April 30, 2006
Online viewing tip.Stephen Colbert roasts W. Via Waxy.org. As this latest Internet wildfire spreads, you can find commentary all over, and not just where you'd most expect to. In the comments at City Pages, for example; or John Rogers: "The President was upset? Good. I hope the President was sleepless with rage. At least then he'd know how most of us have been spending every night for the last three years." Update, 5/1: W and Steve Bridges; pretty amusing, too, though not in a stand-up-n-cheer sort of way. Update, 5/4: Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin looks into why the Colbert videos were removed from YouTube. So... here's an alternative. Update, 5/6: Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin on how video wound up on Google Video - with CSPAN's consent.
Udine. It's a wrap.The following dispatch, edited in Berlin and coming to you from a server in San Francisco, comes from Moira Sullivan, now back in Stockholm after seeing a slew of films from Asia in Italy. At the closing ceremony of the Udine Far East Film Festival on April 29, the audience awards were given to the ten most popular films. As anticipated, the South Korean film Welcome to Dongmakgol, a story about soldiers from the Korean War who chance upon a peaceful community in the mountains and are then transformed by their zest for life, was honored as most popular film of the festival. Approximately 4,000 spectators voted for the films. The complete list, the audience top ten:
Udine Dispatch. 8.Moira Sullivan spotlights films from China and South Korea screened at the Udine Far East Film Festival. The special panel on China in Cinema was dedicated to the two actors of You and Me, directed by Ma Liwen - veteran Jin Yaqin and debutant Gong - and the director of Loach is Fish Too, Yang Yazhou. Both were very popular films at the festival. You and Me is a touching drama about the meeting of an elderly woman and young university student. Granny, a former soldier, rents an inexpensive room to Xiao Ma but they become more than landlady and tenant. Every inch of territory is debated and marked, often resulting in total exasperation yet they both continue to co-exist through four seasons. Ma Liwen said she chose the story because intergenerational meetings between women have seldom been approached in film. The treatment of the relationship goes beyond merely setting up an observant camera and many scenes, such as a video project Xiao Ma makes of Granny, are artfully arranged. The strength of the relationship endeared this couple to the audience in a profound way. According to director Yang Yazhou, the situation in Beijing of migrant workers from Northern China - over 140 million in all - has also been rarely treated in film, though does Guo Xiaolu tackles the subject in the excellent documentary, Concrete Revolution. Loach is Fish Too is the story of the hard life of these workers. In the massive modernization of the city, inhabitants have been known to say that they leave their house in the morning only to find it gone when they return. Yang shows such events in more than one scene. The main characters are a divorcée Niqiu (Ni Ping), who has twin daughters, and a widower also by the name of Niqui (Ni Dahong). Their name refers to a low-status fish and symbolizes how they are treated. An overwhelming momentum builds on the screen from the first moments. Migrants arrive on a cattle train and are herded into the Forbidden City for hard labor such as ditch-digging. But in between all the harshness are several ephemeral scenes of warmth. One scenario involves a taking care of a bedridden elderly man. Niqui dedicates herself vigorously to the task of making him happy in his final days. Class differences are revealed through the instructions given by his daughter, adding another dimension to the plight of migrant workers. Gender relations are explored as several men try to molest Niqui and a seedy photographer tries to exploit her daughters. Loach is Fish Too stands out as a very strong and important film, with excellent editing, music, art direction and cinematography. Udine's FEFF offered several entertaining and well-made South Korean films this week. Choe Equan's Voice, shown on horror day, departs from the conventions of the other films. Both Choe's film and All for Love, by Min Ky-dong, were the only films at the festival with minor gay/lesbian characters, albeit closeted (if you discount the stereotypes in the campy Tokyo Zombie (Sato Sakichi, Japan 2006). All For Love presents a multi-arch of interesting characters whose complicated lives and conflicting desires intersect with one another, though they are not intimately related. Examples are a landlord enticed into selling his building, which houses a movie theater and a fast food stand run by a women who loves Audrey Hepburn. In a moment of cinematic magic, Henry Mancini's "Moon River" is the soundtrack to a home video the landlord has made of his tenant. Then there are next to impossible relationships, such as a macho cop and a smart-mouthed psychologist or a wealthy closeted gay man and the butler he hires to take care of his boy. Although not all the relationships are sufficiently fleshed out, the film works. Two high school films about gangs challenging outsiders feature some of the same actors: See You After School, by Lee Seok-Giib, and Art of Fighting, by Shin Han-sol. Through luck and a bit of smarts, a transfer student learns how to beat the bad guys and get the girl. He also elevates the status of "losers," and wins the acclaim of his classmates. The thugs who attack him become lovers, according to the end credits, which has been known to happen in the homosocial world of gang fighting. Art of Fighting is less successful. It features the lead of Kim Ki-duk's 3 Iron, Jae Hee Song, this time as a teenager who needs to learn how to fight and defend himself - but in this film, he doesn't play golf. Byung-tae forces his "Dirty Harry" neighbor, Pan-su (a commanding Baek Yoon-shik), to help him, a man who knows how to fight with sensual and cool detachment and who teaches him everything he needs to know. Murder Take One is an interesting cop film with a spiritual dimension. The influence of game shows and crime scene investigations are presented through a murder investigated live on TV. The opening crane shot, filmed with a "spyder-cam," vividly reveals the macrocosm of the crime scene. When the story shifts to the ground, widescale pandemonium breaks loose. This great beginning and the carefully arranged scenes that follow are ultimately winning. Even psychics have their place in CSI-type shows. Welcome to Dongmakgol, by Park Kwang-hyun, the closing film of the festival, shows what happens to soldiers from the North and the South during the Korean War who arrive in a kind of Shangri-la. Dongmakgol is an oasis where the inhabitants don't know war. The naivety of the villagers, including Yeo-il (Gang Hye-jung, the poster girl of the film), seems odd to these soldiers familiar with the CGI-orchestrated carnage of weaponry and instruments of mass destruction. They are glad - and lucky - they are still alive, but instantly take the villagers as prisoners. Soon, though, they learn that the innocence of Dongmakgol is the right antidote for them and wind up hanging the laundry. The cinematography is excellent and the message of the film has particular significance today at a time when pacifists are considered unpatriotic.
Barcelona Dispatch. 2.Juan Manuel Freire on Royston Tan's 4:30 and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves. Singaporean Royston Tan has made a name for himself revealing the fringe of his country's society - particularly the side of that fringe occupied by teenagers without hope, lonesome and lost. In his second full-length film, he carries on investigating the lives of underdogs and lonely young people (though this time without the graphic violence of his previous 15: The Movie). The first Official Section film shown at the Barcelona Asian Film Festival, 4:30 has more to do with Nobody Knows than with any young gangster epic. An 11-year-old boy, Xiao Wu, is dazed and confused and abandoned (by his mother, who has put him in the dubious care of their drunk tenant), but his pranks are rather naïve and more a product of boredom than of rebellion. The story focus Xiao Wu's relationship with his newly found "Uncle," who needs a little care and attention even more than the young boy. To depict this shared loneliness, Tan chooses a style with more connections to Tsai Ming-liang (and especially the exploration of intimacy, of closed doors, of What Time is It There?) than to MTV-style kinetics, his past tendency. There are moments when melodrama threatens to intrude, but creating powerful visual metaphors of solitude seems one of Tan's gifts. One of the surprises of 2003 was Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe, a wonderful romantic comedy of surreal and magical aspects, photographed with an abstract aestheticism by Christopher Doyle, centering on two people, alone but not lonesome, who find mutual understanding in the worst moments of their lives. The images moved slowly, slid, they floated, and they revealed inner corners of their central characters, the suicidal Japanese man and the wounded Thai girl. What kept the revelation from being a masterpiece was an unnecesary criminal subplot (with Takashi Miike in the role a gangster, or better, in the role of himself) that distracted from the essential in this film: the process of falling in love between two lost people in a hostile world. Presented in non-competitive Asian Selection section, Invisible Waves proves again that Ratanaruang handles personal drama better than labyrinthine crime. The director's plan here seems to be to take the gangster thriller to a dimension far from the logics of street wisdom, the genre clichés, and transform it into a philosophical odyssey with a slapstick sense of comedy. Well, at least that's an idea, because it's hard to decipher the aim of a film which floats with no direction through two long hours. Sure, it's lensed by Chris Doyle, but except for a few seas, a few skins, that doesn't really show. The story is weak, as well as the storytelling, and the results of the oblique visual style, set in frames that never capture action in a normal mode, range from fascinating to frustrating (sometimes this seems like the work of an amateur director). Tadanobu Asano's performance doesn't redeem anything, though he's proven capable of bring to their characters complex, secret depths, but here seems as strangely jumbled as the man behind the camera.
Barcelona Dispatch. 1.Juan Manuel Freire on a festival opener. For its opening day, the Barcelona Asian Film Festival made an offer not to be refused. Three Times is a kind of distillation of Hou Hsiao-hsien's career. Three stories in three different historical periods, all of them previously visited by the director, dealing with romance and the way politics affect personal lives - and three stories told in an almost comatose rhythm, as Hou likes to tell stories, grasping invisibleness and the importance of apparently empty moments in a melancholic style. This is Hou at his best, revising himself with rigor and giving us the best possible version of his art. This is a powerful defense of essentialism in a time of horror vacui. The three stories of Three Times share Chang Chen and Shu Qi, who's never been a better actress than here - providing all of her characters a strong sense of vividness, a detailed humanity. The first story, "A Time of Love," set in Taiwan in 1966, follows the romance between a pool-hall hostess and an army conscript who has an unexpected crush on her. Chen was looking for the previous hostess, whom he'd met on a previous leave, but instead finds May and, naturally, is captivated. Set to two main musical leitmotivs - The Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and Aphrodite's Child "Rain and Tears" - this is a celebration of that teenage feeling of love, so vividly recreated that screen literally pours rain, and tears, and crush. Naïve passion turns to frustration in "A Time for Freedom," set in Taiwan in 1911, where Hou almost seems to remake one of his most celebrated masterpieces, the slowcore Flowers of Shanghai. The pace is equally slow, even slower than a Codeine or Red House Painters death ballad, while the main issues are identical - the selling of sex, the prison of fate, impossible love. Shu Qi portrays a courtesan whose only possible escape from the brothel, the wealthy patron incarnated by Chan Cheng, doesn't seem to be aware of her desperation. The initially intrusive use of silent movie subtitles becomes another successful stylistic flourish, emphasizing the artifice of intercourses in a society that hides every passion and truth beneath luxurious costumes and furniture. Finally, "A Time for Youth," set in Taipei in 2005, looks like a short version of the marvellous Millennium Mambo, that perfect depiction of the motorcycle emptiness of young modern life. A photographer and an epileptic singer are involved in a relationship which hurts both his girlfriend and her best friend. Mobiles, R&B hit singles, motorbikes, GarageBand software, everything fills the space, fills the air, but won't cure the damage in an urban landscape where emotional dependence is usually confounded with true love. This could've been written by Haruki Murakami, but it couldn't have been filmed by anyone else - not many have the strength or the intelligence to fully translate boredom into images, all open areas, without easy morals, without putting here and there any distracting elements. Too much truth will kill you.
Udine Dispatch. 7.Back to Japan via Italy with Moira Sullivan. Along with Yamazaki Takashi's Always, Linda Linda Linda, by the 29-year-old Japanese director Yamashita Nobuhiro, is so far the most popular film at the Udine Far East Film Festival and is sure to remain so. Some of the reasons why: For starters, it has a contemplative narrative structure and resists all attempts to be pigeonholed, though certainly critics will try. Yamashita told me that he invited the four actresses a week before shooting to share a hotel and get to know one another. You could say the film is to some extent improvisational because the way they respond to each other informs the script. The setting is a high school in the north of Japan, but Yamashita said it could have been made in Tokyo as well. The story is about a band that forms during the Shiba High Holly Fest and Japan-Korea Cultural exchange week. When the guitarist drops out, the remaining members of a band need a lead singer. They have chosen to do covers of songs by the legendary punk all male band Blue Hearts. A lead singer is found - Song (Bae Doo-na), a Korean student who jumps at the opportunity. She has yet to make any friends at school, even though she already has one fan, the boy who sees her at the incinerator and professes his love for her. "Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike you, but I don't like you," she explains diplomatically. The impact of this subtle dialogue struck a chord with the Udinese audience. The other band members are Nozomi (Sekine Shiori) on bass, Kei (Kashi Yu) on guitar and Kyoko (Maeda Aki) on drums. You might recall Kei from Shinji Higuchi's Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean. Yamashita signed directly following that movie. Here she gets ample room to reveal her acting abilities rather than being stuck in the hub of a sub and we do notice when she is not in a scene. The opening scene of the film is a shoot for a video project. A young woman speaks to the camera, and someone yells, "Cut!" This is how Yamashita remembers his early film education. He said he was surprised by how little everything had changed since he attended high school and without any pretension told me he was interested in making a timeless classic. Linda Linda is a timeless classic. The plot of the film basically concerns the build-up to the big concert at the Holly Fest. We have not until now heard the band at length - in fact, they seem very secretive and shy about it, so when the lyrics include something on the order of, "We rebel against this asshole world," and "Like a rat, I want to be beautiful," you have to admire their bravery and the courage of this talented director. Another colorful and warm, music-themed teen film screened at the festival is Nana, directed by Otani Kentaro and the story of a friendship between two girls based on a manga by Yasawa Ai. One is a rock vocalist Komatsu Nana (Aoi Miyazaki), whose boyfriend Ren (Matsuda Ryuhei) has joined another band, and the other the bubbly and self-absorbed Ozaki Nana (Mika Nakajima) who moves to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend. Things don't work out romantically quite as either planned, but their friendship grows and endures. Ozaki Nana is glad when Komatsu Nana confides some of the history of her life. "I am so happy you told me. I felt so lonely when you didn't." The timing and delivery is genuine. Another precocious line in the film is when Ozaki Nana says to Komatsu Nana, "You're really cool. I think of you more as a boyfriend than a girlfriend." But Komatsu Nana can also be vulnerable when she must decide whether or not to carry on with the enigmatic Ren. The youthful energy of this film is contagious.
April 29, 2006
New York Dispatch. 2.David D'Arcy reviews a series of films examining various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Tribeca Film Festival is not a showcase for motivational films, unless either you're Christo (who'll watch a 15-minute preview of Albert Maysles's The Gates) or you're in the real estate business (values of property have soared in lower Manhattan since the festival was started to breathe financial life into what was thought to be a dead area). Still, even in a festival where one of the most anticipated films is a documentary about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, there is some room for hope, even the limited hope for moving toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Encounter Point, directed by Ronit Avni (and co-directed by Julia Bacha), places its hope for peace, or at least understanding, on the growing population of Israelis and Palestinians who might be expected to be the most hell-bent on revenge - the parents and families of victims of terrorism or random shootings on both sides. To meet these families is to hear withering stories of grief. The daughter of a Bethlehem politician heading to the supermarket with his entire family is shot by Israeli soldiers who say that they were waiting for three suspects driving the same color car. The student daughter of a burly IDF veteran dies in a street bombing in Tel Aviv. A young man from Ramallah is crippled by after being shot in the leg by a settler. Young men in the same room with him tell similar stories. It could be a recruiting meeting for extremists. Robi Damelin's son, David, a soldier, is shot and killed by a sniper while posted on the West Bank. That killing, at a checkpoint near a settlement, made the sniper a folk hero among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Along with other aggrieved parents, Damelin founds the Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation and Tolerance, a group sworn to non-violence. "What do you do with the pain?" she asks. Damelin's Palestinian counterpart is Ali Abu Awwad, whose brother was killed by an Israeli soldier. Both sides know the odds they face. Jews who seek dialogue are viewed with incredulity by fellow Israelis who want revenge. Palestinians, especially those with wounds from Israeli gunfire, view Ali's initiative as a betrayal, and betrayal in the Occupied Territories can earn savage punishment. Remember the scene in Paradise Now, in which would-be bombers filming themselves are told that filmed assassinations of collaborators are popular souvenirs. In Encounter Point, the meetings of Jews and Arabs who barely spoke to each other before are as poignant as their testimony of the losses that brought them to that point, yet some of the film's telling moments come during a visit by Jews in the Bereaved Families to a settlement in Gaza, a visit hosted by settlers. Settlers dig in their heels, impatient with any mention of Palestinian mistreatment and humiliation, and point out that Arabs under Israeli occupation have higher living standards than in most Arab countries, to which Damelin counters that South Africans offered the same defense of their treatment of Blacks under apartheid - a valid point, but not one that extends a conversation, at least not with the Gaza settlers. You leave this film with a sense of the huge labor it took to bring aggrieved Israelis and Palestinians together, just to talk to each other, and the even greater labor involved in getting Israelis to agree that one way toward peace is a dialogue based on a shared sense of loss. The families, now numbering 500, seem determined enough, although perhaps their best hope for now is a sequel with an expanded cast a year or two down the line. The fact that the Israeli bereaved families demonstrate with signs on the street points to how marginal they are politically. A chillier feeling comes from Dear Father, Quiet, We're Shooting, directed by David Benchetrit, another Israeli doc about opposition, this time from veterans who either served or refused to serve in the occupied territories. Conscientious objectors, including a former helicopter pilot and a former tank commander, are eloquent as they argue that the 1982 invasion of Lebanon was the pivotal time that hardened the Israeli military. For these veterans, some of them iconic macho guys who certainly don't call themselves pacifists, the 18-year mission was Israel's "Vietnam," with the bombing of cities, civilian deaths, and "targeted assassinations." Step back for a moment and avoid evaluating the "Vietnam" allusion too literally. Think of it, among other things, as an intensification of existing feuds in a Lebanon that was already ravaged by violence, and as a reflection of collapsing morale, painful divisions, and (to understate it) delayed accountability in Israeli society. Aerial footage of bombings and black and white shots of civilians seeking shelter in ruins give the Vietnam epithet some plausibility. So do orders to "shoot anything that moves" in cities that the Israelis know to be full of civilians. The very title of the film seems to be implying a question from an earlier generation asking what happened to the Israel they knew. Now we see. For Americans, the look of the film will be familiar, with footage of a chaotic war intercut with scenes of testimony from veterans who say they regret what they did, while describing what they did in painful detail. Here some of the testimony is slightly different. Young men who served stress that it's not enough to deplore the excesses of war after serving bravely - you could call it the old John Kerry standard. They argue, instead, that the test of courage doesn't come on the battlefield (in calling for peace after one earns one's stripes as a killer), but in the refusal to serve in the occupied territories at all. The trial of a few young men who do just that is shown. A new line of conflict seems to be drawn, although these protesters, like the bereaved families, are a tiny group. These dissenters and objectors are all men. The more general experience of girls in uniform is also the subject of the fictional Close to Home, set in Jerusalem and seen from the perspective of girl soldiers, a first for an Israeli feature. That novelty may be one reason for its appeal at festivals like the Berlinale, where I saw it and wrote about it. (We are indeed talking about girls. The conscripts are teenagers, who are as bored and peevish as teenagers or soldiers can be.) Close to Home takes us through ordinary days in these soldiers' lives, i.e., checking identity papers of Arabs on the street at random and taking abuse from their sergeants. There's not much nobility here. Nor is there much beauty in the Jerusalem where they practice racial-profiling every day. The soldiers whom we follow are Mirit, a sullen pretty martinet whose parents live nearby, and Smadar, a malcontent who can't find a rule that isn't meant to be broken, whether it's smoking on duty or shoplifting with a guy that she picks up on a lark. "Maybe I don't know what an Arab looks like," Smadar retorts when superiors question the log of Palestinians whose papers she checked. The petty annoyances of army life blend in with the petty humiliation of Palestinians under occupation, which become a displaced revenge for the girls who hate military service. Then, when the two girls quarrel over something meaningless, a bomb goes off. There's nothing too special in the look of Close to Home, unless you appreciate the palette of wintry Jerusalem grey experienced by the lowest rank of girl soldiers. Yet the directors have a flair for dramatizing the subtle modulations of everyday army life and everyday teenage angst. If you've been in or around the military outside of combat, you know that life consists of long periods of boredom punctuated by rare moments of intensity. Add young crushes and young rivalries to that mix, in the context of two communities that view each other with supreme suspicion, and you've got a sense of where this is going. (While Close to Home did break ground as a portrait of army life for young women, the army is as much a part of Israel cinema as it is a part of Israeli society. For another take on the bonding of two soldiers, this time a gay commander and his handsome lover in an outpost cut into a hillside in the Golan Heights, watch Yossi & Jagger, Israel's Brokeback Bunker.)
Udine Dispatch. 6.Moira Sullivan reports on two Japanese subgenres. For more on The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, see Ben Slater's recent dispatch from Singapore.
Weekend shorts."Nobody's perfect, but the Independent's Middle East correspondent's skill, originality, fearlessness and tenacity on the ground make him one of the greats," writes Alexander Bisley in the Lumière Reader. Indeed. And, as it turns out, Robert Fisk has quite a lot to say about film, too. Nathaniel R has been hard at work at Michelle Pfeiffer Blog-a-Thon HQ. It's not everyone who gets to write an entry titled, "My Dinner with Herzog." Tom Hall can, though. Ray Pride at Movie City Indie: "The estimable Korean Film Council's just published three new filmmaker bios, of Park Chan-Wook, Ryoo Seung-Wan and Bong Joon-Ho, all of which are downloadable as free PDFs." Also: Ageeana in Tennessee. Aaron Aradillas turns in another in his infrequent series of highly entertaining interviews with film critics at RockCritics.com: Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. Via the cinetrix. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff about Art School Confidential. Dave Shulman meets them for breakfast and the LA Weekly foots the bill. At the AV Club, Nathan Rabin gives the film a B-. "A recapitulation of career-long themes and tropes, Three Times finds Hou [Hsiao-hsien] in a self-reflexive mode... The greatest chronicler of our mortality, Hou makes movies that are attuned to the implacability of the past and the impermanence of the present." Elbert Ventura kicks off a trio of reviews from the Reverse Shot team at indieWIRE. J Hoberman, writing in the Village Voice, finds it "improves on a second viewing." More from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "[W]hile he can seem more at ease in the past than the present (witness Flowers of Shanghai and the equally sublime Puppetmaster, from 1993, both highly recommended and available on DVD), and can seem unmoored in more contemporary settings, Mr Hou nonetheless moves across time with fluid grace." Also in the NYT:
Weekend fests and events.Both Micah at Dumb Distraction and Blake at Cinema Strikes Back are all over the ongoing Best of QT Fest (through tomorrow). Meanwhile, Jette Kernion rounds up other Austin-area goings on for Cinematical. Lisa Rosman's blogging up a storm from Ebertfest (also through tomorrow). Via the cinetrix, who's also got the program for The Aerodynamics of the Hovering Hummingbird: Science, Cinema, and Ways of Seeing, tonight at the Millennium Film Workshop in NYC. Over at Hell on Frisco Bay, Adam Hartzell has an excellent overview of the work of Kim Longinotto, whose Sisters in Law is playing now in San Francisco and will see successive week-long engagements in Boston, Seattle and Chicago. As it happens, we've recently made David D'Arcy's interview with Longinotto live at the main site. "The Polish Film Festival marks its seventh annual appearance in Los Angeles with selections from Poland's recent cinema that explore themes of family and identity - both personal and national," writes Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Dozens of films screen between now and Wednesday, and coming weeks will bring events celebrating the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski." Reverse Shot Presents carries on through tomorrow; some pix. Michael Atkinson on the New York African Film Festival (through May 4): "[W]ith so much history hitting the fan right now, the documentaries predominate." Cannes roundup:
April 28, 2006
A week at SFIFF.Michael Guillen's Evening Class coverage of the San Francisco International Film Festival has been outstanding, talking with with Andrucha Waddington about House of Sand, with Alice Braga about her appearances in two entries in the fest, Sólo Dios Sabe and Lower City and recounting stories told by Guy Maddin and Werner Herzog. Susan Gerhard writes up an annotated list: "What follows are 10 of the Festival's most agitating (and we mean that in the best way) films." Also at SF360, Cheryl Eddy on the first four days' offerings. The San Francisco Bay Guardian writes up the highlights of the second week; the SF Weekly writes theirs. SFist reviews:
A week at Tribeca.Assessing this year's Tribeca Film Festival in the New York Times, Stephen Holden finds that "brute reality and simulations of it constitute the artistic flashpoints of a festival obsessed with history and current events and short on love stories and fluffy comedies." Also: David Carr on The TV Set. Aaron Hillis has been updating his coverage for Premiere just about daily:
Weekend lists."Who are the world's greatest living narrative filmmakers, what I call the Magnificent Seven?" asks Gerald Peary [site] in the Boston Phoenix.
United 93.Since reading the devastating news at The House Next Door today (I've tried to leave a comment there and have emailed Matt), I've mulled over what to do with this entry. It was going to open with Matt's latest piece for the New York Press. Given Matt's reaction, as I read it, probably the most disrespectful thing to do would be to "respectfully" rearrange the entry, choose a different image, what have you. So I've decided to leave it as I'd planned it. Nonetheless, I'd like to express again here my sincerest condolences for Matt and his two children. "It's propaganda produced by, and for, the malleable center of the American psyche, a place where political leanings are built from Tinker Toys." Opening the New York Press cover story on United 93, Matt Zoller Seitz takes no prisoners. "Its emotional force is a blow to the skull that temporarily makes you forget any present-tense opinion you might harbor about the political and moral state of America and the post-9/11 world." Related: Jennifer Merin interviews Paul Greengrass and Brad Liebendorfer on Larry Silverstein's "World Trade Center folly." "Preceded by both the expected bluster and genuine relief that the film is as good as it is — and it is good, in a temple-pounding, sensory-overloading way that can provoke tears and a headache — it was written and directed by the British filmmaker Paul Greengrass, who has crossed the pond to make the feel-bad American movie of the year," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Stephanie Zacharek at Salon: "I've never had a more excruciating moviegoing experience in my life, and as brilliantly crafted - and as adamantly unexploitive - as the picture is, it still leaves you wondering why it was made in the first place." Dana Stevens, now billed as "Slate's movie critic" (yes!), is left "curiously unmoved and even slightly resentful." Also, Ron Rosenbaum explains what he means when he says, "Flight 93 has become 9/11's pony." At Alternet, Anthony Kaufman places the film within the context of 70s-era disaster movies. And Alternet's Evan Derkacz reports on liberal bloggers' campaign (successful so far, evidently) to get marketers to run as many ads as they have on conservative blogs. Roger Ebert calls up Greengrass - and gives the film four stars. Reporting on the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival: Choire Sicha in the New York Observer, Eugene Hernandez at indieWIRE, Karina Longworth at Cinematical, Josh Getlin in the Los Angeles Times, Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian (more) and David Usborne in the Independent. Karina Longworth reports on a panel at Tribeca discussing "Visions of History and Truth." And more from Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly, Lee Siegel for the New Republic, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, James Hughes for Stop Smiling, Cynthia Fuchs at PopMatters, Ray Pride at Movie City Indie, Annie Wagner in the Stranger, Christopher Kelly in the Ft Worth Star-Telegram, Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle, Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper, Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix, James Rocchi for Cinematical, Rick Groen in the Globe and Mail, Mike Russell at CulturePulp, Peter Sobczynski at Hollywood Bitchslap, Keith Phipps at the AV Club, Peter Nellhaus, MaryAnn Johanson and, in the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday: "United 93 is a great movie, and I hated every minute of it."
NYAFF. Lineup.Grady Hendrix: The New York Asian Film Festival is five years old and we're still broke, still doing this by the seat of our pants, still armed with nothing but a love for good movies and our credit cards. Come celebrate five years of fun with us by watching the latest and best movies from Asia, hand-selected for your viewing pleasure. No arthouse cynicism. No trendy gloom and doom. Just futuristic motion picture entertainment set on hyperdrive and mainlined directly into your brain. The fest runs June 16 through July 1 at the Anthology Film Archives and the ImaginAsian Theater.
Udine Dispatch. 5.It's back to the scary stuff for Moira Sullivan.
Los Angeles Dispatch. 1.John Esther, whose most recent interview for us is with Eran Riklis, sends word from one of two festivals he's caught recently. Regarded as the only film festival in the US dedicated to showcasing Indian cinema by Indian and international filmmakers, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles held its fourth edition April 19 - 23, with entries coming from 13 countries. Deepa Mehta's highly anticipated Water opened up the festival. Seven years in the making, Mehta's attempt to complete her "trilogy of elements" (following Fire and Earth) was met with death threats from Hindu fundamentalists who objected to the film's depiction of "widow houses." Mehta had to stop filming in India and move production to Sri Lanka.
April 27, 2006
Via wood s lot.Adam Kotsko for In These Times on Slavoj Zizek's "magnum opus": Zizek is known for his frequent use of film and pop culture, his huge range of philosophical and literary references, and his obscene jokes - all packaged in overarching metaphors involving something like a rollercoaster (or in one particularly bizarre case, a mulcher). The Parallax View includes all of these things: extended riffs on the Matrix trilogy, a section on Henry James' prose style, a Hegelian approach to sexual positions, a highly questionable analysis of anti-Semitism and a wide array of other digressions, often brilliant, sometimes plodding, with varying degrees of relevance to the topic at hand. More significantly, however, The Parallax View consolidates Zizek's work as a whole and decisively moves it forward. Via wood s lot, also pointing to...
Blog-a-Thon-a-Mania!You know all about Blog-a-Thons. But have you ever seen one with a video promo? Nathaniel R's got one for the Michelle Pfeiffer Blog-a-Thon beginning tonight, with more than 20 bloggers already signed up. You can join them if you hurry and email Nathaniel. Girish: "I'd like to propose an Avant-Garde Film Blog-A-Thon on Wednesday, August 2." What's more, you can pitch in to "help us build a resource pool of titles for people to draw from when they are making their choices." And Walter over at Quiet Bubble proposed one on Hayao Miyazaki for May 12 through 14.
Udine Dispatch. 4.After a day of horror, a day of musicals and a day of romance (sort of), Moira Sullivan enjoys a day of comedies. One of the outstanding features of the Udine Far East Festival is the excellent selection of panel seminars with Asian directors and actors. The Asian Comedy panel included two Hong Kong directors and an actress: Lam Tze Chung [of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle fame], director of I'll Call You, actress Viann Liang and Wai Ka-Fai, director of Shopaholics. Erik Matti, director of the Philippines adventure film Exodus, joined them. Lam pointed out that the key to a successful comedy was showing rather than telling, and I'll Call You, one of the most popular films at this festival does just that. Office worker Manny (Alex Fong) does everything he can to get TV presenter Karen (Viann Liang) to take an amorous interest in him. The lengths of his desperation after several fizzled dates send him into depression; the fire hasn't ignited the way he had hoped. Manny eventually finds himself in self-imposed prison where he drowns his sorrow, serenaded by a muscle man singing Andy Lau ballads. As he recovers, Karen comes into his life for a second round and the surprise ending turns bittersweet. In fact, a subtle tragicomedy is the distinguishing hallmark of this film. Ingenuous cinematic techniques include a computer game running score board that rates Manny and Karen's attractiveness on the relationship meter. In one scene, their oblivion to the world around them as a cast of colorful characters drift by is visually stunning. In Wai Ka-Fai's comedy Shopaholics, the ultra-compulsive shopper Fong Fong-fong (Cecilia Cheung) chances upon a therapist Choosey Lee (Lau Ching-wan) with a severe case of decidaphobia, unable to choose what he wants from a fast food menu in a shopping mall. This is something that the Vietnamese director Trinh T Minh-ha notes is ironically not a problem today. Icons of happy meals make these choices relatively easy for consumers - you simply buy the icon. Wai told me that Fong Fong-fong's fetishistic attachment to objects such as Italian designer bags is one of the phenomena he wanted to illuminate, and he does so quite well. Choosey Lee prescribes Fong- fong drugs to raise brain serum and level off the high from compulsive shopping. But she's not cured yet. On one of her shopping sprees, she meets the wealthy Richie Ho (Jordan Chan). Propositions of marriage ensue from both Choosey Lee and Richie - but the wealthy suitor has a girlfriend, Ding Ding Dong, who tries to jump off tall buildings when disappointed. Eventually they all seek out the advice of a psychologist, Dr Phoenix Luk played by the magnificent legendary singer Paula Tsui. Her office is adorned with portraits of famous therapists and centerfold is a Jung with the inscription "Personality type is destiny." Two marriages are planned but it is uncertain who will wind up with whom while Paul Anka's "I Will Follow You" is heard in the background. Wai told me "abnormal is normal today." He finds Jung appropriate for compulsive behavior because he can be practically understood. He also revealed that among young people there is a black market for Prozac. The Hong Kong director said that humor is a good way to address this problem for a mass audience. The almost Machiavellian thirst for acquisitions and inability to choose is downright irritating but the film left me thinking afterwards. For all its obvious metaphors and clichés - and for all you shoppers - Shopaholics should be playing in a shopping mall cineplex near you. Erik Matti's new adventure odyssey, Exodus: Tales From The Enchanted Kingdom, is a conglomeration of several stories. But don't compare it to Lord of the Rings, exclaimed Matti. The director said that humor in films from the Philippines inevitably touches upon the history of colonialism that has created a subservient mentality. "We are so apologetic when we meet foreigners," Matti told me. Exodous stars a senator from the Philippines who is also an actor, Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. Matti said he shed 20 pounds for the film - a Conan the Barbarian look-alike, he also shares an affinity with Schwarzenegger in his dabbling in politics. The low budget film was shot partially in an abandoned soap factory so that crew could build up the set, and the costumes are highly inventive to boot. To finance special effects, Matti provided profit sharing. Exodus was a hit at the Philippines box office, a film that brings to life the characters from a theme park outside Manila. The story is about the evil Bagulbol and his henchmen who threaten the city of Bantayan. The über-warrior Exodus - part Rambo, part Conan - calls, or rather commands the four elementals (all adventure characters of the theme park), Wind, a flying Tinkerbell with claws; Water, a beautiful princess who can create rain clouds; Earth, a fearful blue Centaur; and Fire, a young boy with a swooping red wig who can brandish fire balls at will. The fifth element turns out to be Exodus, the spiritual dimension, actually a misnomer for this he-man. The film is fun, and for a moment, with the set design and costumes, I anticipated a black comedy, but alas, the film is geared for kids. Another comedy featured at the festival from 2004 is M.A.I.D. by Yongyoot Thongkongthoon of Thailand. As the film opens, legalized gambling is being considered, but academics are worried about the social consequences. The film touches upon some of the points that Matti revealed - a subservient attitude to foreigners and strict class differences. In this case, a wealthy Thai family - the wife is European and resembles Candice Bergen - employs Thai maids to run their mansion with a rule book the size of a dictionary. Two women are sent as undercover agents to acquire information about a gambling laundering operation - Waew (Pornchita na Songkr) and Jim-yai (Jarupus Pattamasiri), soon joined by an immigrant from Burma. The women come from poor families and the opportunity to raise their salaries is irresistible. When the work proves too dangerous, they return home. Cat soon has to dodge grenades and the other women remember why they left the poverty of their homes in the first place. Back on assignment, they work to get the bad guys, but it turns out everyone is suspect. Eventually the domesticated servants unite in this hilarious, fast-paced comedy with multitalented actors, evoking some of the insanity of Shopaholics. Photos of Wai Ka-Fai and Erik Matti © Moira Sullivan.
April 26, 2006
Online viewing tip.Wong Kar-wai's Big Girls Don't Cry.
Udine Dispatch. 3.Take it away, Moira Sullivan... The ongoing Udine Far East Film Festival continues its showcase of outstanding films with European and international debuts for the majority of the selection. Pang Ho-cheung's Isabella (Hong Kong 2006) is a story presented out of chronological order with several versions to sift through and as such the film language is rich. The setting is 1999 as Macau is being returned to China. The film is billed as a "strange father, strange daughter" story, a metaphor for the changeover, an incestuous confrontation that presents the consequences of nightlife and alcohol abuse and poverty. The plot concerns a rogue cop, Shing (Chapman To), who may or may not have slept with his biological daughter Yan (Isabella Leung) - who has looked him up after the death of her mother. Evicted from her apartment, she seeks out her father so he can help her look for Isabella - her dog! This exploration of abandonment was intriguing. Shinobi: Heart Under Blade by Shimoyama Ten (Japan 2005) features two ancient warring ninja clans from the early 17th century who have been at relative peace for some time. It has even come to the point that a woman and man from each clan have fallen in love, the pacifist Gennosuke (Jô Odagiri) of the Koga and the brave Oboro (Yukie Nakama) of the Iga.
BAFF. Preview.Juan Manuel Freire, who last covered the Sitges and San Sebastian festivals, previews the next cinematic event in Spain. In three days, the Barcelona Asian Film Festival will present its 8th edition, and it's the most complete and daring that the only Spanish festival entirely committed to film from the Far East - besides Mollet del Vallés' modest meeting - has ever held. From April 28 to May 7, BAFF will show around 60 films and 13 shorts programs, with projections being fêted between Casa Àsia, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) and the Aribau Club. The first film to see a projector's light, or to bring light, will be Three Times by Hou Hsiao-hsien, a great compendium of his filmography, devoted as it has been to an analysis of shades in cinema and life. And the privilege of closing the fest is reserved for The Promise, or Chen Kaige's own version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In between, eleven films from Japan, China, Indonesia and Thailand will compete in the Official Section for the Durian de Oro provided by Casa Àsia, which is to say: 6000 euros that the director of the winning film should invest in his or her next production. Studies of solitude in Singapore (4:30), social cinema without a political agenda (Bashing), frantic romantic comedies (Joni's Promise), meditations on modern city life (Reflections, by Hou Hsiao-hsien assistant Yao Hung-i), Thailand's own Lost in Translation (Cherm) or politically-infused epics (Gie) form a selection that covers a wide range of perspectives and issues. Multimedia artist Carles Congost, writer and film director David Trueba, film and literature critic Sergi Sànchez, actress Konkona Sen Sharma (as seen on "Page 3") and SFIAAFF director Chui Hui-yang will decide which film deserves what. In addition are the attractive parallel sections such as the Asian Selection, an offering of some of the continent's best in recent years - Big River, Invisible Waves, A Blue Automobile, University of Laughs and Be With Me among them. The Guest Country will be India, whose imagery is the inspiration for this year's poster. The retrospective is made up of fourteen emblematic films, some of them Bollywood-ish, others more a reflection of political turmoil. There are also particular, well-selected spaces for digital cinema and anime, in a praiseworthy intent to cover all that Asia bring us, and the obligatory short programs. All in all, BAFF 2006 is a great opportunity to discover, rediscover and enjoy Asian filmmaking. The effort to unite all these titles deserves a certain gratefulness and, going by past numbers, the festival is going to receive it. The new Asian-inspired sections in more established fests and the now-common exhibition of Asian films nowadays in commercial cinema have made the heads of BAFF turn their attention to new values and digital cinema, so the meeting should be bolder than ever before. More to come soon right here.
A Pie in PortlandDK Holm, whose Quentin Tarantino is a Pocket Essential guide packed with far more insight than you'd ever believe would fit in a pocket, whose Kill Bill: An Official Casebook rivals Barthes's S/Z as the very definition of a close reading, and whose Film Soleil we'll be hearing more about shortly, recently commented in his column at Movie Poop Shoot on a flurry of controversy stirred up in Portland by movie theater owner. Here's his summary: Sylvia Miles once famously dropped a plate of food on John Simon, and Burt Reynolds once tackled a Los Angeles Times reviewer he didn't like while on the set of The Longest Yard, yet for the most part physical attacks on reviewers by disgruntled subjects of their critiques have been negligible. But as Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford notes, a local exhibitor took exception to something a critic wrote about him - and pied her. "Clinton Street Theater owner Seth Sonstein is clearly a man who knows how to deal with uppity journalists," writes the columnist. "Last week he grabbed Willy Week movie reviewer Becky Ohlsen in a headlock and smushed a pie in her face - much to the consternation of local film critics, who naturally see this as a freedom of speech issue." That pretty much sums up the situation but, based on the flurry of links to blogs and websites debating the issue, it gets more complicated than that. Stanford neglects to mention that Sonstein filmed the pie attack, and posted the footage on YouTube. Readers new to the controversy might be surprised at what Willamette Week writer Becky Ohlsen originally wrote, which was a fairly innocuous account of a stunt Sonstein pulled on the closing night of the WW-sponsored Longbaugh Film Festival. Controversy began when news of the film's posting reached a Northwest media watchdog site, Oregon Media Insiders, at which point some 25 Portland-based writers weighed in, including Oregonian lead movie reviewer Shawn Levy, second stringer Mike Russell (who recounts his fluidic encounter with Sonstein over negative reviews he wrote films screening at the Clinton), Ohlsen's boss David Walker, as well as a radio disc jockey (who, to his disappointment, gave Sonstein airtime to tell his side of the story), several of Portland's other movie reviewers, Ohlsen herself and even her brother. From Sonstein's point of view, he's - in the words of the DJ - "some sort of warrior for the theater or something, with all the half-ass hippie-guerrilla rage-against-the-machine type mindset that goes along with it," or a filmmaker who merely punk'd a friend as part of a film project (his introductory remarks in the film tend to contradict this, however). But from the viewpoint of the reviewers, it's an attempt to abrogate protected speech, and numerous posters to Oregon Media Insiders chart what appears to be an escalating response to the slights and snubs Sonstein says he's received at the hands of Portland's critics. Writers and commentators have made their ire over the incident well known already, including former WW film critic Kim Morgan at MSN's Movies Filter, Mike Russell at CulturePulp and Portland Tribune movie reviewer Dawn Taylor on her own blog.
April 25, 2006
Online viewing tip.Ok, it's an ad. But it's Wes Anderson's American Express ad. Via ticklebooth.
Filmmaker. Spring 06."You know, all of these films are just one film, they're just different chapters, so basically it's all stuff that occurs to me. That's all it is." Robert Altman, to Filmmaker's Matthew Ross. A second favorite: "I revel in the opportunity of confusion. I allow that to develop, to happen, to grow. We all come together and use it. We're aware of what we are doing and we each do our part. If someone's not aware of what we're doing, they have to learn." You've got to love the man. Also in the Spring issue of Filmmaker: It's Matthew Ross again, talking to another legend, Robert Towne. Here's the author of Chinatown on Los Angeles: "I suppose that it's a place that continues to have a habit of erasing itself from decade to decade, and yet it's still classically that dream factory where, since 1848, people have come here to strike it rich with gold, with oil, with real estate, with becoming a movie star, creating a religious cult, leaving old identities and old problems behind and hoping that you can reinvent yourself." David Slade's first feature is Hard Candy, and Scott Macaulay finds him to be "an intense, hyper-articulate Brit" who happens to have found inspiration in the period when Altman and Towne were first beginning to truly flourish: "I'd been offered a lot of scripts, but this was the first thing that took me back to the roots of why I wanted to become a filmmaker, which was seeing Nicolas Roeg's Performance. Performance hit me like a brick... [Hard Candy] is a script Roeg would have done, a harrowing relationship story with many, many subtexts, with questions that can't be answered unless you answer them yourself and don't tell anybody. I think that in this climate, right now, a film that can make the audience ask themselves a question is important." Peter Bowen meets not one but two fresh faces, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who wrote and directed Quinceañera, winner of both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year. This being Filmmaker, there's an emphasis in all these conversations on how of actually getting these films made (note, too, the sidebars throughout) - but especially here because, as Bowen explains, the odds weren't exactly in these makers' favor. Bowen, by the way, also turns in report from last month's Thessaloniki International Documentary Film Festival and from the Berlinale. Anthony Kaufman talks with David Ziegler not only about his documentary Sir! No Sir! but also about the wealth of material at the film's site: "I was aware that the main charge leveled against the film would be, 'Oh, this is just a handful of cowards and malcontents,' and we really wanted to make clear that this was a massive counterculture that permeated the military." Also, a report on a most "unusual scenario": the producers of Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin haven't just pulled out of a deal with Tartan Films USA and TLA Releasing, they're suing the distributors and working with Strand Releasing to get out an "authorized" version of the DVD. Mary Glucksman is here again with five first peeks at indies in production from Alfredo De Villa, Ernst Gossner, Alan Cumming, Adam Bhala Lough and Sal Stabile. Sharon Swart reports on an odd cooperation that seems to be taking hold: Hollywood talent agencies and indie producers. Not for everyone, obviously, but for some projects, it works. DW Leitner has a hefty introduction to low-cost HD and info on where to find out even more. New Orleans has "a close-knit local film community largely dispersed by the storm but gradually resettling." Paul VanDeCarr meets some of them. Mike Plante has a great, great Sundance story. And André Salas remembers Walerian Borowczyk: "Misunderstood and wickedly subversive, he inhabited a unique place among the likes of Buñuel and Fassbinder, often dividing critics on the merits of his work."
Udine Dispatch. 2.Moira Sullivan follows up on her first dispatch from the 8th Udine Far East Film Festival, running through April 29. With the festival in full swing, the spotlight is now on Asian musicals. As the festival notes, we are familiar with martial arts and horror films from Asia, but musicals are less known. A special honored guest from Japan, Inoue Umetsugu (b. 1923) was on hand to report on his successful collaboration with film producers from Hong Kong - the Shaw Brothers. They brought him to Hong Kong in the 60s because he could deliver quality films quickly and was skilled at the technique of musicals. All in all, he directed 116 features and over 300 TV dramas. He told me that at 27 he lived in New York and saw all the new musicals: My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and West Side Story and also studied jazz music. One of the films shown in the festival was Hong Kong Nocturne (1967), a film about three sisters who perform with their father, an old style magician. Due to his embezzlement of their salaries - he even tries to persuade one of them to perform nude - they strike off on solo careers as vocalists, entertainers and dancers. More than once they are forced to choose between career and love and are actually encouraged by the men in their life to give up their relationships in order to fulfill their passion for show business. Inoue told me that he believes it is a filmmaker's duty to help to effect change in society with films that provide socially relevant content. In this case, gender equality is one of the progressive themes he chose to explore and believes the subject was not only important in Japan and Hong Kong during his career but universally. He noted how films in Hollywood that addressed civil rights had helped to change public attitude in the USA. "Maybe I am saying too much," he chuckled diplomatically. But the thematic subtleties of his films say it all. Another Japanese director in Udine who agrees that the presentation of gender equality is important in cinema is Yamazaki Takashi, whose film Always won 12 Japanese Academy Awards this year including best picture, director and script. Kozo Shibazaki won the cinematography award, utilizing a 1950s color process similar to Tohoscope, the Japanese equivalent of Eastmancolor. The director told me that women are powerful in his film and "the way things turn out in [his] new film is found in the palms of their hands." Judging by the audience response, Always is so far the most appreciated film in Udine; several standing ovations were given to the director in attendance for the European debut of his films. But he noted that there was one online critic who didn't like his film. Perhaps the popularity of Always makes these kinds of critics feel their importance is diminished, speculated Yamazaki. Well, the Udine public loved Always and the Japan-based film expert Mark Schilling, who has been invited since almost the beginning of the Udine festival, said this was the first film he recommended to this year's festival.
New York Dispatch. 1.The Tribeca Film Festival opens today, runs through May 7, and David D'Arcy previews the opener and three featured docs. The attacks of 9/11 begat the Tribeca Film Festival as a cultural event that was supposed to draw civilians back to Lower Manhattan after the smoke cleared. Conceived when landlords, businessmen and politicians wondered whether the economy of this neighborhood had been killed by the attacks, it has since grown into something permanent. It took longer for that to happen than for real estate values near Ground Zero to bounce back - less than a year, for the real estate - but in five years, Tribeca has become more of an institution than anything else that was planned down there. I'll join the chorus in attributing the cinematic success of the event to Peter Scarlet, who has applied his mix of discernment and catholicity to a program that resisted it at first. It looks as if Scarlet's influence is here to stay, and I'm saying that as someone who believed that the San Francisco International Film Festival under his direction was the best film festival in the United States. Remember, before Scarlet came in, Tribeca was the cinematic equivalent of arena football. For all of you film nerds, the sports allusion isn't a compliment. Today's program is broad and varied, and if you really want celebrities, they are there, too. Just check the schedule. Oddly, Tribeca's opener, United 93, doesn't have a celebrity to speak of. If you've seen Bloody Sunday, you know that Paul Greengrass's talent is for reconstructing dramatic historical events in all their detail on the screen (although Brits might say that Greengrass's sympathies in that earlier film were strongly pro-Irish). The 9/11 story that Greengrass retells in United 93 takes us from routine to cataclysm. The hype that's been heralding it stresses how disturbing it would be to see these events again, or how disturbing it would be for aggrieved family members to have to relive them. (But wait a minute - haven't the prosecutors at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial in Washington replayed those events ad nauseam, in front of the families, complete with a heart-tugging appearance by Rudy Giuliani, "America's Mayor," as a witness?) The other pre-release conventional wisdom is that the film would be too violent and gruesome. Given what Greengrass was trying to film, i.e., killings, what other kind of film could he make? In fact, Greengrass could have done what the television and cable networks (and the politicians) did, and turn the horrors of 9/11 into the Reichstag fire for the Bush administration, an event that mobilized the country's fear and its appetite for horror and instant revenge into war against a regime that had nothing to do with the attacks. It didn't take long before the Fox-watchers seemed convinced that, as Art Spiegelman likes to point out, "all the high-jackers were Iraqis, except for the ones who were French." Beyond that, Greengrass could have also avoided ever showing a dead body on the screen. Remember the "falling commas" leaping from the towers that were shown in every country besides the United States? With United 93, hyped as the "appropriate" film to premiere at Ground Zero, New Yorkers will get a reality check, or something close enough to it. Within a carefully, plausibly designed production, actors who are not stars (and often not actors) play out a story that we know fairly well. We certainly know the end - an airliner bound for a target in DC crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, thanks to passengers who stormed the cockpit. As a drama on the screen, we get a bit more. The rank and file in air traffic control do what they can, the government high-flyers who are supposed to make decisions don't do what they could, and ordinary airline customers reach into themselves to do what they never could have imagined under appalling circumstances. The tension comes from their race to achieve what they can before United 93 goes down. The acting in United 93 is solid, which is what you would expect if you had seen Bloody Sunday, Greengrass's reconstruction of the pivotal massacre of 1972 that turned the open wounds of Derry in Northern Ireland into open violence. Greengrass uses actors, whose faces you don't know, to play the faceless armies who make everything in daily life work - almost everything. The performances are just about seamless, even the performance as the Air Traffic Control boss by Ben Sliney, who played that same role on 9/11. What you don't get here in this inaction movie is explanation and introspection on the part of the characters. The camera observes the facts as a lot of people who were taken by surprise saw them, with numbness and fear. We also see the high-jackers - at least one of them with hesitation in first class; others with bull-headed determination. We don't learn much more about them than what we can see on their faces. The passengers who fought back, whose conversations we do hear, are indeed real heroes, minus the sanctimony. Officials above the management of Air Traffic are just what they were back then, absent. I do have to wonder whom Cheney would have shot if he had been in a position to fight back. A film like United 93 is ipso facto incomplete in its ambition to recreate a limited number of crucial moments, so it's a stroke of savvy programming at Tribeca to end the festival with Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo, which made its world premiere at the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival. If the war on terror began with government retreat, the waging of the war as seen by Winterbottom involved false arrests and lies (lies being the gift that keeps on giving. Just listen to Cheney's aides try to explain in an innocuous lie this time around that he was looking over papers when a photograph shows him fast asleep during last week's official Chinese visit.) In case you don't know the script already, three men who enter Afghanistan while traveling to Pakistan get caught up when the US throws a net over the town that they are visiting. They are wrongly accused of being terrorists, which they deny. Bound and blindfolded, they join the army of "hardcore" prisoners in the war on terror. After two years of confinement in Guantanamo, evidence is produced to show their innocence, to the great shame of the US and the UK. Who knows how many other innocent men were and are there? Our government isn't telling. I'll have more about Guantanamo in a later dispatch. Suffice it to say that the film confirms Winterbottom's status as one of the filmmakers worth watching today. It's no surprise that even Tribeca, which gets some $5 million of its annual budget from Bush-acolyte and 2008 Republican presidential aspirant George Pataki (the governor of New York), has a clear anti-Bush agenda. This is New York City, after all. Part of the film coalition questioning and satirizing The Decider (as W now likes to call himself) is Al Franken: God Spoke. Directed by Chris Hegedus and produced by her husband, DA Pennebaker, this doc-on-the-run follows Franken through the creation of Air America and the misbegotten 2004 Kerry campaign, which he served generously. Franken is the son of a comedian-manque, whose own story also figures in the film. (Is that why he seems to have no allergy to attention?) Franken seems to have given Hegedus and her team full access, the one element which Pennebaker maintains is essential to making a doc. He has a line for every occasion - often a funny one - and a welcome disdain for good taste in confrontations with his God-fearing adversaries. Choice moments in the film come when Franken does a Henry Kissinger impression for Dr K himself when he encounters the Bomber of Cambodia at a party that he crashes during the 2006 Republican convention. Flummoxed by Franken's wit, the wit-impaired Bill O'Reilly suggests that he's deranged. It would have been interesting if Hegedus and her team asked people outside political circles if anyone really believed that. For all the triumphs of the one-liner, the Democrats still lost with John Kerry (who banned staffers from telling "why the long face?" jokes). The doc ends with the next potential lap in Franken's political journey - a US Senate seat representing Minnesota. Franken pleases his fans by reaching into his scatalogical bag of tricks in a speech to a local crowd, and by linking himself to one of the most humane voices in American politics, the late Senator Paul Wellstone. Can he win if he runs? Remember, Minnesota was the state that elected Jesse Ventura governor. There's the sequel. Another doc not to miss that addresses The Decider's failures of judgment is Who Killed the Electric Car?, the inquiry into the demise of a vehicle developed by General Motors that proved to be too competitive with the sputtering internal combustion engine that's been GM's bread and butter for a century. (Bush now supports hydrogen cars, which would cost a fortune to make and even more to fuel.) In response to California regulations passed to fight pollution, GM produced an efficient and elegantly aerodynamic car, the EV1, that ran completely on electricity that was provided at fueling stations - now in ruins - that were built all over the state. Leased to consumers and celebrities from Mel Gibson to Tom Hanks - to ensure that GM could eventually take the cars back - the vehicles were reliable and quiet, and they didn't pollute. They could also go from 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds. Yet, without trying too hard, GM claimed it couldn't make enough money on them and recalled the cars from drivers who had no legal choice but to hand them over. Then GM shredded them into confetti. It's all in the film, much of which was culled from videotapes shot by EV1 owners, who kept vigils on the parking lots where their recalled and very drive-able cars were stockpiled for junking. At every stage, Republican politicians in Washington sided with the company. Remember, Andrew Card's job before he became The Decider's chief of staff was top lobbyist for GM. This doc is a valuable case history about the "free market" and the real enemies of entrepreneurship. See it, and then try to keep a straight face when you read about the Bush energy plan.
April 24, 2006
San Francisco Dispatch. 1.And now, after the previews and interviews, we kick off a series of reviews from the San Francisco International Film Festival with this first dispatch from GreenCine's Craig Phillips. Mostly by complete coincidence, the first four films I've seen at the this year's SFIFF have all been Spanish language films - but each leaves its own indelible impression. A startling elegy for Mexico, News From Afar (Noticias Lejanas) is director Ricardo Benet's striking debut. The film is constructed in a way that may be off-putting for American audiences accustomed to more straightforward narrative, and it does take a bit of time to adjust to figuring out whose point of view the story is coming from or where we are in time (I later found myself re-editing the first act in my head), but the film is very much worth sticking with. The story follows a 17-year-old boy (David Aarón Estrada) who returns to his home village, which is nothing more than a series of ramshackle adobes in the middle of a bleak salt flat, as his memories drift back to the childhood tragedy that altered his family forever - and to what happened when he left home for the ciudad grande (Mexico City). It's by turns touching, tragic, funny and, on occasion, shocking. The acting (with a cast made up in part of amateurs) is a little stiff at times and the writing sometimes labored (with a bit too much reliance on voice-over), but Benet smartly reveals details slowly over time, and the film finds its footing as it moves along. News From Afar, which looks sharp and colorful, works as both a sad nod to Mexico's crumbling infrastructure and as an ode to loss - a family's, and a country's. Sólo Dios Sabe also journeys down those Mexican roads toward Mexico City, but in an entirely different fashion. Director Carlos Bolado, co-director of the superb documentary Promises, has created a highly watchable mess of a film, buoyed along by the two charismatic leads - Alice Braga (City of God), niece of sultry Brazilian actress Sonia - she looks like combination of a young Barbara Hershey, Jessica Harper and her aunt) and Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También), who plays passionately love-obsessed about as well as anybody. It's a road movie, beginning in San Diego (where Braga's character teaches college) to Baja Mexico (where she becomes stuck after losing her passport), then off to Mexico City in the company of Luna's character, who tricks her into accepting his offer to drive her to Mexico City so she can get her passport. Their journey eventually finds them in Brazil, with their characters experiencing much anguish in between. Sólo Dios Sabe is ultimately done in by its own melodramatic histrionics - in fact, the film is essentially an old-fashioned romance disguised under a cloak of modern cinematic flourishes - with a few too many of those unnecessarily detracting from, rather than adding to, its success. On the other hand, Braga is so mesmerizingly gorgeous, Luna so perfectly empathetic even after behaving badly, and the travelogue portions of the film - particularly a side trip to a ceremony in Bahia as Dolores confronts her mystical roots - so fascinating and beautifully photographed, that one almost forgives the film's overreach. Almost. Still, it's a road trip worth taking - you'll probably be engaged as often as you find yourself rolling your eyes at all the melodrama. Montxo Armendáriz's Obaba is set in Spain's Basque region, where the titular (fictional) town serves as a sort of Basque Twin Peaks - if not quite as surreal. In a sense, the locals create the atmosphere based in part on their own imaginations. A young student travels to Obaba for an assignment in which she must videotape a location and its people, then edit her footage to make a story out of it - regardless of whether or not the story is actually true. However, while there she discovers there's a sinister side to the town's history, centered around the one-room school and the children of one particular class (not to mention a curious crop of endangered lizards), and the film then shifts from her perspective as she discovers more about the mystery, to each of the central players in these secrets of the past, to their own childhood POV and back again as adults. What's less important yet more engaging than the central mystery is how the film becomes a study of story itself and of the ways people attempt to manipulate the past. What I mean is* the film's exploration of putting together a story from the scraps of the past we're given, as players in life's narrative. The film doesn't cry out to be longer than it is per se, but it does at times feel as if a few crucial pieces of the character's histories are missing. Armendariz's Silencio Roto, about Spain in the early days of Franco, is an underrated near-classic; Obaba is not quite up to that level, but it's a provocative work nonetheless. The most pleasing of the four films here, Marcelo Piñeyro's El Método (The Grunholm Method, adapted by Mateo Gil from Jordi Galcerán's play), will make you want to double-check your resume. It's an extremely enjoyable and perverse exercise in psychological gamesmanship. It will inevitably put Americans in mind of Survivor and The Apprentice - not to mention The Mole - as potential job applicants are thrust into an office and a series of often cruel tests as they attempt to become the last one standing while also trying to sniff out which of them, if any, are the company's plant. Paranoia, backstabbing, and often hilarious debates ensue. The film's more farcical scenes - including a memorable sequence set in the lavatories - are more successful than its attempts at broader political commentary. The cast, uniformly excellent, includes: Eduard Fernéndez, who's also in Obaba - there playing a mentally ill and vengeful former student, here perfectly cast as a sweaty and ultmately rather loathsome lawyer/jobseeker who still manages to garner some sympathy; Eduardo Noriega is most famous in the States for starring in Open Your Eyes and Piñeyro's Burnt Money, and he's a likable presence here; Najwa Nimri, whom I remember from the beautiful film Lovers of the Arctic Circle and also a popular singer in Spain; and Natalia Verbeke, who I've liked ever since Jump Tomorrow, as the receptionist (or is she?) Montse. If the ending doesn't completely satisfy - again, it doesn't connect as much as it'd like to with the larger geo-political picture unfolding outside - the bulk of the film is both gripping and lascivious fun. And it features the creepiest computer monitors this side of Japanese horror. [*a reference to a line in the film the main character repeats]
Who we are, what we do.As it's become clear over the years that GreenCine is more than just an online rental outlet, we're asked more and more often, So what is GC, then? The answer to that is only going to grow more multi-faceted and interesting over the coming months and years, but because Daniel Nemet-Nejat has put the right questions to him over at his site, 40 Years in the Desert, director of content acquisitions Jonathan Marlow lays out the current state of that answer about as clearly as can be. For now.
Shorts, 4/24."The intervening decades have done little to diminish its worrying, subversive power," writes Neil Norman as he prepares to meet Kevin Brownlow to talk about It Happened Here. "It is hard to believe that Brownlow, now a distinguished film historian and the planet's most accomplished film restorer, was just 18 when he began making the film." Also in the Independent, David Thompson on what seems to be a revival of silent film: "[I]n the 1910s and 1920s, when making moving imagery was so much newer, there was a readier grasp of beauty." Variety's Nick Vivarelli reports on Italy's 50th David di Donatello film awards, where the big winners on Friday were Nanni Moretti's The Caiman and Michele Placido's Crime Novel. Via Martha Fischer at Cinematical; more at europeanfilms.net. Ross Johnson takes a peek at Craig Brewer's followup to Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan - which is not about nymphomania, Brewer insists. Also in the New York Times:
SFIFF, 4/24.At the San Francisco International Film Festival, Brian Darr has seen Regular Lovers - "I did not expect it to approach a Bela Tarr level of challenge (and reward)" - and See You in Space, "a slightly cultured film that's about as aesthetically un-challenging as they get." Michael Guillen has "a chat with Chris Paine, the director of Who Killed the Electric Car?, interviewee Chelsea Sexton, gas conservation expert Wally Rippel and executive producer Dean Devlin." SF360's got pix, a blog roundup and Johnny Ray Huston's interview with Guy Maddin. Cartography of Ashes drew "not only film festival fans but also art students, history buffs, members of the San Francisco Neighborhood Emergency Response Teams, and firefighters," reports Rita at SFist.
Tribeca, 4/24.With the Tribeca Film Festival opening tomorrow and running through May 7, indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez talks with programmer Peter Scarlet, who says he was drawn to New York by the "commitment by co-founders Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro to 'break the mold of what festivals are.'" Karina Longworth introduces a Movie Club of sorts, Cinematical's version of an email exchange on a topic at hand, this one being, naturally, Tribeca. Christopher Campbell and Martha Fischer, who've been furiously previewing the fest's offerings, take stock of what they've seen so far. Cinematical's most recent Tribeca previews: Christopher Campbell on The Heart of Steel and Martha Fischer on Freedom's Fury. In New York, Logan Hill breaks Tribeca down by the numbers.
Fests and events, 4/24.Dave Kehr wraps the 8th Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de cine independiente: "My personal favorite from the festival was La mancha de sangre (The Blood Stain), a 1937 Mexican film directed by Adolfo Best-Maugard, who had been Eisenstein's assistant on the ill-fated Que viva Mexico!" For Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski previews Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival (April 26 through 30). Michael Tully at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, wrapping today: "Day four brought another hearty dose of cinematic goodness." At MNAC, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest, April 26 through September 1: Films by Josef Dabernig. Tim Basham posts a last batch of reviews from... SXSW. If it really is never too late, maybe I'll finally get around to a wrap-up as well.
Summer previews."Coming soon to every theater near you: more of the freakin' same!" At least Time's writers know what they're up to in their summer preview as they break down the season by title and the titles down, too: For each, they consider "the challenge," "what's new" and "the buzz." Via Bob Sassone at Cinematical comes Entertainment Weekly's summer preview. Gary Susman's checklist: "Why we can't wait," "the premise," "source," "the backstory," "burning question," "come for" and "stay for," all for ten hopefuls: Clerks II, Cars, The Devil Wears Prada, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Little Miss Sunshine, The Break-Up, X-Men: The Last Stand, Snakes on a Plane, Superman Returns and The Da Vinci Code. You'll remember that David Poland's preview, launching his "20 Weeks of Summer" series at Movie City News a while back, is more comprehensive; this week, David looks back at how last year's summer movies - and his predictions - fared. At Cinematical, Erik Davis asks, "Which summer blockbuster do you feel will turn out to be the most disappointing?" Online browsing tip. James Israel's "Movies I Will Never Ever See Based On The Stills."
April 23, 2006
Alida Valli, 1921 - 2006.Italian actress Alida Valli, who starred in films by Alfred Hitchcock and Luchino Visconti, has died at the age of 84. The BBC. Now. First, explore an amazing site. It's in Italian, French and German, but navigation should be easy enough. For more, see Istria on the Internet and Classic Movies. Updates, 4/24: John Francis Lane in the Guardian and Peter Nellhaus.
Udine Dispatch. 1.Moira Sullivan, whose most recent dispatches have come from Göteborg and Créteil, opens this year's series from Udine and the 8th edition of the Far East Film Festival. For more on Imprint, see, too, Saul Symonds's recent dispatch from Hong Kong. Miike Takashi knows why the Udine Far East Film Festival is one of the most popular festivals of Asian cinema in the world. It's about the audience and the films, not the market and money. The unedited version of his latest film, Imprint (Japan, 2006), was shown at a special screening at midnight on opening night. Takashi told us that he was happy to work on the Masters of Horror series, and the fact that it was censored in the USA doesn't bother him. He was able to make the film as he wanted. If it weren't for the censorship, he knows the film would not have drawn so much attention. By the way, the scenes cut from some versions have to do with aborted fetuses. The distinguished director said that he tries to break down the wall that we build to protect us from our fears. He even humorously encouraged us to take our children to see Imprint. Although he did admit that he was reluctant to have his mother see it, so he understands the strength of these walls. It may be hard to figure out the iconography of Takashi's films but he suggested that if we want to do some homework, one of his favorite and most autobiographical films is Young Thugs: Nostalgia (1998), the story of a young boy growing up in a dysfunctional family who puts his fantasy world to good. Takashi noted that he likes to mix American culture with his films. In Imprint, set in the 19th century, an American journalist, Christopher (Billy Drago), tries to discover how, Komomo, a woman he loved, has died. But he's a heartless soul, as revealed in the opening scene, when wishes a female corpse he spots in the water good riddance. Drago's delivery is wooden and theatrical, which is one of the disturbing elements of the film. A woman Christopher buys sexual favors from (Youki Kudoh) tells the story of his lost love, so sexuality and horror are intimately entwined from the beginning. Theme of the film: Why do people want to know the truth? Better yet, why do people want to see needles pushed under someone's cuticles? Like many in Udine, I had to ask myself why I wanted to watch this. But Takashi delivers. Imprint is rich in gothic horror detail, with magnificent costume and makeup. Be prepared for long torture scenes with a smiling woman with precision tools who is brutally cold, on the scale of what we witnessed in Audition (1999). Imprint also reveals some of the imaginative world of The Great Yokai War (2005). The opening film of the festival was Han Jae-Rim's Rules of Dating (South Korea, 2005). I recall a seminar last year at last year's festival on the excellent relationship between the DP and the director in Asian films. In this case, the cinematography by Yong-su Park is exquisite - often better than the story. The opening scenes feature an admirable visual style with students running in a playground. The lead characters Hong (Park Hae-il) and Yu-rim, (Gang Hye-jung), a student and her advisor, initially seemed to have very little chemistry so it was hard to get into the film. In fact, Yu-rim serves as almost a caricature of a woman. But Rules of Dating grows on you, showing the hierarchical order in the South Korean school system and how gossip has a gender pecking order. The provocative plot twist on the subject of date rape and sexual harassment compensates for whatever deficiencies the character development imposes on the work.
Singapore Dispatch. 1.Ben Slater, whose new book, Kinda Hot, tells the remarkable story of the making of Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack, sends a first dispatch from the Singapore International Film Festival, running through April 29. Traveling to attend a film festival is very different from going to one taking place where you live. In a strange city, you're there for a single purpose - you happily eat, drink, talk, walk, and breathe cinema. Time is broken down into viewing slots, sleep loses priority, food is fuel, conversations never stray beyond what's good or bad. But when the film festival is on your doorstep, the experience has to sit alongside the necessities of daily life. Chores to do, work to be done, loved ones to spend time with - and about 130 feature films (not to mention more shorts) to try and get your head round. It's schizoid living for two weeks during the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) as I try to balance my real life and my festival life, and the classic festival feeling of panic is only heightened by the split. Am I missing all the good stuff? Every year I look at SIFF's program and find it more uncompromising and challenging than the last, and that's double-true this year. Rising rentals and competitive local distributors have forced SIFF to shift away from tried and tested festival hotties and focus on the (relatively) unknown and unshown. This pays off with discoveries and revelations for the truly committed and the hardcore, but definitely leaves many local cineastes wondering where the big guns from Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and Venice have gone. Instead, they targeted the Don Askarian retrospective - and the Armenian émigré's remarkable, symbolic tableau developed devoted disciples in Singapore. The festival flagged up its "Secret Life of Arabia" focus by making Kiss Me Not on the Eyes, by Jocelyn Saab, the opening film, paired with a short by Malaysian auteur U-Wei Bin Haji Saari, My Beautiful Rambutan Tree in Tanjung Rambutan. Saab's film opens strongly with a pulsating montage of Cairo life, great music and a taxi full of feisty women - but later settles into a predictable dialectic between sensuality and the restrictive laws and customs of conservative society. U-Wei delivers a dark tale of spoilt, upper class children, an accidental death and the supernatural growth of a tree - I'm sure it was allegorical, although I didn't really "get it." The Arabic program balances fictional features and documentaries (including a worthy tribute to Michel Khleifi, who also provided the fireworks during the accompanying seminar). One stand-out is Erik Gandini and Tarek Saleh's Gitmo: The New Rules of War, a chilling but relentlessly compelling investigation into interrogation techniques and office politics among the high brass at Guantanamo Bay. Confession: I watched Gitmo at the festival's office video/DVD viewing area, a valuable resource, but with a constant flow of guests and the attractions of whatever your neighbour is watching, it's easy to get distracted - even so, Gitmo had me riveted. As others have noted, The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai is actually a new edit of Horny Home Tutor: Teacher's Love Juice, and belongs to the genre of Japanese soft-porn known as Pink. I am no expert on these (although maybe I should be), but I seriously doubt most Pink movies have as many weirdly embedded geo-political references. A sex worker (Emi Kuroda) accidentally acquires a clone of George W Bush's finger and she finds that it's just as horny to penetrate her as it is to destroy the world. Turned into a speed-reading genius by a bullet to the head (more penetration), Sachiko finds herself on the run, and her journey (to an Osama-style cave hiding a doomsday device) involves a dizzying number of sexual encounters. Initially, the audience laughed it off, but by mid-point, after a rape, the seduction of a teenage boy and more rough sex and masturbation, we had shifted into a fatigued silence. Read as an audacious, excessive sexualisation of "the war on terror," Glamorous Life presents one possible response to the Bush administration's affect on all our "democracies." Another is of course, Manderlay (one of very few Cannes 05 hangovers at the fest), which I finally caught, and surmised that much of the critical shit-storm surrounding it was unjustified and weakly argued. People seem to get very hung up on Von Trier the egomaniac (and anti-American) and refuse to simply watch the films. It's rarely acknowledged that he's a brilliant (albeit calculated) storyteller - everything unfolds with a precise and deadly logic. In dealing with race, power, money, sex and democracy, it's a risky, uncomfortable ride. Back in the viewing room, I checked out the double-bill of actor Tadanobu Asano's dreamy debut featurette, Tori, and the documentary that accompanies it, Sorano (almost twice the length of its subject). I'm a huge Asano fan, and felt pretty disloyal fast-forwarding through parts of both these tapes. Tori is made up of five short segments, including some digital animation, a graff/skate clip, a dance film, a traditional stand-up comedy routine and a strikingly odd samurai vignette. It's certainly sincere, but it's also a forgettable mish-mash of styles and interests. In Sorano, a psychiatrist attempts to analyse both films and the creative team - a fruitless exercise. The best insight into Tori's shortcomings: Asano confesses that he doesn't know how to "perform" as a director and just agrees to everything his team suggests. The main newspaper in Singapore, the Straits Times, is too busy manufacturing election fever (the ruling party, the PAP have not been out of power since independence) to recognize that the festival is happening, other than reporting on the surfeit of local films this year. The most anticipated, Royston Tan's 4.30, is the festival's closer, so I'll deal with that in the second dispatch, but I did catch Kelvin Tong's Love Story, a low-budget Chinese-language feature financed by a scheme fronted by Hong Kong megastar Andy Lau. Heavily inflected by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, it muses on love and art while switching across a series of non-linear romantic encounters between its blank-faced writer protagonist and a parade of improbable females. It's ultimately too stiffly artificial and self-conscious to achieve the sexy, poetic melancholy that it's aiming for, but Tong's biggest mistake is to literally dis-locate his film. Love Story unfolds in an anonymous urban void, a Mandarin-speaking nowheresville, which denies the film a chance to breathe or be real. The opposite is the case for the collection of "New Malaysian Shorts" (which could have easily been called "Love Stories"). They are all imbued with a vital sense of place. This may be down to the fact that they are part-collaborations between the same close collective of Kuala Lumpur-based filmmakers (James Lee, Wong Ming-Jin, Tan Chui Mui and more), who pitch in to act in, shoot and produce each other's works. All filming is on miniDV (with James Lee usually behind the camera, and Tan Chui Mui frequently in front of it) and there is a sense of pushing hard within very tight limitations. Newcomer Azharr Rudin's hour-long Amber Sexalogy is a sextet of vignettes dealing with the start, middle and end of a relationship and not necessarily in that order. It's too long, but the final single-take episode (a seemingly unrelated encounter during a walk to the train station) is a superb coda to all the failed romance. Wong Ming-Jin's It's Possible Your Heart Cannot Be Broken pulls off the difficult trick of being both laugh-out-loud funny and poignant. James Lee's two mini-stories of disconnection, A Moment of Love and Sometimes Love is Beautiful, are quietly devastating. The night ended with Tan Chui Mui's South of South, a real change of scene (a period piece set on the coast seen through the viewpoint of a child), which concludes on an image of extraordinary beauty.
April 21, 2006
Weekend shorts."To see [Killer of Sheep] again today - on those rare occasions when one can see it - is to be reminded of just how much American movies in general, and African-American movies in particular, have suffered for not having [Charles] Burnett as a regular voice at the table," writes Scott Foundas. Also in the LA Weekly's people issue, Ella Taylor profiles "the thinking critic's go-to girl for quality cinema," publicist Laura Kim and a "prince among independent film publicists," Mickey Cottrell; Dave Shulman celebrates Jack Black; Steven Leigh Morris calls up Ed Asner; Caroline Ryder meets Larry Clark; and Libby Molyneaux jokes with Sarah Silverman. What were those recent riots in India actually about? In Spiked, Alexander Zaitchik explains: "Understanding what happened in Bangalore last week starts with understanding Rajkumar's seminal role in the local Kannada-language film industry, based in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka." Wednesday was Angie Dickinson Blog-a-Thon Day, and blast it, there was too much going on around here to catch up with it. But here's the weekend and time to take in the appreciations from Dennis Cozzalio and Flickhead, who seem to have launched this one after spotting this, Steven Carlson, Brendon Connelly, Richard Gibson, Michael J Hayde, Inisfree, John McElwee, Peter Nellhaus, Pete Roberts and That Little Round-Headed Boy. Philip Lopate went to San Francisco to talk about Mikio Naruse and Michael Guillen was there to take extensive notes. "While viewing the clips comprised during Monday night's Gala Tribute to Jessica Lange at Lincoln Center," writes The Reeler, "I started to wonder if Lange might be the American actress most taken for granted - the one we know is out there, whom we know is good but whom we just expect to churn out one tight, powerful performance after another." At PopMatters, Violet Glaze celebrates "a fantasy of release from stifling circumstance via the intervention of an unpredictable and superhuman visitor whose mere presence destroys the status quo in an orgy of divine chaos... oh, wait, did I say Fight Club? I meant Mary Poppins." Jeffrey Wells: "I finally finished reading I Wake Up Screening: What To Do Once You've Made That Movie (Watson-Guptill) last week, and it's one of the easiest-to-get, best written, most thoroughly sourced books ever written about how to get your indie movie seen (and maybe even distributed!) once it's more or less finished." Also: "The advance buzz about M:I:3 being awfully damned good has turned out to be true, I'm afraid - as shallow but very expensive action films go, this is about as good as it gets. But I would hold up on the talk about Philip Seymour Hoffman stealing the picture from Cruise." Lee Marshall for Screen Daily: "After his compelling Red Brigade psycho-drama Good Morning, Night, Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio returns to the hermetic, dreamlike mode of The Hour of Religion with his latest effort, The Wedding Director, in which a leading arthouse filmmaker is talked into shooting a Sicilian matrimonial video." Also, Jonathan Romney on Yoon Jong-bin's award-winning debut feature, The Unforgiven. The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson talks with Andy Garcia about his directorial debut, The Lost City, "a Cuban love song set in the 50s of his childhood that took 16 years to get made." "The documentary Nobelity is a 'what can we do to help?' movie, and as such, has an unusual distribution plan." Jette Kernion explains at Cinematical. Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "I won't pretend there's some uplifting vision or spiritual epiphany offered at the end of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu - such things lie outside its range - but something about the film's relentless clarity, its enormous cast of damaged but profoundly believable people, and its accidental panoply of human dreams and desires, is almost as exhilarating as it is depressing." More from Stuart Klawans in the Nation and, at Film Comment, Mark Cummins's talk with director Cristi Puiu. "[W]hat started out as a Q&A almost immediately became an A&A, as the two directors compared notes about movies, motherhood, aging in Hollywood and their experiences directing prime-time television." The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday gets Nicole Holofcener and Mary Harron chatting. Related: Rick Klaw, whose grandfather was Irving Klaw, talks with Harron for the Austin Chronicle. Reviews in the New York Times:
"I thought it was a good marriage to see Guy Maddin make a film on Roberto Rossellini written by me, a surrealist," Isabella Rossellini tells Kaleem Aftab. Also in the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab: "[Peter] Lorre's virtuosity is not in doubt. His misfortune, once he decamped to Hollywood, was that the qualities that had made him so utterly distinctive as Beckert [in M] were too often mobilised for cheap shock effects."Paul Harrill has a longish talk with Joe Swanberg and two of his collaborators, Chris Wells and Kevin Bewersdorf, on the winning LOL. Lance Weiler, director of The Last Broadcast and Head Trauma, joins the esteemed Indie Features 06 band. The Arrow for Arrow in the Head and JoBlo.com: "A bunch of us got to interview [Takashi Shimizu] on the Grudge 2 set in Japan and although an obvious introvert, there was a strength and artistic vibe that emanated off the guy that I found quite endearing." Via David at Cinema Strikes Back. Kevin B Lee interviews Caveh Zahedi for Slant. Related: Sam Adams reviews I Am a Sex Addict for the Philadelphia City Paper. "I didn't give any stars to Basic Instinct in 1992, but 11 years later I selected it as one of my 1000 favorite films," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader, reviewing Basic Instinct 2 and taking issue specifically with Manohla Dargis's review for the NYT. In the LAT, Kevin Crust reviews the "deliberately enigmatic drama" Erosion and Kenneth Turan reviews The Syrian Bride, "a wedding narrative laced with more Kafkaesque moments than romantic joy." Related: John Esther's interview with director Eran Riklis at the main site. Mack hears that Peter Chan's next project will be a remake of the 1973 Shaw Brothers/Chang Cheh film, Chi ma. Also at Twitch, new reviews from Todd: Starcrash, Midnight My Love and The Art of Fighting. David Gritten in the Telegraph: "We learned this week that Japanese film audiences are watching Terrence Malick's The New World with an updated version of the 1950s fad Smell-O-Vision: machines in cinemas waft scents of flowers and herbs over them at key moments. This device would have been ideal for Paul Mayeda Berges's film Mistress of Spices, which is largely set in an aromatic spice shop. It needs all the help it can get." Back to the NYP and Armond White: "The sociological problem of sustaining a livelihood while pursuing personal dreams is such an elegant, seamless part of Kinky Boots that only the film's gender politics seem contrived." DK Holm at Movie Poop Shoot on what's "missing from Hard Candy, as well as from the score of other pedophile films released in the last 10 years (in fact, if you want to fund an indie film, write about child abuse). The Kevin Bacon film The Woodsman, Mysterious Skin, L.I.E., and 12 or more others all dwell on the attraction of adults for children (usually men for boys), but rarely explore just what it is that drives the compulsion, what quirk in the psyche creates it, what need it satisfies, and what the vocabulary of this particular sexual language consists of." Waggish on 4: "[Ilya] Khrzhanovsky is so aggressively creative that I would trust him to adapt a Celine novel; I think his visual - and moreover, his physical - senses would mesh." Acquarello: "Channeling the zeitgeist of the French new wave, The Koumiko Mystery assimilates Jean-Luc Godard's enraptured clinical deconstructions of the feminine mystique (as well as a penchant for structuring these ruminations within the framework of noir) with Jacques Demy's achingly nostalgic evocations of elusive, romanticized longing into a whimsical, organic, and fractured, yet quintessential Chris Marker exposition on culture, identity, contemporaneity, and strangerness." At the House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz introduces a few choice snippets from Durgnat on Film. Cahiers du cinéma: Emmanuel Burdeau and Eugenio Renzi on V for Vendetta and Inside Man. Andrew at Lucid Screening on what happens "whenever European directors point their camera towards America: their films tell us as much about these directors they do about us. Antonioni's America is one of total alienation; von Trier's is one of total violence." Joanne Laurier on Before the Fall (Napola: Elite für den Führer): "[Dennis] Gansel's darkly rich film is serious and honest." Also at the WSWS, David Walsh on Caché: "[Michael] Haneke is sincere in his concerns, but his apparent belief that he can treat coldness with coldness, disconnection with disconnection, is false." Stop Smiling runs an excerpt from Nile Southern's interview with Chris Hegedus. "What is it about Julia Roberts that reduces grown men to such goops?" asks James Wolcott. Anthony Kaufman on Gabriel Sherman's New York Observer piece on the slow and painful demise of the Village Voice: "[F]ilm-lovers will take note 'the film-review budget has been cut by two-thirds,' and freelancers like myself have been essentially written out of the budget completely." What's plaguing Canadian cinema? "[T]he Byzantine world of English Canadian film financing," explains Paul Gross in Macleans, "a surreal maze of auteur dreams, bureaucratic nightmares and ritualized failure." Via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie. You won't believe the MPAA's take on recent popularity of Korean cinema. Neither can Grady Hendrix, and he heard it straight from the horse's... Well, meanwhile, Bob Tourtellotte is reporting for Reuters that MPAA head "Dan Glickman now wants to help independent filmmakers, in a seismic shift in thinking from his predecessor." Covering Bollywood in London is a lot different than any other cinematic beat, as Time Out's Anil Sinanan explains. "Global Green USA and Brad Pitt announced [yesterday] that they are teaming up to sponsor a design competition to provide an opportunity for talented architects, urban planners, designers, ecologists and students to put forward a creative yet practical vision for New Orleans neighborhoods." Well, it's about time. Double Indemnity. Two discs. R1. August. Brendon Connelly. For Die Zeit (and in German), Michael Naumann talks with Jeanne Moreau about François Ozon's Time to Leave. Online listening tip #1. The IFP's "Distribution Now... Distribution How?" panel with directors Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair) and Caveh Zahedi (I Am a Sex Addict), producer Susan Leber (Down to the Bone), and moderated by Filmmaker editor Scott Macaulay. Online listening tip #2. DVD Talk editor Geoffrey Kleinman does just that with Eli Roth. Online viewing tip #1. "What would get me back to blogging?" asks mrdantefontana at PCL LinkDump. "Christina Lindberg of course!" Online viewing tip #2. Stanley Milgram's Obedience. Online viewing tip #3. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight is "a screen-movie made from a side-scrolling Mac Classic game that never existed, but should have." Online viewing tips #4 and #5. The trailer for Dai Sijie's Les filles du botaniste. Via Todd at Twitch, where logboy's found one for Johnnie To's Election 2. Online viewing tips, round 1. Shorts by Brick director Rian Johnson. Via Coudal Partners. Online viewing tips, round 2. Sesame Street clips at foldedspace. Via Listology.
Weekend fests and events."In the upcoming weeks, something extraordinary will take place," writes Jean-Michel Frodon in Cahiers du cinéma. "From top to bottom, the most comprehensive museum of French modern art, the Centre Pompidou, will be entirely taken over by the cinema." There are three parts to this event; one of them is Travels in Utopia, designed by none other than Jean-Luc Godard. Frodon then goes on to outline "a vast and complex movement of diverse exchanges between the world of cinema and that of museums." Meanwhile, for the New York Times, Elaine Sciolino checks out Paris au Cinéma, a "celebration of the city's century-long love affair with the movies, the show takes the visitor through the history of films shot in and about Paris, through film clips, photographs, costumes, posters, drawings, documents, postcards and memorabilia from more than 250 feature films." Related: Rion Nakaya is in Paris (via MS Smith) and Dennis Cooper presents "Some highlights from the immediate future of Paris." Filmfest DC opened on Wednesday and runs through April 30. Critics at the Washington City Paper preview over 30 of its offerings, recommending in particular "several of the previewable films, notably the documentaries Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip Hop Head Weighs In on Manhood in a Hip Hop Culture, East of Havana, Letter to the President, and The Long Haul of AI Bezzerides and the fiction features Live-In Maid, My Uncle Killed a Guy, Netto and Passion." And Chuck Tryon recommends Iraq in Fragments, Three Times and Favela Rising. IndieWIRE would like to make an announcement: "The New York Times and Emerging Pictures, the New York-based digital cinema network, will for the first time present "indieWIRE: Undiscovered Gems." The eight-month-long film series is based on indieWIRE's annual list of the top 15 films from major festivals around the world that have yet to find a theatrical distributor, and is presented in association with the California Film Institute. The series kicks off in late April with Jem Cohen's acclaimed feature Chain." Also, Kerem Bayrak looks back on the 25th International Istanbul Film Festival and Kim Adelman presents "profiles of ten comedic shorts that killed in Aspen." Many viewable online, too. The Nashville Scene's Jim Ridley highlights a "(baker's) dozen stand-outs" of the Nashville Film Festival (through Wednesday). Blake at Cinema Strikes Back: "Incredible New Best of QT Fest Poster Released." More Austin area cinemania: Jette Kernion in Cinematical. Susan King in the Los Angeles Times: "This Friday, the UCLA Film & Television Archive kicks off The Word and the Image: The Films of Peter Whitehead with three dazzling documentaries: 1967's Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, 1965's Wholly Communion and 1967's The Benefit of the Doubt." She also previews the 4th annual Indian Film Festival (through Sunday) and the Newport Beach Film Festival (through April 30). At Slant, Keith Uhlich previews the 13th New York African Film Festival (actually, the stretch running April 26 through May 4 at the Walter Reade). The Reeler drops in on the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival, running through Sunday. And today he reminds locals that the fest "has its shit together and you absolutely should go." Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press: "[Roscoe 'Fatty'] Arbuckle, whose career is being celebrated with an appropriately massive, 50-film Museum of Modern Art retrospective April 20 - May 15, was one of the most notorious exemplars of the fat man as funny monster." Also, at some festivals, parties are more important than programming, notes Tony Phillips. Science fiction "is undergoing a protracted process of redefining its relationship with the mainstream," writes Charles Shaar Murray in his preview of Sci-Fi-London (April 26 through 30) for the New Statesman. In the Phoenix, Jim Sullivan recommends catching Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, where Michael Tully is blogging even now. Mark Pfeiffer's got the lineup for the Deep Focus Film Festival (May 4 through 7 in Columbus). In the Independent Weekly, David Fellerath and, in the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams look back on the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. "Quarterly, the Filmmakers Saloon (which features drinking, as opposed to the Screenwriters Salon, which doesn't) meets up at the Northwest Film Forum to obsess over film trivia en masse, instead of, you know, blogging about it." reports on the April 13 gathering for the Seattlest. Related, and via Vince Keenan: William Arnold in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the local screenwriting scene.
Tribeca, 4/21."New Yorkers are terrified of missing anything, and they take their movies seriously, but there is no way even the most dedicated film aesthete in a great pair of running shoes could take in the whole festival. Choices must be made." So, in the New York Times, David Carr offers a "User's Guide" to the Tribeca Film Festival, opening Tuesday and running through May 7. Film Comment is running editor Gavin Smith's review of fest opener United 93 ahead of the release of the May/June issue: "[I]ts moral stance is that of a somber, uncompromising anti-spectacle. [Paul] Greengrass's film is many other things besides: a cathartic act of bearing witness, an experiment in therapeutic reenactment, an anti-procedural, a meditation on the agonizing limits of communication - and a memorial." At the IFC Blog, Alison Willmore rounds up more reviews. Cinematical's most recent Tribeca previews:
SFIFF, 4/21.Brian Darr assesses the state of the San Francisco International Film Festival (through May 4) and previews Carlos Saura's Iberia and Peter Chan's Perhaps Love. For the San Francisco Chronicle's G Allen Johnson, Sa-Kwa "finds the Korean actress Moon So Ri at the top of her game." Besides a profile of fest director Graham Leggat, SF360 runs Robert Avila's preview of Palestinian filmmaker Rashid Masharawi's Waiting's Susan Gerhard introduction to the International ReMix project.
Cannes, 4/21."In public remarks today, organizers surveyed the fest lineup and insiders began buzzing about some of the anticipated titles." Brian Brooks opens indieWIRE's Cannes coverage. In the Guardian, Charlotte Higgins celebrates the two British entries. Australia's happy, too, notes Pip Bulbeck in the Hollywood Reporter. Cineuropa's Fabien Lemercier notes what all will be going on in Cannes besides the screenings. Anthony Kaufman notes that Andrea Arnold's entry, Red Road, "is part of Lars von Trier's experimental The Advance Party group project, 'which will see three different promising writer-directors make three different features all using the same actors playing the same characters.' [Variety] The other budding auteurs in the series are Dane Mikkel Norgaard (The Old Firm) and Scot Morag McKinnon (Worms)." And Matt Dentler notes that Richard Linklater has not one but two films at the fest: Fast Food Nation in the Competition and A Scanner Darkly the Un Certain Regard section. Discussion of the lineup carries on here, but also at Nick's Flick Picks and Twitch.
Lists, 4/21."[Sigourney] Weaver's range as an actress has always impressed me enormously, and I think it's at least the equal of her Map of the World co-star Julianne Moore's; Weaver couldn't pull off the tiny emotional calibrations of a Safe, perhaps, but nor could I imagine Moore summoning the sheer fortitude, the regal poise, or the haughty, acidic outrage to do Weaver-like justice to any of the underlisted." Five films follow, featuring Tim R's favorite performances. The Guardian has nominated 50 literary adaptations as the best ever. Voting will be going on next month, though what sort, exactly, remains unclear. But the discussion is already underway. The site doesn't seem accessible at the moment, but when it is, Rogerebert.com editor Jim Emerson has posted a list of the "101 Movies You Must See Before You Die." For now, Film Experience has a peek. Noel Murray writes up a list at the AV Club: "Your Tax Dollars at Work in 10 Classic Movies." And via Movie City News, Garry Maddox lists the seven deadly sins of cinema etiquette in the Sydney Morning Herald.
April 20, 2006
SFIFF. Preview.With the San Francisco International Film Festival opening tonight and running through May 4, Hannah Eaves and Jonathan Marlow discuss a few of the films in the program. Marlow: We have the advantage of having seen some of these films at other festivals. Eaves: Not as many as usual this year. Maybe that's just because I didn't go to Rotterdam or SXSW this year. Marlow: You missed that Australian dreck, Look Both Ways. I'll have a chance to walk out of it again. Eaves: That's not a good way to start this thing. Marlow: It's true, though. There isn't as much overlap as you might expect. Guy Maddin's My Dad is 100 Years Old played in Rotterdam and will appear in San Francisco, although we have the advantage of having Guy here to present the short and a few others. The Sun screened at Rotterdam but I didn't particularly care for it. As for things that I missed at IFFR, I am looking forward to seeing Regular Lovers. Eaves: What about The Wayward Cloud? Marlow: I don't remember if it played there or not. Tom Luddy loaned me a preview DVD of the film but it stopped playing after the first fifty minutes. Based on the remarks of others that have seen the whole thing, I'm not sure if I'll see the rest. I was entertained by the bits that I watched. It's not greatly different than Tsai [Ming-liang]'s The Hole, except for the pseudo-hardcore sex, of course. You're falling asleep. This conversation doesn't appear to be too exciting for you. Eaves: I have a cold. Besides, it's late. Marlow: It's not that late. What about The House of Sand? I know that we've both seen it. Eaves: This isn't going to be the moment for any sparkling criticism. I didn't like it at first but it grew on me. By the end, I was even choked up. It's a film that should be seen in a cinema. Marlow: I liked it better when it was called Woman in the Dunes. Despite my snarky comment, I would have to agree with you. It starts rather slow but builds nicely into a rather impressive multi-generation story. Eaves: Perhaps more Chekhov's Three Sisters, but at some point they wake up to themselves and stop longing for Moscow. Okay, it's not much like Three Sisters. I'd be interested in talking to the director about the relationship of the story to the geography and history of Brazil. Marlow: Our pal James Longley will be visiting with Iraq in Fragments. I suspect that he'll have to clear more space on his mantle for another award. Eaves: That film only seems to get more relevant as the year progresses. Marlow: Hopefully Bill Morrison will make an appearance when his latest short screens in the "Fugitive Prayers" program. Perhaps we can finally put our feud to rest. Besides, I want to congratulate him on his excellent performance in Mutual Appreciation. Why isn't that screening here? I don't suppose it matters if we mention all of the special presentations since those are getting plenty of coverage elsewhere. Besides, I will be out-of-town for nearly all of them. I'll sadly miss Werner Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder. I've heard great things about it. Eaves: I've heard mixed things about it. Marlow: I'll believe what I want to believe. At least I'll be flying back from New York in time for the screening of Heaven and Earth Magic at the Castro. New score by Deerhoof! Thank you, Sean Uyehara! Eaves: They're so great live! Marlow: We'll see. I have to admit that even the so-called "Late Show" programs are interesting this year. Executive Koala, from the brilliant director of Calamari Wrestler. The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai should be entertaining. Eaves: I want to see what Tilda Swinton will come up with for the "State of Cinema" address. And what she'll be wearing. I'm also interested in the screening at the fire station. Marlow: [reading from the program] "Cartography of Ashes marks the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake, recounting the destruction of several city intersections in the quake's aftermath. This new 30-minute film will be projected outdoors onto a firefighter's training tower." Sounds super pretentious. Of course, it could be great. Eaves: Yes, it does sound pretentious but I like the description of the film. I'm also looking forward to the "IndieAsia" program that Roger Garcia curated. They're all North American premieres. Marlow: Clouds of Yesterday looks particularly grand. Eaves: I don't know if these comments will be particularly helpful. Marlow: Perhaps we should end it here for now. Perhaps other folks will add their own comments below...
Cannes. The lineup.So you already knew that Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code would open this year's Cannes Film Festival (May 17 through 28). Well, Tony Gatlif's Transylvania will close it. In competition:
Nashville Scene. NFF.April, the cruelest month? Not for film-lovers. Even as, any moment now, Cannes will unveil its lineup, festivals are popping open all across the country. Just scroll up and down the entries here. The Nashville Film Festival opens today, too, and runs through April 26. Nine critics have compiled the Nashville Scene's guide, blurbing "more than 50 features, documentaries and programs" and advising us to keep an eye on the alt-weekly's blog, Pith in the Wind, for more as it happens.
Sight & Sound. 05/06.Once again, Sight & Sound offers a full house online, two features and three reviews from the new issue, though none of them have anything to do with the cover. The dose of France comes not in the lovely form of Emmanuelle Béart but in Robin Buss and James Bell's double on Dominik Moll's Lemming. Buss traces French relations with Hitchcock while Bell talks with the director. Charles Gant talks with Julien Temple about Glastonbury after assessing his career: "early fame; cocksure hubris; humiliating catastrophe; years of creative and commercial struggle; and now a satisfying third-act resolution with work that finally makes sense of his peculiar talents." The reviews:
April 19, 2006
IFFBoston. The Guatemalan Handshake.As the Independent Film Festival of Boston opens today (and it'll run through Monday, April 24), we offer a little background on two of the films the fest is featuring in the form of Jonathan Marlow's interviews with their makers. At the main site, you'll find the one with Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim, whose Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story screens on Saturday and Sunday. All the secrets of that story are kept secret in that conversation. The same can't be said, exactly, of the chat that unfolds below the jump here. A few moments prior to the world premiere of The Guatemalan Handshake at Slamdance, Jonathan had a freewheeling and not nearly as tight-lipped a talk with writer and director Todd Rohal. You might not call what comes up spoilers necessarily, but if you get a chance to see the film on Saturday or Monday in Boston, or anywhere else on any other evening, you might want to see to that first. On the other hand, I haven't seen it, and the chat's only whetted my desire to. You've made some short films before you made this, your debut feature, premiering here at Slamdance. Tell me about these short films which I have not seen. I have four short films - three made in Ohio and one made in the Baltimore area. The first film I ever made, when I was eighteen or nineteen, was called Single Spaced. It's sort of a combination of film noir stuff and John Waters. It played in the Hamptons Film Festival, the first festival I ever got into, and we won a $2500 prize right off the bat. On your first film. Yeah. And that was your first festival? Yeah. And I was like, "Shit, this is easy!" "This is for suckers! I could do this forever..." I made more than the budget back, you know? Then, of course, never again. I made another film after that which was a really bizarre kind of thing about a living head that's in a bag and this guy gets paired up with him to work together... Like a buddy-cop movie except one of the buddies is a head in a bag? Yeah, exactly. It was about these two guys who get paired-up and one of them never does any work and the other one gets blamed for it, sort of like Laurel & Hardy, but just totally depressing. When did you make your first film? That was 1996, I think. I'd done video stuff and all that. Then I did a thesis film for school called Knuckleface Jones. Basically, the premise of it was that I was going to make a film for which I would be the only audience member. That would be my favorite thing in the world, that no one else would probably enjoy. Because I had made these other films and they got varied reactions. Any time you make something, everyone reacts to things differently. It just seemed like this is how you'd approach something and see what happens. I did and it became a favorite of a lot of people and it played a lot of places all over. No $2500 prize, though. We got a grant from the Princess Grace Foundation. I think they would want it back if they saw what I did with it. It's a little out there; not offensive, but it's just got some weird language in it. It had Piper Perabo, who was in Coyote Ugly. It was her first film. She always pops up on these internet things as being in this film and no one knows what it is, but we met a lot of people through that one, left school and kept going with it, and that film got me a lot of work actually. Then I decided, "Ok, I need to make another short." Before I started to work on the feature thing. I made one more short outside of the school environment to make sure that I'm seeing all these things that I would be otherwise overlooking from doing something in a more comfortable environment at school. That film was called Hillbilly Robot, and it played at SXSW. I haven't seen any of these shorts. But they must be brilliant. [laughs] They're bizarre. They're different. Through those four shorts, were you starting to develop a style of how you wanted to approach filmmaking? Clearly, with Guatemalan Handshake, you seem to be taking traditional genres and finding a way to completely subvert and invert them. It sounds, at least from your description of your first two films, that you were doing much the same thing. "Let's do something that people understand and then throw at them something they won't understand at all." Yeah. From the concept stage, though, I'm not able to think like that. I think if I was, I'd be able to come up with ideas more quickly, but instead, it starts in a totally different way. I wish it was more like that - "Yeah, I'll take this genre and flip it over, take this movie, base it on that and switch it around." What was the starting point for this feature then? For this, I wrote a bunch of short, short stuff. I'd sit down every night and say, "Okay, by the end of tonight I've gotta write, like, one page, one paragraph," whatever. Little short things that are complete, that I would present to anybody as a full piece or a description of a photograph. Actually, looking at Harmony Korine's A Crack Up at the Race Riots, if they gave that to kids in creative writing programs in school - there are so many good exercises that you could come up with in there. So you've got a full stack of ideas, these little stories, and I had to figure how those all worked together and how those characters fit together. That took revising the draft three or four times. How many individual stories make up what became The Guatemalan Handshake? I don't know, because they all started to come together, and then a new draft would fit those together. I can't really remember where they began. Do you develop the characters first, or do you develop the plot and then put characters into it? I guess it would depend on where that story started. A lot of it would be written for some people who are in it. I've been writing stuff for some of them to play for four years, then calling them up and saying, "I've got something for you." I've meet a lot of different people that way, or just seeing them on the street and just talking to them about it, you know, asking if they'd ever do it. For instance, the Will Oldham character - did you write that character specifically for him? I wish I did. I really liked him and actually some of his music helped inspire some of the stuff in the film. I thought of asking him to be in something, but it was for a totally different part that was cut out of the film in an early, early draft. I never thought of him for the role he has and it was just stupid; I think he's great. I didn't know who we were going to cast, and I kept looking at people... I was looking for somebody who had a totally original new look and then thought about him for a different role, just a small walk-on thing and he wrote back asking, "Well, do you have anything a little more substantial that I could do?" I thought, "Yeah, why don't you do this?" And he said, "Sure." And he came on and it just worked. How long was he on the project? How many days did you shoot with him? We shot for a month total and he came for about a week and a half and just stayed with the crew in the houses. We were going to give him a hotel and he said, "If you guys are staying together, there's no reason to treat me differently." So we gave him a room in the house. He's really funny and goofy, had a lot of ideas and got mad at me when I had this one idea for a song I was going to use. He was like, "Do not, do not... everything else is fine, but do not use that song." He would constantly bring it up... Really? It was a Southern Culture on the Skids song about atomic power. I found this version they had and we were going to do this whole opening number with that and it was gonna be this total kick off to the film. "Do not even consider that," he said. "They are the most disgusting band." So you honored his wish. Well, it made sense! It just did. With our final soundtrack, I had this huge iPod list of music I thought could fit with the film and it wasn't nailed down until the whole thing was done. It wouldn't have fit and that entire scene would have been cut. It was just ridiculous to consider that song. So how about the character of Turkey Legs? Is that something that developed in the same short story process? It did, yeah. Originally it was a little boy who kept jumping in front of cars, getting hit by cars just to make friends and meet people. We met all the kids in this entire town basically, and we found all the other kids for the film that way, but we just couldn't find somebody that was right. Where did you shoot the film? This town was called Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, outside of Harrisburg. Out of all the young actors that you looked at, this girl was the best of the bunch? Did you restructure your ideas about the character when you changed to role from a boy to a young woman? Actually, I went to see the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players one night and the girl drummer in the band, the daughter, was just - it was just amazing seeing someone outside of a school element. She was going through this home school kind of thing, traveling on the road. She made total sense, so I talked to her dad and he was like, "We make our income (on) tour and we can't go to work for free for like a month to shoot this thing, but it sounds like a lot of fun and we can write a song for you." So then I said, "Let's go look for some other folks, some other girls." We started casting and this one girl came in and she made sense. She was wearing a shirt with snakes all over it. She would just sit in this chair and talk, and talk, and talk, and I wouldn't have to ask a question and she would just talk in this quiet tone and I thought, "Yeah, let's do it." Was she always considered to be the narrator of the project? I didn't want a narrator for the film, but there was so much back-story and so much important stuff that we could have turned the film into a four-hour thing. It just had to be told upfront. It was important just to have a film that you could get into and go with and not spend so much time with this whole other film. It kinda worked like a sequel to a previous script I had written. Oh, I see. You could still do a prequel to this film... It would be totally boring. Her narration is more for the sake of getting you into it. At what point did you select the iconic automobile that is featured in The Guatemalan Handshake? This one stylistic element of the film is a kind of anchor for everything else that happens in it because, not to give anything away, there's a lot of car exchanging going on. Is this your car? I mean, I know it's your car... I found it on the side of the road in Ohio. I'm driving from one town where my parents live to my friend's house on the other side of the state, and it was, like, 2am, and it was out in front of a RadioShack in the middle of this really small town. I stopped and looked at it and immediately started doing research and found that there were only a couple thousand of them on the road. It was invented by this guy in Baltimore, which is near where I'm now living, so I looked into it and thought, "Yeah, this is the perfect kind of thing." I've just been kind of obsessed with that weird automobile kind of stuff. I think if I had a lot of property I'd be one of those guys that had twenty cars out front even though I really don't know how to work the cars or anything. So I found this guy and he was trying to get rid of it and he talked a lot about it and explained a lot of stuff to me and kind of showed me how to wire it and all that stuff, and then we got it and basically started writing it into the film immediately. I just knew it was a great image, you know, this bright orange thing and the green... So all the cars are that color? Oh no, no. They had a variety. They had a red and a light blue. I mean, it was the late 70s. It's a very odd design. Not just the fact that it's an electric car, but because it's very strangely shaped. It's a mid-prototype. They mass-produced them for a while and shipped them all over the country, but if they'd been able to go on a few more years, I'm sure they would have turned into something pretty amazing. It's seems like it's halfway there. It's like it's the front of the car and nothing else. So immediately it made sense that Donald would be driving this car, and it would be a car that would be fetishized by his father. The story keeps folding in on itself and you keep learning more about the characters as it develops, which means essentially that your audience has to be smart and that may be challenging for some people. I'm not saying that audiences aren't intelligent. What I'm saying is that we, as a culture, have been taught to expect that films need to be made at a fourth grade level. I was immediately taken with the film because it expects the audience to participate. You have to follow it, because if you walk away from it and come back, you may not have any idea where you're at. Yeah, I hate that it's gonna be a hard film for people to watch, but if they watch it a few times... then that sucks, too; you know they have to buy two tickets or something. The story is so simple and sort of dumb, sort of basic. This guy leaves and it's obvious that he left because he's in the most terrible situation. Maybe he's not such a great guy, but if you were ten years old and you were living with this situation, you would have absolutely no idea what was going on until you start figuring things out. And nobody's gonna tell you directly, so you figure this out as you go along, and that's what I wanted it to be like as you're watching the film. She [the narrator] is getting little bits and pieces from these people and she's putting it together as it's going on, but it's so complicated to figure out who these people are and what's really going on, especially when you're just thrown into this mix. But that's the whole point of the film, I guess. Once you are able to figure things out, it does make sense and makes a simple plot much more complicated that way. Except for the dog. How it comes back to life? So the dog comes back at the end. "Wait a minute, no - we know the dog is dead." That's because you've got this other character that's working inside this film, which is like an additional story, a parallel story going on that's not related to any of the characters in the film, and every time she's on screen, it's through her point of view as well, so we're seeing all this stuff that's going on that makes sense to her in the same way that it makes sense to the ten year old, Turkey Legs. But when we see this older woman, it's basically, you know, what happens after you die. Do you realize that your gone? Because this woman is actually gone, but we're watching her last few thoughts before she disappears as well... So, in a sense, the story is the Turkey Legs story. All the characters occupy the same world so none of them are out of play. Although, in any story like this, The Addams Family or whatever, you always have the anchor, that character who's the normal one and, in this case, it's kind of the daughter of the so-called Guatemalan immigrant, the derby driver, who aspires to be a derby driver as well. She's kind of... well, I hate to say the sane one because she's really not any different than anybody else, but she's kind of the older sister figure for Turkey Legs in a way. I mean, she's the closest link to the narrator because the story is simple but constructed complexly. How difficult was it to write it that way, so that it would come across in a satisfying way from beginning to end, so you don't lose the audience, so they don't go, "This is nonsense"? But, at the same time, did some of that come out of editing? Were there changes you made in the editing process that cleaned it up a little bit? Yeah, because pacing was so, so, so important and difficult and there are scenes in there that I wasn't sure were - I mean they work really, really well, all the scenes themselves, but you put them all together and you hit the two-hour mark with the cut and it needs to be ninety minutes. Because of that frustration factor, that's kind of what came out of editing. So many things that happened in production lengthened a shot and that extra fifteen seconds you're adding just takes it to the next scene to make it seem like it's ten minutes too long. But otherwise, it sticks to the script exactly. Even the ending, how it cuts back and forth from scene to scene to scene... Does that answer your question? You just tightened things up and made scenes a little shorter here or there to get it down. It is just the natural result that, during the shooting, time expands. It's just a question of trying to compress it again. We had this huge, long opening with too much narration and great, great shots. The thing was, we didn't want to do wide establishing shots of an area, ever. There was never to be shot that would be like, "Here's a mountain side." It needed to have something else going on, so you'd have to meet another character for a second for those sequences to feel like, "Now we need to take a break and see the landscapes." But let's figure out these landscapes through the people that are in it, so we have these little breaks that are the kid in the wheelchair, the baton thrower, that kind of stuff. Constantly feeding us information, even though it seems completely irrelevant; they serve as the little breaks between that. One of my favorite moments is from their childhood, the Spank Williams character that Cory [McAbee] plays, and you did a great job evoking that period. The little scene where they're watching television, that's really fabulous, and also his stunt is pretty impressive. So, now that again, was itself its own self-contained story point that got worked into the whole or...? I think I wrote that story by itself and it ended up that was the last thing written into the script. Originally he was supposed to be this eight-foot-tall black guy, but then Cory kept writing, "Is there a part for me in the film?" And I thought, "It just seems great, we'll give him a mustache." So we changed that around, and the story just kept rewriting itself. I think it might have been an entirely different film if I hadn't brought that in. Yeah, it comes out of nowhere, really. So, how did you know Cory originally? I met them in Maryland when they brought American Astronaut around and Skids, who's a projectionist here, introduced me to his stuff and an old professor of mine told me about The Ketchup and Mustard Man, and finally, I saw that stuff and I was just crazy about it. I met him and Bobby [Robert Lurie] who's the other half of the Billy Nayer Show, and I was like, "My job is creating DVDs and doing design," and it was just like, "Can you just do an American Astronaut DVD?" So I sat down with them and did stuff. Really, okay. So you did the shorts thing and you did American Astronaut. Yeah. Ok, I didn't make the connection. So I'd go out and shoot some shows with them and things like that. We're trying to work on a live DVD down the road. That would be smart. I think I just hit it off well with both of them. I think Cory liked the sensibility, which was like, "Everybody's working for free on this film, I'm gonna work for free for these people over here." It's like this trade back thing. Cory's interested in that, so he was like, "Yeah, let me come out and do this." Yeah, he does some physical stuff; he does the man on the moon, the cowboy thing. When he does the run for the jump I'm like, "Yep." Cory just moves his body in a way that... he's like a cartoon almost. It's really unreal. That whole sequence, there's like a fifteen-minute cut of it. It works so well as its own short film, but in the middle, it needed to be trimmed down. He did some of the funniest stuff. There's actually a landing target that he has on the ground with these balloons on it and we have him looking at it and checking the distance and calculating everything and then practicing how he's going to land. That'll be an extra at some point. He's just phenomenal in terms of what he comes up with. It really felt great to work with somebody that would just be like, "What if I do this, this and this?" It does great stuff for us. In Will Oldham and Cory McAbee, you have musicians that act, as opposed to actors that also write music. Was that important, knowing you have folks involved that have these other skills that could they could bring to the project rather than casting full on actors? Yeah, I didn't want to have name-names in the film. One, because it would bring on all kinds of union issues, and two, if I make a film, it's gonna be completely coming out of nowhere. It has to be completely different and feel very real. If Nick Nolte is standing in the middle of a scene, everyone knows who that is. It's like shooting in New York City, it's too familiar. I wanted it to seem like it was taking place in an entirely different country. So it was kind of a debate, putting them both in there. But Will hasn't been in a lot of stuff, and if you get him doing something different, that'll be fine. So having him and Cory there, and them being musicians, too, they understand performance in a different way and aren't so concerned about how their lines are coming across. They have a different sensibility about how they present themselves in front of people, especially Will, coming up with a new persona every year. So that just seems to work, finding musicians to do quiet smaller parts, or even loud insane things. You just know their performance will be based on how you've seen them live, and that's a good way to go about casting. There's a sequence in the center of the film shot in black and white and there's a little musical interlude. Was that one of the iPod pieces that had been selected or was that something that was written for the film? Yeah there was this Moldy Peaches song... Oh, that's the Moldy Peaches song. Yeah, and the guy who shot the film, my friend Ritchie, gave me this CD. Listening to it, I thought it would make a great sequence, so I put that down and it had all these different scenes that would go in between their singing. I talked to Will and Sheila, who played Sadie, the other character in that scene that sings with him, and we changed the lyrics up so they reflect the movie a little bit more. They went to a used bookstore and came back with lyrics. I have no idea what they really refer to, but to me, it made sense because it was things I saw around town and things that happened to them, personal things, things they thought were funny and that made sense for the back-story of their character. We shouldn't know, really, what their jokes are, but it's a very intimate moment. So do you perceive that there will be things in the film that audiences will react to in a way that is not the way that you intended? For instance, the fact that certain parts of the story are unresolved. Or that you have the aspiration for Sadie, who is pregnant, to be a derby driver? I question every single bit of it. Because now that I've seen it however many hundred of times, sometimes I'll look at it and think it makes absolutely no sense and wonder how anyone could sit down and watch this. I try to clear my head and wonder how this is gonna look to somebody for the first time. But to me, that's what I wanted. I wanted you to walk into it with the expectation that you're seeing this "doc" about drug smuggling, you don't know what the title means and the trailers are throwing you one way and our post cards another way... I definitely worry that people aren't going to like it. If it were a Sundance screening, for instance, audiences would be less kind to it because they expect to be spoon-fed and here they really don't have any idea what to expect. With it being Slamdance, you're still bringing in a lot of the same people and a lot of the films that have come out of here are very similar, I think. Well, that's the biggest difficulty with Sundance, and I suppose it will happen increasingly with Slamdance as well. People make films that fulfill audience expectations of what a film that would go that route would be and those are the worst kinds of films. I really wanted to like The Station Agent. I really wanted to like it. But I wondered, "Why didn't you take a least one more step forward in this film?" Instead of just keeping us in the same place and changing around the elements you're using. Just something a little bit more. We can make little steps in progress in terms of how we watch films. When I saw American Astronaut here, now three years ago, I was shocked because I never would have imagined that a film like that would play here. And then it became clear: "Oh, it went through because Cory's short had played here." So there was a kind of history; it wasn't as if it were out of left field. But like your film, it requires a lot of the audience, and most audiences just can't give that. They can't give themselves up to the film to become part of the story and let it work. It's so unrealistic. No one would ever do that. But that's what a movie is for. If all a movie was about was recreating reality then there would be no need for them. And so movies that are only to reproduce reality, their surroundings... Like the opening night movie here at Sundance, which you have not seen, Friends with Money, is the epitome of everything that's horrible about American films. "Let's get a bunch of boring people together and sit them around a table and have them talk about their inconsequential problems as if they're really important and nothing of what these people are saying is of interest." Imagine you go out to dinner and there's somebody at the table next to you that just is talking about how horrible their lives are. "Look, there are horrible lives in the world and yours is not one of them." Now imagine that for two hours. That's my nightmare. Well, it wasn't two hours but it felt like two hours. So your film creates a world and asks the audience to accept these characters and those characters are true to the world they live in. They do all the things they would do in those conditions. Nothing rings untrue about anything that any of those characters do. I don't want to say it changes how you look at reality. I think the film is really based in reality, definitely in terms of how these people are reacting - much, much, more realistically than other films probably here at Sundance. Well, that's why, with the woman with the missing dog, there's more honesty in her performance and the way she's dealing with this grief - when we see her at the Chinese restaurant eating everything off the menu - there's more honesty in that than in any of these films that aspire to be real. Even though it's maybe hyper-real or whatever, maybe it's beyond what any normal person would do, people will do that. They react to things in different ways and everything that she does is consistent. She never breaks from that thread. And I think that's where audiences will react favorably to the film. Because it's consistent in its construction. It never deviates. I think when people try to make films like what you've done, when they do it poorly, they just go off. "I'll just keep throwing things in there and just be wacky for it's own sake." And that never feels real. So a lot of that is obviously writing and rewriting and working through the story and the way you photograph it. You shot it in 35mm and few people at this festival do that anymore. Is it screening on film? It is. It's our first print and it's not the best print. But you're insistent on showing it in 35mm. You shot it in 35mm. You finished it in 35mm... I had a big ordeal with that here. Would they rather not show it in 35mm? They wouldn't because they have to pay for the projectors and it actually ruined my relationship with a bunch of people. I arrived and people were like, "You have to be a nice person to these folks." They called and said they'd like to show the film. I said, "Great. You know we're going to have a 35mm print," and then, she's like, "Well, we're not going to have 35mm projection." Okay, I can't show it. "You're going to throw away your premiere because you want to show it on film?" And I said, "Unfortunately, yeah." The film will stand on its own, so I think you're taking the right stance on it. I felt very, very honored to be accepted into anything. The rejections for this one will be plenty. To turn it down was the hardest thing. It was a decision that was made on the phone immediately, and she said, "We'll have to use an alternate." I'm like, "Go with an alternate, I apologize. The copy I provide you, if you don't have the means to show it, there's nothing I can do about that." So we went back and forth and I became a big jerk. And then they ended up having four other filmmakers come this year with 35mm prints. Oh, well, there you go. I think everyone was kind of behind that, but there have been a lot of shortcuts and I think it's so easy to put it on film when a lot of people are putting it on a DVD player and showing it. I'm not sitting there everyday working on it. And now we have this print and it's not perfect. Your DP, had you worked with him before on these other films? On the short films, yeah. So you're very comfortable with him. Yeah, he's a good friend and a very funny guy and knows his stuff and the crew loves him. I had worked as a DP on a couple of films, TV stuff and so it was very easy for us to sit down and have all these films behind us. With a film as complex as this, did you find it necessary to storyboard everything? Yeah, our storyboards are kind of like sketches, but often I would just make a shot list. I would know the location. I would know what was there and the elements involved. Normally in a film, when something is repeated that I've seen already, I usually get frustrated and say, "God, this movie is only this long, you don't need to show me this again." But in this case, I did not make the connection that the guy at the roller skating rink was the same guy at the power plant until you show it again. "How did I not notice that? How is it not clear to me that these are the same people?" So, how did you do that!? There's so much that goes on in that sequence, you're still trying to figure out and get your bearings. It's so early, too. And it's so bizarre. The actions during all of that are so weird. But it makes sense when you see what he does at his other jobs. He's a very odd character. At what point in the writing stage did you develop that character? Because he's as important as Sadie is to the whole arc of the film. I don't know at what point he came up. He was a friend of mine, so I was always writing the character for him. He's one of the funniest people I know. He's not a very funny person in the film; he's a very depressed sad, sad guy who puts the raw into the deal. It must have been when I wrote the original script, when we had Will's character all through, but when we removed that, there needed to be - in order for someone to move on what would you do after this guy disappears and you realize you're pregnant, you're moving on and you start looking for other people and there's this rebound relationship thing, but it's never, ever going to work. It's so ridiculous, and I guess that's how that came about. He needed to bring to this other character that there's hope that there are other things down the road, things that can happen and that there are a lot of other people out there, but this isn't the one. For both of them, it's just never gonna work and that's just sort of the funny bit. We just want to see that bit of the relationship. In an early screening - we were showing a rougher cut - somebody said, "All the arcs for these characters are incomplete." No one gets what they want, no one wins anything until the guy in a stool gets up on his car at the end and takes his shirt off and celebrates. Every other time he tries to take it off, everybody's like, "No, no, no don't take your shirt off and finally he rips it off and everybody's lovin' it. He's got this full arc; he's the only character in this film... Well, Sadie, even though she doesn't find Donald, she wants to be a driver and her first time out, she wins the $2500 prize at the first film festival she's in. Yeah. Like fifty bucks and a free pizza. But she gets a trophy. They both accomplish something, and even though they're clearly not going to be a couple and nothing's going to come from the two of them together, they have that one moment of intersection and they're going to go off and do whatever they're going to do. Well, I've blathered on enough about your film. I don't know what people are going to say about this film. I know that there are a few people that are big fans of it already, and they're getting it around to the right people, but I think there are other times I could show it and people wouldn't understand why they should watch this or why I would make it. Do you think it's easier to work within this space of comedy rather than trying to do a straight ahead drama, particularly for independent films? I think if you're doing something funny and at the same time saying something serious, it's going to come across a heck of a lot louder. If you're trying to do something dramatic and everyone is talking and having these revelations that are right on the dot, they're useless, you know? I think it is the way to do it, and all my favorite films have that without being outright copies. Like Napoleon Dynamite, which I love, but that movie works as a complete comedy; there's nothing else going on in there. I think the best dramas are the ones that are just as funny. For me that's what works best. I'll just stick with that.
SFIFF. Leggat.Two years ago, Jonathan Marlow presented a "Five-Point Plan" for a "seemingly necessary remodel" of the San Francisco International Film Festival. As he noted a year later, at least one of those points was realized (not necessarily as a direct consequence of a mere GreenCine Daily entry, of course) when Roxanne Messina Captor stepped down as Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society. As summer turned to fall, Graham Leggat, even as he was hurriedly wrapping up a zillion duties in New York, was named as her replacement and, as Johnny Ray Huston puts it in this week's San Francisco Bay Guardian, though you may think "right coast" when you hear the name Graham Leggat, "he's considerably more connected with the film community in San Francisco than those who'd recently come before him." And he's got plans for the city. Big plans. As he tells Jonathan in the following interview, he believes San Francisco, thanks to its geography, history and culture, is primed far more than most American cities to benefit most from a year-round, city-wide presence for the Society and its festival. Until then, there are more immediate concerns: the 49th SFIFF opens tomorrow and runs through May 4. Your background is clearly in communications, however your predecessor was not known as a great communicator. I suspect that you probably don't want to address the Roxanne Messina Captor issue because you don't really know her. Never met her. Fair enough. I was extremely critical of her performance as the former Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society. Did you ever meet Peter Scarlet [former Executive Director of SFFS; current Executive Director of the Tribeca Film Festival]? I've known Peter for a number of years. I had a chat with him in New York before I came out here. Did he try to talk you out of taking the job? [Laughs] Not at all. In a sense, this is your return to the west coast. You went to school at Stanford, as I understand it? That's right. I did Modern English and American Literature and an American Studies degree at Stanford. Graduated in 1987. I went to Syracuse and did an MFA in Fiction writing with Toby Wolff, then spent six years in upstate New York in Syracuse and Ithaca. I worked and taught very occasionally at Cornell and worked at Cornell Cinema and the art museum [Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art], in programming, publicity, publications and editing. As you say, my day job over the last ten years has been in communications, but I've been doing a number of things at the same time - programming, editing, writing. I am still a columnist for the Daily News in New York. Then I had a very broad portfolio as Director of Communications at the Film Society Lincoln Center. I was the publisher of Film Comment and I oversaw marketing, website design and special events. I did some programming. I wouldn't want to be pigeonholed as merely a publicist, that wouldn't really tell the truth. That was an oversimplification on my part. Your background, prior to your work experience, was obviously in English. I worked as a journalist for a few years. I have a novel due out next summer and we're just about to sign a contract with NYU Press for a book on contemporary international filmmakers, a Film Comment book that I'm involved in. We think it will do really well, actually. When did film enter into the equation? When did you decide to pursue film passionately? Obviously I've watched a boat-load of films since I was little. The movie theater was both an enjoyment and a refuge during high school and college, both for consolation and celebration, like it is for many young people. I watched a ton of stuff and a lot of my film education came at the Varsity in Palo Alto and the Roxie and the Surf and all the great movie houses that were around here in the mid-1980s. My actual professional hook-up was an article I had written for the Ithaca Times, sort of the equivalent of the SF Weekly or the Guardian. I headed Cornell Cinema, which was then, and is still now, one of the top-ranking college film societies in the country. That's really where it started. I had not really found a home in the professional world until that point, in part because I was still in graduate school. I had, at that point, two children, so I had an odd path through my 20s. It wasn't until my early 30s, when I was offered the job at Cornell Cinema, that I had hit on the metier that really spoke to me and I've been at it ever since. How did you gravitate towards the American Museum of the Moving Image? When I went to New York City in the early 1990s, the first job I had was working freelance at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. That temp job ended and I heard about a position at AMMI. I went and interviewed for it but I didn't stay there very long. I jumped within six or seven months because something better came along immediately at the Museum of Modern Art. Once I got to the Modern, I really felt at home. It's a world-class program, great people, fantastic exhibition. I went from being the publicist of the film department to running the communication department as a whole. I opened the Fassbinder retrospective in 1997 and the Jackson Pollock show in 1998, along with other amazing shows. I oversaw everything by the time I was done there, in terms of communications, and that was great. But then I just got fed up with a couple of things and started looking around and I was lucky enough to have a spectacular job tailored for me by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The museum world and the non-profit film world are really two quite different organizational cultures. Frankly, I prefer the film side to the museum side, not that I didn't have a great time. If you've ever worked or been in a museum you'll know that it has a very specific sort of feel to it, particularly a big, corporate museum. I had a great time at the Film Society. I wasn't looking to leave and then this extraordinary opportunity came up, to come out here. It seems that you were somewhat destined, eventually, to run a film festival or something of that sort. It's nice of you to say so. About ten years ago, when people asked me what I wanted to do, I did say that I wanted to run a world-class film society or film festival. There had been some talk of that at Lincoln Center. You always have to think of succession. I have been looking forward to this opportunity and was hoping that it would come along. There are only a few places that would have lured me away from New York. San Francisco is definitely top of the list. There's an overlap in there that we didn't address. You were program director at GenArt. I was the founding program director for three or four years. That was really interesting to me because it's obviously the complete opposite in terms of organization from what I was doing at the Museum of Modern Art. I can't think of two more disparate things and that's probably why I liked it. Those guys boot-strapped themselves up from nothing. What was really instructive was how they found corporate support for what they were doing and the way in which the social network aspect of film-going was emphasized at GenArt. Do you know the festival? In brief, there is a premiere and a party every night. There is a perception that it's just an excuse to drink and troll for dates but that's a silly notion. What I took away from it was the way in which film-going is a social experience, where film exhibition has to identify a primary social group and give them a rich experience. It doesn't mean only social groups that coalesce around theatrical experiences. These days, a festival or film society has to speak to other social groups, those who are interested in the written word, in online communication, in viewing experiences via different platforms, such as DVDs or Video-on-Demand. The false construct of the classic theatrical experience versus online or DVD experiences is a bankrupt one for me. I think we have to speak to all those groups and use them to feed each other. I know that in your columns in Filmmaker and the New York Daily News that you're very interested in the intersection of video games and cinema. Yes, I'm interested in convergent media. You were one of the earliest to write about Machinima as well. I did the world theatrical premier of the first season of the Blood Gulch Chronicles, by the Red vs Blue guys. I've done other programs around motion graphics, the web and other aspects of film/game stuff, including one recently with Ubisoft at Lincoln Center. At the International this year, we'll have a program called KinoTak where we will be looking at the way in which different platforms influence aesthetic and narrative strategies. We're also creating alternative viewing experiences and different social groups around those viewing experiences. We'll be looking at cell cinema and iPod cinema, webwork, film/game stuff, DJ/VJ and also what we're calling International ReMix, where rights-free footage from the films in the festival will be available for download and collaging by anybody with online access. So you're asking for the audience to start mashing-up footage? That'll also have an international component by some of the next-generation internet possibilities that are opening up in San Francisco. This leads us, largely, to where you want to take the 49th edition of the festival. We want to follow the trajectory of media innovation, on the one hand, to see where it leads us in different forms and different audiences. We want to examine and present new media innovations. We have the luxury of being able to trace those to classic media strategies. The offerings of new media are often spectacular ideas but, at bottom, they often result from classic strategies. We want to offer new work but we also believe we're grounded enough in cinematic tradition to be able to present it and connect it to previous cinematic breakthroughs. We hope to get the best of two worlds. People have always been interested in innovation in cinema from the earliest days. In addition to that, we obviously want to play to our strengths - the discovery of new talents, the celebration of mature talents in world cinema, local work and documentary work, in particular. We just want to do an increasingly good job of that across the range of different programming strengths. As I recall, you were also considering new venues for the festival. We're going to have a track of what you might call sub-theatrical satellite venues. I don't mind if it's forty people in a backyard watching something projected on the wall. I'm interested in collaborating with underground places. I just think that's fun. Have you explored many such spaces in San Francisco? I have some ideas. We're still in discussions with people, so I don't want to break out the roster just yet, but we have a short list of ten or twelve places that we'll narrow down to partner with, depending on their interest and logistics and so on. So this is something that will evolve over the next several years, I presume. We started this year's festival with the idea being that, during our 50th anniversary and beyond, we want to be city-wide. This is the first festival [in the Americas] to reach that milestone and the city provides a unique opportunity to do this sort of thing. New York's too big for that. You could be city-wide and still cover only a space of a few blocks, but San Francisco is both big enough and small enough to make a major impact around the city without over-extending yourself. One of my many criticisms of the festival since Peter left was an over-reliance on the Kabuki as a venue. You may have that criticism again for the festival this year. I suppose that it's going to take some time to change your commitments to certain venues. Certain contracts are already in place. I realize that the dates are set and your hands are somewhat tied. In other words, I'm cutting you some slack this time. That's good to hear. One year of immunity is all you get. I'll try to be kind. You will see any number of new ideas this year. Some of them will be in nascent form, some of them will be rather developed for the 06 festival, but I think you'll be able to see, pretty clearly, where my heart lies. I'm interested in innovation, I'm interested in incubation, trying things in the festival and, if they prove successful, shifting them into other parts of the year to build out year-round programming. I'm interested in, for lack of a better word, hybrid-forms. Showing art cinema in a backyard [a la the origins of Canyon Cinema]. Having VJs work in the Palace of Fine Arts [a la RESFEST]. These are just examples of getting different audiences involved with each other. I don't like the idea of narrowness or clubby-ness and I don't like the idea of exclusivity. I like the idea of having work of the best quality, absolutely, but I don't believe it's just for a few thousand people. I believe its for as wide an audience as possible. I'm very interested in inclusivity and outreach. The concern here is to develop a new audience for the festival and not discourage the existing audience? In sort of classic terms, that's how you put it. It's not a strict sort of cynical marketing, "demographic targeting" thing. I just think, "the more the merrier." The former Executive Director was very active in claiming that festival attendance around the country was down, which was essentially a lie. It helped to justify what was clear to audiences, that attendance at SFIFF was dwindling. The event in the past few years had an air of exclusivity. It seemed to pander to the folks that finance the festival, that is, sponsors and donors, and became less of a festival that's for the people who want to see films. I can understand that. I think the festival took some body-blows last year. I think it was an unusual constellation of events and it did rough up the festival a little bit. It is often a question of balance. 80 percent of your festival can be great, but if there's a disproportion somewhere and, in addition, you have some technical problems - power outages, projection problems - and on top of that, your membership structure has been fouled up a little bit so your core audience has been alienated... Then, on top of that, you don't have a variety between Hollywood and world cinema. Those things sort of wracked the festival. From what I've seen from just looking over the programming, I think it's been very strong, and some years it's been fantastic. 2002 and 2003 were very good years. I think 2004 and 2005, there was just some bad luck and maybe some bad strategy. Should we expect, with your past involvement with GenArt, that the parties will get better? Here's hoping. One thing that's interesting about San Francisco, as a person who relocated here myself... From where? From Seattle. The thing is, in New York, the museum really supports cinema as art. San Francisco doesn't have such an institution. SFMOMA doesn't really give much attention to film. PFA [Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley] would be the bastion of that kind of exhibition. I agree. Unfortunately, it's unlikely for people within the city to travel to the East Bay. It is very depressing that the local press doesn't really cover anything that happens outside of the seven-by-seven, either. The Rafael Film Center does plenty of wonderful things, the Stanford regularly shows great films, the NAZ in Fremont, and obviously, the PFA, as you mentioned. This is probably why I've been so critical of the Film Society for the past several years. It has a unique opportunity to step-up and fill this void. You've mentioned that you're looking to do year-round programming... You can't really make the kind of splash that the Modern does in New York or the Rafael or PFA without a home. You can't just parachute into the city, as it were, for two weeks out of the year and give the people the opportunity to worship at the altar of art cinema and pack up and leave for the rest of the year. Imagine if you were a Christian missionary, for example, not that we think of ourselves that way... There are parallels. In the various Amazon tribes, you can't get them interested in your mono- or polytheism and then leave and then have to come back the next year and do it again. So we absolutely, unequivocally, need a year-round home. Not only for the Film Society and our offerings but also for many of the other festivals that are nomadic as well. We would like a film center that's home to us but also a presenter or sponsor of the other high-end offerings in the city. Without that home, our efforts will be harder to inculcate that sense of a citadel or a celebratory center for art cinema. I would imagine that your predecessor would argue that putting the festival together by itself is a rather expensive endeavor and trying to do anything beyond that would be difficult. My question is, how do you pay for it all? Certainly, a big festival like this is a lot of work but I don't feel like a Film Society can proceed into the future with one offering. I won't disagree with you there. I feel you get more done right, the more offerings you have, the more attractive you are to donors, sponsors, members, audiences, etc. So we have to plan carefully and we have to move carefully to lay those assets in place. And of course, you ramp up your staffing and general operating budget and so on. Two years from now we're going to be doing much more stuff, we're going to have a much bigger staff. So how you raise money for those things? Well, a capital campaign is one thing that people are always easily willing to get behind and really galvanize those interests, so if we found a buying or building opportunity for a theater, I know the money could be found. There's no question in my mind. In that capital campaign, you raise for an endowment, you raise a cash reserve, and you staff up based on that. You just grow the organization. You were involved in the capital campaign for the Film Society of Lincoln Center? The new film center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, is due to be finished in 2009 or 2010. Yes, I helped with that. This sort of talk was probably quite attractive to the board of the San Francisco Film Society. Where would you ideally want such a venue to exist in the city? That's a good question. It's a trick question, I guess. There are a number of prospects. Some of them are potentially available in the short-term, and we had bigger ambitions. It will take a large capital campaign. It would take five to six years clearing it with the city. It's possible that we could leap-frog from one location to the next until we have our ideal film center. I don't want to sacrifice one prospect for another; I want to keep all of my options open. Obviously, you want to be in the best possible location. You want to be in a central location that's well served by public transport that also has good parking for people who want to drive. You want a place where you can make a splash architecturally, where you can build big enough to be able to do as many things as you can for as many people. Your expectation is that it's a place where you will have to break ground? There isn't an existing building? Finally, that's probably the case. In its final, mature form, it may take eight to ten years to get to the opening of that facility. In the meantime, there are other more modest opportunities. Whether it's a single screen neighborhood theater or a sharing of a multi-screen facility. Finally, I think, any meaningful significant facility has to have its own dedicated home, enough scalability that you can play an experimental film to a 70-seat house or you can play a major international or American film in a 300 or 400 or 500-seat house, or go to an even bigger one like the Castro or the Palace if you really need to blow it out. There are plenty of opportunities in San Francisco for rentals, for four-walling. In the short-term, where do you think you will have to grow the organization? Regarding the programming team and the support staff, are there immediate changes you feel will happen either leading up to 2006 or directly thereafter? We've made a few seasonal positions in membership and marketing into year-round positions because we need to take better care of our members and we need to reach audiences more assertively than we have in the past. It's not that we didn't want to, it's just a question of finances. Also, we want to do more for filmmakers who visit and for local filmmakers, so we have to do more with hospitality. Operations needed an extra person, which we've hired. I've put more money into programming, so ideally we get more of the films that we really want and more of the filmmakers associated with them to come. The desire is always there. People love coming to San Francisco, but sometimes we just don't have enough money to do that. I want to be able to do that and some of the newer programming tracks have new budget lines so we can get them off the ground. We'll also put a little more money into materials so that the catalog can better showcase what we're doing. In what way will that be? We've been constrained by the number of pages that we put in a catalog, which means that you run the risk of homogenizing a little of your content because you can't devote enough pages to something specific - you have to run it in with something else. That's been a difficulty for us. The reception of the festival will be better and I think people will have more points of entry for the festival if we are a little clearer about what exactly is on offer. Rather than, say, having a section called "World Cinema" and a section called "Documentaries," in which 80 feature films are programmed without subsections. It makes it very difficult for people to see where the trends are, where the focuses are, where the strengths are. We want to disaggregate some of those sections a little, break them out, or at least, within "World Cinema," be more explicit about what's new or what's on offer this year. To do that, you want to carry that presentation throughout your materials. We're going to add pages to the program and we're going to have a redesign. That way you can see that there are seven Japanese films in "World Cinema," and that's unusual because Japan has not, in the last three or four years, been represented that way. There seems to be an unusual strength in Japanese film this year, so we need to show that explicitly in the program. There's more digital independent work out of Asia, from Thailand to Korea. So rather than just plugging those things into "World Cinema," into one rubric, we want to be able to break that out, and to do that, you have to have a little bit of context for what you're doing. The materials explain the festival. Presenting the festival to people needs to be more expansive, and when it's more expansive, it costs more money. So you're ending up with a program that's the phone book equivalent of the Berlinale catalog. They're bigger than us and Toronto's bigger than us. The festival probably needed to get over a certain hump last year and didn't for a certain variety of reasons, so it was not received as well as it should have been. Now we have to invest in it and allow it to grow a little more. It has so many virtues and yet you can conceal your own strengths in something as simple as design or the naming or shaping of the program. There was a perceived pandering to this or that when, in fact, a lot of the problems could conceivably be addressed by simply making all the strengths of the festival more visible and see that it's not held up by one strand. In fact, there are several pillars of strength for the festival - and balance between them that creates the alchemy that people love. That's a necessary evolution of the way the festival is packaged. Exactly. When we say "packaged," just like in terms of marketing to new audiences, we're not thinking about it in the cynical fashion. We're just trying to reveal the essential shape of it and allow people to understand and appreciate its value more. I would say, if for no other reason, that another major weakness of SFIFF in recent editions was a certain "color by number" sense to the festival. There were certain events that were established and it was just filling in the blanks. "We need this, we need that," and there was no real evolution in the thinking about what the festival could be. Yes, and no one felt that more keenly than the staff. The misperception is that if one makes that criticism of this or another festival, the misperception might be that the staff is on autopilot, when in fact, in this case, the staff were in many ways as frustrated by things last year as anybody. They've been dying to stretch their legs a little more. Working capital is the thing that allows them to do that. I have my work cut out for me. Me and the board. We have to raise money to allow us to grow. Already, there's money coming in. The additions to the program will seemingly require either an expansion of the programming team or a restructure in the years ahead. The programming team was in transition for a couple of years. There were some young guys who were, I wouldn't say "learning the ropes," but they were early in their careers. I'm very encouraged by their ideas and their essential strengths. I think what you'll see is that people will find their voice, program-wise, this year. I have a programming bit, too, that I hope will amplify our strengths. I come out of this world where the festival hopes to make a splash. It has made a splash for years on end. I hope that I can add to it both administratively but also programmatically. I'm looking forward to it. It's obvious that you've given a great deal of thought into the landscape of San Francisco and to our festival, so I appreciate your observation of us. I know just by talking to you that you understand how a festival is constructed and many of the decisions that have to be made. It's not a monolithic thing. It's the result of many different decisions and pressures and influences. You've obviously anatomized a lot of what we do. Yes, but not always in the best of ways. In fact, I don't mind the criticism at all. What I object to is somebody who objects but doesn't understand how something is put together. I can't imagine that you would make that mistake. I can tell that you brought a wealth of experience and analytic thought to it, so I consider criticism from you and others to be a form of cooperation.
SFBG. SFIFF.Like presidents, festival directors get honeymoons. It's only fair. Relatively late last year, Graham Leggat was tapped to head up the San Francisco Film Society, meaning he's also now overseeing the Americas' longest-running film festival, the SFIFF. The 49th edition opens tomorrow and runs through May 4, and as you'll see in an upcoming entry, Leggat's got plans so big we're really only likely to see the first effects of them next year, when the fest hits the big Five-0. For now, even the San Francisco Bay Guardian is more than willing to cut Leggat - and the fest itself - some slack. Johnny Ray Huston: The SFIFF has gotten a bum rap lately - scrape away the public image of a fest like last year's and you'd find an excellent, deep, if sometimes overly solemn, array of movies. San Francisco suffers from no shortage of film festivals, but its oldest still has a depth and breadth others can scarcely match, and Leggat's arrival gives SFIFF a much-needed boost of energetic, idea-driven intelligence. Now, when it turns 50, perhaps it can go toe-to-toe with the near simultaneous Tribeca fest helmed by ex–SFIFF executive director Peter Scarlet. Programming wars ain't pretty, but they're sure to yield some drama.
So the SFBG writes up over 20 highlights of this 49er plus:
City Pages. M-SPIFF.The Minneapolis-St Paul International Film Festival opens tomorrow and runs through April 30, and Rob Nelson opens the City Pages cover package with a list of all the reasons it might not have this year. In short, human frailty, politics and that eternal festival bugaboo, money. Evidently, it came down to the wire. "Would a beleaguered board and an almost entirely new staff be willing and able to mount an M-SPIFF in record time?" asks Nelson. "[I]ncredibly, yes." The fate of a single movie theater might seem like a sideshow in all this, but as Paul Demko explains, a single financially strapped organization, Minnesota Film Arts, is trying to keep both the fest and the Oak Street Cinema afloat. But onto the films. The City Pagers have picked out twelve to highlight in their roundup, and Minnesotans are likely to have a particular interest in Al Franken: God Spoke since, to hear him talking to Nelson, it really, really does sound like he's going to run for the Senate in 2008. Caroline Palmer previews "'Childish Films,' a program of live-action and animated shorts, as well as a few features," and Emily Sohn talks with Ali Selim about his first dramatic feature, Sweet Land, which closes the fest. Also in this issue, Jim Ridley on The Notorious Bettie Page.
April 18, 2006
Voice. Tribeca."What have Robert De Niro and his producer Jane Rosenthal wrought?" asks J Hoberman as he introduces no fewer than 40 blurbs on 40 films the Village Voice staffers and contributors have selected as the most promising in the lineup for the Tribeca Film Festival (April 25 through May 7). "The festival is a triumph of branding," continues Hoberman, "but has it found its niche? Like the city it celebrates, Tribeca has proven resilient, but like New York, it's far too sprawling and abrasive to ever attain the grooviness of SXSW or the exclusivity of Telluride. Marketing - yes. Market - we'll see." Dennis Lim talks to Peter Scarlet, the festival's "behind-the-scenes architect," and it's interesting to see so many of the same issues sparking debates at other festivals are brought up here as well. Lim also reviews the film Hoberman says so many of his friends are afraid to see, the opener, and... "I can attest that the film nobody wants to see is worth seeing. At the very least, United 93 - as the most literal representation yet of that unimaginable morning - will hopefully ignite a meaningful debate about the ethics and politics of 9-11 commemoration." Also in the Voice this week:
Firecracker. 17."Thai movie posters are quite unlike the posters we are used to seeing in Europe and the United States," writes Neil Pettigrew in the new issue of Firecracker. "The artists who painted them took a medium that is essentially a mere advertising gimmick and transformed it into an art-form." The other features: Mike Atherton revisits Seijun Suzuki's "delirious 1967 classic," Branded to Kill, and Erika Franklin's interview: "At 70 years of age, enigmatic and low-key, Cirio H Santiago is not only sprightlier than counterparts over fifteen years his junior but, incredibly, he continues to make at least two films a year and has to date directed and produced around sixty films - all shot in English, filmed on location in the Philippines, created specifically for international export. He says, 'That's what I do - I make 'American' films for export - that's what I've been doing for the last forty years.'" The reviews:
Shorts, 4/18."[Cartoon] Brew reader Chris Olson found an old issue of Popular Mechanics with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Pinocchio, and he was kind enough to make scans of the article for other Brew readers to see. The PM issue (volume 1, no 73) was released in January 1940, a month before the film was released." Via Brendon Connelly. "[I]t would be totally inaccurate to suggest that this is my first Jewish play," Mike Leigh tells Linda Grant in the Guardian. They're talking about Two Thousand Years, which opens, by the way, with a character reading an article in the Guardian. Leigh: "I don't think you can pull out any play or film from my canon that is not Jewish in its view of life and all its tragi-comic aspects." Also: Amina Taylor talks with Jamie Foxx about his music. And: "Woody Allen jilts Paris for London." "I approach the task without consciousness or deliberation." Tim Lucas's been thinking about the process of reviewing lately. In the New York Times, Dave Kehr explains that, while there's no actual "complete" version of Mr Arkadin, Criterion's got a "captivating package" nonetheless (more from Susan King in the Los Angeles Times); and Lorne Manly: "As the recent coupling between the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime Networks continues to roil the documentary film world, more than 215 filmmakers, television executives and academics have signed a letter demanding that the Smithsonian, a publicly financed museum, not only reveal financial details of the joint venture but also abandon it." Will Gong Li be in Tim Burton's Believe It, Or Not, wonders Mack at Twitch. Also: Todd reviews Christoffer Boe's Allegro, Peter Martin on Elevator to the Gallows and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days and X translates a great swath of a Film 2.0 interview with Son Jae-Gon (My Scary Girl). "Which horror movie scarred you for life?" asks Looker. "Do tell." Silent Hill director Christophe Gans picks seven favorite horror films. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Peter Lunenfeld reviews Broken Screen: Expanding the Image, Breaking the Narrative: 26 Conversations With Doug Aitken and Patrick Goldstein on the United 93 brouhaha: "Instead of asking 'Is it too soon?' I wish people would say, 'What took so long?'" And Greg Krikorian and Andrew Blankstein: "Film director John McTiernan pleaded guilty on Monday to lying to the FBI about hiring Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap veteran film producer Charles Roven in the summer of 2000." Also, Deborah Netburn's 10 McTiernan factoids and again, the LAT's Pellicano file. Commentary: Nikki Finke. Kimberly Peirce will direct Abbie Cornish in Stop-Loss; Tatiana Siegel in the Hollywood Reporter: "Penned by Peirce and Mark Richard, the story centers on a soldier who returns home from Iraq to Texas and is called to duty again through the military's 'stop-loss' procedure. The soldier then refuses to return to battle." Lu Chuan's Mountain Patrol: Kekexili gets the three-angled Reverse Shot treatment at indieWIRE. Mark Cuban spoke on a variety of topics on Monday night as part of John Pierson's University of Texas at Austin Master Class series and Matt Dentler took extensive notes. Caveh Zahedi makes the mistake of taking Anthony Lane seriously; fortunately, he's got friends leaving comments urging him to lighten up and enjoy the ride. Related: The IFC's Alison Willmore points to AJ Schnack's breakdown of the Caveh-Cuban run-in. And of course, Caveh responds. More commentary: Ray Pride at Movie City Indie.
Fests and events, 4/18.The Reeler's got info on the Video Blog Explosion evening at the Museum of the Moving Image on Sunday. Featured: Rocketboom, DriveTime and Vimeo. "Still developing its identity like any five-year-old, the Tribeca Film Festival (April 25 to May 7) has grown significantly since its humble birth," writes Aaron Hillis [site] in a preview of the fest's offerings for Premiere. Cinematical's most recent Tribeca previews: Martha Fischer on Brasilia 18% and Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus; Christopher Campbell on Golden Venture and Al Franken: God Spoke. Dave Kehr offers a few "first impressions, after a busy opening weekend at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema." Daniel Cowles at SF360: "When producer Tommy Pallotta comes to the San Francisco International Film Fest May 2nd toting a 20-minute sneak preview of A Scanner Darkly, director Richard Linklater's adaptation of the late science fiction writer Philip K Dick's novel, he may feel like an Olympic torch carrier nearing the finish line." At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks looks ahead to Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival (April 26 through 30 in Champaign, IL), Tamara Schweitzer to the 37th Nashville Film Festival (April 20 through 26) and Eugene Hernandez looks back at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Jeffrey Overstreet posts a Flickerings alert: "If you can find a more challenging film festival for the head, the heart, and the soul anywhere in the country, tell me about it." July 5 through 8 in Bushnell, IL. Via Grady Hendrix, China View: "Chinese screen star Zhang Ziyi on Friday confirmed she is to be a judge at this year's Cannes Film Festival." Meanwhile, at Cineuropa, Anne Feuillère notes a few confirmed and a few possible Belgian Cannes candidates. SFist's Rita: "[W]e had a great time at the kickoff screening for the Balboa Theater's ever-popular Reel SF series, where the theater presents classic movies set in San Francisco."
April 17, 2006
Shorts, 4/17.David Remnick: "An Inconvenient Truth is a brilliantly lucid, often riveting attempt to warn Americans off our hellbent path to global suicide. An Inconvenient Truth is not the most entertaining film of the year. But it might be the most important." Also in the New Yorker: Anthony Lane on American Dreamz and I Am a Sex Addict, a new story by Martin Amis (up soon, I'm sure), Hilton Als on a revival by John Guare's 1977 play, Landscape of the Body, Steve Martin's "New Page Six" and Tad Friend: "Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, has written Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, starring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford as a creative team that's called in to rescue the network’s signature live sketch-comedy show. Tina Fey, the SNL star, has written a show called - for now - The Untitled Tina Fey Project, starring Tina Fey, of all people, as the head writer at the network's live variety show. Her pilot features Alec Baldwin as the network's meddlesome new 'VP of development for NBC/GE/Universal/Kmart.'" "So to interview Nick Broomfield in the Nick Broomfield style, I have to start my piece before the actual interview," begins Carole Cadwalladr. Also in the Observer, Lynn Barber talks with Sam Taylor-Wood about the exhibition Sam Taylor-Wood Still Lives (and its title). Via Ray Pride at Movie City Indie comes Martin Hickman's report in the Independent on how McDonald's is preparing - with a "council of war," no less - for Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation. They were evidently caught off guard by the success of Super Size Me and do not want to be again. Bruce Schneier, author of several books, among them, Beyond Fear: hinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World, announces "the (possibly First) Movie-Plot Threat Contest. Entrants are invited to submit the most unlikely, yet still plausible, terrorist attack scenarios they can come up with." Via Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing. The Gothamist's Jen Chung and Alternet's Evan Derkacz follow the buzz surrounding Giuliani Time. Chuck Tryon actually agrees with conservative blogger Jason Apuzzo on one point: that Scott Martelle is asking the wrong question in his Los Angeles Times piece on United 93, namely, is America "ready"? Naturally, though, Chuck disagrees with Apuzzo when he plugs in an "absurdly simplistic binary between 'patriotic movies' and what he calls 'movies in which America loses.'" Also in the LAT, Richard Verrier talks with Haskell Wexler about Who Needs Sleep? "Every season, theatrically unseasoned American movie stars ignore the advice of agents and managers and accountants and, touchingly, expose themselves in 'legit' theater," writes David Edelstein in New York: "It's patently unfair to pass judgment publicly on an actor in a first preview—although at these prices... (Tickets were going for $100 a pop, and mine cost $250 through a broker.) But it's fair to say that Julia Roberts did not seem like a natural onstage." Also, American Dreamz. Acquarello: "In his optical experiments with light, reflection, and refraction that transform everyday images into fluid and deformable art objects that redefine the medium of film as a traditional canvas, [Patrick] Bokanowski shares a visual affinity with Aleksandr Sokurov's murky and expressionistic in-line optical distortions in films such as Mother and Son and Oriental Elegy that, like the works of aesthetic forefathers such as Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Caspar David Friedrich, evoke the primal, spiritual landscapes that haunt our consciousness and give form to our waking dreams." A few finds in the latest issue of Springerin:
Fests and events, 4/17.The exhibition Soul Cinema: Black Films and Black Stars (1919 - 1963) opens Tuesday at the Museum of Afro-American History in Boston; writes Leslie Brokaw in the Globe: "The 37 posters... were selected by the museum from a massive collection of black film posters, lobby cards, and ephemera held by John Kisch, who runs the Separate Cinema archive." Also via They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, Gerry McCarthy in the Times of London on the 1926 silent film, Irish Destiny and Hadani Ditmars in the Globe and Mail on Atom Egoyan's production of Beckett's Eh Joe. Brian Darr: "In preparation for tomorrow's launch of the Balboa Theatre's Second Annual Reel San Francisco series of films from a diverse range of genres and time periods, all made in and/or about Frisco, as well as the Celluloid San Francisco book event at the Public Library next week, I present a list of some of the titles I think of first when I think of Frisco and film." Michael Guillen's San Francisco Film Festival previews: Play, Obaba and The Dignity of Nobodies. Heavens, look at those posters for the Best of QT Fest over at Cinema Strikes Back. Cinematical's most recent Tribeca preview: Martha Fischer on Dear Father, Quiet, We're Shooting.... For SF360, Michael Fox talks with director David Munro and producer Xandra Castleton about Full Grown Men, set to debut at Tribeca. Dennis Cooper snaps photos of Almodovar: Exhibition! at the Cinémathèque Française through July 31.
April 15, 2006
Muriel Spark, 1918 - 2006.Novelist Dame Muriel Spark, who wrote the classic The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, has died in Tuscany where she had made her home.... The book was turned into a much performed play and later a film starring Dame Maggie Smith, for which she won a best actress Oscar in 1969. The BBC. Like [Graham] Greene and Evelyn Waugh, Spark was a Catholic convert and dealt with questions of morality and metaphysics, directly or indirectly, in her fiction. "I don't propagate the Catholic faith but in a funny sort of way, my books couldn't be written by anyone except a Catholic," she told the Sunday Telegraph in 1997. The AP. See, too, the Muriel Spark Archive of the National Library of Scotland.
Weekend shorts.Fred Camper in the Chicago Reader on Douglas Sirk: Sure, his colors are alluring, and his exaggerations have a certain bleak humor. But ultimately Sirk wasn't in it for the laughs: he was a fatalist, someone who once said that "happiness exists, if only by virtue of the fact that it can be destroyed." This emigre, who lived most of his life in Germany, located his general despair in the American materialism of his day, in our reliance on objects to fill the voids where once there were souls. In the New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann celebrates Rialto's reissuing of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 film, Army of Shadows, "a paradoxical beauty. Very many of the scenes are in sunlight - Melville avoided such facile stuff as shadows for suspense - yet they are chilly. The seasons vary, but the general effect is of a bright winter day that is freezing." Also: "Iran's recent growlings under its new president make such a film as Iron Island all the more remarkable." Jasmila Zbanich, director of Grbavica, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in February, shows us, in the Los Angeles Times, a sample of the hate mail lead actress Mirjana Karanovic has been getting from anonymous Serbs, even though you'd think an "unofficial ban" would keep them from seeing the film. "Eleven years after the war, war criminals still direct our daily lives." Nonetheless, "A friend from Banja Luka sends me a text message: 'A pirated copy of Grbavica is being sold underground here. I hear it's selling like crazy. Good. I am losing financially, but it is important to break the isolation of the people in the Republika Srpska." Via Anthony Kaufman. At Self-Reliant Filmmaking, Paul Harrill talks with Jake Mahaffy about his debut feature, War. Also via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker: news from Editor & Publisher and Alicia Morgan on a sudden and unexpected "Impeach the President" campaign from former Reagan-supporter Neil Young. "Many people claim that Peckinpah did not understand what Sergio Leone was doing in languorous Westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West, but Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid proves that assessment wrong," argues Stanley Crouch in Slate. Anthony Kaufman: "Recently, I stumbled onto the website of William Richert, the writer (The Happy Hooker), actor (My Own Private Idaho), and director (the 1979 paranoid cult classic Winter Kills). Either he's crazy or desperate or just plain passionate, but the site offers a wild ride through one Hollywood creative's career, travails, and lawsuits." "It would be a crime to dismiss [Ken] Russell's cinema entirely," argues Bradford Nordeen. Todd at Twitch: "The Hanging Garden is a quieter film, a subtler film, than what has come before and will likely have trouble connecting with many fans of the teen violence aspects of [Toshiaki] Toyoda's earlier work. Nevertheless it shows his unusual gift for character and his ability to create seemingly simple films that leave you stewing well after the final frame." "[T]heater, painting, music and the novel. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there could be a tradition of film-making in which it is fatuous to separate the work being studied from those other media," proposes David Thomson. "Are we prepared to tolerate this, without stooping to such crude insults as 'too literary, too stagey, too painterly, too operatic - too difficult'? Then, consider that this tradition embraces much of the work of Jean Renoir, Kenji Mizoguchi, Max Ophüls, Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, and the subject of this essay, a man who deserves to be considered among the greatest living and working film directors, no matter how he might shrink from the description. I am talking about Jacques Rivette." Also in the Guardian, John Robinson on the "excellent documentary" My Name is Albert Ayler and Lanie Goodman talks with Danis Tanovic about directing Hell, based on a screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski, and about the three films to follow, all in English. More from SF Said in the Telegraph. Part 2 of Jeremiah Kipp's conversation with Godfrey Cheshire is now up at the House Next Door, where you'll also find five great parting shots from the Odienator. Patrick Neate profiles Zola, star of a TV soap opera in South Africa and also of Tsotsi. "An intellectual journalist equally at leisure in the jaunty pages of Esquire (where he reviewed films) and the ascetic quarters of Partisan Review, [Dwight] Macdonald — born 100 years ago last month — was a generalist whose specialty was capsizing conventional wisdom, exposing highfalutin fraudulence and filing heretical dissents," James Wolcott who then goes on to quote from Macdonald's review of The Greatest Story Ever Told: "There was also that 'Woman of No Name' who pushes through the crowd as Jesus is healing the sick and, after he has grappled with her, cries out in purest Bronx, 'Oi'm cured! Oi'm cured!' and turns around to run toward the camera with arms waving in triumph - and damned if it isn't Shelley Winters." Also in the New York Times:
Weekend fests and events.At SF360, Dennis Harvey previews the Balboa's Reel San Francisco series, running from April 16 through 18. Cinematical's Tribeca reviews: Martha Fischer on Maquilapolis and Once in a Lifetime: The Incredible Story of the New York Cosmos; Karina Longworth on Kettle of Fish. Lebowski Fest. Austin is next. In May. Via Weblogsky. For the Independent, Alice Jones previews the Fashion in Film Festival, running in London May 14 through 27.
April 14, 2006
Weekend previews."What an appropriate moment for indieWIRE to introduce a weekly column that surveys new films in theatrical release," write Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks. "This week more than a dozen indie, foreign, documentary and specialty films are vying for attention from moviegoers (some of whom will also be participating in Passover and Easter activities)." The iW guys suss out the contenders' prospects, while Gary Dretzka at Movie City News notes that "this week's new movie releases would look every bit as enticing on the marquee of a Pussycat Theater." Here, I'll collate their lists with some of the most recent reviews I haven't yet pointed to... Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times: "Looking more like a bud of Jeff Spicoli's than a learned academic, Canadian anthropologist Sam Dunn conducts a first-rate tour of musical metallurgy in the documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey." More from Alexis Petridis in the Guardian and from JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times on Peter Mullan and On a Clear Day, "a conventional film for an unconventional actor. When you start out working with Ken Loach, Danny Boyle and Michael Winterbottom, it shows recognition of sorts, I suppose, but not necessarily progress, to qualify as the lead in a Baked Potato People movie." Related: At AICN, Capone chats with director Gaby Dellal. Kenneth Turan in the LAT on Our Brand is Crisis, which "allows us to see exactly what it means and precisely how difficult it is to 'export democracy' to parts of the world with cultures very different from our own." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times on The Notorious Bettie Page: "In her work with [Guinevere] Turner, in particular, who was also her screenwriting partner on American Psycho (Ms Turner also helped write the lipstick-lesbian romance Go Fish), [Mary] Harron manages to have her pleasure, visual and otherwise, and her politics, too." More from Cindy Fuchs in PopMatters, Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle, Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat and Turan in the LAT. Related: Jeffrey M Anderson meets Gretchen Mol. Dargis on Hard Candy: "More sour than hard, this highfalutin exploitation flick starts with an unsavory premise - possible pedophile meets the jailbait of his dreams - that quickly becomes downright unpalatable." More from Kevin Crust in the LAT, Alison Willmore on the IGC Blog, Brian Orndorf at Hollywood Bitchslap, and James Rocchi at Cinematical. Dargis: "Written and directed by Lu Chuan, whose first feature was the well-received Missing Gun, Mountain Patrol: Kekexili is as tough and unsparing as its backdrop, a blood-boiling environmental thriller with a dash of Sergio Leone." Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT): "[W]here Madagascar was all sharp edges and blocky slabs of uniform color, The Wild is filled with softness and texture." More from Emru Townsend for fps, Michael Wilmington in the LAT, Eric D Snider at Hollywood Bitchslap, Cinematical's Robert Newton, Ebert and MaryAnne Johanson. Catsoulis: "Bogged down by the stylistic gimmickry of bustling montages and jarring animated segments, Look Both Ways aims for existential drama but succeeds only in reminding us that misery loves company." Catsoulis: "With its overheated narrative, lush interiors and photogenic cast, La Mujer de Mi Hermano is a big-screen telenovela in which everyone is cheating and every light is flattering." More from Ebert and, in the Ft Worth Star-Telegram, Scott Von Doviak. Anita Gates (NYT): "Anne Fontaine's seductive film Nathalie is mostly about French star power and sex, so it's somewhat surprising that it is also subtle and intriguing." Related: Kaleem Aftab talks with Emmanuelle Béart for the Independent. Stephen Holden (NYT): "Kinky Boots doesn't ask you to believe a single detail of what's splashed across the screen. All it wants is to divert you for about 100 minutes and leave you with the glow of vicarious comradeship, as blue-collar blokes and drag queens pull together to save the day. Foot fetishists will drool." More from Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, the IFC's Alison Willmore, Neva Chonin in the San Francisco Chronicle and Carina Chocano in the LAT. Nathan Lee (NYT): "The fun of Scary Movie 4 is that it isn't a movie at all." More from MaryAnn Johanson, Jan Stuart in the LAT, Ben Wasserstein and Scott Weinberg and Robert Newton at Cinematical. Laura Kern in the NYT on Herbie Hancock: Possibilities: "Even though the gifted performers occasionally borrow the spotlight, the true star always remains Mr Hancock." Neil Genzlinger in the NYT on The Sisters: "It's not just that you quickly realize no one in this film is anyone you would want to spend two hours with; it's that you also wonder why the heck they're spending so much time with one another." More from Chocano in the LAT. Dana Stevens in the NYT on Blackballed, "essentially an extended improvisational skit, with a troupe of comics riffing on a central joke (the elevation of paintball to a noble calling)." Steve Erickson for Gay City News: "Caveh Zahedi has struggled to make four features in 15 years. With I Am a Sex Addict, he's inadvertently stumbled onto something trendy. This film combines the voyeurism of reality TV with the comedy of embarrassment purveyed by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ricky Gervais on The Office and Extras." Andrew Pulver in the Guardian on An American Haunting: "Neither Donald Sutherland nor Sissy Spacek... can do much with this material." More from Anthony Quinn in the Independent. Variety's Todd McCarthy: "Material that easily could have been turned into cringe-inducing TV movie sap has been handled with reasonable intelligence and authenticity in Mozart and the Whale." David Gritten in the Telegraph on Take the Lead: "All the clichés are here, but so is an unwelcome whiff of cynicism that kills the film stone dead." More from Mark Pfeiffer. Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper: "A little too feel-good for its own good, Sisters in Law still has moments of revelation, especially for Western viewers who take legalized justice for granted." Comment here or discuss among the Cinemarati, check the Christian angle, and if none of these strike your fancy, hold on: "17 Weeks... 50 Movies." David Poland previews the summer season.
"Distribution ®evolution."Hannah Eaves distills the most crucial arguments voiced in a recent panel taking place at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, a panel not to be confused with the "Distribution Now... Distribution How?" conversation of a few days ago and mentioned here a few times. With so much in flux now, a discussion checking in on the current state of the near and distant future of distribution is likely to become a staple of film festivals and related events for years to come. It was an odd place to hold a panel entitled "Distribution ®evolution" - an adobe barracks turned state park that used to house the Mexican Army. The revolutionary spirit huddled on folding chairs in an upstairs room wasn't quite so violent as that of its long gone predecessors. Moderated by Microcinema's Joel Bachar, the panel's participants were Sonoma's take were GreenCine's Content Acquisitions Director Jonathan Marlow, filmmaker Caveh Zahedi, Wellspring's VP of Theatrical Sales Marisa Keselica, Netflix's Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos and Houston King of Goodbye Cruel Releasing, whose recent distribution projects have included Andrew Bujalski's wonderful films Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation. Bachar began the panel by asking Zahedi to tell the audience about the controversy surrounding Mark Cuban's recent decision to pull his film, I Am a Sex Addict from all Landmark cinemas operating in Comcast markets. The situation with Sex Addict and Landmark sounds confusing in a sentence and only gets more so with a paragraph or four. Zahedi's telling of the story drew murmurs of outrage from the audience, though I've yet to attend a panel in the SF Bay Area that didn't draw murmurs of outrage, no matter how bland the inspiration for them. In this case, the story has prompted some passionate online debate. The term "day and date," as it was being used in the panel, refers to the simultaneous release of a film in theaters, on DVD and via Video-on-Demand (online and through cable TV). VOD might impinge on a film's box office, but if the distributor for both channels is the same, or if the theater owner is compensated with a share of DVD/VOD sales, profits might even out. Marlow noted Cuban's interest in keeping the entire chain of distribution in his own hands (from production through to TV, DVD and theaters). Cuban has been a proponent of experimenting with DVD release percentage partnerships with theaters, but his experiments with day and date have entailed VOD only for the opening night, diminishing any potential impact on box office over a longer period of time. All parties seemed to agree that theatrical distribution is still essential to the success of a film, regardless of whether the profit is ultimately made on theatrical, DVD sales and rental or VOD. A theatrical release generally guarantees a higher level of exposure, particularly through print reviews and TV spots. King voiced concerns that day and date releasing could be cases of larger companies using smaller indie filmmakers as sacrificial lambs for data to ultimately convince studios that VOD might work for bigger films. That said, it makes sense that the model is being tried by smaller filmmakers because of the prohibitive expense of opening on a large number of screens. Using the day and date model, indies can open in two, maybe five cities and then leverage that publicity into instantaneous, nationally available VOD or DVD sales. Studios do not seem willing at this point to completely close the window between theatrical and DVD/VOD releases. They still hang on to the idea that people are willing to buy their product twice, once at the theaters and once to own. They understand the appeal of one marketing campaign over two or three, but are nervous about closing the gap completely (witness Sid Ganis's speech at the Oscars). It remains to be seen how much they really care about these other experiments, said Marlow, post-panel. The conversation then moved over to the practical side of theatrical distribution. It appears that there are rarely written agreements between distributors and theaters, which means there is no recourse available to filmmakers whose films that are pulled. Keselica sited Landmark's recent decision to pull Wellspring's Unknown White Male from a theater in New York recently, but didn't go into many details. Both Sarandos and Marlow went on to warn filmmakers off signing exclusive VOD deals with cable or online content partners. Cable companies are worried about losing subscribers, so they are aggressively pursuing exclusive agreements, even with larger content partners like PBS and HBO, said Sarandos. GreenCine has been offering VOD via the Internet for several years and Netflix has made no secret of its intent to move entirely in this direction. Sarandos sees this as a long-term goal, though; he mentioned 10 to 15 years. It soon became evident that rights issues are very murky right now. The division between the Internet and TV is one aspect, but here Marlow brought up the line between domestic and international rights, as well as the expiring rights that many documentary filmmakers have to the archival footage used in their films. In a question from the audience, one of the filmmakers behind The World According to Sesame Street asked for advice on working with educational distributors who often charge educators ten times the amount of a regular DVD sale. It seems that this whole model, too, is in flux. King encouraged filmmakers to consider self-distribution, even on a limited budget, as opposed to going through distributors for hire. Bachar touched on the concern that some filmmakers have about ruining their chances for a contract by putting their films up online for free. Sarandos seemed to disagree, noting that Netflix released Loose Change on DVD after his nephew showed him the film on MySpace. Both Marlow and Sarandos agreed that customers appreciate easy, immediate access to films over exclusivity. The most notable aspect of the panel was its seemingly unanimous support of the day and date distribution model. Amongst these folks, the debate is no longer when, it's how. That's a much tougher question - one that will probably discussed by about ten more years' worth of panels.
April 13, 2006
Shorts, 4/13.Kevin Smith has been blogging about dealing with the addiction problems of his friend, Jason Mewes. A turning point in the story: When Mewes's counselor tells Smith, "[T]he way you've gone about it hasn't worked so far, and that's because you haven't hit him with the worst thing he can imagine: being cut out of your life altogether. You've gotta let him hit rock bottom." Via Ed Champion. "Hollywood came to Boston last week," writes Brett Michel in the Phoenix. "A star-studded cast of Meryl Streep's admiring colleagues and fans converged on Brookline's Coolidge Corner Theatre to fete the actress who, with an unsurpassed 13 Oscar nominations and two wins, is among the most celebrated of all time." Sounds like a fun evening. Michel's got snippets of quips from Kevin Kline, John C Reilly, Robert Altman and, naturally one the funniest, Charlie Kaufman; Streep even "picked [Susan] Orlean up and spun her around, to excited cheers." Also: Gerald Peary on the Devil Music Ensemble accompanying the 1922 silent feature Big Stakes. Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly on Our Brand is Crisis: "Rachel Boynton's painfully timely film is actually a full-court tragedy - the sorry tale of a battle won and a war lost; of a country decimated by 500 years of colonialism and poverty; of globalization and America's losing battle to export market democracy to the developing world." MS Smith isn't exactly just wild about Luchino Visconti's Le Notti Bianche (White Nights): "On the other hand, I might be splitting hairs; as Wordsworth once wrote, we murder to dissect, and I wouldn't want my personal reservations about the film to detract from its achievements. After all, I know of few films that have so ably represented the power that loneliness has in driving people to acts of self-delusion." Jim Ridley: "Classe Tous Risques is a study in loyalty, cast with a pair of cult idols in top form.... The movie's pleasure comes from watching [Jean-Paul] Belmondo's jaunty young hood earn the fatherly respect of [Lino] Ventura's heavy, tired family man, and from watching director [Claude] Sautet invest the standard genre theatrics with swift urgency and cold pragmatism." Also in the Nashville Scene, Noel Murray on Unknown White Male. "What do kids know?" That question is more central to Magnolia than it first seems, argues John Adair. "Time and space are part of the inviolable mystery of each person on his stage; but he gives more space and more time to certain kinds of women." Alistair Macaulay considers Harold Pinter. Also in the Times Literary Supplement, Katherine Duncan-Jones: "But for the stigma of the stage, it seems, Shakespeare might have been drawn yet deeper into the centre of the Court." Dennis Cooper remembers Dutch novelist Gerard Reve, 1923 - 2006: "In the US, if his name rings a bell at all, it's likely because his novel De Vierde Man (The Fourth Man) was the basis for what is surely director Paul Verhoeven's most interesting film." Besides briefly reviewing Nathalie, I Am a Sex Addict, Sisters in Law and 4, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with director Mary Harron about The Notorious Bettie Page. New reviews: Stephanie Zacharek; Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly ("the movie's most fruitful idea - that Page's bountiful sensuality was all of a piece with her simple-minded Christian belief, at least until the worthy Senator Kefauver (played by David Strathairn at his prissy dourest) set her straight in pornography hearings - is raised and then left to hang, untended, in midair"), where it's Mark Olsen who talks with Harron... And Armond White: "Josef von Sternberg overshadows this week's sex comedies: The Notorious Bettie Page, Kinky Boots and I Am a Sex Addict. Three of Sternberg's vintage sex dramas - Morocco ('30), Blonde Venus ('32) and The Devil is a Woman ('35) - have at last just been made available on Universal DVD, and their still-provocative insights remain the greatest examples of erotic rapture and spiritual stress in American movie history. Their depth provides what you might call prophylactic protection from contemporary banalities." Also in the New York Press, Matt Zoller Seitz, who reviews Sex Addict and Basic Instinct 2 as well: "Detractors cite [Days of Heaven] as an honorable example of Malick's talent and dismiss the The New World as devolution. But a close viewing confirms that The New World is in many ways an enlargement of Days of Heaven that revisits its situations, themes and filmmaking vocabulary from a fresh vantage point." And Jennifer Merin talks with Hard Candy director David Slade. Review: Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly: "[T]he more things drag on, the more monotonous they become." Speaking of Kinky Boots, though, Susan King meets Chiwetel Ejiofor for the Los Angeles Times. MaryAnn Johanson interviews On a Clear Day director Gaby Dellal for Film & Video. So Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano was actually hanging near Michael Corleone's hideaway all that while. Tim Dowling has a bit of fun with the Italian police. Related, Timothy Garton Ash: "If everyone in the world had bought a ticket for the pleasure and entertainment that Italy has given them over the past five years, the Italian economy would be booming." Also in the Guardian: Michael Billington listens to Kevin Spacey defend his stewardship of the Old Vic and Kate Stables rounds up half a dozen online viewing tips. "Calling distribution today, 'one of the biggest challenges facing independent filmmakers,' IFP executive director Michelle Byrd introduced a panel discussion Monday night entitled, "Distribution Now... Distribution How?"," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. "Filmmakers Caveh Zahedi (director, I Am a Sex Addict), Jay Duplass (director, The Puffy Chair), and Susan Leber (producer, Down to the Bone) chatted with Filmmaker Magazine editor Scott Macaulay about the topic and offered some filmmakers some reality checks." The BBC: "One person has died in the Indian city of Bangalore after police opened fire on a violent mob mourning the death of actor Rajkumar." Also: "Leading Bollywood star Salman Khan has been freed on bail after three days in an Indian jail following his sentence for poaching rare antelope." Online browsing tip. Alvin Lustig, via BibliOdyssey. Online listening tip. Caveh Zahedi on the Leonard Lopate Show; an MP3 will be available soon after the show airs. For example, you can download yesterday's segments with documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto, photographer Howard Schatz, with Robert Klein and F Murray Abraham (promoting In Character, Actors Acting) and cultural phenom Tyler Perry right now.
Fests and events, 4/13.The Boston Phoenix's Peter Keough previews the Independent Film Festival of Boston (April 19 through 24): "[I]n just its fourth year of existence the festival has become the premier such event in this area, far eclipsing the longstanding and now virtually defunct Boston Film Festival."
Beckett at 100."Welcome to the mirthful world of Samuel Beckett, the much-worshipped, much-misunderstood Irish writer who, had he lived, would be 100 today," writes Michael Hall in today's addition to the Guardian's special section celebrating the centenary: How, then, does one begin to "get" Beckett? Why, indeed, would you bother, given his reputation for being the "poet of nothingness"? Will he depress you, drive you to drink or worse? Depending on your constitution, perhaps he will. But there's much more to this great writer than an impossibly bleak view of the universe. Honest. He's incredibly funny, for one. For the New York Times, Frank J Prial talks with the remarkable Barney Rosset, whose Grove Press was the first to publish Beckett in the US, and Jonathan Kalb reviews Grove's Centenary Edition, "more than 2000 pages, in four thick volumes... Anyone with plans to explore the work of this morbidly inspiring, comically solipsistic, nuclear-age Dante more widely at some point ought to grab this boxed set while it's available." More from Jim Knipfel in the New York Press. The Beckett on Film project has a site and The Modern Word's invaluable collection of Beckett resources includes a page linking to pieces such as the Observer's 2000 account of its making. See today's Perlentaucher for a roundup of pieces in the German papers today (though related essays have been appearing for weeks). More: The Beckett Centenary Festival in Ireland and an online exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin. Update: Magnum Photos at Slate.
April 12, 2006
Shorts, 4/12."I think the Internet has changed the perception of movies and the way people relate to movies and understand them in enormous ways," critic Godfrey Cheshire tells Jeremiah Kipp at the House Next Door in the first half of a two-part interview sparked, appropriately enough, by a two-part essay, Cheshire's "The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema," which appeared in the New York Press in 1999. "It's been interesting how that piece has stayed alive in people's minds," he says now. Cheshire and Kipp talk at length about the ways the future has and has not (and/or has not yet) happened the way he thought it would six years ago; the piece itself is rich enough, but there are links throughout as well and Matt Zoller Seitz posts yet more in a followup comment. Related online viewing tip: Cheshire on Iranian cinema. Scott Macaulay whets the appetite for the upcoming issue of Filmmaker with the opening of his interview with Hard Candy director David Slade. And Michael Guillen caught an advance screening of the film with Slade present and took lots of notes. Meanwhile, Scott Macaulay's notes on the "Distribution Now... Distribution How?" panel: "I think the audience was surprised and perhaps a tiny bit bummed out [by] the financial bleakness of it all." Jeffrey Wells: "Is Paul Greengrass's United 93 (Universal, 4.28) a knockout, a time-stopper, a mind-blower? It sure as hell is." Related, and via Movie City News: Richard Corliss's backgrounder in Time. Also related, of course: David Stout reports in the New York Times on the tape of the last 31 minutes of the real Flight 93. Elsewhere in the NYT, Patrick Healy reviews Giuliani Time: "The two-hour feature is nothing less than a full frontal assault on the civic deification of Rudolph W Giuliani that occurred in the days after Sept 11, 2001, when much of the news coverage shined a spotlight on his steady hand." Also: Nathan Lee on Sisters in Law and I Am a Sex Addict. Caveh Zahedi objects - once again, eloquently - to a perceived dig and - once again - draws a slew of comments. Filmmaker Sam Green (The Weather Underground) tells the story behind his new one, lot 63, grave c, at SF360. Cheryl Eddy talks with Gretchen Mol about The Notorious Bettie Page. Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Dennis Harvey introduces a most unusual double feature by looking into the mysterious disappearance of Chicago avant filmmaker Alex Ross. Xan Brooks: "Feted by the critics and public alike, Palestinian cinema remains a culture in exile, an industry without a home." Also in the Guardian: Charlotte Higgins peeks at portraits of actors by Stuart Pearson Wright, Geoffrey Macnab talks with Junebug director Phil Morrison and a rockumentary quiz. Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa: "Isabelle Huppert's schedule for 2006 will cross paths with three filmmakers from three different European countries, Belgium, Italy and France, respectively: Joaquim Lafosse, Alessandro Capone and Claire Denis." In the Hollywood Reporter, Martin A Grove looks ahead to the summer. Of 2007. Edward Copeland lists his choices for "the 10 best Oscar-winning best pictures ever." You can, too. The AP: "Raj Kumar, a onetime child actor who became one of south India's most beloved movie stars and later was kidnapped by a notorious bandit, died Wednesday at age 77." More in the Hindustan Times and from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In the Los Angeles Times, Claire Noland remembers Oscar-winning set designer Gretchen Rau. Online browsing tip. Book covers designed by Germano Facetti for Penguin in the 60s. Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for the Journal of Short Film. Online viewing tip #2. W's rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine." Wear earphones. Online viewing tip #3. The teaser promo for Black Dahlia, the one Ramzi Abed started working on before Brian De Palma got going on his. Scroll down a tad; possibly NSFW. Online viewing tips, round 1, all via Coudal Partners: Director Monkmus's commentary on his video for Death Cab for Cutie's "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"; Charlie White's Pink; and, writes Jim, "Link of the month, maybe of the year. Gary Butcher's animated tribute to Josef Müller Brockmann. JMB fans, do not miss this. Damn." Online viewing tips, round 2. Three need-to-know music video directors, courtesy of Blank Screen.
Fests and events, 4/12."Spring is here, and with it comes a bountiful array of new films hitting this season's festivals. While San Francisco and Tribeca share a morsel of brand new documentaries and fiction from around the world, Cannes' grand Festival International du Film (beginning May 17) offers a major banquet of new movies from both up-and-comers and world-class masters." Anthony Kaufman highlights the hell out of the new season at indieWIRE. On his blog, Kaufman expresses his misgivings about the story's presentation. Unintentionally amusing press release of the day: "'We're thrilled that Tom Cruise is bringing M:i:III to the Tribeca Film Festival and New York City,' said Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro." Commentary: Alison Willmore at the IFC Blog. Anyway, online viewing tip: Tribeca's clips. And Cinematical's most recent reviews: Christopher Campbell on Word.Life and The Big Bad Swim, Martha Fischer on Three Days in September and Karina Longworth on Metro. For Alternet, Jyllian Gunther and Kevin Greer review the highlights of the Full Frame Documentary Festival. And an online viewing tip, via the cinetrix: Full Frame's trailer. Marvelous. Boyd van Hoeij at europeanfilms.net: "The Karlovy Vary Film Festival [June 30 through July 8] announced it will showcase three retrospectives for its 41st edition: a 'Focus on British Films,' a tribute to John Huston and 'Visions of Seven,' a section that will feature seven French films all dealing with adolescence and the search for identity and a place in this world."
Shin Sang-ok, 1926 - 2006.Director Shin Sang-ok, a household name during the 1960s and 1970s, passed away at 11:39 pm Tuesday at Seoul National University Hospital due to complications following a liver transplant. [...] Shin was extremely prolific throughout his career, pulling along the fledging Korean film industry during the 1960s and 70s. He directed 68 films and produced 169, in addition to working on other productions as a cinematographer. Some of his best works include Chunhyang, Evergreen Tree, Yeonsangon and Red Scarf.
Portland Dispatch. 2.NP Thompson offers a few final impressions from the just-wrapped Longbaugh Film Festival. Hands down, the best film I saw at last weekend's Longbaugh Festival was El Inmigrante, a grippingly told non-fiction account of tensions along the US-Mexico border. Co-directed by John Sheedy, David Eckenrode and John Eckenrode, the movie would make an intriguing double bill with Tommy Lee Jones's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. A realistic counterpart to the Jones-Guillermo Arriaga fantasy of life and death in the parched Southwest, El Inmigrante retraces the events leading up to the killing of Eusebio de Haro, a migrant who came north to Texas, unable to earn a living as part of his family's firecracker-making business in San Felipe, Mexico. The directors interview at length Eusebio's soft-spoken parents and his highly animated brother Diego, a young man who has both the charm and ease in front of a camera to be a movie star. The filmmakers also take pains to establish an indelible sense of place. Near the beginning, we're shown the primitive white crosses that honor the hundreds who died in immigrating to Arizona, California and Texas. We're introduced to US Border patrolmen who defy the stereotype of law enforcement present in Three Burials; several of these men are themselves Hispanic, and they have an understated empathy with the "illegals," as they're referred to, many of whom the patrolmen come to know after repeated failed crossing attempts. Quite courageously, the Eckenrodes and Sheedy give screen time to a few participants in "Civil Homeland Security," a group of jingoistic self-appointees who, motivated in equal measures of paranoia and racism, patrol the border in their spare time. One middle-aged blond woman, a gun-toting Bush fan, makes clear her conviction that the migrants (desperately poor) could be transporting Weapons of Mass Destruction across the Texas-Mexico line. In an extended sequence of bravura editing and pacing, the filmmakers interweave a videotaped court deposition given by a survivor/witness of Eusebio's murder with recollections by Diego and his parents and, from the other side of the border, with statements from the small-town, white sheriff, LK "Buddy" Burgess, who investigated the killing. Underneath these four contrasting portraits of the same story, a percussive score rustles and pings subtly through the brush of the narrative - a masterful reconstruction of a horrific event. The credits list no fewer than five composers, including Matthew Valverde, for the original score. No matter who wrote what, the music abets the story to perfection, never overwhelming it. Later this month, El Inmigrante (still seeking a distributor) surfaces at festivals in Atlanta, Boston and Tucson; in early May, it has its European premiere in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. If you are anywhere nearby, see it. Although Sheedy and the Eckenrodes didn't have the maverick cinematographer Chris Menges at their disposal, their movie surpasses Jones's in every other respect. In my all too infrequent visits to New York, one of the consistent surprises of the city has been the music I've heard by buskers in the tube. Therefore, I was jazzed by the prospect that a pair of sibling filmmakers, Robin and Rory Muir, had directed a documentary on this very topic. But the result, the disappointing Downtown Locals, is a narrowly conceived work with lighting so dark, even in the aboveground sequences, that it obliterates color. This video should have been shot in black and white, a distinguished way to solve or at least neutralize the lighting and color problems. Among the six buskers whom the Muirs profile, only Helen, the lone woman performer, has something of consequence to say. An accordionist no longer in her youth, Helen plays a sweepingly nostalgic "La Vie en Rose" on her squeezebox. A former English major at Vassar, she speaks of having romanticized poverty in her 20s, but taking quite a different view of it in her 40s, as she's reduced to stealing napkins from Starbucks: a succinct statement on the misery of an artist's life. There's too much footage of the five men complaining about their respective lots. One of them, a gray-haired, snaggle-toothed guitar strummer who once preached on the evils of drug use, before himself choosing to shoot heroin at the age of 36, could be an emblem for why the film degenerates into a pity party for monumental bores. Alas, Alex Karpovsky's The Hole Story proved too nerdy (and too meta) to melt the ice of my elitist sensibility. But I warmed up to Julie Gustafson's Desire, a pre-Katrina study of the class divide in New Orleans. Gustafson gave video cameras to five teenage girls, and they spent half a decade filming their lives. The young women are fascinating and at times heartbreaking, as when Cassandra, who lives in the housing projects, sees her ambitions of studying to be an engineer dissipated by an unexpected pregnancy. Her mother, whose hopes rode on Cassandra, finds the news devastating: "Even when the sun was shinin', I thought it was rainin'." As entrancing as the dreams, thoughts and visions of these women are, one of the best scenes is a turnaround in which Kimeca, a high school dropout who keeps having babies, positions the camera on Gustafson, and gets the older auteur to talk about why she chose abortions over teenage motherhood. For the first time in its four-year history, the Longbaugh Festival was able to award filmmakers in three categories. I missed the best documentary recipient, Don Downey's Time in the Barrel: Death & Life in Vietnam, but it would have to be a superior work to its compadres in the winners' circle. The prize for best feature inexplicably went to September 12th, a movie as bad as its title. The winner for best short, Chris Brandt's indifferently made Closing Time, about sophomoric hi-jinks at a fast-food joint, was also a dud. If I had been voting for best short, my choice would have been Between You and Me, a four-minute dazzler from Patryk Rebisz. This stop-motion vignette of how images inside a digital camera solve a mystery absolutely towered artistically over the vast majority of what I saw at the fest. Rebisz loves color, and he uses it exquisitely, a feast for the eyes, especially coming so soon after the Downtown Locals screening. Like the Muirs, Rebisz shot in New York, but what a difference when you have a director as visually attuned and technically sophisticated as this young artist, a Polish émigré who graduated from Cooper Union. Of course, it doesn't hurt that his silent leads, Alexandra Lerman and Rasko Ristic, are cute as buttons.
April 11, 2006
Shorts, 4/11."But is there still film criticism of the Pauline Kael or James Agee caliber?" asks Thomas Logoreci, one of the producers of Caveh Zahedi's I Am a Sex Addict. And Phillip Lopate replies: "People are still very passionate about movies and film criticism is still very much alive. Geoffrey O'Brien, Gilberto Perez, James Harvey, Kent Jones and daily writers like Manohla Dargis are doing a wonderful, serious, job and bring a lot of insight. There is still a fair amount of stimulating film criticism that's being written." Also at SF360: Susan Gerhard talks with Adam Werbach about Ironweed Films (GreenCine's a partner, it should be mentioned). In the New York Times Magazine, Ian Buruma has a long profile of a "nice, quiet, reflective family man, [a] 42-year-old director who also happens to be a master of imagery at times so brutal that it is almost unbearable to watch." Park Chan-wook, naturally: "[H]e said that only a psychiatrist could explain his preoccupation with horror and violence. In fact, however, his background offers some clues." And in the paper, Dave Kehr on new DVDs ("Weird Foreign Stuff"), David Carr on the Producers-like version of Hairspray coming up and Julie Bosman: "For the Walt Disney Company, plans to make television shows available free online are a way to bolster revenue by selling two sets of advertising - TV commercials and online ads - for a single show." James Wolcott: "Even if I had been able to foresee DVDs and digital downloads back in the 70s when Fassbinder was pumping out films as fast as Joyce Carol Oates novels, I never would have reckoned that someday they would be handy checkout items - collectibles." Via Girish, Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Ten Overlooked Noirs" at DVD Beaver. Jonathan Kiefer in Maisonneuve: "Of all the arts, movies remain our boldest agents of vicarious experience and it's telling that they can't get enough of their music-making artistic counterparts." "The artist who created iconic images - and who, on the whole, would much rather have been a movie director - can be encountered directly in a sometimes pedantic, sometimes nit-picky, but oddly moving book by Callie Angell, curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, called Andy Warhol Screen Tests," writes Anthony Haden-Guest, who then proceeds to collect stories from the subjects of these films, stories that vary as widely as their personalities. Also in the Guardian and Observer:
Fests and events, 4/11."I am happy to announce that September 12th just won the Best Feature Award at the 2006 Longbaugh Film Festival in Portland, OR," writes John Touhey at Indie Features 06. "It has been a great festival, and we are very thankful to David Walker and Joe Lesher of Willamette Week, the festival directors." Non-festive but eventful: "The Hong Kong Film Awards took place [Saturday] night and Johnnie To had to rent a truck to haul his statues while Tsui Hark (nominated for 11 awards) went home with nothing." Grady Hendrix breaks down the winners. Camillo de Marco for Cineuropa: "Just ten days before the announcement of the official program of the Cannes Film Festival (May 17 - 28), hypotheses over the Italian filmmakers who could be present at the event boil down to these four names: Moretti, Bellocchio, Crialese and Rossi Stuart." Related: Nikki Finke hears that Hollywood studios will be dropping bundles of cash all up and down the Croissette. Brave New Europe, a series of new films from and about Central and Eastern Europe, is a series slated for May and June at the Pioneer Theater in NYC. "Attack of the Fifty Foot Reels!" This Thursday. Flicker NYC, via Invisible Cinema. More Tribeca reviews from Cinematical's Martha Fischer on Hammer & Tickle: The Communist Joke Book, Two Players From the Bench, 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep and Burke and Wills. Also: Scott Weinberg reviews the Danger After Dark series at this year's just-wrapped Philadelphia Film Festival. Speaking of which, Twitch's Todd reviews Black Night, Danielson: A Family Movie, Hard Candy, Next Door, Joni's Promise, Evil, Texture of Skin and 7 Virgins. IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez previews the lineup for the Independent Film Festival of Boston (April 19 through 24). Also: Brian Brooks looks ahead to the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (April 21 through 30). The Nashville Film Festival (April 20 through 26) has unveiled its lineup. Michael Guillen caught Ray Harryhausen at the San Rafael Film Center the other night.
Vilgot Sjöman, 1924 - 2006.The Swedish writer and film director Vilgot Sjöman has died at the age of 81. The Local. The writer/filmmaker who studied film at UCLA in 1955 and trained with Ingmar Bergman in the early 1960s, made over 20 films between 1962 and 1995, including a 5-part documentary following Bergman during the filming of Winter Light in 1963. But he will be remembered mostly for his 1968 pioneering quasi-documentary I Am Curious (Yellow), which became a hallmark document about Swedish society during the sexual revolution, mixing sex and politics in a totally revolutionary way. Annika Pham, Cineuropa. I don't wish to insult I Am Curious (Yellow), though I wouldn't say I like the film. It will always remain a landmark of cinema, pushing the US further away from censorship (especially in the case of something as non-threatening as sexuality). Joe Bowman, Fin de cinema.
April 10, 2006
Hong Kong Dispatch. 3.Light Sleeper editor Saul Symonds offers his take on three very different films he's caught at the Hong Kong International Film Festival: Daniel Wu's The Heavenly Kings, Susan Stroman's The Producers and Takashi Miike's Imprint. First, the "Film Surprise." It seemed everybody in Hong Kong knew that the film surprise was going to be HK heartthrob Daniel Wu's directorial debut, The Heavenly Kings, a fly-on-the-wall style documentary about the HK recording industry in general, and the boy band Alive, of which Wu was one of the four members, in particular. It was meant to be Wu's moment of glory. The auditorium was full of hysterical fans who chanted out his name every time he came on screen. But it seems the only surprise was for Wu, when the mood of the crowd turned decidedly "ugly" at some of his onscreen antics. Wu attempted to use the film to expose the ways that the voracious HK music industry uses and exploits the public and the media to create a sellable image. He shows us the equipment used in the recording of songs to edit out off-key notes. He shows management meetings where the hiring of "professional fans" is discussed. He shows that you don't need talent, only a pretty face, to sell records in HK. When the band can't sign a record deal, Wu hits upon the idea of uploading one of the band's songs onto the Internet and then leaking a story to the media claiming a record company employee to whom they had sent a demo stole the track and uploaded it. A press conference is called and news of the "robbery" hits all the HK papers. It's common knowledge that the media and celebrities use each other for their own gain - that's the rules of the game - but it seems that in making his deceit blatantly clear, Wu pissed off many editors, to put it kindly, who have now blacklisted him. Press conferences to be held with the band concerning the film were cancelled by HK papers and overwhelmingly negative reviews appeared in both the English and Chinese-language press. The boss of one prominent Chinese-language newspaper whom Wu had conned with his story has well-known Triad connections, and many now believe his film career is over. Coverage of Wu, or more exactly, positive coverage, is now verboten. Wu has become an "untouchable." The public and media have turned against him and it seems there is no turning back. What angered people most was a scene in which Wu has a speaker phone conference with a reporter, telling her about the "stolen song." The reporter in question had known Wu for three years, and did not know of his lie until she saw it in the film. She was present at the screening and burst out crying. The after-film Q&A was mostly directed at Wu with angry questions, mostly: "Why?" He merely tried to cover his tracks, claiming that he hadn't lied to anybody.
To The Producers. An open-air showing at the Tamar Site, on the largest outdoor screen in Asia. 2006 marks the last year that the HKIFF will hold outdoor screenings, and it almost didn't happen this year. I had trouble getting there when the cab driver didn't know "Tamar Site" and I couldn't remember the Cantonese name. The festival has created a carnival atmosphere. There's an inflatable play area and a hotdog concession stand, and all the films are suitable for the entire family. When it began to rain, staff handed out plastic raincoats in little bags to every member of the audience. Someone commented, "Only in Asia..." The Producers is flashier and more accomplished than the original, but seems flat somehow. The musical numbers substitute the lyrical inventiveness of old Hollywood musicals (here, for example, the actors simply repeat the same line, e.g., "We can do it!" over and over and over for the duration of the number) with Busby Berkeley-style dancing nymphs and extravagant presentation. It seemed to follow the pattern that was so successful for Rob Marshall in Chicago: 20 minutes or so of narrative with the rest of the film being extended musical numbers moving through a variety of stylistically-lit studio stages and gaining complexity as the song gained momentum. The problem is that in Chicago these numbers work for the same reason they did in the last great American musical, Bob Fosse's All That Jazz: their existence is rooted squarely in the protagonists' psyche, in their fanciful wishings and flights of imagination. In The Producers, most of the numbers take place within the reality of the film. And as these numbers don't grow organically from the needs of the story (save the final theatrical performance), but merely seem to be inserted wherever the writer was able to think up of a line of lyric, they seem tacked on, a distraction from the story proper, and hence the film seems to drag. Perhaps the most important flaw is that the Nazi jokes around which the film revolve are all rather flat. When Mel Brooks wrote and directed the original version of The Producers in 1968, making fun of Nazis was still taboo. But now we've had Hogan's Heroes and many years' worth of Nazis as a staple of comic books and American action movies. Audiences in 2006 have no problem seeing Nazis as either super-evil villains or as comic figures. In 1968, Brooks was actually able to create a stir by putting them in such an irreverent and gay movie. Susan Stroman, who directs the remake, doesn't seem aware of this, doesn't seem aware that 40-year-old social and political jokes rooted in a bygone era need some updating before being rehashed. But no one in the audience I spoke to had seen the original, and most didn't even know this film was a remake. And because of this, the best of Brooks's original jokes - an overhead shot of twirling dancers in the shape of a swastika, for example - managed to draw laughter.
The next film drew gasps, caused many to look away or bury a face in a neighbor's chest, aroused discomfort, nausea... And some, as expected, walked out. Those who know the work of prolific Japanese auteur Takeshi Miike will not be surprised that these are a few of the reactions to his latest film. And though I have stomached many of his films, and though I'd braced myself for the displays of onscreen cruelty he seems so adept at filming, I was still not prepared for Imprint, his segment in the 13-part US cable series, Masters of Horror, which also includes works from John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Tobe Hooper. The story of the film is of little note, but has to do with an American who has been searching many years for the Japanese girl, named Komomo, he promised to take to America with him - and who was sold into prostitution in his absence. On an island somewhere deep in Japan, an island inhabited by sprits and ghosts of evil, the American spends the night with a whore who claims to have known the girl he's looking for; she promises to tell him how she died. But most who left the theater afterwards weren't talking about how or why the girl died - they were talking about what happened to her before she died. In a Miike film, death doesn't come quickly, and he builds this narrative on the premise that pain can exist only so long as someone is alive. The centerpiece of the film is the torture of Komomo at the hands of the prostitutes she works with, after she is mistakenly accused of stealing a jade ring from the mistress of the brothel. Miike begins slowly and calmly. A lighted stick of incense is touched for what seems an age to the sensitive skin of Komomo's armpit. Miike makes sure we hear her screams and feel her pain. Then he ups the ante. The single stick of incense is replaced by two handfuls that are simultaneously jabbed into both her armpits. She collapses in pain. Is the torture over? Not nearly... With a horribly lecherous grin, one of the prostitutes takes out a sewing needle. Miike understands that he can make this scene all the more unsettling by showing not only the extent to which Komomo's torturers enjoy what they are doing, but also the immense pleasure they derive from every scream of pain. The sewing needle is slowly pushed under one of Komomo's fingernails. Miike shows it piercing the flesh, the blood gathering under her cracked nail and doesn't cut away until the needle is fully under the nail. Then. Another needle is slowly pulled out and we get the sinking feeling the scene will not be over until every fingernail is pierced... The girl I saw the film with had her head buried in my shoulder the entire time, eyes tightly shut. When all the fingers were pierced I told her it was over and she could look. But I should have remembered that, with Miike, if the character is still alive, their pain can only increase. Komomo is turned on her back. Another needle is pulled out and slowly dragged across her face. The unpleasant question many seemed to be asking as they squirmed in their seats was: Where will it be stuck? Into the cheek? Under the eyelid? Perhaps the ear? Then Komomo's mouth is opened and our questions are answered: the needle is stuck deep into her gum, between her two front teeth. And yes, more needles are pulled out, one by one, until her mouth is also turned into a pin cushion... I have described this scene is some detail because afterwards it seemed to have been the only scene in the film that anyone spoke of. Its nastiness overshadowed everything else that happened, everything else that was seen. All were in agreement that no one but Miike could present such a sadistic death and with such penetrating acuteness. But the social and political implications that are seen in some of his other films, even the depth of character, seemed absent in Imprint. There seemed little to say about the film on a thematic level. Miike, it seemed, was presenting horror purely for the sake of horror. Perhaps we could criticize him for this, as I initially did after the screening. But then I remembered that the Masters of Horror series was designed to be 13 classic late-nite tale-from-the-crypt-style horror stories that would give you the shivers before turning off the lights and going to bed. They are meant to be in the same vein as the sort of stories that freaked you out as a kid. Well, Imprint did indeed seem to freak out many people, and I certainly didn't have an easy sleep that night, either, but rather one full of bizarre and worrying dream-images. Perhaps as adults we just need a greater jolt, the kind of jolt Imprint gave, to achieve the same sort of simple fright we got as kids.
Undercurrent. 1.FIPRESCI, the international federation of film critics, has posted the first issue of its new bimonthly publication, Undercurrent, edited by Chris Fujuiwara, who offers here a close reading and analysis of Tsai Ming-liang's The Wayward Cloud, with contributing editors Adrian Martin, who riffs here on Cameron Crowe, and Belinda van de Graaf. Speaking of contributing, you can, too; see the column on the left for the call. The ingredients, overall, aren't surprising - reviews, a festival report, an interview and so on - but the names are impressive and immediately recognizable. Adrian Martin introduces a special section on favorite short films with brief plaudits by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Derek Malcolm, Gabe Klinger, Andy Rector and himself. The other largish item here is a roundtable discussion, "How Film Critics Work," chaired by Roslyn Petelin and including Martin, Julie Rigg, Klaus Eder and Richard Kuipers. Miguel Marías previews an as yet technically nonexistent new work by José Luis Guerín, who "he has found again the true essence of cinema, its forgotten, invisible, taken-for-granted secret: that there are in fact no real images of movement, but only stills, a succession of photographs whose succession creates the illusion of movement." "Les Amants réguliers may be the best film I've seen this year, writes Gabe Klinger, who also interviews sound designer Leslie Shatz who's been tuning into online radio and the Prelinger archives a lot lately: "That's gold." Josep Torrell remembers film critic Barthélemy Amengual, 1919 - 2005.
Seoul Dispatch. 2.Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell follows up on his first dispatch from the Women's Film Festival in Seoul, running through April 14. Of the films screening at the 8th edition of the Women's Film Festival in Seoul, I was most anxious to see Yeo Kyun-dong's Out to the World (1994) and Bang Eun-jin's debut, Princess Aurora (2004). Yeo's film lived up to my expectations, whereas Bang's, well, from what I'd been told, I didn't go in with expectations too high, so I can't say I was disappointed. But I'll start with Princess Aurora. Two cops are on the case of a serial killer who utilizes a wide-range of methods (scissors, skewers, plaster, etc) and leaves princess stickers at each killing site. As the case unfolds, one cop (played by veteran Moon Sung-keun of Road to the Racetrack and Jealousy is My Middle Name) begins to sense he knows the killer personally, as well as the personal reasons for the killings. Deciding on a slasher flick as your first film is a bold move, bypassing the genres women filmmakers might feel pressured to direct. All the aesthetics we expect of such a film are in place, the sound of piercing and squishing, the violent split-second imagery, the blood splattering everywhere, even onto the screen. Unfortunately, even Bang's years of acting experience in films such as Park Chul-soo's 301/302 and Push! Push! don't keep Bang from a common first effort mistake, trying to pack too much in. As the revenge killings cumulate, they seem to thrust themselves into the narrative rather than flowing naturally, even after we look back upon the bigger picture with what we learn at the end. And the scene at the end, when the cops close in, has the serial killer exhibiting her psychosis in a way that comes off more humorous than horrifying. Still, I don't see the film as a waste of time, just not an exemplary film in the genre. Whereas, considering the South Korean road movies I've seen, Out to the World is the best by far. Two prisoners (Moon Sung-keun again, along with Lee Kyoung-young) being transferred on a bus to another prison find themselves wrapped up in an escape planned by other prisoners. As a result, they reluctantly end up on the road together where they eventually pick up a third party, a woman (Shim Hye-jin of To the Starry Island, The Gingko Bed and, more recently, Acacia) who compares their antics to those of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, even soundtracking her fantasy sequence with the little ditty so popular from that film. They proceed to steal various forms of transportation, at one point taking a US Army truck that allows them to speed through a toll booth with no intentions of paying and with ten tons of political subtext, on their way towards a destination unknown with great humor and psychological effect. Out to the World is screening here as part of a forum on presentations of women in representative films from the "Korean New Wave," so I will limit my discussion of the film to that focus. The films representing the "Korean New Wave" at WFFIS along with Out to the World are two by Park Kwang-su, Black Republic (1990) and Berlin Report (1991) and Lee Chang-dong's Green Fish (1997). With the exception of Berlin Report, Shim Hye-jin plays the lead female in each of these films. I do not have Kyung Hyun Kim's book The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema on hand to check myself, but if I recall correctly, he had noted how the female character in Out to the World is quite different from other female characters of the time, and the programmers here are in agreement, as am I. Shim's character in this film speaks her mind, demands respect, and gets it from her two escaped prisoner companions. They value her opinion. They ask her for more information about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; they seek her guidance on how to use a cell phone (having been in jail so long the new technology is bizarre to them); and she drives them everywhere, including while engaged in that most masculine of tropes, a car chase. And they never have sex! Not that there's anything wrong with having sex, it's just that having sex is so often required in films of this sort it's nice to see someone stray from such plotlines. When we see their platonic bodies lying in bed, Shim bookended by both escaped prisoners, we witness a lovingly sweet, caring scene of equal outsiders finding each other inside. Rare for the Korean New Wave, Out to the World allows a female character a voice of her own in concert with the remasculinizing males. And it is women's film festivals like this one that give a voice to groups of women who otherwise struggle to get themselves heard by the men in government and business. Two other films I caught exemplify the necessity of such festivals to provide such a forum. Lee Hye-ran's We Are Not Defeated! was one of two documentaries that received the Ock Rang Award this year. Supported by the progressive Ock Rang Cultural Foundation, the award seeks to provide an "incubator for women's film professionals" by providing "a stable production system for women documentary filmmakers." The other winner this year was Kyoung-soon's Shocking Family. Created in conjunction with Feminist Video Activism, We Are Not Defeated! documents the words and experiences of the union members who attempted to address the multiple oppressive measures (only provided 15 minutes for lunch, expected to work over 12 hours a day, stuck in harmful environmental conditions, prohibited from taking bathroom breaks, etc) of the Dong-il Textile Company whose upper management prospered during the "Economic Miracle" of the 1970s in South Korea under the dictatorship of President Park Jung-hee. (As I mentioned in my Busan report last year, the transliteration of Korean words and names has changed, so I'm keeping with the transliteration provided in WFFIS's program. Park Jung-hee is more commonly known in the west as Park Chung-hee.) The union at this textile factory was under company control and run by men. Since women were over two-thirds of the employees under the jurisdiction of the union, these women united to elect the first women union president. Immediate successes in implementing such changes as 30-minute lunches, one day off a month, better ventilation, etc, were followed by harsh tactics to repress the female union members, eventually firing and blacklisting 124 members, keeping them from obtaining work at any other factories. At the height of this oppression was the infamous "Shit-Basket Affair," in which male co-workers infiltrated a women's meeting and smothered them with human feces mixed with ash, in some cases force-feeding them the feces as well. These are the kinds of things you really hope that humans never stoop to, but it's films like these that force us not to forget they do. Not only was this horrible act overseen by the Dong-il Textile Company, but Park Jung-hee's government colluded as well. In recent years the government has admitted its participation but the women have yet to see their demands fully met - they want their damn jobs back! Hence the title of this film. These women refuse to relent on their demands and continue to pressure the company and the government that have willingly caused such great harm to their citizenry. Considering all they went through and the relentless strength they've shown as they've persevered, these women, all in their 50s now, just might get to return to the shop floor completely vindicated. Jang Hee-sun's Friendly & Harmonious is not a documentary, but more an industrial, mental hygiene, activist mélange of fictional portrayals based on composites of incidents of sexual harassment. In four separate episodes, we follow a young girl facing the lack of support in her first job as she is attacked by a male customer; a pregnant contract worker in her first trimester who is relentlessly pursued for sexual favors by her boss; a woman who barely survives an attempted rape by a co-worker at a company outing; and two women who intervene to assist their initially reluctant manager in making their department a place women wouldn't want to flee from. A co-production with the Korean Women Workers Association, the film has an intent to educate about employment policies along with implementing social change, so there are moments in each episode in which worker's rights issues are addressed (filing sexual harassment charges, maternity leave, etc), but for the most part, these seem to nicely flow into the events and dialogue of the narrative. Jang confessed during the Q&A that she tends to be pessimistic and reluctantly went along with suggestions to have the first and last episodes end more optimistically, but each ending is still open-ended, so one can bring their own interpretation to each of them. Particularly well-executed is the final short, which demonstrates the adverse effects a sexist work environment has on South Korean businesses: losing well-qualified women to western firms where their skills and knowledge are more valued. The third episode utilizes black and white for the present and color for the past, a nice switcheroo on how that temporal method is often used. The result is a similar effect as Michel Brault's use of black and white for the snowy streets of Montreal against the color used for the prison scenes of Les Ordres (1974), reminding us that the most horrible moments of our lives provide memories with the most vivid colors due to the connection the moment has with intense emotions, however painful those emotions might be. In the third episode, we see the stolen young adulthood the sexual attack caused, since her present is lived less fully after what happened in her bright past. It is fair to say that South Korea is as homophobic as the town I grew up in. But as I came out of my town with an agenda to work on my homophobia, so has a packed house of South Koreans at Angelina Maccarone's German-Austrian co-production Unveiled, demonstrated by the warm applause the crowd provided during the credits. Unveiled begins with a woman unveiling as the plane crosses Iranian airspace. We quickly learn Fariba (played wonderfully by Jasmin Tabatabai) isn't one to follow Iranian rules for women when she goes to the airplane bathroom, douses her veil in water, covers the smoke detector and takes a long drag on her cigarette. This isn't the only thing she'll be dragging. Escaping Iran because she has been outed as a lesbian and having lied to the immigration officers about this, Fariba is worried she will be forced to return. So when an Iranian refugee she befriended kills himself, she takes up his identity. If the actor isn't up for the task in these films, such a plot could easily fail, but Jasmin Tabatabai is excellent here. Although the racists amongst her are presented a little caricatured at times, the film is nicely paced and ends powerfully. This is a film I plan to see again with friends if it makes its way to one of the number of San Francisco festivals that I hope are queuing up to screen it. As for racists, Amma Asante's A Way of Life presents the ways of life amongst four differently racist residents of a Welsh town. Leigh-Anne is a single-mother on the dole who is having trouble negotiating her and her baby's needs, resulting in the electricity often being cut off. She is somewhat taken care of by her brother who fancies the Turkish girl next door (although his crew thinks she's half-Pakistani) and his friends, the contraband-cigarette-dealing Robbie and the aspiring footballer who hopes to erase his Pakistani half by changing his last name to "Hughes." The film is a well-rounded demonstration of racism as transference, for each character has developed personal reasons for racism that you understand without ever justifying. It is hard to watch such horrible people who commit a most horrible act, but Asante had me empathizing with their plight at moments while still condemning the mis-associations and faulty logic they throw around them. Unlike what Lakshmi Chaudhry found supported in Crash, A Way of Life demonstrates the kettle of White Solidarity on the verge of boiling over when simultaneous institutional changes are not made to address the various racisms within each individual. I leave today after rushing to Dongdaemun to snag some Korean Baseball League caps for my pops and my bro and a football jersey for myself - South Korean entrepreneurs have yet to realize that many of us travelers want such things since there is practically only one place to get Korean baseball and football paraphrenalia and apparently nowhere to get any shirts with Hangul lettering on them - and then returning to the festival to catch Park Kwang-su's Black Republic. Then it's straight to a cab to the airport. I'm hoping my "Love Motel" will allow me to keep my luggage with them to collect after the sreening so I don't have to lug it in with me. This tiny anxiety over my luggage has me thinking about what caught my eye yesterday in the tinier program for WFFIS. The festival provides nursery services with a fully accredited staff to enable mothers and other care-givers to catch as many of the screenings as they desire. I'm hoping this is done at other festivals, but I can't say I've ever come across such services in a festival program before [Quick note: the Berlinale introduced a similar service this year - dwh.]. I can?'t say that I have ever looked for such services. Such demonstrates the catchphrase of this year's festival as much as any of the films presented - "See the World through Women's Eyes!"
Calabasas Dispatch. 7.Jerry Lentz wraps his coverage of Method Fest with two quick video reports, the first particularly fun for director Colin Drobnis's remarks as he accepts the Maverick Award for Bangkok...
April 9, 2006
Seoul Dispatch. 1.Koreanfilm.org contributor Adam Hartzell sends a first dispatch from the Women's Film Festival in Seoul, running through April 14. The 8th edition of the Women's Film Festival in Seoul (WFFIS) comes at an auspicious time with the recent nomination of Han Myung-sook as South Korea's first female Prime Minister. (In South Korea, the Prime Minister is the head of the cabinet and is second in line only to the President.) So it's only appropriate that a film with a legal theme opens the festival. That would be Sisters in Law, the powerful documentary by Kim Longinotto and Florence Ayisi which follows two Cameroonian sisters, prosecutor Vera Ngassa and judge Beatrice Ntuba, and their tireless work in the Cameroon legal system. Judge Ntuba is particularly inspiring with her equal parts toughness and empathy properly spread across all the vast responsibilities she has. There is nothing schizophrenic about this temperament switch. It is obvious how someone so precious with her son, so compassionate with a woman prisoner she has sent to jail, can also be so stern and demanding in the courtroom. I saw Sisters in Law as part of a screening of African films at the Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley, so instead of attending the festival's opening ceremony, I headed downtown with my Koreanfilm.org compatriots, Darcy Paquet and Kyu Hyun Kim, to share witness to the second month of a marathon of one-person protests against the announced changes in the screen quota in South Korea. Oh Yoon-hong was the singular representative on this day of the ongoing protest, standing behind a sign that read "The Power of Korean Cinema" alluding to her most representative work, The Power of Kangwon Province. Actor Ahn Sung-ki (Chilsu and Mansu, White Badge, Arahan) is credited as the brainchild behind this creative series of consecutive protests that luminaries of South Korean cinema have participated in, such as Taegukgi's Jang Dong-gun (whose protest had to be relocated after his fans mobbed him), Choi Min-shik of Old Boy (who returned his medal of honor to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) and Old Boy's director, Park Chan-wook (who took his turn in the protest while in Berlin during that film festival). South Korean law permits permit-less protests if only one person is administering the protest. So for 146 days, the number of days required for theatres to screen South Korean films before it is scheduled to be downgraded to 73 days on July 1st, a different advocate in the South Korean film community will stand alone together in front of the Kyobo Insurance building in downtown Seoul. I spoke with Oh while three photographers snapped and one cameraman filmed our conversation. Although our conversation was stilted somewhat by translation difficulties, she made it clear how seriously she and her fellow artists/activists take this issue. Although South Korean films dominate the multiplexes here, reaching over 75 percent of the box office take in January, she does not feel enough time has passed for South Korean cinema to fully develop an industry worthy of withstanding the marketing pressure that films from the United States can bring upon all nations. As someone who focuses a great deal on the cinema from South Korea, it's obvious where my sympathies lie, so I won't pretend I'm a disinterested party. I see the benefit to myself (not financially, believe me, but more in a humanistic way, since I write about all this at a significant financial loss) and to cinema as a whole by allowing a space free from the dog-eat-dog world of power-privileged capitalism desired by most of those with disproportionate financial advantages. However, I did pose to Oh this question: "How do you respond to those who claim that the screen quota only ends up benefiting the South Korean blockbusters such as Taegukgi and Silmido or other mainstream fair such as the Marrying The Mafias and My Boss, My Ad Nauseums rather than the very films that she herself performs in, such as Popee and Green Chair?" Oh admitted that she wasn't clear if the present screen quota does indeed help those films. Here is what needs to be looked into further, to see what would allow for the greatest good for the widest cinema. Unfortunately, the discussion of the screen quota is too often stuck in a fantasy of laissez-faire capitalism that even those who advocate for it don't want. Case in point: I type this report out in a South Korean coffeehouse chain near my "Love Motel" fully packed with porn. This coffeehouse chain is almost a complete replica of another chain from the United States with only minor adjustments in spelling and the color-coding of it's brand. Companies would rather have government assistance in prohibiting such trademark/patent/copyright infringements than the anything-goes free-for-all that a truly laissez-faire capitalism would allow. Such capitalist exploits would equally allow the consumption that Love Motel's wares, prostitution and other variants of the sex industry, which at least the advocates of the God of the Free Market in the United States seek to prohibit their Financial God from freely marketing. (As for me, the writer trying to save money, I stay in greatly cheaper Love Motels than many people do in South Korea for the sole pleasures of a place to shower and a place to sleep while traveling. Ain't no lovin' going on in my Love Motel room, if you must know.) So even though those who claim to want free markets actually want certain restraints on what a truly free market would allow. Politics is partly the discussion of what should and shouldn't be allowed to prosper in our societies as we negotiate towards establishing agreed upon goals. One of my goals is a vibrant cinema, and I don't see a multiplex full of the business decisions that bring us Yours, Mine and Ours representing the film desires of Oh, me, or others all that well. So Oh is clear that she is unclear how the screen quota helps her indie spirit, but she only sees trouble ahead if the present quota is maintained. Which brings me back to my reason for being here, the 8th edition of the Women's Film Festival in Seoul. Amongst all the questions posed about the screen quota, significant consideration should be made regarding how the screen quota might have helped South Korea establish a significant number of renowned female filmmakers, especially when compared to other Asian countries. Directors such as Jeong Jae-eun (Take Care of My Cat), Im Soon-rye (Waikiki Brothers), Park Chan-ok (Jealousy is My Middle Name) and others emerging every year are a significant part of the compelling work coming out of South Korea for the past ten years. This year's festival has four major focuses outside of the general compiling of shorts and features directed by women throughout the world. Along with Sisters in Law, this year's festival will feature the greatest number of African films at any festival ever before in South Korea. A series of films by female documentary pioneers will be shown, such as raw footage from the 1968 protest of the Miss American pageant. The image of Korean women in a selection of films from the "Korean New Wave" will be investigated, focusing particularly on Shim Hye-jin's portrayals in Black Republic (Park Kwang-su, 1990), Out To The World (Yeo Kyun-dong, 1994), and Green Fish (Lee Chang-dong, 1996). The work of Dutch director and screenwriter Marleen Gorris, best known for her Oscar winning Antonia's Line (1995), is being featured as well. During the first full day of the festival, I saw two of her earlier works, her debut, A Question of Silence (1982), and her second feature, Broken Mirrors (1984). Besides being completely entranced by the 80s-esque, synthesizer-knob-tweaking soundtrack, I was quite impressed with these two films as greater wholes, especially A Question of Silence. A psychiatrist is brought in to a trial as a formality to declare the accused insane. Yet in speaking with and listening to these three women, all strangers until the day they pummelled to death a male boutique owner, the psychiatrist begins to realize there was something else going on in the actions of these women. Bit by bit, we learn more about these women; the plot is perfectly paced. By taking the "you have the right to remain silent" to an extreme, we witness how silence doesn't speak more than words but allows for dignity in the face of the contempt of court exhibited, at times, by courts themselves. Several in the packed house at the screening I attended seemed to appreciate the statement, for the applause began early on with the credits. A sizable crowd attended the 11 am screening of Broken Mirrors as well. (I would learn from regulars that most screenings are well-attended.) Broken Mirrors provides a glimpse into the lives of a group of prostitutes who work in a brothel in Amsterdam. Although each verges on a stereotype (the money-grubber, the saint, the ditzy blonde, etc), each character is more fleshed out and un-cliched than such categories often allow. A parallel story runs along with the ins and outs of the brothel business involving a suburban mother who is kidnapped by a serial killer. Presenting the killer to us from behind, we obviously begin to question every john that enters the brothel, making the serial killer every john. Those still resistant to the benefits of feminisms will quickly label both Broken Mirrors and A Question of Silence man-hating films, but such requires one to ignore the milk-drinking, god-like voice of the god-fearing older man in the shack of Broken Mirrors and the efforts by the male defense attorney that are deflected by the same legal protocol the women laugh in the farcical face of. As for me, I'm happy to see the 80s were more fulfilling culturally than I remember them as a teenager. (Speaking of the 80s, the early Pat Benatar haircuts are back amongst the teenage girls here in South Korea, along with a re-fashioning of the mullet, a haircut that refuses to die.) Ignorant of Gorris's films prior to this visit, I'm greatful to film festivals like WFFIS for bringing to my attention exemplary works that have slipped out of my radar love until now. But just as film festivals present the gems, there are also the rough stones that are far from accomplished works. Sandwiched in the middle of the two great films I saw was Malie, the directing debut of Taiwanese actress Joyce H Cheng. We follow an anchorwoman as she deals with the criticisms of her mother that continue to nag her in the form of an ethereal presence. Although moments of the film might resonate with those who have had similar fights with their mothers as those experienced by Malie (Vicky Chen), the film has too many faults to resonate more universally. The color of the print was horrid and the sound was poorly done as well, once even having a cell phone continue ringing as the character had it up to her ear. The filter placed upon the ghostly mother was not consistently utilized when she walked around the set, and the double and triple takes were a poor attempt at an artfilm aesthetic. Add to this a few lazy references to Jung by dropping the cover of one of his books on us, and you get an idea of how this film was trying too hard while accomplishing less. So, unless you have an interest in the topic of reconciling one's caustic relationship with family members who have passed away, I'd recommend passing this film on the way to another if it comes to a festival near, or, in my case, not so near you.
Durham Dispatch. 3.The cinetrix spots the award-winners at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Full Frame may be the only film festival where you can travel from a screening to the awards ceremony in a New Orleans-style second line parade. The ebullient boys of the TBC Brass Band, subjects of To Be Continued (by far the best film in the Katrina Southern sidebar, in your humble correspondent's opinion), led the audience from their film out into the sunlight of the Carolina Theatre plaza. Because each film screens just once, I managed to see only two of the winners before the prizes were announced. Never fails. But do look for these films on screens large and small near you, or get to where they're playing. The big news is the Grand Jury Prize winner, Iraq in Fragments, which was projected in a luminous 35mm print to a sold-out house on Friday afternoon. Special mention went to A Lion in the House, which follows the lives of young cancer patients, their families, and their caretakers over several years. Coproducer/director Julia Reichert was herself diagnosed with cancer in January and took the stage with her chemo-bald head hidden under a cap. See it in the United States on PBS June 21st. The President's Award for student filmmaking went to Eva Weber's The Intimacy of Strangers [site], a witty short that eavesdropped on Londoners' cell phone calls. The Inspiration Award, recognizing films for their treatment of world religions and spirituality, was granted to My Country, My Country, a portrait of Iraqi physician Dr Riyadh. EXIT, about volunteers at a Swiss assisted-suicide organization, received an honorable mention. The Women in Leadership Award was given to Smiling in a War Zone. Filmmaker Simone Aaberg Kaern took to the skies to teach a young schoolgirl in Kabul who wanted to be a fighter pilot how to fly a plane. Director Sandhya Suri won The Charles E Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award for I for India, her examination of the South Asian immigrant experience in Britain. Author Walter Mosley again emptied his pockets, giving $5,000 cash money to Workingman's Death and Sir! No Sir!, winners of the Seeds of War Award. The Working Films Award, which develops a film's outreach plan through distribution, broadcast and beyond, went to Rain in a Dry Land, which followed Somali refugee families in America. Best Short this year was awarded to No Umbrella: Election Day in the City, a look at voting irregularities in Cleveland during the 2004 election. The Center for Documentary Studies lauded the amazing Refugee All Stars, about a band of displaced Sierra Leonean musicians who leave the camps in neighboring Guinea for their homes in Freetown. And the Audience Award went to The Trials of Darryl Hunt, about a wrongfully convicted man cleared after 10 years thanks to DNA testing.
Portland Dispatch. 1.NP Thompson sends a first round of impressions from the Longbaugh Film Festival, wrapping tonight in Portland. As a relative newcomer to these precincts, I kept wondering who or what is a Longbaugh. This mini-festival, executive director Joe Lesher tells me, "takes its name from Harry Longbaugh, the infamous outlaw from the Old West, better known as the Sundance Kid. When we chose the name for the fest, we saw it as the return of a film festival to champion independent cinema." The implication being that Park City in January has left that mission in the powdered snow. Of the movies I've caught up to this point, the DIY aesthetic runs through them all, for better or for worse. Demented and exhilarating, Danny Leiner's The Great New Wonderful stands out as the best of these. By turns a comedy or a starkly serious film, with undertones of a thriller in either extremity, the movie interlaces five sets of characters in New York near the first anniversary of 9/11. No one speaks about the terrorist attack - they don't have to: it's there in the intimations of violence not far below the surface. Tony Shalhoub gives a brilliant, inspired comic performance as an almost gleefully incompetent psychiatrist who can never remember anyone's name. Maggie Gyllenhaal, customarily splendid, and Edie Falco, nervous and twitchy in her silver business suit, are something to behold as embittered rival designers of gourmet cakes. (The cakes, multi-tiered monstrosities frosted in shades of steel blue, are nearly as repellent as the women's attitudes.) The movie also sports a couple of prominent sugar addicts, Charlie (Billy Donner) and Sandie (Jim Gaffigan). And Olympia Dukakis, in a mostly silent role, is spot-on as a frustrated Coney Island hausfrau. The editor, Robert Frazen, is a master at cutting scenes to show how internalized tension builds outward. There are so many spectacular little moments: a brief shot of Gyllenhaal's male assistant preening and pantomiming a cake presentation while her back is turned; a luxuriant cross-fade of Dukakis and a friend listening to opera on a waterfront balcony - the aria, "Una furtiva lagrima," continues as the scene shifts to young Charlie terrorizing his classmates; and a disturbing nighttime sequence of a yuppie mom observing her son in an oval mirror as he acts out his deranged fantasies via an alligator puppet and a gorilla mask. Structurally, it reminds me of 13 Conversations About One Thing, but Leiner's film is riskier and infinitely better. I've no idea whether The Great New Wonderful has a distribution deal. It should. The documentary So Much So Fast, co-directed by Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, traces, over the course of five years, the physical disintegration of a handsome stud who loses his upward mobility to ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. Determined to have as normal a life as possible, Stephen Heywood marries his sweetheart Wendy and they have a fetchingly beautiful baby named Alexander. The best, most emotionally stirring scenes in the film belong to father and son. When Stephen holds infant Alex in his lap, one is nearly as helpless as the other. They make sounds and faces, and they gurgle at each other. In a later sequence, as Alex is growing and healthy, sporting a head of dark red hair and bright blue eyes, he lies on his parents' bed, learning, just barely, to crawl, and seated across the room from him at a short, yet impassable distance is his diurnally diminishing dad. I don't think I've seen this captured so well on film before: the uncanny, silent communiqués between parent and child, the sense of knowing and understanding that goes beyond speech or touch. Earlier, in a scene at church in which Alex and another newborn cousin are baptized together, Alex cries and cries as the water splashes on his head, and there is both great tenderness and a touch of cosmic absurdity here: the woman pastor officiating dabs the baby's head dry and she kisses him, as if to reassure - it's over now. In its own way, the moment addresses the discomfort and incomprehension with which we all scream through life. Ascher tends to narrate too much, and I wish he and Jordan had pursued questions of class. The moneyed Heywoods can afford to fight an incurable illness, whereas most of us wouldn't be able to, and I cringed at the casual mention that "insurance covered" Stephen's $26,000 motorized wheelchair. Still, the filmmakers cleverly sidestep the usual ending to terminal disease movies: in their boldest move, they dare to leave the narrative threads we've been watching unresolved. Tough-minded but never exploitative, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol depicts the fates in store for Tibetan volunteers who traverse remote wilderness to protect rare antelopes from poachers. The saviors on patrol are perfectly human. So are the villains - poor farmers who need the antelope skins to survive economically. Director Lu Chuan's movie is to be celebrated both for the harsh splendor of the wild it deftly captures, and for seeing the issue of poaching vs preservation from both sides, not in black and white. Duobuji is excellent as the head of the unpaid patrol who, confronted with the innate decency of the enemy, comes to wonder what he's fighting for. This thoughtful film has a true-to-life ambiguity that's sure to rattle the cages of animal rights activists. Here's what I most responded to in Hank Rogerson's Shakespeare Behind Bars: the care that the director takes in shaping confessions to the camera. When the soft-spoken inmate Hal, who has the mellowest of personas, plus a sweeping blond mane and genteel Southern accent to match, makes his devastating revelation, you can feel the audience energy change. Hal, who's playing Prospero in a staging of The Tempest at a Kentucky prison, seems to be the most erudite person around - at first, I couldn't quite believe he was in jail. He pleads near the end of the film, "This can't be what my life is about." I've rarely heard so much disappointment packed into a single phrase. Swiftly moving on, there's no a-business like Horror Business, like no business I know, and while I can't say that everything about it is appealing, Christopher Garetano's documentary about the gore-soaked auteurs of the DIY horror genre isn't altogether displeasing. Garetano would have a stronger film if he pushed past the obvious, jettisoned the old canards he's collected (i.e., Fangoria editor Tony Timpone's claim that graphically violent films are "therapeutic, because they're preparing us for the end") and focus more directly on the moviemakers he meets. The two most interesting people on-screen are David Stagnari and John Goras. Although Garetano makes the typical documentary mistake of cutting away from his subjects just as they've said something of note, he does take pains to frame them compellingly. The medium shots of Goras, as he sits next to a fireplace, making one engagingly cryptic pronouncement after another, are especially good. Goras is the director of an animated film called Ghost Tank wherein skeletons wage war on one another before going after George W Bush. Toward the end of Horror Business, Garetano pulls in closer to Goras for the first time, and we see that the blazing fire by his side has completely extinguished. More importantly, Garetano introduces us to the work of Stagnari, who exhibits signs of being a major talent. Stagnari, born in 1966, has only a single short film, Catharsis, to his credit. In the first clip from it, there's a level of artistry and craftsmanship in evidence that's completely absent from the work of the other filmmakers profiled. The black and white Catharsis opens with a low angle tracking shot slowly creeping toward a man sitting alone, lost in thought, in a booth at a diner, apparently empty except for him, and on the soundtrack spins Mildred Bailey's sublime 1930s recording of "Rockin' Chair," one of the great pop masterpieces of self-pity. Say, before we go on with the show, did you hear the one about the Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Kleptomaniacs? They were caught stealing more than that extra bow. Ba-dum-pum-pum-pa-chih! And now for the bombs. Our troika of must-avoids this weekend consists of Lonesome Jim, Elephant Shoes, and (decidedly the worst of the bunch) Last Stop for Paul. Nearly ten years ago, the wonderful actor Steve Buscemi (I've adored him ever since Parting Glances) directed a terrific, little slice of seedy life movie called Trees Lounge, which saw a tomboyish, pre-sexpot Chloë Sevigny convincingly portray angst-y wistfulness. A decade on, Buscemi returns to the director's chair with a terrible little movie, Lonesome Jim, which belongs to the same species of film as Garden State or Elizabethtown, that is to say the prolonged adolescence genre, though without the comparative gloss of those pictures. In this case, it's Casey Affleck as the affectless anti-hero of the title, who returns to his podunk hometown after a not-long-enough absence. The movie plays like a failed sitcom pilot in slow motion, and Buscemi's direction (more to the point, the lack thereof) renders even old pros such as Seymour Cassel and Mary Kay Place bland and colorless. From Montreal hails Elephant Shoes, written, produced, and directed by the curiously monikered Christos Sourligas. This two-character movie (no best friends to provide welcome or unwelcome distractions) divides a one-night stand into various phases: flirtation, awkwardness, denial, romance, courtship, jealousy and so on. Shoes stretches the limits of the meet-cute genre with long takes of a guy and a girl poised in the center of the frame, jabbering away. On the sidewalk outside his apartment comes The Girl: lost, American, and seeking her way, map in hand. Who should saunter up but The Guy: not lost, Canadian, and quite possibly literate to judge from the stack of books he carries in hand. Directions to the train station turn into an invite to his upstairs flat. And why not? Greg Shamie, as the swarthy-complexioned Manny, looks handsome in his red silk shirt, and Stacie Morgain Lewis, as Alex, is plain yet not unappealing in her hideous summer tourist clothes. They vow not to have sex. After a few establishing interior shots (the movie is well lit by cinematographer Luc Montpellier), the guy and girl banter uninterestingly while standing in his small kitchen, then they passionately kiss. Ere long, Manny takes Alex (anally, of course) as they continue to stand there. Which begs the question: Don't straight couples have missionary position sex in the movies anymore? Doesn't anyone take it lying down? At least this bout of anal sex in the kitchen isn't accompanied by one of the participants simultaneously watching TV, a la the Barry Pepper-January Jones coupling in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. That, however, is all I can say for Elephant Shoes. By the time it reaches phases five, courtship, which takes place in bed as Manny and Alex bray bad pop tunes at each other (neither can sing), I had had quite enough of this overbearing, unbelievable, self-indulgent, unconvincing, and fantastically boring "romance." Worst still, there's Last Stop for Paul, directed by and starring Neil Mandt as Charlie. No writer is credited in the press notes, although one need not wonder why for long. From the get-go, this rapidly cut, loudly over-narrated, handheld shot, Casio-scored travelogue comes across as some kind of implausible, international episode of The Real World. It begins as Charlie recounts a poorly planned excursion to Moscow, one that climaxes, if that is the word, in projectile urinating on Red Square. After that, the video follows a pair of buttoned-down cubicle buddies, their corporate haircuts perfectly moussed, who escape the office to travel 'round the world, taking with them the ashes of a dead best friend to scatter. When the movie tries to be funny, it isn't. There's more to anarchic spirit than fast edits and crude jokes; it requires a certain alchemy, a sleight of hand, to make bad taste spin 'round in the brain like the bubbles in a glass of champagne. Mandt isn't a Farrelly, though I gather, from the projectile bleeding that issues from a dentist's chair, he'd certainly like to be. By contrast, at a funeral sequence, the "serious" dialogue sent me into high-pitched giggles. Here's a sample. Grieving friend, looking at a photograph of the deceased: "Man, he sure loved life." Grieving dad: "Ya got that right!" Mandt's incessant voice-over, delivered at the rat-a-tat pace of a machine gun, patters under every scene. He keeps coming at us like a salesman hawking his wares: he doesn't know when to stop telling stories that no sane person would want to hear, and his saga of globetrotting Ugly Americans is as morally offensive as it is amateurish. And with that, I'm off to discover more films. Today and tomorrow at Longbaugh are jam-packed with the promise of new love, and I'm especially looking forward to Alex Karpovsky's highly acclaimed The Hole Story, about which Matt Zoller Seitz has raved, and to Julie Gustafson's New Orleans documentary, Desire.
Durham Dispatch. 2.The cinetrix sends in another dispatch from the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. When people look back at the 2006 festival, this may be the year that Full Frame got too big. Even with an additional venue in the mix - the sizable Civic Center - there have been sellouts and shutouts at more than just the marquee events. This is good news for the filmmakers but has proved frustrating for attendees and otherwise patient staff alike. Naturally, the opening night selection, Sketches of Frank Gehry was a big draw, with first-time doc director/longtime Hollywood luminary Sydney Pollack present for a post-film Q&A with Alan Berliner. A production for PBS's American Masters series, Sketches beguiles with a winning subject in garrulous Gehry, but its ace in the hole is Gehry's psychoanalyst, the now 97-year-old Dr Milton Wexler. Sharp as a tack, Wexler states frankly that he's turned away Gehry wannabes because "I can open up the flood gates, but if there's no flood...." The film tries to capture the beauty of sites like Bilbao, but it suffers from its reliance on not-so-notable architecture experts Barry Diller and Mike Ovitz. Still, it should bring in some pledge dollars for public television after its theatrical run in May. Bearded eminence not-yet-grise Ken Burns was also in effect, screening a work-in-progress episode of his forthcoming PBS series on the second world war. Word on the street was the well-attended screening showed more of what we've come to expect from Burns's style of filmmaking. He's come up with amazing unseen footage from 1944, but then, we expect nothing less from a guy with his resources - I mean, he's Ken Burns. Durham resident Branford Marsalis already can be counted on to turn out to support a good cause whenever one beckons, but he's a New Orleans boy at heart. So he and brother Ellis Marsalis III joined filmmaker St Clair Bourne for a Southern sidebar presentation of Bourne's 1989 doc New Orleans Brass and to promote the Musicians Village housing complex, which Marsalis initiated with Habitat for Humanity on land in New Orleans. To celebrate the recent ground-breaking, a short set by the Branford Marsalis Quartet capped the program, setting a Harry Connick, Jr composition, "Such Love," next to New Orleans standards "Basin Street Blues," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" and a swinging "Bourbon Street Parade." Soon after, a small second line parade broke out in the plaza in front of the Carolina Theatre. There, the high school student members of the TBC Brass Band brought a little flavor from New Orleans' seventh and ninth wards to promote To Be Continued, the doc about them that screens Sunday. The cinetrix predicts a big turnout for the boys tomorrow: Festival goers were already queueing up for the evening's Center Frame, Al Franken: God Spoke when the concert began. Other flicks with a bit of buzz include James Longley's beautifully shot three-parter, Iraq in Fragments, and the charming Micha X Peled's powerful examination of globalization's effects on teenage Chinese peasant girls who work long hours for pennies in the Lifeng blue jean factory, China Blue. The racy clips and cheeky animation in Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which debuted at Sundance, got plenty of late-night laffs Friday, while fellow Park City alum Lauren Greenfield's eating disorders doc Thin moved viewers to tears Saturday afternoon. Producer-director Rebecca Snedeker was also all smiles after her examination of the white supremacism still present in high society Mardi Gras balls, By Invitation Only, sold out. James D Scurlock's Maxed Out indicted our addiction to the consumer credit system in the United States, which destroys lives and families and drives debtors to desperate measures, including suicide. And Alan Berliner invited filmgoers to stay up late with Wide Awake, his exploration of the science of sleep and the grim reality of insomnia. Speaking of sleep, is it only Saturday? Is it already Saturday? Grab a seating pass, there's more to come.
I Am a Sex Addict.We've posted a review and we've followed the brouhaha (comments on that entry are closed due to a spam onslaught; but you can comment here, if you like). The fallout seems to be dissipating; what appear to be wrap-up exchanges between all parties involved are posted in the comments to a recent entry at Caveh Zahedi's blog. Now then. To the film itself...
© Dennis Woo. Susan Gerhard knows Amanda Field pretty well. "The long-suffering girlfriend in [Caveh] Zahedi's year-long video diary of 1999, In the Bathtub of the World, Field plays a new part in Zahedi's eyebrow-raising latest, I Am a Sex Addict. She is his wife." At SF360, Gerhard sits down with the couple to talk through their traumas and triumphs. James Rocchi at Cinematical: "Zahedi's film essentially takes his own life, skins it, pins it to the table with a careful eye and then cuts directly to the meat of the matter; it's less a documentary than it is a dissection. What's worthy of note is that not only is the knifework on display elegant, but it's also good humored - and never applied unnecessarily to bystanders." In the SF Weekly, Jim Ridley calls I Am a Sex Addict "a funny, inventive, ground-shifting hybrid of essay film, mea culpa, and pathological real-life romantic farce [which] aims for truth by wrecking its own verisimilitude." "[I]ntermittently grueling and funny," says Jeffrey M Anderson.
April 8, 2006
Weekend shorts.Richard Armstrong has one of the most unusual cinemaniac stories you're ever likely to read. Also at Flickhead: Ray Young on Winter Soldier: "These ex-soldiers mirror who and what we are, what primitive ugliness lurks inside our minds waiting to be conditioned and groomed and cut loose." Dan Glaister's profile of John Sinno, who runs Arab Film Distribution (you may remember that Hannah Eaves met him in December), may have a news hook, the just-wrapped Seattle Arab & Iranian Film Festival, but it begins with an alarming story of his being detained by US immigration officials last month. For nine hours. Because he had a box of DVDs in his trunk. "It was pretty scary," Sinno tells Glaister. "'I said to them, look, I'm being racially profiled. Let's admit it and move on.' He hesitates. 'I don't know if it's a good idea to talk about it. We live in touchy times.'" Also in the Guardian:
Weekend fests and events."If you live in or truly love San Francisco, you've seen The Times of Harvey Milk," writes Johnny Ray Huston: Rob Epstein's 1984 movie is one of the best nonfiction features ever made. It's also one of the greatest movies about this city. Only time will tell whether Stanley Nelson's new documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, is a work of similar importance, but the fact that I'm even mentioning it in the same context as Epstein's movie says something about the reserved precision of its journalistic reasoning and the overwhelming emotional force of its finale. That's a grabber, and what follows is doubly intriguing. The San Francisco Bay Guardian has invited former SF mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez to do the interview with Nelson. Then, Cheryl Eddy reviews the doc to be featured at the San Francisco International Film Festival (April - May): "Why the tragedy happened may never be explained, but seldom before has the how of Jonestown been so clearly delineated." Michael Guillen previews In Bed and SFIFF's Latino lineup. Back in the SFBG: The Outsider, Nicholas Jarecki's doc on James Toback, misses the mark, argues Dennis Harvey; the real reason "reason he's been worth following for three decades or so is precisely because his work is often obnoxious, crackpot, and uneven at best and ouch-bad at worst. Toback's moments of garishly questionable judgment are sometimes world-class ones you can't forget." The Roxie is screening the doc along with a whole series of Toback's films. Miriam Wolf at SF360: "Aside from setting up a roster of wine events in honor of the festival, Chris Sawyer, co-wine-steward at the Carneros Bistro, has created wine pairings to go with each of the more than 70 films in this year's [Sonoma Valley Film Festival, through tomorrow]." For the Chicago Reader, Fred Camper previews a series of early Warhol films screening at the Museum of Contemporary Art this weekend. The lineup for Austin's Best of QT Fest (April 24 through 30) has been, well, lined up. At Cinema Strikes Back, Blake offers his takes on the titles; at Dumb Distraction, Micah offers his. Philadelphia Film Festival rolls on through April 11 and the Philadelphia City Paper offers its takes on the lineup for the second week. A bit more from James Houston in the Philadelphia Weekly, where someone reviews Wassup Rockers: "Just as I was gearing up to take a critical hatchet to everything [Larry Clark] stands for, he had to go and make a good movie." At Twitch, Todd unleashes a slew of reviews from the fest: The King, Kinky Boots, Kissed By Winter and It's Only Talk. Like Saul Symonds, Grady Hendrix is in Hong Kong, capturing the atmo and reviewing - so far - Heavenly Kings, Election 2, Black Night and Imprint. The Films of Elia Kazan is a series running at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through April 29. "It seems to me that those who are quick to judge Kazan should think twice," argues Kent Jones. Also in the LA Weekly, Hazel-Dawn Dumpert previews Janet Gaynor: A Centennial Celebration (at the UCLA Film and Television Archive through April 28): "[A] large part of Gaynor's appeal was her capacity to embody a spunky living doll to whom it was safe to ascribe adult passions." And Scott Foundas takes a last look at City of Lights, City of Angels, wrapping on Sunday. Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times: "The Beverly Hills Film Festival runs through Sunday, offering international films dealing with the effects of war as well as a variety of comedies and dramas." Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix: "The riveting young Barbara Stanwyck who stars in Night Nurse (1931), Baby Face, and Ladies They Talk About (both 1933) - three potboilers the Brattle Theatre has billed over the next week - is an embodiment of that blessedly uncorseted but sadly brief era just before Hollywood was battened down by the self-censoring Hays (Production) Code in 1934." Reverse Shot Presents is a weeklong festival at Makor in NYC, April 22 through 30, thrown by the excellent online publication. Metro's Richard von Busack previews a Ronald Coleman festival at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, a retrospective "bringing around a wealth of rarely shown films" through April, May and on into June. Cinematical's Tribeca coverage begins:
Weekend sounds.For the Independent, Chris Sullivan talks with Hans Zimmer, Rolfe Kent, Harry Gregson Williams, David Holmes, Marc Evans and Clive Langer about what makes a great soundtrack. In the Hollywood Reporter, Sheigh Crabtree meets Terence Blanchard, who's composed several scores for Spike Lee and talks about tweaking "Chaiyya Chaiyya" for Inside Man. Edward Copeland, no Blanchard fan himself: "One thing I don't think I ever consciously realized about Dog Day Afternoon and Network (what a helluva one-two punch Lumet produced in 1975 and 1976) is that neither film has a musical score. Both are so involving, they don't need one to emphasize points." Bill Gibron writes up a list at PopMatters: "[A] great many of the classics in the exploitation genre contain misguided musical numbers; songs guaranteed to get both your toes tapping and your gag reflex responding with equal aplomb. Since there are so many examples to choose from, I will concentrate on the crème de la crap, the evil earworms that, once heard, are destined to dull your brain forever." Online listening tip.
Durham Dispatch. 1.Ladies and gentlemen, the cinetrix. Thanks (or rather, no thanks) to Deutsche Telekom, she's delayed a day, but as you can imagine, I'm more than pleased to be able to open her series of dispatches from Full Frame now. Greetings from Realitywood, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, where one of the lead stories this year is, of course, Katrina. The festival acknowledges its Durham, NC, location through its Southern sidebar programming every year, so it came as no surprise that organizers moved quickly to invite docs that deal with the hurricane and its aftermath. Only seven months after the storm, it may simply be too soon to expect traditional narrative arcs in stories about people who are still living without electricity, their homes still covered with mud and mold. The first feature, New Orleans Music in Exile, tracks the musicians, including luminaries Kermit Ruffins, Irma Thomas, Eddie Bo, Cyril Neville and Dr John, who have scattered to Austin, Houston, and elsewhere since the storm. The filmmakers hit their Nola music marks, including everyone from Bill Taylor of the Tipitina's Foundation to general manager David Freeman of community radio station WWOZ and even Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in his Mardi Gras Indian finery. The movie tries too hard to appeal to catholic tastes by featuring everyone from the Subdudes to Cowboy Mouth. As it stands, some of the performances could be cut to tighten up the film, which feels overlong. Even so, the music has incredible power. Midway through footage of Marcia Ball's performing Randy Newman's "Louisiana" at the Grant Street Dancehall, the man seated next to me began to weep silently. This morning's program, two shorts and a feature, went beyond the music. Still Standing examines the wreckage of filmmaker Paola Mendoza's Colombian grandmother's home in Waveland, Mississippi, and the difficulties non-English speakers and the elderly face navigating the insurance claim morass as they try to rebuild. After Katrina: Rebuilding St. Bernard's Parish shows an entire working-class community in extremis. Still living in a FEMA tent city in December, the citizens vow to rebuild, but the EPA still can't answer their questions about the effects of the one-million-gallon oil leak at nearby Murphy Oil, which mixed with the water that flooded their homes. As one frustrated but hopeful community organizer explains, New Orleans is about more than the Super Bowl and the French Quarter: "We're Americans. We're part of America..." Desert Bayou makes it clear that even disaster can't change that fact, for good or ill. The feature follows the diaspora of 582 primarily African-American evacuees who boarded a JetBlue flight, destination unknown, only to be informed mid-flight they were headed to Salt Lake City, Utah: "And that's when everybody fell out." There are some great moments, but the filmmakers have about three stories here. Is it about racism in America? The footage of radio rabbi Shmuley Boteach, dropped from Salt Lake stations after he tried to question why evacuees were segregated on a National Guard base outside town, suggests it is. Is it about Curtis and Clifford and their families, who work with the Red Cross and try to make a go of settling in their new state, despite its distance from good gumbo? Or is it about the effect of these men's past crack and past convictions on their future chances in their new home, which only surfaces in the third act? There's a hell of a movie to be found in the editing room. As Cyril Neville observes in Music in Exile, New Orleans is not the Deep South, it's the northernmost point in the Caribbean. At the midpoint of the Katrina program, the results resemble, appropriately enough, something of a jambalaya, but the roux of circumstance might not be enough to bring all these tastes together. More to come.
Calabasas Dispatch. 6.Jerry Lentz's latest dispatch from the Method Fest is another fun one, but it's a particularly fun one, featuring director, producer, writer and actor DB Sweeney (The Cutting Edge) talking about his new film, Dirt Nap, a comedy starring himself, John C McGinley, Paul Hipp, Moira Kelly, Ed Harris, the list goes on. Clips from the movie, anecdotes from the shoot and an uncanned laugh track from an audience sounding very much like they're having a genuinely good time. Nine minutes in all, a bit of a load, but: It's the weekend. Go, watch, enjoy.
April 7, 2006
WGA's 101.The 101 Greatest Screenplays, as selected by the Writers Guild of America, is more than a list; it's a fun browse at the WGA site. The top ten on the full list, for example, from Casablanca through The Godfather II, have pages of their own with factoids and links to sample pages (PDF). Plus, a quiz, "Find the MacGuffin!," and a Harper's Index-like run-down of numbers on the list. Once you're through with all that (well, the weekend's coming up), read a bit more on all 101 at Premiere.
April 6, 2006
Independent Weekly. Full Frame."If 9/11 was the singular catalyzing event of this young American century, Katrina may well have been the singular paralyzing event." The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival opens in Durham, NC today and runs through Sunday and, as David Fellerath notes in the opener for the Independent Weekly's cover package, more than a few - for that matter, more than a few dozen documentaries have been made or are in the works treating some aspect of the Katrina disaster. 50 were submitted to Full Frame; the fest has chosen nine for its "Southern Sidebar: Katrina." Fellerath: "What is most striking about these early Katrina documentaries is the portrayal of a bewildering lack of order - our inability to respond effectively to an act of God (who is probably huffing on the fumes of our smoldering fuels). The nation shuddered under the sickening blow of Katrina, and yet, seven months later, we have committed only a fraction of the resources to rebuilding the Gulf Coast region that we have devoted to our ongoing campaign in the Persian Gulf, 7,150 miles away." With over 100 films screening in four days, attendees may well appreciate a guide to the highlights. Neil Morris provides one, and the snapshot of the current doc scene will interest even those who can't be there. The staff contributes more in this vein. Grayson Currin spotlights a few with a very personal voice. There's a preview of Al Franken: God Spoke; and Fellerath's brief remembrance of Garrett Scott.
Frieze. 97 + 98.Well, Jan Verwoert's piece on Jonas Mekas, tantalizingly flagged on the cover of the new issue of Frieze, doesn't seem to be online, but there's plenty worth clicking through to anyway in Issues 97 and 98, beginning with Robert Storr's argument that "the time has come for video to return to its technological roots in order to find its wider public." That doesn't sound like a very exciting read, but start at the beginning and you'll see. Also:
Calabasas Dispatch. 5.In Jerry Lentz's latest dispatch from Method Fest (through tomorrow), we get to sample the best of the introduction and Q&A that sandwiched the screening of Niagara Motel, a comedy starring, among others, Anna Friel, Wendy Crewson, Caroline Dhavernas, Craig Ferguson, Kevin Pollack - and Tom Barnett, who appears in the Q&A to crack jokes along with director Gary Yates (pictured). Once again, head over to Jerry's to watch, and while you're there, listen to his interview with Beverly Gray, author of Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Life. Watch more Jerry Lentz.
Hong Kong Dispatch. 2.Light Sleeper editor Saul Symonds follows up on his first dispatch from the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Following a long festival tradition, the HKIFF opened Tuesday night with two opening night films, Johnny To's Election 2 and Pang Ho-cheung's Isabella. Election 2 had all the qualities of an "opening night" film. It was highly anticipated and played to a packed house (tickets sold out within two hours of going for sale online); it was overtly "artistic," it was brutal and, therefore, controversial, and it stirred up strong reactions in most who were present. Both opening night films had political undercurrents of direct relevance to the HK audience. Those in Isabella were more direct. The Macau handover of 1999 is a direct reference to the HK handover, and perhaps the only way Pang could directly deal with an issue that is still painful for many Hong Kongers. Some locals I spoke to had picked up on the film's themes of rejection in the story of a daughter finding and getting to know the man she believes to be her father, saying that's how they felt when the British "abandoned" them. Some complained that Election 2 was politically simplistic - but the film doesn't aim to be a political analysis, only a political metaphor for the loss of freedom that HK now faces, and the sense of entrapment some people feel, under PRC rule. Even though the HK triads in the film are brutal and lawless, they still have a system of "election" to choose their chairman. But when they move into China for business reasons, this "election" system the Triads hold so highly is the first thing that is weeded out. Election 2 doesn't really have a conclusion. The main character, trapped by Chinese officials, made their pawn, stares out at the vast wilderness about to become a Chinese shopping mall and contemplates his bleak future. What Election 2 makes clear is that Johnny To excels in the cinematic presentation of violence. He gives it such a suffocatingly dismal atmosphere that you are left with a bitter taste in your mouth. A person is quietly asked to lie down inside a coffin and then we see the lid calmly being screwed shut. A man is tied up, quietly stuffed inside a duffel bag and thrown overboard. To doesn't highlight the brutality with music or with screams. Characters struggle, but are usually overwhelmed by greater numbers and must face their fate. This is not the violence of Scorsese that goes off with fireworks and a blasting score. And the mallet scene in Election 2 makes Scorsese's controversial hammer-to-hand or head-in-vice treatment in Casino seem somewhat more... tame. To's suffocating atmosphere is highlighted by his use of shadows. The greater portion of the film takes place in darkened rooms, where the characters are only half visible. Though the physical darkness of the scenes may be a common stylistic touch, To manages to give the shadows a heaviness and a richness that could be compared to the paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn. To isn't using the shadows to conceal the characters, he's using them to reveal the characters. This is the dark heart of Triad life; this is the violence that is as natural as breathing; this is the fear of being the next hit or the decision to kill your best friend, which is an everyday part of their lives. And though To wants to show this life as ugly, at the same time, he wants to show that the loss of Triad culture in the face of Mainland officials is the loss of something idiosyncratically Hong Kong, and by extension, he is referring to the danger HK faces of loosing its own culture, its identity, and perhaps more importantly for To, the democratic freedom it came to enjoy under colonial rule, as it faces an increasingly uncertain future with Mainland China.
April 5, 2006
ND/NF.Call it a trend, a motif, a cluster, call it what you like, but David D'Arcy's found one at the New Directors/New Films series, which wrapped on Sunday. To read his interview with Twelve and Holding (and L.I.E.) director Michael Cuesta, click right here. Trend-spotting almost always determines what gets written about film festivals. All you need to identify a trend is one example of something that seems to be new (to you, at least), although two examples can make a judgment appear more valid, three examples even more so. Four examples, and then you're the trend. Let's leave it to others to discern which trends were pivotal (that seems to be the word these days) at New Directors/New Films, a series organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Still, if certain subjects are visited again and again by young filmmakers, maybe we ought to pay attention. One of those subjects is childhood, as seen not just in Michael Cuesta's perceptive look at suburban kids, Twelve and Holding, but also in films set in the gentrifying barrio of Los Angeles, among gangs in the slums of Manila, and with immigrant vendors on the streets of Manhattan. All of the kids in Cuesta's drama are 12-years-old. So is the overtly effeminate protagonist of The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, a first film by Auraeus Soito. Maxi is a kid who dresses in girl's clothes, an eccentricity that his thug father and brothers seem to have accepted long before the story of the film begins. Many, but not all in the claustrophobic alleys filmed by Auraeus Soito have reached the same level of tolerance. When a wholesome rookie cop appears just in time to save Maxi from a beating by local toughs, we get a sense of what's coming - a showdown with the idealistic cop determined to rid the neighborhood of crime on one side, and the neighborhood criminals, Maxi's family, on the other. We enter an old story - allegiance to a new friend/father who represents the law versus loyalty to one's family. Shot in apartments and cramped alleys, the film sometimes looks like a guerilla documentary - all the better in linking the characters to their circumstances. This isn't a Filipino Los Olvidados, in which all children born in slums get sucked down a sewer of squalor, although we can assume that most of the children in The Blossoming do. It isn't a romantic comedy, either, although I'll leave those details for you to discover from the film. "Blossoming" may be the crucial word here. "Education" or "apprenticeship" might be the term other cultures would prefer for the kind of learning experiences that bring a character closer to maturity - and Maxi is still far away from it in this film. The rosy music and flowery pastels of the end credits give another clue. Sentimentality and kitsch are part of the film palette here as much as they are part of Maxi's creation of himself, and the film is a celebration of his survival, given what else is in his environment. Quinceañera, which heaped up the praise at Sundance and at the Berlinale, is another twist on the coming of age story. Here Magdalena, a stern minister's daughter in the gentrifying barrio of LA, is scheming to get a Hummer limo for her 15th birthday coming out party, when she learns that she is pregnant by her boyfriend, whose mother does not want her son's future hurt by premature fatherhood. Things are even worse for Carlos, Magdalena's brother, a tough guy who happens to be gay, which gets him thrown out of the house, but who catches the eye of a couple gentrifying the neighborhood. Even worse is the fate of their uncle, who is evicted from a cabin owned by the homesteading gringo gay couple. I'm sure the film was made as a salute to the folk traditions of Mexican-Americans in LA. You can see that on PBS. Its real strength is its unsentimental depiction of the pressures facing these families, whether it's teenagers trying to fit in or old people thrown onto the street. Think of Quinceañera when politicians talk about immigrants getting a "free ride." Another chilling survival story is Man Push Cart, set mostly on the streets of lower Manhattan. Never mind that the main character, Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi) is a Pakistani Muslim encased in a food wagon (his own private tank?) not far from where the World Trade Center used to be. Once a star singer in Pakistan, Ahmad is now broke, his wife has died from causes that are never made clear, and her angry parents are keeping Ahmad from seeing his son. The visual Sisyphean image of pushing the cart through fierce traffic before dawn reminds you, among other things, of where your coffee and bagels come from. Someone's always toiling for your convenience, a crucial thing to remember as our politicians debate ways to make immigrants pay for the privilege to work in the United States. In a telling moment in Man Push Cart, a friend who has been crushed by he city tells Ahmed of another Pakistani who has finally escaped to a dream job, the manager of a Dunkin Donuts outlet in Albany. To make matters worse, Ahmad is also sacrificing to buy a cart, which means dealing with Pakistani con-men who are vying to exploit him. Just as bad are Pakistani yuppies in New York with their Rolexes and condos, offering see-through "friendships" to the food vendor who was famous back home. Director Ramin Bahrani (an Iranian who grew up in North Carolina) conveys the grim weight of that experience, where people and things rush through the frame horizontally as Ahmad's life - leveraged on the cart, odd jobs and credit from "friends" - seems to stand still, and then cracks.
Roger Corman at 80.On Monday, Tim Lucas, announcing "Roger Week" at his Video Watchblog, called for a Blog-a-Thon to celebrate the 80th birthday of Roger Corman. Which is today. Of course, that left "about as much time as Roger had to make The Little Shop of Horrors." But! It's the least we can all do for a man who has given us 50 years of entertainment... the man who infused exploitation with social commentary... the man who kept Vincent Price and Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre working when no one else would... the man who discovered everybody from Jack Nicholson to James Cameron to Jennifer Love Hewitt... the man who made Dick Miller a star... the man who sent Angie Dickinson the script for Big Bad Mama... the man, when all is said and done, who changed the face of Hollywood. Well, you wouldn't believe the turnout. Sixteen participants last time I checked, and counting, all on such short notice and all the names and links and such gathered, with a little help from Dennis Cozzalio, right here. Related: "What They Learned From Roger Corman," Beverly Gray in MovieMaker; "Roger Corman on New World Pictures: An Interview from 1974," Gary Morris in Bright Lights Film Journal; "Roger Corman," Wheeler Winston Dixon in Senses of Cinema; and a profile in Salon by Greg Villepique.
4."Like trying to comprehend that you just got punched in the gut, watching Ilya Khrzhanovsky's 4 requires that you live with it for a while in order to let the feeling sink in," writes Laureen Kaminsky, leading off this week's Reverse Shot round at indieWIRE. "This film does not imitate life, it creates it - it lives and breathes a little different from anything you've seen before, and yet the result is somehow painfully recognizable."
April 4, 2006
Caveh, Comcast and Cuban.Perhaps you followed the link in the introduction to Hannah Eaves's review of Caveh Zahedi's I Am a Sex Addict and saw that the film was yanked from the Landmark theater in Berkeley where it was to open on Friday. When Caveh contacted the theater, he says he was told, "Sorry, Mr Mark Cuban decided he didn't want this particular film playing at his movie theater, because IFC Films is distributing it, and they have a video-on-demand deal with Comcast, which hasn't been very nice to him." Updated through 4/6. To back up: Mark Cuban is the co-founder, with Todd Wagner, of 2929 Entertainment, which purchased the Landmark Theatre Corporation some time back, and of HDNet (see the Wikipedia entry for Cuban for a fuller - and fascinating - business history). This triad of companies, you'll remember, allowed for a day-and-date release of Steven Soderbergh's Bubble in theaters, on DVD and on TV, at least for those with access to HDNet, a high-def network. Therein lies Cuban's problem with Comcast, but we'll get to that. Yesterday, Caveh wrote an open letter to Cuban, protesting his decision to pull Sex Addict from the Landmark theater - politely, respectfully yet firmly. In the comments to that entry, Cuban replied, "Let's set the record straight here. The folks at IFC knew last month where I stood on this and why." Also polite, respectful yet firm, Cuban states his bottom line: Tell IFC not to show the film on Comcast and your film will screen in Berkeley on Friday. Caveh responded with another open letter, this one ostensibly to Comcast but essentially an open reply to Cuban: "[D]o you really think that pulling my film from your theaters is going to persuade Comcast to carry HDNet?" Other letters have followed, including one to Soderbergh. At this point, Jonathan Marlow, head of Content Acquisitions at GreenCine, where Caveh has made many of his previous films available as video-on-demand titles, wrote to Caveh, among other things, "Mark Cuban is a hypocrite. At the SXSW panel honoring Landmark, business partner Todd Wagner discussed how day-and-date is the future of the film industry. Evidently, this only applies to their day-and-date platform." In the meantime, as Balboa Theater programmer Gary Meyer notes in a comment below, the Elmwood Theatre will open Sex Addict in Berkeley on Friday. So, for those keeping score: Caveh more or less comes out even, but the stakes have been high. Every screening of Sex Addict counts a helleva lot more for him than it does for Mark Cuban. As he wrote on Saturday, "The film's box office will determine not only the fate of the film, but my own fate as well. Whether it will become easier to make films, or harder." With Bay Area publicity already rolling, that Berkeley date meant loads and his concern over possibly losing it has been more than understandable. Mark Cuban, on the other hand, may now be weighing the cost of what was, after all, a very petty move. He's strived to create an impression of himself and his companies as not only the future of film distribution but also as benefactors to the indie scene. Going by the comments posted to Caveh's entries at his indieWIRE-hosted blog, whacking an indie filmmaker to serve his own ends is not playing well. At all. Update, 4/5: Eugene Hernandez lays out the arguments of all parties involved at indieWIRE. Mark Cuban, Hannah Eaves, Jonathan Marlow and Gary Meyer elaborate on theirs in the comments below. Updates, 4/6: Caveh Zahedi: 1, 2 and 3. More commentary from JD Ashcroft, Brian Darr, Eugene Hernandez and Anthony Kaufman and, in the comments below, Jonathan Marlow.
Calabasas Dispatch. 4.For his latest dispatch from the ongoing Method Fest (through Friday), Jerry Lentz fearlessly treks away from the theaters to the outer reaches of Calabasas, California, and meets those who keep the streets just outside the residence of film industry retirees safe from harm. Again, view the adventure at Jerry's place.
Primer roundup.Just up at the main site is the latest addition to our collection of primers, "Pre-Code Hollywood," written by San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle, author of Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood and Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man. Related online listening tip: Movies With Mick LaSalle, a regular podcast. Other recent additions to the collection, if you missed those little red New!s over on the side there, are "TV Box Sets," from the Vidiots of TeeVee (and if you missed their April Fool's do-over, for heaven's sake, don't miss it now), "Road Movies," by Mix contributing editor Heather Johnson, and "Wuxia," by Mark Pollard, founder of the excellent Kung Fu Cinema.
Hong Kong Dispatch. 1.Light Sleeper editor Saul Symonds sends in a first dispatch from the 30th Hong Kong International Film Festival, which runs through April 19. Despite the problems incurred in the lead up to the 30th HKIFF - budget difficulties, problems securing the Tamar site for the outdoor screenings, last minute screening changes - they managed to successfully kick-off last night (April 3) with a gala dinner honoring Hong Kong's action choreographers. And tonight the festival proper begins with opening night films Election 2 and Isabella. Five of Hong Kong's most distinguished choreographers were honored at the event: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo-ping, Lau Kar-leung and Ching Siu-tung. Other guests included HK cinema notables such as Tsui Hark and Peter Chan. The entire event, save for a few brief remarks, was in Cantonese, and those scattered Westerners in the audience were either dozing off or getting a running commentary from the person next to them. Some felt that the event carried a certain bittersweet tinge. Present were the men whose blood and sweat literally built up Hong Kong cinema into one of the world's most vibrant and productive industries, and which in turn had great influence on American action films (seen most clearly in such productions as Kill Bill and The Matrix, which hired Yuen Woo-ping to direct the fight sequences), and now Hong Kong cinema is dying, and everything they've worked towards is being sadly swept away. Many of the choreographers present commented that whilst they were honored by the event, it was the first time in their long and distinguished careers that their achievements had really been recognized on such a large scale. The festival will also pay tribute to action choreographers through a program of 20 titles covering a wide spectrum of films from this genre, including the works of King Hu, Bruce Lee, Chang Cheh and Corey Yuen as well as the five honored choreographers. This event represents the best of Hong Kong's action cinema of the past few decades. A special tribute catalogue featuring interviews with the major choreographers about their careers and influences, as well as critical and historical essays, will also be published by the festival.
I Am a Sex Addict. Review.Hannah Eaves, who's recently interviewed James Longley and Eugene Jarecki, reviews Caveh Zahedi's latest, I Am a Sex Addict. In the meantime, all of us at GreenCine are glad to see a dialogue struck up between Caveh and Mark Cuban and hope to see Sex Addict screening in Berkeley on Friday. Update: Gary Meyer, programmer at the Balboa Theater, where Sex Addict will be opening in San Francisco on Friday, passes along good news and a sharp word in a comment below. Very pleased to hear that the Elmwood will open the film in Berkeley. Subversion in cinema starts when the theatre darkens and the screen lights up. For the cinema is a place of magic where psychological and environmental factors combine to create an openness to wonder and suggestion, an unlocking of the unconscious. It is a shrine at which modern ritual rooted in atavistic memories and subconscious desires are acted out in darkness and seclusion from the outer world. Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art Most of Caveh Zahedi's docu-drama films start in the same way, with an on-screen quote and Caveh's personal statement addressed directly to the camera. There's a quote above, and a personal statement to follow. I knew Caveh before I saw any of his feature-length films. I had seen clips here and there, and Tripping with Caveh in its entirely, and I was wary. Arriving at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January of 2005, Jonathan Marlow and I had already decided to see Sex Addict there, where it later became a hit with audiences. I was nervous to find that Caveh and his wife Mandy were at the theater because I expected I would really dislike his film. It's incredibly hard to lie to Caveh because the only thing he really seems to demand, even in an acquaintance, is honesty. In conversation he's very quick to catch you in a half-truth, and he doesn't let go. Towards the end of the first section of Sex Addict, which deals with Caveh's first marriage and his initial entry into prostitute addiction, he says, "I had hoped that being completely honest would bring us closer together. But I had seriously miscalculated." For me, and I can say this with certainty now that I've seen almost all of his films, this is a key comment on Caveh's relationship with his audience. There are people out there who really appreciate honesty. But there are also people who prefer to delve into the unconscious via the mediation of style. Why do we like film noir so much? Or Alfred Hitchcock? Or Dalí? In subversive art, sometimes it's the form that's subverted, sometimes the content itself is subversive, and sometimes it's both. But purely confessional films can be especially trying, regardless of whether or not the confessor is being entirely honest. Many of the confessional/diary films of New York in the late 60s and 70s, for example, seem in retrospect ego-driven and self-indulgent. Caveh's films thus far have been confessional, and all except for his first feature, A Little Stiff, perhaps tellingly co-directed by Greg Watkins, have centered on Caveh's direct speeches to the camera and his earnest determination to analyze himself and his relationship to the universe. Some audience members are awed by his willingness to confront his own ego. Others are bored by what seems to be a rambling group therapy session. Sex Addict is a breakthrough for Caveh because it's accessible, and there's nothing wrong with that. Who would have thought, considering its title? It's almost as if, instead of listening in on his raw therapy session, we're hearing the same stories post-therapy, re-crafted as an engaging, funny anecdote. Instead of taking himself too seriously, he's able to laugh at himself, and to bring the audience along, and that encourages a willingness to go on the trip. This may be a move of desperation on Caveh's part, having realized that his earlier attempts at filmmaking have not garnered the success for which he may have hoped. And before you go off on the what-is-success-anyway tangent, bear in mind that in his previous films Caveh has confessed his desire to win big awards and be liked by famous people. He especially wants to make good films that people can appreciate. Just because I Am a Sex Addict is accessible doesn't mean it's any less potent as a work of subversive cinema. As the lights dim, we are taken into Caveh's somewhat linear retelling of his long-time addiction to prostitutes and his eventual recovery with the help of Sex Addicts Anonymous. Its form is the shape of memory. Memory is a shifting temporal force. It isn't really linear and it relies, to a certain extent, on the vagaries of recollection. It's a lot like that old quantum physics idea of a knot. You take a piece of thread and roll it around in your palms for a few seconds until it's a ball. The thread is now touching itself in various places, like pieces of time, and you can step from one moment to another. Caveh jumps around from recreations of his youth, to Super 8 footage of his real youth, to the present; from a reenactment of casting the actress to play his first wife, to the actual reenactments, to learning in the present that the actress is actually a porn star, to footage of his real-life ex-wife. Unlike Hollywood, which tries to tell us that the fantasy we're seeing is real, Sex Addict is honest about its dishonesties. But it's also true to the nature of memory, which is almost a dream state. Then there's the content. Even these days it's a taboo subject. Caveh's not just addicted to sex, he's addicted to fulfilling his most illogical misogynistic fantasies. He doesn't just want to sleep with prostitutes, he wants to demean and dominate them. Odd, considering that the women he wants to subject to shame really couldn't care less. It's his real-life relationships he's actually demeaning. But the fact that Caveh is willing to share all of this with an audience is perhaps the most shocking part of it all. I would guess that a lot of people have some repressed fantasies that make them feel a little ashamed. That they can rise above them is perhaps to their credit. But acknowledging that they exist is also important. This can't help but raise a few feminist questions - especially since Caveh has considered himself one. It could be argued that feminism right now is in serious trouble. You can't leaf through a magazine these days without running across some article about educated women who really just want to stay home and take care of the kids or about smart teenagers dressing like porn stars and giving blowjobs in the corners of darkened nightclubs. We even have pole dancing exercise classes and stripping competitions. The question is, which comes first, men like Caveh whose primal sexual fantasies involve the whorification of women, or women's unconscious fantasies of domination by men? Caveh at least finds a way to facilitate his own recovery. He is also willing to stand back, analyse his addiction and face up to its destructive force in his life. How many women are willing to acknowledge and change their own self-destructive tendencies? The feminism movement was empowering, but now that it's stumbling, how are we going get the support we need to step forward? Maybe I'm digressing (then again, maybe not). Sex Addict really has more to do with Caveh's own overarching selfishness than larger topics. The women in his life act amazingly well in the face of his infidelities, much better than he does to their own shortcomings. And each relationship serves to highlight some of the inherent differences between the sexes. Though Caveh comes off as unattractive at times, he ultimately doesn't like those parts of himself and follows through on his wish to change them. It's a tragi-comedy that brings redemptive tears to the eyes; one where everyone lives tolerably ever after. Many filmmaker interviews end with a question about future projects. I have foregone an interview to write a selfish personal essay, and will end it according to suit. These are the next projects I would like to see from Caveh. First and foremost, a narrative adaptation of Dave Eggers's You Shall Know Our Velocity. I honestly cannot think of a better filmmaker to do this. Then, perhaps, if for the thematics alone, Nick Hornby's How to be Good.
April 3, 2006
Arts and shorts.Paintings and photographs by Dennis Hopper are on view in the exhibitions Dennis Hopper: A Survey, at the ACE Gallery in Los Angeles through July 1, and Los Angeles - Paris, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris through July 17. For the Los Angeles Times, Hunter Drohojowska-Philp meets up with the actor and artist to browse the work and memories that have accumulated over the decades. Related: Nina Rehfeld took a similar, albeit longer tour with Hopper in 2002. Robert Rodriguez has taken up painting as well. Even as he works on Grind House in Austin, he's "'relaxing' by working like a madman until the wee hours on a series of giant paintings of Salma Hayek (as an Aztec goddess from Carlos Fuentes's 1975 novel Terra Nostra) with acclaimed muralist George Yepes for a joint exhibit that unveils at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center on Wednesday, April 5, at a private red carpet party," reports Hector Saldaña in the San Antonio Express-News before launching into a conversation with Rodriguez. You can see a sample from the series in this accompanying story or a few more samples at George Yepes.com; Saldaña also talks with Yepes and with Fuentes about the works. Via Blake at Cinema Strikes Back. "[A]s we become the media culture he envisioned in his artwork and writings, we can see how the range of [Nam June] Paik's creative accomplishments and both the prescience and breadth of his thinking—in a practice unlike anything that preceded him—are all the more astonishing," writes John G Hanhardt in Artforum. Further down the page, Jon Kessler adds, "It may not be an overstatement to call Paik a visionary—he coined the term electronic superhighway, and Global Groove's rapid edits anticipated the look of mediated imagery in today's age of the attenuated attention span, as well as the bodily experience of electronica and rave culture." For Bookforum, Stephanie Zacharek reviews Cari Beauchamp's Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s. The secretary is Valeria Belletti, who, "perhaps most astonishingly, not only dated the young Gary Cooper but also helped launch his career." Vanity Fair posts a piece from last month's Hollywood issue, Jim Windolf's profile of Zach Helm: "He spent years in typical screenwriter mode, working as one of many hands on various big-budget projects while his labors of love died in development.... Now he won't sell a script unless he's satisfied not only that it will have an excellent chance of actually making it to the screen, but also that it will be filmed as he wrote it. The funny thing is, his method actually works, for him." Back to the LAT: "The International Beverly Hills Film Festival launches its sixth edition Wednesday night at 7 at the Writers Guild Theater with Eugenio Cappuccio's Verso la Luna con Fellini (Towards the Moon With Fellini), an affectionate semi-mockumentary on the making of Federico Fellini's final film, La Voce della Luna (The Voice of the Moon) (1990)." Kevin Thomas sketches a bit of background on both films. "For some filmmakers, you go the extra mile," emailed James Quandt to Doug Cummings recently. The filmmakers are the Dardennes and the extra mile involves an ingenious sort of live accompaniment to screenings of the brothers' early films. Alec Wilkinson listens in as the team behind Things That Hang From Trees discusses last minute tweaks to a print before delivering Ido Mizrahy's film to MOMA. Also in the New Yorker: Anthony Lane on The Double Life of Véronique and Lucky Number Slevin. New at Slant:
Calabasas Dispatch. 3.Not only do we meet a few more people who worked on Bangkok in Jerry Lentz's third dispatch from the Method Fest (through April 7), we also see two associated with Push introduce themselves. Jalen James, for example, who plays promoter D.Jay. The pace of this one is leisurely, allowing you to soak up a little southern California atmo between interview snippets.
April 2, 2006
Interviews and shorts.Pointing to his excellent interview with Wim Wenders, Jeffrey Overstreet notes that Wings of Desire is his favorite film. I don't know if it'd be my own absolute favorite, but it's certainly up there in the top five and I would agree with Michael Atkinson when he recently wrote in the Voice that the film is "a sui generis, all-German masterpiece [Wenders] has tried and failed to regenerate since."
April 1, 2006
Updates, 4/1.Brick, Awesome... and The horror, etc. About this last one: Matt Zoller Seitz has invited Christopher Kelly to discuss his article at the House Next Door, where he's now addressing several points brought up by Matt's readers.
Calabasas Dispatch. 2.Jerry Lentz's second video dispatch from the ongoing Method Fest (through April 7) is drenched in music and rain, smiles all around and a gag just right for the day. I should mention that the first dispatch is about seven minutes long, this one about two. Both are the next best thing to being there.
Calabasas Dispatch. 1.When Jerry Lentz proposed covering the Method Fest for us, we said, Sure! Any event that bills itself as a "festival of discovery of breakout acting in independent film" sounds right up our alley.
Right: Allen Martinez, director of Intelligence. When Jerry then proposed filing dispatches on video rather than typing them out, we were, I believe, on the road and figuring that any logistics could be worked out when the dust (and our own selves) settled. Lo, Friday, opening day of the festival, popped up really fast and Jerry has been filming and cutting away and has a first dispatch ready to roll with a second already queued. So for now, head to Jerry's site, gather a few impressions of the fest before the rain hit, listen to the makers of Bangkok and Intelligence talk about working with their actors and stay tuned through April 7.