonance once again:

    We have been freed - perhaps against our will - of our attachment to the idea of art as a rebel activity, a gesture toward freedom made for the sake of the unconscious and revolution. Now it has become simply an activity some people pursue, and perhaps get something out of - as legitimate as (but no more vanguard than) business, cleaning, sports, science and child-rearing. Nashville, seen at this distance, looks like a snapshot of the moment when substance began to vaporize into information.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:30 AM | Comments (2)

    More listings.

    New York Press Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press:

    I've been a professional critic and journalist for 13 years now. During that time, I've probably watched thousands of contemporary theatrical films and thousands more on tv or home video.... I've read god knows how many books on film history and theory. I've also made features, an experience that has required me to learn a variety of technical skills... I wish I could say this combination of experience and enrichment brought me closer to understanding what makes a movie great as opposed to good, or enabled me to more effectively persuade readers of a certain movie's merits, or improved my ability to predict which current releases will still be watched and discussed after I'm dead and buried. (That's what all those yearly critics' awards are: a charming attempt to jump-start historical consensus.)

    But the truth is, I'm no closer to those goals than I was 13 years ago.

    Even so, he's got a top ten list like everybody else, topped by Tim Burton's Big Fish. (Update: See comments below.)

    Also in the NYP: Armond White on Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's My Life on Ice, which "accomplishes storytelling so emotionally effective and formally daring that its direct-to-video release changes current rules of movie-watching."

    City Pages "Four City Pages film critics have assembled year-end Top 10s, and there isn't a single movie we can all agree on." Yes, it was that kind of year. Even so, as for #1's, two critics go for Love & Diane, two for Kill Bill.

    And of course, another reminder: "The speed of this medium is dizzying. I'm having to juggle dead kids, missing Negroes, Meg Ryan's lips, the Brooklyn starting times of Peter Pan, and scores more e-mails about all the subjects (and movies) we're failing to address." Yes, they're having a grand ol' time in Slate's "Movie Club." Also: Mimi Swartz writes that 50s-era Hollywood gave women two options, two ways of responding to growing older. In the 80s came a third; now, with Something's Gotta Give and Calendar Girls, there's a welcome fourth.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:28 AM | Comments (4)

    Shorts, 1/7.

    Anita Mui

    A Better Tomorrow III

    "She was not the Madonna of Chinese music, but its Garbo." Richard Corliss remembers Anita Mui in Time Asia. With the finesse of a seasoned practioner of Timese, Corliss captures Mui's broad on-screen range in two mid-story paragraphs. Hats off.

    Chris Anderson writes a memo in Wired to the next head of the MPAA. "Subject: How Hollywood can avoid the fate of the music industry." Brief and plainly stated, its bullet points are bolded, all of them good common sense.

    I don't know how it happened, but at some point several months ago, I forgot to pay attention to Wired, and so, completely missed the whole Uma Thurman-Philip K. Dick cover package last month:

    At a time when most 20th-century science fiction writers seem hopelessly dated, Dick gives us a vision of the future that captures the feel of our time. He didn't really care about robots or space travel, though they sometimes turn up in his stories. He wrote about ordinary Joes caught in a web of corporate domination and ubiquitous electronic media, of memory implants and mood dispensers and counterfeit worlds.

    Besides the background stories to Minority Report, Total Recall, Blade Runner, and of course, Paycheck, the news hook, I also learned from Frank Rose that Uma is the daughter of Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman. Did not know that. Then there's the excellent sidebar on Dick's philosophy by Erik Davis.

    "[Aileen] Wuornos is this year's Brandon Teena - the strange and pathetic media darling (as Teena was in the late '90s with Boys Don't Cry and The Brandon Teena Story) whose scarred life and grisly death, like that of transgendered Teena, is a source of eerie fascination." In indieWIRE, Nick Poppy introduces his long interview with Nick Broomfield, whose latest doc is Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. The Boys counterpart this year is Monster, reviewed in the Village Voice by Laura Sinagra, who also has a piece on Broomfield and Aileen, which is, in turn, reviewed by Jessica Winter. Got that?

    Also in the Voice:

  • Anthony Kaufman on how the screener ban court case has solidified a sense of identity and community among independent filmmakers.
  • Elliott Stein on the Victor Sjöström retrospective at MoMA.
  • Michael Atkinson on The Battle of Algiers.
  • And Joy Press: "With Sex and the City on its last legs (see review) and the media salivating over all things queer-eyed, The L Word straddles the zeitgeist."
  • "If you've watched a recent horror film, chances are you're under the influence of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa." This isn't just a cute opener for a piece on the release of Cure on DVD. Johnny Ray Huston backs up the assertion solidly in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Also: Dennis Harvey on Amos Poe's documentary on Steve Earle, Just an American Boy, and David Fear previews the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival.

    In the Guardian, Xan Brooks explains why so many Hollywood productions - 8 are blurbed - are being shot in the UK these days - driving British filmmakers, in turn, to eastern Europe.

    Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane are on board for the film version of the Broadway version of the original film version of Mel Brooks's The Producers, reports Jesse McKinley in the New York Times. Also:

  • Sharon Waxman reports on Victoria Riskin's resignation as prez of the Writers Guild of America, West.
  • Elvis Mitchell reviews two films on Yves Saint Laurent (so does Leslie Camhi in the Voice).
  • Julie Salamon talks to legendary doc filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who's directed a play in Paris, filmed it and then brought the English version to an Off Broadway theater.
  • Bush in 30 Seconds

    Charles Taylor reviews the 15 finalists in MoveOn's "Bush in 30 Seconds" ad campaign contest:

    For all the Republican ire any of these spots would raise if they made their way onto TV, the Democrats would be unwise to ignore their effectiveness. If the candidates collectively, or the nominee after he is chosen in July, cannot match the bluntness of these ads, if he decides to take the high road (that is, wuss out), then the party is going to find itself alienating the very people who constitute one of the strongest forces that might gather to defeat Bush.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:25 AM

    January 5, 2004

    Stop making sense?

    Offoffoff.com Louis Menand in the New Yorker:

    Everyone acts superior to lists (so arbitrary and invidious!), but the act is a bluff. The fact of the matter is basic and ineluctable: we need these lists. The year would not be complete without them. The year would not make sense without them.

    So there. We are, all of us, excused. Of course, eventually, we're going to have to stop trying to make sense of 2003 and get on with 2004, but not... quite... just... yet. We need to note first that Slate's "Movie Club" has been called to order, that Joshua Tanzer has worked up a top ten for Offoffoff.com and Ed Champion's posted his.

    So, yes, we are still a bit list-giddy around here, probably because we've made one ourselves again. Rex Sorgatz, who's been so list-happy himself recently he's caught the attention USA Today and the New York Times, has slipped us in among far worthier company on his list of "30+ Best Blogs of 2003." Quite sincerely, half the fun is discovering other blogs we weren't aware of before. Language Hat, for example, where we find this entry:

    LANGUAGE IN MOVIES.

    Eve has a list of movies where languages and accents are done well and badly; she solicits suggestions for others. (I entirely agree with her complaint about the use of a British accent to signify "foreign.")

    The link is terrific, but the 50 comments or so that follow are an absolute blast.

    Of course, most assume that anyone who blogs about movies hopes to grow up to become a reviewer some day, but to hear the Chicago Tribune's amusing Allison Benedikt tell it, the life of a critic is little but forced or stifled laughter, pretensions to pop cultural illiteracy and very little camaraderie, evidently. On the other hand, when 55 of them get together, they can put together a pretty fine list.

    Welles: Stories of His Life Paula Marantz Cohen reviews Peter Conrad's Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life in the Times Literary Supplement:

    Conrad's hypothesis is that success and failure, confidence and self-doubt, genuine giftedness and unmitigated fakery were the contraries by which Welles, with some degree of self-consciousness, chose to define himself. This made his life his greatest masterpiece while assuring that his work would never reflect the wholeness and authority for which audiences might have wished.

    Read French? Gérard Depardieu talks to Le Point about his Catholicism, his friendship with Castro and why he prefers talking about sex to actually doing it. Via Perlentaucher.

    Online viewing tip, courtesy of our own Craig Phillips: the finalists of MoveOn.org's Bush in 30 Seconds ad contest. You can check out all the chosen ads online, and if you're in NYC, you can even attend the 1/12 awards show, featuring Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Moby, Chuck D, John Sayles and others.

    And finally, an online viewing question. Are you going to pay ten bucks to see the 2004 Sundance Online Film Festival?

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM | Comments (5)

    January 4, 2004

    "I'm taking part in American life."

    Via Long Pauses, a conversation between Lars von Trier and Paul Thomas Anderson:

    LVT: ... But the strange thing is, in my situation - which you cannot put yourself in - I know so much about America. Eighty percent of my media, the media I see, has to do with America, 80 percent of the paper has to do with America in some way or another, 80 percent of the television, can you imagine that?

    PTA: Isn't it that way in most of the world?

    Dogville

    Dogville

    LVT: Yes it is, but that puts me in a situation where America is a part of me also, whether I want it or not or whether you want it or not - it is a part of me. And that's why I'm completely entitled to say whatever I want, because I've heard more about America than I've heard about Denmark, for Christ's sake!

    PTA: Beautiful.

    And it's a wonderful chat. Among the other topics covered: Kubrick and Kidman, Dogville and Magnolia, which president has watched which of their films, actors and family and who to trust.

    With The Battle of Algiers set to open in a handful of cities on Friday, two writers now on opposite ends of the political spectrum warn against drawing parallels too closely between Algeria in 1956 and Iraq in 2004. Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens belligerently launches preemptive strikes at "pseudo-knowing piffle" from imaginary "armchair guerrillas," while Nation film critic Stuart Klawans, writing in the New York Times, holds his fire and instead suggests, far more reasonably, that the film's "lessons ought to be applied to other situations cautiously, precisely because of the film's principal strength: its deep roots in a specific time and place." And: "I would advise the planners to heed one of the movie's main lessons, which is that film is unreliable."

    Also in the NYT:

  • Motoko Rich on Kill Bill, The Last Samurai and Lost in Translation (before segueing into other titles): "It's not just the setting that unites these movies. They are the objects of heated debate, particularly among Asian-Americans and Japanese, about whether Hollywood's current depictions of Japan are racist, naïve, well-intentioned, accurate - or all of the above."

  • Lili Taylor tells Jennifer Senior, "If there was a kind of campaign financing for movies - if we were all given the same amount of money for our PR - I'd like to see which movies did well."

  • For Elvis Mitchell, 2003 was "one of the most gratifying years in recent memory for cinematography."

  • Nicole LaPorte chats over coffee with Shohreh Aghdashloo: "I praise Iranian filmmakers for what they do today. Making movies under heavy censorship is not an easy task. But I'm afraid I'm not satisfied with these shallow changes on the surface."
  • Sticking with House of Sand and Fog for a moment, Ray Pride interviews Ben Kingsley for Movie City News: "I think this film will probably stand like a great symphony. Nobody says to you, Mahler's Sixth, and you go, 'Oh no, I've heard that. I heard that last week. It's a good symphony!' You actually say, I'm going to see another performance."

    Laura Winters meets novelist Tracy Chevalier, director Peter Webber and Scarlett Johansson for piece on Girl With a Pearl Earring in the Washington Post.

    Online viewing tip: 10 ads America won't see, gathered by AdAge. Just one of its collections of top tens, which include the 10 most-watched videos at the site. Mac users having trouble with "mms": Copy and paste the "Play Video" links into your Windows Media Player.

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:29 AM

    January 2, 2004

    Lists and shorts, 1/2.

    San Francisco Bay Guardian Even after the Voice's exhaustive poll, the San Francisco Bay Guardian's year-in-film issue is a mightily impressive reminder of just how strong film coverage in SF's one truly independent alt.weekly actually is. Yes, the Voice is still the nation's biggest and they do know how to sort numbers, but for rich depth and eclectic breadth, the SFBG may well have it walloped this year:

  • Johnny Ray Huston knocks down three of the year's sacred cows - Mystic River, Irréversible and Capturing the Friedmans - and then kicks 'em around. His list: "best as-yet-undistributed films seen in 2003."

  • "Whoever said 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard' might've had awards season in mind," writes Dennis Harvey, who then honors comic performances that "struck me as more memorable and skilled than all those involving heavy crying, drug abuse, tragic child loss, and/or Japanese tourism." His list: A straight-up best-of topped by Spider.

  • This year, someone at every publication's gotta do the docs, and at the SFBG, it's David Fear, who then triple-crowns the obligatory piece with lists: "best baker's dozen" (topped by demonlover), "five for fighting (for): The ones that got away... or never even made it here," and "crème de la crap" (you can pretty much guess the top of that list).

  • Susan Gerhard introduces her "favorite fictions" and her #1: "As I found with Lost in Translation - which moved from one of my top films of the year to one of my favorite films of all time when I heard the news about Sofia Coppola's marital situation - the very best way to tell the truth is to simply call it a lie." On that very same page is "B Ruby Rich's top 12 (in alphabetical order)."

  • Millennium Actress tops Patrick Macias's 10, introduced by a terrific piece on our whole Japan thing this year: "Of the bunch, Kill Bill did the best job of conjuring up the feeling of actually being there."

  • "If you didn't bother with any of the films riding the new wave of Asian-imported horror (such as The Eye), or at least pick up a copy of the new two-disc version of The Hills Have Eyes, your year in horror was pretty bleak," writes Cheryl Eddy. Her list: "random thoughts on 2003," headed up by "Most surprising, in a bad way: Hulk (Ang Lee) and The Matrix Reloaded (Wachowski brothers)."

  • Kimberly Chun asks, "When did girl power go so bad? How did female bonding get so toxic? Who put the testosterone in the cosmos? Who let the bitches out?" Her top ten's in alphabetical order.

  • But wait, there's more! A long string of thought-provoking comments from "San Francisco filmmakers and -breakers," including Craig Baldwin, Sam Green, Joel Shepard and fistfuls of others on an eventful year.
  • Austin Chronicle The Austin Chronicle's lists pale by comparison, but comparison would hardly be fair. For one thing the current lists issue is spread out over all departments, and for another, there are, after all, only three full-time reviewers on hand to poll. The intro's brief and Marjorie Baumgarten does the honors: "Though not in agreement regarding their order of ranking, Lost in Translation, American Splendor, and Capturing the Friedmans were the only films that all three Chronicle reviewers placed somewhere on their individual Top 10 lists." Each gets to add to those, too, by noting "near misses" and most overrated and underrated films of the year. Austin's undoubtedly had a great year, but to read Marc Savlov's celebration of it, you can't help but cringe a little if you love Austin as I do and wonder if a few hits and fun times aren't going to the city's collective head. In another corner, Courtney Fitzgerald dedicates the issue's "DVD Watch" column to Bill Murray.

    Slate Not to be outdone by anyone, David Edelstein's got 34 movies on his list, but fortunately, that's not really the point. He does toodle along entertainly for several paragraphs, hitting the highlights of his choices, but it's actually all for the sake of laying the groundwork for Slate's "Movie Club" which will we'll be able to listen in on starting Monday. This year's members, besides Club Prez Edelstein, will be Manohla Dargis, Sarah Kerr, AO Scott and J. Hoberman. The highlight of this agenda-setter, though, is Edelstein's Field of Dead Poets Award, his explanation its origins and his choice of this year's winner, The Last Samurai, all the way up to the punchline, "Folks, movies can whip you up to root for anything." Now that's good stuff.

    Speaking of which, two noteworthy moments of writers' praise for other writers. I've only just now run across this month-old entry from Rick McGinnis at his on-again, off-again movieblog. It's a fan letter, McGinnis says so himself, and it's rather remarkable if for nothing other than the confession tucked away in the mini-autobiography that's part and parcel of the appreciation - the bit about what he envies in all movie writers he loves reading. And the one he's actually writing about is Movie Poop Shoot's DK Holm who writes not one but two columns, "DVD Diatribe" and "Nocturnal Admissions," which happens to be a "Best and Worst of 2003" list at the moment. And Holm does soar as he snatches the scalp of Daniel Mendelsohn not only for just plain not getting Kill Bill but also for making such a show of it in the New York Review of Books.

    The second noteworthy moment: Doug Cummings unabashedly and quite justifiably plugging Robin Wood and his magazine, CineAction.

    And yet more lists: Shroomy unveils his at Milk Plus and Matt Langdon's garnished his with tempting book and music choices as well.

    For relief from all the numbering, though, there's this marvelously meta exercise in Flak: "The Highs (and Lows) of the New York Times Highs (and Lows) of 2003 list."

    More unnumbered reminiscences of 2003: Howard Feinstein in indieWIRE on the foreign and homegrown indies of the year - "Let's face it: The imports are generally more mature than their American counterparts" - and Wendy Mitchell recalls New York's best film parties - "Our judging criteria included crowd, drinks, food, music, space, and overall vibe. Oh yes, and we had to be invited. Or at least be brave enough to crash." Nice work if you can get it.

    The year ended with a sudden merciless swing of the Grim Reaper's scythe: Anita Mui, Hope Lange and John Gregory Dunne.

    Moving on to the non-retrospective shorts... Ouch: Gary Indiana on Errol Morris in Artforum: "[H]e has a definite flair for turning humans into talking sea cucumbers obsessed with philosophical or historical matters clearly beyond their intelligence. That they also seem beyond the director's intelligence accounts for the quirky hilarity that rescues much of Morris's work from being taken seriously."

    Apple's pushing Final Cut Pro and more with Joe Cellini's interviews with legendary editor Walter Murch and John Lowry, CEO of Lowry Digital Images. We wouldn't normally link to ads, but the Murch interview is wonderful and just look at that entire wall of G5s behind Lowry.

    And wrapping for now, in the LA Weekly, Jay Babcock talks with the absolutely remarkable Alexandro Jodorowsky.

    Posted by dwhudson at 5:54 AM | Comments (3)