Saturday, July 19, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

Freeze Frame Cinema or The Decline of Cinematic Politics: Exhibition

   Joanna Hogg should be forgiven her cinematic sins. Coming from the TV world of themes and cinematic syntax written in bold crayon, of rushed productions schedules and helicopter-Mom executive producers, it must have been a liberating exercise to make a film whose diaphanous through lines end their lives as quickly as cinematic mayflies, to make a film about boredom and all its pins and needles almost-excitements, about a middle aged woman contemplating herself and her sexuality in front of several sets of venetian blinds on several floor to ceiling windows.

    But before we forgive the indulgences of what, in the end, is a criminally boring film, we owe the filmmaker and ourselves some exploration of why it sucks.

Monday, May 19, 2014

You Missed It At Film Forum: The Retrieval

First, The Retrieval has to be admired for what it achieved with its budget. It belongs to a long if largely under-appreciated tradition of low budget war films like Come And See, Generation Kill, Overlord, Kanal, and Full Metal Jacket. Sophomore director, Chris Eska, told Indiewire that he considered several different locations and time periods for this story before settling on the Civil War South. The flexibility to set the same story on the contemporary US/Mexican border, in India in the 1970's, or between Union and Confederate lines in the 1860's could be seen as a sign of overweening acquiescence to one's producers: if there's money to make it in 1970's India with period cars, crowded exteriors with extras in period clothing, let's do it. If not let's ride on this slavery film wave and make a film with Civil War reenactors who already own the uniforms, tents, and rifles. We should consider here, however, that every element of filmmaking is creative, including the management of finances. The producer is herself a vital and intelligent artist - or at least, she better be. What The Retrival did with the money it had is an artistic achievement.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

RIP Bob 'Oskins

If you haven't seen it yet, and/or are wondering if Truffaut was right when he said, "There's no such thing as British cinema," find yourself a copy of the late Bob Hoskins' The Long Good Friday.

If you have seen it, here's the ending again, which is one of my favorite in film history. 90% of that enjoyment is Bob Hoskins. Contains spoilers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

You Missed It At Cinema Village: Soft In The Head/ The Spectacle: India Song

No great acting, no great dialogue, no insights, no comedy, no nice shots. Cringing drama, muddled editting and pacing, a lack of any recognizable setting, a lack of questions, answers, ambiguities other than those produced by the failings of the script and continuity editing.

Soft In The Head is about an self-destructive alcoholic, Natalie, who leaves an abusive boyfriend and ends up on the street. She's taken in by a Christian man who runs a halfway house out of his apartment. The other residents are inarticulate men who struggle to make sense of one another and take each other's neurosis seriously (perhaps inspired by the author's experience sharing an apartment with other New Talkie filmmakers?) Nathan is an emotional cripple who lives with his overbearing Jewish parents. He falls in love with Natalie, who is his sister, Hannah's, friend. Natalie brings chaos into all of these relationships and settings.

That almost sounds like a story worth telling - millennial losers whose challenge, at the end of their drama, is how they can tell their story, which is seemingly so unrelatable and unsympathetic. Nathan Silver's failure to formulate such a narrative underlies the weight of the issue he took on as a filmmaker. The more one squints, the more the project seems worthwhile. One does have to admit Silver has some courage. It does have the merit of being a movie, of having been made and exhibited. This courage should not be ignored. Kickstarter made this movie, and at the end of the day we can say Kickstarter made a movie, a movie that plays by its own rules, that invests itself in its own concerns with its own resources and its own ideas about what a film should be.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Remake Dreamz

If remakes are the way of the future, I'm not going to fight 'em, I'd rather join 'em. If I had my druthers we would remake the following films with these star-for-star substitutions. Please register your protests in the comments.

I submit following for (someone's) consideration:

Sweet Smell of Success with Burt Lancaster's part played by...

Michael Fassbender and...

You Missed It At Light Industry: Poem For The Inland Sea

Yulia Soltsneva made this film based on pre-production material her husband and long time collaborator Alexander Dovzhenko (Zvenigora, Arsenal, Earth) left behind after his death during the post-Stalinist thaw. It's a lyrical, slow propaganda piece about a Ukrainian village (based on his own) about to be submerged under a "new sea" meant to stem drought and feed a hydroelectric plant.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NSFAC (Not Safe For Adam Curtis): A Brief Review of Outbreaks ofCompulsive Dancing on Film (Updated)

German fun. Less scary than it sounds. Especially for a film from the interwar period. What percentage of these actors would emigrate from Germany by 1933?

Ernst Lubitsch left much earlier than that. Some smart businessman in Hollywood figured out early on the cheapest way to dominate a foreign film market was to buy a handful of their best directors plane tickets to Los Angeles. They got one of Germany's best in Ernst Lubitsch. Billy Wilder had a sign on his office wall that read, "What would Lubitsch do?" If you'd like to see how well Lubitsch adapted to sound, adapted to making comedies in English, and his feelings on authoritarian states check out Ninotchka (written by Wilder, starring Garbo) or To Be Or Not To Be.

And for those who are unfamiliar with the great Adam Curtis and/or his uncanny fear of watching people dance...

Friday, March 21, 2014

People Who Have A Problem With Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron has been getting flack from some corners for being a shrewd Hollywood director, for revitalizing ideology rather than making art. At the end of conversations with friends and articles like those linked above, participants reluctantly admit that this is kind of the point of a film like Gravity. We don't always sit down in front of our projectors and computers and watch Bresson and Jean Eustache when we want to unwind, we don't all read Thomas Mann on the beach, we don't go to warehouse parties to dance to big band band jazz. If Americans figured out anything really interesting about modern culture it's this: that a steady diet of trash is not only permissible but necessary, and not just because our work hours so exhaust us or have us so caught up in their rhythms that, when we have some leisure time, we can only relate to a culture that has been as mangled as we have by our work days.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Whit Stillman Interview by The Seventh Art


Good Guy Whit Stillman offers young filmmakers a story they can actually use. Here's a very practical interview on how one of the better American indie filmmakers got himself going. The first 12 minutes are free, the rest you have to pay to see on Seventh Art's Vimeo page.

I believe Metropolitan is currently on Netflix. It's very good. Go watch that too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

You Just Missed It At Light Industry: Last Chants For A Slow Dance

Real independent films can be trying. The first issue is budgetary. You'll never really know where the money of a Hollywood film goes till you've seen a film made without any - without lights, without sound design, without a crew, without re-shoots, coverage, script supervisor, or real actors. Film history regresses, the crudities of silent and early sound film reappear. Without an experienced cinematographer who can organize the grammar of shots in his head with an intuitive, musical sense as much as a methodical technical one, the director can throw his Eisenstein and Pudovkin in the trash, montage falls apart on set and there is no guarantee it will recover in the editing room, especially when the director is doing that too.

The second reason is internal to the idea of independence itself. Real independence - not the $3 million Sundance movie kind, but the Alex Kluge or the Troma kind - represents a way of thinking that is fundamentally at odds with its society, or at least the public as the vertically integrated film industry has imagined and defined it. This can be equally as frustrating. This can be an excuse for the shots that don't cut together, scenes the drag on without a script or actors who can improvise convincingly, for poor exposures and soft focus.

Monday, February 17, 2014

You Just Missed It At The Spectacle: Supermarkt

SUPERMARKT (Roland Klick, 1974) from Spectacle Theater on Vimeo.

I was working a double on Sunday and a coworker was nice enough to let me slack off for 84 minutes to go around the corner to The Spectacle to see a movie I'd been waiting to see for a month now. I arrived when the lights were low and the previews were rolling, enough pale light flashed off the screen for me to recognize my friend standing in the isle. He informed me there were no more seats except in the front. We sat down and I immediately knew I was in trouble. The pixels for the trailers were the size of ice cubes. I could have reached up and grabbed a handful with my legs still touching my chair. I was hoping it was it was the trailer file, but the feature  wasn't much better. Ice cubes again, now mostly black, swallowing ever subtle difference in color Jost Vacano used to makes his character's sensible against the dark walls of the various squats, back alleys, and dirty bedrooms of the Hamburg Reeperbahn. As my eyes darted up from the subtitles at bottom of the screen to the image an unintentional rainbow of text stuttered over the rotting shit colors of 70's West Germany as the white projector light separated into bright red, green, and blue.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

You Just Missed It At The Spectacle: Carlos Suara's Honeycomb

This series concerns films shown in independent theater in New York (and possibly Philly). The website for The Spectacle can be found here.

Terror Involontaire

The disintegration of a couple in beautiful bourgeois home, the mode of European art cinema. One has to wonder if government subsidized filmmaking always comes with a historically preserved or recently repossessed mansion. What else are you going to do with it but use it to skewer to the bourgeoisie, to build from sexual confusion, failure, and vice the bedrock of the rest of society and the rest of the world? Like hubris in Greek myth, its a germ that produced as many great stories as there are great authors even though they all begin in the same place, take the same path, and arrive at the same end - from Rules of The Game, to Yo-Yo, to Beauty and The Beast, to Last Year In Marienbad, to L'Age D'Or - the bourgeois home is an artistic machine, a hurdy gurdy you either know how to play or wind up caught in its gears.

In Honeycomb Carlos Saura steps into that old arena, made as much for the battles of fairy tales as militant socialism, to bring the affects of the bourgeois past to bear on the present, not to indict past sins but the progression of those sins, of the sanitization of middle class decay represented in modernist design, brought about with the logic of market efficiencies.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Age of Appendix or Why Youtube Comments Are Great (But We Need Something Better)

"Journalist" is just a nice way of saying "dilettante." A journalist is a culturally necessary intellectual that finds her place in the greater society as result of her incompleteness. In this society, we're only as useful as we are incomplete. Papers, magazines, and news sites would be incomprehensible if every story was written by people who were an expert in a given subject. Each field of expertise has its own language, it's own apartment up at the top of the tower of Babel, a good journalist can speak that language, but not well enough to go as far with a subject as an expert. We have to imagine journalist live with a certain kind of anxiety, that their usefulness to a societal whole also marks an incredible vulnerability. What if the experts turn on her? What if they bring the fights they have up in the ivory tower back down to earth? What if they start accuse her of the laziness, bias and vanity they accuse each other of? Or what if the the dilettante's that have had the time to go a little farther than her into a field of study subject her to the same treatment, without any respect for the scope of her work or the time frame she had to complete it in?


Kleist on Marianettes