a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: Michel Gondry Can Do Anything

Nuts to lonelygirl15. The best -- or at least the most fun -- YouTube prank was perpetrated by Michel Gondry last month. Music videos, features, documentaries, not wholly evil commercials -- to this list of accomplishments we add the ability to solve a Rubik's Cube with one's feet in under two minutes. Or do we? Don't let the orneriness of the videography throw you. As Michael Caine said in The Prestige, are you watching closely?

Eh? Thankfully, Gondry is no Ernő Rubik. If you're stuck on the solution to this puzzle, head here.

Los Weekly!! Worst. January. Dumping Grounds. Ever. There's nothing but inane Underworld ripoffs and American Pang Bros. outings arriving in Philly, so just an interview with Rachel Libert, who directed the tense, nigh-Bergmanesque restorative justice documentary Beyond Conviction, which was picked up (and chopped in half) by MSNBC. (Review by Paul Farber here.) Rep surrenders to I-House's Selections from the Human Rights Watch fest, thus words on the mordantly amusing Source, set in the way corrupt Eurasian nation of Azerbaijan, the tut-tutting coffee-world exposé Black Gold and, finally making it to Philly, Iraq in Fragments.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Live and Direct From the 2006 Vaults

(Whenever I get a couple free minutes, etc.. You're welcome.)

Sherrybaby (Laurie Collyer)
A standard issue dress-down act from Maggie Gyllenhaal, which I suppose she had get around to sooner or later. (Please resist, La Zooey.) “Raw” and “non-judgmental” and “empathetic,” even when our protag -- an ex-junkie trying to regain custody of her son -- does the exact stupidest thing she could do at any juncture, which is a bit too often for my tastes. Should be needless to say that it doesn’t contrast well with Clean, with which it shares a near-exact premise (and a lead named Maggie!). Olivier Assayas did everything he could to dress up his film’s inherent silliness, and wound up cutting right to its heart. Collyer plays it completely straight and Sundance’ 93, and elicits little more than vaguely condescending head nods. Not to mention, in addition to getting trounced by Maggie C., Maggie G. loses out to a shockingly awesome Giancarlo Esposito. C+

Dreamgirls (Bill Condon)
[sound of finger nails on blackboard] The Supre...er, Dreams are a kickass budding soul girl group until an evil Berry Gordy type blands them up for white consumption, setting them up to become soulless peddlers of bombast. Meanwhile, this movie version is itself a soulless peddler of bombast. Thing is, it's not all Bill Condon's fault. A brainy type who relies too heavily on bombast and, worst of all, like to make a clean demarcation line between the song and the book (numbers are always clearly performances; no one ever bursts into song while, say, hanging out in a garage office), Condon wants nothing more than to kill the movie musical dead. Never seen the show, but it's not exactly like he trashed A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The songs are a dire combination of weak and shrill -- nth-generation Motown ripoffs that are too Broadway and wear out their welcome halfway through a verse. The plot, meanwhile, is little more than one of those glib reductions that flatter the audience almost as often as it plainly explains it to them. Beyoncé’s ersatz Diana Ross is an empty vessel whose lack of sonic fireworks will translate over to the mainstream? Yeah, I figured that out two hours before Jamie Foxx’s ersatz Gordy put that in just about those same words. Speaking of which, the dead-on casting -- Beyoncé as an innocuous frontwoman; Eddie Murphy as a wild man forced to ditch his edge for commerce; Jennifer Hudson as a powerhouse singer left unappreciated and dissed -- just adds to the reams of nervous spoonfeeding. The acting’s generally good, but I’m torn over Hudson like I’ve rarely been torn before. Going in, I had read more than a couple reviews that remarked that Hudson may be a natural when speaking/singing, but freezes up whenever she’s not. (Burnsy memorably compared it to C-3PO being turned off.) And holy dear lord god were they right. I can’t wait to see her again and again, but can we perhaps wait till she learns how to react before declaring her any year’s Best Supporting Actress? I know -- it’s mostly too late. C-

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (Stanley Nelson)
As noted elsewhere, it’s the opening half hour that makes this otherwise straightforward doc more than just that. Jim Jones & co. were, at least initially, major social progressives, and it’s easy to see how many were caught up in their wave. Nelson doesn’t just recreate the way cultists, not just these ones, get ensnared; he celebrates Jones’ more respectable policies, in turn showing how little has progressed three decades on. The adulation wisely ends there, and the doc gets harrowing even before the move to Guyana. Fascinating. B+

Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre)
Sloppy. Judi Dench veers from poison pen mordant to helpless and babyish whenever the script needs her to do so, and Cate Blanchett’s bohemian is thinly conceived and only slightly better played. (Her freeze-dried Dietrich turn in The Good German will be better judged by the future, methinks.) This either needed to be all-out nasty or thoughtful; annoyingly, it’s neither, but with elements of both. Patrick Marber: kindly go back to Alan Partridge. C+

Letters From Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood)
For reasons I still can’t figure out, part two of Eastwood’s IJ dyptych never entirely enveloped me. I “enjoyed” it and its quasi-clinical presentation of living death; it does just about just about everything right, it’s distinctly Japanese and always resists going for the jugular. (A much-needed reality check: Blood Work, which barely elicited apathetic groans, came out only four years ago.) Did it just need another element? Perhaps. I suspect Imamura would’ve hit this out of the park, even if he couldn’t bring to the production one of its strongest aspects: one of the American right’s heroes making a film that empathizes with the Japanese, at one point going so far as to make the Yanks look dread evil. By the by, another much-needed reality check: Unforgiven, still Eastwood’s most self-reflexive and thoughtful work, came out fourteen years ago. B+

Failure to Launch (Tom Dey)
md’a has been waging a one-critic war to re-evaluate this, not as some lost masterpiece, but as a solid rom-com. I don’t agree, but I can see where he’s coming from. The opening half hour, while not all there, has conscious elements of Screwball, i.e., ones that don’t feel second-hand, as with most rcs. Indeed, for a time, it even seemed like Sarah Jessica Parker might be doing a Kate Hepburn in Philadelphia Story: brainy and witty. It doesn’t last, basically because the film starts taking things way, way too seriously. (This PG-13 pic’s solitary use of the f-bomb is simply in the wrong movie.) Supporting cast strong, with La Zooey a memorable nut and Terry Bradshaw a low-key hoot [sic].* C+

The Good German (2006, Steven Soderbergh)

Believe me, no one’s more shocked that this one wound up needing defending as I am. Someone was saying on my dorky film newsgroup how it’s been awhile since Soderbergh gave himself fully to a project. The last several films have found him in restless experimental mode, bringing some of his powers to the production but not remotely all of them. Trouble is, I can’t remember when he did do that. Of his widely-agreed-upon masterstrokes (Sex, Lies, King of the Hill, Out of Sight and Traffic, let’s say), none are the same as the others. A more disparate bunch you’re not likely to see. Even when he’s firing on what appear to be all cylinders, he’s still trying on a different guise. Have there been an original and a sequel, at least as made by the same people, as violently different than the Oceans? (One is trying to be purely pleasurable; the other is even more aggressively a Hollywoof hall-of-mirrors than Full Frontal, while also working an obscure-‘70s-Eurothriller vibe.) The Good German ranks amongst his most experimental experiments, but it’s not merely a mimicry of Michael Curtiz WWII romances. If that’s what it is, then it’s a failure.

But that’s not what it is. Hovering somewhere between a Guy Maddin festish-fest and Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, German reimagines Curtiz and company as they would have been without the Hays Code, as well as without the need to downplay certain aspects of geopolitics. And so Tobey Maguire drops the f-bomb every two words, Cate Blanchett from gets shtumped from behind, and the American army comes off in an unflattering light. It’s not that Soderbergh hates the films of the ‘40s, as some have suggested; anyone who’s spent any time reading his interviews knows that’s a ridiculous notion. (The Third Man pops up on a Top Ten Fave list printed in the Sex, Lies diaries.) He wants to reimagine what they would be like without the Code and with the suitable amount of political cynicism. It’s pure exercise, yes, but one well worth performing. But that’s not the end of it. Soderbergh baldly quotes Casablanca, The Third Man and, in the form of cutaway doc footage, Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair. But he completely downplays those film’s brooding, romantic streak. German is cold, cold, cold, and the homages to the aforementioned only feel like cruel jokes. (Thomas Newman’s over-spirited retro score stands in almost comic contrast to what’s on screen.)

A lot of the film’s critics (and its fans) claim that Soderbergh relies too heavily on dull plot mechanics. I agree...and yet I can’t help thinking that, cold technique or not, that’s part of the point -- that the characters are too mired in plot to pay attention to emotions, or even offer even a non-traditional payoff. As for the nigh-Dogme-ish stylistic restrictions, the most striking part is Blanchett’s face, rendered as white and clean as a Kabuki mask. B

* I’m totally fucking serious. Bradshaw’s presence was one of the things that kept me from this movie for so long, too. But let me just say that dude’s subtle even when nekkid.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Eleven Favorite/Best Non-2006 Films Seen For the First Time in 2006

Sadly, I watched each of these on DVD in my home, unless otherwise noted. Doesn’t that just suck?

01. Out 1 (1971, Jacques Rivette) - Museum of the Moving Image, 9 Dec thru 10 Dec

(Warning: I wound up typing away quite a bit longer than I thought I would about this movie. If you’re just here for titles and arbitrary rankings, I will not hate you if you skip past the following few bulky paragraphs of prose to the first sighting of in-boldness.)

I enjoyed a couple movies this year more than I did Jacques Rivette’s 12 1/2 hour epic. (For instance, number two.) But you could only count the number of people who’ve seen Out 1 on a couple hundred hands, so it gets some bonus points. Luckily, it has more going for it than just rareness. Filmed between his stylistic awakening (L’Amour fou) and his most popular outing (Céline and Julie Go Boating), Rivette’s rarely-screened film* often summons up comparisons to Thomas Pynchon, basically because it’s a) long, long, long and b) largely devoted to improvised madness that can be a bit difficult to parse. But there’s a clear, tight design to the whole thing wholly at odds with the apparent directionless of what’s on screen.

In fact, that directionless contributes to what appears to be the dominant theme: the slow (and, just to reiterate, I mean, slow) disintegration of one’s ideals, plans and ambitions. Out 1 doesn’t have a plot to speak of, but its characters -- a pair of theater troupes putting on an Aeschylus play each; and two con-artists (Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto, the latter my new crush) -- each fit that trajectory. The theater troupes, which eventually reveal themselves to be the disparate shards of one massive theater troupe that split once upon a time due to creative differences, are shown doing nothing but rehearsing. And not even that: they’re doing acting exercises -- warm-ups, improvisational scenes, and post-exercise discussions over cigarettes. Future Bond villain Michel/Michael Lonsdale, who heads up the troupe that’s putting on Prometheus, is often found saying that his group is trying to “find” the play, and later talks of being on the verge of “breaking through.” But over the 750-some minutes, the play never comes close to fruition; we never hear so much as a single line from the source.

Likewise, Léaud -- a deaf-mute whose shtick involves going to cafés and annoying customers with din-like harmonica playing until they give him money -- soon stumbles onto what appears to be a cryptic plot involving world domination found on a stay piece of paper. After much banging of head on the walls and such, he decides it has something to do with the Balzac novel The Story of the Thirteen, with a touch of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. (Handily, Léaud has not only several stacks of books along his one wall, but an actual blackboard -- a bizarre touch that gave me an idea about what to do with my next apartment.) Of course, Léaud is pretty much literally grasping at straws, as well as very nicely demonstrating the Heisenberg Principle. As with the theater troupes, his quest too never amounts to anything.

Out 1 was filmed in the shadows of the May 1968 riots, and like Regular Lovers did 35 years ago, it takes a pessimistic but melancholic view of idealism. Much of the film is very funny; Léaud has never worked the ham quite so well and who knew that Eric Rohmer, playing a Balzac expert Léaud annoys early on, had great, off-kilter timing? But by the final stretch, the film has snowballed into something that’s very affecting and upsetting, especially for anyone whose own youthful ideals have decayed before their eyes. (I almost balled like a little girl during the final hour of Regular Lovers.) But then the damnedest thing happens: the final shot, which I can’t quite reveal, suggests that whatever overreaching theory you have on the whole film might not be very accurate or germane. Either way, it sent the entire theater of beleaguered cinephiles into uproarious laughter. Greatest final shot ever? I think so.

(Note: not a month and a half later, I was lucky to see Out 1: Spectre, the 4 1/2 hour cut of the film, in Philly during I-House’s much welcome “Early Rivette” series. It’s not quite the complete reimagining of its eight-hour-longer cousin (father?), but it is significantly different. For one, much of the third act is different: Léaud no longer goes insane; Berto never dies; and Lonsdale is never shown falling into an ambiguous laughing/crying fit on the beach. It’s less funny, too, but also nowhere near as moving. The scenes are understandably shorn down (most sadly, the hilarious Rohmer one), but the film really makes its length felt while the original breezes by, at least once your mind adjusts to the fact that every scene will be long in the ass. I greatly enjoyed it, but I think I either needed to see this one first or at least not so soon after seeing it. I know: Yeah, like I had the option, ha ha.)

02. Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr) - MOMA, 16 Jan

I’ve spoken too much about this film, and yet I’ve really never gotten into why it’s bewitched me so. This article does a pretty good job of summing up the film’s many pointers, but the grand one, at least for me, was a feeling I sometimes turn my nose up at: escapism. Not, mind you, the kind that you typically want to “escape” to when you watch a movie -- unless you’re the kind of sicko who likes being trapped for seven and a half hours in the squalor of a failed farming community in bumfuck post-Communist Hungary. What envelopes you is a) the fascination of wandering around this microcosm, however unpleasant it may be; and b) as you may have heard, this movie is shot like fucking balls. Tarr’s slow, lengthy steadicam shots envelope you, taking you away to a world that’s part grim, gritty realism and part sci-fi. The village of Sátántangó is as fascinating and transportive as any George Lucas production, and Tarr’s fractured time-line (outdoing Pulp Fiction, the same year it premiered, no less) and dark sense of humor make it easy to become obsessive. (The latter aspect really hits you when you view the earlier parts of the Tarr catalogue, namely his initial neo-Cassavetes actorly exercises and the all-out bleakness of ’tango’s predecessor, the bluntly-(and aptly-)titled Damnation.)

03. Cold Water (1994, Olivier Assayas) - 09 Apr

Point when I realized Assayas’s film was more than just a well-observed gritty piece of neo-realism that had mutated into a hypnotic party movie: halfway through a spin of CCR’s “Up Around the Bend,” the needle is heard being lifted, only to be placed right back at the beginning. Of course, I had no idea what act three would bring. Good job, Sundance Channel, on finally bringing this to Amerika.

04. Army of Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville)

Some folks are putting this on their 2006 Top Ten List by virtue of it having never played theatrically in America till this year. Fuck dat shit. I actually, and for reasons I can’t remember now (and couldn’t begin to excuse anyway), never saw it projected. Thanks to nebbishy print distribution, the critic’s screening was scheduled after my paper’s print date, meaning I had to contend with a (perfectly watchable) screener. I look forward to seeing Melville’s heartbreakingly frigid portrayal of the French Resistance ad. inf. whenever I get around to ordering it from the U.K., and not just for the typically moody Melville lighting. Though Melville superficially retains the taciturn-badass approach of Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge, he winds up turning it on its head. Unsentimental to its core, Shadows presents characters forced to do unspeakable deeds, exude a moral certitude in a world that doesn’t have it and fight a fight whose impact we never get to see. Should Ken Loach's Cannes-fêted The Wind That Shakes the Barley possess even a minute fraction of this one's world-scarred honesty, then we're all in for a good scare.

05. Luc Moullet Retrospective - 5 Jan thru 6 Jan, International House

In February, Philly’s Repertory scene suffered another significant, possibly fatal blow: the departure of its lone full-time programmer, I-House’s Michael Chaiken, to New York. (Albert Maysles nabbed him, and is no doubt the better off.) Luckily, he went out with a bang, curating this four feature/one short retro on depressingly obscure Nouvelle Vague director Luc Moullet. Chaiken screened what’s possibly Moullet’s only known film, 1968’s The Smugglers, a couple years back, and the film’s relentless absurdism, political gamesmanship and playful stylistics had me craving more. The series, which spanned from 1966’s Brigitte and Brigitte to 1988’s The Comedy of Work, did not disappoint, convincing me that Moullet is if not one of the finest then at least the most unique comic sensibility in filmdom. B&B, for instance, essentially outdoes Band of Outsiders in terms of nutty Paris-set whimsy. (If only either of its Brigittes were an Anna Karina. Alas.) A Girl is a Gun (aka Une Aventure de Billy the Kid) features Jean-Pierre Léaud hilariously miscast as William Bonney -- and even more hilariously, heard via an intentionally atrocious English dub job, à la the unintentionally atrocious French dub jobs with which Moullet first acquainted himself with American westerns. Anatomy of a Relationship features Moullet and a girl standing in for his real-life then-girlfriend in the buff. And I’m not sure who the nearly-ZAZ-esque The Comedy of Work is for -- an alien species, perhaps. Happily, Moullet has made it to disc. Unhappily, he’s made it to disc via Facets. Fuck Facets.

06. Michael Haneke’s Glaciation Trilogy: The Seventh Continent (1989); 20 May; Benny’s Video (1992); 3 Jun; and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), 5 Jun

For most of us confined to North America, Haneke’s “glaciation trilogy” has been a thing of legend, if not the kind of tales you tell around a campfire. (“What happens in Benny’s Video?!”) Luckily, when Kino released the films (plus Funny Games) last year, Haneke didn’t suffer some artistic rebirth between the all-out assault of Funny Games (which Jacques Rivette called a “disgrace,” “a piece of shit” and “vile,” but not “in the same way as John Woo”) and the thoughtful Code Unknown. Haneke can be found waxing fascinatingly (and with much giggling) on each of the film’s discs, but the film’s speak pretty well for themselves, as well as deepen Haneke’s skill. For one thing, they reveal his iciness to be even more of a mask than you’d think if all you saw were The Piano Teacher or Caché. The Seventh Continent is an upsetting depiction of one three-person family’s group suicide, finding empathy amidst the accumulation of ritualistic montages. (Still, what does it say about me that the section I remember the most months later is the notorious long take of money being flushed down a toilet.) In between its attention grabbing first act twist and potentially glib surprise ending, Benny’s Video manages more than a modicum of feeling for its lead character, a sociopath in the making. (Why anyone bothered with Hannibal Rising, both in book and movie form, is beyond me. This pretty much does the job, and no doubt with infinitely sharper formal chops.) And 71 Fragments may be a dry run for Code Unknown’s reams of ellipses, but it still sends the mind running in about as many directions. Bring on Funny Games U.S.A., in my opinion.

07. I Finally See Me Some Budd Boetticher: Seven Men From Now (1956), 22 Jan; Comanche Station (1960), 07 Feb; The Tall T (1957), 23 Dec

As far as a filmmaker repeating themself/adhering to a strict, narrow template goes, Yasujiro Ozu may hold the trophy, but director Boetticher is more than nipping at his coattails. Insanely succinct, richly ambiguous, sharply acted, masterfully composed, resourceful -- Boetticher is possibly even better at the western than John Ford, Howard Hawks and Anthony Mann. If only we had a chance to find out for sure. So far, only Seven Men From Now, which pairs Randolph Scott with a never-better Lee Marvin, is on any kind of purchaseable video. But keep a sharp eye, and you may just stumble onto any of the other six films in what is casually dubbed the RANOWN cycle (so named for the presence of Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown). They're all good. After all, they'd probably have to be.

08. Love Me Tonight (1932, Rouben Mamoulian) - 15 Mar

Rouben Mamoulian was one of the first filmmakers to keep up the stylistics after the conversion to sound; his 1929 musical Applause is usually shown to students to prove that early talkies aren’t all stiff and dull. The Chevalier-MacDonald vehicle Love Me Tonight, which finds Mamoulian treading on Ernst Lubitsch’s territory, is among the most playful musicals I’ve ever seen. Mamoulian's often chided for subscribing to the style-over-substance school, but he's at least a thoughtful stylist. On one extreme, you have the opening number, “Isn’t It Romantic?,” which finds the song passed from person to person, from city to countryside, like a disease. But on the other extreme, there's one song (forget which) that's entirely a shot of Chevalier's head asleep on a pillow, a smile suggesting that a kickass number is going on in his dreams. (No doubt this sequence was the inspiration for Andy Warhol's Sleep.) Who's Lubitsch again?

09. Early Peter Greenaway Shorts - 16 Apr thru 17 Apr

Greenaway was one of my first favorite avant-gardeists, thanks to a freshman year obsession with The Cook, the Thief, et al.. So it’s been more than a touch bewildering to watch as he’s been dragged across the coals over the last decade, the mainstream punishing him for being too out there and the avant garde punishing him for having crossed the aisles in the first place. (Not that I’ve never joined in on the pummeling; my first major piece of hatemail involved my pejorative dropping of a four-letter word w/r/t The Baby of Macon.) Perhaps finally realizing he has to help manage his body of work, Greenaway finally unleashed his early shorts and his masterly epic faux-doc The Falls onto North America, stressing that, though he may have the cred to film Ewan McGregor’s uncircumcised penis, his heart still lies with experiments with organization. Vertical Features Remake. A Walk Through H. H is for House. My.

10. Chimes at Midnight (1966, Orson Welles) - 07 Sep

Because every year should reveal an Orson masterpiece. Note to self: finally finish up Criterion’s Mr. Arkadin box.

11. The Holy Mountain (1973, Alejandro Jodorowsky) - 30 Jul

I’ve always been a bit cool on El Topo, but Jodorowsky’s bigger, badder follow-up -- bankrolled by Topo-heads John and Yoko -- made me a convert. He’s still full of shit (and this was before he invented a form of New Age therapy called “psychomagic”), but implied bullshit ideas go down better with a bigger budget, in ‘scope, and with a propensity for more out-there ideas -- when there’s more to distract you from the inherent silliness of the ideas, that is. The middle section’s introductions, in particular, all but blew my mind.

Now go see Children of Men a couple times. I mean jesus.

* Indeed, the screening I was lucky to get into was not only the film’s American premiere, but only the fifth time it had been publicly exhibited. (There was a NY critic’s screening held a couple days beforehand, so that freed up a handful of seats to us non-NY cineastes.) And as for these previous showings, it’s hard to tell if they went as swimmingly as this one. Claire Denis, who worked with Rivette back in the day and in 1990 made the terrific TV doc Jacques Rivette, the Watchman, was quoted in the NYT as saying most of those at the premiere were stoned out of their gourds, while supreme J.R.-head David Thomson once claimed the film has “never shown properly without technical breakdown.” Moreover, the print, which was a very clean 16mm struck in the ‘90s, was the only known complete one in existence. Surprise surprise: it didn’t sport English subtitles. Ergo, a series of very brave folks from the French Embassy had to work what is known as “soft-titles,” wherein the entire translation is projected manually, line by line, from a computer and onto the bottom of the screen. As you can imagine, this can be quite maddening and carpal tunnel-syndrome-causing, even with each episode only lasting between 95 and 105 minutes. More than a couple times lines were missed or there were long breaks where the same one would stay on the screen. Not once did the audience, which breed is typically very demanding and tsk-tsk-y when it comes to projection matters, so much as audibly sigh or shift in the seats or fake-cough or anything that would have conveyed irritation. I should also mention the film took two days to show: 6 1/2 hours one day; 6 the next. The lengthy break made it doubly weird when, not terribly shagged out on day two, I realized at one point that I was ten hours into the same goddam movie. Very surreal.

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YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: Peter Andrews wuz robbed

Requisite, if not compulsory, ruminations on the Oscar noms en route (possibly), but just one thing I need to get off my chest for now: good job, AMPAS, not being stupid enough to snub Children of Men's Emmanuel Lubezki; bad job, AMPAS, letting the box office bombing and critical scourging of The Good German get in the way of nominating it for a slew of techie awards. Recreating some fantasia version of the Motown era in Dreamgirls is aces in your book, but recreating the honest-to-god technology used to create the past isn't worth your time? Whatever, AMPAS. Go and award Crash 2: Now With a Couple More Native Tongues!

In honor of this most irritating snub, here's the William Castle-ish opening to Steven Soderbergh's still-unfortunately-ignored fest of figurative (and occasionally literal) self-indulgence, Schizopolis. I've long been a fan, and this intro ably demonstrates not only its creator's gift for absurdism and wordplay, but his deadpan acting chops:

Tha Weekly!! An interview with Lloyd Shorter, co-artistic director and member of the Grammy-nominated musical ensemble, Relâche, who will be performing over Buster Keaton's The General this weekend at I-House. Also, Rep.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: There's a fish...in the percolator!

Having shlepped up to the IFC Center this past weekend to see it (phuck Philly), I'm still trying to wrap my brain around Inland Empire. Or rather, I'm trying to wrap my brain around whether or not trying to make sense of it entirely misses the point -- whether it's best to give one's self up to its narrative, um, felicities and concentrate on what is there: namely, the plethora of themes. (And Laura Dern. I mean, hot damn.)

On the way up, I reread David Foster Wallace's amazingly thorough essay "David Lynch Keeps His Head," originally written for Premiere (and greatly, greatly expanded for his kickass collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again) circa production on Lost Highway. In it, Wallace runs down the number of ways Highway could be interpreted, including as "one long hallucination." He then adds that this is "the least interesting possibility," and that "I'd be surprised if anybody at Asymetrical [Lynch's company] will want Lost Highway interpreted as one long psychotic dream." Of course, it's impossible to tell who in Inland Empire would be having this particular psychotic dream (if that's what it is). But simply filing this into the dream folder seems to be woefully missing out on this film's riches, the most lasting (so far) being a love for actresses and women, a feeling that's impossible to miss during the joyous, Nina Simone-backed end credits. Bizzarely enough, Lynch, that legend of the midnight movie circuit, has evolved into one of the finest directors of women. Recent Pedro Almodóvar, beware of Recent David Lynch.

But speaking of a Lynch joint whose image is difficult to parse and is seemingly made up of a series of disjointed episodes, I've been thinking again of his contribution to Lumiere and Company, Sarah Moon's 1995 project wherein 41 of the planet's finest filmatists were asked to shoot a 55-second, synch-sound-less short on the world's first camera, the Cinématographe. (Although much like the upcoming iPhone, it too could also serve as a makeshift projector.) Even in a distinguished group, which ranges from Theo Angelopoulos to Merchant-Ivory to Peter Greenaway to Abbas Kiarostami, Lynch stands head and shoulders, evoking dread not just with the fuzzy/scratched stock, but also half-glimpsed images. (Was that a naked lady in a tank?)

The meat and potatoes after some on-set, megaphone-aided hijinks.

Mon Weekly!! An interview with Repertory fixture, multiregion DVD-peddler and fellow cineaste Joseph A. Gervasi is the main thing this week. Also on tap are an Editor's Pick (third down) of the Nazi art-looting doc The Rape of Europa and, as ever, Rep. The latter is mostly devoted to I-House's Jacques Rivette retro that starts tonight and winds into Sunday, dropping largely unseen early work all over University City. (Including Out 1: Spectre, the 4 1/2-hour cousin to his 12 1/2-hour Out 1.) If you're in Philly and you can stomach elephantine lengths, you have no reason to stay at home. Unless you suck.

Speaking of Rivette, would you like to see every instance of Juliet Berto smoking in Céline and Julie Go Boating stitched together by some YouTubist? I bet you would.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: Good lord. I'm on film. How did that happen?

The other day on my wacky film newsgroup, someone was discussing Michel Gondry's awesome video for the Chemical Brothers' "Let Forever Be." In this video (which is awesome), Gondry seamlessly cuts between icky late-'90s video and glorious 35mm. Someone else mentioned that in an interview, he confessed that his aesthetic reasoning was partly as a comment on a bizarre BBC tradition: interiors on video; exteriors on film. Being around in the late '60s/early '70s, Monty Python were never abov this cost-cutting trick...but they did deliver it a massive, mind-bending blow in the following clip, which doubles as a delirious bit of filmic/televisual/media deconstruction. Besides, even the fourth-wall breaking in La Jetée isn't as unnerving as Graham Chapman's drawn-out one here.

I'd say you should skip to the two-minute mark for the pertinent section, but this sketch, en totale, easily ranks on my top ten list of Best Python Bits.

The Weekly!! Two A-Lists, one an overview of a retro on British documentarian-turned-falconer Peter Whitehead, the other a blurb on the not-very-good (but portentously titled) doc Before the Music Dies. There's plenty more on Whitehead, as well as Abel Ferrara's Mary, in Rep, plus a review of Cassavetes' brainless Alpha Dog.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

YouTubing-To-Obscure-Shameless-Self-Promotion Wednesdays: Go see Children of Men

First off, welcome to 2007.

In the spirit of end-of-2006 trophy-giving, here's a music video for my favorite musical "discovery" (in that I finally got around to digging it up) of last year: Serge Gainsbourg's mindbendingly lascivious 1971 album, Histoire de Melody Nelson. The following is from a 1971 TV special, in which Serge commissioned music videos for each of the album's seven songs, which constitute more of a suite than even, say, a concept album. The first, "Melody," clocks in at 7 1/2 minutes, and is paired with shots of a beleaguered-looking Serge purposefully driving, all while flashing lights, spinning statues and dancing ladies dissolve like mad. (If ye seek the rest of the cycle, click on the clip.) Beck-listeners will eventually hear the source of the song "Paper Tiger," which expertly paid homage to this one's unique sonic stylings. For those hoping to know just what the hell Serge is purring about, check this out.

Das Weekly!! I totally interviewed Alfonso Cuarón, whose Children of Men you really should go see. (Make sure to read Sean's review here.) Also, a review (second down) of Tom Tykwer's unabashedly deranged adaptation of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and, as usual, Rep.

My Screening Diary, which I accidentally abandoned a month or so back during a debilitating sick fit, will resume (in all likelihood) this weekend.