September 29, 2005

New York Dispatch. 4.

NYFF 05 In his fourth NYFF dispatch, David D'Arcy recommends a double feature of sorts: Through the Forest and the exhibition The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Through the Forest Through the Forest, by Jean-Paul Civeyrac of France at the New York Film Festival, takes on the near-impossible. Civeyrac wants to tell a story of a young woman who suddenly loses her boyfriend in a motorcycle accident, but can't lose her sense of loss. Time doesn't heal much - it just makes the heart grow fonder. Armelle's longing is inside of her, as is her imagining of their time together, as is her imagining his eventual return. Try putting that on the surface, on the screen - that's the challenge of making a film about it. Not quite as hard as bringing back the dead, not really so different. After all, what is film but wish-fulfillment.

There are some precedents for what Civeyrac is attempting that came long before movies. The classic play, Phædra, by Jean Racine, is the adaptation of a Greek tragedy by Euripides, in which a queen breaks with all decorum and confesses her desire for a young huntsman, the son of her husband. Even more dramatic is her confession of shame that she even has these feelings and can't control them. Majesty, for a woman of that time, is all about bearing, after all. Funny, the object of her desire happens to be named Hippolytus. (Hippolite is the name of a young man who resembles the dead Renaud, whom Armelle thinks is a vessel for Renaud's return.)

If this all sounds complicated, it is, though it isn't when you're watching it. Civeyrac has divided the story into ten spare chapters or scenes, each of which seems to be a single take, about six minutes long. He's going for something classic here, with his characters dressed mostly in white, and with graceful reduced movements, in interiors and exteriors that give you white-grey gradations of the same palette of lifeless urban infinity. If the camera weren't creating drama in its movements, you might be fooled into thinking this was a stage play. To repeat the cliché of clichés, the actors' movements are choreographed. They have to be. Each of the ten takes seems to be one shot. Elegant understates the effect. It's so elegant in the service of the drama that you can forget that you're watching a technical tour de force.

Armelle's sisters, with odd names like Berenice and Roxanne that call Molière and other classic dramatists to mind, represent the two poles of response to her mission. They could be characters in a philosophical dialogue (which is indeed what they are) - one scorns anything spiritual and scolds Armelle for continuing her pursuit of a dead man's spirit. The other doesn't say what she believes about spirituality, but consoles her bereaved sister. Is a sister's duty in this case to feeling or to truth?

Through the Forest Civeyrac doesn't seem to believe in the realm of the spiritual but in our need for it, so you never think that he's taking us into the spiritual; since his film seems to reject the possibility that film can ever get there - whether people can is another question, perhaps one that can't be answered by a film. But Through the Forest follows what we can see in Armelle as she searches - in dreams, in solemn meetings with mediums, on the street, where she encounters Hippolite.

The film opens as Armelle rises nude from their bed, talking to Renaud, singing to him (draped in a gauzy shawl that she'll pick up later when she's trying to contact him), talking inanely about her hair as she speaks of her love for him, as unaware as could be of anything profane. Love, after all, is the ultimate fool's paradise. Here it's a paradise of soft flesh.

The light and the tone of the characters get colder with Renaud's loss and the camera retreats from the body - no surprise, as the camera only gets near in head shots. In dreams, the camera approaches again, and Armelle's body fuses with that of Renaud/Hippolite in a warm reddish light. (We've seen that fusion in the work of Edvard Munch. He was dealing with a dream world, and that's where Armelle is. That's where we leave her.)

There's an accomplished balance of emotion and restraint here, a limited, almost morbid palette that still accommodates a range of feelings, and a grace of movement that's extraordinary. Since the spiritual world is impenetrable except in dreams (and yearnings, which is what dreams are), Civeyrac seems to be saying that film is one way of getting close to it, or watching a character try.

The Perfect Medium Is it sheer coincidence that Through the Forest is playing at the New York Film Festival just as The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult is opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? No one who believes in the occult is likely to believe in coincidences, but this is an opportune moment, whatever brought it about. Anyone interested in film, and in Civeyrac's film, should go see this exhibition. Many of the pictures have never been seen before in this country, and they weren't seen before the exhibition opened in Paris earlier this year. The images were chosen by Pierre Apraxine, one of the great photography collectors and curators working today.

The Perfect Medium was in Paris through the summer. Perhaps Civeyrac saw it there. According to attendance figures, just about everybody else in Paris did. Most of the photographs were taken between the 1870s and the outbreak of World War I, and they depict ghosts, life-forces in the form of white ectoplasm exiting normal people, vital fluids and levitated objects.   Photography was seen as a new medium in those days, even in the 1910s, and the realm of the occult gave it a chance to prove itself. In its verisimilitude, it could give a nuts-and-bolts reality to a realm that previous picture-makers only imagined. And because it looked so much like reality, it could fool you into believing that something absolutely preposterous was plausible. It still can. Think of the aerial photographs of Saddam Hussein's "nuclear" installations.

Seen today, theses glimpses into the beyond at the Met, sometimes graceful, can look as awkward as the once-fashionable beliefs of an era that have long since been discredited. It's almost pre-cinema, as if the scenes being depicted were begging for movement. Or would movement have ruined it all, exposing the crude seams of a staged drama, imposing disbelief? If seamless is the right word for Through the Forest, then crude may be the word for these photographs, seen through our eyes. The inner truth being sought here is more mechanical than spiritual - how do the life-forces work, what's the bone structure inside a hand, how does a ghost walk through a room, how can photography bring you closer to any of this than painting or drawing. We're looking at trial and error here, and all sorts of errors are forgiven if you're headed into the uncharted beyond. We take the camera and sound of today's movies for granted. We praise the "simplicity" of Civeryrac's approach to cinema. Of course, his images would have been the ultimate special effects for the photographers of The Perfect Medium. But the impulses of the characters in the film to bring back the dead haven't changed. We're still haunted.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:34 AM | Comments (2)

Port Townsend Dispatch.

NP Thompson, who interviewed Chris Terrio for GreenCine this summer, looks back on the 6th Annual Port Townsend Film Festival, which ran from September 23 through 25. Among the many films highlighted here: Ballets Russes, Going Through Splat: The Life and Work of Stewart Stern and Life in a Box.

Ballets Russes When it was all over, when all was said, done (but not all seen) what we took home from the closing night of last weekend's Port Townsend Film Festival was this: Marc Platt's recipe for homemade vodka, the kind enjoyed, in proportions untold, by dancers in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In the Q&A that followed the West Coast premiere of Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine's documentary Ballets Russes, a festivalgoer asked the 91-year-old Platt how so many of the dancers from his era, given the physical demands of their profession, lived not just long lives, but active lives, continuing to teach ballet classes well into their 80s.

"You take the purest alcohol from the drugstore, from the chemist," began Platt, who also danced, I should mention, in a few Rita Hayworth musicals in the 1940s, "then add three or four drops of glycerin. Squeeze some fresh lemon, and leave the whole concoction in the icebox for five days. Then take it out, and, Wow!" It was an anecdote that Platt was asked to repeat more than once, as the courtly gentleman, leaning on a cane that he said he uses only to elicit sympathy, made his way from the stage, up the aisle, and out the doors of the Broughton Auditorium. A journalist who could not remember the word "glycerin" was the first to ask for an encore, and the recipe thus made its way around.

For the uninitiated, Port Townsend lies at the tip end of Quimper Peninsula, a crooked finger of land that itself offshoots from the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington state. Water surrounds Port Townsend on three sides, and in the distance, the mountain ranges of the Olympics and the Cascades encircle the water and everything else. The little metropolis boasts steep, dramatic cliffs (the better to view you from, my dear) and an abundance of Victorian architecture, holdovers from unfulfilled hopes of the 1880s that PT would one day bloom into the San Francisco of the North.

In the Indian summer of late September, the best show in town remains the sunlight glinting across the surface of the bay, the vast body of water that separates PT from Whidbey and Marrowstone Islands. Still, for a few days of nonstop intensity, there are movies to consider.

Ballets Russes was one of three exceptional films I caught, the other two being Jon Ward's Going Through Splat: The Life and Work of Stewart Stern and the shockingly good (shocking to me, anyway, as someone who doesn't listen to much country music) debut from Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Life in a Box, about the now defunct duo Y'all and their travels across America in a 20-ft trailer home.

I also endured a pair of notable bombs: the John Waters-narrated Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea and Lars Büchel's reprehensibly cute romance between a blind woman and a blind man, Peas at 5:30. More on these, and the reasons why I detested them, a bit later. Oh, and Debra Winger showed up, in body, if not exactly in spirit, as one of this year's special guests, along with her husband, the decidedly more present Arliss Howard. They brought with them a print of their 2001 collaboration, Big Bad Love. More, too, on this in a moment.

Ballets Russes But back to the Ballets. In retrieving home movie and other archival footage of dance performances from the 1930s and 40s, and weaving in and out of those images the lucid recollections of dancers, who look back on their former selves with clarity and humor, Geller and Goldfine have given us a film for the ages. Several of the dancers interviewed have since died: the filmmakers captured this lost world literally just in time.

Some favored moments: a fleeting clip of Leonid Massine's Rouge et Noir, with dancers clad in body stockings designed by Henri Matisse, that evokes silent Expressionist cinema; both the verbal eloquence of the Native American Maria Tallchief, reminiscing about Balanchine, as well as the sight of her in tiger print scarves; and an excerpt from Marc Platt's sit-up-and-take-notice jazz dance, in Tonight and Every Night, that makes you wonder why his agile hoofing never made him as famous as Gene Kelly. Just compare the red-haired Platt's facial expressions to those of the chorus girls in the reaction shots: Platt was easily the most alert and lived-in presence on screen. Although in his early 30s, he'd already been dancing professionally more than half his life, and the difference between how he conveyed experience versus the moon-June looks of the studio ingénues, you cannot fail to notice.

Marian Seldes, who for a brief time danced with the American Ballet Theatre, narrates the film, and nowhere are her aristocratic vowels and rapturously patrician tones better employed than in reading this quote from Agnes de Mille in 1933: "Seeing a Massine ballet had become one of the great erotic pleasures of the London summer, with fans unrestrainedly screaming, jumping up and down, beating the railing, and slathering at the mouth!"

The movie also touches on the London Ballet Wars of 1938, a time when Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo went opposite the Original Ballet Russe, and I thought - this is a world I could live in. It's a tonic to be confronted by an era when culture - real culture - mattered so much and was so vital that it was possible for rivals to flourish. The British ballerina Dame Alicia Markova tells how patrons would come to see Massine's company at Covent Garden, then walk a block to take in David Lichine's choreography at Drury Lane, and how patrons and sometimes dancers went from one to the other, near religiously, and came to know the two competing companies so well that someone, after a while, would be able to ask, "Oh, is so-and-so dancing this evening? People were learning the dancers' names, which," Markova adds with an endearingly wry smile, "is what should happen." After the Port Townsend and Vancouver festivals, Ballets Russes goes into limited release, beginning October 26 at New York's Film Forum.

Going Through Splat

Also headed from PT to Vancouver is Going Through Splat, Jon Ward's deeply moving tribute to the screenwriter (and amazing raconteur) Stewart Stern. Like Ballets Russes, Going Through Splat immerses us in the chance to experience something of worlds gone by. There are powerful recollections by Stern of combat during World War II, fighting in and surviving the Battle of the Bulge. We also see Stern struggle with writer's block. "There are no rewards for avoidance," Stern said in accepting an Emmy for Sybil, yet his own terrors had grown too great for him to write another page. In the 60s, Stern wrote a couple of screenplays for Guy Green to film, but the studio (Fox) made neither of them, and Stern's descriptions of the slow, oncoming paralysis are scarily brilliant. Or as interviewee Dennis Hopper puts it: "What the fuck is the point of writing?" Stern, now 83, is best known for Rebel Without A Cause, but as Splat testifies, there's so much more to his story than Rebel. If you missed it last spring, here's my review of the film at the Siffblog.

My favorite film at this year's PTFF, however, was one that took me by complete surprise. Making his feature debut with Life in a Box, director Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer already shows signs of mastering shifts in tone and perspective. The movie, shot over the first eight months of 2001, manages to be at once intimate and distant, and that, I think, is partially what accounts for the woozy feeling I got from watching it. From 1992 to 2002, the thoughtful, soft-spoken Cheslik-DeMeyer was one half of the cross-dressing alt-country duo Y'all, the other half being James Dean Jay Byrd, an extroverted babbler. The film intermingles performance footage with a story of how a couple becomes a threesome, then back to a twosome, only not quite with the same two partners that started out. Steven and Jay take in Roger, whom Jay spies in the audience at one of their concerts and finds "hot." The three share a trailer for nearly two years, as Y'all tours America, still hoping for that big break that will land them a TV variety show of their own, to be called "Hey, Y'all!"

Life in a Box I don't know quite what it is - something strikes me as unbearably poignant about wanting to host a television variety series and not getting to. Jay and Steven had dreams of being the queer Sonny and Cher, and when you see them in front of a live audience, and the ease that they have singing and bantering with each other, you come away with the sense that these two could very well have pulled it off, if only some industry stick-in-the-mud had given them the greenlight.

In talking about their on-the-road ménage à trois, after relations have begun to strain, one of the men says that he's "sad if I stay, sad if I leave." That's what is so refreshingly grown-up about Life in a Box: the understanding that life presents us with a choice that too often is no choice at all.

Then there's the music, which is note perfect. The harmonies are exquisite, the bluegrass rhythms utterly fetching. (And I'm neither a country music fan nor a folkie: my CD collection consists mainly of chamber music and 50s jazz.) Cheslik-DeMeyer has a beautiful tenor voice; he sounds something like a reedier, more ethereal John Denver. It's a voice that's imbued with tender strength and delicate tones that imply some unnamable Appalachia magic. The movie captures the feeling of singing - it gives your thoracic cavity such a buzz, it's as if you had sung along.

Neither Life in a Box nor Going Through Splat yet has a theatrical distributor - a huge oversight that needs correcting.

The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico

Country music, or a version of it, courses through Michael Mabbott's The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, the one new narrative film at the festival that I could come close to embracing. In the same vein as, yet much funnier than, Christopher Guest's mockumentaries, Terrifico features a great, physical performance by Matt Murphy in the title role. Murphy, seen through the haze of washed-out colors (it's supposed to be the early 1970s), makes pratfalls seem incomprehensibly fresh. Present-day witnesses, such as Kris Kristofferson, recall the rise and mysterious demise of a singer-songwriter whose talents were pretty much for drugs and alcohol. Mabbott and company skewer every cliché in sight, be it of documentary form or the music industry. The editing of the witnesses' recounts, especially in the beginning, creates such astutely funny contrasts as "He was an angel" segued into "He was a fuckin' a-hole!" Some of the song lyrics are priceless ("The blood within his eyes was like a curse... he had a face like Bobby Dylan's, only worse") and Merle Haggard, playing himself, is a deadpan delight. After a hilarious first half, the movie runs out of ideas in the second. The same gags are repeated, and by the end, I felt kind of imprisoned by them.

My Brother's Summer

There was much I liked in the Italian film My Brother's Summer, which played earlier this year at Tribeca. Luca Coassin's cinematography presents the beauty of the countryside near Verona without a trace of vista envy. The lighting and compositions are simple, forthright. In the leading role, as the 9-year-old Sergio, Davide Veronese makes a superb debut. Both he and the filmmaker, Pietro Reggiani, succeed in opening the interior world of a child's imagination onto the screen in a naturalistic way. The classical music on the soundtrack - Mozart, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn - was ideal for an oppressively sunny Sunday afternoon. The final third of the movie, when Sergio must atone for "killing" his imaginary kid brother, doesn't work. Reggiani presents images of child murders with a sort of flat whimsicality to the staging. In particular, the outdoor shot of Sergio in a bathtub, seated calmly as the blood from his slashed wrists infiltrates the bath water, while the kid brother looks on in impassive approval, struck me as a disingenuous means to render the sick as palatable for a sherry-sipping art-house audience. I was less offended by the child murder imagery in Sean Penn's The Pledge. Penn gave horror its due. For Reggiani, it's just another summer idyll, as in the fantasy shots of the kids walking on the moon in their astronaut suits.

The Port Townsend Film Festival lasts only three days, a schedule that necessitates tough choices. I just couldn't be in three or four places at once and so I didn't see Continuous Journey, the documentary about South Asian immigrants in Canada, circa 1914. Nor did The Devil's Miner, which won the festival prize for best documentary feature, show up on my itinerary. Because I sat through a couple of bad films, that meant no eavesdropping on the panels, including one led by the ever-charming Warren Etheredge of The Warren Report. Watching My Brother's Summer, I thought it an apt cinematic analogy for the PTFF. Instead of imagining the brother you never had, you do a lot of wondering about the movies you missed, much more so than at a big festival where movie-burnout comes easy.

One event I was glad to catch was the broadcast of West Coast Live, the independently produced public radio series that, for the second year, brought their show to the festival. Once again in the Upstage, a cozy, split-level space that has exposed brick on all sides and a single strand of multicolored Christmas bulbs strung year-round along the back wall, Sedge Thomson, possibly the savviest of radio interviewers, held court both with PT personalities and with Debra Winger. Winger sported a tiara that a local had made for her and given to her at the Upstage that morning. (There was more than a bit of hometown pride at stake: Winger had last visited PT in 1981, when shooting an obscure little picture called An Officer and a Gentleman.) She and Arliss Howard spoke at length about Big Bad Love, their adaptation of Larry Brown short stories, which was to screen that evening. Sedge asked if the couple were planning to produce any new screenplays. Howard: "You have to go back to the ancient Greeks to find authors who write about women as forces of nature." Winger: "That's his way of telling you why it's been so long since we've worked."

PTFF 05

Personally, I thought that the locals were the more interesting interviewees. There was Andrew Shields, guest piano man and a doctor of nuclear medicine based in PT. "I make people radioactive," he said, by way of explaining his practice, "and then I take pictures of the glow coming out." In a community where raw foods deli cases are the norm, the doctor's pronouncement didn't sound all that odd to me. The painter Linda Okazaki, who designed the poster art for this year's festival, first came to town "to help some friends building a pirate boat to sail to Tahiti," and naturally, she stayed in PT for 25 years. She created this image: a picture within a picture within a picture, featuring the plush red velvet seating of the historic Rose Theatre in the fore and middle grounds, with a distant screen of Garbo in black and white. Okazaki told Sedge that her design represents, "That feeling you get when you've just been to The Devil's Miner, and you come out stunned. The movie functions as an extension of our consciousness - you become a different person while watching. Walking into a movie, taking it in, and taking something away with you."

Winger came off as somewhat more thoughtful later that night, at the post-Big Bad Love Q&A. Asked what makes a film a success, she shot off, "So much falls to the inhale and exhale of the zeitgeist, and you can't really know it." The only directors of hers she praised were Attenborough and Bertolucci. Who influenced her? "They're all men, I can tell you that." She didn't think of women when she was acting. Winger wanted to immerse herself, a la early De Niro, and the actresses she had a fondness for - Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball - didn't do that.

Of working with Kubrick on Full Metal Jacket, Arliss Howard related this: that Kubrick said to him at the end of the shoot, "You're gonna miss me. You'll have directors who'll say, 'We got it,' and you know they didn't." The maverick filmmaker also shared this with the then-young actor: "The time to ask questions isn't between 'Action!' and 'Cut!'"

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea No film festival would be complete without a few bombs. I think I'll just skip over The Liberace of Baghdad, because it had two or three illuminating moments. The honor of being the worst film that I saw goes to the documentary Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, which strikes me as the easiest kind of bad movie to make. First, find a bunch of kooks. In this case, the chain-smoking alcoholic losers, who stayed behind at an ecological disaster that turned their community into a dump, will function nicely. Second, turn the camera on them as they confess to all manner of insanity. "It's rather bleak," offers the town's lone real estate agent, "We don't have anything here." Third, hire someone smug and smarmy to provide condescending voice-over narration. John Waters? Check! And fourth, hire Friends of Dean Martinez to perform an insulting score that further mocks all the poor benighted schmoes on screen.

Peas at 5:30 Peas at 5:30, at least, has Judith Kaufmann's cinematography going for it. Chrome silver circles undulate across the opening credits and, in an especially vivid image, an outheld hand receives spattering water. The director, Lars Büchel, makes the most of water imagery in the first few moments: a splash from a shallow pool, heavy rain, a woman high-diving into an Olympic-sized swimming pool while, crosscut, a man, losing control of his car as he gropes for a cigarette lighter, plunges off an embankment and into the sea. It's a dazzling beginning, with shots of women in satiny black costumes with angel wings, rippling shadows of pool waves on the walls, and minimal orchestral strings that insert pearl drop piano plinks every so often for watery effect.

Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes, the film itself takes a nosedive into the abyss of studied quirkiness. It settles into a comedy of unfunny slapstick in which a newly blind man tries to escape a blind-from-birth woman, and her uncannily persistent efforts at stalking him. Büchel can't discern between an amusing sight gag and a hateful one. Much of Peas' so-called humor makes the heroine's initially sensible, good-guy fiancé into the butt of dumb jokes, a convenient villain for the movie's latent hostility. A failed suicide attempt that begins with a shuddering fall from a skyscraper and ends in a plate of strawberry shortcake, nonetheless, shows wit and promise, one that's never lived up to.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:14 AM

September 28, 2005

Shorts, 9/28.

Cinematheque: Renoir The AP reports on the reopening of the Cinémathèque Français in its new, Frank Gehry-designed building. In attendance: Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Wong Kar-wai and Sophie Renoir.

Chris Tilly interviews Thelma Schoonmaker who is, even now, as you read this, editing Scorsese's The Departed. On her late husband, Michael Powell: "I think Michael, along with many of the filmmakers of his own age, like Renoir in France or Rossellini in Italy, had this profound belief in human beings, that's a little hard to have these days." On how Scorsese's hoping to follow The Departed: "A movie called Silence, which is based on a great Japanese novel about 16th century Portuguese missionaries in Japan. It's something very close to Scorsese's heart - he's wanted to make it for many years but he's never really had the time to write the script and get it funded." Via Martha Fischer at Cinematical.

And so's this: An item based on Bob Pool's report in the Los Angeles Times on why many local homeless people are pretty upset with the production of Richard Kelly's Southland Tales. The crew created a fake encampment, populated it with actors portraying homeless people - and had the police shoo away real homeless people who were hoping to pick up whatever the cast and crew left behind once the day was done. As Martha remarks: "Nice."

It's not often that a film blog can point to a genuine scandal, but Xeni Jardin's found a good one at Boing Boing. Seems producer Joseph M Medawar took $5.5 million from over 70 investors for a TV series to be called DHS - one he claimed was backed by President Bush - and then basically went on a private spending spree. First round of reports: BBC and Greg Krikorian and Christine Hanley's for the Los Angeles Times. Then Xeni Jardin follows up with much, much more.

The Children of Leningradsky

Lee Siegel for the New Republic: "Cinemax's The Children of Leningradsky is a public - and political - service, despite the fact that the film is yet another documentary about yet another pathology in Russian life. A decade or two from now, countless reports about some catastrophic development in Russia will provoke people into demanding to know why 'we didn't see it coming.' The seeds of what might be coming are right here, in this raw 35-minute film." HBO's site has the schedule.

Hendrik Hertzberg is rattled by Last Best Chance: "It has no sex scenes, no car chases, and no wisecracking sidekicks, and it is only forty-five minutes long, but it lays out a frighteningly plausible narrative of how terrorists might buy or steal the makings of a nuclear bomb, assemble one, smuggle it halfway around the world, and send it on its way to an American city in an SUV." A must-read. Also in the New Yorker, Eric Konigsberg watches Peter Falk return to Ossining, New York, on the occasion of the inauguration of Peter Falk Place and Anthony Lane on Oliver Twist. In short, the book was better. (Ok, that's hardly fair, but I still want to see this one, and dammit, my hopes will remain high.)

"The verdict was less entertaining than lunch." Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter tells his side of the story of the magazine's little summertime legal run-in with Polanski.

Ben Smith was in on an exclusive screening for the New York Observer: "As The War Room provided a template for future campaigns (not least in how the staff should act in front of cameras), Inside the Bubble comes as Democrats are looking to avoid repeating their mistakes... though its intentions aren't particularly political, will widen the debate over Mr Kerry's future." Cinematical's Karina Longworth's found clips.

Steven Rosen brings back a piece of his the Denver Post ran back in 1998, a talk with DA Pennebaker about his footage of Dylan's historic May 17, 1966, concert in Manchester.

Nanook of the North The "decades-old debate about the methods of a man who has been called the father of the documentary, whose films are masterpieces, and yet whose realities were admittedly assisted" fades pretty quickly when you're watching Nanook of the North "magnificently projected in 35mm and accompanied by a live performance of a new musical score," notes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Via Movie City News.

And at MCN, Pablo Villaça examines the hurdles facing Brazilian filmmakers.

Jonathan Bing in Wired: "[T]he Kongisking journals are more than a mere tease. They have blossomed into a real-time documentary about the making of King Kong, the world's first comprehensive, downloadable study of how a $175 million movie gets made, down to the last fleck of modeling clay."

Judd Apatow's in North Carolina, shooting a movie with Will Ferrell. And keeping a diary in Slate: "Tomorrow we are shooting, so at least I get to sit in my producer's chair all day and tell everyone what they are doing wrong while I eat a vegetable burrito and read the New York Times and complain about Bush." Also: Edward Jay Epstein on the "War for the Couch Potato."

The Squid and the Whale Jessica Winter meets Noah Baumbach and J Hoberman reviews his film, The Squid and the Whale: "Tender, cruel, and very funny, Baumbach's fourth feature turns family history into a sort of urban myth." Wrapping the package (though the reviews seem to be getting shorter and shorter, the Village Voice can still do packages), Rob Nelson sketches a brief bio of Georgia Brown, Baumbach's mother and once a Voice regular: "Among other, more ineffable things, Brown's work was about living with movies the way others live with people - or, perhaps, with addictions." Related: Corey Boutilier has video shot on opening night at independentfilm.com.

Also:

Patrick Goldstein slams Sony Pictures long and hard - and rightly so, it should be added - for backing away from Albert Brooks's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Times also gives him the time and space to talk to Brooks himself about the film, too.

Also:

Mon Oncle Tilda Swinton's been screening films for her kids in a modest room back at her place in Scotland. "It's so great, seeing them experience things for the first time," she tells Miles Fielder in the local Herald. "I showed them La Belle et la Bete the other day. I showed them Chaplin's The Kid, and they really found it funny. And they love Jacques Tati." Via Movie City Indie where, just next door at Pride, Unprejudiced, Ray Pride interviews Andrew Niccol.

Defamer points to a little item that reveals a little more than you might want to know about the methods David Cronenberg employs when directing sex scenes. Related: G Noel Gross's "Schlockcast" on Fox's spiffed-up re-release of The Fly and The Fly II and roundup of related links.

Bill Daniel's Who Is Bozo Texino? has Johnny Ray Huston retracing the parallel development of railroads and the cinema and recommending you catch this one if you can. Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Cheryl Eddy matches the fears aroused by Flightplan and Keane and Dennis Harvey previews the Castro Theatre's "Dual System 3-D Series": "[T]oday nothing quite puts the way-back machine into overdrive like seeing a vintage stereoscopic title."

Grady Hendrix, who knows what's hot in Asia: "Director Lee Myung-se's latest movie, The Duelist, is a whirl of movement, a ballet of bloodshed and a candy-colored carnival of clashing characters but it is most definitely not an action movie: it's a romance."

Brides of Dracula It's certainly not too early to start thinking about lining up a home viewing program for the Halloween season, which might as well be all of October as far as I'm concerned. (Listen, if Christmas gets a whole month...) Sean Axmaker has a few suggestions at Static Multimedia.

Speaking of nightmares (weren't we?), Looker shares a few he's had in movie theaters. And they weren't on the screen.

At PopMatters, Marco Lanzagorta revisits the work of Lucio Fulci, whose "sense of aesthetics was more concerned with the raw power of the cinematic image than with the coherence of the narrative."

Ciar Byrne lists "20 notorious video nasties." Also in the Independent: Rob Sharp meets Liv Ullmann.

DVD Talk does just that with Grover Crisp, the man at Sony in charge of restoring Peckinpah's Major Dundee.

At Twitch, Canfield asks Bill Paxton about The Greatest Game Ever Played.

SuicideGirls/Daniel Robert Epstein roundup: William Hurt, Anton Corbijn and Peter Sarsgaard.

In the New York Times:

William Burroughs Online viewing tip #1. "...thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams." DVblog: "An astonishing rendition by William Burroughs of his 'Thanksgiving Prayer' in a short video directed by Gus Van Sant, from the new multimedia section of the Reality Studio website, dedicated to all things Burroughs."

Online viewing tip #2. "How much riper could a country possibly be for pissed-off music?" asks historian Simon Schama in his scene-setting Dylan piece for the Guardian. How indeed. Chris Milk's video for Audioslave's "Doesn't Remind Me." Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #3. For Mutiny City News, trains a camera on Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Glazer, Mark Romanek and Stéphane Sednaoui.

Online viewing tip #4. CultureTV. Via at Federico Muelas at Eyebeam reBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:35 PM | Comments (2)

Fests, 9/28.

MCN: NYFF You'll definitely want to start with the New York Film Festival video diary (or is it an essay?) by Jamie Stuart at Mutiny City News. If you think twice, you'll realize how Stuart got such beautifully static shots under what must have been hectic conditions, but still. Then there's the wry narration, the just-right implementation of simple effects and the overall pitch-perfect tone. Bravo.

An all but random sampling of the NYFF reviews out there:

  • Filmbrain: "The Death of Mr Lazarescu is one of those fascinating hybrids - funny at one moment, horrifying at the next - and one of those films that you walk out of feeling positively drained. Let's just hope the right wing doesn't use the film as an argument against socialized medicine." Also: "Even with its flaws, Les Amants Réguliers is still essential viewing for any lover of cinema."

  • A New York Times roundup.

  • Cinematical's first week at the fest.

  • The IFC's Alison Willmore is still going strong.

  • More from Aaron Hillis at Premiere.

  • J Hoberman in the Village Voice on Through the Forest: "[Jean-Paul] Civeyrac's moody sixth feature combines genre movie thematics (and B movie frugality) with a bravura narrative structuralism—it's a deadpan romantic Ghost story unfolding, beyond time and space, over a series of 10 one-shot scenes."

46th Thessaloniki Festival Ray Pride has an update on the changes being rapidly implemented in Thessaloniki before the festival's run from November 18 through 27.

San Francisco Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond on San Francisco's Broken Promise, screening tomorrow at the San Francisco World Film Festival (through October 2): "The film provides a wonderful public service: It gives a solid primer on the immensely complicated story of a scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars - and does it in a way that's entertaining, understandable, and wrapped up in a 30-minute package."

For the Gothamist, Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei interview Terence Gray, founder of the New York Television Festival, opening tonight and running through October 3.

Brian Brooks has the lineup for the Chicago International Film Festival (October 6 through 20) at indieWIRE.

Movie City News has the list of honorees at the Hollywood Film Festival (October 18 through 24).

The AV Club's Noel Murray and Scott Tobias discuss the highs and lows of Toronto.

David Walsh's second Toronto roundup at WSWS focuses on the French offerings and interviews October 17, 1961 director Alain Tasma.

Jonny Leahan at iW on two docs at Toronto: "Thomas Allen Harris's Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela: A Son's Tribute to Unsung Heroes looks at a stepfather who tried to balance being a leading member of the African National Congress with his paternal duties, while Doug Block's 51 Birch Street explores a father's complicated relationship with his wife, his children, and a woman from his past."

Darren Hughes has begun "work on longer responses to some of the films I saw at TIFF": "Un Couple parfait is a kind of collision between the visions of Ingmar Bergman and Hou Hsiao-hsien: brutally incisive but always fascinated and tender."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:41 PM

"Call it ultranaturalism."

As Sundance winner Forty Shades of Blue begins to roll toward theaters, a second wave of praise rolls with it.

Forty Shades of Blue

  • AO Scott in the NYT: "Alan, who [director Ira] Sachs has said was based on his own father, is a great character - passionate, complicated, bursting with life. Those words also describe [Rip] Torn's performance."

  • The Reverse Shot team at indieWIRE. James Crawford: "[T]he most apt comparison for its even temper and tumble of unvarnished emotion lies across the ocean with French director Maurice Pialat"; Lauren Kaminsky: "[S]ingularly, quietly devastating"; Eric Hynes: "Credit Ira Sachs for giving Torn room to move, and for knowing that a professional supporting player and space-sharer would ultimately let his co-star, Dina Korzun, run off with the film."

Forty Shades of Blue

Posted by dwhudson at 12:54 PM

National Geek Day.

Lev Grossman has "chaperoned" a phone call between Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon for Time: "So you guys both have movies coming out on September 30th."

MirrorMask NG: "It will be National Geek Day." Which pretty much sets the theme of the longish talk that follows. And naturally, the Slashdotters are commenting up a storm.

Meantime, MirrorMask:

And in the Village Voice, Matt Singer: "Though richly allegorical, Serenity also works as a rousing and unabashedly manipulative adventure that never takes itself too seriously." John Campea's collected more reviews at the Movie Blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM

September 27, 2005

Don Adams, 1923 - 2005.

Don Adams
Before I ever saw a James Bond movie, I was well-versed in the cliches of secret agent skullduggery by the 60s TV classic Get Smart, starring comic Don Adams and with brilliant behind the scenes work by co-creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. But Adams did the heavy lifting in front of the camera, with a razor sharp sense of timing to pull off every "Would you believe...?" and "Sorry about that, Chief."

Stephen Cooke at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

Adams reveled in the show and its popularity, and particularly enjoyed writing and directing several episodes. Get Smart ran for five seasons and brought Adams wealth, awards, and worldwide fame. At the same time, he continued to achieve recognition as one of the funniest and most popular stand-up comedians of his generation.

Actor and son-in-law Jim Beaver.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:00 AM

Lost in Stagflation?

Clooney in Japan As Bruce Wallace reports in the Los Angeles Times, the days of Hollywood stars swinging by Japan to do a quick ad and pick up a million or two are fading fast. Among the possible reasons are global economic antsiness and an infatuation with all things Korean rather than Western. Marxy's comments, too, though, are well worth noting:

The international acclaim awarded to Japan's pop culture in the 90s gave Japanese youth consumers more pride about domestic output, but now combined with a lack of money to pull too much from all over the world, everything is pushing towards a more monotonous local orientation. Now I don't think the new lack of Western actors in ads will have an impact on Japanese tastes, but this and the rise of blatantly pro-Japan youth culture are cut from the same cloth. Japan is really into Japan at the moment - partly because they want to be, partly because they have to be.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM

September 26, 2005

New York Dispatch. 3.

NYFF 05 In his third NYFF dispatch, David D'Arcy sends his impressions of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Jestem and Bubble.

If you have the rare chance to talk to someone in the US (or at the New York Film Festival) about The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, you'll probably hear that Americans won't get it. I'm not so sure. The director has been quoted saying that his film has a "Rumanian slowness." I suppose that everybody has the right to be nationalistic about something, but that slowness could just as easily be associated with Fred Wiseman.

The Death of Mr Lazarescu

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is not a documentary, but it could have been one. A handheld camera watches an aging, affable engineer living alone on a pension that barely buys food for the pack of cats in his apartment. Dante Lazarescu stumbles from his bottle to his pills, vomiting. And this is just the beginning of this voyage into the middle of the night. He calls an ambulance and he waits. It's Saturday night.

A few more fits of vomiting and looks of despair from Dante Lazarescu's neighbors, and you get a sense of where Cristi Puiu's film is going when the ambulance arrives and the attendant smells alcohol on his breath. Isn't the whole thing his own fault?

Eventually, as the camera hovers over the man, the kindhearted attendant, Mioara, sees that he's a sick man. As he limps off, held up by her, he pleads with his neighbor to feed his cats. You know that won't happen. Over the course of the night, Mioara will labor to convince any of the doctors examining him that Lazarescu needs something more than a lecture, a good night's sleep and some time away from the booze. She and the ambulance shuttle him from hospital to hospital - at each of them, the doctors try to send him somewhere else. Sound familiar? It reminded me of a trip to King's County Hospital in Brooklyn on a Sunday night twenty years ago. Bucharest has fewer guns.

Obviously, this isn't America. It's one of Cristi Puiu's planned Six Stories from the Bucharest Suburbs, this one seen for the most part from a stretcher. It has a tactile handheld realism to it, but it's also a parable. Here is a man (a mute everyman) in his greatest need, expressing that need as his consciousness slips into delirium. On his journey, he's treated with neglect, indifference, humor (from a wickedly nasty neurosurgeon impatient for coffee) and even with compassion from the ambulance attendant who never deserts him. As you might have guessed, she falls short of becoming the Beatrice who'll take Dante to paradise.

The Death of Mr Lazarescu Over more than two hours, we see that suffering is far from ennobling for the people who witness it or treat it. The camera watches it all, with an inertia that we know from Fred Wiseman. Or is its blank stare the ghoulishness that affixes your eyes to a bloody car accident? Take your pick. You can also pick your literary allusions - Celine, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (with the characters' deeply ordinary observations on it all), Charon Crossing the Styx, Tolstoy.

Puiu is no delicate aesthete. You almost need rubber gloves to watch this film. The press corps came out of the screening that I saw with jaws dropped. I must admit that I was expecting a more troubling experience, one with less dignity and far less humor. I was also expecting a far grimmer picture of hospitals in Rumania. Having spent lots of time in Eastern Europe, I was struck by how clean these environments were on screen. Somehow, I wonder. In any case, I now can't wait for more stories from Puiu. There's something of Balzac here, in the vividness and the emotion.

Mr. Lazarescu will be a tough sell. God, that's an understatement, even though the marketing department seems to have signed off on the series title, Six Stories from the Bucharest Suburbs. Is that why the director didn't come to New York? I'm rooting for the Oscar for Best Actor nomination that I hope against hope will go to Ion Fiscuteanu, who just lies on a stretcher and fades for the last 90 minutes. Now that is a performance. Assuming that there's justice in the world - an assumption that this film does its best to undermine - Best Actress, of course, should go to Luminita Gheorghiu, the humane ambulance attendant. You heard it here.

Jestem Another Eastern European triumph at the NYFF (and lots of other festivals) is Jestem (I Am), the luminous film by Dorota Kedzierzawska. It's an old story, an orphan's tale, and this tough-faced orphaned boy is so abandoned that we never learn his name, only a disparaging nickname, Mongrel. We watch as he's scorned by his peers at school, and spurned by his drunken mother who doesn't seem to turn away any of the men who want to sleep with her. When she falls into a stupor - she seems to have conceived her son in the same state of mind - he bites her. She deserves it. Perhaps he deserves the name, too.

Mongrel is also admired enviously by the lonely young sisters who watch him from the shelter of their shoreline house near an old barge where the boy seeks shelter.

Much of Jestem is silent. The camera tells the story here, reminding us why Polish cinematographers are so respected. The camera gives the film its drama and its dreaminess. The young boy moves through the stoney town where he is despised for the sins of his mother, through woods of every autumnal color and toward a river with a gauzy haze that reminds you of Whistler. In the barge - lit by candles because he has nothing else to make light - there's an elegant warmth to the image, even though his cave is mired in scavenged food. It's anything but romantic.

During Jestem, I found myself thinking of Tideland, Terry Gilliam's new extravaganza, seen like this one through the eyes of a child. Gilliam poured on the bodily fluids, threw in a Jack-in-the-Box monster or two and tried hard to shock with corpses that just lay there making all the noises of decomposition in (what else?) a haunted house. It's sort of like a haunted house ride in an amusement park, based on the tawdriest assumptions about children.

I've read reviews that take issue with the way the perspective of a child is shown in Jestem. The assumption seems to be that children see the world in a particular way. I've never found that to be true (and I don't know two children who are exactly alike), but I certainly found a lot of truth in this story of vulnerability and survival. See the director's previous film, Crows. You'll know what I mean.

Perhaps the critics of Jestem's visual virtuosity faulted the sequences of the film that crept toward magic realism. If that's the case, then maybe Bubble is the film for them.

Bubble

All of 74 minutes, it's a triangle with an odd twist and an experiment in style with a tremendous precision. Both of those efforts work in Steven Soderbergh's new movie that was made with no stars and no money. Let's hope he sets an example here.

His story of shy, poor, inarticulate and mostly unattractive co-workers in a toy factory plays on petty jealousy and its monstrous effects. All it takes is the arrival of a pretty girl whose job is to paint smiles on the rubber dolls that are popped out of molds by the dozen. Her murder shakes things up.

From the first frame, I was struck by the look of the film. The images and the setting (an Appalachian town that kids grow up yearning to leave) seem drawn from the color photographs of William Eggleston. Eggleston's work is very much in the air in film circles now. He may be the one living photographer that filmmakers can actually name. Michael Almereyda's documentary, William Eggleston in the Real World, which played at the Toronto Film Festival, is now in theaters in the US. It's an admiring walk through Eggleston's practice of photography and its evolving reception among critics and museums. Eggleston's own film, Stranded in Shanghai, edited down from black and white footage that he shot in 1974, was also shown in Toronto.

Eggleston called his pictures "the war against the obvious." In Bubble, the Eggleston-ian palette is the obvious context for a drama that's anything but that. Watching the camera linger on detail after detail, I was struck by how the image can dictate the pace of a film, elongating time in the process. Watching as characters struggled to say anything, I thought of Aki Kaurismäki's films, such as Match Factory Girl and The Man Without a Past. I felt as if I was watching a Kaurismäki film in all its economy when the laconic Kyle stood mutely and removed dolls' heads, each with a distinctive pop, from a frame of molds.

Bubble Ultimately, Kaurismäki's characters are so iconized in their simplicity that verisimilitude ceases to matter, although he makes sure you don't lose your emotional attachment to them. Soderbergh also observes mute automatic behavior in factories and interrogation rooms. If Kaurismäki lyricises the ordinary without turning it into an aesthetic escape, Soderbergh freezes the setting into an Eggleston moment that seems to shape or constrain the action inside of it. The frame is refined; the story is still full of grit.

In Kaurismäki's films, the style almost predestines his characters to the conclusion of their story. It's no surprise. You never thought such glacial movement could reach an end in 70 minutes or so. In Bubble, Soderbergh is playing tricks. Like Hitchcock, he throws you a McGuffin, a real softball, and then he twists you past your expectations.

For the last few years, I've admired Soderbergh as a craftsman, and I've thought that he represents some of the best qualities that the industry that makes his big films can offer - competence, efficiency, precision, versatility. Bubble confirms all that, but it also shows that he doesn't need a fortune to do it well. As I said before, I hope other filmmakers are watching.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM

September 25, 2005

Dylan and shorts.

Yes, No Direction Home is "A Martin Scorsese Picture," but long before the auteur took the helm, the project was shaped by co-producer and Dylan manager Jeff Rosen, warns David Yaffe in Slate. And then there's David Greenberg's excellent, succinct piece on why the three decades of Dylan's career that follow the focal point of Direction now go all but ignored.

Highway 61 Revisited Mick Brown seems to have the most complete version of the film's making in the Telegraph. To say that opinions vary widely on the doc, though, would be an understatement:

  • For Larry Gross, writing at Movie City News, Direction is "not only the most overpowering film experience I've had at the [Toronto] festival, it's easily the strongest American feature film I've seen all year.... [I]ts centrality for comprehending Scorsese's whole enterprise will be beyond dispute."

  • Chris Morris in the LA CityBeat: "Scorsese, who invariably brings an acute intelligence to film editing, has crafted an extraordinary movie that is no mere air-kiss to its subject."

  • But for Steven Hart, writing in Salon, it "is, like the work of its subject, part fraud, part tease and part revelation, shot through with flashes of genius."

  • Devin McKinney for the American Prospect: "Is it too much to ask that an elaborate superstar retrospective like this be, in addition to a treasure trove of rare sights and sounds, at least an attempt at a great movie?... Scorsese squashes Dylan into a rock-doc tin can that, when opened, sighs nostalgically, tepidly: 'Ah... baby boom.'"

  • In the Observer, literary editor Robert McCrum, who quite likes the film, recalls a few forgotten yet crucial moments in Dylan's career and notes: "He can do prose, too."

  • More from Dolores Alfieri at Stop Smiling and Richard Cromelin in the Los Angeles Times.

"The right song at the right time is a powerful concoction that can make a sequence, or even an entire movie," writes Cameron Crowe in a long piece for the Los Angeles Times that eventually gets to songs written specifically for films:

Midnight Cowboy Soundtrack

It's a tricky thing. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan cracked the code with their Oscar-winning compositions for Philadelphia and Wonder Boys, but many a rocker has stumbled on the path to similar glory. For an original motion picture song to truly work, it can't be that obviously about the movie. The best original movie songs evoke the feeling of the movie more than the story. "Everybody's talking at me / Can't hear a word they're sayin'" elevated and deepened its film partner, and delivered the bittersweet tone of Midnight Cowboy. Imagine if the song lyrics had been, "We're hustlers, baby, trying to make it on the streets of New York." The poetic quotient plummets. Suddenly, everybody starts looking a little less timeless.

Also in the LAT: Carina Chocano talks with Mary Harron about The Notorious Bettie Page, Mary McNamara meets Jodie Foster and Susan King breaks down Garbo: The Signature Collection.

You'll have heard this one, but just in case, the BBC reports on Francis Ford Coppola's return to directing after eight years. On a modest budget, he'll be adapting Romanian novelist Mircea Eliade's Youth Without Youth.

3 albums Josh Neuhouser had always considered Steven Soderbergh a sort of "Pearl Jam to Cassavetes's Replacements or Jarmusch's Sonic Youth." Until he caught Schizopolis: "It has the energy of untamed youth, where everything is permitted not because nothing is true, but because nobody ever bothered to tell you what wasn't possible." Related: The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson asks Soderbergh about what he's cooking up with Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban.

Christian Petzold's Gespenster is scoring raves throughout the German press; signandsight translates Anke Leweke's for Die Zeit.

Alison Veneto's been hooked on the Korean TV drama Dae Jang Geum - no, not just hooked; seriously addicted. Fortunately, she got to write about it for SMRT-TV.

So what does Ingmar Bergman mean to you? Geoffrey Macnab asks Michael Winterbottom, Liv Ullmann, Mike Hodges, Thomas Vinterberg, Alexander Payne, Terence Davies, James Schamus, Stephen Woolley, Sally Potter and Oliver Assayas; also included is a previously published snippet from Woody Allen.

Also in the Guardian:

  • "I did not get one phone call from a gangster." Randeep Ramesh talks with Anurag Kashyap, whose Black Friday breeches a tabu in Hindi cinema by taking as its subject the 1993 bombings in Bombay (as it was still called) that left more than 260 dead and over 700 injured.

Catherine Deneuve

Pretty Poison David Thomson recounts the James Dean story, repaints the backdrop of 1955, and then: "Don't miss the point, but it was the arrival of Dean - in my opinion - that started the collapse of Marlon Brando." Next: Your 60s aren't complete without Pretty Poison. Also in the Independent: Roger Clarke meets Kristin Scott Thomas.

Hollywood's getting political, trumpets Jason Solomons in the Observer. It's the 70s all over again! Well, yes, but, AO Scott might well counter: "[T]he myth of a monolithically liberal Hollywood is dead," and the most recent evidence of its demise can be found in Just Like Heaven and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. David Poland isn't buying it and calls for comments. Do scroll down to Joe Leydon's.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Serenity's due in theaters on Friday; Kate Aurthur interviews Joss Whedon. But for true fans, that'll hardly be enough. Fortunately, ME Russell's a 9500-word transcript of his fun and wide-ranging talk with Whedon. Related: Looking Closer's collection of junket treasures, via Opus.

  • Christian Moerk tells the story of how Capote got made. Related: Martin Grove in the Hollywood Reporter.

  • John Leonard notes what's missing in the Library of America's 1600-page collection of James Agee's writing - "But what we do have is quite wonderful."

  • Matthew Hayes in Vancouver on how Neal 'n' Nikki has become "the first full-blown Bollywood production - complete with six exuberant musical sequences - shot and set entirely outside India."

  • Hilary de Vries on the shoes of In Her Shoes. Seriously.

Thumbsucker Soundtrack David Lowery talks Thumbsucker with Mike Mills and Lou Pucci.

Shari Roman interviews Keane director Lodge Kerrigan for Filmmaker.

Daniel Robert Epstein's SuicideGirls talkathon carries on: Peter Falk (take a look at his drawings) and, talking about their Director's Label DVDs, Jonathan Glazer and Stephane Sednaoui.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic talks with Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph about Picnic at Hanging Rock: "When I watched the film again more recently after making Innocence, I was struck by the similarities between them."

A History of Violence:

  • Girish: "Where to begin? There is a multitude of reasons why this movie is fascinating; here are just a few..."

  • Manohla Dargis in the NYT: "The great kick of the movie - or rather, its great kick in the gut - comes from Mr Cronenberg's refusal to let us indulge in movie violence without paying a price. The man wants to make us suffer, exquisitely."

  • David Edelstein in Slate: "It's staged and shot and acted and scored like nothing else this year, and it has images that will lodge themselves in your brain, rather like an ice pick. I have nothing bad to say about it - except that it shouldn't for a second be taken too seriously."

  • JG Ballard in the Guardian: "Existence, in Cronenberg's eyes, is the ultimate pathological state. He sees us as fragile creatures with only a sketchy idea of who we are, nervous of testing our physical and mental limits."

  • The Telegraph's David Gritten interviews Cronenberg.

  • Kenneth Turan in the LAT: A "gripping, incendiary, casually subversive piece of work."

  • Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "Once again, the director is dealing with an assault on identity and the breakdown of the boundaries between individual and collective views of reality."

"Pat Kingsley is in many respects the most powerful woman in Hollywood," writes the Observer's Gaby Wood, who meets with with the publicist to talk control: "If you've ever read an interview with, say, Al Pacino, Jodie Foster, Courtney Love, or, in the past, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise, and found it somewhat unrevealing, you have Kingsley to thank. 'I don't like interesting stories,' she has said. 'Boring is good. Good reporting and good writing don't help my client. New information is usually controversial. I don't need that.'"

Daniel Johnston: Songs of Pain Regardless of whether or not you care about the Oscars, David Poland's survey of the "Doc Race" is another reminder that this is an incredible period for a genre that was all but ignored not that long ago.

The Nation's Stuart Klawans on two GIs-in-Iraq docs: "At the risk of sounding heartless, I will describe Gunner Palace as the more entertaining of the films.... Occupation: Dreamland is a drier experience, and a more somber one." More from Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay, who notes in a later entry: "The Boston Globe ran today this obituary for experimental filmmaker, documentarian, and teacher Mark LaPore, who died September 11 in Boston. LaPore's newest film, Kolkata, will premiere next week at the New York Film Festival's "Views from the Avant Garde."

Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader: "Two new releases are defined by an inability to fathom another culture - Reel Paradise... and Dear Wendy.... Both demonstrate a middle-class complacency that fosters this inadequacy." More from Craig Phillips.

Acquarello has me wanting to see Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers.

Online viewing tip. The Killer. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tips, round 1. On top of the many new trailers popping up over at Twitch, Kurt's found lots to love at LoveFilm.

Online viewing tips, round 2. James Seo posts the "[t]hird and last of three clips this week that visualize multiple tracks in music."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM | Comments (3)

New York and fests.

NYFF 05 New York is the festival of the moment and there's no snappier way to catch up with the highlights so far than to run through Aaron Hillis's latest update for Premiere. At his own site, Aaron's free to bemoan the perils of punctuation he has to overcome as he works up these updates. Another quick rundown is Steve Erickson's for Gay City News; The Reeler has a fun entry and Aaron Dobbs has filed his first at the Gothamist.

Blogging ferociously - and well - are Cinematical's Karina Longworth and IFC's Alison Willmore.

The New York Times has, of course, collected all its NYFF-related coverage on a single page. But that's not all. It's also got five NYFF shorts - immediately viewable, right off that page.

Noir City Brian: "Shorter days and longer nights are perfect for evening double-bills free of any pangs of guilt for missing out on maximum Vitamin D production. And the Film Noir Foundation has already started announcing the films they'll be bringing to the upcoming 4th Annual Noir City Film Festival."

The Times of London has opened its special section for the LFF (October 19 through November 3).

Grady Hendrix picks highlights from the lineup for the Tokyo International Film Festival (October 22 through 30).

In the Independent, Charlotte Cripps previews the Raindance Film Festival (September 28 through October 9) and Sheila Johnston looks back on San Sebastian.

Looking back a tad further to Toronto are Jim, with his brief and opinionated reviews at dirtynerluv, and David Walsh for the WSWS.

And one last look back at Telluride: Hannah Eaves in PopMatters: "Everyone I spoke to had been making the pilgrimage for years, ten or twenty being the rule rather than the exception."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM

September 24, 2005

San Sebastian Dispatch. 9.

Juan Manuel Freire puts the final wrap on the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

San Sebastian 53 After a bittersweet Friday in the company of a brilliant Woody Allen (Match Point in the Zabatelgi section) but also a forgettable Roger Donaldson (The World's Fastest Indian, a strange ending for the fest), the Awards for 53rd edition of San Sebastian Festival were announced this afternoon.

And they are a little numbing. Zero mentions for some of the best pictures of the Official Section (El Aura, A Cock And Bull Story), a Special Jury Prize for a film rather forgettable from the strict perspective of cinema (Iluminados Por El Fuego), a Silver Shell for Best Actor to a guy who's almost incapable of expression (Juan José Ballesta in 7 Vírgenes), another shell for a director at the lowest point of his career (Zhang Yang for the mediocre Sunflower)... Sad but true news. The only good news is that Golden Shell (the highest rated award) goes to the little Czech gem Stesti (Something Like Happiness), whose actress Anna Geislerová has also received a shell for her work. To see the whole list of awards, you can go here.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:27 PM

Events worth noting.

Film Coop Benefit This looks pretty damn amazing: The Filmmakers' Cooperative 2nd Annual Benefit Concert in NYC on Tuesday, September 27:

An impressive line-up of downtown musicians has been assembled to perform with film projections from the Co-op's archive: Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Elliott Sharp, Todd Reynolds, Mark Stewart, Sue Garner, Patrick Watson, and a trio consisting of Tim Barnes, Alan Licht and Lee Ranaldo.

Musical performances will be paired with screenings of films by the likes of Ken Jacobs, Michael Snow, Harry Smith, Jenn Reeves, Bill Morrison, Donna Cameron, Emily Hubley, and Ron Rice.

Via Alex Ross.

Res Noted more urgently - because it's tomorrow rather than just next week some time - is the RESFEST event Copy Fight, exploring "the future of remix/mashup culture." Panelists at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco include filmmaker Bryan Boyce (America's Biggest Dick), Larisa Mann aka DJ Ripley, Kid Kameleon, Jonathan Marlow of GreenCine, Gregory Niemeyer of UC Berkeley's Center for New Media and Jason Schultz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The event will roll on with an ever-evolving cast to Los Angeles and Chicago and then to the UK: London (October 2) and Bristol (October 30).

Also moving through Europe in October will be Kim Gordon's Perfect Partner, a "surreal psychodrama cum road movie starring Michael Pitt (The Dreamers, Last Days) [which] unfolds to a thundering free rock live soundtrack."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:58 AM

New York Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy's second NYFF dispatch.

Methadone There's a memorable line in Methadonia, the documentary about drug addiction playing at the New York Film Festival. One character says, "You're only as sick as your secret."

That might as well be the subtitle of Michel Negroponte's film about methadone addicts in New York. (Mercifully, the doc airs on HBO October 6, so the quote whores won't tag it with anything stupid in a newspaper ad.) The addicts and the director share the belief that the long road to recovery is worth the work - and it's a lot of work - even though only a tiny fraction makes it. If you listen to the addicts in their 40s, 50s and 60s talk about decades of addiction, you'll suspect the drugs sure aren't worth what they put you through.

Methadonia is the name for that world constructed out of addiction and recovery, two life sentences that addicts can't escape. As we all know, the methadone replaces heroin, suppressing the urge but denying the addict the real high - it's the grey zone. As addicts on methadone become resistant to their dosages, they increase the intensity or mix the methadone with benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium to create a different kind of high. For a lot of them, it's worse than heroin and even harder to kick. What a cocktail.

The film is constructed around two years spent with a group of addicts from one methadone center in Manhattan. You don't see or hear from the doctor who runs it. What we see are addicts managing themselves. All of them got hooked years ago and may have HIV or hepatitis C. You begin to wonder about the term "recreational drugs." Given the death rate and the low rate of really cleaning up, these are genuine survivors. At first, it's impressive how freely they speak about getting into drugs and the awful things they've had to do to stay high. But speaking is second nature to addicts, who spend a lot of time convincing people to give them things and even more time convincing themselves that this will be the last fix or the last drink. Many have been in prison, where there's not much to do but talk. Recovery, meant in part to be a kind of talking cure, can often seem like an addiction to talk. If you've known addicts, you'll know what I mean. It's something like getting religion, just more desperately dependent in a lot of cases on the adrenaline that rises and falls.

Methadone Since this is HBO, you might ask, "Is this cinema?" The real question ought to be, "Is this addiction?" Sadly, it is. Michel Negroponte says he made Methadonia in part because his wife's sister was a heroin addict. You feel as if you get to know the addicts here, too. Negroponte's camera comes right up against them, whether they're nodding out or trying to get you to believe they're going straight. It gets close, but it doesn't massage them.

Or does it, just out of the hope that these long-term addicts might live real lives some day? It seemed as if a dozen of the addicts in Methadonia were at the press conference for the film at Lincoln Center, which turned into its own little support group with members crediting Negroponte with keeping them off drugs and cheering each other on for cheering him. That's show business.

Don't expect a definitive, fair and balanced look at addiction here. You'll probably get that from PBS some day. The film is told from these addicts' perspective, with a voice-over from Negroponte providing context and a reality check on the addicts' own description of their sickness. The voice is nothing if not sober. We don't see shooting galleries. We don't see addicts sleeping in the street, although Steve, a friendly former security guard, takes us to the ledge in Soho where he says he lived for years. This is about treatment.

Forget the lyricism, the hymns to decadence, and all the other nonsense. These aren't the models or rockers who shoot up. Kate Moss does not come in for her cameo, and they're not the kids who drive the Lexus in from Rye to score in Washington Heights and then drive back. (If you want to see a glimpse of the younger generation of addicts, take a look at this week's New York magazine. It's still not glamorous.) These are the people who black out and burn their houses down. As Negroponte's camera closes in, our older cast looks ravaged by years of addiction and a bit numbed. It's obviously the methadone, but other addicts can seem that way, too. What's missing, at least on the screen, is the anger that you see in so many alcoholics. Did Negroponte leave that out, or does the methadone maintain your disposition as it settles your urges, sort of like what the anti-depressants are supposed to do?

Methadone Watching Methadonia, you get the sense that these are the lucky ones. They're still alive; they can talk. One couple even has a child, albeit one who's born prematurely and addicted to drugs. The threat of the methadone mix with benzos is grim, but the numbing effect seems oddly soft, nothing like the slash and burn experience of methamphetamine, which is now burning its way into white America with a fury that reminds you of the way crack first made its mark in the 1980s. (I'm surprised that more films haven't addressed Red State Heroin.)

Addiction has many, many faces, many cures, and even more tragedies. Negroponte has shown us some of them over two years, which is a short time in what he calls a lifetime job with no days off. It's not a clinical film, but a non-fiction ensemble drama of characters. We'll be seeing lots more as HBO continues its project to document addiction. We'll also see how much the audience can take, or wants to take.

I'm not going to say that substance abuse is a theme in this year's New York Film Festival, but there's another face to addiction on the screen there, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a Rumanian film about a man, drunk and sick, who journeys through the night in an ambulance that takes him from hospital to hospital. In a story, believe it or not, with lots of humor, the title steals the punch-line. More about that soon.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM

September 23, 2005

New York Dispatch. 1.

David D'Arcy, just back from Toronto, sends in his first dispatch from the New York Film Festival. As you'll soon see, it's more than a movie review.

Time: Murrow Edward R Murrow's name is invoked at more awards ceremonies than I'd like to remember. And it always seems that it's invoked by all the wrong people, either broadcast network executives or anchormen who "earn" huge salaries as they deliver news that looks more and more like Domino's Pizza - the ultimate generic product without much discernible flavor. Murrow's name comes up because people in television want to be associated with a name of quality, even though quality, if it ever existed on network television, is the hardest thing to find there today. Murrow (1908 - 1965) predicted that this would happen. What's nauseating is that the men who made it happen (and made money doing it) are the men who sing his praises at charity event after charity event. I bet even Rupert Murdoch has had nice things to say about Murrow.

Good Night and Good Luck, which opens the New York Film Festival with its US premiere tonight, begins to set the record straight about Murrow by toning down the sanctimony. The record on Murrow and on Senator Joseph McCarthy is important enough, since we have to assume that most under the age of 70 won't know much about that time. They probably haven't seen the footage of the thuggish McCarthy hurling out accusations that anyone opposing him was a communist and bullying anyone who challenged those accusations. McCarthy acted with near-impunity and the whole country watched. His charges were enough to ruin lives, and, while they intimidated the press that we see in Clooney's film, they also helped fortify a conservative Republican political agenda. McCarthy's usefulness may help explain why Eisenhower was not quick to take him on.

In Good Night and Good Luck, which takes its title from Murrow's sign-off line, CBS News is already fighting the battle against news-lite, as executives pressure journalists to interview celebrities like Liberace and Judy Garland. A story has come up in the smoke-filled offices of CBS, where the laconic Murrow (David Strathairn) hosts the program See It Now, which is produced by Fred Friendly (George Clooney). On a slow news day, Murrow learns from a newspaper in Detroit that the US Air Force has  ousted a lieutenant without a trial because one of his immigrant parents was accused of reading a Serbian communist newspaper. Murrow takes on the story over the objections of management - and over the objections of the Air Force, which refused to comment on the charges. Management frets over the potential loss of advertising, the Air Force warns of serious implications, the story runs, and the lieutenant is reinstated.

Time: McCarthy The battle then moves to Murrow versus McCarthy, whose minions have already circulated documents purporting to prove that Murrow has communist ties in his past. Murrow isn't dissuaded by another bully, the CBS CEO, William S Paley (Frank Langella), who reminds Murrow where his paycheck comes from, and Murrow airs a program pointing out the threat to constitutional freedoms posed by McCarthy's investigations. In the name of fair reporting, CBS gives McCarthy a chance to reply, and he accuses Murrow of doing the work of a communist conspiracy. On television, the journalist is more persuasive than the senator.

As the press and the public see that McCarthy's credibility can be questioned, the bullying senator is seen to be vulnerable. Murrow's reporting and his courage are praised, but the real damage comes when he's told that See It Now will be moved from its weekly evening slot to make way for an entertainment show. Was it about the now-weakened McCarthy, or was it about money? Was the real threat to journalism political, or was it commercial? The implications for today are too obvious to list here.

I've always wanted to believe that the press is as free as it wants to be, but when you're operating at this level, the press is as free as its stockholders want it to be. That sure hasn't changed.

If you read anything from Vogue to Time Out, you've seen the black-and-white palette of George Clooney's movie, with its swirls of cigarette smoke and its clusters of earnest newsmen costumed to recreate a distant 1953. Even with an extra twenty pounds or so, Clooney is appealing on the screen, and even more appealing in the photo-spreads which were shot when he took some of that weight off. There's not a single exterior shot in the movie, which helped keep the palette consistent (and I'm sure helped keep the budget down.) Fortunately, there's never too much atmosphere. Songs that seem to come from nowhere by Dianne Reeves relieve the urgent tension of the newsroom without turning the drama into a pageant. The real star here is Strathairn, the ramrod-straight, tight-lipped Murrow, whose super-dry comments sting with contempt for management of the news business and contempt for what television is becoming under management's control. Strathairn's Murrow is as fine as Philip Seymour Hoffman's Truman Capote, tightly wound compared to the unraveling character of Capote.

Balanced reporting is already replacing accurate reporting, Murrow warns, and that's in 1953. It's something we should be hearing from the people practicing his craft today.

Capote It's striking that two of the big "serious" films this season (Good Night and Capote) are portraits of journalists, each of whom, for better or worse, was a celebrity in his day. Neither is the conventional biopic that promises to give us the man in full - in 90 minutes. Yet in each film, the challenge turns out to be bigger than the man. Murrow exposes a bully of vast proportions and then predicts the decline of the new medium that enabled him to do it. (Ten years after the feud between Murrow and McCarthy, CBS News correspondents were narrating military propaganda films. Fifty years later, CBS producers were fired for minor problems in a report on W's ROTC days.) Capote reveals the human side of a man who committed vicious murders. The young man is hanged, nonetheless. After In Cold Blood, Capote abandoned serious journalism for booze and the life of a party scribe.

As much as these films should be welcomed, it's sad that an audience has to be getting its history from movies that compress an era that needs a lot more explaining into a feature-length story arc. We're lucky to be getting this much. In a press conference Wednesday at the Walter Reade Theater, where his film had just screened, a glib Clooney told an audience of reporters that the press needs to question authority.

As a member of the press recently "terminated" after a powerful institution complained about an accurate report that ran on NPR's All Things Considered, I can say from personal experience that "authority" is as strong as ever. (Google the key words - D'Arcy MoMA NPR Schiele - for details of my own case.) And it's a lot easier to be bullied when the audience and advertising for print journalism (and for most things serious) seem to be shrinking by the day.

The audience never appears in Good Night and Good Luck, yet characters make all sorts of assumptions in its name. After Murrow's broadcast on McCarthy in March 1954, calls from the audience to CBS were favorable to Murrow by a ten-to-one margin. There's some humor here. In the film, Murrow signs off, and the production team waits through what feels like a long silence to hear the feedback on the telephone. It turns out that a young assistant turned the phones off so they wouldn't interrupt the broadcast. Eventually, the reaction rings with approval. Where would the public be on an issue like that today? A lot of them would have already given up on network television.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:52 AM

Midnight Eye. Indies.

The indie theme (for momentary lack of a better name; more below) runs throughout the three main features of the new issue of Midnight Eye:

Cinetribe 2005

  • Jaspar Sharp interviews Kunihiko Tomioka, a former screenwriter and now a producer and co-manager of Planet Studyo +1 in Osaka, something of a launching pad for a generation of filmmakers currently breaking through internationally.

  • That interview segues nicely into Sharp's overview of "the field of jishu eiga, or to give it its full term, jishu seisaku eiga. It's tempting to describe these films as 'independent' productions, though the term literally means 'self-produced,' or self-made... Though cynics might find these 'home movies' unworthy of their interest, it is worth remembering that many of today's name directors emerged from this scene, either through their early experimentations with video or, during the 70s and 80s especially, 8mm or 16mm." Kunihiko Tomioka has a hand in two events vital to the scene, Cineastes Organization Osaka EX and the Cinetribe Festival; the PIA Film Festival is "arguably one of the most important events in the jishu eiga calendar."

  • And it's the offerings there that shape Sharp and Jason Gray's roundup of eleven short reviews.
Other reviews:

Outlaw Masters of Japanese Films

Posted by dwhudson at 10:38 AM

San Sebastian Dispatch. 8.

San Sebastian 53 Once again, Juan Manuel Freire from the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

One of the few genre pieces at competition in San Sebastian, Anne Fontaine's Entre ses mains is a romantic thriller with considerable charm. Isabelle Carré (recently seen here in Bertrand Tavernier's Holy Lola) plays the role of a 30-year-old woman who trades her monotonous life as a wife and mother for one with more intensity when she meets a vet (Benoît Poelvoorde) with a plain image but charming ways. The main problem she has with the man, besides not being married to him, is that he just might be the one who's sowing terror in the city by murdering several women.

Entre ses mains

A bitter, sad tale of desire, paranoia and obsession, Fontaine's winner is an interesting affair which convinces through the use of a realistic storytelling style that calls Hitchcock and De Palma to mind. What's more, the actors are brilliant (especially Carré), the cinematography amazes (there's a terrific last shot of the woman walking to a rollercoaster) and the soundtrack features Bloc Party. What's not to like? A little clunky dialogue and a slight problem with pacing, for example. Otherwise, a fine piece of work.

Bang Bang Orangutang

It was going to be a fine day yesterday. First Entre ses mains, then Miranda July's moving Me and You and Everyone We Know in the Zabaltegi section. But then came the Danish film, Bang Bang Orangutang, and it shot me down. The director, Simon Staho, presented Dag Och Natt (Day and Night) in Zabaltegi section last year, and is now competing with this similarly-toned black comedy about a business man who tries to start a new life after killing one of his children by accident and being fired from work. In the pressbook, Staho defines the piece as "a film about love," but this cannot be seen exactly - taking a cue from its dadaist title, Bang Bang Orangutang is a nonsensical and boring comedy whose only clear aim seems to be discomfort and shock and awe. Arbitrary changes of style, an impossible sense of humor, gratuitous nudity, opaque depressive passages... As with a lot of amateur arty stuff, this film tries so hard to be "something else" that it simply becomes oppressively annoying.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:34 AM

September 22, 2005

Cronenberg and shorts.

Cronenberg on Cronenberg "Ok, so is this the Bush administration's foreign policy, based on a western? Well, it's hard to avoid the obvious." That's David Cronenberg talking with Salon's Andrew O'Hehir about A History of Violence. And the interview is only about half of the new "Beyond the Multiplex" column; the rest addresses Dear Wendy, "a bizarre admixture of realistic wounded-teen drama and inflated tragic allegory," and Forty Shades of Blue, which "combines high production values, terrific acting and a distinctively American lyricism in a combination you hardly ever see these days."

The Village Voice presents quite a Cronenberg package this week. "Indeed, he may be the best-reviewed filmmaker in this paper's history," notes Dennis Lim, who also talks with the director about A History of Violence in a rather long piece for the Voice these days. J Hoberman explains how Violence can be both "deeply involving" and "as coolly distanced as its title would suggest."

Michael Atkinson addresses a question at the center of a few critical brouhahas in the past year or so (think back to the flurry over Oldboy, for example): In what ways do we justify onscreen violence? Which of these arguments hold water? "Cronenberg," he writes, "to his credit, withholds judgment," and so, in the end, does Atkinson.

Chiranjit Goswami at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Cronenberg's success is that reactions to his latest work are so decidedly diverse, since his film is so skillfully adept at presenting the ambiguous nature of violence."

At Movie City Indie, Ray Pride points out the string of annotated behind-the-scenes clips at the History of Violence Blog.

Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "From the Lynch-like diner small talk about coffee and pie to the foreboding, shiny black car slowly creeping into sun-bathed golden settings, Americana fits the Canadian auteur like a surgical glove. The result is his best movie since Dead Ringers." Also: Rachel Odes on Dear Wendy. More from Steve Erickson at Gay City News.

Another interview? The Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns has a short but fun one: "When it comes time for our protagonist to descend into a dark netherworld of mayhem and depravity, Cronenberg sends him to... Philadelphia? 'No offense,' he laughs."

Peter Keough fits both the interview and the review on one page in the Boston Phoenix.

But wait, there's more. In the New York Press. Jennifer Merin conducts the interview, Matt Zoller Seitz, the review: "I had trouble taking it seriously, and there are times when Cronenberg seems to tip his hand and let you know that he's not taking it all that seriously, either." While we're here: Armond White smirks off Good Night, and Good Luck (Tom Hall offers a dissenting opinion) and Jim Knipfel asks, "Who could've imagined that sweet little curly-headed, tap-dancing Shirley Temple would turn out to be such a silent but powerful manipulator of the wickeder, weirder side of our collective unconscious?"

Back to the Voice:

Killer Films

Salo "When I saw the images of torture at Abu Ghraib, I understood that Pasolini had foreseen everything." That's photographer (and occasional actor) Fabian Cevallos in an amazing ANSA story Martha Fischer at Cinematical has found on the first public display of photos Cevallos shot of scenes eventually cut from Salo.

Acquarello: "It comes as no surprise that the three filmmakers mentioned near the end of Shuji Terayama's patently offbeat, garish, unclassifiable, and audacious youth culture film, Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets are Roman Polanski, Nagisa Oshima, and Michelangelo Antonioni."

MTV's Larry Carroll gets Quentin Tarantino talking about Grindhouse, Inglorious Bastards and Vega Brothers. Brief comments: Quint at AICN, Blake at Cinema Strikes Back and Erik Davis at Cinematical.

Cinema Retro Flickhead reviews a new magazine, Cinema Retro: "Distinctly Baby Boomer material all the way, the publication holds an unwavering reverence for 60s and 70s popcorn cinema, but, perhaps more significantly, revels in its unique brand of enthusiasm."

Sample the October issue of Interview at just jared. Via Martha Fischer at Cinematical.

Five years ago, Hong Kong directors and actors were heading for Los Angeles. "But," writes Winnie Chung in the Hollywood Reporter, "as opportunities and conditions open up in China, there has been a trend of reverse exodus as Hong Kong talent."

Charles Taylor in the New York Observer:

There is no classic Hollywood star who is harder to get a fix on than Garbo, which is why writers have been content to evoke her "mystery" and "remoteness." Louise Brooks, who revered Garbo, quoted Proust to express her irritation with that laziness: "The degree of mediocrity produced by contact with mystery is incredible." James Harvey, as astute a critic of classic Hollywood movies as we now have, quoted the critic Stark Young to explain Garbo's deceptive detachment as "the distance that style in art assures."

Garbo only seems familiar to us until we see her again.

Beautiful Boxer Taylor also has a piece in Slate lauding Beautiful Boxer and, along the way, defending Driving Miss Daisy.

At Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell reviews Jeong Jae-eun's followup to Take Care of My Cat, The Aggressives.

"My impression is that 'style over substance' is less the skeptic's phrase than it is the cynic's." Peter Gelderblom on Brian De Palma at 24 Lies a Second. Via Dennis Cozzalio.

More Kamera, more sound in cinema. Peter Cowie talks to Walter Salles this time. Also: Colin Odell and Michelle le Blanc review Chris Desjardins's Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film and Edith Bukovics talks to the producers of the low budget indie Unknown.

Among the new DVDs Dave Kehr reviews this week is Cowards Bend the Knee. One of the highlights of this Zeitgeist release is Guy Maddin's commentary track: "He proves to be a wonderfully unreliable narrator, annotating what he insists is his 'autobiography, reflected in a broken mirror' with pungent, personal details, many of which seem to be complete fabrications." At Stop Smiling, Travis Miles offers a different sort of DVD roundup while, in the NYO, Jake Brooks looks ahead to the season's upcoming releases.

Back in the New York Times:

  • Hollywood's added a new twist to an age-old formula, notes Caryn James: "[L]atch on to Africa... [T]he common strategy... is to take a hot-button African issue and spin it into easy-to-swallow entertainment. Fleeing from the truly political and divisive ground of Fahrenheit 9/11, these movies begin with safe opinions, then sugar-coat them."

  • "Bubble will seem like a stretch only to those who have not followed [Steven Soderbergh's career for the past decade and a half," writes Manohla Dargis. For Filmbrain, it's "one of the most interesting films of the year."

  • Stephen Holden on Novo: "Sweet, attractive and ultimately vapid." More from James Crawford in the Voice.

  • Dana Stevens on Loudmouth Soup, "a claustrophobic Hollywood satire that's short on kinesis and long on conversation." More from Akiva Gottlieb in the Voice.

Documentary filmmaker Edet Belzberg's just won a "Genius Grant" from the MacArthur Foundation. The Reeler has details.

MS Smith on Masculin/Feminin: "This film might be described as Cubist cinema, or the visual equivalent of jazz improvisation; you have to make the shapes cohere, you have to follow the melody and see how it develops."

"When did this become a story you had to tell?" Robert Faires asks Ed Begley Jr, who served as a pallbearer at civil rights activist Cesar Chavez's funeral, about his play, Cesar and Ruben. Also in the Austin Chronicle: Spencer Parsons talks with Mike Johnson, co-director of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, checks in on The Cassidy Kids and reviews The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.

Before spreading out the fall calendar, Brian looks back on a year at San Francisco's Castro Theatre without Anita Monga.

Rebirth of a Nation

Godfrey Cheshire on DJ Spooky's Rebirth of a Nation in the Independent Weekly: "This has got to be a first: A grand cinematic celebration of the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, presented in the very bosom of Southern liberalism, UNC's newly reopened Memorial Hall, and backed, no less, by a hip-hop soundtrack."

BRAINTRUSTdv asks Carlos Atanes about his new film: "FAQ describes a very plausible geopolitical future: Southern Europe is turned into a desert, and the decisions are still made from the usual places. I could have chosen Berlin, too, but Paris offered several advantages."

"[B]y having this one important period in Truman Capote's history to really hone in on, it manages actually to paint a pretty accurate composite of the man's entire life." Craig Phillips on Capote.

Dancer in the Dark "Lars is at the airport waiting for Vibeke, the producer. He hasn't been filming, he's devastated about the aggression and conflict, he's smashed up a TV set. Björk called him a coward and a tyrant." The Guardian's running clips from Catherine Deneuve's Close Up and Personal. Antonio Pasolini saw Deneuve being interviewed onstage at the National Film Theatre: "When asked the classical NFT question, 'Any regrets for dedicating your life to cinema,' Deneuve hastened to correct Andrew that she never dedicated her life to cinema; it's always been just a job and she appeared really sincere when she said that."

Also in the Guardian:

"Who is going to step into old man [Harrison] Ford's boots when he's gone?" asks Glenn McDonald at PopMatters.

The latest stops Daniel Robert Epstein's SuicideGirls interview train: Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter.

"So will images be the 21st century's piped music?" asks things.

PC Magazine's John C Dvorak: "There are two important institutions that are about to be decimated by technology: newspapers and movies. It won't be pretty." MaryAnn Johanson comments.

Next up in reality TV, the Money Makeover Show.

Prospect and Foreign Policy have come up with a list of the world's top 100 intellectuals. No filmmakers, but you might want to cast your votes for a top five anyway.

Online browsing tip. Bento box anime art at Rico & Coco. Via Patrick Macias.

Online viewing (and listening) tip. UBUWEB has returned. Via filmtagebuch.

Online viewing tip #2. Henry Hills's Kino Da! and more. Via DVblog.

Online viewing tip #3. James Seo posts the first of three clips from Multiple Sidosis, "the first (and only? [nope; see comments]) amateur film to be inducted into the US National Film Registry of the Library of Congress."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:30 PM | Comments (3)

Fests, 9/22.

As the final loose ends of this year's Toronto International Film Festival are wrapped up, many of the same media outlets are prepping for the New York Film Festival, which opens tomorrow and runs through October 9. To start with the NYFF, then:

NYFF

  • If you've got to get oriented quickly yet expertly, Aaron Hillis's preview at Premiere is the one you're looking for.

  • In the New York Observer, Sara Vikomerson talks to writers and editors, distributors and programmers about what sets NYFF apart from the noisier festivals. Also: Rex Reed's preview.

  • At indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman argues that the very difference so many tell Vikomerson about is what'll be working to the advantage of non-US films: "Even a handful of movies lost in the shuffle and superficiality of Toronto will get a second look in New York by micro-distribs."

  • Karina Longworth fires up Cinematical's coverage.

Meanwhile, back in Toronto:

TIFF 05

  • In Twitch's "Big Toronto Film Festival Wrap Up," the team rates the zillion films they caught at the festival and offers super-brief verdicts on each "with instructions to be harsh."

  • The Village Voice's "Festival Express": "Five years ago, Guy Maddin stole the festival with his six-minute The Heart of the World; this year, the Winnipeg Wonder did it again with the 16-minute My Dad Is 100 Years Old." Also: Anthony Kaufman on the acquisitions and J Hoberman and Dennis Lim's notes.

  • B Ruby Rich on the new talent, the sociopolitics, the vets and the theme of the year in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Oh no, not sex again! Yup, sex." Also, Cheryl Eddy: "Toronto's slate of Asian films was crowded with directors whose work I consider essential viewing."

  • Jessica Winter in the City Pages: "The unofficial theme song of TIFF '05 was indisputably 'Linda, Linda' by the Japanese '80s punk band the Blue Hearts."

  • Marjorie Baumgarten shows us her TIFF diary in the Austin Chronicle.

  • The Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Adams was disappointed to discover "one favorite director after another turning in subpar work."

  • Jim Ridley strikes a similar note in the Nashville Scene, warning that if Toronto's a true barometer, the upcoming season may not be all that exciting.

  • The Boston Phoenix's Gerald Peary's "three best features I saw at Toronto": The Proposition, C.R.A.Z.Y. and Paradise Now.

  • Josef Braun for Vue Weekly: "Making the most of it comes down to financing and perseverance. Luckily, I had both."

  • At the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore points to Roger Ebert's, David Poland's and more Toronto wrap-ups.

  • More roundup-type notes: Darren Hughes and Girish and, once again, all these.

Sundance 06 The Sundance 06 site is up; Cyndi Greening's got numbers.

Robert Avila previews San Francisco's Arab Film Festival in the SFBG. Tomorrow through October 2.

In the Independent, Alice Jones previews Bite the Mango, a festival of world cinema running from tomorrow through September 29 in Yorkshire.

New York Film and Video Festival To highlight in the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas chooses one doc from the program of the New York Film and Video Festival, running in LA through September 29: Karen Blixen: Out of This World. And Susan King blurbs National Geographic's All Roads Film Festival, on through Sunday.

Chuck Tryon suggests planning ahead: The DC Underground Film Festival runs from September 30 through October 1.

Movie City News has the AFI Fest lineup. November 3 through 13.

October will be a "Month of Horror, Terror and General Mayhem" at the Pioneer Theater in NYC.

Peter Bowen is writing up the highlights of last week's Rome International Film Festival for Cinema Strikes Back. That's Rome, Georgia, by the way.

Got an idea for a music video? You might consider entering the Scion xPress Fest.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 PM

San Sebastian Dispatch. 7.

San Sebastian 53 Once again, Juan Manuel Freire from the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

There is no easing up on the depression here. Almost every single film seen in Donosti's Official Section has been a more or less accurate portrayal of this state of mind, and body and soul. Reasons may vary, but the endings are similar, a series of images of people crying their hearts out. Slovenian director Jan Cvitkovic's sophomore effort Odgrobadogroba (Gravehopping) seemed at first to be a different affair.

Gravehopping

It begins like a Kaurismäkian black comedy with a great lead character in Pero, a guy in his mid-30s who earns a living by writing funeral speeches that spark more laughter than anything else. He lives in his family house with his sisters Vilma and Ida, his nephew Dzoni and a father who now and then tries to commit suicide with the same lack of expertise Bud Cort displayed in Harold and Maude. The human landscape of the film is fantastic and great jokes abound. But then comes the discontent - in a rather forceful turn of the wheel, the bittersweet comedy evolves much too quickly into a grim drama of gory proportions. There is no evolution in tone. One minute we were laughing at deadpan sight gags, and the next we're suffering through a reprise of I Spit On Your Grave. Why? It seems everyone's obsessed now with the idea of making definitive films about life as a whole, and the presence of death is an essential requisite. Simple stories woven around a few people who don't die onscreen are now a rare thing.

Malas Temporadas Another example of this trend of pseudo-transcendental dramas is the second entry in yesterday's competition, Manuel Martín Cuenca's Malas Temporadas. Set in the heart of Madrid, this is an ambitious yet failed drama about the intertwined lives of a group of upright people - a woman working hard for a NGO that helps refugees, an exiled Cuban who earns his life dealing in illegal cigars, a man seeking his former cellmate and lover, and everyone they know. This is an overwrought, overwritten, overacted piece of work which falls flat in its attempt to capture the zeitgeist of today's Spanish society. There's talent in Javier Camara's performance, and there are some hints of truth, but the film is too conscious of its own supposed importance to be really important - the montage of the characters going through their lonely lives to the sound of Leonor Watling singing a cover of "Los Chichos" is so wrong it hurts.

Received with a tepid applause and some noise, Malas Temporadas had an additional problem in its press screening of yesterday - it was projected just after the Zabaltegi selection, Broken Flowers, a story about a few people who don't die onscreen, and a master class in subtlety. Almost any title has to pale in comparison with this miracle.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 AM

September 21, 2005

Asia. Who's watching? And why?

A Tale of Two Sisters and The Last Life in the Universe "What is it about the American market that makes it so resistant to Asian movies, or conversely, what is it about Asian movies that makes them so difficult for the American market to absorb?" asks Grady Hendrix. Of course, he's thinking on a broad, popcult scale, as he points out several examples of films that have become major hits around the world but have gotten next-to-nowhere in the US. "Are we getting left behind?" he wonders, or in other words, are we stewing in our own overcooked juices only to be puzzled as movie attendance slumps.

Still, Asian movies are obviously all the rage among a certain set, and Nick Rombes has a few ideas as to why that might be: "So many of the gestures of the 'invisible' style of the classical Hollywood era - ranging from traditional narrative arcs, cause and effect, character development and identification, the masking of the apparatus of filmmaking, a generally realist sensibility - all these features that have been deconstructed (and sometimes mocked) by academics and others have returned with a vengeance in Asian cinema, in films ranging from Spider Forest, to Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998), to Ju-on (Takashi Shimizu, 2000), to A Tale of Two Sisters (Ji-woon Kim, 2003)."

The appeal of these films, Nick suggests, is that they hold out "a myth counter to our own New Tyrannical Myth, which holds that every story deserves a good deconstructing." There may be something to this, but I can't help but think that those who are enthusiastic about films in this vein, which buy into an established genre with every last cent, are often also enthusiastic about Asian films that don't. Works by Tsai Ming-liang, say, or Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jia Zhangke and so on. I'm thinking of the constant flow at Twitch, for example, where the giddy anticipation for a wide-ranging mix of films from Asia is not only infectious but even baffling at times in its multifariousness. Or look to the "East Meets West" issue of Reverse Shot, where a piece on Oldboy is a click away from another on Café Lumière.

There may be, as Andrew Tracy suggested in that issue, complex or even uncomfortable things going on in any given cinephile's attraction to Asian films (note that "the lure of exoticism" pops up in Tracy's first sentence) while the rest of the country either ignores or is never or rarely exposed to them, but there may also be something as simple and as mundane as the sheer pleasure of discovery going on as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 PM | Comments (3)

San Sebastian Dispatch. 6.

San Sebastian 53 Juan Manuel Freire, from the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Stesti Alongside A Cock and Bull Story from Britain and El Aura from Argentina, Stestí (Something Like Happiness) from the Czech Republic must be the strongest entry to date in Official Section. Director Bohdan Slama presents a human patchwork that's real enough to believe - emotions breathe, skin cries and every word rings true. This radiography of a group of locals from the working-class district of a small Czech city follows solitary lives with sensibility, those of a young girl whose boyfriend has emigrated to America, the boy who loves her secretly, an abandoned mother and her children and all the people surrounding them. There are no half-truths, nor absolute blacks and whites nor conclusions. There is truth in painful quantities, especially in an ending that refuses to tie all the knots together just to give the characters some relief. Powerful social cinema.

Vers Le Sud We used to describe the cinema of French Laurent Cantet in the same terms. He was able to address social issues with a special talent - both Ressources Humaines (Human Resources) and L'Emploi Du Temps (Time Out) were tasteful, subtle insights into problems of our society, made with both a deep understanding of the source material and a penchant for visuals that reflected inner spaces, especially in the latter film. The same can't be said of his latest effort, the Zabaltegi-selected Vers Le Sud, the story of a group of middle-aged women who come to early 80s Haiti in search of tenderness and sex and end up entangled in the fight for attention of a young black man. The treatment of the characters and their stories is rather superficial here - and the use of direct speeches to the camera are both unnecessary and too literal. It becomes difficult to feel anything for or get interested in these characters, and this has also to do with a painfully flat direction without a single shade of the brilliance or the significance that could be seen in L'Emploi Du Temps.

Tideland The second disappointment of the day appeared on Official Section. After the disaster of The Brothers Grimm, Terry Gilliam has come up with something not much better. Adapted from a novel by Mitch Cullin, Tideland is the story of a young girl (the incredible Jodelle Ferland) who escapes from the terrible reality of her childhood (a dirty rural farmhouse, a dying father, strange noises) by means of her imagination. A rather pointless exercise in excess, a catalogue of naive provocations that bore rather than shock, more a visual attack than a visual feast, this is a film made for almost no one - too harsh for children, too boring for adults and too ugly and irregular to soothe the eyes of well-trained cinephiles. The painful experience is only redeemed by a couple of suggestive scenes, like the one in which the farmhouse goes under and becomes an hallucinatory pool. The question is: Has Gilliam lost it? My intense admiration for his previous work just wants me to believe his current lack of inspiration will end soon.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:06 AM | Comments (2)

NWFF. 10.

For Sean Axmaker, a film critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a DVD columnist for the IMDb, an anniversary celebration presents a unique opportunity for his hometown.

NWFF 10 Seattle filmgoers are proud of the city's reputation as a film town. It is home to the "longest" film festival in the country, the Seattle International Film Festival (its epic 3½ week span effectively keeps the national and international review press scared off, leaving it completely to local audiences). Before Sundance and the rise of saturation releasing, Seattle was a launching pad for American Independent films like Choose Me and The Stunt Man and the early work of John Sayles.

But the city has a dirty little secret. Unlike Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, our neighbors to the north and south, Seattle - for all of its boutique film festivals and art-house theaters - has no full-time cinemateque.

Ten years ago, a trio of hardy cinema-loving citizens with more ambition and determination than resources (Jamie Hook, Deborah Girdwood, and Michael Seiwerath) decided to take a stab at filling the gap. They formed the non-profit Northwest Film Forum and embarked on twin missions: simply put, to show films that aren't getting shown in this town, and (through sister organization WigglyWorld) to help the local filmmaking community get films made (and, hopefully, shown on the screen).

Ten years later, and a full year after they moved operations to a fully integrated center for film exhibition (on two screens), production and education on Capitol Hill, NWFF decided to celebrate their achievement. And while they've titled the ten-day/30-event program "Super Hits, Vol. 10" in the K-Tel mode, the selection is really the Hollywood equivalent of B-sides, imports and regional indie pressings, with a couple of golden oldies tossed in. A showcase of programs both popular and essential, it shows exactly why the city of Seattle needs the Northwest Film Forum.

Revival showings of Pickup on South Street, Flowers of Shanghai and The Match Factory Girl are a reminder that the ambitious director retrospectives common in most acknowledged "film towns" had been all but absent from the Seattle scene until NWFF started their weekend series in their original theater, the Grand Illusion in the University District. The same theater had the privilege of hosting the world theatrical premiere of Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis, which the director made to get Hollywood and its conventions out of his system. Three locally produced features - Money Buys Happiness, Buffalo Bill's Defunct and Hedda Gabler - were begun with grants from WigglyWorld, and another (Naked Proof, from NWFF founder Jamie Hook) was produced with help from the organization. Music documentaries and shorts programs (local and international) are sprinkled around essentials of world cinema, like Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up, that would have passed the city by were it not for the NWFF.

NYFF Programming Is such programming still essential when the DVD revolution has redefined home video as an alternative distribution network for foreign, independent and alternative cinema? It's true that film programming is entering hard times as arts funding gets cut and an increasing number of entertainment alternatives vie for attention. But not everything is on DVD (God bless the programmers for bringing back the astounding Olivier Assayas rarity Cold Water, one of the of the most uncompromising films about teenage rebellion, alienation and inarticulate frustration), and some things may never be (Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, for example, the film recreated by a trio of Mississippi pals with a primitive home video camera and zero-budget solutions to big-budget challenges in the 1980s). At least as important, however, is the social component: seeing films with an audience and talking about them afterwards in the spacious NWFF lobby (which seems designed to invite audiences to linger and chat) is becoming a forgotten dimension of the cinema experience.

The final program of the retrospective series, a showing of the Yasujiro Ozu silent classic Woman of Tokyo, with an original score by Wayne Horvitz commissioned by NWFF for its Ozu retrospective in early 2005, celebrates one of the greatest film programs ever curated in the city of Seattle. But since that event, NWFF seems lost, scrambling to redefine its identity and its mission. Programming in the past 6 months looks more like a schizophrenic rep house than a non-profit center for alternative and classic cinema programming, and its second screen, once packed with alternative fare, is woefully underused. There are many reasons for this - creative, political, financial, philosophical - but it also reflects the clash of NWFF's identity as a maverick non-profit and the expectations that many of us (me included) put on the organization that would be the city's cinemateque.

More than simply an illustration of why we need the NWFF, "Super Hits Vol. 10" could serve as the starting point for the next step in its evolution. At the very least it should inspire the discussion. Seattle still needs a full-time cinemateque, one with a strong philosophy behind its mission and a focus to its programming. NWFF could become that - it's not like anyone else is stepping up to the plate (Cinema Seattle, producers of SIFF, has flirted with the idea for years but in practice has scaled back activities to nothing but the annual festival, and the Seattle Art Museum has treated cinema as a poor relation to all other arts in its mission). It would call for a serious reevaluation of its goals, a more rigorous approach to curating its programming and an influx of monetary support to feed it (for all my criticism, it's hard to fault the organization for competing with Seattle's commercial programming venues simply to stay afloat).

It's an evolution I'd like to see. It's time for Seattle cinema to hold its own with the rest of the country's film towns.

"Super Hits Vol. 10" runs from Friday, September 23 through Sunday, October 12, at Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave, Seattle, Washington.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 AM | Comments (7)

September 20, 2005

Toronto Dispatch. 8.

David D'Arcy, whose most recent piece up at GreenCine is an interview with Albert Maysles, takes one last look back at Toronto and offers his takes on Mrs. Harris, The Notorious Bettie Page, Oliver Twist, The War Within and Meet Marlon Brando.

TIFF 05 Looking back at the Toronto International Film Festival, which ended Saturday night, I'm thinking first of the films that I missed. Thank You for Smoking, Jason Reitman's satire, stirred the muddled mix of freedom, hypocrisy and greed. The Korean film Sa-Kwa, and its reportedly bravura performance by Moon So-ri, was another that I didn't see. Put Danis Tanovic's L'Enfer on the same list.

Now for what I did see at the end of an event that was less front-loaded than I had expected.

Mrs. Harris's Tragic Accident

There's a well-known line from Karl Marx that just about everyone has heard. History repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce. This is a good enough description for what has happened to the story of Jean Harris's murder of the Scarsdale Diet doctor Herman Tarnower in 1980.

First, while the seats in the jury section were still warm, five weeks after the guilty verdict, we had the 1981 made-for-TV melodrama The People vs. Jean Harris, which had the trial transcript as a screenplay. 25 years later, we have Mrs. Harris, a revisionist melodrama based on a journalist's book that gives credence to Harris's contention that the murder was really a botched suicide. That "tragic accident" claim still seems preposterous. The solemn movie that it inspired is a campy guilty pleasure, enjoyable as only unintentional humor can be. There's even a role for Ellen Burstyn, who played Harris back in 1982.

There must be plenty of people out there who don't remember Jean Harris, or who are just too young to know who she was and what the fuss was all about. In March 1980, Harris, then the headmistress of the hyper-exclusive Madeira School in Washington DC, drove through the rain to the home of her former fiancée Herman Tarnower outside New York City. She had been involved with him for 16 years. The cardiologist was a star, thanks to his best-selling "Scarsdale Diet." It was a pre-Atkins blockbuster, the diet world's flavor of the month, but a profitable one nonetheless.

Tarnower is said to have been a nasty man - he got rich from sucking up to wealthy patients. He was envied for his money and for his equine endowments below the belt. He flaunted it all.

Mrs Harris The film reminds us - as if we needed to be reminded - that money can indeed work wonders. Somehow the bald cardiologist (Ben Kingsley) who kept a room of hunting trophies charmed Jean Harris (Annette Bening), a bored divorcee raising two boys on a teacher's salary, when they met at a dinner party. (The bald leading the bored?) He proposed marriage to her with a $10,000 ring - he'd be paying that today for sushi for the two of them. When she asked him to set a date, he withdrew the proposal, but let her keep the ring. He then took up with his secretary, the ex-wife of a Scarsdale florist. Harris hated the new concubine (Chloë Sevigny) as much as she still loved Tarnower.

On March 10, Harris arrived at Tarnower's home in Purchase, New York - to kill herself, she said. Instead, Tarnower ended up dead from five bullets. At her trial, a haughty Harris delighted the tabloids with her story of a botched suicide. (I still remember the joke that the Scarsdale Diet was taken off the market by the FDA because it had too high a lead content. There was another one about Jean Harris's suicide attempt in prison - she shot a matron and two guards.) Needless to say, the jury didn't believe her and their verdict was upheld on two higher levels. Maybe that's why OJ never argued suicide.

In prison, the former teacher taught prisoners to read and write until Mario Cuomo gave her clemency in 1992. That's the side of Jean Harris that we see in this adaptation - smart and witty, but flawed with the obsession to seek love from a man who will never give it to her; not the jealous cast-off with a gun intent on revenge. (After all, this is the festival that revisited the crimes of In Cold Blood in Capote.) In Mrs. Harris, Tarnower spots the bored divorcee who fled Grosse Pointe at a dinner party and the violins start playing - literally. "What were they thinking?" you ask yourself.

Very Much a Lady It seems that director Phyllis Nagy was struggling to compress Shana Alexander's expansive book (Very Much a Lady), with Harris's self-destructive search for a stern father at its center, into less than two hours. In the film there isn't much room to breathe. Bening, with almost no make-up, throws fits and breaks a lot of dishes - Kingsley frowns and glares.

There is one thing I do like about this film, which would probably have been better as a documentary that accommodated the fullness of the portrait of Harris that we get from Alexander (whose social and psychological investigation of a murder, we should note, follows a path cleared by Truman Capote.) There isn't a likeable character in it (even though Harris was intended by Alexander in her 1983 book to be sympathetic), and certainly neither Bening nor Kingsley play characters you'll like or even side with. I suppose it takes a certain kind of courage to retell a once-familiar story and then fail to produce anyone who brings new clarity to it. Does anyone now believe that Jean Harris really intended to kill herself? Does anyone care?

Unsafe in Any Clothing

The Notorious Bettie Page Unsatisfying dramatically in a different way was The Notorious Bettie Page, the bio-pic about the model who posed in bathing suits and leather bondage outfits in the 1950s. She branded the semi-nude photo that now seems as tame as the Edsel; it's hard to believe that these were viewed as sacrilegious, but they sure were, by the same kind of moralizing figures who find sin whenever they need to. If we're to believe the story, Bettie (Gretchen Mol) was a trusting good-hearted soul who retained her Pollyanna-ish faith in humankind, even after a miserable marriage to the high school football player sweetheart who roughed her up. Her spirits also survive a gang rape, although that does get her out of Nashville.

Once she's in New York, the cameras start rolling, as Bettie poses, first for rooms of paying voyeurs, and gradually for businesses that serve the perennial market for titillation, which was just emerging as a commercial market at the time. Eventually the moral police target the photographers, and Bettie, literally stigmatized as the poster child of sin, finds God.

Bettie Page tells its story with costumes, sets and a look of buttoned-up rectitude with more than a hint of the tawdriness that squints in the light of propriety. The production design that unfolds like a slide show is the film's greatest strength (production design was another trend or theme in Toronto), although Gretchen Mol's performance as Bettie also stood out, perhaps because it's so much a part of that production design.

As a story, Bettie Page is a different kind of period film, a "Perils of Pauline" series of outfits and encounters that evokes the earliest days of screen melodrama. Despite the style, we never get too deep into this. Like adventure stories, it's enough here to see Bettie fighting off cads and cops and repeating the mantra that the pictures are fun and nothing to be afraid of. I can't believe that there isn't a whole lot more to the story.

Twist Down

I was hoping to find much more in Roman Polanski's version of Oliver Twist. I'm a Polanski fan and, of course, he wasn't there to defend his Euro-production of the Dickens classic. Still, like so many period films in Toronto (and pretty much everywhere else), it got a lot of the details right - down to the buttons and hats and filthy streets - but it had the generic feel of a spectacle that was paying this year's mortgage without any raw emotion to get in the way. Hey, Roman Polanski has bills to pay like the rest of us. But if his name hadn't been attached to the movie, you would have never guessed that he'd had a role in making it.

The Enemy Within

The War Within If raw emotion was what you were looking for, The War Within, directed by Joseph Castelo, may have been one of the films for the moment - a thriller with no stars, but a brain. It presents a scenario that's quite plausible, especially after the London subway bombings. After 9/11, the hand-wringing question that you tended to hear over and over again was, "Why do they hate us?" Here's why. A Pakistani engineer is seized in Paris, transported to Pakistan and tortured on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist group - and the brutal experience turns him into just that, a suicide bomber. The tension is built around a visit to New York, where an old friend and his Americanized family are trying to get along without making too much of the fears and slurs about Islam that are a growing part of daily life. It's as real as the metal detectors you walk through every day.

A Maysles Film Not To Miss

Another film that got far less attention than it deserved was Meet Marlon Brando, the rarely seen documentary by Albert and David Maysles about a press junket for the now-forgotten 1965 film, Code Name: Morituri. Maysles showed the Brando documentary as part of a program at which he also showed clips from a new autobiographical film, Handheld and From the Heart.

The Brando we see from 40 years ago is even-tempered as he endures interview after interview at a hotel in New York, where these press junkets tend to happen, even today. The same kinds of press blitzes took up huge areas in Toronto during the festival. With all due respect to my colleagues whose interviews I overheard, things haven't changed too much from the inanities of the mid-1960s. I'm not sure that today's clothes are better, either.

The camera barely moves as Brando answers questions from interviewers who have a minute or two with him, but call him "Marlon." And Brando is performing, not just as a celebrity but also as a face already iconized as Stanley Kowalski and Julius Caesar. Albert Maysles's camera is right there. The interviewers are also part of the formula - they come in various types. There are the men in their 50s - we used to call them hacks - who affect a familiarity with "Marlon" and try to spar with him when Brando dares to deflect a dumb question. Some try to ask him about American Indians, a cause of his back then. Brando sees that there is no point in talking about anything serious. Every time he's irked, it shows in his face. We forget that Albert Maysles, a cameraman, gave the film a cameraman's look.

Meet Marlon Brando Another type is the journalistic starlet, shivering in the presence of a movie star, who struggles to complete a sentence or two. Here Brando himself is shaken, sometimes by the beauty of the girl next to him asking inane questions (a former Miss USA), sometimes by the fact that a model of twenty has been hired as a journalist. He's incredulous that these innocents can call themselves journalists. But then again, this really isn't journalism. It just takes up most of the newspaper.

The film struck me as a work of conceptual art, a sort of tape loop, with variations - a different face next to Brando, a slightly different expression on his face as he listens to slightly different banalities, each one like a Marilyn or Jackie portrait. It's the kind of film Andy Warhol should have been making then, the kind of film that young filmmakers now should know.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:25 AM | Comments (2)

San Sebastian Dispatch. 5.

San Sebastian 53 Juan Manuel Freire's had a rough day at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

The first film to screen in the Official Section on Monday was a bitter comedy and/or a sweet drama by the French director Stéphane Brizé bearing the title of Je Ne Suis Pas Là Pour Être Aimé, that is, I'm Not Here To Be Loved. Don't believe it for a moment. All that every character in this film needs is love, especially its protagonist, a tired, lonesome 55-year-old bailiff (Patrick Chesnais) who has lost his desire to live on. His salvation comes in the form of Françoise (Anne Consigny), a beautiful 36-year-old woman who also suffers from the illness of emotional emptiness.

I'm Not Here To Be Loved Even as their relationship slowly evolves, it's doomed at the outset by the fact that she's going to be married - and she didn't tell him before their first kiss. Bridging the gap between Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud and Lost In Translation, Brizé offers here a cute love story set to the silence of solitude and, through small moments of happiness, the passion of tango, whose steps the main characters try to learn throughout the film. Not a classic, not even a small gem, but not devoid of great gags and occasional glimpses of beauty.

Next to Wae Chul (April Snow), however, this looks like a masterwork. This painfully vacuous tear-jerker by South Korean director Jin-ho Hur reprises In The Mood For Love while leaving out every hint of depth, complexity or truth, and offering in return a simple collection of great-looking postcards of lonely people feeling lonely in lonely places. Of course, everything's set to a sleep-inducing slow pace, which seems aimed at bringing an additional importance to the whole affair. A complete waste of time that reaches its lowest points in its softcore sex scenes that seem taken from any chapter you like of Zalman King's Red Shoe Diaries.

Iluminados Por El Fuego

Nor was the third entry in the competition any better yesterday: From Argentina, Iluminados Por El Fuego by Tristán Bauer. A Saving Private Ryan set during the Falklands War, this typical, topical war fare is a lost opportunity to explain that conflict in all its complexity or to elaborate on the experiences of its characters. What we find instead is a series of annoying dramatic vignettes, not half as subtle or meaningful as the ones from Spielberg's masterpiece, and action sequences where it's impossible to know what's going on - the camera's too close, the editing too fast, and everyone too concerned with covering up the circumstance of a tragically small budget.

L'Enfer It seemed like it'd be a weak day for Donosti, and Danis Tanovic's L'Enfer (Hell), a promising entry in the Zabaltegi program only confirmed the suspicion. The film is based on a script by the Polish master filmmaker Krzsystof Kieslowski and his frequent co-writer Krzysztof Piesiwicz and it's the second instalment of a projected trilogy, Heaven-Hell-Purgatory, the first of which was made by Tom Tykwer three years ago. Where Kieslowski gave true meaning to every single move of his camera, Tanovic seems simply to move out of caprice, searching more for easy impact than the necessary. Overwrought, boisterous and noisy, this looks more like a tribute to Stephen Sommers than to the rigorous Kieslowski.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:04 AM

September 19, 2005

Shorts, 9/19.

"Perhaps the finest eye in all of cinema and at a party he acts like one of the help - no waiter ever gave a smarter bow." Metropolis runs a few entries that didn't make it into Donald Richie's Japan Journals: 1947 - 2004.

In an essay for the Village Voice, Graham Fuller considers two iconic film stills.

Blue Angel

Dietrich may seem pliant reclining on the keg, but she's looking up and out of the frame at the unseen figure of the simpering Rath, whose humiliation and death she will inspire. Her sexual independence is not prideful, merely insouciant. Zhang, on the other hand, oozes sexual arrogance, but it's a pose: Chow knows she has the emotional integrity of a kitten.

2046

Matt Clayfield: "I'm working my way through Wong Kar-wai and Abel Ferrara, both of whom are positively rocking my world."

Filmbrain and Aaron Hillis catch the latest from Shinya Tsukamoto. FB: A "nightmare writ large... Though Haze lacks the extreme graphic violence of the Tetsuo films, or the hyperkineticism of Tokyo Fist, it's no less disturbing." Aaron: "[T]he most authentic frights come from what you can't see, not what's poked into the camera's eye to make audiences flinch. (Hollywood, take note!)"

Seven Swords

"Tsui Hark has made the most interesting movie so far about the insurgency in Iraq, and I'm surprised no one else is talking about it," writes Grady Hendrix. "Seven Swords is so clearly a movie about the US invasion of Iraq, and a celebration of the insurgents who are fighting back, that I'd be surprised if it could even get an American distribution deal." More reviews at Kaiju Shakedown: Everlasting Regret, The Wayward Cloud and The Great Yokai War.

"Some artists are so gloriously, compulsively themselves that they couldn't sell out properly if they tried." Still, as Jonathan Dee notes in a fine profile of David Cronenberg for the New York Times Magazine, "It's impossible to look over a list of the movies that well-meaning Hollywood emissaries have pushed on him over the last 20 years - Witness, The Truman Show, Top Gun, Flashdance, etc. - and not amuse yourself by imagining how some of the seminal pop cinema of the last 20 years might have been different had Cronenberg ever said yes."

In the paper, the editors address conservative groups who've embraced March of the Penguins: "Those who start looking outside the human family for old-fashioned values, in fact, will need to quickly narrow their search terms. They will surely want to ignore practices observed in animals like dolphins (gang rape), chimpanzees (exhibitionism), bonobo apes (group sex) and Warner Brothers cartoon rabbits (cross-dressing)." The Observer chimes in, and so, too, does Sheerly Avni at Alternet.

Also in the NYT:

  • David Carr: "At a time when the news media are being denied access to everything from pictures of imprisoned foreign nationals to critical government security documents, [George] Clooney, without pressing the analogy, has made a movie that reminds that government needs a vigorous, even oppositional press to find its best nature."

Good Night, and Good Luck

Reviews:

Separate Lies

"For those of us who love Dickens and have admired Roman Polanski's films, it has been with some slight apprehension that we have awaited Polanski's retelling of the resilient orphan's progress," writes John Irving. "We need not have feared... Polanski appears to have been born to make this film."

Oliver Twist

Related: John Horn's visit with Polanski for the LAT would seem to confirm Irving's conclusion. Definitely looking forward to Oliver Twist.

Back to the Guardian and Observer:

Empire

  • This is very, very cool: "Every Friday next month the silent black-and-white movie - which was filmed from the 44th floor of the Time-Life Building - is to be projected as a 14 by 16-metre image on the riverside facade of the National Theatre's flytower on London's South Bank." David Smith's reading of Warhol's Empire, however, is most definitely not. Related: Wolfgang Stahle's empire 24/7, via DVblog.

  • Mark Lawson on screenwriting credits and why "the difference between the word "and" and an ampersand can be measured in millions of dollars and years of glory."

  • Polly Vernon talks with Andre Benjamin. So, too, does Gill Pringle for the Telegraph.

  • Richard Vine on No Direction Home.

  • Mark Townsend: "America's A-list is deserting Hollywood to tread the famous old boards of Broadway." Right.

  • John Patterson on Guy Ritchie: "I honestly thought Swept Away had done for him the same way it 86-ed Madonna, but no, he's returning now, with Revolver, to the same well-trodden path mapped out, and clapped out, by his first two gangster movies."

"Last month, when there was a major retrospective of Welles's work at the Locarno Festival in Switzerland... it became evident that there were aspects of Welles that those closest to him knew nothing about," reports Geoffrey Macnab, who catches 40 minutes of Welles's last and as yet still incomplete feature, The Other Side of the Wind. Also in the Independent: David Thomson on "Spence and Kate" and Kaleem Aftab interviews Miranda July.

Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader on Winter Soldier: "I couldn't call this film a masterpiece, only indispensable."

In the dispatches from all the various festivals recently, we've been hearing a lot about adaptations. Little wonder the matter is on the mind of Slate's David Edelstein and the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter as well.

Speaking of the Post, here's their fall preview.

"Sofia, my daughter who was about 9 years old at the time, would sit on the porch of our house in Napa, and the process servers would come. She would tell them, 'Go away. This is Tara.' Things were bleak." Francis Ford Coppola tells Nancy Ramsey how The Outsiders helped turn things around. Also in the LAT: Allen Robertson on the National Ballet of China's production of Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern.

Annie Wagner in the Stranger: "It may seem odd to spin a story by the famously bigoted HP Lovecraft into a horror flick with gay themes, but screenwriter Grant Cogswell and director Dan Gildark hope their new movie Cthulhu - which starts shooting in Seattle and Astoria, Oregon, next week—will do precisely that."

MirrorMask

Andy Khouri talks with both Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean about MirrorMask for Comic Book Resources. Via Adam Finley at Cinematical. More via Movie City Indie: Gina McIntyre in the Hollywood Reporter.

Soon to be added to the Criterion Collection: Dazed and Confused. Wiley Wiggins doesn't let on much more than that, but isn't that enough?

Jeremy Ferguson gets a kick out of all the ways Hollywood got Canada completely wrong in the 40s and 50s. Also in the Globe and Mail: Gayle MacDonald talks with Johnny Depp.

Quietly on by must be quite an unusual work; BRAINTRUSTdv interviews its maker, Frank V Ross.

Daniel Robert Epstein queries, records and transcribes for SuicideGirls: Johnny Depp, Steve Martin and Jodie Foster.

Can cinephilia forge unlikely kinships? Looker considers a bond that might have been.

"It's sort of like a DVD extra, print-style." John August discovers the many versions Bob Baker's profile of him went through before running in the NYT.

Online viewing tip. The rules and trailer for Tube Poker, via Fimoculous.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM | Comments (2)

Fests, 9/19.

Awards play a smaller role at the Toronto International Film Festival than at any other festival its size, but even so, a few are given out on the last day, which this year was Saturday (I was, frankly, a little preoccupied with another race). IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has the list and report.

To all the coverage of the festival rounded up here, let's add Adam Lemke's concise reviews and photos at Movie Miser. Meanwhile, Girish has his favorites sorted out.

QT6 QT6 must have been a blast. Blake at Cinema Strikes Back and Micah at Dumb Distraction have tales of insomnia and pix to match. More on Tarantino's unique relationship with Austin from Lya Guerra in P.o.V.. More Austin: Matt Dentler's got the new titles added to the Fantastic Fest lineup (October 6 through 9).

Not Coming to a Theater Near You is primed for the New York Film Festival (September 23 through October 9).

Greg Ursic looks ahead to the Vancouver International Film Festival (September 29 through October 14) for Hollywood Bitchslap.

Another lineup unveiled: Raindance Film Festival (September 28 through October 9).

Posted by dwhudson at 11:37 AM

Guy Green, 1913 - 2005.

Guy Green
Guy Green was one of the outstanding film cameramen of the 1940s and 1950s, and the first from Britain to win an Oscar, awarded for his striking black and white photography on David Lean's Dickens adaptation, Great Expectations, in 1946. He did equally fine work on other notable British films before switching to the director's chair.

The Times of London. Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

As a director, Green was proudest of his work on A Patch of Blue, a 1965 interracial love story for which he wrote the screen adaptation of Elizabeth Kata's novel.... "It was a courageous film," [Sidney] Poitier told The Times on Thursday. The movie, he said, was "a comment on American society at that time," one that "accentuated the need for human beings to have respect for each other's culture."

Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times.

There was a lot of fuss from the unions about the film, threatening to ban it, even though they'd not seen it. I don't think I'd feel any different today about the issues it raised. Those issues still remain - a man's right not to be pushed around because other people don't agree with him.

Guy Green on The Angry Silence, as quoted by Tom Vallance in the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:39 AM

San Sebastian Dispatch. 4.

San Sebastian 53 More from Juan Manuel Freire at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Six years ago, German director Andreas Dresen won the Best New Director Award at another great Spanish festival, Valladolid, with his rather enjoyable Night Shapes. His competition entry in San Sebastian this year is Sommer vorm Balkon (Summer In Berlin), a decidedly different film, though it deals once again with all the lonely people and has a winning sort of a deadpan humor reminiscent of the work of Aki Kaurismäki or Jim Jarmusch.

Sommer vorm Balkon

While Night Shapes had a bitter, hard-edged tone, Dresen's latest is an affable, light affair, and ultimately a feel-good one. It tells the story of two thirty-something friends (the very talented Inka Friedrich and Nadja Uhl, who illuminated the cloudy Donosti yesterday with their presence) who try to live, survive and fall in love in a city where the sun can't lift the weight of solitude and sadness. There's nothing particularly annoying about Dresen's work, but neither anything extraordinary - it's a decent, sure-footed dramedy that follows its characters with a sharp sense of perception but fails to move or transcend.

Things weren't going to get better. A clumsy, ill-fated movie, La Vida Perra De Juanita Narboni (A Dog's Life for Juanita Narboni) is a Spanish-Moroccan co-production and an attempt at an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ángel Márquez. The film follows the sarcastic title character (overplayed by Mariola Fuentes; international audiences may remember her as Rosa in Pedro Almodóvar's Talk To Her) through her solitary life against the backdrop of a Tangier which slowly turns from golden to grey. Tangier-born, well-respected cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine (DP for Victor Erice, Fernando Trueba and Almodóvar) has made possibly one of his weakest efforts in this terribly dusty movie without a single shade of brilliance. Everything is wrong. From the horrible acting to the lacklustre photography, from the overtly literary script to and axe-like editing, this painful experience could gain a reputation as one of those "so bad it's good" films that we enjoy seeing again with amicable company.

Before It Had a Name

The same can be said for Before It Had A Name, the film by Italian Giada Colagrande screened in the Zabaltegi program. Reminiscent of Jean-Marc Barr's Too Much Flesh, this is a painful vanity project from a couple who wants the world to see how much they want each other - Colagrande is the director and lead actress and her husband, Willem Dafoe, is the co-lead and co-writer. Not a drama, not a comedy, though dense with hints of both, this is a nonsensical film that cannot be described without using "maybe" a couple of times in every line.

Forgettable European mystery-dramas Een Ander Zijn Geluk (Someone Else's Happiness) and Spiele Leben (You Bet Your Life) weren't to improve yesterday's Zabaltegi selection.

Holy Lola

Salvation came in the form of Bertrand Tavernier's remarkable Holy Lola, the deeply humanistic story of a man and a woman trying to adopt a child in a corrupted Cambodia. Tavernier, whose eye for detail still amazes, captivates and moves, closely follows the young couple (Jacques Gamblin and Isabelle Carré) through all the legal and illegal procedures and all their personal ups and downs. Compared to this, the similarly-themed Casa De Los Babys by John Sayles is just a scheme, a sketch, a simplistic glance - here we find the whole picture of the human drama of those whose passionate search for parenthood clashes with power, corruption and lies. A full-blooded, moving tranche de vie.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:07 AM | Comments (2)

September 18, 2005

San Sebastian Dispatch. 3.

San Sebastian 53 Juan Manuel Freire files another dispatch from the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Per Fly knows and loves Donostia's festival, having won the award for best screenplay for Arven (Inheritance) in 2003. The Danish director has presented here in competition the similarly-toned Drabet (Manslaughter), a crude but also poetic drama about terrorism and the search for personal identity.

Drabet

The third and final part of a trilogy, a tragedy of the middle class which Fly initiated with Bænken (The Bench), the film once again presents Jesper Christensen, this time as a highly respected 52-year-old college teacher, married and with a young son, who is having an illicit affair with a former student who's an extreme left-wing activist. In one of her group's assaults, a policeman loses his life. In what's going to be revealed as a decision dense with painful consequences, the teacher tries to help her instead of protecting his reputation and his family. Then comes guilt, rage, sadness and a wide range of intense feelings which Fly portrays with a rather perceptive eye. Some might say this is an ambiguous film that can't seem to decide which options to defend (political, sentimental, social), but that could be exactly the point - Drabet is just as contradictory as its characters are. A thoughtful, potent and ultimately moving piece of film.

Drabet is once more proof of the high quality of San Sebastian's latest Official Section. The same cannot be said about 7 Vírgenes, latest work from Alberto Rodríguez, co-director of El factor Pilgrim and director of El traje, which premiered in the Zabaltegi section two years ago. Following a young couple of friends who commit small crimes on outskirts of Sevilla, this is part social commentary, part comedy, part drama, and it couldn't be more manipulative or have a more confusing visual style. One moment you're looking at a near-documentary sequence, the other you're confronted with a cool scene that seems taken from a video art experiment. As with some works by Fernando León de Aranoa, it seems to be a commercial affair disguised as "necessary cinema."

Sauf le respect que je vous dois

Much more rigorous is Fabienne Godet's Sauf le respect que je vous dois, a dense drama that places half its bets on social commentary and the other half on the thriller. The brilliant Olivier Gourmet plays a common man whose happy life is deeply disturbed by a tragic event. The French director follows in the line of Laurent Cantet, convincingly merging the personal and the social, the specific and the general, politics and emotion in a film swimming in suggestiveness. This was the highlight of the Zabaltegi section yesterday, which also presented the trashy thriller Shadowboxer, with an out-of-this-world cast featuring Helen Mirren, Stephen Dorff and Cuba Gooding Jr; the terribly cheesy Kim Ki-duk film, Hwal (The Bow); and the quirky Belgian comedy, L'iceberg. More to come tomorrow.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:02 AM | Comments (7)

September 17, 2005

San Sebastian Dispatch. 2.

Juan Manuel Freire sends word from San Sebastian.

San Sebastian 53 Two entries of contrasting quality for the second day of competition here in Donostia. The first, Xiang Ri Kui (Sunflower), is the latest effort from Zhang Yang, the Chinese director of Shower and Quitting, and it's a rather weak one, a flat, overlong tale of the distant but finally reconcilable relationship between an authoritative father and his son, who has a great talent for painting. Everything's set against the backdrop of change in the country, with the father being released from a labor camp after Mao's death and then impelling the son to take some advantage of the pleasure and freedom of Cultural Revolution. The director almost seems to be working for the government here, always giving a sense of an evolving country whose future couldn't be much brighter. For an insightful view of China's changing reality, better to plunge into Jia Zhangke's The World than into this saccharine-fuelled melodrama.

El Aura The second entry, Fabian Bielinsky's El Aura, was a pleasant surprise. After the witty but forgettable Nine Queens, whose plot relied almost entirely on tricks, Bielinsky offers here a glimpse into a sweet hereafter for his work as a director - a powerful, moving, slow-boiled thriller with the same sense of landscape as Terrence Malick's, the stylisation of Michael Mann and the sad violence of late Eastwood. Ricardo Darín subtly plays an epileptic, dysfunctional taxidermist who takes advantage of an accident to commit the perfect robbery. What seems like a fine set-up for a screwball comedy turns out to lead to a grim thriller, a great story, devoid of any radical twists or turns (which seemed to annoy some of my colleagues at yesterday's screening), of a man getting hold of his life by rather questionable means. A near-perfect film which deserves at least a cult following.

Meanwhile, the Zabaltegi section offered yesterday a cocktail of sex, drugs, rock and violence when it screened the much-discussed Batalla en el cielo by Carlos Reygadas, which I personally find naïve, as is everything by Gaspar Noé, the documentary Inside Deep Throat and a fictional account of the last days of Rolling Stones' guitarist Brian Jones, Stoned. So much punk-rock cinema that the festival seemed like Gijon for a few hours.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 AM

September 16, 2005

Cinema Scope. 24.

Ah, the weekend, and time enough to catch up with the latest issues of a few film magazines and journals. Cinema Scope, for example, which is not to be confused with the Italian bilingual quarterly, Cinemascope; it, too, has a new issue out, its third, devoted to "Cinema and Migrating Identity." Somehow, over the summer, the second issue, on remakes, alternative versions and parodies, slipped by unnoticed around here, right along with a summer issue of Offscreen. But for now, Cinema Scope:

The Passenger Robert Koehler's piece on Antonioni's The Passenger is the must-read here. For the memory of seeing it the first time and the insistence that one sees it many times. For the amusing juxtaposition of past readings. For details on where which versions have been all this time. "Only such a mysterious film deserves such mysterious treatment: out of nowhere, sometime in the middle of the 80s, it was gone; now, out of nowhere, it's back."

There's a pair of Rossellini pieces: George Kaltsounakis on how Open City's "reliance on the tried and true traits of narrative cinema eclipses [the] innovations" of neorealism and entries from the diary Erin Hirschberg's kept while Guy Maddin made My Dad is 100 Years Old: "Isabella sheds her mother's skin today to don the eternal raiments of Fellini himself."

Richard Porton gets his bearings before "tackling some of the critical quandaries raised by Hany Abu-Assad's prize-winning film, Paradise Now, winner of the Best Director Award at this year's Berlin film festival."

Interviews:

Workingman's Death

Jonathan Rosenbaum once again rounds up his latest DVD finds, but not before taking note of the implications of "a notable difference between the predilections and attitudes of most consumers of restorations and those of most of the individuals who bring them about."

Andrew Tracy celebrates the work of HB Halicki, "films too silly to be taken seriously but too fascinating to be taken any way else."

Reviews:

Darwin's Nightmare

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 PM | Comments (2)

Film Comment. Sept / Oct 05.

An Autumn Afternoon While the print edition of the new issue of Film Comment is shaped by the New York Film Festival, online it appears (via a spiffy new site) dominated by Japanese cinema.

Chuck Stephens recounts the history of the Shochiko Studios, the subject of a special NYFF series, and explains why, "In so many ways, Ozu and Shochiku - which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year - were made for each other." But that doesn't stop the arrival of "Castle Shochiku's home-grown Anti-Ozu!" In an online-only sidebar, Stephens points to the highlights of that series.

There's virtual space enough, too, to run Chris Fujiwara's piece on Mikio Naruse in full: "If women and their problems predominate in Naruse's films, as in Mizoguchi's, the unique mixture of anguish and calm that characterizes the work of the less famous (but no less great) director arises from the fact that his female figures are always doubled."

"What's happened to [Thomas] Vinterberg?" asks Wesley Morris in his review of Dear Wendy.

Film Comment: Oct 05 Amy Taubin has a new "Art and Industry" column up: "If nothing else, Stranded in Canton makes us aware of the chaos outside the frame of every [William] Eggleston photograph. One might venture, on the evidence of this swerving, lurching, ghostly video diary that, for Eggleston, time is chaos, against which still images and the rhythms of music are two forms of defense."

And there's one more online exclusive: Harlan Jacobson interviews Good Night, and Good Luck screenwriter Grant Heslov.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 PM

Sight & Sound. Oct 05.

Patrick Fahy's report from the set of Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist, the cover story for the new issue of Sight & Sound, is not online. Hmph. But we do get to read Andrew Osmond on Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, a piece in which he sketches the background of the relationship between anime and children's literature while placing this particular film in the context of Miyazaki's other work.

Innocence

Jonathan Romney: "[Lucile] Hadzihalilovic had announced that her eagerly awaited first feature would be in the horror genre, but she ended up making another film entirely. If there is horror in Innocence, it is of a dreamlike, fairytale variety - a gothic unease all the more discomforting because it is so hard to pin down."

Reviews:

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 PM

Cineaste. Fall 05.

Cineaste: Fall 05 "We at Cineaste believe that, regardless of the degree of their success with audiences or critics, those directors who develop a personal, even idiosyncratic, cinematic style are essential to the evolution of film as an art form - whether in shaping cinematic language or narrative devices and formats, or through their influence as other filmmakers pick up, refine, or enter into 'dialog' with their earlier experiments." And so, in its pages, only two of which besides that editorial are online, the magazine does what it can to encourage them.

As far as global critical reception goes, Wong Kar-wai doesn't need much help, of course. But Shelly Kraicer's piece is valuable for its mapping of the fork in the road that reception took right off the bat, Peter Brunette leading one way, Stephen Teo, another.

Cindy Lucia talks with Sally Potter about Yes.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:36 PM

San Sebastian Dispatch. 1.

San Sebastian 53 Has it already been a full year since Juan Manuel Freire was sending dispatches from San Sebastian?

San Sebastian: Robert Wise The 53rd edition of the San Sebastian International Film Festival opened yesterday under the shadow of a painfully timed death [more]. The work of Robert Wise is to be the subject of a thorough retrospective and his wife was going to take part in the opening ceremonies. It's a sad note for the Donostian festival to open on, particularly because of its special relationship with Wise, who was president of the jury in 1994. This was the talk of the town yesterday - films took second place in conversations. Even so, the projectors rolled, of course.

The first film to unreel, Obaba, the latest from Montxo Armendáriz, was a rather disappointing attempt at adapting a famous collection of short stories by Bernardo Atxaga. As usual, Armendáriz demonstrates a certain visual flair, but this time around, his style is too cold - this is supposed to be a captivating narrative patchwork about love, loss and memory, but its hard cinematic grammar, painfully distant, freezes the emotions and makes them impossible to comprehend or share. Add problems with the script (many lines sound as if they were taken from, well, a good novel, but not from real life), not to mention the performances (some of the actors, including female lead, seem to be reading a teleprompter), and you have a frustrating work from the usually inspired director of Tasio or Secrets of the Heart.

Obaba couldn't make it into competition, as this nostalgic, quasi-magical tale was just screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The first film to screen in competition was none other than Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, a personal adaptation of a mighty classic work of English literature, more or less their Don Quijote. As we could expect from the British maverick, this is not a conventional adaptation, but an experiment in whimsical metacinema which moves and shakes with a nice urgency. Looking like a mix-up of 24 Hour Party People and his adaptation of Jude, or a James Ivory film shot through the lens of a speed freak, this strange version of Tristram Shandy is a light, wacky entertainment that doesn't change cinema a bit, though it at least gives it a kick in the butt. Nice try, yes.

Zabaltegi Zabaltegi, a section reserved for pearls from other festivals, yesterday screened two films of rather different degrees of satisfaction. Abel Ferrara's latest, Mary, is a teological mish-mash which can leave a viewer confused and dry, but the new film by Rodrigo García, Nine Lives, is a beautiful addition to that genre baptized by Manohla Dargis as "We Are The World"; in other words, it's those films made up of intertwined stories of urbanite, lonely people, with an ending usually verging on a new-agey celebration of universal bonds. Unoriginal as it may be, Nine Lives is made with such taste that you have to leave prejudices behind and enjoy what is surely one of the best-written films in a long while. One story in particular, that of pregnant Diana (Robin Wright Penn) and her old ex, Damian (Jason Isaacs), discussing love long past in the cold corridors of a supermarket, resonates with an emotional depth that's not easy to find. Some simply marvelous minutes of cinema.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:47 AM

September 15, 2005

Shorts, 9/15.

In the Village Voice, you'll find Michael Atkinson claiming Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is "surely the retro auteur's sublimest elegy for lost time next to Ed Wood."

Corpse Bride

But for the New York Press's Matt Zoller Seitz, "It's not quite funny enough to get by with just being funny, and it lacks the assured mix of whimsy and melancholy that made Burton's last two movies, Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, feel like evolutionary leaps forward."

Atkinson also reviews Liev Schreiber's Everything Is Illuminated, "substantially less ambitious than its source material, but that may be what saves it from implosion." More from Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly (where she also interviews Tom Wilkinson), who finds the film "a romp" but also a "brave and loving movie."

Also: Film Forum will be screening both Mikhail Kalatozov's "masterpiece" I Am Cuba and Vicente Ferraz's "addictive chronicle" of its making, I Am Cuba: Siberian Mammoth.

Also in the Voice:

Lord of War

Occupation: Dreamland In the City Pages, Terri Sutton brings up a few issues about Winter Soldier that usually get lost in the brouhaha over its more obvious provocations.

David Fellerath in the Independent Weekly: "What emerges in Occupation: Dreamland is a surprisingly intimate portrait of remarkably ordinary young men with complex feelings about their calling as soldiers and the utility of their mission."

Back to the NYP: Jim Knipfel on Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Michael Margolies on Pierre Rehov: "With six films already to his credit and another on the way, this serious, never boring, and above all else courageous documentarian is starting to make some serious waves."

"[W]e're both trying to say the things that nobody wants to even say to their own friends, the most embarrassing truths we know about ourselves and generally hide from the public. Things that don't come out in narratives or documentary films because everyone is trying to justify themselves rather than show human weakness." That's Jennifer Reeves (The Time We Killed) in conversation with Jenni Olson (The Joy of Life). The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston had the excellent idea of introducing them to each other. Also: Chuck Stephens on Jia Zhang-ke's The World; Fiona Ng calls up the director.

With Peter Cowie's talk with Alan Parker, Kamera continues its series on sound in cinema.

Also:

Guardian: Zadie/Garbo Zadie Smith, whose new Booker-nominated novel, On Beauty, is reaping praise, though she herself has been running into trouble with the press (Ed Champion has the details), has a piece on Greta Garbo flagged atop today's edition of the newly redesigned Guardian. Evidently, like Bono or Colette or, of course, Garbo herself, she only needs one name now. At any rate: "Post-Garbo, we have taken what resonated in Garbo's fluid sexuality and mystery and hardened it, made it a commodity."

Also:

  • Ken Loach: "Architecture is the most public of the arts, and that is what we need to re-evaluate most urgently."

  • "Actually I think CGI has the potential to equal or even surpass what the human hand can do. But it is far too late for me to try it." Xan Brooks interviews Hayao Miyazaki.

  • Three European festivals (in Locarno, Pula and Taormina) are thrilling audiences with giant screens, perfect sound and popular films, writes Ronald Bergan.

  • Sim Branaghan remembers Eric Pulford, "the single most important figure in the history of the British film poster and responsible for some 1,000 designs during almost 50 years."

At Twitch, X breaks down Film 2.0's survey of who moves and who shakes the Korean film industry.

Lola Ogunnaike previews The Showbiz Show With David Spade, "which mercilessly ridicules the entertainment industry at large, leaving no celebrity unturned." Also in the New York Times, a brief blurb from Lawrence van Gelder on another Godfather novel and the midweek reviews:

A Woman Under the Influence The Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Adams: "[Peter] Falk has been working on his autobiography for the last several years (he hopes to have it completed for a fall 2006 publication), and has been reluctant to share thoughts and stories that he's saving for the book. But his enthusiasm for Cassavetes is such that he takes only a moment to pause and make sure he's not using the same words he's just written before diving into the subject."

The Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns looks ahead to the fall season.

Back to the LA Weekly: Ron Stringer reviews Taschen's The Stanley Kubrick Archives and Holly Willis talks to video artist Doug Aitken.

"As long as aspartame kills fewer than 300 people per year in the United States, the American Food and Drug Administration will continue to consider it 'safe.'" Christopher Thrall is rattled in the Vue Weekly by Cori Brackett's Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World.

Terry Sawyer isn't buying the supposed link between Star Trek and pedophilia. Also at PopMatters: Bring back the grim in the Brothers Grimm, argues Jennifer Makowsky.

The Economist snickers at "Celebrity Culture: An Interdisciplinary Conference."

Stop Smiling rounds up September's DVD releases.

At the AV Club, Keith Phipps and Nathan Rabin: "Films That Time Forgot Revisited."

Online viewing tip. Brendan Dawes experiments with ways of allowing audio to edit video. Via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:27 PM

Morris vs Vérité

Alejandro Adams offers an against-the-grain view of Errol Morris and his work at the Digital Filmmaker. Watching Vernon, Florida, for example, "the viewer is left feeling lower than a voyeur, complicit in Morris's aloof, don't-feed-the-animals approach. And if we happen not to take umbrage at his manner, we may soon find ourselves thinking, conversely, I hope I never have to drive through that part of Florida. Or any other part of the Deep South. Maybe only sophisticated urban liberals should be allowed to vote. Maybe these people should be institutionalized. Maybe I am a fascist."

Errol Morris In his interview with Morris for the AV Club, Noel Murray does not propose this possibility. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Alejandro Adams, it's an engaging discussion. Besides noting that Gates of Heaven is "fucked up!" and that that's a good thing, he does get around to an issue Adams brings up (and notes, too, that he's writing a book about the issue):

Truth exists independent of style... Properly considered, it's a quest, a pursuit. To say that vérité is more truthful than something that is narrated is just misplaced. Completely wrong... If someone tells you that George Bush is not the 43rd president of the United States, they might be engaged in wishful thinking, or denial, but if they make that claim, it's either true or false! And you can assess that, regardless of whether there's an omniscient narrator, or an unreliable narrator, or it's shot in vérité, or it's manipulated, it's agitprop, whatever! It makes no difference! It's a style!

And here's the lecture he refers to in that interview.

At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Rumsey Taylor argues that the TV series, First Person, "displays the extent of the degradation of Morris's work," though it's "still better than anything I watch regularly on television."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM

Fests, 9/15.

An entry from Toronto you've just got to read can be found over at... Premiere. Yes, there's a special Toronto thing going on at Premiere. You may remember, back in May, that Aaron Aradillas at RockCritics.com revealed the refreshing wit and wisdom of Glenn Kenny, who's just taken a look around him at some of these Toronto screenings:

Taurus

A lot of the associate editor types coming in exemplify a taste that I'll - for immediate lack of a better term - classify as hipster-bourgeois.... For the hipster-bourgeois, it's not just about not seeing the new Aleksandr Sokurov movie; it's about creating a film culture in which Aleksandr Sokurov is not permitted to exist. (But, thank God, he still does.) In any case, for the first time in my life, I really understand how William Holden's character in Fedora felt.

I'm afraid digesting the gist has him coming off more sour and less funny than the short read actually is, so go, read and check his "Toronto top five so far."

Scott Foundas has been blogging for the LA Weekly, and he's seeing throngs line up for buzzless films, "there for no reason other than their love of movies," ticket-holders who couldn't care less whether any particular film is seeing its world, national or regional premiere that particular day in that particular place: "At the end of the day, the best film festivals are simply the ones that show the best available films, regardless of other considerations - a point more festivals would do well to absorb, and embrace." In the weekly itself, Foundas reviews two films screening at the fest, Dear Wendy and A History of Violence.

Given all the multimedia coverage last year, it's surprising how long the New York Times waited to chime in this year, but, a full week into the festival, Manohla Dargis hits the highlights.

LAKIFF 05 And for the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein. Also: Kevin Thomas on the "Modernist Master: Michelangelo Antonioni" series (LACMA, through September 30) and the Los Angeles Korean International Film Festival (tomorrow through September 18).

Sara Vilkomerson goes people-watching for the New York Observer. Rex Reed's there, too.

Meantime, for Toronto completists, pointers to the real wall-to-wall coverage have been gathered here, though I'll add one blog to the list: TIFF Talk.

The Austin Chronicle rolls out its big and bulky preview of the enticing Cinematexas 10 program. The fest continues through Sunday.

Meanwhile, QT6 has Louis Black reminiscing about double and triple features past in grind houses long gone and Marc Savlov recommends the Alex de la Iglesia series at the Alamo Drafthouse running from September 21 through 28.

The Global Film Initiative David Ng in the City Pages: "Delving far beyond where most art-house programmers dare to doggy-paddle, the fourth annual "Global Lens" film series (beginning Thursday at Walker Art Center) offers moviegoers the closest approximation to 'traveling' in the Bowlesian sense of the term - an around-the-world cine-voyage that's bound to leave you thrilled and maybe a little malarial following stops in a Malian village, a Bosnian shit pit, and a Vietnamese bog, among other inhospitable locales. This is world cinema without a return ticket." Also: Twin Cities Fall Film Events.

The New York Film Festival opens September 23 and runs through October 9, and it's nice to see J Hoberman back in the Village Voice, prepping readers:

The lineup includes several eccentric literary adaptations and more than a few movies pondering the tortured ethical relationship between art and life. Trend spotters may also note that, out of five East Asian films, three are from South Korea, and of the 16 titles that have distribution, no fewer than five belong to Sony, including the director's cut of Antonioni's The Passenger. Undistributed must-sees include Hou's Three Times, Sokurov's The Sun and Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle. There may even be tickets.

Shochiku at 110 Bracing for the NYFF's program, "The Beauty of the Everyday: Japan's Shochiku Company at 100" (which runs longer, through October 20) Elliott Stein offers a backgrounder on the studio.

The Boston Phoenix's Gerald Peary fronts his preview of the traveling Manhattan Short Film Festival with a personal list: "Ten Great Live-Action Short Films since the coming of sound."

David Fellerath outlines the season's goings on in and around Durham NC for the Independent Weekly.

As Brian notes, the lineup for the Mill Valley Film Festival (October 6 through 16) is taking shape.

LFF 05 Via the IFC Blog, the lineup for the London Film Festival (October 19 through November 3).

In Die Zeit (and in German), Katja Nicodemus looks back to Venice. Yes, this was a disappointing festival all around this year, she admits, but those who say it's the beginning of the end are reading way too much into a single edition.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 PM

Toronto Dispatch. 7.

David D'Arcy, whose most recent piece up at GreenCine is an interview with Albert Maysles, takes in two docs in Toronto.

Here's Frank (and Sydney) Frank Gehry

Documentaries have not been the most prominent section of the Toronto International Film Festival this year, although there have been some good ones - The Smell of Paradise is a tour through global Jihad in which leaders stigmatized as monsters in the media "war on terror" speak face-to-face [more]; John and Jane gives us surprising access to young Indians, the voices on the telephone who perform what we call outsourced jobs; Diameter of the Bomb measures the immeasurable human impact of a terrorist attack.

One doc given special status by the festival is Sketches of Frank Gehry, Sydney Pollack's portrait of the architect, now in his 70s, whose buildings have nurtured a greater public awareness of architecture and design. Pollack is the first Hollywood director to make a film about a contemporary artist, reason enough for this film to be of interest. For Toronto, there's another dimension to all this. Gehry was born here and got his first taste of architecture here. His new building for the Art Gallery of Ontario is now under construction.

Frank Gehry Gehry is now one of the public faces of architecture. His buildings have turned drab cities into tourist destinations and revived abandoned neighborhoods. They have reminded the public that, like it or not, the built environment shapes their lives. They have also shaped the way a new generation of architects sees design - either in homage toward the master, or in rebellion against him.

From the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, we now all know Frank Gehry. He may be one of the few contemporary artists whom people outside insular art circles can identify by name, which may explain why distributors are considering acquiring Sketches.

We also all know Sydney Pollack, director of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Jeremiah Johnson, Tootsie and Out of Africa. Sketches of Frank Gehry is Pollack's first documentary. The title comes from the spidery hand-scrawled drawings that are usually the beginnings of a Frank Gehry design. It isn't mechanical drawing, and it isn't the monumental phallic soaring that you might associate with the myth of architecture, but it's Gehry's hand. Pollack then follows Gehry's office through a process that turns that scrawl into a series of models that change with whatever inflection comes to mind.

It's a conversation between two friends and a look at the creative process, which Pollack and others record with small digital cameras as the conversation digresses in all sorts of directions. Yet this is a special creative process, one that involves projects that often have huge amounts of money on the line, money that comes from someone other than the film director or the architect. Gehry cites something he heard Pollack say years before, when Pollock observed that he was seeking to find that tiny space in a commercial practice in which he could produce something of quality. As Gehry sees it, architecture for him is aiming at that same tiny window.

Frank Gehry Pollack shot this documentary over five years' time and spoke to a range of critics, curators, architects and even some detractors. Artists talk about Gehry building with cheap, debased materials like plywood and chain-link, and the film notes that he puts his money where his mouth is, using these materials in his own house. Thomas Krens of the Guggenheim Museum, Gehry's most prominent patron to date, warns not to assume that Gehry's Columbo-style homespun modesty reflects the man in full. Inside those rumpled clothes is a huge competitive ego, says the museum director, who has himself never been accused of being ego-impaired.

Real criticism of an architect isn't found much in architecture docs, since they tend to be commissioned by the people who are paying these same architects. When you're spending $100 million or much more on a building, and often trying to raise money as you begin to build, ambiguity is the last thing you want on the screen. Sketches is something of a love letter, but it's not a vanity film. In Pollack's doc, Hal Foster, who teaches at Princeton, faults Gehry for designing spectacle. Gehry himself notes that critics say he's designing a brand, building "logotecture." To the film's credit, we see Gehry working out a new architectural language, fearing being branded for history as the guy who used chain-link or the guy who did Bilbao.

Much of this ground has been covered in the many docs about Gehry and his work. What's new here are the observations of a man who has been central to Gehry's career, his blind psychotherapist Milton Wechsler, whose group therapy sessions have been packed with Hollywood stars. (Now there's a documentary to be made.) Wechsler, spry for a nonagenarian, notes that Gehry's creative force (well-known and prized among his artist friends in LA) lacked confidence until the architect left an unsatisfying marriage. He also admits that other notoriously envious architects watched Gehry flourish under Wechsler's counseling and asked Wechsler to be their therapist. Wechsler turned them all down. You have to have something behind the floodgates for there to be any difference when the floodgates open, he tells Pollack: "I didn't make Frank Gehry famous. He made me famous."

Frank Gehry We hear of auspicious accidents on Gehry's way to architecture. He loved flying, which he had a chance to try once his family moved to Los Angeles to soothe his ailing father's health, and he dreamed of becoming a pilot. Perhaps he might have; teachers told him and his mother that he had no talent for design.

Pollack's parallels between the creative dilemma of the film director and that of the architect raise questions worth exploring. Like film, architecture is among the most collaborative of the arts. Look at it closely, and you'll see that the architect is required to perform many more roles than a film director would want to have, unless you happen to be Woody Allen - he's the screenwriter, producer, director, publicist and leading man (women at that level of the profession are still rare).

No journey through Gehry's design career is completed in 83 minutes - because he's had to leave out so many buildings, Pollack gives us a better sense of Gehry the character than Gehry the architect, although he captures the light on the surfaces of Gehry's structures with a delicate touch that I've never seen before on film. Moreover, any documentary about a person who still lives and works is destined to be overtaken by events. In this case, those events are the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the site of the George Orr Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, a building under construction devoted to the work of a quirky ceramicist who's had a wide influence on American artists. Not only the building was damaged; the tall trees framing it went down, and can't be replaced like a steel tower or a wall. We'll wait and see how Gehry resolves that problem. And we'll inevitably see it in another documentary.

Eggleston's Moving Pictures

Another doc, Stranded in Canton, was one of the festival's revelations. It's the only "film" by William Eggleston, the man considered the "father" of contemporary color photography, and the version that we saw this week reflected the editing of Robert Gordon, but these moving pictures shot by Eggleston show a dead-on eye for cinema.

Stranded in Canton In 1973, Eggleston got a then-new Sony Betacam Portapack and for two years or so turned it on his friends in Memphis, the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. If anyone's old enough to remember, and I am, barely, these were the days when video "art" consisted of turning on the camera and letting it run, mostly during art openings and other events when artists were getting drunk and hamming it up for a new technology. The sound was off-mike, the picture rambled around like the tipsy person who tended to be carrying the camera, and, to put it very mildly, there was no content besides party banter. Eggleston did much more than that.

Stranded in Canton does indeed consist of conversations with Eggleston's drunk friends, who tended to be writers, musicians or artists. What he did with the camera in black and white was different, and there's still an elegance to it. Somehow he has an extraordinary instinct for composition (which we see in his later insistence that he will only shoot one subject one time). It's been said that you could freeze any image in the film and it would be a great still photograph. That's true, but Eggleston gets a specific image with this camera than you won't find in still photography. You'll see the sensitive camera treat whites (the colors, not the people) in its own particular way, modulating shades of grey with gentle lines that can remind you of the portraits by the artist Alex Katz, who wasn't a huge celebrity in the early 1970s. When the light is too intense, the image, or part of it, just goes white. Some of the close-ups are truly radiant, and the soft grey also softens coarse and gross scenes in which geeks bite off the heads of chickens on the streets of New Orleans - another ritual to mourn?

Eggleston's feel for the moving image is something special, too. He gets tactile on his subjects, often so close that you can tell he's annoying them, but faces and bodies move with grace in and out of his line of vision. Think of a Southern Fellini. The pictures of his friends, his children and of others who happen to be there tell a story that we know: there's a dreamy grace in honky-tonk excess. (It's important to remember this grace, as New Orleans lies in ruins and the South now seems trapped under the graceless thumb of God and NASCAR.) In a perceptive complementary film that also showed here, Michael Almereyda's William Eggleston in the Real World, Eggleston describes his photography as "the war against the obvious." In Stranded in Canton, he hasn't yet moved to that photographic approach. His color photographs eventually look like extended shots taken by a camera that doesn't move. His black and white video camera twists and turns, following his characters, whether they're graceful or grotesque. They're odd, not obvious.

The laconic Eggleston told an audience here that he gave up video when he tried to shift into color, and the machinery was just too heavy at the time to carry around. Soon he would move into the contemplative style that we know today.

The black and white video of Stranded in Canton can't really be called contemplative. It moves and sways and shifts with a soothing pace. Eggleston's deep mellifluous voice indicates that he's as addled as the characters in the frame. Those characters are valuable souvenirs of a New Orleans that may be lost forever. We're lucky that Eggleston saved the 75 hours of tape that he shot, even if he did decide not to pick up the camera again.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:12 PM

Robert Wise, 1914 - 2005.

Robert Wise, a four-time Academy Award winner whose epic 65-year career ranged from editing Orson Welles's Citizen Kane to directing the quintessential 1960s musical The Sound of Music to launching the first Star Trek film, died Wednesday of heart failure. He was 91.

Duane Byrge and Gregg Kilday, the Hollywood Reporter.

Robert Wise

A particular admirer of Mr Wise's editing was Martin Scorsese, the director who was instrumental in getting Mr Wise the American Film Institute's life achievement award in 1998. "His films became increasingly fascinating to me because of the editing style, a very crisp, clear style of editing that kind of points the audience toward where to look in a scene," Mr Scorsese said.

New York Times.

Robert Wise was in 1989 president of the jury at the San Sebastian Film Festival. This year's edition has scheduled a retrospective exhibition of his work... [The] opening ceremony will become a painful tribute to the well-known American director. The San Sebastian Film Festival decided to dedicate this year's retrospective exhibition to Wise since "his assorted films represent all the history of Hollywood, from B-movies to the greatest pictures."

EiTB24.

To make it acceptable for kids to be dancing in the streets. That's not a normal activity... And I started to wonder what the city would look like from a helicopter just straight down. That's how we got the opening. It was New York, and a real New York, it was a New York that even New Yorkers hadn't seen from that angle. And I think, because it was kind of an abstract, I think it put the audience in the frame of mind to accept the kids dancing in the street just a few minutes later, a few beats later after we get out of the playground.

Robert Wise on West Side Story, in conversation with Harry Kreisler in 1998 at Berkeley.

Update: Dennis Cozzalio and the Pop View.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 AM

Toronto Dispatch. 6.

Writer and producer Shannon Gee is a veteran dispatcher for GreenCine.

Capote If the argument is that all film is an adaptation - an adaptation of emotion, reality, humanity, personality and imagination - that would make the Toronto International Film Festival a giant adaptation of life and all its many angles. Some films are more clear-cut than others, easily labeled "adaptation" or "biopic," and there seem to be a lot of them this year. The best of the bunch is Bennett Miller's Capote, which is also one of the best films (if not the best film) that I've seen at the festival, and many folks I've been yapping with at screenings agree with me. Capote is an adaptation of a biography that is a telling of an event (Truman Capote's researching and writing the seminal In Cold Blood) that was based on another event (the killings and the convictions at the core of the book.)

Never mind that the film is superbly acted. Can-do-no-wrongs Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener make no false moves in their portrayals of Truman Capote and his childhood friend, researcher and author Nelle Harper Lee. Yeah, I didn't know either of these people, but Hoffman is channeling something here that is beyond anything I've seen him do previously; a full-bodied adaptation of another persona. (He was also good as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, but only onscreen for ten minutes max.) But on top of the acting, Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman craft each scene with Swiss watch-like precision which keeps characterization in line while at the same time allowing the actors enough flex to bring Capote and Lee to life onscreen.

Many films at Toronto are adapting personas, such as Walk the Line (Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash), Alexander Sokurov's The Sun (Issey Ogata as Emperor Hirohito), Mrs. Harris (Ben Kingsley as murdered diet guru Herman Tanower), Takeshis' (Takeshi Kitano as himself X 2) and The Notorious Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol as iconic pinup girl Bettie Page).

The Notorious Bettie Page I spoke to Mary Harron, director of The Notorious Bettie Page, about how one goes about adapting a celebrity's persona to the screen. "You approach it like a documentary," she explained (both she and Bennett Miller are documentary filmmakers as well). She did the research and spread her net wide. "You want a picture from different perspectives - to see it through a prism rather than a single lens." For Mol's joyful yet melancholic performance as the pinup who at once conveyed innocence and naughtiness in a pucker of her lips (and perhaps more challengingly, with whips and chains), she studied the images and film clips of Page. Lili Taylor, who plays photographer Paula Klaw, talked directly to the person she was portraying. Harron herself spoke to people who knew Page and came to the conclusion that "no one quite knew her" (which is a telling comment, given the enigmatic and disparate sides of Page as played out in the film) and that in "real life, the sources never end." When asked about adapting the novel American Psycho, she commented that it is "easier to have a contained text. A novel has a self contained world and the answer is in the pages."

Films that go looking for answers in the pages include David Cronenberg's A History of Violence (graphic novel), Mike Mills's Thumbsucker (novel), Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist, Tsui Hark's Seven Swords (wuxia novel), Curtis Hanson's In Her Shoes (novel), Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto (novel), English lit major requirements Beowulf & Grendel, L'Enfer (based in part on Dante's Inferno), Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Laurence Sterne) and yet another version of Pride and Prejudice.

Some answers within the text are hard to find, it seems, even if the person who wrote the text then wrote the screenplay and was then cast in a lead role. I'm talking about Shopgirl, the film based on Steve Martin's novella. Austere and airless, the film suffers from its attempt to portray its unfulfilled characters as sparsely as they are in book form. Jason Schwartzman is the film's bright spot as the clueless and aimless Jeremy who clumsily attempts to woo the depressive Mirabelle (Claire Danes) but is then banished to the sidelines when millionaire Ray Porter (Steve Martin) swoops in. They are troubled beings on the page to be sure, but as barely living and breathing onscreen characters, they are even harder to understand and sympathize with. (Confusingly, Ray is also the narrator of the film. Or is it supposed to be the author, Martin?)  Perhaps the Shopgirl team should have thought to cast Philip Seymour Hoffman as Ray instead of Martin, who adapted his own character twice over.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:44 AM

September 14, 2005

Toronto Dispatch. 5.

This just in from David D'Arcy, whose most recent piece up at GreenCine is an interview with Albert Maysles.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story Cock and Bull

Adapting novels for the screen has been only one of the unofficial themes of this year's Toronto International Film Festival, but it may be the dominant one in this eclectic festival. On the basis of what I've seen, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Michael Winterbottom's retelling of Laurence Sterne's 1760 novel, is far and away the best of these many adaptations. Let's be clearer about it. It's the best film that I've seen at the festival.

If you've ever read Tristram Shandy, or tried to read it, you know that the shifting, interrupted, self-undermining story is near-impossible to turn into a feature film, especially a commercial feature film that tends to call for a comprehensible linear story.

Or is it so hard? In turning the notion of an adaptation into the story of making a film of a screenplay about the novel, with every banal or noble layer of moviemaking butting its way in to complicate and compromise what looked like a simple retelling of the story, Winterbottom has honored Tristram Shandy. The film laughs at the notion that there's a pure story, a pure love or a pure anything, prying that notion apart in every frame.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story Tristram Shandy has a Dogme look that we've seen before in Winterbottom's films. Think of 9 Songs. There's also a Dogme attitude - which is also a Laurence Sterne attitude, thank you very much - that rules are arbitrary, made to be broken, even if they're your rules, and that the things that break them are often spontaneous or trivial and just as often outside any filmmaker's control.

You see all this in what is also backstage comedy in he best of that tradition, set in a century-old country house where the film is being shot and Charles I is said to have slept "before he was beheaded." (Bear in mind that Charles I was a 17th century monarch. Details, details, Sterne and Winterbottom might say.) Actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon vie like teenagers in the two principle roles. Rather than duel, the rivals taunt each other obliquely, or when they've had a few drinks, less obliquely. Besides juggling this competition, Coogan (who plays the actor Coogan and Tristram) has a wife and a new baby on the set. Family complicates the lust that he has for a cute assistant who can be reached amorously if you know how to tap into her obsession with Fassbinder. That's just one tendril in the film, which includes, a la Sterne, much more stop-and-start talking about what is to be done than it shows people actually doing anything. Most of it is shot (perhaps all of it) with a tactile hand-held camera, which follows a character, documentary-style, until the lens is distracted or until a door is closed. If Laurence Sterne showed us that something resembling attention deficit disorder is at the root of human observation, then Michael Winterbottom has created a visual equivalent for that. In other words, if you want to understand something, look at its opposite(s), then procrastinate, and then give up. That's one of the lessons of Sterne's novel: never assume that the novel or film or essay that you produce will ever contain the richness of the world that it seeks to show.

Laurence Sterne didn't even identify himself as the author of Tristram Shandy when it was published. He paid his own money to publish the book,  a surprisingly bawdy story to come from the pen of a parson. Or maybe people just didn't know parsons. In any case, it turned him into a star. Michael Winterbottom should be commended for making such a wise and funny film. After the press screening, which was packed to capacity, a distributor who admires Winterbottom asked me whether I thought the film was too "smart" to reach an audience and make any money. I hope not, but like everything else in the world of Laurence Sterne (or in Winterbottom's effort to create an equivalent), this adaptation carries its own negation.

Japonismes

You couldn't find a more different film from Tristram Shandy than Drawing Restraint 9 by Matthew Barney. Solemn and ritualized, it's an extravagance that tries hard to convince you that it's understated. It will probably be praised by Barney's army of admirers and might even earn him some new ones. That's a shame.

Drawing Restraint 9 Barney's mostly-silent latest film is structured around a visit to a whaling ship by a bearded Barney and his companion, Björk, who is dressed like a sprite from a Fragonard painting. Björk wrote much of the music in the film, and her homeland, Iceland, is one of the few nations that opposes worldwide bans on whaling. Japan is another. It's hard to know what Barney is thinking, but he seems to view whaling as an honorable tradition, just as he aestheticizes everything that he depicts in Japan.

After a colorful procession to an oil refinery at a harbor on Nagasaki Bay, we see a sculpture made from petroleum jelly and we see the Occidental Guests, as Björk and Barney are called, arrive on a state-of-the-art whaling vessel. (Was this a product placement?) We get a slow Barney-esque tour, and then the guests are bathed and shorn (worshipfully, of course), and dressed in huge furs (here the emperor has lots of clothes) and offered tea at a ceremony on board. It is only then that we hear our stars speak in this silent movie. Let's just say that it's far from Delphic.

Then Barney and Björk fall in love, as I'm told in the press notes, which I'm relying on here because I couldn't tell what led to their union in a pool of water or what the emotions were behind it. Their "love" has a sort of Last Tango suddenness, and then it falls into decomposition (real decomposition), which sure looks like the negation of anything Japanese. There's a his-and-her sushi scene that's a crescendo to this sequence which I won't say any more about besides, "If you love me, then eat me." Just enjoy it and laugh out loud. If you have another response, see a doctor.

Drawing Restraint 9 has enough unintentional humor to sustain its length of two hours and twenty minutes. It's ponderous and pretentious, but those may be its winning assets. That's been the case in the past for Barney, who is the most successful cross-marketed artist out there in a contemporary market that just keeps growing. As a filmmaker, he seems to understand editing and production design, and he knows how to create a false sense of majesty that appeals to an audience seeking to be awed by something grand. Someone sitting behind me at the screening said, "How does he get away with this?" I could only respond that Barney's dealer, Barbara Gladstone, is the producer of this film that looks as if it cost a lot of money to make. Barney gets away with this because this and almost everything else he does makes money for someone.

Back to the Present

Back for a moment to the political films of the festival. One that reminds you of the officially-condoned horrors of the recent past, and focuses your attention on present horrors, is October 17, 1961 a French film whose name comes from the date of a police massacre of Algerians demonstrating in Paris. Up to 200 unarmed demonstrators may have been gunned down by French police on that evening. Bodies were hard to count because many were thrown into the Seine. Alain Tasma and a team of historians have tried to reconstruct the events, from the point of view of Algerian activists, French sympathizers and the police. The production design takes you back well enough to the time, seen through a narrow frame, since Paris has undergone so many ill-conceived facelifts since then. There's no reference to what was happening in cinema then, which was the emergence of the Nouvelle Vague. This isn't about cinema, as critics of its flat image will surely point out. It's about history and honesty.

October 17, 1961

The strength of this drama is in the facts (which were never the subject of an official inquest, nor covered much in the press), and in the fine acting that resurrects the tension of the time.

It was a time when partisans for an independent Algeria (the FLN, or National Liberation Front) gunned down French politicians, and when Algerians on the street were beaten and killed with impunity by police. The demonstrators which police attacked at different locations in Paris were part of an unarmed march which was called just as the French and the FLN were about to announce a cease-fire. Whether it was good judgment to call a demonstration at the time is one question to answer. (Alas, since then, Algerians have a lot more questions to answer.) Whether shooting any demonstrators (and drowning them or leaving others unattended to die) could be justified is much larger question.

October 17, 1961 The French only began probing the massacres thirty years after they happened, when the then-Interior Minister, Maurice Papon, was facing trial for crimes against humanity which he was charged with committing as a Vichy French official during the Nazi Occupation. (Papon is in prison now.) Papon's anti-Algerian policies came to light while prosecutors were looking at his work at the behest of the Nazis. World War II isn't discussed in the film, but Algerians crammed into buses by French cops look like Jews headed toward the camps. No one who sees the film will miss the similarity.

And no one will miss the references to the present. Despite being French citizens, North Africans are taunted and humiliated by police and often beaten. The shacks where they live are cramped and squalid. Their leaders are not saints, however. They know that casualties can help reduce the enemy's appetite for war, and they are willing to sacrifice some of their own people. They are also willing to sacrifice French lives, even though many of those French may have been just as innocent. "That's the nature of war; it's not the worst who die," says one FLN chief.

October 17, 1961 Anything French, from any political perspective, seems to have been poisoned for the American public by the corrosive rhetoric of the Bush administration. In fact, I assumed that the public was so predisposed to think of the French as wine-drinking sniffers of perfume that the very notion of the sissy French being physically capable of brutality was implausible to Americans (I say this as someone named D'Arcy) - I assumed there would be no US market for such a film. But then there's the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib angle to October 17, 1961. It's not a precise equivalent of prisoners bound, beaten, degraded and sometimes killed while in custody, although there is quite a bit of that. It's the fact of torture being used as an instrument, and then denied, in the face of irrefutable evidence, some of which is simply destroyed in the film before the press can see it. Officials are shown drafting their responses in official-ese, what the French call the "langue de bois," the wooden tongue. You'll be struck by how little the tone of those pronouncements have changed. (Tasma doesn't need to mention these parallels to the present. They're too obvious. You'll see more institutional aversion to the truth soon in Good Night, and Good Luck.)

The tone of October 17 can be on the earnest side - although not too earnest, as in some recent Bertrand Tavernier films in which Tavernier has moral grievances to redress and his hand is too heavy. Earnest is forgivable here. It took more than 30 years for these events to come to light. Tasma and his team have made a valuable contribution. The film opens in France later this month.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:11 AM

September 13, 2005

Shorts, 9/13.

"You'll never keep up." True, true. Alison Willmore explains at the IFC Blog. More on all that later, I suppose. Meantime...

Zizek! In Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee talks to Astra Taylor about her approach to making Zizek! - but not before telling us how he would have done it; and actually, that's a double feature I'd like to see. Via Chuck Tryon.

JG Ballard: "[Aleksandr] Sokurov is a noted documentary maker, and The Sun resembles a dream-like newsreel filmed by a secret camera deep in the emperor's bunker... [Hirohito] resembles a royal figure rather closer to home: well-meaning, babied by his wife and utterly disengaged from reality." But what Ballard's really concerned with are the absurd origins of the war he witnessed from an internment camp in Shanghai.

Sharon Waxman: "Louisiana faces a daunting challenge to convince Hollywood producers, who were lured to the state in recent years by generous tax incentives, to continue bringing their productions here." And: Wheeling and dealing gets out of hand in Toronto as both Fox Searchlight and Paramount Classics claim to have snapped up Thank You for Smoking. More on the mix-up from David Poland.

Also in the New York Times: "[C]onservative groups have turned [March of the Penguins's] stirring depiction of the mating ordeals of emperor penguins into an unexpected battle anthem in the culture wars," reports Jonathan Miller, and Dave Kehr on new DVDs.

One Bright Shining Moment In the New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann reviews the "lively, long, intelligent" One Bright Shining Moment, a portrait of George McGovern that is "in a way painful: we feel very distanced from him today. The title is not a misnomer."

Are you now or have you ever been an environmentalist? That's more or less the question Brian asks James Benning.

For Rolling Stone, Austin Scaggs talks to Jonathan Demme about the Neil Young doc he's just shot. Via SXSW's Daily Chord.

The Toronto Star's Martin Knelman talks with Sydney Pollack about his Sketches of Frank Gehry; and catches Gehry himself on the phone as well. Via MCN.

DVD Talk's Ian Jane interviews Kim Ki-duk.

With his "Fall Movie Preview Review," The Reeler reminds us all why we're so glad indieWIRE's brought him to our attention.

David Thomson is, of course, right to point out in the Independent that Brokeback Mountain is not the first gay cowboy movie. But what a strange sense of humor that man has.

While explaining how indies get financed in Slate, Edward Jay Epstein notes an ironic development. In the sort of second-tier system that has evolved, stars willingly place themselves in the position, albeit temporarily, that the old studio system boxed its stars into.

Writing in PopMatters, Amos Posner explains why he's not buying into "the sudden and ubiquitous idea that [Tom] Cruise was nothing special in the first place, that his body of work is fungible and his talent replaceable."

Time's Richard Corliss: "Garbo didn't represent a different sex from men. She was a different species, an emissary from a higher world of thought and feeling."

Andrew and Virginia Stone. An appreciation from Flickhead.

Revisit Renoir and Ray with Filmbrain, Pasolini with the cinetrix, Diabolique with Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Bruce Lee is posthumously reuniting the Muslims, Serbs and Croats of the Bosnian city of Mostar, as Reuters reports. Via Opus.

This is really not a very smart move on Garrison Keillor's part. At all. By his own account - and I've met the man, he's trustworthy - Rex Sorgatz is playing this as fair as can be. But Keillor... Sheesh.

Reunited (probably): Scorsese and DiCaprio (BBC) and Depp and Gilliam (Cinematical's Robert Newton).

The MPAA and RIAA "have joined the Internet2 consortium as corporate members," reports Antone Gonsalves for TechWeb.

Human Error

It's been very nearly a year now since Jonathan Marlow spoke with Robert M Young about, among many other things, his most recent film, Human Error. Since it screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival last October, we haven't heard much about it - until now. It'll open at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in New York on Friday.

In San Francisco and looking for something do on the weekend? A Mighty Ruckus at Islais Creek. Saturday, noon to 8 pm - and free.

Online listening tip #1. Bond. James Bond. Via Coudal Partners.

Online listening tip #2. The BBC's Hitchcock snippets. Via Ian Dawe at Mindjack. There's more to listen to there, too: David Lean, Robert Altman and Mike Leigh, for example.

Online viewing tip. Mitch Benn: "Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:34 PM | Comments (1)

Fests, 9/13.

First, a quick rundown of the various ways of keeping up with goings on in Toronto:

Toronto Hands

QT6 rolls on through Saturday; Cinema Strikes Back is there. Update: CSB is not alone; just look at what Micah has been up to at Dumb Distraction: 1 (Secret Agent Night), 2 (All Night 80s Horror Marathon), 3 (Australia Night), 4 (Documentary Night) and 5 (Italian WWII Epic Night).

Francisco Menendez files a report on the Edinburgh International Film Festival for Creative Screenwriting.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM | Comments (2)

LAT. Fall preview.

For its fall preview package, the Los Angeles Times places its quip-riddled release schedule, compiled by Kevin Crust and Kinsey Lowe right up at the top. And Kevin Thomas has the schedule of foreign releases. The features and such trickle down from there:

Profiled Interview-slash-profiles:

John Horn: "While scores of movies spend countless years in development hell, [Thomas] Bezucha's suffered an even crueler fate: repeated false starts." Then Diane Keaton salvaged The Family Stone.

Patrick Goldstein: "Though the book was initially considered untouchable for Hollywood, its tone too acerbic in the patriotic wake of 9/11, Jarhead has now been transformed into a film whose pedigree drips with Academy Award associations."

Fall Posters Gregory Katz learns from Tim Burton and his stop-motion animation crew on Corpse Bride the meaning of the word, "painstaking." But Nick Park and his crew on Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit already knew, as Chris Lee reports. Even so, "the lo-fi animation technique is experiencing something of a mini-renaissance."

Briefs:

Posted by dwhudson at 9:39 AM

September 12, 2005

Toronto Dispatch. 4.

Once again, David D'Arcy, a contributor to NPR, the Art Newspaper, the Economist and other publications, from Toronto.

TIFF 05 Toronto Anniversaries

I have spent September 11 at the Toronto International Film Festival every year since the September 11, 2001 attack. I was in Toronto then, too, working on a story for National Public Radio about the French film, Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf), which couldn't have been farther from what I saw when I turned on the television set that morning.

Since then, at least some of the films at Toronto have tried to make sense of the world after 9/11, whether they explore the prospect of a world with a single superpower or ask whether that superpower is really making any progress in the war on terror it's declared. That's only logical at a festival that shows documentaries that are intended, at least in part, to expand on the picture of the world that we get from everyday journalism.

The Fires of Hell

This year, the post-9/11 world has been addressed in The Smell of Paradise, a film by two Polish filmmakers, Mariusz Pilis and Marcin Mamon, about the global Islamic Jihad that we are told exists beyond and apart from Al Qaeda. The finished film had its world premiere here yesterday. It's not going to make anyone who sees it feel much safer.

The filmmakers begin their journey through outposts of Islamic militancy in Afghanistan, where an aid official warns them, when they start shooting their film after the US invasion, that they are crazy to travel the six hours on the dangerous main road from Kabul to Kandahar; and they certainly shouldn't in one vehicle, which is just what they do. They visit Kandahar, the city where the Taliban first formed, and then Heart, the ancient town in eastern Afghanistan where a mullah has proclaimed himself "leader of all the faithful." Even though US troops are nearby, his supporters throng through the streets, blocking all traffic.

The Smell of Paradise

The "smell of paradise" in the title is the promise of eternal life that fuels the absolutist theology and the antipathy toward the West of Chechen leaders whom we find exiled in Doha (Qatar) and hidden high in the Caucasus. They are not fighting for conquest, we are told by men who have been killed since the footage was shot, but out of revenge for crimes against their faith. Their tone is never inflammatory, but subdued and understated. Afghan tribal leaders who agree to speak to the filmmakers near the Pakistani border where Osama bin Laden is said to be hiding tell them that they can't understand how the US hopes to win a war that seems to consist of jailing young men and bombing villages. How indeed, you wonder.

The conversations with spiritual leaders who play political roles are a sampling of influential opinion that may not be systematic. We don't hear from urban people, from secular Chechens or Afghans, or from any women. What we do hear unremittingly is that the world is divided between friend and foe, between "democracy" (as represented by the US and Europe) and the word of God. We also hear from the Chechen leader Shamil Basayev that he has a nuclear weapon that he plans to detonate in a major city. That was before he disappeared three years ago. Another leader tells us that "those who stray from the path will enter the fires of hell."

These are not buried impulses that emerge in spasms, such as in David Cronenberg's The History of Violence (a clever melodrama, also at Toronto, in which the buried past takes its revenge) - these are leaders themselves, looking the filmmakers in the eye and promising what could be an apocalypse. The Smell of Paradise is not melodrama; it's the promise of extreme drama.

The film is more than just talking heads; it's also uncompromising, unforgiving landscape - the stark expanses of Afghanistan and the nearly inaccessible mountains of Chechnya and Dagestan. The same aid official who tells the filmmakers not to drive to Kandahar also warns them not to be charmed by the landscape. Like so many warnings, this one isn't heeded.

Bear in mind that even the road from Kabul to Kandahar can't be defended (nor can the road from Baghdad to the airport), and then think of fighting a war to subdue these vast territories (especially now, at a time when the US can't seem to subdue Louisiana.)

You can view The Smell of Paradise skeptically. Perhaps the filmmakers, given rare access and a rare determination to do these interviews face-to-face,  gave too much credence to the threat of a world war that's really intended not to destroy the West, but just to scare it enough to break its will. Insurgencies use this tactic all the time. It worked in Vietnam.

But perhaps something else is going on. On this anniversary of 9/11, what we are seeing on the screen is not a memorial, but a set of prophecies. Maybe the men on the screen mean exactly what they say.

Rockudrama, Rockumentary

Walk the Line Walk the Line, directed by James Mangold, looks at country music's troubled Man in Black, Johnny Cash, and at Cash's journey from a cold upbringing to his rise to stardom, to his marathon courting of June Carter, with lots of pills and booze fueling the trip. Joaquin Phoenix as Cash comes as close as you probably can without plastic surgery to the rivet-eyed look of the man. The music can be rousing, especially in the early years when Cash played the same circuits as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis - the production design also completes the period picture - think of Ray, then think of a country music equivalent which must have made the rounds of yard sales all over Nashville. Yet it's the script and its cookbook psychology that fall short here. Cash's older idealized brother dies after a sawmill accident, his father scorns him, and he craves the approval he never gets. Get the picture? There you have it, except for a spirited performance by Reese Witherspoon as June Carter - a funny and tender pro on the stage. Here's a chance to see her at her best. It's hard to know if there's a new generation of Johnny Cash fans out there, but we have to assume that they would expect more from this biopic. For those who didn't know Cash all that well, Witherspoon may save the show. I saw Walk the Line in a tiny screening room, not the best point from which to evaluate how well a film like this will eventually play. We'll know more when the film plays to larger audiences.

Brothers of the Head The mockumentary / rockumentary of the week could well be Brothers of the Head, which finds the roots of punk rock in Siamese twins. (Didn't we all know that?) Imagine a meeting where this was proposed. It's not just preposterous; it's also logistically impossible to make. Well, they made it. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Lost in La Mancha) adapted the film from the novel by Brian Aldiss. Our heroes, played by Luke Treadaway and Harry Treadaway, are attached by a slab of skin at the chest and share a liver - "Pectoral Link"? - and, in case you haven't guessed, it's as much about the attraction and intimacy between the twins as it is about the music. (I can just imagine the first junket question: "Can you talk about how you guys 'bonded' on the set?") The production design is stylish and appropriately rusticated, befitting a period of pop music now thirty years old. The wry script by Tony Grisoni, full of allusions to Spinal Tap that I'll assume are intentional, is much easier to follow than his scenario for Terry Gilliam's entropic Tideland, which also premiered at the festival. Brothers of the Head is also likely to reach an audience. I can foresee this movie renting over and over again.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:24 AM

September 11, 2005

Meanwhile, shorts.

Here's where Martin Scorsese went wrong, according to David Thomson: When he abandoned unified scores, such as Bernard Hermann's for Taxi Driver, and began relying on "jukebox music."

Taxi Driver / No Direction Home

Thomson goes so far as to predict that "Scorsese won't make another film as great [as Taxi Driver] until he trusts another composer as good." One page over, Thomson again: "There are moments in movies when everyone involved (if they are in their right minds) comes upon a scene so demented that they say, 'See if Donald Sutherland is available.'"

Also in the Independent:

Queen Christina

  • Geoffrey Macnab explains why many, not least Kevin Brownlow, who's made a new documentary about her, regard Greta Garbo as the greatest film actress of all time. It's a fine piece, though it does seem to have been written before the long-distance exchanges between Garbo and Mimi Pollak were revealed, as reported on by Alex Duval Smith in the Observer: "Private letters released in Sweden to mark the centenary of the film star's birth throw a new and and tragic light on the tormented life of the pauper girl from Stockholm who became 'The Face' of Hollywood in the Thirties, made 27 films and spent the last 50 years of her life as a recluse."

  • Chris Sullivan on My Life as a Dog, "one of the greatest films about childhood that has ever been made."

  • Kaleem Aftab on the films he caught at the Venice International Film Festival. More from James Christopher in the London Times and Jason Solomons in the Guardian.

Empire's "50 Greatest Independent Films." Also via Martha Fischer at Cinematical: The Guerilla Drive-In.

Empire's #1 indie? Reservoir Dogs. Segue: The Cinema Strikes Back team is furiously blogging QT6 in both word and image.

April Snow Twitch's X translates the "most interesting snippets" of two interviews with April Snow director Hur Jin-ho. The film's a big deal in Korea and, to hear Korea Times Culture Editor Joon Soh tell it, it lives up to the hype.

Filmbrain: "Spider Forest is a haunting, disturbing film that seamlessly blends psychological horror with tragic drama, and its story will resonate with anybody who has ever loved and lost."

The Reeler (who, like Michael Tully, is just wild about Keane) asks Anton Corbijn how Control, his Ian Curtis biopic, is going: "'Slow,' Corbijn said, shaking his head."

Reverse Shot sneak previews: Caché, A History of Violence and Thumbsucker. More on that one from David Lowery.

"What's so heartbreaking about so many recent genre films is that, under the pretense of nihilism, decadence and insanity, they pulse with humanity." Steven Boone on the vast cultural and socio-economic gaps in America and on how little American cinema is doing to bridge them.

"Make it Funky! is the most heartbreaking movie I've seen in some time, all the more so because sorrow is the last thing on its mind," writes AO Scott of Michael Murphy's documentary on the music of New Orleans. More from Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

About the best thing Scott can find to say about The Man, besides noting its "few decent gags and amusing moments," is that the "whole thing is over in less than 90 minutes." Also: The Exorcism of Emily Rose. More that one from Karina Longworth at Cinematical, Canfield at Twitch, ME Russell and Alison Willmore rounds up more reviews at the IFC Blog.

Mutato Muzika

Far more interesting, though not exactly movie-related: Scott's also got a longish piece in the Magazine on The Believer (currently featuring Maura Kelly's interview with Mark Mothersbaugh up front and center at its site) and n+1.

Also in the New York Times:

Thank You for Smoking

Back to the Guardian and Observer:

Elizabeth I "I'm trying to play Elizabeth as two people," Helen Mirren tells the Telegraph's Sally Williams. "The necessary icon and the person she is within: vulnerable, frightened, passionate, insecure, nervous, whatever." Now that could well be something to see. Elizabeth I airs on Channel 4 in the UK at the end of the month.

At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart considers I See a Dark Stranger as "one of the most interesting failures of all time."

Nick Rombes on Michael Almereyda's Hamlet: "[I]ts failure is a thing of beauty."

Quick takes from Chuck Tryon: Funny Ha Ha, Murderball and Lila Says.

Dennis Cozzalio asks for - and receives - titles of sequels both inferior and superior to the originals.

Online viewing tip #1. Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880 - 1910 is an exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts, through December 11. Five annotated juxtapositions are online.

Online viewing tip #2. Writing: An Homage to James and Abbas. Matthew Clayfield.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:45 PM

Toronto roundup. 1.

indieWIRE: Toronto Not only has indieWIRE relaunched with an impressive new design that allows for lots of great big photos, the switch has been timed to jibe with the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival. Which, of course, indieWIRE is covering extensively. Again, lots o' pix; more from Matt Dentler.

MCN Toronto The front door to the Movie City News coverage of Toronto opens onto a pretty intense collection of news and reviews from the MCN team and pointers to trailers, the MCN Festival Blog and yet more coverage, from Roger Ebert's to John Mckay's interview with David Cronenberg and on and on.

Festival Daily: Banlieue 13

Banlieue 13 has been quite a hit at Twitch - Todd, Mack, Matthew - but Todd and Kurt have quite different takes on Terry Gilliam's Tideland.

Also:

Three Times Among the films Michael Sicinski's seen: Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream and Three Times. Via Dan Meyer at Cinemarati, who's also pointing to coverage from the AV Club's Scott Tobias and Noel Murray blogging ferociously, the ever sharp and witty Mike D'Angelo and the Martyr himself, Jeremy Heilman.

"So just who are screenwriter Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller?" asks Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter. In other words, of course Philip Seymour Hoffman is great, but where did Capote actually come from? Also: Kirk Honeycutt reviews Oliver Twist: "The biggest surprise... is that there are no surprises."

Carina Chocano revives the Los Angeles Times movie blog for Toronto and Bruce Newman's blogging the fest for the San Jose Mercury News.

Tom Hall has gone out of his way to avoid any film he's likely to catch before the end of the year anyway and instead seek out "films that may have travelled under the radar.... Only one film has really captivated me so far; Philip Groening's Into Great Silence, a three-hour exploration of the rituals of daily life at the Grande Chartreuse monastery near Grenoble, France."

For Jeffrey Wells, Sydney Pollack's Sketches of Frank Gehry "is a stirring, hugely likable portrait of the most daring and innovative architect of our time."

The AP's David Germain reports that the festival "features a handful of films that, with the initial shock of Sept. 11 wearing off, now are beginning to incorporate the events in historical context as facts of everyday life."

AICN Filing at AICN: RoloTomasi and Tommy Five-Tone, Batphantom, El Fuego and pmoney, the 1337 n00b and JediShaft, Ghostboy, Claudius and more.

Taylor Barratt (back story) breaks down a day of screenings at Cinematical, where Karina Longworth has begun filing reviews as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:03 PM

Toronto Dispatch. 3.

Writer and producer Shannon Gee is a veteran dispatcher for GreenCine.

TIFF 05 I am not doing my job.

I say this because even though I have seen a dozen films since the Toronto International Film Festival opened this past Thursday (that's twelve films in three days, folks), I have not seen many films that are either must-sees or of some sort of journalistic importance - possibly more newsworthy than of cinematic significance. Included on this list is the opening night film, Water, the third installment of Deepa Mehta's "element" trilogy. Another is Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, although I did see the line up outside the film's party at one of many tony restaurant/lounges in Toronto's Yorkville District. Other raves from fellow critics include Im Sang-soo's The President's Last Bang, The House of Sand and the documentary, Ballets Russes.

Another way I am not doing my job is getting the scoop on a trend I am seeing in this year's films - the Village Voice's Dennis Lim gets that nod, as he wrote about "adaptations" in the September 10th edition of the festival publication, The Festival Daily. I'll still write about that in my next entry as the adaptations, both of novels and people's life stories, just keep rolling out each day. Instead, I'll write about the other theme I'm picking up on. Siblings.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang My first film was Shane Black's directorial debut, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. We'll all write about its rapt self-awareness of its form and function as an LA gangster noir, but sisters figure into the twists and turns of the chewy plot that the normally chewy Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr act out with welcome restraint. Then, more obviously, there's the Argentine film, Hermanas (Sisters), a portrait of two opposite sisters set against flashbacks of their family's political activism before the military dictatorship was in power from 1976 to 1983.

There are a pair of siblings in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, but by the time the film is released later in the year (we were screened a "work-in-progress" print), Orlando Bloom's sister (Judy Greer) may see her role somewhat reduced. Right now, the narrative, about (among many other things) a failed sneaker designer who travels to Kentucky to help arrange his father's funeral, is frustratingly aimless. We were told that some scenes would be shortened or even taken out. Hopefully, the final cut will give Elizabethtown to its sorely needed focal point.

Little Fish Australian Rowan Woods gets Cate Blanchett into some sister's shoes in Little Fish, a somewhat small film compared to what we are used to seeing her in - and that goes for her costars, including Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill, as well. (When did Neill start looking like Robert Wagner during the Hart to Hart years, by the way?) She is the troubled, ex-heroin addicted older sis to a troubled, soon to be drug-dealing younger brother (Martin Henderson). It's an odd sensation to see Blanchett play such an immediate, current day character, but she and the rest of the cast perform solidly, despite the film's slow pace.

Other siblings at odds appear in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence (which also belongs in the "adaptation" category as it was taken from a cult graphic novel.) I'm still mulling over how this exactly fits into the Cronenberg oeuvre (aside from that heavy sense of tension and dread he creates in every frame), but between Viggo Mortensen's laser-cut performance as a man whose secret past is dredged up after a violent hold up and William Hurt's played-for-laughs turn as a Philadelphia mobster, A History of Violence is an argument for nurture over nature - at least in a brotherly sense - and then turns that notion on its ear again and again in the story's larger universe.

L'Enfer L'Enfer (Hell), the sophomore effort from No Man's Land director Danis Tanovic, was filmed from a script intended for Krzysztof Kieslowski and is based loosely on the second part of Dante's Inferno. The fates of three sisters (Emmanuelle Beart, Karin Viard, Marie Gillain) are set in motion by various men in their lives, most notably and absently, their father. Tanovic balances the ensemble players, each of whom are made to suffer for known and unknown sins, with care and skill. The carnival music-scored title sequence of birds and unhatched eggs in a nest as seen through a kaleidoscope is the most memorable and fitting opening credit sequence so far.

Speaking of openings, I'll be critical about this once and hopefully be able to let it go. This year's festival trailer, a new-agey ditty with well-manicured hands and Enya-like music wafting around the screen like misdirected modern dancers, got on my nerves the first time I saw it, let alone the twelfth. It's not nearly as bad as the Sundance 2005 trailers, however. That I will never be able to let go.

As for not doing my job, I just have to remember what my friend Jon Mosier said to me before I left for Toronto. "You get to watch movies all day? Oh, boo hoo!"

Posted by dwhudson at 8:42 AM

September 10, 2005

NYT. Fall preview.

As an American in Berlin, the piece in the New York Times fall preview package that immediately draws my attention is Manohla Dargis's: "In their new films, directors like Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and David Cronenberg are holding up fun-house mirrors to America, creating reflections that are alternately quixotic and grotesque, and at times wincingly true." She notes (fittingly, in an edition of the paper dated September 11) that the "reticence to take on America, post-Sept 11, seems to be fading."

Don't Come Knocking

Before Katrina (bear with me a moment), one could only reasonably expect that reticence to carry on fading. While the level of anti-Americanism varies from country to country (and it is only European and Canadian filmmakers Dargis writes about here), the roots run deep. The catalyst for its eventually gaining the upper hand among much of the populace and most of the cultural elite was, as Dargis points out, the war in Vietnam. Immediately after 9/11, Europeans in particular were more than willing, even eager to let bygones be bygones. But the Bush administration botched the opportunity to strengthen old alliances (and probably more importantly, forge new ones in the Arab world) by confirming the world's worst suspicions of the American character: When in doubt, start a war. As a measure of the current climate in Germany, for example, Chancellor Schröder, campaigning in the run-up to elections a little over a week away and down in the polls for implementing neoliberalish economic reforms, gains points when he bashes Bush (and the president's most recent threat, aimed at Iran, was a talking point delivered on a silver platter), while his conservative challenger, Angela Merkel, loses points each time she expresses an urge to cuddle up to Washington.

Manderlay

One theme running through Manohla Dargis's readings of all the films in this particular batch is that each director punctures his own unique hole in the "myths" America exports about itself. If the myths are just that - myths, not truths - then where is America's justification for bullying everybody else? Far more than puncture them, Katrina has blown a barn-sized hole through these myths, all but literally turning America upside down to expose an underbelly of poverty and the fatal consequences of two decades of governmental downsizing. But: "Americans are always so shocked when they turn out not to be exceptions to the universe," wrote the New Republic a couple of days ago. Thing is, so, too, is much of the rest of the world. "Ambivalent" doesn't begin to describe Europeans' feelings about the US now. More to the point, when there are no myths left to puncture, how do you "take on America"? And if Americans turn out to be just like everybody else after all, and what's more, actually start acting like it (I'm not holding my breath), would you really want to anymore?

A History of Violence

AO Scott's piece is not at all unrelated. What's "largely missing from American cinema," he writes, is "an engagement with the realities of American life." Instead, he argues, the movies hitting screens over the next weeks and months "devote themselves, with increasing energy and expense, to fantasy, regression, nostalgia and wishful thinking." But wait, you may be thinking: Surely Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck and The New World speak to contemporary America? Scott leaps to agree: "Indeed, their relevance is often as much a selling point as their authenticity." But, he argues, "A movie gives reassurance that we have overcome the bad stuff, along with a chance to enjoy the good times all over again."

What else is in the package:

The Producers

Posted by dwhudson at 2:29 PM

Venice. The Awards.

Take it away, Moira Sullivan...

Venice International Film Festival In a special ceremony at the Sala Grande, the award-winners of the 62nd Venice International Film Festival were announced, and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain has won the coveted Leone d'Or. The film about two cowboys in love was always in the running.

Good Night, and Good Luck George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck is heading home with two awards: David Strathairn, who plays TV journalist Edward R Murrow, was named best actor (Coppa Volpi) and Clooney and Grant Heslov won for best screenplay. The National Syndication of Italian journalists also voted Good Night, and Good Luck best film, and daily tallies had kept the film at the top of the list since its debut early in the festival. The subject of the film - the role of media in investigating the government - is surely resonant at a time when the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi controls most of Italian television.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno won the best actress award for Cristina Comencini's Don't Tell, voted best Italian film by an Italian jury yesterday (Arca Cinema Giovani). A special jury acting award went to Isabelle Huppert, who plays a wife who leaves and returns to her husband the same day in Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle.

Perviye na lune.jpg In the Horizons section, the awards went to Aleksey Fedorchenko's Perviye na lune for best documentary and Lech Kowalski's East of Paradise for the best feature.

The Leone D'Argento (Silver Lion) went to Philippe Garrel for Les Amants Reguliers, a story about young revolutionaries in France during 1968. Abel Ferrara's Mary, dealing with the idea that Mary Magdalene was one of the disciples, won a special jury award. This award is probably the one I feel oddest about.

Massimo Andrei's Mater Natura, about transvestites and transgenders, was voted the best film by the audience for International Critic's Week. The "Little Golden Lion" went to Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, a film many thought might be a frontrunner; interestingly, Kim Ki-duk won this same prize last year for 3-Iron.

From the Venice Days section, Xavier Beauvois won the best film award for Le Petit Lieutenant, a crime thriller set in a Parisian police department starring Nathalie Baye as police captain.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM

Toronto Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy, a contributor to NPR, the Art Newspaper, the Economist and other publications, sends another dispatch from the Toronto International Film Festival, this one focusing on Terry Gilliam's Tideland and Michael Almereyda's William Eggleston in the Real World.

Every year I come to the Toronto International Film Festival in the hope that I'll be surprised by a film made in Canada. I already have been this time. Terry Gilliam's Tideland takes on the worn notion of an epic within a child's head, and turns it into something logistically grand and ambitious, and seems to have been made without much concern for its commercial possibilities. I wish him and his investors well. The film does not yet have a distributor.

Tideland

The film is one of many adaptations of novels at Toronto this year, this one from the novel of the same name by Mitch Cullin. The book is a child's picaresque interior monologue that might seem un-filmable. (Many may still feel that way after seeing its world premiere in Toronto last night.)

I'm not so sure, but Tideland is nothing if not challenging. It's the story of Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), the wise daughter of two drugged-out rockers who are now retired into full-time stupor in a house cluttered with every kind of object. That plenitude of ephemera is the fertile soil for this child's near-infinite imagination, which is really the subject of the book and the film. Her father, Noah (Jeff Bridges), is a retired bawdy bad-ass star who has his daughter shoot him up for a "vacation." Her nasty mother (Jennifer Tilly) now worries about varicose veins and has fallen into an addiction that combines drugs with candy bar binges. Jeliza-Rose is their full-time nurse, although the only drug in her medicine chest seems to be heroin. There's a chorus that observes it all - a group of dolls whose heads were removed from their bodies long ago. They might be angels, or they might be Gilliam's homage to the tradition of all the Chuckie scare-flicks. Tideland is full - and I mean full - of what look like homages. They're endless - just think of the title, The Kid Stays in the Picture.

When the mother dies of an OD, father and daughter set out on a bus for his family home on the prairie - an odyssey, with emphasis on odd. We're not told exactly where, but the film was shot in Saskatchewan. (Jodell Ferland is Canadian - remember that anything Canadian is big here.)

I won't give the story away - trying to figure it out is one of Tideland's many challenges - but once Noah and Jeliza-Rose reach their crumbling house on the prairie, Noah nods into eternity from an injection administered lovingly by his daughter, and she's on her own, with her dolls, a half-wit named Dickens (Brendan Fletcher, another Canadian) in swim gear (the fool on the heath?) and his sister, Dell, who's dressed like a witch.

Death and the anticipation of death are all over this film, as is the enigma of innocence in a soiled world of surrender to temptation - or whether there is such a thing as innocence. Also everywhere are dolls, grimy lace, rocks, stuffed animals, bodily fluids and just plain dirt that made me think of Alice and Wonderland outfitted from the prop room of Delicatessen. The parallels are endless, from Psycho in the old house to anything by Lewis Carroll, to the most commercial of haunted house horror.

Gilliam doesn't hold back - the final scene could make this movie hard to market - again, I won't give it away. But if you ever thought you were the victim of deep inner drives that you could not understand, this film will confirm your feelings, as Jeliza-Rose wades through the debris that Gilliam seems to be telling us is consciousness, already littered beyond repair for a child of ten. The fact that this film is two hours long doesn't make it any more lucid. Just bear in mind that the film is shot on the lyrical grassy prairie, so your eyes do get lots of relief from the tawdry interiors. If you can't enjoy that, blame Canada.

That said, Bridges and Tilly are quirky fun, and Jodelle Ferland is a delight - confident, composed, impish and sly. The extraordinary kid is now all of ten years old. It's the ultimate cliché to say that we'll be seeing a lot more of her, but we will.

William Eggleston in the Real World On a completely different note, I've always felt that filmmakers ought to be far more familiar than they usually are with other art forms, so Michael Almereyda's William Eggleston in the Real World is a refreshing break from the insular convention that insulated filmmakers know little else than film.

Eggleston is now a modern classic who has been called the father of modern color photography and also the "Fred Astaire" of that medium. Of those two descriptions, and there have been many more, father is about right. Almereyda has produced a hymn to Eggleston, so it's important to know (and the film tells you) that people did not always characterize Eggleston and his work so positively. When the first exhibition of his photographs opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the late 1970s, some critics dismissed Eggleston's pictures of ordinary people and places (mostly not far from his native Memphis, and in their real colors) as ugly and boring, and this was at a time when MoMA really did shape contemporary taste. Eggleston's practice of taking just one exposure of an image also challenged conventional wisdom in photography. Now Eggleston is in the contemporary pantheon - oh, and the critics adore him.

Almereyda's camera follows the slight professorial Eggleston around, first in a town in Kentucky where the February wind is blowing so strong that it whistles through the windscreen on the microphone, and then on to friends' houses, to many exhibitions, and to a pro forma awards dinner or two, and finally to a brief interview - interview being the format that makes the laconic Eggleston least likely to talk. Almereyda knows this and takes it on just the same to get Eggleston to talk about what he calls his "war against the obvious."

Almereyda begins his film by saying that photography is better at showing than at explaining, and his film is best when it uses a camera style clearly influenced by Eggleston's still photos to show how this photographer works and how he interacts with people and places. The film also gives us a taste of Eggleston's video work from 1973, the tactile and woozy and rarely-seen Stranded in Canton, a stunning debut shot - of all places, mostly in New Orleans - in a medium which Eggleston later abandoned. It shows at the festival later in the coming week and should be sought out by everyone who can see it. (The terminally shy Eggleston is supposed to be here. I'll believe that when I see him.) Almereyda says that Eggleston "will change the way you see, and the way you think about seeing." You could say that about any artist whose art is worth looking at, but this film shows you why, thanks partly to Almereyda's lucid narration, which takes you right into the work, and explains much of what we are told can't be explained. With so many films out there about artists that don't tell you much, here's one to see. It's already at the Film Forum in New York, and is dsitributed by Palm Pictures.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

September 9, 2005

Telluride. Wrap-up.

Jonathan Marlow looks back on the highlights - and occasional troughs - of the Telluride Film Festival.

Telluride 32 Unlike other events large and small, Telluride has a number of qualities of distinction that sets it apart from other film festivals. First and foremost, attendees have no idea what will be presented until the start of the fest. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the picturesque location of the venues in the San Juan mountains of Colorado requires a certain earnest dedication to even get to the event (not uncommonly, visitors fly into either Denver or Albuquerque and make a roughly seven-hour drive). Third and key amongst all reasons, the festival has the incomparable co-directors Tom Luddy and Bill Pence, which makes the first reason a rather minor gamble (thanks to their combined able efforts and the work of an assortment of resident curators, such as Peter Sellars and Gary Meyer) and the second reason worth the adventure (particularly in my case, although I would recommend a certain suspicion of any directions provided by Mapquest). With only four days of screenings, the 32nd Telluride Film Festival had little time to make good on its enormous reputation. After all, it's the event that literally put Telluride on the map. Fortunately for all involved, the festival easily exceeded expectations, creating a true destination for cineastes. In the parlance of movie-blurb speak, "If you only attend one festival this year, make it Telluride."

For those that failed to make the pilgrimage, what follows is an ersatz alphabetical assesment of a handful of films eventually due to appear (or not) at a theatre near you.

Army of Shadows Army of Shadows. Jean-Pierre Melville's little-seen classic gets the Rialto treatment (in other words, it's shortly headed back to cinemas in selected cities). A great counterpoint to The Conformist, the great Lino Ventura and his Army take on the French occupation in the legendary writer/director's third-to-last picture and one of the finest films about the Resistance.

Bee Season. Not having read the Myla Goldberg novel of the same name on which this movie is based, I must trust the comments from others that some of the charm of the source is missing in the adaptation. Something is missing, certainly. Scott McGehee and David Siegel stretch their sophomore slump into their third feature; a misfire from beginning to end.

Brokeback Mountain - Destined to be known in some parts as Bareback Mountain, one would find it difficult to fault the performances of its two leads, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. However, the plodding script and thinly sketched secondary characters derail an otherwise tender, if frustrating, tale.

Caché. Hidden, as it could be translated and, like many Michael Haneke titles, allows for multiple meetings. Dealing thematically with issues of the past that folks would rather keep unknown, the director pushes the usual buttons. A family is terrorized and, while it's no Funny Games, it cleverly plays with notions of class and culpability.

Capote. It might be difficult to recall that there was a time, not so long ago, when multiple murders were uncommon. The superb Capote captures this time and the most famous crime of the era, as captured in the book (and, later, film) In Cold Blood and recreated for this film on the origins of said book. Well-played throughout and anchored by Philip Seymour Hoffman's remarkable spot-on portrayal of Truman Capote.

The Child. This Palme d'Or winner from the Dardenne brothers follows Bruno, a petty criminal who believes that "only fuckers work." His girlfriend Sonia has just given birth to the titular infant and this change in lifestyle (or lack thereof) provides enough catalyst to careen these misfits to their necessary redemptive and emotionally rewarding end.

A Cottage on Dartmoor. In this special screening by way of Pordenone (itself a pilgrimage-worthy event), Anthony Asquith deftly proves that there was more to British thrillers of the silent era than Alfred Hitchcock. Influenced by equal parts Russian Constructivism and German Expressionism, this Cottage deserves to be inhabited by others.

Johanna. Avoid this so-called Jeanne d'Arc-inspired (hardly) pseudo-opera at all costs.

Les Ponts des Arts. One of the great discoveries of the festival was this fantastic film from last year, presented as part of a "complete works of" presentation for Eugene Green (together with his debut Toutes les nuits, the follow-up Le Monde vivant and the short Le Nom de feu). Words alone could not begin to describe the brilliant, baroque melding of Bresson, Rohmer and Ruiz yet wholly unlike anything you've ever seen before.

The President's Last Bang. While little is ever written outside of South Korea about the stunning assasination of Park Chung-hee, this inspired Lim Sang-soo film tells the wild tale of the dictator's demise. Packing the action and humor of a Hong Kong film, Bang steers an entertaining ride from the first moment to the, well, last.

The Spirit of the Beehive The Spirit of the Beehive. Don DeLillo selected, as guest director, three films from the 1970s including this Victor Erice masterpiece. Beehive explores the resonating effects of a chance screening of James Whale's Frankenstein on a young girl in Spain, providing a starting point for issues of alienation and acceptance. Thankfully, an eventual Criterion release is promised.

Three Times. Hou Hsiao-hsien's latest stars Chang Chen and Shu Qi in three stories in three time periods and three roles respectively. HHH starts well, stumbles in the middle and falls at the end. Even still, it's an immensely watchable work from a director whose worst moments are generally better than the best of others.

While it is impossible to see everything, I admit some disappointment in missing Breakfast on Pluto, Walk the Line, Paradise Now and Conversations With Other Women, all recommended after-the-fact by other audience members and all I will seemingly have an opportunity to see elsewhere. More importantly, I'm disappointed that other festivals snatched up The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, Princess Racoon and Good Night, and Good Luck, among others. This film business is an illness that simply will not let up.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:12 PM | Comments (3)

Venice Dispatch. 11.

From freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, Moira Sullivan has a "news flash from the Venice International Film Festival, on a day in which thunder and lightning were a vibrant part of this festival."

Venice International Film Festival This just in. One day before the Leone d'Oro, "Arca Cinema Giovani" confirmed my own enthusiasm for a few of the films that were the best in the competition with three awards that will be presented tomorrow at the Golden Lion ceremony:

  • Prize for the movie that has best treated the theme "Passagi d'Occidente: encounters, diversities, contrasts" (my sentiments exactly!): Fernando Meirelles's The Constant Gardener, "for having chosen such a difficult and up-to-date subject; for the intense elaborated artistic direction."

The Constant Gardener

    Meirelles told me that cinematographer César Charlone basically could have directed the film. I agree. His handheld camera works wonders, translating the story in an exquisitely colorful and imaginative iconography. The decision to be small was made in order to capture contrasts in Kenya instead of hauling in a bunch of trucks and working with hundreds of extras.

  • Prize for Best Italian Film: Cristina Comencini's Don't Tell, "for having harmonized the stories of every character and managing to soften the dramatic aspects of the plot with elements of irony".

  • Prize for New Trends: Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, "for having treated successfully the delicate subject of vengeance with class in a sophisticated and epic way. This is the form that the modern Korean cinema imposes as the new cinematographic trend for the future."

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Hayao Miyazaki received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in a special ceremony at the Sala Grande this afternoon. In a completely packed theater, the animation master was cheered and applauded for a good ten minutes, and then took the time when he took his seat for the screening of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to thank everyone seated in the room, bowing to all sections. What a fantastic director - and moving ceremony. Miyasaki hopes to take a walk around Venice before going home to continue working on three films.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:57 AM

Venice Dispatch. 10.

Freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, Moira Sullivan, begins to wrap the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival The Italian journalists think that Good Night and Good Luck is so far the best film in the international competition. But of course, journalists don't make that decision. Maurizio Porro of the Corriere della Sera complained yesterday that the festival is too long and that any fest director who could cut it down to a week would be made a saint. Yet clearly even twelve days is not enough for a festival with roughly 360 screenings. Some films are shown twice, others three times, in order to give journalists and media students and teachers time to see them. Italian director Cristina Comencini's film La bestia nel cuore (Don't Tell) was only screened for the press once, with two public screenings, apparently because the film will soon go to theatrical release. But for international journalists the film will be "Don't See." How many of these films will come to a theater near you will depend on distributors, but then, there are also other film festivals (I'm scouting for Göteborg).

Venice Paper In the closing days of the festival, it's not hard to feel the tension during the screenings. The energy in the huge theaters is electric and it is not always easy to ignore the muffled discussions, walkouts and cell phones dispatching SMS messages about the film up on the screen. This impatience is a sign that the festival is dragging on, clearly not a problem in the first few days. The fest continues to be a complicated obstacle course with the security checks that buzz when "contraband" like eyeglass cases set them off. Guards are everywhere, watching everything, zipping over to you in a flash to tell you that you can't do whatever it is you're doing. The rules aren't clear. It's best to simply say, "okay"; it's painless. One journalist from Croatia was glad to be going to Toronto for this very reason, though. There are long lines in the press room; and for fast food. Despite all this, I'll be back next year. I love this festival situated on the edge of the Lido beach and I've even managed to swim a couple of times in the ocean.

The Venezia 62 international jury, headed up by production designer Dante Ferretti, is comprised of the Chinese screenwriter and author Acheng, French filmmaker Claire Denis, Israeli director Amos Gitai, German director Edgar Reitz, the Italian film composer (raised in Iceland) Emiliana Torrini and indie producer Christine Vachon. We await their Golden Lion announcement on Saturday, though of course, the awards are not the sole point of any festival. With 360 screenings, how could the be. As with other large festivals, media coverage of Venice overly focuses the major industry products and actors. This year that would be Lasse Hallström's Casanova, because it's set in Venice, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, because, like Venice, it's daring, and Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, because of Monica Bellucci. Oddly, Heath Ledger is the common denominator in all three.

Vers le Sud

Laurent Cantet's Heading South (Vers le Sud), drawing on material from Haitian radio journalist Dany Laferrière, stars Charlotte Rampling as a French literature professor from Boston who goes to Haiti for unencumbered relationships. This French production explores sex as currency in Haiti during Papa Doc Duvalier's regime; middle-aged white women would come to Port au Prince for romance and sex in the 1970s. Usually this involved shopping tours, meals and drinks, or offers to secure passports for the young Haitian men. Perhaps to make a point - that the women did real harm - Cantet throws in a mystery never really explained involving Legba, the young man everyone wants. Probably the most ludicrous scene is a trope perennially featured in films about Haiti wherein Karen Young, doped up on valium and alcohol, is supposedly possessed by the drum beats of Vodou while a local dance band plays for hotel guests. Fortunately, Legba puts a stop to this quickly enough, if only for the sake of the audience.

Featured in the Venice Days section is Pasquale Scimeca's The Passion of Joshua the Hebrew, the story of a young Jew exiled from Spain with his people in 1492. Joshua is chosen to be in a Passion Play by the local priests because of his religious acumen and is later crucified. No matter how interesting it is to consider Mary as one of the disciples who wrote a gospel in Abel Ferrara's Mary, Scimeca's film is more proficiently executed and manages to capture the essence of this historical material. It is contemporary enough to be of relevance to young audiences without making a statement on Mel Gibson (now hard at work on a film about Papa John XXIII and Vatican II).

A surprise awaited me in the International Critics Week selection, the best film I have seen in this section to date: Asi, by Jesus Mario Lozano. In an innovative formal choice acclaimed by the audience, all the shots of the film are 32 seconds each and captured at 11.32 pm each night. The film diary is about a young man from Monterrey who works as an assistant to two street actors. This eventually becomes a threesome. Like Sergei Eisenstein, Ivan (Roberto Garcia Suarez) thinks Monterrey is a horrible place to be. And maybe for that reason he puts up with the demands of the two actors, but it wouldn't be the same story if he hadn't made better use of the digital camera his visually impaired friend Oliver gives him. Lozano does it well enough for him.

Romance and Cigarettes

Romance and Cigarettes is a rather uninspiring title for a film in the wake of Coffee and Cigarettes. I am glad the film was not a complete letdown like the collection of minimalist character sketches in Jim Jarmusch's dull film. But Jarmusch came back with Broken Flowers, so all is forgiven.

John Turturro has made a well-crafted film and the surprisingly trite title comes from a line from his lead character, Nick Murder, played by James Gandolfini: "All a man wants is a little romance and to smoke his brains out." Granted, the characters don't light up and mate swap as often as in Stanley Kwan's Everlasting Regret (Changhen Ge) - more on that film later. Although Turturro has based his film on the fun and games of his neighborhood in Queens, I'm glad it was not my neighborhood nor my world. The directors says the singing and dancing were added for comic relief from these workers' everyday lives, but for the most part, the women in the film hold a rotten set of cards and it's not always funny, despite the "dirty jokes," as Turturro calls them, mostly about women but also about men and a host of clichés. Stereotypes range from the "diesel dyke" at the café to the gay "hookers" at a local flophouse hanging out the window or "lamely" joining in on the choreography. Firemen and construction workers sing on sight and their wives and lovers don't miss a beat. Kate Winslet plays a Cockney fake redhead and hooker named Tula, Murder's "flame," who works in a lingerie store, sings and dances well and appears in a memorable underwater scene. She also threatens Murder's life at home with wife Kitty Kane (Susan Sarandon) and three daughters Rosebud (Aida Turturro), Constance (Mary-Louise Parker) and Baby (Mandy Moore). They, too, break into song when members of a rock band set up in the backyard, and this is fun. Christopher Walken, Kumar Pallana, Eddie Izzard and Steve Buscemi fill in as comic sidekicks. Even Barbara Sukowa shows up. But one of the more outrageous performances is from Nick's mother Grace, played by Elaine Stritch. Perhaps one of the more "entertaining" films in the competition, but not the best for it.

Stanley Kwan's period piece, Everlasting Regret, about a former Miss Shanghai, follows all the men in her life and all the disappointments that come with their betrayal. As a beauty queen, she's enjoyed considerable attention and yet is always abandoned. Kwan says the film is an homage to Old Shanghai before the political disturbances of 1949, based on the novel by Wang Anyi, considered one of the best of the 1990s. The complicated and wooden plot fails to convey the novel meaningfully and most of the softly lit indoor shots are insufficient to drum movie magic.

I was finally able to catch two Chinese films in the Secrets of Asian Cinema series, where, oddly enough, you can easily find an empty seat. The films run from 9 am to 11 pm and, with great fortune, I saw the ones I'd penciled in at the beginning of the festival: Zonglie tu (The Valiant Ones, 1975) by King Hu and Wutai jiemei (Stage Sisters, 1965) by Xie Jin. Hu, who left mainland China for Hong Kong in 1949 and started his own studio in Taiwan, was the first Chinese director to be awarded at Cannes for A Touch of Zen. For making Stage Sisters, Xie Jin was eventually imprisoned for being a "bourgeois humanist" during the early years of the Cultural Revolution.

In The Valiant Ones, a group of peasants and intellectuals, all of equal skill, including one proficient and fierce turban-bearing woman, successfully battle against Chinese-Japanese pirates during the Ming dynasty. The battles are majestically choreographed.

Stage Sisters

Stage Sisters is about two women who work for a small countryside opera. Eventually they move to Shanghai and become successful artists. The plight of Chun hua is more complicated as she first joins the troupe after escaping an arranged marriage, refuses to sleep with a military chief, is publically shamed for three days and is almost blinded for working independently in Shanghai. Later she joins the Cultural Revolution and creates operas for the people.

After viewing Stage Sisters, Stanley Kwan's film seemed to fade, the story of Chun hua braver than the one of a former beauty queen. Here, after all, is life in Old and New Shanghai in this newly restored print. The actors in both films are neither inanimate nor wooden and we can be glad their work has been revitalized in this important retrospective.

I have to revise my opinion on the best film in the international competition, or at least add another film to the top of the heap. Screening on the next to the last day of the festival, it was well worth the wait: The Constant Gardener, Fernando Meirelles's adaptation of John Le Carré's novel, should walk away with some award, if not the Golden Lion. For starters, the cinematography and editing are stunningly beautiful. The setting is northern Kenya and the story is a thriller that explores the chain of events - though not chronologically - leading up to the murder of activist Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz). César Charlone is the DP and what a glorious job he's done with fantastic tracking shots, close-ups and objects in motion. Tessa accompanies her husband Justin (Ralph Fiennes), a UK foreign service diplomat to Kenya. While in the UK and during their courtship, Tessa was already fired up about the question of UN humanitarian aid. In Africa, she becomes more intimately involved with the questionable dispersal of medicine by the UN and pharmaceutical empires to Africans for treating HIV, AIDS and TB. What impresses most is the stark contrast between images of Africans' everyday lives and the pompous, filthy rich rooms and golf greens of UK government officers.

Howl's Moving Castle

Hiyao Miyazaki, a lifetime achievement award winner at Venice, said he is here because of festival director Marco Müller's passion. The relayed translation from Japanese to Italian to English was extremely basic but I managed to make some sense of his words. He doesn't have a DVD player nor does he send email. This extremely humble man with a mild sense of humor makes animation for all ages. His characters are the people around him, like us, right there in the press room.

Miyazaki doesn't want to explain his films; he told me he simply wants people to see them. He has said that, though his films are for everyone, he wants children to see things that are useful; he doesn't want them protected from the lessons of life. One Italian woman raised on his anime thanked him for that. One interesting remark was that young animators and filmmakers see their work through lenses, whereas he has been influenced by the perspectives in painting. As far as other influences, Howl's Moving Castle, his latest film, is based on a book by Diana Wynn Jones, who, in turn, has been inspired by the The Wizard of Oz. As a recent convert to manga and anime, due to the efforts of this magnificent craftsman, it was a privilege to see him and hear what he had to say.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:59 AM | Comments (1)

September 8, 2005

Toronto Dispatch. 1.

David D'Arcy, a contributor to NPR, the Art Newspaper, the Economist and other publications, recently interviewed DA Pennebaker for GreenCine; look for a related interview soon. In the meantime...

TIFF 05 The Toronto International Film Festival opens tonight with a gala presentation of Water, by the Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta. Toronto is the foremost event of its kind in North America, and has been as far back as I can remember. I've been coming for 15 years now. The range is global, no surprise for a festival that shows more than 250 features, and it extends in all sorts of directions - being close to the US, but well outside, surely helps. And, for better or worse, unless you work in a Canadian film lab, you won't see so many Canadian films anywhere else.

The Festival used to call itself "the festival of festivals." It's discarded that name as the event has stressed film premieres, but it remains a filter for films that have been seen at festivals for a year.

To its credit, Toronto has no central competition, no Golden Maple Leaf or Hockey Puck - perhaps it's the aversion to glam that the Scots brought with them to Canada centuries ago. Since there's no big contest here, there's also no race by the hype media to predict a winner. That's a wonderful relief, and the effect is that attention is spread around a wide range of deserving movies. (There are, however, FIPRESCI prizes and a Canadian competition, as well as an audience award.)

Also, the audience is special in Toronto. Cinemas are huge - and full for most screenings. Every film seems to have its public, an astounding (and enviable) situation that I hope to explore.

Beowulf If you're looking for themes in a festival this size, you can find any and almost all of them - political and personal, epic and intimate, refined and lowbrow, literary and cartoonish. Yet one theme that seems to dominate Toronto this year is the adaptation of novels to film. And these are among some of the most anticipated. A Cock and Bull Story is Michael Winterbottom's screen version of Tristram Shandy, the 17th century novel by Laurence Sterne. Roman Polanski has directed an adaptation of Oliver Twist. (He does know something about children, after all. [Ouch... ed.]) Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain adapts a story by Annie Proulx. There is yet another screen version of Pride and Prejudice, this one with Keira Knightley and Judi Dench. Shopgirl is Steve Martin's adaptation (directed by Anand Tucker) of his own novella of the same name. There is also Beowulf & Grendel, an Icelandic adaptation of Beowulf, directed by Sturla Gunnarsson and produced by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson.

This year Toronto also presents a number of films dealing with art and artists, most of them documentaries. Sydney Pollack's documentary on Frank Gehry will premiere here on Saturday. Pollock is the first major Hollywood director in many years to make a film about an artist. He also spent more time on this film - some five years - than on any other film in his career, a career which includes They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Tootsie, Out of Africa, Jeremiah Johnson and Havana. He has known Gehry for years. By coincidence, Gehry, who was born in Toronto, is also now at work on a new addition for the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Basquiat A Conversation with Basquiat, by Tamra Davis (whose longer doc, Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela is in the program), is also on the bill. Davis talked to the already successful Jean Michel Basquiat when he was 25. Somehow the film, only 21 minutes, took a long time to complete; I'm not sure why. It could be a fresh perspective, given the Schnabel melodrama and the mythic martyrology surrounding Basquiat recently revived by the traveling exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.

Matthew Barney's new film, the near-silent Drawing Restraint 9, with a soundtrack by Björk, makes its North American premiere in Toronto next week. The limited dialogue is in Japanese.

Another offering is one which has been seen at many festivals already, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, by Jeff Feuerzeig, is about another self-taught/untaught/"primitive" songwriter/painter now living in the protection of his parents in Austin, Texas. Regardless, Johnston's fans are as loyal as the fans of an earlier generation are to Brian Wilson. Johnston's paintings are now selling well in Europe and the US. Maybe he'll crack the Canadian market now. He performed when the film premiered at Sundance. Will he show up here?

The festival will also show Stranded in Canton, a very rarely seen film from 1974 by the photographer William Eggleston, who is considered the father/godfather of contemporary color photography. Perhaps this is a chance to look at the relationship between moving pictures and still photography. The public screening of the film in Toronto will be hosted by the filmmaker Michael Almereyda, whose new documentary, William Eggleston in the Real World, also showing in Toronto, is just opening in New York.

But before I deal with art and other films in a day or two, back to the novels. I've done my own extremely limited sampling, having just seen two films that adapted novels, each in its own loose way.

I Cold Blood I suppose any adaptation of In Cold Blood has to be loose, because Truman Capote's characterization of the book as a non-fiction novel is nothing if not loose. Capote sounds like it would be another bio-drama, but it focuses entirely on Capote's 1965 saga about the murder of a farm family in western Kansas by two drifters. In Cold Blood was his last book - and it broke his spirit, if this film is to be believed - although Capote lived until 1984. As we've come to expect from Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead, this is a persuasive Capote - nuanced and stylish, another role that expands Hoffman's range and shows his acting versatility.

Directed by Bennett Miller, Capote is the literary version of the backstage drama. It opens as a boozy Capote reads the newspaper account of the killings in 1959. We follow him to Kansas, and eventually to what appears to be a relationship of confidence with one of the killers, an abused and vulnerable Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr). Capote finds the two young men a lawyer to plead their cases, but only up to a point. Ultimately his loyalty is to the story that became In Cold Blood.

Did Capote betray the young killer by revealing his story and being true to journalism? That's what you're left to ponder. The film raises another problem. In Cold Blood took journalism an important step beyond where it had been at the time, by allowing a writer like Capote to expand the journalistic coverage of an event and the people involved in it to a length that did justice to complexity of the crime. Capote knew you just couldn't fit all that richness into one article, not even in the New Yorker. (We certainly know that now, as so many journalists write books to tell stories they can't really tell in their newspapers.) But in the process of adapting the story behind the story to the screen, the process of expansion is reversed, and a richly detailed factual story becomes an outline. I worry about that necessary compression, in which the facts become bare bones, and Capote's character and his journey through the story are what matter. I felt that it was too compressed, the way Capote must have felt when he tried distilling all those characters and landscape and complexity into a single magazine article. But that's drama, my friends tell me, and there's a real dramatic power in Hoffman's performance, but I just hope that the younger members of the audience who may not know In Cold Blood will be drawn to the book.

Everything Is Illuminated, another ambitious book, confronts the aftermath of the Holocaust as a character searches for his Jewish family's history in a rural Ukraine that now has no Jews, unless you count the mass graves. The original 2002 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer is adapted and directed by the actor Liev Schreiber. There's a lot of humor that might rub you the wrong way in this story (not exactly the stuff of Holocaust tales), as a nerdy young American takes a clinical approach to saving remnants of his grandfather's history in plastic bags. Even funnier is today's Ukraine, where kids dress and dance in hip hop clothes and speak longingly of American pop culture in absurd anti-idiomatic English. The quirky film avoids sanctimony most of the time, and doesn't shirk from finding a common ground for memories of horror and the everyday life of scarcity in which some Ukrainians become small-minded, greedy and laughable. It gets most of the way there, thanks to Eugene Hutz as the young English-impaired Ukrainian guide, Alex, who takes buttoned-down Elijah Wood to what turns out to be sacred ground. Don't look for anything too reverent here. In any case, as with every film in Toronto, there's an audience for this one.

More to come.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM

Shorts, 9/8.

Now: Cote D'Azur "You and I have not been thinking overmuch about movies in the last 10 days or so, I imagine. I've certainly been going through one of those post-9/11 phases where I ask myself: 'In the face of you-know-what, are the things I write about actually important?'" As long as one keeps a sense of scale, I would say, yes, so it's a fine thing that Andrew O'Hehir forges ahead and files another "Beyond the Multiplex" column at Salon. He talks to Mike Mills about Thumbsucker (and the suburb movies he embraces, and those he hates; related: Daniel Robert Epstein interviews Tilda Swinton for SuicideGirls), then reviews Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau's Côte D'Azur (more from the Reverse Shot team) and Theo Angelopoulos's The Weeping Meadow.

"How does reality affect your film-watching habits?" asks Aaron Hillis, who's just taken another look at The Last Wave. "Are you all romantic comedies while grappling with world crisis, or are you prone to turn to provocative cinema to find better footholds in your own comprehensive reasoning?"

The Hollywood Reporter wraps summer with a six-article package and a collection of "distributor report cards," that is, a breakdown of the major's and indie's strengths and weaknesses this past season with notes on how the next might turn out for each.

Dali: Buñuel What was going on this summer, asks Matthew Wilder: "Was suppressed grief over the war swinging our moods even in the places we go to escape?... Now, Romero, Craven, and Spielberg are daring to mix political inquiry with visceral attack - as in the best horror movies of the 70s - while the entire world is watching." Also in the City Pages, Wilder again: "Oak Street's 'The Brutal Beauty of Luis Buñuel' (Sundays through October 30) offers some understanding of why Buñuel is the most consistently timely and least forgotten of great 20th-century European filmmakers."

Turns out Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum are pretty entertaining talkers. Hopefully, EW will consider this format for more than end-of-summer reveries. Via the cinetrix, who's been thinking about Southern women lately.

Speaking of which. Godfrey Cheshire: "Not that it needs yet another superlative added to its glittering résumé, but Phil Morrison's Junebug strikes me as the most significant North Carolina art film yet made." Also in the Independent Weekly: David Fellerath talks with Morrison and Amy Adams.

The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney peruses the Pauline Kael Collection, "roughly 3,000 books and periodicals that made up Kael's professional library," at the Hampshire College's Johnson Library Center: "Kael's marginalia are very much in the classic Pauline mode. Penciled in a quick, tight cursive, her comments favor the expressively expostulatory: 'gawd,' 'oh my,' 'huh?,' 'poo,' 'bull,' 'good,' 'Jesus!,' 'he's right,' 'ugh,' 'yup,' 'oh come on,' '??,' and '!' Peering at her emphatic scrawl, one can almost hear 'her sharp pencil rasping away,' as David Thomson once described the auditory experience of sitting next to Kael at a screening." Also via Movie City Indie, interviews in the Age: Craig Mathieson with John Waters and Michael Idato with George Miller.

At indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on five indies currently in production.

AO Scott on Edge Codes.com: The Art of Motion Picture Editing: "Like Visions of Light, Arnold Glassman and Todd McCarthy's 1993 exploration of the craft and history of cinematography, this film, directed - and edited - by Alex Shuper, examines a central component of the art that is often neglected or taken for granted. In the process it illuminates the essence of motion pictures." More from Joshua Land in the Village Voice. And this is noteworthy: The film is screening in Manhattan but you can also buy the DVD (or VHS; how quaint) from the site now for $30 or - and this is the option I'll be going for this weekend - download it for $15.

Also in the New York Times:

The Outsiders

  • Francis Ford Coppola has recut his adaptation of SE Hinton's The Outsiders - it is, he says, truer to the novel now - and the new version will see a limited theatrical release, beginning in New York this weekend, and a release on DVD on September 20. For the occasion, the usually reclusive author has agreed to talk to Dinitia Smith.

  • Sharon Waxman: "Many a Hollywood screenwriter has bemoaned the brutal Darwinism of the movie business, has felt the dull pain of too many pages and too many years of orphaned work unproduced and unrecognized. Few, however, have found the path of catharsis and creativity discovered by [Tom] Benedek." His show, "Shot by the Writer - Works on Paper: 1982 - 2004," opens at the Frank Pictures gallery in Santa Monica on September 11.

  • Stephen Holden on Thomas Riedelsheimer's Touch the Sound, "a mystical exploration of the sensory world." More from Leslie Camhi in the Village Voice.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis on three shorts by Curtis Harrington, one of which, Usher, "brings a long and notable career full circle." More from Chuck Stephens in the Voice.

The Sound of Music "is a seriously religious film," argues Theo Hobson. "Let the camp tittering cease while its spiritual significance is finally acknowledged.... Its plot is a fairytale version of modern Christian history."

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is "the first horror movie/courtroom drama hybrid boasting Big Ideas, art-house movie stars and a red state-friendly religious agenda," notes Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times. More from Michael Atkinson in the Voice, Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

Back to the SFBG: Johnny Ray Huston talks with Scott Camil, who testified in the Winter Soldier investigation about the film and its current relevance.

And back to the LAT: Robert W Welkos finds two LA characters hoping to give Hollywood its next action hero.

Keane At Movie City News, Gary Dretzka talks to Lodge Kerrigan: "You know how your heart drops into your stomach when a child just seems to disappear? That was the genesis of Keane." Reviews: Matt Zoller Seitz calls the film "more intriguing than satisfying" in the New York Press, but for Michael Atkinson, writing in the Voice, "Keane seems to have simply occurred of its own accord, like a gutter sapling or a piece of street drama you happened to walk by, alive and crazy and without guile." And Scott Foundas talks to Damian Lewis for the LA Weekly.

Also in the LAW: Erin Aubry Kaplan's must-read on why "Hustle & Flow is bound to be the most despicable film of 2005." And: Paul Malcolm on Platform and a slew of new reviews.

And back in the NYP, Armond White reviews Transporter 2, "the most purely gleeful example of movie oomph since Joseph Kahn's Torque" (more from Matt Singer in the Voice), The Flowers of St Francis and An Unfinished Life (more on that one from Marc Holcomb in the Voice and Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper); and AR Brook Lynn on Showtime's Rikers High, "something quite different and rather impressive."

Ryan Stewart reviews The War Within, "a compelling portrait of madness." Also at Cinematical, Martha Fischer considers a thought from Steven Soderbergh (as does David Lowery), namely, that Europeans "are much more likely to change the shape of their thinking to fit the art they're watching instead of trying to cut the art down to fit the shape of their thinking."

Anne S Lewis talks with Judy Irving about her doc, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Also in the Austin Chronicle: Nora Ankrum on Kino's Svankmajer collection.

Campfire What's left to mention in the Voice: Ben Kenigsberg on Steal Me and The Man; R Emmet Sweeney on Music From the Inside Out and Make It Funky!; Matt Singer on Kamikaze Girls; Daniel Adkison on Walking on the Sky; Pete L'Official on Green Street Hooligans; Akiva Gottlieb on Campfire and Joshua Land on A Sound of Thunder.

Kurt at Twitch on Tsai Ming-liang's The Wayward Cloud: "[G]ive the film a chance, you can see the blurry line where cinema and voyeurism merge."

"Sometimes, the most conventional artistic choices are the most radical." Darcy Paquet at Koreanfilm.org on Park Jin-pyo's You Are My Sunshine. Also: Adam Hartzell on Kim Ki-duk's Samaritan Girl and Kyu Hyun Kim on Lee Yoon-ki's This Charming Girl.

At Pitchfork, Rob Mitchum has his head blown off, and then, his heart exploded by composer/producer Jon Brion. Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

At Lumière, David Levinson interviews David Gordon Green.

MaryAnn Johanson declares war on Film Stew. More to the point, though: "How do we retake entertainment journalism from the fellators?"

In Slate, Edward Jay Epstein considers the ramifications of Bob Iger's public musings on collapsing windows: "Theater owners define 'better' products differently than cinephiles."

Are you an American taxpayer? Congratulations! You've just spent $152 per film to build a movie library for Halliburton employees. Details at Daily Kos.

Kronos Quartet and Asha Bhosle Asha Bhosle: "I have been singing in films since 1943 and am reminded of the efforts that earlier singers made in preparing for a song. Today, everything happens so fast... everybody has become a computer." Chennai Online has the story; via SXSW's Daily Chord.

Bollywood Mantra: "Here's a look at the most promising new faces of the post-monsoon months."

NYC's standing in for Columbus, Ohio? It's cheaper, according to producer Anthony Bregman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Raphie Frank interviews him for the Gothamist.

Robin Rowe for Editors Guild on a few breakthroughs made by Tim Burton's Corpse Bride: "[I]t's the first feature-length, stop-motion film edited using Apple Final Cut Pro (FCP), it's the first feature shot using commercial digital SLR still photography cameras and, perhaps most significantly, it's the first movie to choose digital cameras over film cameras based on the criterion of image quality." Via CinemaTech.

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for Scared Sacred. Mentioned here again not just because you need to see it if you haven't but also to make note of an event in Vancouver this weekend.

Online viewing tip #2. "Earth Departure Movie": "The Mercury-bound Messenger spacecraft captured several stunning images of Earth during a gravity assist swingby of its home planet on Aug 2, 2005. Several hundred images, taken with the wide-angle camera in Messenger's Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), were sequenced into a movie documenting the view from Messenger as it departed Earth." Yes, it is stunning. Heart-rending as well. Via Screenhead.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:03 PM | Comments (8)

Fests, 9/8.

Larry Calloway: "The world comes to the Telluride Film Festival each Labor Day weekend, and my strategy in picking films is to see the world." A terrific overview via Rashomon. More: David Poland's wrap-up and, via the IFC Blog, Roger Ebert: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Brokeback Mountain Meanwhile, Brokeback Mountain is still on Eugene Hernandez's mind.

Etan Vlessing previews Toronto for the Hollywood Reporter. Also anticipating Toronto: Darren Hughes, Matt Dentler and Tom Hall.

QT @ the Alamo.jpg Blake's got the lineup and "themes" (e.g., "Secret Agent Night," "Sexploitation Night") of QT6 at Cinema Strikes Back: "Be sure to check back to our site for daily reports and pictures. Ain't It Cool News will also be providing daily coverage."

Shawn Badgley previews the Austin Chronicle's preview of Cinematexas 10. Really.

Dennis Harvey previews the "Rock, Shock and Schlock: Heavy Metal Cinema" series (through September 30). Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Cheryl Eddy looks ahead to the MadCat Women's International Film Festival (September 13 through 27) and reviews Metal Storm: The Scandinavian Metal Wars and The Net, an "abstract take on former UC Berkeley math professor Ted Kaczynski and his motives."

"[T]he consensus among critics is that the programme has been far stronger than in recent years." Geoffrey Macnab picks his Venice highlights so far. Also in the Guardian: Ronald Bergan looks back on the Sarajevo Film Festival and Matt Seaton asks, "How else could one possibly go to London's first Bicycle Film Festival than by bike?"

The Passenger David Thomson on the series "Modernist Master: Michelangelo Antonioni" (tomorrow through September 30) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: "These are movies to which one can apply a lifetime of viewing.... The return of The Passenger is an occasion." Also in the LA Weekly: David Chute: "One of the best things about the American Cinematheque's 'Japanese Outlaw Masters' series is that its concept has never become rigid or limiting."

"So much bureaucracy, so few films," sighs Peter Keough previewing the shrinking Boston Film Festival (tomorrow through September 13). Also in the Boston Phoenix: Gerald Peary notes the spunky persistence of Montreal's World Film Festival (Andre Soares has the winners) and then sits down for a glass of wine with Anna Karina: "Surprise! Karina said really nice things about her former husband and director."

Jorge Morales on Latinbeat 2005: Recent Films From Latin America at the Walter Reade through September 21: "Granted, much of the series avoids overt anti-Americanism. But..." Also in the Village Voice: Elliott Stein previews "Some Like It Wilder: The Complete Billy Wilder" at the Museum of the Moving Image, September 10 through November 13.

Grady Hendrix takes note of the Thai entries at Pusan.

The full lineup is now in place for the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival, September 29 through October 14.

SXSW calls for entries.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:36 AM | Comments (2)

September 7, 2005

Firecracker. 10.

"Welcome to Firecracker Magazine's special Firecracker Showcase issue." The event's in London, starting tomorrow and running through September 18, but the interviews, reviews and such - and this is one bumper issue - are online.

Chunhyang Nikki Lee reviews the career of Im Kwon-taek, "a representative figure of Korean cinema during the last two decades."

Robert Williamson enthusiastically recommends the Thai zombie flick, SARS War and the Malaysian documentary, The Big Durian.

Interviews:

Reviews:

Posted by dwhudson at 12:36 PM

Venice Dispatch. 9.

More from freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, Moira Sullivan on the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival I tried to amuse myself during the screening of Mary, looking at the subtitles and trying to improve my Italian, looking at my program to plan out the final days, thinking this was actually somewhat interesting and maybe I was learning something. Then I thought about creating a primer for how to spot a bad film at a festival. I'm the kind of person that doesn't want to leave a screening. I even stay until the credits roll out, savoring every inch of the film.

Mary Mary, that is, Juliette Binoche has to be one of the best actresses of our time. Perhaps better in French films than English-language films. Her English is impeccable, but there is something missing in her performance here. Did director Abel Ferrara ask his actors to improvise? That's what seems to be going on. Or was the script written to sound improvisational? The principals: Binoche, Matthew Modine, Forest Whitaker and Heather Graham. All halter as they speak.

Clearly, Ferrara has an agenda: To go after Mel Gibson and make a film about a film made by a director like Gibson (Modine). This is My Blood, the film within the film, focuses on the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. A talk show hosted by Ted Younger (Whitaker) is investigating theories such as the possibility that Mary wasn't really a prostitute, that she might have been one of the disciples, and that Peter was envious of her. Younger sleeps around, but when his wife (Graham) develops complications in her pregnancy, he rushes home to atone. When the film within the film wraps, Mary (Binoche) stays in Jerusalem, still caught up in her role.

Dramatic music works the movie like a novice aerobics teacher cranking up the volume to get the adrenalin going. The cinematography is fine, but was there a script? Was Venice chosen for the film's debut because the subject matter would be of interest to Catholics? I'm living in an apartment complex where there is a plaque outside the door: Here lives a Catholic family. I haven't seen anything like this since growing up Catholic in the 60s in California. At any rate, maybe the Italian translation works better than the original English. No boos, lots of applause, but I let the credits roll out without me this time.

Man Push Cart Directly afterwards I ran to see Man Push Cart because the young director, who graduated from Columbia and teaches film and scriptwriting, had written to tell me he would be in Venice with the movie. I knew it would be about an immigrant Pakistani Muslim living in NYC. But the film is about far more ex-pats and greater than the sum of the circle of characters that Ramin Bahrani explores. More than a recitation of the usual protocol of the differences at cross-cultural borders. More than a tale of those who make it and exploit their own countrymen and women, or the loneliness, the trials, the misfortunes of starting a new life outside your homeland.

Man Push Cart The contemplative nature of this young man who pushes a bagel stand through the streets of New York, a former professional singer from Pakistan reduced to odd jobs, is what's compelling in Bahrani's second film. Man Push Cart was refreshing after Mary, almost like an atonement. Man Push Cart washed my soul of Mary's chaotic, desperate and demanding form that is desparate and demanding. I met Ramin's lead actor, Ahmad Razvi, and DP Michael Simmonds after the screening. An extremely pleasant and cordial group of people. "Thank you for coming to my film", said Bahrani. You bet! Thank you!

Posted by dwhudson at 4:58 AM | Comments (7)

September 6, 2005

Shorts, 9/6.

The Moviegoer Darren Hughes: "It's been a long time since I've fallen in love with a book the way I've fallen in love with The Moviegoer, and I'd like to think that would have happened even if New Orleans weren't under water."

Nick Davis: "As my dismay and horror at Katrina's aftermath linger, and in many ways keep building, I'm bothered by how many of the images emanating from the disaster rhyme with those of our most sickening horror films." In particular, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake: a seven-point breakdown. Also: "The Best of 2005... So Far."

Girish is reminded of Calcutta.

"Why did film matter so much to her? What was it that she missed - and so sternly memorialized - in 1995?" asks David Denby in the New Yorker in a piece on Susan Sontag's film criticism. In a brisk overview, a sort of mini-biography her intellect, he attempts an answer, too.

Alan Riding calls up Hany Abu-Assad to talk about the challenges - merely beginning with the political - of making Paradise Now, a film about two Palestinian suicide bombers on location in Nablus. (Related: "Why They Do It," Christian Caryl in the New York Review of Books.) Also in the New York Times: Dave Kehr on new DVDs: "Gary Tooze, editor of the invaluable news and review site dvdbeaver.com, has described Paramount Home Video's DVD release of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek as 'easily the biggest no-brainer purchase of the year,' and one can only concur." More new release highlights from Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

Also in the LAT, Reed Johnson surveys the state of Mexican cinema. In short, it's on the rebound and recent federal measures combined with a new generation of directors and returning vets may mean that that rebound won't be temporary.

History of Violence "[W]ith all that David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan hold in common, how is it that their movies are so completely, so emphatically, so apples-and-oranges different?" asks Rick Groen in the Globe and Mail before deciding that his "affection" lies with Cronenberg's work. Via Movie City Indie; and Cinematical's Robert Newton points to Michael Ferraro's piece in Film Threat on the MPAA slapping the NC-17 rating on Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies.

Tim Atkin talks cooking and acting with Gérard Depardieu. Also in the Observer: Anthony Holden is let down by Terry Coleman's Olivier: The Authorised Biography but Rafael Behr is all fired up by David Hare's Obedience, Struggle and Revolt.

Acquarello has been "slowly been catching up with the thematically dense essay films of Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Téno."

Lisa Allardice talks to Fanta Regina Nacro, whose debut feature, The Night of Truth depicts ethnic warfare in a fictional African country, though many of its elements, not least a particularly gruesome death scene, are "all too real." Also in the Guardian: Owen Gibson notes that Gone With the Wind still tops the all-time box office top ten in the US and Geoffrey Macnab on Drawing Restraint 9, "not an easy voyage, but the wit and invention are as startling as in [Matthew] Barney's earlier Cremaster cycle." Related: Filmmaker's Steve Gallagher looks at what came before #9.

On September 28, the Cinémathèque Française will open the doors to its new home, "a cartoon-cubist castle, designed by Frank Gehry, with four screens," writes Rhoda Koenig, who argues that London needs to learn the sort of respect for cinema one finds in Paris and New York. Also in the Independent: David Thomson on the "dynamic force" that is Mickey Rooney.

Signandsight has translated Katja Nicodemus's defense in Die Zeit of Wim Wenders's Don't Come Knocking.

Reuters' Ray Bennett offers another early take on Werner Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder.

Jason Morehead: "Up until now, Porco Rosso has always been my least favorite Miyazaki film. But I think that Howl's Moving Castle now holds that dubious honor."

Joanne Laurier at WSWS on The Constant Gardener: "The decision to film this novel is not insignificant."

Nick Rombes: "If movies have always been - on one level - about spectacle, about the event of acknowledging a movie's greatness or awfulness in public, with total strangers, then 'little' movies - in rejecting the possibility of rejection - are about something altogether different."

The New World The Chicago Tribune's Michael Wilmington has got at least ten movies he's looking forward to this season. Via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

New York unveils its fall preview; here's the movies section.

Joe Leydon's got a fun list of lists in the New York Daily News.

Mark E Hayes talks books and movies with Bruce Campbell for Flak.

Daniel Robert Epstein's interview for today at SuicideGirls: Mark Romanek.

"I am a black man... and I love horror movies.... Maybe it validates my suspicion that white people want us dead." In PopMatters, Mark H Harris explains the obsession behind Blackhorrormovies.com.

Six months on, Looker is still trying to forget Crispin Glover's What Is It?.

Wiley Wiggins says "all I've got to say about the nose touching stuff."

Mike Mills snaps shots of the reporters interviewing him, re: Thumbsucker. A lot of shots.

Online listening tip. Datajunkie's collection of radio performances by Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Via filmtagebuch.

Online viewing tips. Alison Willmore's got five trailers for you at the IFC Blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:04 PM

Fests, 9/6.

By way of Movie City News, the Toronto Star's previews of 79 of the 335 features and shorts to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. You'll have to register to read them, but these succinct one-paragraph reviews probably add up to the fullest picture yet of the coming season in North America: By film title, A through D, E through M and M through Z.

Also, Peter Howell: "We asked 25 festival programmers, film critics and other experts to name the three movies they're most keen to see at this year's big show, which starts Thursday."

Walk the Line David Poland's festival previews and reviews roll on. James Mangold's Walk the Line: "[W]hen this duo [Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon] is on screen together, it is true movie magic." Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto is "clearly the kinky indie find of the year so far. It is a masterwork from a master filmmaker."

The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson picks out the highlights of the just-wrapped Telluride Film Festival.

In his review of the fest, Eugene Hernandez writes, "Three particularly clear examples of how much has changed in this country could be seen in a group of Telluride debuts that explore rural and urban America, mainly in the 1960s: Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, Bennett Miller's Capote and Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home." Also at indieWIRE: Pix.

Blake's getting excited about QT6 (September 9 through 17). And via Cinema Strikes Back: Chris Garcia has updates on Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grind House, as well as Sin City parts II and III, in the Austin American-Statesman.

Austin's Fantastic Fest (October 6 through 9) has begun announcing titles; naturally, Matt Dentler has the lowdown.

Lee Man-hee will be the subject of a retrospective at the Pusan International Film Festival (October 6 through 14); Darcy Paquet looks back, focusing on the 1968 film, A Day Off. Also at Koreanfilm.org: Adam Hartzell on John H Lee's A Moment to Remember, screening at the New York Korean Film Festival (through September 11). Filmbrain's got his picks lined up and annotated.

Other Cinema Not a festival exactly, but it might as well be thought of as one: San Francisco's Other Cinema has unveiled its fall schedule; you'd be very, very hard pressed to find these films on the big screen anywhere else.

Reverse Shot's got more sneak previews of films to be screened at the New York Film Festival (September 23 through October 9): Caché, and Avenge But One of My Two Eyes.

Twitch has a terrific new design, and it's there that you can read one of Richard Brunton's final reviews from Edinburgh: Christian Alvert's Antibodies.

Boyd van Hoeij's got more photos and first impressions from Venice.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

Venice Dispatch. 8.

Moira Sullivan, freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, keeps busy at the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival With so many disappointments in the international competition to date, why not turn to the Horizons section? Werner Herzog delivers, and has created an extraordinary science fiction "documentary," a blurred boundary piece about the future of the world: The Wide Blue Yonder.

The Wild Blue Yonder

A group of astronauts circle the earth for hundreds of years after the planet has died. They live in an ocean wonderworld and later return to an earth in pristine condition, as it should be. Takeshi Miike's vision in The Great Yokai War takes pollution to task in epic proportion but Herzog has inventively created an amazingly enchanting film with exquisite underwater photography.

Also from the Horizons section, Michael Glawogger wonders if the "working class" has died out. Obviously it hasn't, and the Austrian director who studied at the acclaimed San Francisco Art Institute provides brilliant exposés on workers in Nigeria, China, Ukraine, Germany and Ukraine in Workingman's Death.

Bubble

Adding to the tradition of directors working with "non-actors" (see, for example, Pier Paolo Pasolini's neo-realist films or Gus Van Sant's Elephant), out-of-competition entrant Steven Soderbergh came to the Lido with Bubble, a film about a love triangle. After making such conventional films as Erin Brockovich, Ocean's Eleven and Traffic, Soderbergh claims he wants to get as far away from Hollywood as possible and still make films in the US. This strikes me as rather a curious comment. Filmmakers are doing that daily in different forms, even in Hollywood.

Other sections of the festival include Venice Days and the International Critic's Week (ICW) - both feature films by provocative young directors. C.R.A.Z.Y. is a Venice Day entry from Jean-Marc Vallée (Canada) about a hetero-normative family with a gay son, a story spanning three decades, from the 60s to the 90s. The authentic coming out story is shot through with music (Patsy Cline, David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane), with clever art direction and an imaginative script. C.R.A.Z.Y. presents a rich, inventive and colorful tableau.

In Massimo Andrei's Mater Natura, an ICW entry, all the actors come from the theater. The story centers on male transvestites and transgenders, some of whom support themselves through prostitution. They eventually set up an "agrifuturism" colony outside Naples and offer Trans-Vesuvian counseling. Problems with film are rooted in the overacting (ICW catalogue contributor Marco Lombardi notes that acting in Italian cinema is in a "sorry state," but asks us to indulge the film's other graces). Yes, the story is authentic and sincere with its excellent transgender iconography and colorful art direction. A main plot line has a MTF transgender falling for a heterosexual Adonis, a man who is engaged to be married. Ironically, Trans-Vesuvian counselors urge hetero men to go back to their families.

Parallel to the Venice festival is the Gay Lido Film Festival (September 5 through 8), with four films about male homosexuality. At the Venice fest this year, only John Irvin's The Fine Art of Love deals with lesbian relationships, though even the director and actors were unable to acknowledge the subject matter at the press conference.

During the festival, free vaporetto boats to St Giorgio were provided for screenings of ten restored Chinese films. I have yet to see these in the retrospective sections, the Secret History of Asian Cinema, with films from Japan and China, and Secrets of Italian Cinema, including Pasolini's Salò and Fellini's Il Casanova. When Takeshi Kitano was asked if he considered historical films of Japan of importance to him, he actually admitted that he didn't. But for many festival-goers, these retrospectives provide unique opportunities to experience landmarks of world cinema.

Zaire, Rider of the Atlas

There is one other perhaps unheralded section - Venice screenings, a market venue. I chanced upon a pearl of a film in a room the size of an ordinary Cineplex theater, with a pretty good screen. Zaire, Rider of the Atlas, from Bourlem Guerdjou (Germany/France), is the story of a young Moroccan girl who is reunited with her biological father. Her mother's boyfriend had kept them both locked up, and one night, during a fight, she slips and dies. Zaire is determined to ride the race her mother won twelve years before - and was disqualified from for being a woman. The exceptional cinematography and story certainly helped at Locarno, where it won an audience award for best film.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:36 AM

Venice Dispatch. 7.

Saul Symonds, editor of the online publication, Light Sleeper, files another dispatch from the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival A film festival's atmosphere is determined as much by the mood of the crowds as by anything else. Many are talking about the sparsity of the crowds at Venice this year, something which was even felt by one festival veteran I spoke with who's been coming here for 35-odd years (apart from the brief period in the 70s when the festival was closed). Capacity screenings are a rarity, walkouts the order of the day. At a reception on St Giorgio Island for the Secret History of Asian Cinema program, a security guard on duty (who became incredibly talkative about his love for old black-and-white Italian movies, particularly Divorce Italian Style, after I had a few martinis with him), said that the seven security guards on the island where often faced with an audience of maybe three or four people, if they were lucky, for the restored prints of many difficult-to-see and/or previously lost classics.

This, however, was not the case at a screening of George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck. The Sala Grande was filled to the brim. Yet so many in the press were locked out that their riotous protest drowned out the sounds of the film. Ten minutes in, Clooney, slightly vexed, got up and called the projection to a halt, insisting that the mob outside, so eager to see his film, be admitted. This kind of fervor, however, is a rarity, and a large number of films have been met with apathy or more often intense dislike.

Die Grosse Stille

The German documentary Die Grosse Stille had a ¾-full cinema when it began, but by the time its third hour kicked in, there were only a devoted few left. Philip Gröning's near-silent document of the monastic lifestyle of a group of monks living in one of the world's most ascetic monasteries was perhaps too heavy on the spiritual overtones for most midday viewers. I think what antagonized many of them was the unbearable silence of the film - there are only two short scenes in which the monks talk, and the rest of the film, the rest of their lives, play out with the volume turned down. I say "unbearable silence" because Gröning accentuates the silence to a point where this "nothingness" seems to burst with an intensity that can not be ignored.

Not since Bresson has a director used silence to so fully convey a sense of spirituality. But whereas Bresson only ever used a few short scenes of it in his tightly-edited features, Gröning drags it out for the entire running time and does so because he wants to convey something larger than just moments of silent spiritual awareness. He wants to convey the scope of entire lives lived in this fashion, of entire lives in which the volume of the ordinary world has been turned off and a sense of "infinity" (what some might call "God"), has been turned up - for these monks, and for Gröning, it is an infinity which is constituted in the everyday tasks of their lives, whether it be feeding cats, mending a shoe, or reading a holy text.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:46 AM

Venice Dispatch. 6.

Once again, freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, Moira Sullivan from the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle, based on Joseph Conrad's The Return, proves to be an overambitious project that literally doesn't work on screen. The story concerns an upper class woman, Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert), who writes a letter to her husband, informing him that she is leaving him for another man. She later returns home - "with the ink barely dry" on the disturbing dispatch. Jean (Pascal Greggory) is despondent and, as anticipated, drops the canister of spirits he is holding after reading the letter.

Gabrielle

Part of the problem with the film is the decision to project letters and plot developments onscreen as text. The effect is poor, even embarrassing for its lack of ingenuity. So, too, is the cinematography by Éric Gautier, who tries to embellish the film with more virtues than it deserves. This is a theater piece, shot entirely indoors, with admittedly fine performances, but this is not enough. The film's promotional material contains a lengthy analysis by Chereau about the making of Gabrielle, particularly about working with the magnificent Huppert. This struck me as a compensatory treatise intended to stretch the film beyond its actual parameters. The attempt was unsuccessful and film received boos from audience, with most journalists in a state of bewilderment over the letdown. Establishing the upper class interiors of the 19th century setting seemed to have consumed all the creative attention of Chereau and the resulting story lacks relevance for today's audiences.

The Great Yokai War

Directly afterwards came a screening of Takashi Miike's out-of-competition film The Great Yokai War (Yôkai daisensô), an epic and spectacular science fiction story based on Japanese mythology about goblins, or yokai. Miike also puts to paper an "explanation" about his film for fans raised on a steady diet of his other creations, notably Gozu and Audition. The story: Ten-year-old Tadashi (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is chosen to be the "Kirin Rider," a distinction entitling him to obtain the great sword guarded by the Great Goblin of the Mountain. (This makes three films with magic blades at Venice 62: Seven Swords, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children). The Great Yokai War may or may not appeal to adult audiences; it's clearly a kid's flick. More power to Miike. Tadashi screams far too much when he is afraid, but then, so do several of the benevolent yokai. For balance, though, there is the cute and barely audible Sunekosuri, an enchanted cat-like pet. The film is a phantasmogoric epic, very loud, with many special effects, an assortment of yokai goblins and a cast of hundreds (no digital replication here). Their war concerns what happens to an unsustainable world that hasn't learned to recycle. On the dark side, is a Christina Aguilera look alike bad girl with a retro B-52 hairdo and the sinister black-tie villain she hope to merge with.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

Venice Dispatch. 5.

More from freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, Moira Sullivan on the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival It took a film made in 1976, Fellini's Il Casanova and the competition film Sympathy for Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-wook to remind me what the Venice film festival is all about: a showcase of world-class art cinema.

Granted, we're halfway into the screenings and there will be more to come, but critics and cineastes seem perennially torn between their desire for more aesthetic work or more traditional narrative development. This critic appreciates and welcomes the aesthetic. Hollywood-type movies, whether or not they're made in the US, can be seen any day, in any town. At Venice, the expectation is for ground-breaking cinematic innovation.

The Brothers Grimm Regrettably, Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, competing for the Golden Lion, was a major disappointment, not least to Gilliam fans. There is some Gilliam in there, but the film sticks to its potboiler agenda. Still, it took an entire hour to get into the film, and with almost every twist and turn, small groups of spectators exited the Palagalileo theatre. Not that The Brothers Grimm is without its rewards: there are some exquisite moments of cinema magic, such as the mirror phase in the tower, where an evil queen sleeps, scheming to remain forever young, played by the "Lido Diva," as she is called in La Repubblica, Monica Bellucci. (The Italian actress reveals that she is not interested in the label, claiming that this is a designation that applies to women only during a particular time in their life.) It may be a minor point, but Matt Damon's English accent is terrible; worse, his performance is less than animate. Heath Ledger, who is indeed omnipresent at the festival, with roles in Brokeback Mountain and Casanova, fairs better, displaying a wider dramatic range in his role as a foolhardy young man - hardly a Casanova.

Fellini's Casanova Fellini's Il Casanova is required viewing in the wake of the popular success here of Lasse Hallström's Casanova. Here the complexities of the story of Giacomo Casanova are revealed, not least in recitations from his work addressing the mysteries of alchemy and the philosopher's stone. Fellini didn't rent Venice for a day as Hallström did during last year's Carnevale - he worked in a studio, reconstructing the Rialto Bridge and using black plastic to simulate the Venetian lagoon. Donald Sutherland (his voice proficiently dubbed by Gigi Proietti to allow for the authenticity of the language) was on hand to talk about working with Fellini. Of course, an Italian might have been cast, but Fellini told him that, even as he spoke his lines in English, he was to live within the role, let it happen; Sutherland was highly regarded by Fellini, so Casanova he was.

A virtue of Hallström's Casanova is that he provides a woman's angle on the story. Today we need one. Hallström's Casanova is open to the suggestions of women at a time when women were believed to have no soul. Fellini's Casanova agrees that a small soul is better than none (men were said to have several), and a little girl offers her opinion as to why the myth of the Immaculate Conception lacks credibility. Otherwise, Fellini creates exquisite moments in scene after scene; this is a film not enslaved to narrative but to the revelations of his unique visual imagery. The restoration of the film began in 2001 under the supervision of cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, and the decision to screen it at this year's festival was an excellent one.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is every bit the cliff-hanger that Oldboy was. Maybe Takeshi Kitano should be observant of how Park portrays women in this tale of revenge. Each scene is embedded with visual information, handcrafted for just the right effect like the final touches of a magnificent mural painting. The "story" is about a woman who has assisted a man in abducting a child who was later murdered. She does time. The prison exposé focuses not only on her but on the other female inmates as well and is rich, layered and complex. Her plan to find the man who abducted the child is laid out piece by piece, interwoven with the story of her being reunited with a daughter she had to give up for adoption while in prison. She naturally gravitates to situations which allow for atonement; yet her religious guilt ransacks her mind, even if she claims she has converted to Buddhism. The film is shot through with numerous instances of premeditated vengeance which may jar the viewer, especially just because it is a woman, but at the same time, there is enough terrain here for one to fully take in the experience. So far, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance has my vote for this year's Golden Lion.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 AM

September 3, 2005

Venice Dispatch. 4.

More from freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, Moira Sullivan on the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival Lasse Hallström's out-of-competition entry, Casanova, is clearly bound for awards elsewhere at least, notably for its costumes, art direction and script. Casanova's looking for way out of being sentenced to death for his amorous adventures. He needs a wife or maybe a new perspective. He finds it under the tutelage of Francesca (Sienna Miller), a young Venetian who writes under the name of Bruno Guardia. Jeremy Irons plays the inquisitor, Pucci, searching for both Guardia and Casanova (Heath Ledger). Lena Olin (Hallström's real-life wife) plays Francesca's mother, and Oliver Platt, the colorful lard merchant from Genoa, Paprizzio.

Casanova

Scenes poking at the Vatican's dictates on morality drew affectionate laughter from the Italian crowd and the film presents a modern take on the battle of the sexes; nothing short of equality is the goal. At the same time, Casanova is reminiscent of The Merchant of Venice; an obligatory extra falls in the smelly lagoon, for one thing, but moreover, a woman disguised as a man attempts to reason with the men of her time. Only as a man can she be heard, but Casanova, the libertarian, is more than willing to hear Francesca out. The pace works until the lengthy buildup to the finale. There are too many threads to tie up but all's well and the landing's soft.

The press conference was predictably packed for such a star-studded and Hollywood-financed production (Touchtone Pictures) and there was, as usual, little time to do justice to the complexities of the film. Questions were even posed by a former Miss Universe, entertainment personality Cecilia Bolocco of Chile, wife of the ex-president of Argentina, Carlos Menem. At any rate, Hallström's latest has to be this year's favorite out-of-competion film so far.

Drawing Restraint 9

In Drawing Restraint 9, Matthew Barney and Björk set out on a Japanese vessel, the only factory ship in the world that processes whale meat. In an elaborate and lengthy ritual, the two passengers are partially transformed into whales - both have blow holes and eventually sprout fins. They are more than appropriately dressed for the metamorphosis, thanks to Barney's eclectic costume design and props - shellfish, fur, organic matter and variously bizarre accoutrements. As part of the transformation, Björk loses her eyebrows and Barney the hair on the top of his head. The materials are original, imaginative and include an organic white substance which the ship crew slices into sections with large knives. The gooey sounds you may have heard in Barney's Cremaster Cycle are here - and more. Björk has created a fabulous soundtrack and it seemed only a matter of time before we'd see and hear some sort of synergy of their visual and acoustic creativity.

Barney said his cinematic origins are in horror films and Björk is resigned to learn to like them. Still, at the press conference, he said that it was a natural process that led them to work together. Barney told me he is aware that his films are difficult to find and see, but he hopes that his being in Venice will bring his work to the attention of a wider audience.

Takeshis

The surprise film of the competition yesterday was Takeshi Kitano's Takeshis, a film that the Japanese director revealed may be his last in a cycle of films. The story is basically an assemblage piece about auditioning for acting roles. Kitano's answers to questions about his work were primarily metaphorical. He described his body of work as perhaps "the last thread on a screw"; his yakuza films poke fun at violence "like a lion with a stick." He admitted that he hasn't been very good at depicting women but will maybe give it a try in his next cycle. The two main female characters in the film include a giggling bimbo and an uptight middle-aged woman, and the audience cheered when Kitano punches her, so I told him I'm looking forward to that next cycle. In Takeshis, Kitano plays Kitano and an alternate character, someone very unlike Kitano - a clown, a convenience store clerk, a shy nerd with blonde hair who sports a gaudy jacket.

There are several iconographic flashbacks to Kitano the yakuza warrior, the shooter, the hitman. I asked him why he needs to translate images we can easily recall so literally. His answer: A brain surgeon told him that when he laid a wet towel on the throat of a sleeping man, the man dreamed of his throat being cut. But the visuals in Takeshis did not prod such vivid associations. They conjured what was already there. For some strange reason, the film seems to have been received as a masterpiece. But no, a masterpiece it wasn't. There were instances of good cinema, but perhaps the dressing down of Kitano, the relegation of this onscreen icon to an everyday man resonated with many. As he said himself, "I don't think of myself as a success." Even so, he has never fantasized about who he would be if he weren't Takeshi Kitano. The film is on its way to Toronto, so heads up.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:23 PM

Long weekend shorts.

Marie et Julien To open with Slump update, it can't be just the movies, figures the Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson. Because the repertory houses are seeing a drop in attendance as well. While she listens to theater owners and programmers' ideas on what's keeping people at home - except when a festival, an event of some sort rolls into town - David Ehrenstein has been talking to distributors of foreign fare for a vital piece in the LA Weekly. And they're seeing more and more US premieres on DVD rather than in theaters. There are a lot of conflicting voices in this piece, but one of the more interesting is Dave Kehr's, who notes that even raves in the New York Times aren't causing the stir they used to. As the paper's video reviewer, he's seeing titles plop on his desk, such as The Story of Marie and Julien, that haven't had a theatrical run in the US at all: "'[S]traight-to-video' once meant 'not good enough to be shown in theaters.' Now it means 'too good to be shown in theaters.' That's the reality."

Also in the LA Weekly: Acquisitions execs goofed royally at Sundance, writes Scott Foundas with more than a little relish. They ignored the penguin movie and wrangled with each other to pick up Hustle & Flow, only to see it become "the latest victim of the so-called Sundance Syndrome, whereby mediocre films, greeted with overenthusiastic receptions by festival audiences, become the subjects of high-profile bidding wars that almost always end in buyer's remorse."

Stephen Holden:

This has been the summer in which mass culture, in its search for new commercial distractions, reached a dangerous tipping point. There is a sense of exhaustion in the air, as though the accumulation of cultural debris, celebrity worship and meaningless competitions had reached a critical mass.... Did reality television prepare the way for the new popularity of the documentary? Or is the increasing popularity of documentaries a response to the Orwellian political climate.

These ruminations on docs ("March of the Penguins may be a good film but Grizzly Man is a great one") then shift into a series of quick notes on the best films of the summer, narrative and doc alike.

Also in the New York Times:

Mabarosi

Jan Svankmajer Jan Svankmajer, writes Travis Miles for Stop Smiling, "embodies one of the purest strains of modern cinema; he is absolutely dedicated to the detritus and cast-off objects of the human world. In his incredibly textured films, an absolute animism pervades the material world so that we are given the impression of viewing the secret life of objects."

Robert Beavers's "approach goes beyond that of standard noncommercial filmmaking," write Henriette Huldisch and Chrissie Iles in their introduction to their interview with him in Artforum, "and for the past forty years he has maintained strict control over the production, exhibition, and preservation of his films, which has resulted in one of the most distinctive - and yet underrecognized - bodies of work in cinema."

StayPuft at Reverseblog: "Privileged to catch a screening of Bennett Miller's Capote the other night. I cannot remember the last time I was so disconcertingly enthralled, so self-consciously immersed in a film."

At Cinematical, Kim Voynar has a terrific interview with Stewart Stern, whose screenwriting credits include Rebel Without a Cause. Part 2.

David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back on A Bell From Hell, "a subversive horror film about societal repression that was shot in Franco’s fascist Spain.... It's a thinking man's horror film - the Easy Rider of Spanish horror, if you will, complete with motorcycle-riding counter-culture protagonist."

JR Jones in the Chicago Reader: "El crimen perfecto is [Alex de la] Iglesia's most interesting examination of human oddity yet, revisiting the theme with the fervor of Mutant Action but expanding it into a satire of advertising and consumer culture - and all the while unreeling a tale of sex, lies, and homicide that recalls the classic noirs of the late 40s."

Time of the Wolf The Katrina disaster has David Lowery thinking of Michael Haneke's Le Temps Du Loup. "There was scarcely a drop of water in that film, and yet it was entirely about what has happened in New Orleans; in very specific details, yes, but more importantly in its portrayal of the way in which extreme circumstance gives rise to both the best and worst human nature has to offer."

For the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan calls up Andrew Bujalski.

Steve Erickson for Gay City News: "William Eggleston in the Real World and Paul Provenza's dirty joke anthology The Aristocrats have only one thing in common - both would have better served by being cut into a succinct short or a TV program. That's a quality shared by many recent documentaries."

"There was a period between the end of the Second World War and the mid-70s which was a tremendous time for filmmaking," recalls John Boorman in a conversation with Philip Horne about 8 ½. You had the Neo-Realist cinema in Italy, the French New Wave, the Czech films of the Prague Spring.... Then it became corporate and the auteur was squeezed out, denied the kind of budgets Fellini had. Those great auteur extravaganzas couldn't be done now."

Also in the Telegraph: David Gritten (who quite likes Good Night, and Good Luck) visits the set of The History Boys, based on the wildly successful play by Alan Bennett, and John Hiscock meets Keira Knightley.

Donald Sutherland Newspaper profiles of movie stars are a dime a dozen - make that a nickel - but John Patterson's on Donald Sutherland is a fine piece of work. And: "[W]hat exactly qualifies Martin Scorsese to be Bob Dylan's biographer? Well, plenty."

Also in the Guardian:

  • Brian Logan asks several British comics what they think of The Aristocrats; opinions vary widely.

  • Tim Dowling maps the possible futures for six British film stars; you can even download little PDF file of their "trajectories."

  • Peter Bradshaw reviews Aleksandr Sokurov's The Sun, "a mesmerisingly mad, brilliantly intuitive study of Emperor Hirohito and his Götterdämmerung in the days after Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

  • The "DVD's greatest achievement has been to transform the nature of the memory of entertainment," writes Mark Lawson.

  • Paul Kelso on the next soccer movie: "Wholesome, harmless and awash with Premiership stars, Goal! marks the coming together of Hollywood production values, the football establishment and corporate marketing clout."

  • Andrew Pulver's adaptation of the week: Brian G Hutton's Where Eagles Dare.

Charlotte Cripps talks with production designer Ken Adam about his work on Dr Strangelove. Other interviews in the Independent: Stephen Applebaum with Hooligans director Lexi Alexander, Elaine Lipworth with Russell Crowe and James Mottram with Natasha Richardson.

King Kong Gregg Kilday in the Hollywood Reporter: "[O]ne of the revelations of a new biography of Merian C Cooper, King Kong's creator, is that the movie, as fantastic as it is, was rooted in Cooper's real-life adventures."

Daniel Robert Epstein interviews Gus Van Sant for SuicideGirls.

Sonia Shah has just written a book on Big Pharma and, in the Nation, spells out what The Constant Gardener gets right - and wrong - about the business of testing experimental drugs in Africa and Asia.

Online listening tip. DVD Classics Corner broadcast on Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee. Via Glenn Erickson's review of the DVD and the film via, in turn, Martha Fischer at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

Fests, 9/3.

At Movie City News, which has now added a festival blog to its collection as well as a page devoted to Toronto coverage, David Poland's been turning out a series of reviews of films set to unreel at fests throughout the season:

Mamet: Edmond

My Dad is 100 Years Old At Twitch, Todd carries on rolling out his Toronto previews. My Dad is 100 Years Old, written by Isabella Rossellini as a tribute to her father and directed by Guy Maddin: "How the two talents meet and intermingle makes for a fascinating viewing experience." Also: "With the film's strength of focus, cold hearted violence and undertones of racial violence The Proposition makes Deadwood look positively limp and flaccid by comparison."

Eugene Hernandez catches Capote at Telluride: "The look, the mood, the script, and the performances are all exceptional." Also: Paradise Now and Edmond.

Rebelfest, set for September 7 through 11 in Toronto, bills itself "the next wave in Film Festivals. NO MORE entrenched selectors - EVERY YEAR a NEW selection committee composed of ACTIVE filmmakers from around the world. Imagine That!"

Richard Murray has the impressive list of Asian films to be screened in the Dragons & Tigers series at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival.

Boyd van Hoeij is blogging - and posting pix - from Venice.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:55 PM

Venice Dispatch. 3.

Venice International Film Festival This dispatch from the Venice International Film Festival comes from Saul Symonds, editor of the excellent online publication, Light Sleeper.

Brokeback Mountain Whilst any international film festival's more avant-garde showcases usually provide a hotspot for after-film coffee and cigarettes fuelled discussion, it is Venice's more mainstream films which have so far proved to be the most interesting: George Clooney's sophisticated slick black-and-white Good Night, and Good Luck, about a worn broadcast journalist's attempts to put a stop to the madness of Joseph McCarthy, is already a festival favorite, and a good contender for a prize of some sort – and there is Ang Lee's epic Brokeback Mountain, dubbed by those whose couldn't see the merits that lay beyond its clichéd direction, "The Gay Cowboy Film."

Though there was nothing particularly shocking in the film's homosexual love story, as I watched Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal - playing two sheep herders in the early 60s - engage in some rough anal sex, I wondered how their young female fans would react to this once the film achieved wide release - but in our hermetically-sealed bubble of the Lido, filmmakers have to do a lot more than that to raise eyebrows and wake sleeping critics.

We are only three days into the Venice Film Festival, and there are many more promising films which have yet to have their first screenings. But as I trundle, sweating, through the muggy heat of the Lido, into and out of the tight security checkpoints that are required to enter any screening, I wonder if I will see another scene as rawly beautiful and sad as Ledger's final trembling moment from Brokeback, on the verge of imploding under the accumulated weight of frustrated love, hating his inability to accept his homosexuality and the tragic effects and emotional ruin all this has had on the more vulnerable Gyllenhaal.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 AM

September 2, 2005

Venice Dispatch. 2.

Once again, freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum, Moira Sullivan, from the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival On Tuesday (August 30), the festival unofficially began with screenings of out-of-competition films that were the subject of yesterday's press conferences: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Tsui Hark's Seven Swords (Qi jian), the opening film, and John Irvin's The Fine Art of Love - Mine HaHa.

Seven Swords Offering what can be described as an "all you need is a good blade (or two, or more) and a girl (or two or more)" sort of film, Tsui Hark explained why he has made another martial arts movie. Because "the stories are still compelling." Seven Swords is concerned with the origins of the martial arts in the China of the 1600s when peasants needed to defend themselves from rogue bandits and bullies. It is interesting that three of the female leads have the same prototype: same height, same build: Charlie Yeung, Zhang Jingchu, and Kim So-yeon. Charlie Yeung revealed that co-star Donnie Yen "has so many muscles," but that she was pleased that her character learned how to fight. Both Yeung, as the peasant woman, and Honglei Sun, as the masterful archenemy, evoke the strongest performances. Most of the scenes are shot in a studio with sepia hues, recalling the cinematography of Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum. You have to be grateful for the fight scenes with real humans when you think of the thousands of digital extras in battle scenes in Troy and The Lord of the Rings. And the martial arts sequences are magnificently choreographed by Wei Tung and Xin Xin Xiong. Unfortunately, Tsui Hark's regard for his film seemed somewhat inflated and grandiose in the midst of this ambitious yet overly melodramatic project.

Good Night, and Good Luck ER doctor turned film actor and director, George Clooney, was ecstatic over the enthusiasm for his new film, Good Night, and Good Luck. The legendary television journalist Edward R Murrow was instrumental in targeting Joseph McCarthy, the junior Senator from Wisconsin who cooked up a witchhunt for Communists in the 1950s. Premiering here in Venice, the film resonated with the Italian audience in the same way Tim Robbins's Embedded did last year. Clooney said that Murrow's ideas about diligent journalism were respected while he was growing up and admired by his father, who worked in television.

David Strathairn, who plays Murrow, said he was "trying to absorb the man he was" with archival footage and by talking with Murrow's son. "Good Night, and Good Luck," Patricia Clarkson! That's all I can say about her very small role as Shirley Wershba, wife of TV journalist Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr). But she didn't seemed to mind, and was radiant at the premiere gala. Ray Wise, as Don Hollenbeck, still seems tied to his tragic roots in Twin Peaks.

Clooney had originally thought to make the film a TV play, and it shows. Some of the transitional scenes are somewhat theatrical - fade to black, curtain falls. It is also worth noting that no matter how hard you try to tune into the audio on the old TV broadcasts, unless there are shots of the speakers, it's difficult to make out what is being said. Generally, though, the interweaving of the dramatic development with the archival footage is excellent.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, directed by Tetsuya Nomura, was made for fans who wanted more after the video games. A preview was shown last year at Venice, so the director was happy to bring the completed film here. The story by Kazushige Nojima includes creation myths with voices by Takahiro Sakurai (Cloud) and Ayumi Ito (Tifa). Now who will be cast for the English-language version? At advance screenings of the film for fans, the verdict has been that it does not disappoint. The carefully designed CGI characters are exquisite; the inhabitants of a future generation have acquired an immune deficiency that threatens their survival, and Cloud battles with several colorfully inventive characters to stop an escalation. There is some eerie mother symbolism reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver's struggles in Alien... but this time, it's not Mother's fault!

The Fine Art of Love John Irvin spent time in a boarding school and claims that his new film, The Fine Art of Love - Mine Haha (The Grooming), could just as well be about his own experience as that of the film's group of young female orphans and their teachers. Based on a novel by German novelist Frank Wedekind (Mine-Haha or Physical Education of Young Girls), the film is about a malicious matriarchal boarding school at the turn of the 20th century. Or is it? Peter Mullan, Golden Lion winner in  2002 for The Magdelene Sisters, was perhaps right when he declared, "Teenage girls are an exploited 'ethnic' group" - yes, he used that term. Irvin was nervous about his film being compared to "an historical journalist film" about the historical Magdelene laundries where young girls are beaten into submission and molested by priests. It's not that "genre," said Irvin.

The film is actually a shocking travesty, setting back films about lesbian characters to the days of Mark Rydell's The Fox and Radley Metzger's Therese and Isabelle. What was John Irvin thinking, cranking out this sort of melodrama in 2005? Jacqueline Bisset is "the nasty and evil head mistress," and a commanding and powerful actress she is, too. She is absolutely magnificent in the role, as are all the actresses in the film, including Mary Nighy and Hannah Taylor-Gordon. Even if it is based on Wedekind's crusty old novel about predatory lesbians and Queen Mother lookalikes that feel up young woman's bodies wearing scratchy lace gloves (to assess their suitability for matrimonial rape) the film might not resonant with today's young audiences.

Wedekind: Mine-HaHa Bisset claimed that, as far as her character is concerned, "She is beyond guilty," in terms of how young women's dreams are crushed at the school. Is this where great actresses like Bisset go when they mature and are at the top of their game? Her performance will hopefully bring her to the attention of richer projects. This is the only film so far to draw the Italian whistle signaling, "This Film Sucks." But Fabio Zamarion's cinematography is lovely, especially in the opening scenes of a ballerina's executing moves with thumping sounds that issue forth more and more blood stains. The art direction by Dante Ferretti, president of the international jury this year, which probably one of the reasons the film was screened out of competition. Irvin and Bissett were spotted wearing matching colors, grey and red, but I'm feeling pretty blue about this new film.

Speaking of cruelty to children, eight renowned directors were given creative rein to make a short film about the unspoken stories of children in their respective countries. All the Invisible Children collects shorts by Mehdi Charef, Emir Kusturica, Spike Lee, Kátia Lund, Jordan Scott, Ridley Scott, Stefano Veneruso, John Woo, stories of children who, for example, are HIV-positive, or soldiers, who are orphaned or incarcerated. Heavy as that may sound, in all the tales, there is a sense of hope for the future.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:17 AM

Venice Dispatch. 1.

Freelance journalist and founder of The Maya Deren Forum Moira Sullivan files her first dispatch from the Venice International Film Festival.

Venice International Film Festival Venice is probably one of the most mythic cities in the world. You have to compete with the myth to find your place in this tourist-happy city. Boatloads of disciples and novices arrive every day from all over the world to worship at this waterworld shrine and remove a little piece of Venice with each visit. Boats enter the city from the airport at 30 kilometers an hour (18 mph) on a "boat expressway" lined by triads of pillars of wood. They look a little like jumbo crayons. The festival icon is a replica of these water icons and their reflections.

Casanova As you approach the city, the speed slows to 11 kph (7 mph), except for ambulances and fireboats. Everything comes into the city and goes out of it by boat. It is always amazing to observe the intracacies of acquatic life in the Venetian lagoon. The smell is the first rude awakening, a little like rotten sewage. Venetians blame it on the pollution from the neighboring town, Mestre. When Katharine Hepburn fell into it during the filming of Summertime (1955), it was a lot cleaner. Last year Al Pacino graced the festival with The Merchant of Venice wherein an actor falls into the canal. This year Lasse Hallström will bring his new film Casanova, filmed almost exclusively in Venice and featuring the famous masked Carnevale. About this time every year, too, is the historic gondola extravaganza, the Regata Storica where hundreds of boats of Venetians, some dressed in traditional medieval clothing, sail up and down the Grande Canale.

The Venice fest is nowhere near the media extravaganza of Cannes. It has its own sophistication, venues and sidebars. There are a lot of young Italians and, if they're students or teach film, they receive accreditation. They usually get into all the screenings, too, and that alone makes this a wonderful festival. The festival is for the cineaste public, the filmmakers, cast and crew, the journalists and the students. Marc Müller appears to be a very capable festival director and in his second year has brought about a very good festival. Last year there were too many screenings, too much out-of-competition fluff; this year all that is gone. Müller is an expert on Chinese literature and this year arranged "the secret history of Asian film" sections, featuring work from China and Hong Kong. Both the opening and closing films, too, are from Hong Kong.

This is my fifth Venice International Film Festival experience. Number One felt like Death in Venice, and I actually have a photo somewhere with a Dirk Bogarde look on my face (minus the dripping hair dye), taken outside of the Hotel Des Bains where scenes from the famous Luchino Visconti film were shot. This year, there are some improvements for journalists - free espresso (I sincerely hope that lasts) and mineral water from a dispenser set up in the press room. There is also an affordable café in the festival headquarters, The Casino (it actually was one) and a new queue system for getting a desktop or notebook station. No more insane lines and names being screamed out for the computers of journalists who are long gone looking for espesso or running to screenings.

This year, there is also a major disadvantage: checkpoints with metal detectors and security. It's not just the local Polizia at the festival, but also the Italian National Guard. With Italy on a terrorism alert, the festival has responded quickly with strong measures. There is another obvious reason: radio, photo and television media receive exclusive rights to work the photocalls and press conferences. Pirating is also a risk, and after the screenings at San Marco last year of Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle and Shark Tale, it was decided to have bags checked at security points.

The catwalk for the film personalities is now lower, for better viewing, and because there is better security. George Clooney made his way through the crowd on opening night, signing autographs for several young women at the premiere of Good Night, and Good Luck, which is in the running for the Golden Lion. It is still next to impossible to take photos or record sound during the press conferences, even if you have a priority badge. I have resigned myself to ignoring disappointment of not being able to double as a print and radio, film and photo journalist. Print accreditation gets me into all of the screenings. For a change, I am allowing my vision to be the camera and keeping those memories permament without a hard copy. It's working, sort of. The security guards are excellent at zooming in to obstruct a photo in progress. Who needs that.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:59 AM

September 1, 2005

Telluride lineup.

Telluride 05 The Telluride Film Festival likes to be coy about its lineup, unveiling it each year only a day or so before the fest takes place on Labor Day weekend. Word is now out and, as Eugene Hernandez reports at indieWIRE, "festival co-founder and co-director Bill Pence noted that this year's festival is a particularly literary event." Which is to say, first, lots of adaptations - Eugene (who'll also be blogging from the fest) has the list - and second, "Author Don DeLillo (White Noise) is on board as Guest Director at this year's event and will present three films from the 1970s, including Barbara Loden's Wanda, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger, and Victor Erice's The Spirit Of The Beehive."

The site's a fun browse. Dave McKean designed the poster and Neil Gaiman, who's collaborated with him on MirrorMask, has this to say about him:

I never minded Dave being an astonishing artist and visual designer. That never bothered me. That he's a world-class keyboard player and composer bothers me only a little. That he drives amazing cars very fast down tiny Kentish backroads only bothers me if I'm a passenger after a full meal, and much of the time I keep my eyes shut anyway. He's now becoming a world class film and video director, that he can write comics as well as I can, if not better, that he subsidizes his art (still uncompromised after all these years) with highly paid advertising work which still manages, despite being advertising work, to be witty and heartfelt and beautiful.... well, frankly, these things bother me.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 PM | Comments (3)

Shorts, 9/1.

"Buñuel is my first deep love in Cinema." Jane Campion comments on nine titles in the Criterion Collection.

Giants and Toys

"From 1957 until his death in 1986, [Yasuzo] Masumura turned out nearly 60 films, ranging in scope from erotic horror to colourful pop satire, wrenching melodrama and widescreen war movie," writes Steve Rose in the Guardian, previewing the Masumura season at the National Film Theatre (September 10 through 28). "They are by no means consistently brilliant, but judging by the eight about to tour the UK, Masumura was an underrated talent and an unacknowledged influence on his country's cinema, and perhaps its society."

"When Winter Soldier received its initial limited theatrical release, the great Amos Vogel wrote (in a Village Voice review) that it must be shown on prime-time, national television," writes Johnny Ray Huston. "It should go without saying that statement holds true today. Unfortunately, both the movie and the event that spawned it have been used for campaign purposes by right-wing figures with no sense of shame or decency."

Tony Takitani

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Kimberly Chun explains the "esonance in effect when [Rie] Miyazawa enters the picture in Tony Takitani, looking like the mousy, tweedy bookstore beatnik [Audrey] Hepburn of Stanley Donen's iconic Funny Face (1957), the classic mother-and-daughter-bonding-ritual musical."

The Baxter and The 40-Year-Old Virgin get Matt Zoller Seitz thinking about the lack of evolution in comedy, the genre "most resistant to innovation... Take away color, slow motion and the music montage and you won't see a whole lot of difference between My Little Chickadee and Fever Pitch, or A Day at the Races and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle."

Also in the New York Press, Armond White: "We don't need another mere action-adventure film; Red Eye combines political-historical awareness with emotional need." And: "In The Constant Gardener, the photogenic exploitation of misery, in hand with Hollywood romanticism, illustrates the height of liberal arrogance."

In the SFBG, Dennis Harvey heartily disagrees: "This is a very good movie almost any post-teenage viewer could enjoy, and within its classic framework of life-love lost and avenged, excellent points are made about how the world really works." But for Anthony Kaufman, writing at Alternet, "It's just one more movie about white romance in black Africa."

David M Halbfinger reports on a script floating around Hollywood that'll probably never get shot: a comedy about terrorists. "They always want you to think outside the box, then when you do, they say, 'What the hell's the matter with you?'" says one of the writers. Also in the New York Times: Dana Stevens writes off 9/11/03: A Day in the Life of New York.

Dr Strangelove

In the Boston Phoenix, Peter Koeugh previews two series, "The Complete Kubrick: A Retrospective" and "Too Human: The Films of Louis Malle." Kubrick's is "a compact body of work, one that can be analyzed, perhaps, as a single work of art, the grand tapestry of one of the 20th century’s most important film artists," while Malle "is too much of a dilettante to qualify for auteur status." Also, Gerald Peary on A State of Mind: "There's nothing in the film about the nuclear build-up, North Korean prisons, the lack of civil liberties, or the other obvious sore points in this hyper-Stalinist Communist state."

If you're in LA, Kevin Thomas has a few suggestions for your Labor Day weekend. Also in the Los Angeles Times: Merrill Balassone talks to John Pierson about Reel Paradise. More from Rachel Odes in the SFBG.

Noel Murray: "In the interest of preserving our television history - in formaldehyde, if necessary - The AV Club presents an annotated, step-by-step guide to constructing an After School Special."

In Die Zeit (and in German), Volker Schlöndorrf revisits On the Waterfront and Thomas Gross: "'Rhythm, rhythm, above all, rhythm,' read Eisenstein's instructions for new scores [for Battleship Potemkin], and he wanted a new one every ten years. It's not only on this point that the Pet Shop Boys happily accommodate."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:03 PM

Fests, 9/1.

Wendy Mitchell files her report on the Sarajevo Film Festival (August 19 through 27):

The festival was started during the Bosnian war 11 years ago as a mark of artistic defiance and a way to let the troubled community find solace through film. More than a decade later, the war is over and the festival helps continue the healing process - embraced by the community through its strong children's and teen programs as well as popular open-air screenings. And it is attracting more and more attention in the film world, with movie stars and industry types making the trip to Sarajevo.

Woodstock Film Festival Also at indieWIRE: Vanessa Romo has the lineup for the Woodstock Film Festival (September 28 through October 2).

Meanwhile, Venice. Peter Kiefer and Charles Masters run through yesterday's opening in the Hollywood Reporter and Roderick Conway Morris has a nifty catch-all piece in the International Herald Tribune.

What I've noticed in the German papers is that the ultra-cautious security measures are already hammering on the nerves of the press: Dirk Schümer in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cristina Nord in die tageszeitung and Susan Vahabzadeh in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:23 AM