March 31, 2010

PODCAST: Pedro Costa

Pedro Costa

This week, the Criterion Collection releases Letters From Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa, a rigorous, stunning and internationally acclaimed trilogy spanning 1997 through 2006:

One of the most important artists on the international film scene today, Portuguese director Pedro Costa has been steadily building an impressive body of work since the late eighties. And these are the three films that put him on the map: spare, painterly portraits of battered, largely immigrant lives in the slums of Fontainhas, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon. Hypnotic, controlled works, Ossos, In Vanda’s Room, and Colossal Youth confirm Costa as a provocative new cinematic poet, one who locates beauty in the most unlikely of places.

From Lisbon, Costa spoke with me about gaining the "strange password, or key to open" the films in this lost-souls trilogy, choosing to lose time as a filmmaker, the peculiarities of screenwriting in a Portuguese creole, and what he's learned from Vanda—the former heroin junkie who has featured in all three films.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (23:15)

Podcast Music
INTRO: Young Marble Giants: "Colossal Youth"
OUTRO: Cesária Évora: "Cabo Verde Manda Mantenha"

Posted by ahillis at 10:57 PM | Comments (2)

March 29, 2010

CONTEST: Win a DVD of BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Werner Herzog's nutzoid psychodrama-cum-policier Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (about which we spoke with Herzog last fall) stumbles to DVD next Tuesday, April 6—and GreenCine has 3 free copies to give away! There are two ways you can enter to win, social media style:

1. The Facebook Way

Join our official Facebook group. Then, followed by the hashtag #BadL, write a pithy comment on our wall about just how bad of a bad lieutenant you are. Did you once pull over a minivan full of Orthodox rabbis and force-feed them pork fried rice at gunpoint? Have you shaken down mentally retarded children for their lunch money? Ribald humor might be called for, but let's shy away from outright F-bombs. The way to win us over is naughtiness through wit, not vulgarity. Only one Facebook entry is allowed per person, and must be posted by Monday, April 5.

2. The Twitter Way

Follow us on Twitter. Again, including the hashtag #BadL, write an even pithier comment (since you're now down to 134 characters) about how bad of a bad lieutenant you are. You don't need to write @GreenCine since we can track the hashtag, but you must be following us to be eligible. Only one Twitter entry is allowed per person, and must be tweeted by Monday, April 5.

The writers of our three favorite entries will each be mailed a DVD on April 6. Good luck, let your soul dance, and get the iguanas off our coffee table!

Posted by ahillis at 9:24 AM

March 25, 2010

INTERVIEW: Clive Barker

Clive Barker

English novelist, filmmaker and visual artist Clive Barker deserves the right to be hailed a bona fide icon of horror and fantasy, having conceived the Hellraiser and Candyman series, written and directed such films as Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions, and literally fleshed out his oeuvre in mediums as disparate as video games, opera and Halloween costumes.

Produced by Barker and adapted from a short story from his Books of Blood collection, writer-director Anthony DiBlasi's new thriller Dread (a headliner in the 4th annual After Dark Horrorfest, and out this week on DVD) explores a psychological curiosity: are we better off confronting our traumas, or is repression a healthy form of self-preservation? While making a doc about what others fear, college students Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) and Cheryl (Hanne Steen) get sucked into a more dangerous project when their creative partner Quaid (Shaun Evans)—who witnessed his own parents brutally murdered—intensifies their case study by projecting his personal demons. While under writing deadline, Barker generously took time out to chat briefly over email.

Dread How did you become the producer on someone else's adaptation of your work?

Right from the beginning, Anthony DiBlasi and I felt the best way to move forward was to share our vision as broadly as possible. We would dissolve the conventional walls that divide an actor from a producer. The consequence of this restructuring is that I could no longer use people's faces or actions as an easy way out from when the narrative wasn't doing what I wanted it to do.

The character of Quaid, in conducting this psychological study, hopes to find catharsis through a forced confrontation of fear. His ideas are extreme, but in any sense, is he right?

Repression can be a form of self-sacrifice. We all have our own personal experiences that gnaw at the backs of our minds with flickering tongues, but the trick is finding out how to silence them.

DreadAmerican horror movies often reflect what's troubling the zeitgeist, hence "torture porn" in the George W. Bush years. Will we be seeing a new wave of economic and healthcare scare flicks?

I don't think we are going to be seeing a wave of videos about which will show us how to pay our bills. Despite the magic that has been stolen from us, there is still much mystery in the landscapes, and I don't think we are quite there yet.

Do Cenobites and other monsters from your oeuvre ever haunt you in your dreams?

By making my raw dream imagery and having tormented these characters for a period of time, they are liberating me from the demands that they put upon me when they ventured in to my dreams.

Posted by ahillis at 10:16 AM

March 23, 2010

Return to Oz: A History of Australian Cinema (1990-present)

by Roderick Heath

Continued from Part Two (1969-1989)

Lantana

Part Three: 1990-Present

1. Independent's Day: The Reign of Quirk

Australian cinema in the past twenty years has often looked like a manifestation of a culture constantly trying to second-guess itself. Faced with a narrowed era of multiplexes and blockbusters, moviemaking in Oz has failed, in spite of the occasional spotlights falling upon it, to gain even the kind of effective niche that British or French films had managed to carve in the modern cineaste panorama, and the fact domestic audience could rarely be counted upon to give necessary support stirred the question as to whether that support ought to be given automatically or first earned. On top of this, the always problematic issue of how and what films to sell to the public has become all the more confusing, leading to fractious partisan battles of rhetoric. In the early 2000s, Ray Lawrence's Lantana was seen as a nuanced, grown-up alternative to a small avalanche of modest TV-derived comedies and in-your-face provocation; by the decade's end, further attempts to make grown-up, sober-minded dramas were being blamed in media critiques for dampening the industry's ever-ailing chances in being "depressing."

In the 1990s and the new century, actors and technicians often trained by government-fostered schools gained much respect and increasing employment overseas, and many have repeated the old pattern of talents establishing themselves at home and then heading overseas, perhaps returning if their gambits failed, to confront an ever more competitive field of up-and-comers: in short, the infrastructure to produce people who could make movies set up in '70s had produced strong results, but had finally failed to build a vital local film culture. Meanwhile Hollywood companies set up studios to produce movies more cheaply, with Warner Bros. building a complex near Brisbane and then Fox in the heart of Sydney, giving local technicians and actors easy employment in large-budget productions. Often, this had siphoning effect of local effort and expertise, although it could, more subtly, have done much to promote some of that talent: certainly a strange hybrid like Baz Luhrmann's large-budget, big-hype Australia (2008) could not have been imagined without this cross-pollinating effect.

Little FishAesthetically speaking, too, modern Australian cinema had atomized, as producers searched for sure things, for next big things, for artful movies that have popular appeal, for themes that connected to the zeitgeist, often to arrive belated and bedeviled, without anything like the assurance of the '70s. Attempts to make movies about things that encompassed average suburban existence, petty crime, drug use, gay life, family life, survival, wandering, working and having fun, in a usually, resolutely, contemporary context, became the new norm, but also presented fresh clichés and fads. Take, for instance, 2005's Little Fish and Candy, two decent movies, were both about the impact of drug addiction and demimonde squalor, only ten years too late for the grunge chic craze in independent cinema. The stars of those films, Cate Blanchett in the first case, Heath Ledger in the second, had both been to Hollywood to further their careers and used their clout to help get them made. Meanwhile, the cycles of Australian film's booms and busts have, rather than stabilizing, only sped up.

In the early 1990s, that new philosophy in film production and distribution, independent film, became a variety of secular religion with temples at Sundance and Tribeca and Toronto—especially in Australia, where almost all filmmaking was, to a certain extent, independent. And, indeed, Aussie talent began to contribute to that growing ethos. In any event, some brightening of the pall that descended on the industry was detectable at the turn of the '90s, with a handful of mild box-office surprises popping up like Nadia Tass's The Big Steal (1990), John Ruane's Death in Brunswick (1991), and critical darlings including Jocelyn Moorhouse's Proof (1991), and Leo Berkeley's Holidays on the River Yarra (1991)—the latter two of which screened at Cannes. This disparate selection of movies could nonetheless be defined by their distinctly shrunken horizons, all set in inner urban areas and focusing on hard-luck protagonists in the contemporary environment, drab and ordinary.

ProofOf those films, the artiest by far was Proof, a film with a unique if odd idea revolving around a blind man (Hugo Weaving), obsessed with photography in his attempts to substantiate his existence, and his two companions: a cool housekeeper and potential lover (Genevieve Picot), and a young man he befriends (Russell Crowe). The film was acclaimed at Cannes, and director and writer Moorhouse became a figure to watch in parlaying a small budget into a significant success, and also was the key early movie of two of the most successful Australian actors of recent years, Weaving (1960- ), with his slippery sensuality, and Crowe (1964- ), the gruffly charismatic future Oscar-winner.

Crowe had made his feature debut in Stephen Wallace's Blood Oath (a.k.a. Prisoners of the Sun), released the same year, an attempt to explore the anger of Australians towards the Japanese for poor treatment and homicides inflicted on their captured servicemen in WWII, a touchy subject for both countries and awkwardly handled here. Death in Brunswick was a black comedy about a loser chef (Sam Neill) whose involvement with an accidental killing and a younger waitress revives his sense of purpose, and it perhaps most clearly defined a new variety of "quirky" comedy, riddled with flailing fish out water, naïve fools of fortune, dippy fantasists and willful individualists, which would provide some even bigger successes in the near future.

Romper Stomper1992 proved this was no fluke as further high-profile films that couldn't have been more different generated new enthusiasm. Russell Crowe had a truly galvanizing follow-up to the promise of his performance in Proof, as the monstrous skinhead Hando in Geoffrey Wright's Romper Stomper, a ferocious tale of urban intolerance and violence centering on a gang of white supremacists who get the fright of their lives when the Asian immigrants they specialize in terrorizing mass to fight back, leading to the remaining skinheads turning on each-other in a glut of jealousy and self-defeat. Melodramatic, broad, and in many ways anachronistic, evoking a social landscape about a decade out of date, it was nonetheless possibly the most forceful Australian film since Mad Max 2, and as well as promoting Crowe, gave a strong role to Jacqueline Mackenzie as the epileptic upper-class refugee who splits Hando and his mate Davey (Daniel Pollock).

Wright's subsequent career, like too many of the new talents to emerge in the '90s, would however prove erratic: his immediate follow-up, Metal Skin (2004), was an ambitious attempt to fuse certain aspects of Ozploitation—fast cars, devil worship—and visual flash with a gritty, realistic milieu of youthful frustration and incipient madness. After this complete failure, Wright did not make another film in Oz until 2006's Macbeth attempted to transpose Shakespeare's play into the same grungy, violent milieu of his earlier films, with such amusing ideas as portraying Macbeth as an uzi-toting gangster and the Three Witches as gothic schoolgirls, but the film was intolerable.

The Last Days of Chez NousGillian Armstrong continued her run of intelligent, muted studies of middle-class femininity with the Last Days of Chez Nous [still not on DVD in the US], featuring Lisa Harrow as a woman whose marriage to a European intellectual (Bruno Ganz) is crumbling, whilst her teenage daughter (Miranda Otto) goes through her own rites-of-passage romance. Technically immaculate, it suggested a new lucidity in approaching adult emotional lives, even if it never entirely dispelled an air of haute-bourgeois exceptionalism, a trait that would occasionally mar Jane Campion's films too. Armstrong went back to Hollywood to make her best film, her serious and vigorous adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott chestnut Little Women (1994).

Oscar and Lucinda (1997) brought Armstrong home with a large budget and a significant project, based as it was on a prize-winning Peter Carey novel, and sporting Ralph Fiennes and a young new discovery, Cate Blanchett, in its cast. Blanchett had begun her career in a big screen version of a TV show, 1994's Police Rescue, and just before Oscar and Lucinda worked on Bruce Beresford's Paradise Road, a middling Australian co-production detailing the plight of an array of multinational nurses imprisoned by the Japanese during WW2. Although Blanchett made her mark in these two films, both were generally ill-focused prestige projects for two once-keen talents. Armstrong employed Blanchett again in 2001, her equally minor version of Sebastian Faulks' WWII-era spy tale, Charlotte Gray.

CosiMark Joffe, having failed to make an impression with dark thrillers, scored successes with audiences with comedies celebrating stereotyped versions of eccentric Aussie individualism. 1992's Spotswood was partly buoyed by the fortuitous presence of Anthony Hopkins cast just as he found a new level stardom in The Silence of the Lambs, with Hopkins playing a stuffy efficiency expert who is charmed out of his staid limbo by the workers at a shoe factory to the point that he devises methods to save their jobs. Joffe offered the clichéd story with lightness of touch, and his next film, Cosi (1996), repeated the formula, with Ben Mendelsohn, a supporting performer in Spotswood, now the lead, as a young theatre nerd who attempts to direct a production of Mozart's opera "Cosi Fan Tutti" in a mental health institute, using the variously neurotic and eccentric patients as cast members. Good-natured but clumsily constructed, Cosi did middling business, but Joffe had enough attention to see him direct yet another variation on the same story in Ireland, the Janeane Garofalo vehicle The Matchmaker (1997). He returned home for his last film to date, The Man Who Sued God (2001), which united the romantic pairing nobody wanted to see, Scots actor-comedian Bill Connolly and a particularly brittle Judy Davis, in a sluggish screwball comedy.

Undoubtedly the most popular film of 1992, however, was Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom, a slick, unabashedly corny and colorful tribute to Hollywood musicals and stage melodramas flavored with a knowing element of Aussie irony, focusing on ballroom dancers whose lives off the dance-floor are generally far more modest than the glitz of that arena would attest. Young hero Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) runs afoul of the rigged game that is the dancing world as his father (Barry Otto) once did, but he presses on with his individualist bent with the aide of blooming ugly duckling Fran (Tara Morice) and her fearsome South American immigrant family. Determinedly populist and strident, it hasn't aged very well, particularly in Mercurio's inexpressive performance, but it was the most restrained stage for Luhrmann's all-too-showy aesthetic, which in many ways extended the camp-infused tradition ofJim Sharman.

Moulin Rouge!Luhrmann quickly departed overseas to make his raucous, gimmicky William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, before returning to film his Moulin Rouge (2001) in Sydney. A grab-bag of frenetically employed pop culture conventions, and recycling many of Ballroom's effects and story elements, Moulin Rouge dazzled enough eyes to receive multiple Oscar nominations and prove a box office triumph. Luhrmann's elephantine follow-up, Australia (2008), saw him riffing this time on the outback mythology that had fallen into almost complete invisibility during the past twenty years, combined once again with borrowed Hollywood tropes employed with little rhyme or reason. Luhrmann's oeuvre has so far sustained a hold on his audience, and even though Australia made little impact in the US, it was hugely popular on Aussie screens and in many other countries.

Read the rest here >>

Posted by ahillis at 12:03 PM

March 20, 2010

SXSW '10 PODCAST: Serbian Film (Aleksandar Radivojevic)

Serbian Film

During the introduction to SXSW's world premiere of Serbian Film (a/k/a Srpski Film)—quite easily the sickest, most depraved film I've ever had the pleasure (okay, that's grossly inaccurate, but it also wasn't entirely a displeasure) to see on a big screen—Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League suggested a piece of cinema this extreme demanded the most extreme tequila shot ever consumed. League, myself and four others got on stage, snorted a line of salt (the agony!), slammed a shot, then squeezed a fresh lime into our eyeballs (the horror!), quite easily the dumbest bet I've agreed to since my twenties. From the official SXSW synopsis:

Milosh, a retired porn star, leads a normal family life with his wife Maria and six-year old son Petar in tumultuous Serbia, trying to make ends meet. A sudden call from his former colleague Layla will change everything. She introduces Milosh to Vukmir—mysterious, menacing and a politically powerful figure in the pornographic business. A leading role in Vukmir's new production will provide financial support to Milosh and his family for the rest of their lives. From then on, Milosh is drawn into a maelstrom of unbelievable cruelty and mayhem devised by his employer. In order to escape the living cinematic hell he's put into, and save his family's life, Milos will have to sacrifice everything—his pride, his morality, his sanity, and maybe even his own life.

Literally minutes before director Srdjan Spasojevic and his team had to leave for the Austin airport to catch a flight back to Belgrade, screenwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic (the only member of the filmmaking team who spoke English well) sat down with me to talk about their "allegory," why it's more like a Caravaggio painting than an exploitation flick, the bizarre tale of trying to get their print developed, and the most ferocious film he's ever seen.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (12:54)
[WARNING: Explicit language and content!]

Podcast Music
INTRO: Rammstein vs. Zanfria: "Serbia"
OUTRO: Amps for Christ: "Serbia"

Posted by ahillis at 2:45 PM

March 19, 2010

SXSW '10: Audrey the Trainwreck, Beijing Taxi

by Vadim Rizov

audreytrainwreck.jpg

Foremost among Audrey the Trainwreck's virtues: the depressive couple that unexpectedly comes together during the film, ATM parts purchaser Ron (Anthony Baker) and delivery girl Stacy (Alexi Wasser). Their jobs make them hate their lives, so even their initial conversations are surprisingly morose. Funny and imaginative in ways their jobs don't require, they've reached functional adulthood coasting on jobs they once thought would be temporary. Their conversations are sometimes playful, but often in a way that's mutually pained. Clearly they're the most adorable screen couple since Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, only way less annoying.

Writer/director/editor Frank V. Ross has worked as an editor for Bob Byington (Harmony and Me) and acted for Joe Swanberg (Alexander the Last), but those names don't begin to indicate the appropriate frame of reference. He hews closer to the jittery cameras of Assayas and Desplechin's flair for the expertly timed, completely unexpected (and often violent) punchline. That could sound hyperbolic, but the opening title—"Audrey the Trainwreck"—is repeated twice, the second time followed by the qualification "Or... These Things Come in Threes," both a comic promise the movie sets up as the ultimate delayed punchline and quite possibly a reference to Desplechin's My Sex Life... Or, How I Got Into an Argument. It's a plausible aspiration, anyway.

Audrey begins in a bar, its attention busily split all over the place. Only when Ron is hit in the neck does he become the obvious protagonist; it's an unexpectedly violent comic jolt. Most of Ron's pain is much less dramatic: his job's banality freaks him out, his blind dates go nowhere and he has nothing to look forward to. One of the blind dates brings Stacy. As in the first date we see, Ron starts moaning about something almost immediately: the first time, apparently his bilious comments about hating people who know where "the best pizza in town is" were alienating, but Stacy responds to his dour charms. She feels the same way, even if externally she's far wispier and more placid than Ron, with his angry scowl and macho facial hair.

Ross has a sensitive touch: the brashly jittery visuals, with very small tweaks in the shakiness or duration of the shot/sequence, suggest subjective states of mind with very little overt manipulation (emotional or technical). A tense sequence of Ron and friends playing volleyball suggests Ron's growing sexual frustration at being surrounded by couples with ever-so-slightly tighter, longer close-ups on women: it doesn't sound subtle like that, but the micro-changes in shots and editing are far more responsive and quicksilver than you'd expect. There are a lot of multiple conversations here, including one cafe conversation that's actually two, framed in diagonal matching lines, with it nearly impossible to know which to pay attention to. That one turns out to be the opening seeds of romance, the other about real estate practicalities, says a lot about where Ron and Stacy's heads aren't at.

It's also mostly hilarious (I like a particularly elaborate addendum to "good night": "Keep one eye open and your third eye closed"), which, from what I've read, is a new development. And the relationship, finally, is like a realistic version of Punch Drunk-Love in its portrait of two equally defective people bonded by mutual dissatisfaction. Finally, it's a blast, a realistic portrait of a couple that isn't unbearably depressing. It manages to earn the reasonably happy ending.

I should give a shout-out to Noel Paul's short Annie Goes Boating, which preceded Audrey. The plot's basically like a Williamsburg version of A Day in the Country, but it's in pretty gorgeous 3D, which I believe is some kind of first for indie film. Duly noted.

beijingtaxi.jpg

In Jia Zhangke's Unknown Pleasures, the otherwise hopeless citizens of Shanxi province's Datong momentarily freak out and celebrate the announcement that the 2008 Olympics will be hosted in Beijing, cheering around TVs on the street. You could look at Beijing Taxi as a kind of sequel, using the careers of three Beijing cabdrivers two years before the Olympics to launch into showing a wider portrait of key parts of Beijing's infrastructure—its malls, new apartment buildings, elaborate cardboard miniature scale representations of the future sprawl and so on, the kind of important functional spaces that are rarely documented. (Worth noting: the "low-cost hospital for ordinary citizens" looks exactly like the hospital in Pleasures, which tells you a lot about how standardized that is.)

Because the dominant tone in most of the arthouse Chinese cinema seen here in the last decade owes a lot to Jia (and in general slow-paced stories about young Chinese—mostly men—floating around in anomie), Beijing Taxi's opening credits sequence can be seen as a repudiation of that aesthetic, or at least an addendum. Where other films insist on torpor, Taxi's slow, prototypically elegant and slow tracking shot of a parking lot for taxicabs suddenly speeds up then ratchets down multiple times; a video-game/advertising touch, but it gets the point across. Life is changing fast, if erratically.

Miao Wang's three subjects are a judicious if unsurprising cross-sample: the older Bai Jiwen, six years away from retirement, the younger and clumsier Zhou Yi, and Wei Caixia, by far the most ambitious of the three. Bai despairs of being able to pay for his medical expenses at one point and bitches about capitalism's expansion, but he's not going to do anything about it. Zhou cheerfully admits that Beijingers are essentially a lazy, easily contented people, and he is too. But Wei, with her decidedly untraditional haircut and absolute lack of remorse about being a single mother, is the new blood of the group. Her trajectory—from driver to ambitious clothing designer and self-taught capitalist—sums up the changing dynamics of Beijing neatly.

Some of the footage here is unapologetically functional, some strikingly gorgeous; a carwash as seen through a close-up of the prismatic water on the windshield is a stunner. Wang mostly sticks to story but allows herself the occasional associative reverie, drifting from one location to another more for mood than anything; the faux-Radiohead score can be distracting (especially a song you can hear here, "Together" by one Sound Fragment; I guess we know where the hardest-core fans are now, so I suppose even that's enlightening). Mostly Beijing Taxi is revelatory, an admirably formal presentation of the baseline texture of contemporary Beijing. It's not just valuable for the record, it's elegant in the process.

Posted by ahillis at 10:23 AM

March 16, 2010

SXSW '10 PODCAST: Jonah Hill

CYRUS star Jonah Hill

Superbad and Knocked Up star Jonah Hill has primarily been known for stealing laughs, but in the charming new dramedy Cyrus—making a regional premiere at SXSW—Hill shows surprising depth in an idiosyncratic role that allows him room to stretch:

With John's (John C. Reilly) social life at a standstill and his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) about to get remarried, a down-on-his-luck divorcee finally meets the woman of his dreams (Marisa Tomei), only to discover she has another man in her life—her son. Written and directed by Jay & Mark Duplass, the iconoclastic filmmaking team behind Sundance Film Festival favorite The Puffy Chair, Cyrus takes an insightful, funny and sometimes heartbreaking look at love and family in contemporary Los Angeles.

On a day too gorgeous to be sitting inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Hill and I discussed Cyrus, why outsiders might perceive his own family dynamic as strange, the L.A. Lakers movie he would love to direct, and whether he would join me for a taco.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (18:54)

Podcast Music
INTRO: Louis Armstrong: "Jonah and the Whale"
OUTRO: James Brown: "Super Bad"

Posted by ahillis at 2:16 PM

March 14, 2010

SXSW ‘10: Putty Hill, Mars, Cold Weather

by Vadim Rizov

Putty Hill

Putty Hill begins with brisk, no-nonsense establishing shots from the rural parts of Baltimore—a house, a hill—and then the opening credits pause everything before it's started. We're looking at a wall: the light's mid-day but diffuse, red is coming from somewhere, and you can hear a cello warming up its scales and arpeggios. It's a startlingly atmospheric, non-naturalistic opening for what should be quotidian social realism, and indicative of where Putty Hill is heading: wild, weird places. Matthew Porterfield's response to Baltimore—our collective national shithole of choice since The Wire—is to treat the city as an imaginative destination, where anyone can take off mentally.

The plot, as in Porterfield's Hamilton, is meant to be disregarded. A junkie's overdosed, and these are the days leading up to his funeral—days of a weird, Linklater-esque quality, where time melts and days dissolve. You could see it as hopelessness (and there's a lot to support that), but there's a lightness of touch here like nothing I've seen in recent American regional filmmaking. I love All The Real Girls as much as the next guy, but it's hard to support that kind of rapture all the time. Putty Hill, by contrast, steers away from swooning, treading lightly where others don't dare to enter without the grimmest of faces or the lushest of fiilm stock. Porterfield has cited Pedro Costa as a reference point, but there's a world of distance from here to Colossal Youth's misery.

In Hamilton, most conversations unfolded as a series of people offering neutral, ELIZA-esque questions to one another, to draw each other out. Porterfield is bolder here: the diegetic narrative, such as it is, stops cold so that Porterfield can ask the questions himself off-camera. His voice is thin and reedy, the questions the most basic who-what-where: the narrative's in the texture, not the answers. Regard, seriously, the grim parking lot shitstorm that is the Baltimore Travel Center. Porterfield's looking at the awful walls and thin coats of paint seriously and asking us to pay attention.

Because the interviews break up scenes that are almost always impressionistic rather than narrative, Putty Hill is simultaneously head-on (literally) and oblique. Everyone is unfailingly open to talking about themselves honestly; one bad dude shrugs off the disclosure that he was in prison for second-degree murder for a long time. There's a diversity of age and viewpoint here that's surprising (though there's a racial gap; this is very much a film about a mostly white community), and it's really fun to watch. It's consistently gorgeous, occasionally lyrical (teenagers hanging out by the river, innocently indulging illicit drinking and drugs) and surprisingly funny.

Towards the end, Hamilton guns for the dramatic twice in ways that are surprising and gutsy, if not entirely successful. There's a teenage girl's long freak-out at her delinquent dad, a torrent of tears and screaming interrupted by a three-minute patch of nothing while she's alone; it's brave and convincing, if not really necessary. The bar memorial-service (complete with heartfelt karaoke) is a great moment of release and grace (it's also the first time we see the dead boy's face). Unfortunately, it's followed by a long coda where two girls visit the dead man's pad, then leave as the highway lights blur into dazzling pixels. It's over-explicit and straining in a way the rest of the film isn't. This is one graceful movie.

Mars

Mars is the movie SXSW's been waiting for all these years, something so emblematic and representative of everything you could associate with the festival (Mark Duplass, references to enchiladas and beer, Texas iconoclast Kinky Friedman) that part of me wishes it would never show anywhere else and just pop up annually at the festival as a sort of trademark. But that would be doing the movie a disservice: it's broader than that. Rough around the edges, with some not-quite-endearingly-amateurish performances in parts and lackadaisacal plotting, it's ambles along all slacker-like—and yes, the unusual rotoscoping feature does invoke Waking Life.

Mars has Duplass do his Duplass thing (he's the new Owen Wilson) as the indelibly named Charlie Brownsville: he's likable and self-deflatingly arrogant, a mean who uses self-righteous unassertiveness as a power tool. Once a famous astronaut, Charlie's spacewalking skills make him an unusable anachronism in 2014. In this vaguely sketched out future, the European Union, the Russians and Americans are once again still fighting it out in a new space race; that the movie never explains why is pleasing. So there's a mission to mars, signs of life, a heroic space-walk (is this an unofficial homage to Brian De Palma's oddly, cultishly adored Mission To Mars? That would be awesome), etc. But mostly it's all par for the slacker course, which is also awesome: animation removes the urgent need to use expensive F/X, which means you can now shoot someone into space just so they can crack wise about how they miss beer.

There's a romance too, which proceeds unexpectedly but ends happily. Indeed, nothing in Mars is surprising, but it's all about the detours and tangents anyway. (It's not, despite appearances, an "Adult Swim" assault of randomness.) The animation is very cool indeed: the way space seems deep and the stars looming is a triumph, inducing some real vertigo. But that epic nature is casual too, just like this movie. It's good fun.

Cold Weather

One of the many surprising things about Cold Weather is that you could show it in a movie theater and normal filmgoers would love it. You could expect a lot of different things from Aaron Katz, but crowd-pleasing proficiency isn't one of them: I spent a lot of time thinking "They should've let that guy direct Cop Out." This isn't a slam at all: smooth, humane, well-crafted entertainment is harder than it looks. And there's more going on.

For the first half-hour, things go more or less as you'd expect: there's the floundering Doug (Cris Lankenau), who has chosen to ditch his pursuit of a forensics science degree in favor of fucking around and living with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Keegan DeWitt's bravura funhouse, Rube-Goldberg-in-musical-form score is jovial and upbeat but unsettling: it's hard to tell if it's sarcastic, promising fun, spastically energetic or just setting us up for a sucker punch. (It works the same way as the opening music of Hong Sang-soo's films.) Doug does his work, drops some science on a co-worker (Raúl Castillo) about the awesomeness of Sherlock Holmes, co-worker dates his ex, you can see the seeds of romantic rivalry... and then everything goes to hell.

Appropriately, I went in rasa about Cold Weather, so I'm in the unhelpful position of trying not to spoil it and talk about it at the same time; suffice it to say the Holmes allusions aren't a red herring, and the movie quasi-spirals into genre territory accordingly. (Though a bigger and more meaningful allusion comes from Doug's reading of Raffles, the British chestnut about the gentlemen burglar whose public-school education merely gets him access to the houses of the wealthy, the better to rob them; like Raffles, Doug is slumming for a purpose—to get through the twentysomething malaise—and he knows it.)

If Cold Weather is surprisingly well-plotted on the genre tip, it's also a genuinely original comedy, with big laughs in completely unexpected places. As usual for Katz, it looks great, but the cutting's faster and the mood lighter; Dance Party USA and Quiet City are mood pieces, but this isn't. It works in every sense, buzzing along industriously. It's a little unbalanced about keeping all of its equally intriguing characters in the mix (I would've loved to see more of Castillo's Carlos, the ice factory co-worker/Star Trek fanboy/DJ), but there are worse problems to have.

At the heart of the thing is a brother-sister relationship that's teasing and enigmatic; the heart of the matter lies in Gail's off-handed confession that she dated a guy she liked for six months without ever telling her brother. This is in response to an impossible-to-parse question ("I don't mean this offensively, but do you have any friends?") It's a big moment, and it tells us a lot about this mutually dependent sibling pair, who never can tell if they're sustaining each other or just being mutual millstones. The mystery enlivens and gives purpose to their still-figuring-it-all-out stumbling, but it's so jokey and improbable that they know it, too. (No one dies, natch.) It's the solution to "How do I get out of this mess?," and it's a fun game to play, a gift from Katz. But the melancholy's real too, even if it's understated; that monologue cuts to the bone. The pair are, finally, as ambivalent, fluid and unsettled as any of Katz's increasingly impressive ensemble group, and their emotional heft gives the game-playing ballast. This is a huge treat, and I hope it makes a ton of money. In a perfect world, it totally should.

Posted by ahillis at 3:07 PM

March 9, 2010

SFIAAFF '10: The Housemaid

by Adam Hartzell

The Housemaid

Before the Korean New Wave (represented by such international film festival faves as Lee Chang-dong, Hong Sang-soo and Kim Ki-duk) and long before homegrown productions like Shiri, Oldboy, and The Host began dominating the Seoul box office, there was a "Golden Age" of South Korean cinema, and the landmark that started that cine-luminous era was the late Kim Ki-young's The Housemaid (1960, a/k/a Hanyo). Bay Area audiences will finally have a chance to view this classic in the type of venue it was meant to be screened in, The Castro Theatre, on March 14, as part of the 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Thanks to the committed restoration efforts of the Korean Film Archives, with support from the World Cinema Foundation, we will get to see it in a print closer to the state of its initial premiere screening.  

Kim Ki-young's directorial debut, The Box of Death (1955), was the first Korean film to both use a Mitchell camera and to be filmed in synchronous sound. Kim built the set and directed most of the lighting, an independent, low-budget focus that he carried with him throughout most of his career. An anti-Communist film made under the auspices of the United States Information Service, its title is a metaphor for a time bomb. The Box of Death was seen by some critics of the time as anti-Communist in name only, as if more interested in currying favor with what was deemed the less reputable sentiments to be entertained. Still, it had contemporary defenders, such as writer Oh Young-jin, who advocated that the film was a "new type of anti-Communist film," hinting at how Kim would later push genres beyond their borders.  

Kim Ki-young Kim was not known as a political director in terms of the sociopolitics of the Cold War that left the Korean peninsula divided. In some ways, The Box of Death is an anomaly in Kim's oeuvre—just a film to get his career jumpstarted—and both it and nearly all of Kim’s films prior to The Housemaid have been lost to us. The single exception is his second film, Yongsan Province, also released in 1955. Still, significant parts of that film are missing, including the ending. As Lee Yeon-ho presents in his introduction to the Kim Ki-young installment in the Korean Film Directors series, those who have seen these extinct films recall that Kim's style started out using realism to depict everyday lives. (Yongsan Province, with its missing hallucinatory ending where two lovers ascend to heaven, certainly brings that generalization of realist style into question.)  

The Housemaid is seen by scholars as a new beginning for Kim, where he began to address the rapid, state-demanded, modernization of South Korea through the horror genre and the fantastical. For film scholar Chris Berry, this marks a challenge to the theory that it inherently resulted in realist expressions on stage, screen and in literature. In The Housemaid—and his subsequent work—Kim demonstrates that the paradoxes and anxieties could be revealed through fantasy, instead.

  The HousemaidThe film was based on a real murder case in which a maid killed the young child of her employers. The film smashed the Korean box office record up until that time, and it’s fair to extrapolate that its impact partly stemmed from the audience's awareness of the true-life incident. In the film, Dong-sik (Kim Jin-kyu) is a piano teacher for a local textile mill who finds himself confronted by the affections of one of his students, Seon-yeong. (Of note: Dong-sik is a popular name for Kim's literally and metaphorically impotent males.) When he brings this to the attention of the mill's housemother, Seon-yeong loses her job. Her friend Gyeong-hee is taking personal piano lessons from Dong-sik at his home and introduces his family to Myeong-sook (Lee Eun-sim) when they express interest in a maid. Dong-sik is apparently quite the passive paramour, because Gyeong-hee also confesses her love for him, which he also refuses. Having witnessed this rejection, Myeong-sik tries her hand at wooing Dong-sik, and—third time's a charm—she finds herself pregnant with his child. Dong-sik’s wife (Joo Jeung-nyeo) pressures Myeong-sik to abort the child, leading to a violent psychological shift in Myeong-sik that brings about the eventual destruction of the family, or so we think.  

  Along with being an allegory to teach wayward men the consequences of infidelity, Kim's film is a manifestation of the paradox of desiring modernity while also feeling anxious about this desire. As Laurel Kendall notes in her introduction to Under Construction: The Gendering of Modernity, Class, and Consumption in the Republic of Korea, "Since the late 1960’s, the entire South Korean urbanscape has been quite literally under construction: torn down, rebuilt, extended, elaborated, reconfigured." This was all part of the rush enacted under the Park Chung-hee dictatorship. This innovation did not arise from an emerging middle-class, nor did it happen under a democracy; it was state-dictated. As a result, the South Korean people of the 1960’s were ambivalent towards the change.

  The Housemaid Amongst the two-level houses full of new appliances and other signifiers of modern upgrades (including the piano, grandfather clocks and the hiring of in-house help) that fill the post-Housemaid oeuvre of Kim Ki-young, there exists a tension of something not quite right, of a rat in the (modern) kitchen waiting to strike. Although Park Chung-hee's did not begin his full-steam charge forward until 1961, The Housemaid plays with this slowly simmering tension that found its most salient manifestation in horror, with just the right dash of melodrama to ease it down. Notes Berry in his contribution to Seoul Searching: Culture and Identity in Contemporary Korean Cinema (ed. Frances Gateward), “[Kim's] films can be both considered under the rubric of the horror film and an ambivalent response to the Korean experience of modernization as at once forced and desired. This paradoxical state that defies either realist representation or critical distance prefers direct somatic response and full ambivalence.” Outside of porn, nothing provides a somatic response from its audience like horror.

  Said response was so strong for some women that, according to Kim So-young in her chapter in South Korean Golden Age Melodrama: Gender, Genre, and National Cinema (eds. Kathleen McHugh and Nancy Abelmann), those watching The Housemaid were reported to scream demands that the characters "Kill the bitch!" The bitch, in their eyes, was the character of Myeong-sik and the destruction of middle-class hopes she represented, rather than the husband who equally consummated this self-ruin. Although no direct backstory is provided for Myeong-sik, South Koreans knew she was a composite of the new demographic shifts: young woman were coming to Seoul from rural South Korea to find work in factories. When they didn’t find such jobs, if they were able to avoid prostitution, they often became maids for the wealthy. (Yu Hyon-mok’s 1969 feature School Excursion includes a related if improbable plot twist: a rural schoolboy goes on a field trip to stay with a wealthy Seoul family, whose maid, unbeknownst to anyone, is the boy's sister.) Women watching The Housemaid refused to align with the plight of the maid, instead forming solidarity with the wife. The film is regularly contextualized for western audiences by referencing 1987's Fatal Attraction in the program notes, as it is in the program for this year's SFIAAF. As Mason Wiley and Damien Bona note in Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, the original ending of Fatal Attraction saw Glenn Close's character committing suicide. This ending fell flat with test audiences, so it was reworked to have Michael Douglas' wife kill the mistress, as if director Adrian Lynne heard the echoing demands of Korean housewives in 1960.

  The HousemaidKim would rework the film two more times as Woman of Fire (1971, a/k/a Hwanyeo) and Woman of Fire ‘82. Like its predecessor, Woman of Fire would also lead the box office in 1971. The success of The Housemaid and its remakes can be seen in other Kim films that reconfigure similar themes, such as the top film of 1972, The Insect Woman (itself remade by Kim as Carnivore in 1984). Soon we will have yet another film to test The Housemaid's lasting effects, in a new version by director Im Sang-soo (The President's Last Bang). The latest remake of this thrice remade film will feature one of South Korea's best actresses, Jeon Do-yeon (Happy End, Untold Scandal and Secret Sunshine, the latter for which she received the Best Actress Award at Cannes), and after a two-year hiatus, Lee Jung-jae (Il Mare, Typhoon). Plus, Yoon Yeo-jung, who debuted as the housemaid in Woman of Fire, will play a sort of all-seeing, older maid. As quoted in the January/February 2010 edition of Korean Cinema Today, Yoon expressed: "My heart is full of deep emotion that I could play one of his films again" because she wasn’t aware of how amazing a director Kim was back then. She was perhaps too thrown by Kim's strange rehearsal habits, requiring her to meet for an hour every day for a month before filming, in order to instruct her by referencing a specific smile or reaction she made on a particular day building up to her debut. [ed. note: And we thought Stanley Kubrick was a perfectionist!]

  What's interesting about the critical re-visioning of Kim Ki-young's work is that he came to be reconsidered in South Korea as a cult director, a label Kim himself disowned. In the Korean Film Archives' Documentary on Film People: Kim Ki-young, he states his preference, “I’d rather they called me the father of independent films than a director of cult movies.” In an intriguing essay by Chris Berry in Post-Colonial Classics of Korean Cinema (ed. Chungmoo Choi), Berry ponders why Kim Ki-young’s 1997 retrospective at the 2nd Pusan International Film Festival provided the international entry point for South Korean cinema: "Kim Ki-young's films fit the bill. They satisfy the demand for an auteur and are stylistically distinctive, differentiating them from other films already circulating through the art house and festival circuit." Kim's films do this while still remaining "distinctively Korean," a balancing act international audiences demand from their films elsewhere. In a sense, we have Kim to partly thank for all the wonderful South Korean films we have been enjoying for the past decade. His PIFF retrospective broke through the barrier keeping such films from being noticed outside of the peninsula, just as he ripped away the curtain covering the fears beneath the fevered rush to modernization of his fellow countrymen and women.

Posted by ahillis at 1:09 PM | Comments (1)

March 7, 2010

Oscars Live Chat 2010

Posted by ahillis at 2:33 PM

March 5, 2010

Shorts? Sweet!

by Amy Monaghan

[A reminder to Academy Awards watchers worldwide: please join GreenCine and a quick-witted panel of critics and bloggers for our Oscars Live Chat on Sunday night, beginning at 7:30pm EST.]

Logorama

An astonishing number of cartoons are nominated for Academy Awards this year—Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Avatar, Meryl Streep's mawkish turn as Julia Child—but only five are in contention for Best Animated Short Film.

Oscar's recognition of animated shorts dates all the way back to 1932, when Walt Disney's Flowers and Trees took home the statuette in what was known for nearly 40 years as the "Short Subjects, Cartoon" category. The Seventies heralded two name changes, first to "Short Films (Animated Films)" and then its current moniker. That era also saw Disney et al.'s dominance challenged by the likes of the Hubleys, Will Vinton, and various works created under the auspices of the National Film Board of Canada and its Francophone sibling, Société Radio-Canada.

Partly Cloudy Then came Pixar. Today it's tough to imagine seeing an animated short—in the theaters, anyway—from any other studio, but in 1986, John Lasseter and William Reeves' Luxo, Jr. had to be satisfied with the honor of being nominated. Academy voters—and, indeed, the world—little realized that the eponymous desk lamp starring in the short would soon stomp on nearly every animated flick in its path.

Which brings us to the 2009 slate. Boasting more motion than an emoting Nicole Kidman's forehead, this year's nominees hail from France, Spain, the U.K., Ireland, and, er, France and employ techniques ranging from old-school claymation to CG. Pixar's lackluster Partly Cloudy, although short-listed, is not among their number. But it is part of the traveling program of Oscar-nominated animated shorts, a series which reportedly broke the single-screen box office record for highest gross at the IFC Center in New York and is being held over across the country at indie theaters like the Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Massachusetts; and Cine Athens (Georgia).

French Roast The sequencing of the shorts is almost as interesting as their subject matter. First up is Fabrice O. Joubert's slight slice-of-life, French Roast, which has been on the festival circuit since 2008. A smoothly executed eight-minute CG vignette set in a Parisian café, Roast tells the story of a businessman's plight once he realizes he's forgotten his wallet. There's an unctuous waiter bringing endless espressos, a fly-haloed beggar, and an apple-cheeked nun at the adjacent table with a big wad of cash in her purse. There's also no dialogue, just a lot of musical Mickey-Mousing. It's cute, and no doubt accomplished from a zeroes-and-ones standpoint, but French Roast lacks buzz.

La Dama y la Muerte Spain's La Dama y la Muerte, energetic and engaging though it is, is also the first of four films dealing with aging and/or death (and not in a wholesome Lupo the Butcher manner, either). A little old lady drifts off to sleep, clutching the photograph of the dead husband she longs to join. Just as the Grim Reaper comes to collect her, modern medicine—in the form of a preening masked doctor with an Elvis coiffure and a harem of hotsy-totsy nurses—intervenes and brings the old lady back from the brink. A terrible tug-of-war ensues, but the hilarity can't hide the essential melancholy of a widow no longer interested in living.

A Matter of Loaf and Death Nick Park will have to work faster to best Walt Disney's record 26 Academy Award wins, but the smart money has him walking away with another statuette Sunday, based on name recognition alone. The longest short at 30 minutes, A Matter of Loaf and Death finds cheese-loving Wallace and his long-suffering pup Gromit running a bakery. It is nowhere near as engaging as, say, 1993's The Wrong Trousers, but that shouldn't matter. In each of their adventures, Gromit comes across like a canine Hedy Carlson, determined to undermine any potential interloper to his cozy toast-and-tea lifestyle with Wallace. In Loaf, it's one Piella Bakewell, a hardy harridan who sets her toque for the gormless Wallace just as someone's been killing the (great) bakers of Britain. Gee, whoever could be responsible for these crimes? There are great action set pieces, but the new characters don't measure up to Shaun the Sheep or that gloriously evil penguin.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty The big animation news out of Ireland this awards season is the essentially unseen feature nominee The Secret of Kells. The country's nominated short, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, is far less newsworthy, and it seems cruel to show it after the Park piece. Essentially, an Irish gran with Heatmeiser hair wearing a stretched-out woolen jumper scares the bejeezus out of a child when she over-identifies with the overlooked bad fairy while reading Sleeping Beauty. And that's it. The storytelling takes place in 3D-ish CG, while the fairy tale unfolds in filigreed 2D animation as crudely rendered as a "Fractured Fairy Tale," albeit without the anarchic charm.

Next up should be the much-bruited and brutally funny fifth nominee, Logorama. [Watch it here.] However, run times must be padded and homage must be paid to shortlisted also-rans from usual suspects like Pixar, Canada, and the former Soviet Bloc. The aforementioned Pixar short Partly Cloudy is an only partly engaging tale of a clumsy cumulous. His fellow fluffy clouds ably make babies and kitties and puppies for storks to deliver, while he churns out spiny porcupines and snappish gators, to the dismay of his designated avian.

Runaway Canada keeps it simple with the straightforward, spindly animation of Runaway. A train collides with a cow, and eventually everything goes off the rails. The only surprise is the short's pointed class commentary. The engineer abandons the fireman to pitch woo to a pretty passenger, while the well-off swells persuade the lower-class travelers to sell them all their luggage and clothing to stoke the stove before pulling the pin coupling their cars and cutting them loose.

The Kinematograph uses elegant but bloodless CG to animate the story of a Polish inventor who comes up with talking moving pictures—in color—well before the Lumière brothers shot a single train, factory, worker, or baby. But the world will never know because (SPOILER ALERT!) his beloved wife dies of consumption or TB or something, and he stays holed up in his attic watching her flickering image instead of sharing his invention with the world.

Logorama After that tearjerker, the program closes with a palate-cleansing senseless bloodbath. Yay! A title warns of the adult content and gives ample time for kids to exit before Logorama begins. Its inclusion among the nominees is startling: The entire 16-minute movie animates L.A. using the corporate logos and icons of global capitalism. Ronald McDonald goes on a murderous rampage, and the Bibendum (Michelin Man) cops trading Tarantino-esque pop culture banter are powerless to stop him from trashing the whole town. Will Esso Girl, Big Boy, and the Haribo kid survive the bloodbath? It hardly matters. Win or lose, Logorama is a foul-mouthed victory for fair-use abuse.

Posted by ahillis at 8:35 PM | Comments (1)

March 3, 2010

CONTEST: Win a STINGRAY SAM DVD and Soundtrack

Stingray Sam

"Stingray Sam is not a hero..." but musician-filmmaker Cory McAbee's drolly inventive sci-fi/western/musical has made a heroic self-distributed leap to DVD. [Official site here.] From my original review last year:

Rocketing through another monochrome corner of the gently surreal, weird-humored universe shared by his lovely, Lynchian 2001 intergalactic musical The American Astronaut (any film with characters named "The Blueberry Pirate" and "The Boy Who Actually Saw a Female Breast" makes my cut in this decade's cult canon), musician-filmmaker-actor Cory McAbee again follows his heart and whimsical mind to the outer limits with Stingray Sam. Modeled after old Buck Rogers serials and the like, McAbee's musical space-western yarn spans six serialized episodes, each "presented" by fictional every-corp Liberty Chew Chewing Tobacco, a satirical stand-in for the annoying overlap between entertainment and consumer culture (commercials, ubiquitous product placements, having to whore oneself to make a living).

GreenCine Daily has a Stingray Sam DVD and soundtrack CD to give away to one lucky reader in the U.S. To enter to win, check out the three screenshots below the jump and determine each film. (Hint: In honor of McAbee's film, one's a musical, another's a western, and the other is sci-fi). One random winner who correctly identifies all three films will be chosen on Friday to win both discs. UPDATE: Congrats to Chris Clark! The answers were Dead Man, The Thing From Another World, and Forbidden Zone.

?????????

Send your answers to cinephiliac [at] gmail [dot] com with the subject line "Stingray Sam" and please include your full name and mailing address... Good luck!

Posted by ahillis at 11:54 PM | Comments (2)

March 1, 2010

DVD OF THE WEEK: The September Issue

The September Issue

The September Issue
Directed by R.J. Cutler
2009, 90 minutes, USA

Cutler's luxuriant pop doc takes a fly-on-the-wall peek at how one of the titular editions of Vogue magazine (colloquially known in the fashion industry as "The Bible") is produced, and 2007's Sienna Miller-covered 840-pager was clearly a dishy ish to document. Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the Prada-clad devil herself, inexplicably allowed Cutler intimate access to her daily wheeling, dealing and notorious ice-queeny disapproval, yet remains as guarded in plain sight as Bob Dylan was in Dont Look Back. The film was shot in the eight months leading up to the release of what's still the thickest in magazine history, and culled from over 300 hours of footage to streamline a vibrant narrative about both the workplace machinations and the uneasy collaboration between Queen Wintour and her more grounded creative director Grace Coddington. Their back-and-forth, enhanced by the bitchy asides, pronounced eye-rolling and frightened Anna-pleasing of the supporting players, is deliciously entertaining if not exactly nutritious for the soul.

The September Issue (literally)What's fabulous about the newly released DVD of The September Issue is that it includes a second disc with over 90 minutes of deleted scenes, allowing viewers another taste of the industry at its most influential and utterly ridiculous. It's true that in narrative filmmaking, deleted material usually proves to have been excised for good reason (it's either garbage or filler) and doesn't carry as much perceived extra value as it did in the early days of digital home video, but the carefully curated content here hints at how the story arc was shaped since docs are "scripted" in post-production. Cutler and his team captured choice content with Wintour (including her eulogy at Isabella Blow's funeral), Coddington (a home tour of personal photos and memorabilia from her former life as a model), editor-at-large André Leon Talley (whose literally larger-than-life appearance and behavior were reduced to comic relief in the film), and an extended version of the Miller cover shoot, most of which is compelling but doesn't serve the Coddington-Wintour dynamic that the film wisely focuses on. There's also more of shrimpy Thai designer Thakoon, a boring but necessary presence in the film (and more the former than latter in the supplements), but hey, Sarah Jessica Parker and Michelle Obama sure love his couture!

The September IssueAt this point, it might seem like only fashionistas and their devotees would want to bother with the second disc since it is as long as the film itself, but personally, my favorite scene wasn't even in the feature but a cutting-room floor scrap. "Nuclear Wintour" earned her nickname for a reason, but even hyper-conscious of her on-camera image, it's only when she's in the company of her daughter Katherine ("Bee") that we see hints of her unshielded off-work demeanor. Cutler chooses not to explore this in the film, save for one illustrative scene in which Bee—a member of a different generation and decidedly non-fashion-related world who doesn't give much weight to her mother's empire of superficiality—practically rolls her eyes at Anna's shop talk.

The September IssueThe unexpectedly hilarious deleted scene that most richly depicts the duplicitous nature of Wintour between fierce empress and doting mother takes place at a private showcase with designer extraordinaire Karl Lagerfeld, Anna and tagalong Bee. The white-haired German wackadoo presents an idea of having a discount shop separate from his regular storefront so that customers who want to pay full price won't have to rub elbows with those who favor a bargain. Sitting beside her daughter and Lagerfeld, Anna's facial expression subtly changes as she tries not to embarrass herself in front of either party (yes, Bee, I know that's idiotic... yes, Karl, that's not a shabby idea...), speaking volumes without saying a word, but was ultimately not necessary to chronicle the more dramatic angle Cutler discovered in the editing suite.

Posted by ahillis at 9:29 PM