A few notes about Bartholomew Cubbins’ Artifact, a documentary about Jared Leto’s divisive band 30 Seconds to Mars. I reviewed the documentary here on Entertainment Maven as part of my shitty TIFF coverage. As you can see,
a) A friend of mine told me that Leto is a germophobe which is half-true (he later confided in me that the rock star does shake hands on occasion). And obviously it’s strange to watch him walk around New York City, the dirtiest city in the world where half of the teenagers mob celebrities like him. How gentrified is New York for him to feel safe to walk around in?
b) There’s also this assumption that Leto’s foray into music is some misguided thing to avoid the matinee-idol fame brought on my his TV and movie career. But he’s starring and directing a movie, this movie, so he’s probably more comfortable within the movie-making world than I was led to believe. If anything, I have a new theory now that he only got into acting (he’s back at that industry again, by the way) to pay for the music which, as the documentary reveals, is not as lucrative even for big name bands such as his.
Anyway, the reason I’m writing all of this is to explain that in one of the scenes in Artifact, a quasi-movie star walking around the streets of New York was mobbed by a little group of teenage girls. One girl tells him that she’s his biggest fan, yadda, telling him about her favourite movie in the world. A brief guessing game ensues, ending quickly when she says ‘the one with the crazy lady.’ He correctly figured that the movie she was talking about was Requiem for a Dream, but without saying that the ‘crazy lady’ is Ellen Burstyn. Young people have no respect.
b) During the end credits, director Bartholomew Cubbins and the band thanks Olivia de Haviland. de Haviland, back in the day, fought for the rights of actors against restrictive contracts that the studios were signing them up for. Here’s to hoping that Leto, his band, and musicians under record labels, who apparently have little chance of making money in their music careers, will get the same freedom that actors do.
I’m linking and recommending you to two websites that have Hot Docs coverage, because I write for both. The first is Nathaniel R’s The Film Experience (link below), where I write my first impressions on the Hot Docs line-up, intimidated by a few stand out movies that have too serious of subjects. Or at least that is true with some of the festivals’ opening movies such as The Invisible War and Outing. The former captures talking heads who have firsthand experience of the rape within the military while the latter is about a man who, at fifteen, discovers his sexual attraction to children. But there is a silver lining to the festival’s programs as I’ve discovered other, fringe-y subjects who look at the bright side of their imperfect circumstances.
The second is Entertainment Maven, where our friend Kirk Haviland has written a preview of the festival. He starts his coverage by reviewing Brett Whitcomb’s Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I share reviewing duties with him, starting with the Ross Brothers’ Tchoupitoulas, a movie sharing a name with a bustling street in New Orleans’ French Quartier. I’ve also seen Najeeb Mirza’s Buzkashi, about a traditional Tajik sport that’s raising Western eyebrows. I also have pending tickets about Tajikistan’s powerful neighbours in The Boxing Girls of Kabul. I’m sensing that my coverage is more international than I previously thought. I’m also looking forward to our co-reviewer Nadia Sue Sandhu who is bravely facing the James Franco doc, among others. This week will be tiring, as most scary fun things are.
- Hot Docs: Paolo’s Opening Reactions (thefilmexperience.net)
Oh Pina, you esoterically creative movie you. You adequately use 3D. You let old people dance. I thought you were going to be just one dance piece after another but you also show the titular Pina Bausch teaching her company and those dancers whose lives she has touched. Here’s a media-heavy, pretentious are the movies/ dances/songs that I remember when I watched you.
1940: Fantasia – Walt Disney uses the end of the Jurassic period to accompany the music as opposed to the original subject matter. Speaking of which, how old was I when I knew about human sacrifices. I couldn’t have been that old. Also, my high school put together a performance of Printemps.
2009: Coco and Igor – Director Jan Kounen takes us to the first performance of Vaslav Nijinski‘s vision. We mostly see the the blackness that envelopes the dancers as the wait for the audience’s reactions while having to go on like professionals should. Nijinsky and Igor Stravinsky later fight about the piece’s reaction.
2009: Mao’s Last Dancer (Bruce Beresford. ch. Graeme Murphy) – Instead of a woman, the company’s star is a man, Li Cunxin. I’m not sure what the story is here, whether he’s the sacrifice or the one doing the sacrificing but this athletic, daring and exposing choreography looks enthralling.
2011: Pina (Wim Wenders) – Bausch’s interpretation of the dance is more arm-y although it incorporates the jumps in Nijinsky’s original choreography. The story is more coherent and shows how death randomly chooses its young victims as the multinational company pass along the chosen virgin’s ironic red dress.
2002: Hable con ella – This movie’s Cafe Mueller scene is probably many movie lovers’ introduction to Bausch. Her gaunt face and slenderness complements the piece’s theme of yearning, even in an adult, contemporary setting where those kind of emotions should be eliminated by civilization and choice. The movie ends with Bausch’s piece Mascura Fogo, which is so simple and physically expressive that only someone like Bausch can invent it.
2011: Pina – The movie both shows Bausch’s rendition of her own choreography with the equally moving tribute by one of her company’s dancers. They also take bits of Café Mueller to different environments, making its lines look natural and transcendent. Oh and her pieces mostly seem to be about mating, barriers and behaviours about love.
1946: It’s a Wonderful Life - Kontakthof strikes me as a very American piece with the multipurpose dance hall setting. It’s if its context would be relatable on both sides of the Atlantic, the dance hall a place for people to reacquaint with each other. I’d also make the same association with They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? if I saw that movie.
2011: Pina – Unlike the two movies I stated above, Kontakthof uses the setting to play around with age and dancing traditions. A ‘senior’ troupe performed this piece in Britain. The Wuppertals mix the ages around, the seasoned veterans sharing the floor with the new blood. The pieces have their different purposes, Printemps showing what Bausch is famous for, Mueller retraces her steps, Kontakthof passes her legacy to new generations.
2002: “The Private Press” -Contemporary dance seems like the medium’s Wild West in a way that despite of the dominant use of (contemporary) classical and baroque music used in the pieces, any company can use whatever music they like. My favourite scene is when I’m sure that are the performers dancing to a song from the first half of DJ Shadow’s second album.
2010: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky. ch. Benjamin Millepied?) – It’s taken me this long and this piece to revisit that movie’s histrionics. The set here is just a full moon at the background, one of James Wolcott’s points against the movie in his scathing review. I can only compare Black Swan‘s sets to Wuppertals’ big rock and flooded stage as apples and oranges. There’s an air to their approach to how both stage dance as minimalist if not for the ornamental details, like the translucent curtains that both movies share.
- The Magic Of Pina Bausch (buzzfeed.com)
I first watched Morgan Spurlock‘s Sundance hit Super Size Me some time within my last two years in high school, possibly during my Media Studies class where all we did was watch movies. Or maybe was it in Ethics class. The director has a weird reputation for me now, seeming like some attention-grabbing, condescending liberal to end all condescending liberals. The fact that fellow (and possible rival) liberal Michael Moore is no longer on the spotlight doesn’t help to take any heat off Spurlock. In the film, he goes on this thirty-day experiment of only consuming the foods and drinks is on the McDonalds’ menu, agreeing to be ‘Super Sized’ when asked. But at least, I suppose, he wasn’t drinking or smoking during those thirty days.
He points the camera mostly to himself, renting a car to cut his physical activity and exercise. Being ‘strung out on ham’ and complaining about the diet’s effects which I couldn’t really see. This ‘performance’ part of the movie sticks out in the eight years between the first and second time I’ve seen this, being one of three documentaries that occasionally lifts my willing suspension of disbelief. Super Size Me‘s popularity has also prompted him to do a cable series called “30 Days” where he convinces Americans to place themselves within different shoes for thirty days, like an Islamophobe to Muslim Michigan or himself to prison. I don’t remember anyone else watching this show.
But I can admit that I misread Spurlock as a filmmaker and person. He explains that he was raised in West Virginia and as a tall, athletic man with weird facial hair, he makes sense both as a New Yorker and as a middle American, just like the people he visits and interviews to get the McDonalds experience in different states like California, DC and the fattest state of Texas (I suppose that with the knowledge of the physical state of the latter state, if there was another Civil War the gun-less, pacifist Union might still win).
And it’s not all just him hogging the camera. Yes, the B-roll of ‘fat’ Americans both young and all makes me feel like I have to poke fun of someone as part of experiencing this movie. But as one of many ‘experts’ in this film says, it’s better to convince someone to stop smoking or drinking than to tell someone to go on a diet. A black lung or liver is a state that people get themselves into, as opposed to obesity that might be genetically inherited. But the States has become the world’s fattest country and the proves this by letting these experts speak, whether they be general practitioners (doctors), dietitians, civil litigators, ‘cooks’ in American public schools and surgeons. He also makes statistics about American obesity rates and the dynamics of the food market both fun and scary to look at between watching him get queasy after a Big Mac.
Let’s also look at how the film perceives women. Two thirds of the doctors he consults before and during his experiment are women. There’s also his girlfriend, whose complaints about his sexual worthlessness during those thirty days. She’s also an archetypal vegetarian, attempting to use the experiment as a way of convincing him that meat is hazardous to one’s health even if it’s within or outside the McMenu. She has also planned a detox diet for him after his McDonalds month and I’ll just be bitchy and say that he could have planned his own detox.
Spurlock narrates in the beginning that most of his memories of his mother was her cooking food except for those special occasions when his family would eat out. Which is no longer the case in most families in America and he shows a food court that replaces the dinner table. It’s almost as if there’s a warped mind somewhere thinking that the country’s obesity problem is rooted on mothers who no longer toil for their families’ dinners. That we can return to equilibrium again if we put women back in the kitchen. He thankfully never says that. Instead he goes on for five minutes about an overhaul and regulation of fast food ubiquity, getting rid of many cola vending machines, introducing real food that’s inaccessible to places in the States and cracking down on fast food corporations. Too bad he’s just preaching to the choir.
- Super Sell Me: Spurlock Keen To Expose Brands (news.sky.com)
Not to be confused with the Rick Mercer show, the documentary “Made in Canada” is coming out on SunTV at the fall. It’s so cool it doesn’t have an iMDb page yet. Well, it is fall now, and I hope my fellow countrymen sees director Scott Boyd’s journey into making a film in his land. He brushes us up on Canada’s film history and the ridiculous quest for Canadian public funding centred in Toronto (film) and Banff (television). Boyd interviews the people running the system and those defeated by it, as well as discussing the fate and reception of the material that does get approved. Although there’s a lot of footage of Boyd in a funding conference, cringing in a large chair with a drink in one hand, there should be an optimistic end to this rainbow. Like him, the people he interviews have a great sense of humour about the system and the marketing of Canadian films, a quality that helps them in their journey to get their stories out.
This documentary also takes me back (remember “ZedTV?”)when I actually watched the real films in Showcase in my high school years when the channel was still cool. The latter channel, as much as they showed worldwide and Amerindie fare, also introduced me to the work of Vincenzo Natali and is the reason Don McKellar, pre-Grey’s Sandra Oh and Sarah Polley, not interviewed in the doc, are still my heroes. Thus, the defeatist tone of the film’s first half differs from my experience, because the same people who say that Canadian films suck are the same people who say that Toronto is boring, which, get out there, you’re wrong. Which brings us to the people who don’t give Canadian content a chance who get ‘fair’ representation in the documentary.
It wasn’t until watching “Made in Canada” that I realized if any of those movies made money in theatres where it’s supposed to count. And like every other boring film fan, there’s a few screenplays dancing inside my head, and if writing it feels like walking a mile, getting it out there will feel like a thousand. Good luck to us all.
Since the titular institution in Frederick Wiseman‘s Boxing Gym runs for 24 hours, it would be right for the film to have, structurally, a cyclical and impressionistic feel instead of having an arc. We see the Austin-based gym owner interviewing new applicants. Yes, the gym has its share of professionals and attractive ones – which might motivate someone like me to keep going to a gym, honestly – but the most captivating ones are the amateurs. The owner talks about how the more braggart newbies are the kind that never stays, tell a young mother that her newborn is safe in his environment and ask a young. He also asks a college age applicant whether the latter is joining just to beat up a man he doesn’t like.
From his applicants we see that the owner is pretty hands on by training some of the members are running some creative strength and cardio classes himself. In one scene, a mother, while binding and gloving her son’s hands before training, shares how the owner has helped her in her boxing stance. Another scene showing one of the cardio classes is the most visual in the film. Start just after sunrise, the yellow-brown bricks making up the buildings of Austin depicted like a de Chirico painting, the class running up and down a grey multi-story parking lot closer to the downtown core.
Wiseman captures these people learn to box on their own. The film closes up on the members’ backs while throwing punches in the air or their feet while a timer intermittently goes off in the background, latently providing the film’s rhythm. Some of these scenes and be considered as endurance tests for say, a five-minute long scene just showing a member’s sneakers. It’s reminiscent of what Jake Cole said in review of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, especially with watching Nina Sayers practice her multiple spins without Tchaikovsky’s piano music nor a partner. It feels awkward watching these boxers in a private dance in their own heads, although most of the time there’s some spiritual and communal connection to the space even when these people are alone.
Speaking of white people, Susan G. Cole‘s review of the film negatively pointed out that the NYT workplace depicted in the documentary is whiter than Obama’s dance moves. The rest of this paragraph will show my weird expectations about the film and the institution, the expectations being that it’s all ‘liberal’ elite kind of white. However, they do show it’s Iraq-war pushing history or David Carr looking like the kind of guys that hung out where I would shoot pool when I was in high school. I don’t mind white as long as it’s not vanilla.
- Here’s Why There Are (Almost) No Women In The Big NYT ‘Page One’ Documentary (thenewspundit.com)
Renée is a documentary about the tennis player/eye doctor Renée Richards, who made a splash in the 1970′s tennis scene because she was born Richard Raskind. There are two threads in this documentary about transformation. The first being the forces, like transphobia, that’s stopping her from taking the top spot. The second are her friendships as both Richard and Renée. We see her in present day dealing with her fractured relationship with her son whom she abandoned and occasionally visits. Renée could have been about both instead of just about Renée, but looking back now, that possibility would have been too depressing, but this film nonetheless decides to show her contentment in changing into a woman. This is also a sports film, and there’s focus on her interest in sports as a man and her technique and flaws on amateur and professional courts, shown in colorfully restored footage. Also Contains short but graphic depictions of sex change operations. 4/5.
Playing before the documentary is a short film called “Love and Other Red Spot Specials,” about a male-to-female transvestite in Australia. I was expecting Chris Lilley.
- Op-Ed Columnist : Between Torment and Happiness (nytimes.com)
I didn’t get to see a lot of movies from Hot Docs this year because of scheduling conflicts and other cluster fucks. This is not a personal blog so I’ll just go right ahead and talk about the whopping two movies that I did see as a plebe.
There are many similarities between Who Took the Bomp – Le Tigre on Tour and The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. They’re both a part of the late night screenings this year, both about experimental musicians who do need to be properly introduced to the viewing public who may not know about the genres and the musicians, both refuse to be elegies by showing their own brand of quasi-hipster happiness.
The first scenes of Bomp are shaky, not knowing the balance between performed amateurism and the band taking themselves seriously enough, but these aspects of Le Tigre’s mission statement eventually merge. It’s like a Hello Kitty doll giving the finger, the film punctuated by the band performing its danceable tunes about feminism, LGBT visibility, etc. It seamlessly weaves through its characters equally showcasing each band member so it’s not just about lead vocalist/guitarist Kathleen Hanna, who has her long provenance. It’s also about the fans, like one who is memorably touched by Hanna’s kind words. 4/5. I should have given it a 3.
Ballad, however, is a film version of a shrine, showing home videos of a dominatrix/artist/musician Lady Jaye accompanied by voice-overs of her pandrogynous husband, industrial musician/artist Genesis P-Orridge. The dreamlike Lady Jaye can’t speak for herself, in her part within their strangest of couplings – they decided to undergo plastic surgery to look more like each other. But her image and Genesis’ voice is enough to make us feel the happiness of a person who finds his true love while on an impressionistic journey in finding his true self. 4/5.
So this guy Mark Hogencamp of Kingston, NY get ‘queer-bashed,’ leaving him brain-damaged, but comes out of it with the best revenge – better artistic skills and penmanship than me? I’m not saying with schadenfreude that his skills as an artist should be as stalled as mine, but not fair, world.
Hogencamp is as multifaceted as the aesthetic of the fictional town he has created with his two hands, Marwencol, a portmanteau of his name and the two most important women in her life, Mark, Wendy and Colleen. The film, as much as it is dedicated towards his fictional world, also focuses on the man who has created it. He talks normally except for stressing the words ‘angry’ and ‘drink,’ two of his past vices. He’s honest about the porno tape that an old VCR has eaten up or other revelations about his views and practices on sexuality as revealed through the real world and his fictional one. The film lets us watch the man evolve.
Significant portions of the film is devoted to showing storyboard stills of Mark’s stills of the WWII dolls placed in both the town he’s physically constructed, both within 1/6th scale, and seamlessly within natural settings. I’m gonna nitpick and say the the zippers seem larger than scale, but that’s about it. His friends say that he expresses his anger through the dolls, an admirable action because of how he does it. He carefully paints the scars and bullet holes into the body of these dolls instead of attacking them. At first this feels like he’s staining those dolls until we see the effect he successfully conveys, making the violence look like the dolls have inflicted them on each other, as certain plot points of Marwencol’s story go.
Those stills are more colorful than the less glamourous people like Mark and certain townspeople of Kingston, NY from whom some of the characters in Marwencol are based on. No human Barbie dolls and war hunks in Mark’s real world, which make them more special since the film lets us see the beauty that Mark sees in them. These people are interviewed one by one, their reactions to his art as unabashedly honest as the fiction Mark creates. His best friend says that he’s ‘partaken in battles and come out on top,’ Marwencol then becoming a balance between communal fantasy and a symbol for the wars Mark endures to be healed.
Visually, Inside Job, the documentary about the 2008 economic collapse that has led to a worldwide recession, could be broken down into three parts. The scenic Iceland. The glamorous glass infrastructure that houses our contemporary financial institutions and the mostly American men who have made this stratified section possible. The consequences of these individuals’ greed, mostly damaging the working class. The fourth part is just like the second, returning to the greedy dicks who still think they can dictate the terms of this investigative documentary.
As most films, it’s all about inclusion and exclusion. Why we see a black screen with caption about Timothy Geithner and others who declined to be interviewed for this film, instead of the same caption accompanying an unflattering picture of them. Why we see a young, good gal Brooksley Born and not a young, baddie Henry Paulsen. The faces of those people who got huge severance that could buy islands, and that those faces don’t necessarily belong to white men. Graphs! Charts! That if Errol Morris was doing the interviewing, he would kill these people on the spot.
Yes, the film still feels like reading an article of Newsweek or another ‘intellectual’ weekly that I don’t buy off the stands. Not even Matt Damon could help me decipher what complicated of a mess the people in power has made the world’s economy into. How does credit and property turn bad? How do these people bet on mortgages and make their sadistic wishes on those mortgages come true? All these questions help generate a discussion and/or make the ones who know remember. Economics has never been my strong suit.
The film also has the potential to be interactive. At the parts I actually understood, I flailed my arms and was this close to yelling at the screen. When one of the lobbyists interviewed kept saying ‘um’ while trying to defend the criminal activities of the men he defended, some guy behind me kept yelling ‘um’ back, taunting the lobbyist. It’s like a smart, literate man’s Rocky Horror.
The third act shows that this movie isn’t just about watching grown men squirm and actually exposes the damage is more extensive that previously thought. Do you want a glimpse of how a $13 billion country is in trouble? Greed’s Reaganite roots? Where the residents of foreclosed houses go, where the jobs of both the American and Chinese manufacturing industry end up? The stratification of education as well as the amoral education that the rich get? This is your movie. And this movie doesn’t help me wanna get an adult job at all, seeing the consequences.
Two weeks ago, UofT Professor James Cahill introduced CINSSU to the work of scientist and filmmaker Jean Painleve, who associates this
And if you were wondering what it would be like to play Nosferatu with jazz music, Painleve answers your prayers.
A Film Unfinished documents the story of three mysterious reels found in the mountains of a then East German film archive. These reels bear the title ‘Das Ghetto,’ a propaganda film of the Warsaw ghetto that captures the daily lives of the Jews living there. It also show the wide gap between rich and poor Jews and tries to create a strained relationship between those two groups.
What clarifies the truth within these images is a reenactment of a testimony by one of the German filmmakers documenting the footage – Willy Wist, who admits to how systematic the Nazis were.
Another way to shed light into the footage are a handful of elderly Jews who were children in the ghetto years who watch the footage and debunk it. They talk about the inflation and deflation of certain truths into arranged narratives. They clarify that the comfortable dining rooms are owned by twenty or so Jews who were a small part of the thousands who would eat the flowers shown in the footage. In reality, one family had a room, twenty families to a house, the ghettos overcrowded. How The Nazi filmmakers have brought in geese and champagne from the outside to film a banquet scene. But really, only a few can afford what the Germans allowed – horse meat. Children who have smuggled food into the ghetto are shot. Or how one’s mother would wear a colourful coat, keeping her ‘dignity’ despite her hunger. Or disdainfully laugh at a hilariously inaccurate funeral procession scene and circumcision scene.
What’s surprising, however, is how these lies became a bit like the truth. An elder would talk about decent people who would throw their dead family members on the street, one corpse every few meters. The German filmmakers have herded and instructed Jewish passers-by to walk by these corpses, making them look unsympathetic and callous against their own neighbours. This indifference became a way of life, an elder says, a way to keep one’s sanity.
Pardon the ‘final thought,’ and this isn’t the message of the film but what I got from it. Ignoring the homeless and their pleas – guilty as charged here. Letting ourselves be misinformed about people from other races and religions. There are traces of Nazis’ behaviour today.
- Film: Review: A Film Unfinished (avclub.com)
Restrepo chronicles 15 months in the lives of soldiers deployed in outposts of the breathtaking, unassuming and dangerous Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Journalist/ co-directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington capture it in a cellphone camera, shaky cam, non-shaky cam and post-interviews when we get too close into the soldier’s faces. In one of the documentary’s first scenes as the troops drive up to their outposts, the Taliban starts shooting at them. The directors didn’t have time to get sound equipment. It feels like the camera has luck instead of access to capture what they can, making the experience too raw and real. Yes, the first few scenes are jarring, but things eventually smooth out when the multicultural, heterosexual platoon create an outpost they call OP Restrepo.
In another earlier scene, Cortez uses updated Joseph Conrad language but we can’t spite him because he follows that with realizing the possibility of his death within the same sentence. He also talks about the effects he’s experienced of a certain mission in his tour of duty in the Korangal. The directors juxtapose the not-so-bad with the bad, duplicating the emotional whirlwind that the soldiers face daily. Pemble-Belkin has hippie parents, goes to war, draws the scenic valley that might kill him. His mother’s birthday follows a charismatic comrade’s death. A shot of another officer sun tanning gets me nervous because we saw his legs first. They’re told they’re coming home and later told that nine men from another platoon have died.
There are so many little details packed into this film, aided by the soldiers’ different personalities. These guys are knowledgeable in geography and strategy and try their hardest in public relations. That they’re silly enough to get into wrestling matches or make faint-praise gay jokes to each other, or drag each other into dancing to shitty 80′s remix music. That they’re allowed to bring their PS2 consoles. That they’re shirtless a lot, even in winter, which still makes me kinda jealous. That asking for unconditional love and cooperation after accidentally killing a few locals is a splendid way of apologizing, Kearney.
That reminds of the few ‘shuras’ or meetings with the elderly men with dyed red beards featured in the film show that the locals in the film might be nameless but aren’t entirely voiceless. Also, strangely, the few shots of local women and children whose costumes are still colourful despite the war, one girl shying away from the camera. Or birds circling the snowy peaks of the valley makes me think I’ve watched a muscular version of Black Narcissus.
Let me use this part of this post to kinda gripe about the conventions of war films, a genre I didn’t know I loved. Thankfully, this film doesn’t show nor push for war archetypes. Yes, the soldiers sometimes remind me that they’re still the frat boy meat heads of yore by shooting ammo and letting out a hoot. Or when they’re slightly amused by the Taliban running and their body parts dangling, but no more. There are no local bleeding hearts, just ones with grievances. There are blood-soaked uniforms instead of gratuitous death scenes, especially that of the youngest, innocentest one we see in war films. Coldly recounted events instead of soliloquies. Kearney makes passive-aggressive yet carefully constructed language about killing ‘individuals’ – delivered in a straightforward way – instead of being the groan-worthy token racist guy. And no close-ups of dead animals.
Lastly, there’s the other war archetype – Restrepo himself. The film and outpost get their names from PFC Juan C. Restrepo, the said charismatic soldier. The film’s references to him feel like laces, like a soldier gleefully remembering the drunken moments with him in Rome – and yes, I’m jealous because they’ve been to Rome. Or another impersonating his long fingernails and fantabulous flamenco guitar skills, giving us the impression that he may have talked funny. He seemed like a Cool Hand Luke figure, getting that nostalgic treatment because of his death. Nonetheless, this film isn’t about him, a story of a martyr but about the living and their everyday struggles and little acts of bravery.
The Marcoses have supported the arts including, shockingly, subversive B-films that put his dictatorship in question. One of the first voices we hear in Mark Hartley’s documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed! is director John Landis, poking light fun at the taglines that got people in the drive-ins screening those B films. The film is the story of American B film-making in the Philippines. B directors, American and Filipino ones mostly under Roger Corman reminisce about the golden age of the B film, talking about large breasts as selling points for these films. Touchy, off-putting conversation, but hang in there.
The film also paints Corman as someone who goes through phases of genres lasting a year. It’s hard to find differences between genres because the cast looks the same, but there are war films to horror to jungle prison films where the Stanislavsky trained Pam Grier got her start.The female leads feel ambivalent towards their work, from Grier’s humourous take on it to others shocked at how DVD’s will put their past into permanence to one who points out how these films gave more decent work to black actresses in the 70′s.
I also wanna point out how little interference Hartley has with the tone, keeping it groovy even if the subject is exploitation or violent conditions in the Philippines. He doesn’t force a bleeding heart over the death of a stuntman. The ones interviewed have honest reactions of maturity about the films’ accident prone shooting conditions. I call it refreshingly educational. 4/5.
- Fantastic Fest 2010 Honors ROGER And JULIE CORMAN! (geektyrant.com)
Making this list is like finding people for the next season of America’s Next Top Model. Great comparison, actually, since like them, I try picking from the fat in a six month period. You wait till the fall to harvest. Metaphors aside, I started watching new releases diligently, partly because of this blog. Then the festivals came in May, then finances, then Cinematheque. The last new movie I saw was “Mid-August Lunch,” and that’s a technically a 2008 release. Yes, I might have to go back as far as 2008 to make this list. Anyway,
Exit Through the Gift Shop – Banksy shows us his colleague’s terrible art. I never realized that being repulsed by something so banal is an experience I’d feel on film. And there are other feeling in the mix as well.
Greenberg – Noah Baumbach is a master of dialogue. He’s capable enough to shoot and direct that dialogue, too. Ben Stiller can still do drama, even if you kinda laugh at his character.
The Secret in the Eyes – A film that seemed endless yet it satisfied me after just satisfying me. The movie broke my heart.
I am Love – Uniting critics and dividing audiences, the sensory delight in this film will make you think of RealD as bland in comparison.
I hope to fill this list with worthy films by the end of the year. I’m counting on you, Christopher Nolan, Lisa Chodolenko, Julian Schnabel (coming into my city in August), Terry Malick!
“Bear Nation” is like climbing mountains and valleys with fatter, older, hairier bearded guys, such as the stereotype. The movie, however, doesn’t feel Sisyphean, the film’s subject knows how to laugh at itself and turn any sad or negative thought into a positive note. We see a pluralist portrait of a ‘splinter of a splinter’ of a movement, one bear’s account of bear history differing from another (Glenn Sumi has his own thoughts on how bears came into place). It also takes us distances from Toronto to London to show this urban movement recalling a pastoral ideal of erotic manhood. With an amazing Arts and Crafts soundtrack and appearances by Tracy Morgan and the very frank Kevin Smith, it’s a great documentary about self acceptance, as well as those who will accept each other for who they are.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” has two subjects. The first one is Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who moved to Los Angeles into his adulthood so the accent is still there. He makes a living by buying warehouses full of crap clothes and turning them into hipster vintage that sell for hundreds of dollars a piece. He also videotapes everything that’s happening in his life. This obsession on documentation roots on missing his mother’s death, presented and effectively pulling on heartstrings.
Thierry’s cousin is graffiti artist Space Invader. For some reason he videopates the latter doing his so-called work, and eventually does this to other graffiti artists like Shepard Fairey, known for the Obama Hope poster.
Then Thierry finds his way to videotaping the second subject of the documentary, Banksy. Banksy’s career turns from art terrorist to the prized artist whose work completes art collectors. I swear I’ve met girls who will turn into the woman collecting ‘the Banksy.’ He wanted to make Thierry’s footage into film because he was probably tired of the stigma of being called a mere ‘tagger,’ nor did he wanna be a pawn in the game played by Sotheby’s and the champagne class.
In a way this film elevates Banksy into a legitimate, unique artist. I mean, he deserves it. The subjects of his work are original and witty. Banksy, without knowing the consequences, advised Thierry into art, having a hand in making the latter into a commodity machine of bad art by creating pedantic work.
This movie typically makes Banksy look good by making someone else look bad in comparison but then a) Banksy doesn’t seem mean but is actually protective of his genre, b) he calls Thierry a friend and sees sympathetic sides of the latter’s one-track but devoted mind, c) his once democratic ‘you can do it’ attitude is radically changed and now he knows only to encourage emerging artists to improve their form and method instead of encouraging them to just do whatever, and d) I have never cringed at artwork the way Thierry’s work has made me.
At the same time I don’t completely buy the argument that despite his lack of method Thierry’s work is is moronic. For argument’s sake, the artwork stands as its own text and a viewer’s interpretation might be more important than the author’s intention. Another version of this argument is that rubber was made by accident, but a good accident indeed. Thierry’s specific representation and repetition of the Marilyn hair pasted on other celebrities, suggests, with or without intention, that all celebrity is repetitive and wants to emulate ‘celebrity’s’ golden age. We see the emulation of Marilyn through Madonna, Chuck Klosterman’s awful assessment of her, notorious photo shoots of both celebrities and models posing as her, biopics both past and in development, etc. He’s just commenting on that.
Most art before late Rembrandt was repetition. Before him, everyone was making copies of what the classics made or what their fathers have handed down to them. They fuck it up all the time, which makes things more interesting, but we can’t call every era as one that radically pushes the border of art since most of what happened in a century is a baby step from what happened before them.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, Thierry made a living turning shit into gold and is doing the same thing here. The film tells us that Thierry made a million bucks through his ambitious show. As Banksy admits, that must mean Thierry’s art works.
And you can say the same thing about Banksy. He turned what is still an illegal art form into something legitimate.
And now I kinda want Banksy to do a documentary on Thomas Kinkade.
You have to see this movie, and I hope this wins the Oscar.
I already told you guys about the reasons for my bias against the depressing documentary genre. The same reason applies here in “Gasland”, and water pollution innately elicits that kind of reaction. There are, however, silver linings in this dark cloud.
In director Josh Fox’s travels to the heartland of America to see about the damage caused by companies drilling for natural gas, he finds fun things and people like the most comfortable couch in America, a woman ironically freezing dead birds in Walmart bags, some guy who reminds me of Jeff Foxworthy (not pictured) successfully lighting up his water on fire, a healthy women with the worst smoker’s cough I’ve ever heard, Fox playing the banjo and him finding about the chemicals with long names that he can’t confidently pronounce them. His inclusion of reading out those words in that way is a brave choice.
Fox looks like a Williamsburg hipster and is kinda raised as one, but like his interviewees, he is, not to condescend, one of God’s children. The men and women in the heartland. American. Simple decent folk who’s had their roots in the rural regions.
But these people are deservedly shown as intelligent persons who know about their land and further educated themselves about it because of the changes in the past decade. Companies like Halliburton shamelessly drill for these natural gases in people’s front yards. Like one of the title cards in the movie, it doesn’t take a genius to find this stuff out. These people also tell him about their confrontations with the workers of those companies, showing how brave and resilient they could be when it comes to a hidden national crisis.
The movie does ask its American target to be patriotic but that call isn’t based on the more popular reasons for so called ‘patriotism’ today. His kind of real patriotism has a Walden-esque streak, a love for the nature he grew up with and can be irreversibly destroyed.
Also featured in the movie is a scene between congressmen and women and some of the leading officials of these companies. It’s so humiliating that it passes as torture. Did it work? I’ll say yes.
Originally released in2003, the seminal documentary “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the life of Robert Strange McNamara,” about the infamous war criminal is also an strong aesthetic display of archive footage, screen shots of data and numbers, dominoes falling down on top of maps, machinery, tape recorded conversations, skulls falling down stairwells, Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s pen wagging while he’s shot off centre on a canted angle and director Errol Morris’s slightly yell-y, smarmy voice. Apparently some of the objects, especially the dominoes, counterpoint McNamara’s self-denial, but most of what he says seem to match whatever metaphoric representation is on-screen.
War is never glamorized in this documentary. Its instruments are either numbers on paper or missiles, in one scene the former visually represented the latter. Both objects represent the beginning and end stages of what happens in wars in the twentieth century. Something so small and raw is quickly transformed into a leviathan that can destroy and kill. The imagery never gets empowering like your typical soldier with a rifle.
“The Fog of War” would be maligned if we called it an examination of evil, since evil depicted on film have certain visual or plot cues, and this documentary sort of disproves what we know about that. ‘Evil’ isn’t about piercing stares in the same way that ‘art’ isn’t about someone’s self-expression of suffering. McNamara, being interviewed about his life and Vietnam, isn’t unrepentant and he also doesn’t dissociate himself from his actions. If anything he’s very passionate and slightly jovial. But his actions can never make us fully sympathetic of him and is what makes him a war criminal, despite his personality. One of his ‘lessons’ include doubt, even contradicting a Sister Aloysius-esque lesson of having to do evil to do good.He even asks the camera how much evil has to be done to accomplish good.
And yes, destruction can occur partly because of intent. But his role in showing data and pushing buttons are just as instrumental in the hundreds of thousands of deaths that he helped bring in both in Japan and Vietnam. While confronting one person who has had so much power we do tend to throw around the word ‘evil,’ but instead we get the ‘horrific,’ the consequences bearing more impact than the cause.
McNamara reluctantly blames others like LBJ for Vietnam and denies his involvement in Agent Orange, but his job as a yes-man for calculating warmongers is still just as bad. Morris implicitly delivers this message and makes him tell little bursts of truths buried under careful wording. The director nonetheless finds a place for empathy, which is McNamara’s first life lesson. In a way, he is America, going through each war and its peaceful intervals the same way the country did. We still don’t want him prosecuted despite of what he did. As many have said, he compartmentalizes, but he shouldn’t let Vietnam define his life. In his time in Ford, he did help introduce the seat belt, after all.
(I also wanna say that my apprehensions towards the documentary as a genre is probably because of the depressing material. I actually cried at one point while looking at the missiles, and couldn’t look at McNamara’s face when he was welling up.)
2003 isn’t a typical banner year like the ‘better than you remember’ 2002 nor the achievements in 2006. But the year that George Bush began the misguided occupation of Iraq must have affected the West’s popular culture. The movies of 2003 still felt like it was under the beer goggles of the Academy, but they still had themes like anti-Republicanism, subversion, helplessness, violence, etc. With “The Fog of War” also came “Dogville,” “Cold Mountain,” “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” “City of God,” “Elephant,” “The Dreamers.” That and there were a hell of a lot of sequels too.
Now I know what to illegally download the next free time I get.
I doubt my positive feelings towards “Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields,” knowing that this is just the novelty of knowing someone so clever and so short. What I like about this movie is that it shows you the annoying side of the subject yet those things make you like the man. A linear presentation of the life of the indie musician, it doesn’t shy away from his lower moments. Like his unfriendliness towards music journalists – although I wanted to see more of that. And that time when the blogs accused him of being racist and thus called him ‘cracker,’ which isn’t a racist term at all. The movie also shows him going to gay bars and writing his non-house music. Doesn’t work for me at all.
Another positive element of the movie is Claudia Gonson, Merritt’s long time friend, collaborator, band mate and fruit fly. I’ve known too many girls like her – not the prettiest nor skinniest, alternative, very intelligent and very confident, that voice I’ve heard too many times, that youthful exuberance even at 40. But she never gets boring. The scenes with her involve their songwriting, revels on their use of words like ‘chord progression,’ and it shows how they’re all about the method and not the madness.
The movie is not about an icon but a refreshing portrayal of an evolving artist. It’s a good, thinking man’s laugh, and I hope it comes out in the theatres again.
Is it just me, or does Anton Corbijn take a little credit for the celebrity of the musicians he took pictures of. He even preferred that the Moonmen of the MTV awards go to the directors instead of the musicians. Well, I guess he could be right about that.
“Shadow Play” does give you new insight on Corbijn’s aesthetic. He’s stereotypically a dark photographer who took pictures of gothy artists like Joy Division and Depeche Mode. What the documentary shows is how Rembrandt influenced him. There’s two or three sentences dedicated to how his father only took him to those art shows. But everything makes sense after hearing about that streak in him. The iconography, the tenebrism. EVERYTHING. I wonder if he gets blurrier as he gets older.
It also shows his humourous side. I didn’t know he directed “Heart Shaped Box.” I didn’t realize how funny and surrealist those images were, and the documentary makes it look exactly that instead of the hallowed interpretation the original video had. I didn’t know I could respect Cobain again. I didn’t know Corbijn did colour.
The movie also documents him shooting his first feature, “Control.” Seeing the making-of of that film takes away the varnish that black and white films normally present. Although Sam Riley gives the performance of his life, I do prefer Ian Curtis as a character in”24 Hour Party People” better.
Corbijn looks a bit like Mario Testino. Both tackle celebrities although the former’s gloom is nothing like the latter’s luxury.
And I didn’t catch on with the daddy issues.
And despite me apprehensions I can’t wait for “The American.”
I met these male Lufthansa flight attendants at Woody’s the weekend of the volcano eruption. They were stuck here, they decided to go out. One of them is Swiss, can speak German, lives in Germany, but hated it when I asked if he’s German. This either involved the shaming of Germany or because he didn’t like some North American ditz who can’t tell the difference between one European country from another.
Tomer Heymann, director of “I Shot My Love,” also directed the award-winning “Paper Dolls” about Filipino drag queens, so I already like this guy. “I Shot My Love” is a Don De Lillo-esque pun, the movie being about the documentation of the pains of the two most important people in Heymann’s life. One is his mother and the other is his boyfriend Andreas – both of whom get along by the way. She likes it when he sings her beautiful German folk songs. The pain of said persons are connected to Nazi Germany – his mother a Jew whose parents are exiled Berliners and Andreas burdened by his family and country’s history.
Interestingly, there’s this over documentation of both his mother and his boyfriend’s bodies and much as he’s capturing their back stories.
Heymann, mostly invisible in the film, plays the caregiver to his mother. As presumably the youngest of five boys, he’s the only one left in Israel to take care of her as she goes through one surgery after another. He’s also the man who encourages Andreas to live in the present. Heymann, however, is your traditional documentarian in his objective stance towards the lives he’s capturing on film. Despite of what I’ve said above, the people who are weeping in front of the camera are ones personally closest to him while he mostly doesn’t react to them, or at least we don’t often see that in the frame. I’ll accept it if you think Heymann isn’t directly emotionally involved towards the ones he’s documenting.
Despite that flaw, the movie still pulls on the heartstrings. And this is my first HotDocs screening so maybe that’s why I like it more. And among other things, the movie goes to show that if an Israeli and a German can founder a functioning three-year relationship by meeting in a gay club in a city they’re both visiting, the rest of us have no excuse.
p.s “I Shot My Love” just won the Best Mid-Length Documentary Award.