Tuesday, July 29, 2008

DVD of the Week: "The Seventh Continent" (Michael Haneke, 1989)

I was joking around with some people from work yesterday about how every director's first feature film is always there best. (This was spawned by Jonathan Rosenbaum's assertion in the new Cinema Scope Magazine that his favorite Gus Van Sant film is a 12-minute short he made before his first feature.) With lower expectations and untamed minds at work, my bold statement has some merit, although it, of course, is not always true. And it's not quite true for this weeks DVD of the week, The Seventh Continent (1989), the first feature of Austrian director Michael Haneke. The Seventh Continent along with the more recent Cache (2005) are Haneke's masterpieces, and if forced to choose one I may take Cache, if only because it was at the 2005 Telluride Film Festival where I saw Cache, met Haneke, and changed my way of thinking from Film Production to Film Studies. Nevertheless, The Seventh Continent is, in many ways, just as assured and resonates with many of the themes that Haneke's oeuvre has dealt with.

This personal bit aside, The Seventh Continent is a bold and daring first film that immediately announced Haneke as a provocative force in the international film community. Although it was mostly unseen (at least in the States) until it was released on DVD a couple years ago, it stands out from the rest of Haneke's early work (and from the majority of any of his work, for that matter.) A strong and unrelentless portrait of urban postmodern isolation, the film is becoming more impactful and frightening with each passing year. Apparently based on true events, the last half of the film left me bewildered and stunned. Even for people unfamiliar with Haneke or even for those who have not been fans in the past, The Seventh Continent is a film to be reckoned with and without a doubt one of the best and most important films of the 1980s.

by James Hansen

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"W." Trailer

Seems like there have been a lot of new trailers coming out lately worth everyone's attention. I don't know if this one necessarily fits into that category, but this, nevertheless, is sure to be talked about a lot, even if it barely seen. Honestly, I'm sort of fascinated and curious about this film. Ridiculous as it may look, cinema rarely tackles legacies so shortly after the events take place. People may be ready to smear President Bush, but the film is still somewhat of an anomaly. Oliver Stone seems ready to broach any and all subject matter. It might help mediocre films get extra attention, but they still create some sort of benchmark for discussion on the subjects that Stone tackles. The trailer is no knock out, but it will give the rabble-rousers, and everyone else, plenty to talk about.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Opening Shots: "Satantango" (Bela Tarr, 1994)

In honor of the DVD release of Satantango, I have decided to write an entry for Jim Emerson's ongoing Opening Shots Project for it. The entry will give away no significant details of the film's plot and should help create a framework to view the opening shot, if not the entire film. It does discuss some major themes and ideas, so if you want to go in with no knowledge, then I suppose there are spoilers ahead. For reference, the still below is not from the opening shot. The opening shot can be viewed at the bottom of this post. Again, a special thanks to Jim Emerson for the spearheading this project and keeping these discussions alive.

By showing a herd of cows move across a damp, tepid landscape filled with decrepit buildings, houses, and barns, Bela Tarr’s eight minute opening shot to his seven-and-a-half hour masterpiece Satantango quietly manages to set the strange tone and mood of the entire film, while also metaphorically illustrating the journey the characters will take over the course of the film. Satantango is a long journey where characters wander, stroll, and plod through their village waiting on a mysterious visitor to bring them money to close down the farm. Taking place near the end of Communism in Hungary, a collective identity is very much at stake, and this highlighted by the wonderful opening shot.

Surrounded by a howling wind (and accompanied by an eerie score), a group of cows graze together deep in the frame. Signs of the Satantango’s black comedy are present when several cows unsuccessfully attempt to mount the others. A single cow moves down in the frame and walks out of the frame to the right and then to the left. Mooing get louder and works as a signal for the cows to follow each other across the field. The camera glides along the group as the cows slowly progress in the same direction, following each other across the muddy land. The cows continue walking and mooing until they walk to the back of the frame and vanish behind a set of houses.

J Hoberman says every edit in a Bela Tarr film is an event, and that description is perfectly apt for the transition from the field of cows into the next shot. There is no real reason this shot couldn’t have gone on longer if the cows kept walking, but their exit from the frame after this long walk is what most keys the audience in to Tarr’s major themes and, in a narrative sense, the characters they will soon meet. It is an event not only in that the shot has (finally) ended, but the shot itself is a whole story that the rest of the Satantango will thematically follow. Where the cows go beyond the houses is uncertain, but the collective movement and disappearance of the entire group of cows mysteriously, and miraculously, reflects the motif and progression of Satantango’s plot. Without introducing a single character, this opening shot can be seen, if only after a complete viewing, as a precursor to the events that will come. Moreover, it establishes the type of world the characters inhabit and creates a bookend with the incredible final shot that leaves an engaged viewer in a stirred daze.

In the equally great opening shot to Tarr’s film Werckmeister Harmonies (2001), Tarr shows us how the entire world of the narrative will work by showing us the characters in their typical locale illustrating the earth revolving around the sun. Drastically different in its approach, Satantango does the same by merely following a herd of cows wandering through a field. Tarr may be the modern master of the single shot, and Satantango, as well as Werckmesiter Harmonies, illustrate Tarr as the master of the brilliant opening shot. Satantango’s opening shot is just as striking, at least to me, for its lack of characters and willingness to mimic the narrative with an unflattering metaphor. The characters in Satantango are this herd of cows, wandering through the remains of a destroyed society until they, and the society itself, vanish.

by James Hansen

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

DVD of the Week Poll Results

Thanks to everyone for voting in our most recent poll regarding how often we should post an overlooked DVD of the week. I wasn't sure if people were enjoying them every week or if perhaps it should be scaled back.


Every week- 17 (62%)
Every other week- 10 (37%)

Per these results, it appears that most of you want them every week so that is what we will keep doing. I really appreciate everyone voting in the polls all the time, but especially thank you for voting in the polls that serve as a form of feedback on the site. We're doing our best to shape the site to our reader's interests. If anyone ever has feedback or comments, please feel free to contact me, and please keep voting in the polls when they come up!

Hope everyone is having a film filled weekend!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Ashes of Time Redux" Trailer

Here is a link to the premiere trailer of the highly anticipated Redux of Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time. I've heard a lot about this since its premiere at Cannes and can't wait to see this for the first time. The last Redux I remember seeing was of Apocalypse Now, which I was not a fan of (the redux, that is...the original is brilliant.) It may help that I'm not familiar with the original Ashes of Time (yet), but I think this looks really outstanding.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Short Films You Must See: "All The Boys Are Called Patrick" (Jean Luc Godard, 1959)

A fun early short here directed by JLG and written by Eric Rohmer. Certainly not his best work, but it is characteristic of things to come. Part one is on top followed by part two.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bruce Wayne Is No Will Kane. But, The Joker Rocks.

The Dark Knight has one tremendous problem; a tight-jawed, muscular, suave, caped-crusading problem: it’s protagonist. That’s right, the glaring bat-signal-sized flub up in an otherwise astonishingly entertaining and thoroughly engrossing Batman movie is, in fact, effing Batman (Christian Bale). The latest installment in what is becoming a massively successful trilogy, quadrilogy, or other more curiously prefixed saga, depending on sustained revenue (check) and artistic continuity (check), has director Christopher Nolan orchestrating a 152 minute-long action-packed circus, full of visual bravado and complex characters (barring one black-masked exception), and centering on the wickedly carnivalesque chaos of Heath Ledger’s already legendary ring-leading performance as The Joker. However, Ledger’s show-stealing is certainly made more obvious when compared to the flat, uninspired performance of his on-screen nemesis, the usually dependable Christian Bale. In the epic sequel, scripted by Nolan, his brother Jonathan, and comic-to-movie veteran, David S. Goyer, the too tight-lipped, too cool, too distant namesake of the franchise seems to be merely a sideshow – not only when compared to the jaw-dropping lunacy of Ledger’s Joker, but also when juxtaposed with the half-dozen other characters who come off as more dynamic and more relatable than The Dark Knight’s shadowy (well, okay), brooding (hardly), slick (like an annoyingly-icy driveway) hero.

With an adequately propulsive plot that is kick-started by one of the most brilliantly edited and photographed heist sequences I have ever seen, The Dark Knight pushes through a heap of action. Having begun a massive clean up of Gotham City with his vigilante actions, Batman, the merry outlaw, completes a triumvirate of ethically-minded executors of justice which boasts the new hotshot district attorney, the “white knight” of Gotham, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Batman’s staunch supporter, Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) of the Gotham police force. Together, the three attempt to take down the mob, in order to permanently disrupt the city’s crime circuit. After some success, including a heroic mass arrest, they run into a problem when the mob enlists (or does he enlist himself?) an anarchic criminal to protect their interests who calls himself The Joker and whose motives are so illogical and ambiguous as to puzzle even the brightest of criminological minds – well, except for Alfred (Michael Caine), who provides some sharp insights. The film follows the scarred, greasy, flamboyant, make-up-wearing villain as he weaves a web of destruction and rips apart the communal hope that rests upon the shoulders of Gotham’s bravest defenders, manipulating the good and the bad with his psychological games and explosive brutality and pushing the city to the edge of terror. With its urban frontier and its modern cowboys, The Dark Knight plays like a mash-up of Western-style order v. chaos social exploration, a la High Noon (1952) or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and post-9/11 political commentary on the nature and impact of terrorism, a la . . . well, most of those suck. Sadly, The Dark Knight’s Bruce Wayne is no Will Kane or Tom Doniphon, but, gladly, it does not suck.

As one of the few superheroes without any real superpowers, Bruce Wayne/Batman is typically treated with great humanity and emotional depth – more man than myth – or at least a man struggling with his own mythological status (one that he has created for himself, contrary to the archetypal supernaturally-endowed protector enslaved to his or her own powers). In Batman Begins (2005) and in many of the graphic novels and comics that informed The Dark Knight’s storyline: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), and Jeph Loeb’s Batman: The Long Halloween (1996), Batman is painted as having a certain amount of fragility and is framed as a very sympathetic character, always having something to lose, always feeling the full weight of free-will, always making some sort of sacrifice – one that hurts in a way which is visible and that displays a startling rawness not often found in superheroland.

Disappointingly, The Dark Knight is shy in unmasking Bruce Wayne’s surface-level badassery, leaving Bale with essentially one facial expression the whole damn movie – eyes focused, lips tight, sneer lurking, ready for action. The monotony of Bale’s performance restricts Batman to a few zingers and the almost-campy gruffness of his affected crime-fighting voice instead of embracing the psychological fireworks that should be tormenting our sort-of-winged defender. Emotional dynamism falls prey to punchy set pieces throughout the film, and as Bruce Wayne is repeatedly forced to sacrifice his personal life for public justice, his character becomes so selfless that he almost disappears completely, being quickly and effortlessly subsumed into his own moral flawlessness, losing the human difficulty and weakness that made him so unique and valuable in Nolan’s previous cinematic imagining. Even with the completely unsatisfactory handling of its hero, however, The Dark Knight remains a very good film – due mostly to the all-around excellence of the supporting performances of Eckhart, Oldman, Caine, Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox), and Maggie Gyllenhaal (as Rachel Dawes, shared love interest of both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent) and its stunning technical proficiency. But the reason this film should be remembered, and will be remembered (it’s already #1 on the IMDb Top 250), is Heath Ledger’s swansong performance.

Comparisons to Brando and De Niro have been lovingly and enthusiastically showered upon Ledger in countless bittersweet reviews full of devastatingly poignant “what ifs” and “probably would’ves,” and while I think these analogies are justified by Ledger’s tour de force, I would like to contribute another analogous acting precursor – young Pacino. If anything, the manic charisma and immediacy of Ledger’s take on The Joker reminded me of the power exuded by Al Pacino’s performances in Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Serpico (1973) and, of course, The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974). Like Pacino in his heyday, Ledger gives The Dark Knight its vibrancy, its cohesion and its focus. Although he will undoubtedly be credited as a supporting actor, everyone and everything in the film follows Ledger’s Joker. From the infamously visceral pencil trick to the surprising humor that colors certain scenes with a twisted, totally Gotham hilarity, Ledger’s devotion to his role is evident in the carefully measured physicality and artfully crafted tone and timing of The Joker’s most disturbing moments. The performance and Ledger’s intense preparation for it will be romanticized and embellished as their reputation grows in stature, emphasizing the morbid influence of the external fact of Ledger’s passing, making The Joker’s reckless nihilism even more tragic, insightful, and ultimately unshakeable, highlighting the idea that the fate of Gotham’s “soul” is even grayer and murkier than its own dark streets and alleys, leaving the cityscape in a palpable shroud of gloom.

by Brandon Colvin
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DVD of the Week: "Satantango" (Bela Tarr, 1994)

What other movie would it be this week? Being released on DVD for the first time today (well...unless you bought a DVD for $25 on Ebay ripped from old VHS copies (like me!), or if you nabbed the Region 2 disc in the time it was available), Tarr's seven-and-a-half hour masterpiece can FINALLY be seen by everyone in what has to be a beautiful (director approved and supervised) transfer. Originally supposed to be released in November of 2006, the Satantango DVD has been a long time coming, but, as impatient as anyone can be, being able to experience the film in its best quality will be a treat worth waiting for. (keep reading below!...I was so excited this week I had to write more!)

Waiting to be bought out and move on with their lives (with a significant amount of money), Satantango follows the townspeople of a collective farm in Hungary, near the fall of Communism, who struggle to find, and take, a new direction in light of several events. They await a mysterious stranger who has promised to bring them lots of money, but they are shocked by rumors that one of their people, thought to be dead, may be returning with a message for them. The plot here, of course, is not the highlight of the film, although it is certainly an important, funny, and boldly moving film. Tarr's style had never been so assured as in Satantango, and while Werckmesiter Harmonies, and Damnation for that matter, have a lot of "wow" factor, Satantango's extraordinary length meshes makes it a real experience from the first shot on.

Unforgettable and unclassifiable, Satantango is a true miracle of filmmaking that all cineastes will be blessed to see, if not revel in. Sure, it takes patience (and if you're not into 7-11 minutes long shots, Tarr won't be your thing); yet, if you allow yourself to be immersed in the camera,, story, and characters, you will come out of Satantango in a beautiful daze that you won't soon forget.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Watchmen Trailer

Apparently a lot of people are excited about this: the Watchmen trailer. I haven't read the graphic novel and I really really hated 300 so I can't really say that I'm buying my tickets now. Thoughts from anyone else?

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Question of the Day

Who ISN'T seeing The Dark Knight this weekend??? Am I the only one? Looks like its heading towards one hell of a massive opening. Apparently EVERY Imax screening in the city of New York is sold out already! Feel free to share thoughts and reactions (avoiding spoilers, please) in the comments section!


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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Maysles Cinema Is Open!

For those of you in the New York area...a new not-for-profit cinema has opened in Harlem at the Maysles Institute (yes...that Maysles). I went there tonight for a (DVD) screening of Jean Vigo's first short film A Propos De Nice and Chantal Akerman's News From Home (recently released in Europe with English subtitles for the very first time...I might have to write about the film in the near future...) It's been open for a couple weeks, but it seems a bit under the radar so I thought I'd alert everyone (as you should all be interested!)

Although all the Maysles Cinema has at the moment is digital projection, it's a very small, intimate space and really feels like you are just getting together in someone's basement to watch films...and I mean that in a good way. There are only about 30 seats total. There was a rug with some big ole pillows on the floor for people who want to do that as well. With 16mm projection coming, any serious film fan in the New York area will be well suited to keep on top of their programming. I had a lovely time there meeting several people tonight, and hope that those of you in New York will go out and support this new cinema some point in the near future.

Here is a link to their site where you can find lots of information on the Maysles Institute, as well as a screening schedule for the cinema and basically anything else you would want.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Davies Videos

Apparently it is Terence Davies day at Out 1. Hearing about the release of The Long Day Closes on DVD made me remember to search for his latest film, and voila! The trailer for his latest work, Of Time and The City (mentioned in the previous post), is available on YouTube. Shame on me for not finding it sooner! I don't know much about Liverpool, but this really looks lovely. Below the trailer is an interview with Davies from the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It has a few more clips from the film, plus a brief discussion of some elements within the film. Davies isn't giving anything away...don't worry.

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DVD Release of "The Long Day Closes"!

Great news tonight that Terence Davies' masterpiece The Long Day Closes is being released on DVD. I was literally preparing a post to use The Long Day Closes as a Forgotten VHS entry and discovered that the film is soon to be released, albeit a Region 2 disc, which I know does not work for everyone. (Why don't you all have region free players yet!?) His latest film, Of Time and The City, was a well received at Cannes this year, so maybe that with a set of DVD releases will help bring his work to a wider worldwide audience. The Long Day Closes is a great place to start for those who can get it, and the BFI release should be excellent. Here is a wonderful article from Reverse Shot on the film. Make sure to check out the article, but especially the film, if you get are capable!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DVD of the Week: "Solo Sunny" (Konrad Wolf, 1980)

A few weeks ago, Dave Kehr wrote about “Solo Sunny” in the New York Times and prompted me to watch it as soon as possible, given its new DVD release. Thanks to Kehr’s article, I discovered a tenderly tragic, quietly haunting film of great cultural importance. However, what makes Solo Sunny is great is not just that it is the defining filmic document of East Germany in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The cinematography is richly layered creating two distinct sections within each scene, and practically every frame, providing its own visual analysis of a divided and fragile world. Its drab colors create a somber feeling in the world of Sunny, a difficult singer trying to get a big break. That, of course, is simplifying the richly textured film. With great performances and an assured patience, Sunny’s relationships showcase the fragility of a world that is breaking apart around all of the characters without them even taking notice.

-James Hansen

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Colvin In Paris Part Two: Memories With Woody

My dislike of Woody Allen films is well documented, through Netflix ratings and comments on blogs, including a few posts on Jeremy Richey’s Moon in the Gutter. Of the twenty-four films directed by Allen that I had seen before my trip to Paris, I liked three: Manhattan (1979), Another Woman (1988), and Husbands and Wives (1992). Not a very good batting average. In fact, I almost skipped out on attending the screening of Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980) at the Filmothèque du Quartier Latin based on our history together. Thankfully, I did not.

It was the middle of June and homesickness was taking its toll. I missed my girlfriend. I missed my cat. I missed forests and hills. I missed staying up late and watching stupid television. My heart was heavy and my head was constantly throbbing. I had just picked up the current issue of Pariscope, the guide to all cinematic happenings in the city, and, moping along in muggy dreariness near the Place d’Italie, I spied a listing for the Filmothèque’s Woody Allen retrospective (God, the French love him), and decided the day might be brightened by a light dosage of Woody’s usually unbearable routine of nervous romance and pseudo-intellectual banter. What really sold me was the film that was playing – Stardust Memories – a gigantic allusion to Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963), one of my all-time favorites, and photographed by Gordon Willis, whom I trusted to at least provide some enticing visuals. I hopped on the Metro and had to half-jog once I got to the Boulevard St-Michel in order to make it on time for the 2:00 pm showing. Sweaty and a bit tired, I waited in line for the doors to open with about twenty people, all looking equally uncomfortable.

Seated in the Filmothèque, anticipating the dimming of the lights, I heard English being spoken by a trio of students around my age – two American guys and a French girl, who was romantically linked with the more attractive dude. They were seated at my left, and I was positioned in the center of the screen. They complained about not having a good enough view when I decided to speak to them. I think it surprised the girl-less American next to me when I told him, in English, that I could move over a few seats, if they wanted. Enthusiastically and with genuine gratitude, they thanked me and we all proceeded to shift down the row. Pre-flick friendly chatter started up and I learned that my next-seat neighbor was from Oklahoma. I told him I was from Kentucky. He had never been there, and I told him that I had never visited the Sooner State either. I inquired as to if he had seen any good movies in Paris and he revealed that he and his friend had seen Five Easy Pieces (1970) a few days earlier and that that was about it. I asked if he had seen 8 ½, to which he replied in the negative, prompting me to briefly explain the plot and style of that film so that he could get the most out of Stardust Memories. He was sincerely appreciative of my half-assed introduction, and, for once, my film geekiness came in handy. How about that?

The opening scene of Stardust Memories, a sarcastic, yet loving, quotation of 8 ½’s famous introductory dream sequence, had me nearly rolling on the floor immediately. Woody Allen was making me laugh! What a novelty! Gordon Willis was coming through as well, imitating the crisp black-and-white cinematography of Gianni Di Venanzo, while concurrently injecting a humorous, satirical flair that further embraced the comedic edge of Fellini’s masterpiece. Then came the turn – instead of the opening all being a dream, it was a movie, created by Allen’s fictional protagonist, Sandy Bates (played by Allen, of course), a director in the midst of an artistic and romantic crisis (sound familiar?), openly seeking to emulate Fellini’s precedent and rescue himself from being pigeonholed as a solely comic filmmaker, just as Allen had been the time. Autobiographical elements popped up throughout the film, although Allen denies the autobiographical quality of Stardust Memories, and the film sustained a brilliant blend of absurd/surreal humor and existential/romantic tragedy as it relayed some of the most intense moments in any Woody Allen picture – a fitting tribute to the Maestro.

Watching Sandy Bates struggle with lost love, trust and idealism, his flashbacked past, and the dark cloud hanging over his future, I felt centered and placid. The screen was talking to me, calming me, and I was talking back, in my chuckles and moments of sharp recognition. Woody and I were finally having the conversation that I felt like he had always been trying to have with me. He and his fellow filmmakers had found the right framing, the right lighting, the right emotions, the right movements, and the right cuts. As the film played and I grew closer to it and I felt myself loving my girlfriend more, loving my home more, loving cinema more – all without bittersweet loneliness, only an exuberant promise of being held: by her, by the foothills, by each frame of film. I felt comfortable in Paris, really comfortable, for the first time. And at the end of the film, Woody did something that made me love him.

After Sandy Bates screens his finished film for the entire cast and crew (a meta-feat of “hey, was she playing an actress playing a part or was she just playing the part or is she just playing herself?” comparable to Fellini’s achievement), and after they all rush out, muttering critical opinions to one another, he is left alone in the relatively small screening room. A bit somber, a bit relieved, Sandy (or is it actually Woody this time?) walks up and down the vacant aisles, touching his hand slightly on the tops of empty chairs. He grabs his thick-rimmed glasses from his former seat near the front of the pew-less congregation and looks up at the plain white screen affixed to the wall. Staring deeply, lovingly, he pauses and carefully moves closer to the smooth rectangular icon, suggesting intimacy. Slowly, he places his hand upon the screen and lowers his head slightly before moving away respectfully and exiting the screening room. I knew what he had done. He had said, “thank you.” I understood. I knew that gesture, that feeling. Woody and I were on the same wavelength then – grateful for the cinema, grateful for its generosity. And that’s a sensation that I have brought back with me – all the way home, thousands of miles from Paris, where Woody spoke to me and made my loneliness bearable.

by Brandon Colvin
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Colvin In Paris Part One: At Home At The Movies

My Out 1 blogging hiatus is over. I’ve spent the past month studying the works of Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and other American expatriates with a group of fellow collegiate Kentuckians in Paris, just southeast of the Latin Quarter, and smack dab in the middle of arguably the most cinephilic city in the world – but I’m glad to be back and glad to be writing about film again.

In Paris, I was displaced, detached from home, listless, restless and lonely. But even in a foreign city, living a foreign lifestyle, I found comfort and familiarity – in the tiny theatres that dotted every street corner near La Sorbonne, Odéon, and St-Michel, where the 24fps clickity-click of projectors reminded me what my rhythm was. I dwelled in the dark, sloping rooms of Le Champo and the Accattone 14, nestled in extraordinarily soft, well-cushioned seats, peering over the heads of elderly Parisians and eager students in packed salles, all of us gathered for a screening of Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be (1942) or Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975), all of us feeling every scratch, skip and flicker of the contemporary manifestation of Plato’s cavernous prototype, joined in the romantic communion of engaged spectatorship. Hemingway famously wrote that Paris was “a movable feast,” and I would argue, from experience, that cinema is equally trans-spatial and equally sustaining, imbuing its observers with a capacity for vibrant recall that can soothe a drifting heart, transport a wandering mind, and recreate a foundation of familiarity, or at least the sensation of one, which may be even more valuable. Cinema, without a doubt, was my Parisian home away from home.

The first film I saw in the City of Lights was Zabriskie Point (1970), Michelangelo Antonioni’s darkly comic exploration of hippiedom, violence, sex and the social liberation, revolution, and deconstruction of late 60s American society. The film is hard to track down in the US, particularly if one wants a high-quality version, and I was fortunate enough to see a brand-spanking-new print in its original aspect ratio, playing at Le Champo, one of the premier cinemas in Paris. My friend Sam came along and we verbally fumbled our way into attaining our tickets before descending, along with a sizeable group of prospective Antonioni fans, past a pop-art portrait of Audrey Hepburn and down a small set of black carpeted stairs where we found our salle. I plunked a 2 euro coin into a vending machine and indulged in a Bueno bar before taking my seat beside Sam, who had never seen an Antonioni film. This was exciting, I thought.

The film began. I was surprised at the vibrancy of the colors and the immediate pungency of the images and action, in which overlapping billboards, hilariously pseudo-intelligent Marxist posturing, and ferociously capitalistic Americana had replaced the stark European architecture, enigmatically sparse dialogue, and existential languidness of Antonioni’s most famous films: L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962), all of which were showing at Le Champo that week. Zabriskie Point’s humor was subtle, and revealed Antonioni’s underused talent for directing comedy – the source of which may have been the addition of Sam Shepard’s input to Tonino Guerra’s consistently excellent scripting, having served as the screenwriter for all of Antonioni’s films since L’Avventura. The French audience members all unleashed their chuckles a few seconds after Sam and I, and with much less gusto, which made me wonder exactly how good the subtitle translation was and how much of the comedic edge was being lost, or whether the French were merely more reserved in their willingness to crack-up in a theatre. Either way, seeing the film with a foreign audience was pretty cool.

I hadn’t told Sam about the film’s explosive finale, so he was happily shocked and we walked out of the theater at around midnight, him muttering “fuckin’ awesome” and “what a crazy movie” as I smiled and smiled. It was far from my favorite Antonioni film, but I was happy that Sam had liked it and that maybe he had been sparked. As we walked to the nearest Metro stop, I felt leveled, gelled by the cinema, more cohesive and considerably relieved. I mentioned to Sam that we should go back and see The Passenger later that week; he was enthused, a freshly converted Antonionian, and suggested we make our way over to the Cinémathèque Française, perhaps the most renowned cinema museum in the world, in the next few days. So, we did.

When Sam and I entered the doors of the permanent collection of the Cinémathèque, I was so startled that I forgot to hand the attendee my ticket, prompting him to ask, “billet?” Once I handed him my ticket, the man ripped it slightly, ratifying my presence, and handed it to me as I felt my eyes trying to roll out of their sockets to explore all of the cinematographic relics displayed in glass cases. Kinetoscopes, zoopraxiscopes, and chronophotographic guns sat unassumingly against walls and in corners, shocking in their proximity and, in a few instances, able to be used. I watched Edison’s Black Maria films (c. 1894), cranking a kinetoscope gleefully and walked around and around in rooms that held replicas of the Lumières’ camera and in which silent shorts were projected on the walls, ceilings, and floors. It was almost overwhelming. I was almost unconsciously providing an enthusiastic commentary on everything we were seeing for Sam’s benefit, whether he liked it or not. Words and facts were just pouring out of me. I felt like a child and my heart was beating faster as we progressed through the museum, moving out of early roadshow posters for Birth of a Nation (1915) and approaching the Soviet and German area.

As we turned the corner into the rooms of Eisenstein, Vertov, Murnau, Weine, and Lang, I immediately caught a glimpse of the Metropolis (1927) robot, brightly lit and shiny – I almost fainted. I had to completely turn around, my back to the piece of cinematic history, and face it a second time. I started trembling a bit, and I don’t even like Metropolis all that much. I veered to my right to observe the colorful costumes from Ivan the Terrible, Part One (1944) and Ivan the Terrible, Part Two (1958, produced in 1946), as well as the original set design sketches for ¡Que Viva Mexico! (1979, shot in 1931-32), taking a breather from the Expressionistic punch in the chest I had just received. Man With A Movie Camera (1929) was projecting on a nearby wall and as I crossed into the German room, I watched it out of the corner of my eye.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari(1919) and Metropolis dominated the entire Expressionist area. I got a better look at Rotwang’s robot as scenes from the film flickered on the floor beneath me. I had to breathe deeply. The geometric complexity and gothic futurism of Caligari’s art direction layouts and drawings were incredible and mesmerizing. But we had to get moving – the museum was closing soon and we still had an entire special exhibition on Méliès to discover. The last section we perused in the permanent collection was the avant-garde portion, which featured artifacts from some of my favorite films and filmmakers, including experimentalists Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, and Man Ray. To top it off, the last object I saw before we delved into Méliès was the black-and-white-striped box carried by the protagonist of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un chien andalou (1929). I imagined their hands on it. I could see the scuffs and dirt marks that implied wear, use, and history. It was the former property of two of the greatest artistic geniuses of the 20th century and I was so very close to it. That brought me to tears. I remember saying, “Oh my God” over and over again and trying to communicate to Sam why it was all so moving for me. I couldn’t though, I just muttered on about surrealism and mules on pianos and bisected eyeballs. I couldn’t express the sheer power of Buñuel’s magic. It had to be seen and felt, I told him.

Fortunately, Sam was able to see and feel all of the playful glory of Georges Méliès’ diabolically clever films via the extensive, career-spanning exhibition on the seventh floor of the Cinémathèque. Endless amounts of impressive props, imaginative illustrations, and a scale model of Méliès’ studio highlighted the multi-room display and Sam and I took in four or five of the French master’s short films before coming to the exhibition’s focal point: A Trip to the Moon (1902) playing in a loop and being projected on a huge wall. We stood leaning against the glass of the display cases and watched the film twice. Sam was absorbed. I watched his eyes get big, wowed by the visual bravura of Méliès groundbreaking work, which was, as the visitor’s guide claimed, the precursor to the effects wizardry of Spielberg, Lucas, and countless others. Ushered out promptly at 7:00 pm (or 19 h) by the attendant, we walked out of the museum, chatting about how Méliès did it and why nobody else could ever do it quite like he did – a natural illusionist. Sam remarked, “I need to see more of that guy’s stuff.” I suggested he check YouTube. Paris had once again flexed its culturally-inspiring muscle and the cinematic camaraderie between Sam and I had become solid. I was grateful to the city. But I didn’t reach my personal moment of movie epiphany until I went to a theatre alone a few weeks later – stuck in the dark with Woody Allen.

by Brandon Colvin
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Short Films You Must See: Bruce Conner Collection

Per request from the Conner family, the Bruce Conner short films I previously embedded have been removed from the site. In order to respect the wishes of his family, the videos have been removed; this post, however, will remain. Bruce Conner's body of work which one which all experimental film fans should be familiar with, and one of crucial importance. His collection is, most certainly, a set of short films you must see.
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

RIP Bruce Conner 1933-2008

Sad news to report (albeit a day late): Bruce Conner, famed avant-garde film director and artist, has died. People hear his name more than they see his work, which just goes to show how far reaching his influence spans. A Movie is in the National Film Registry for good reason, and Conner will continue to live on through his work. Our thoughts are with friends, families, and fans today.

The work seen below is Conner's BOMBHEAD 1989/2002.

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The Cutest Indictment of Humanity You Will Ever See

After the lovable exploits of Remy the rat were immortalized by Pixar in their previous film Ratatouille, I thought they had scaled their tallest mountain. After watching their latest offering, WALL-E, it seems they’ve found a taller mountain and already reached the summit. Director Andrew Stanton humanizes the loveable loser-bot and manages to craft a wonderful love story-cum-message picture which will have viewers questioning society as it currently stands.

WALL-E (or Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class), which takes place 700 years in the future, is the story of a robot who spends his days making cubes from the trash that covers the barren earth. One day a spaceship lands and a new robot enters his life. EVE (or Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) arrives and WALL-E quickly goes from curious to enamored. To impress her, he shows her a plant that he found while rummaging among the earthen ruins. As her primary objective is to find plant life, she stashes the plant in a midsection storage cavity and goes into a coma-like state until a ship comes to retrieve her. As WALL-E has no intention of losing his new friend/love interest, he grabs on and rides the ship back to its “mothership”, The Axiom. There he discovers a colony of obese humans and the machines that make life easy for them. Through various mishaps and robotic saboteurs, WALL-E has to help EVE get the plant specimen to the captain, so the humans can initiate their return to earth.

While on the surface, this sounds like a fun children’s movie (and it is plenty of fun), it’s also Pixar’s preachiest film to date. The largest issue the film addresses is that of environmental concerns. In the future, society apparently litters like the dickens, hence the need for the WALL-E units. It is their objective to clean up the planet while all of humanity is aboard the Axiom. During the initial sequence where the film follows WALL-E during his day-to-day routine, earth is nothing but refuse and wasteland and the color scheme of the film reflects as much. Various shades of brown run rampant, but aside from the faded hues of Buy-N-Large Corporation (insert rimshot here) products or advertisements, there is no real color to speak of. When WALL-E happens upon the plant, the green almost reaches off the screen and slaps you with its vibrancy. Red is to Sin City as Green is to WALL-E. This dramatic visual change emphasizes the important role that the plant will play in the film before EVE is even introduced into the film.

The earlier Pixar feature Cars was too one-note in its message of corporations killing small businesses. While WALL-E takes this issue and goes even further with it, they don’t continually harp on it. In the film, the B-N-L corporation achieved global domination. This in itself is a harrowing thought as this says that not only is a hegemonic state possible, but one needn’t even be a country to achieve it. Another dire conclusion which can be drawn from this is that we as a nation are so enmeshed in consumerism, that we would allow a corporation to take over as our national form of representation. Any way you look at it, the situation is grim. And this bleak scenario is wordlessly raised in the first five minutes of the film.

In WALL-E, literally every human shown in the current era (live-action Fred Willard is excluded as his character was pre-recorded 700 years before the events of the film) is obese. The people all get around via mobile chair units which take them wherever their hearts desire aboard the Axiom. While riding, they don’t even have to interact with the people in their immediate vicinity because each chair comes complete with holographic projector screens which are directly in front of the face of the rider. The only thing that occasionally distracts the rider from their screens is the garishly intrusive advertisements that inundate the ship (think talking jumbo-tron billboards). This amalgamated commentary tells us that 1) people are obese due to a sedentary lifestyle which we seem to be doing nothing about, 2) the proliferation of electronic devices is detrimental to us (see point 1), and 3) consumerism consumes us. This is apparently Pixar’s less-than-subtle elbow to the ribs that we should perhaps look at how we are living (too bad we can’t feel it through our fat rolls…).

The film also presents the scenario that humanity has been dehumanized. WALL-E has apparently developed some sort of sentience which gives him a penchant for Rubik’s cubes and VHS copies of Hello, Dolly! (or in other words, a personality). He and EVE both display individual personalities. But once the “humans” are introduced, they are shown to be a uniform mass of obesity and consumerism with no discernable differences between one and another (with the exception of the captain whose duties preclude that he be differentiated, though only slightly). It’s a sad thought that the most human character shown in a film with plenty of people in it is a robot. The only way that the humans are re-humanized is when WALL-E interacts with them on a personal level. Usually, he clumsily runs into their hover chairs and, in a folksy apology, offers his hand and his name. There are three characters that WALL-E particularly interacts with that become re-humanized: two passengers (who end up saving a litter of children from doom) and the captain. The revelation of the captain’s re-humanization is particularly satisfactory for those viewers well-versed in film. As he confronts the ship’s Autopilot, Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” begins to play in a nod to Kubrick’s glorious 2001: A Space Odyssey letting us know that the captain has officially achieved the status of “human.”

WALL-E is enjoyable on the level of a fun animated movie where robots talking with nasally electronic voices and get into all kinds of hijinks, shenanigans, tomfoolery, and other forms of misadventures. It’s also the story of the love that develops between WALL-E and EVE. And while a viewer can see it at that level and stop there if they so choose, they would be shutting themselves out of a wealth of social commentary that Pixar has taken the liberty to point out. This is Pixar getting up on their soapbox and telling the world to make some changes. I’m just amazed that they were able to make their rant to the country this much fun.

by Jacob Shoaf

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

DVD of the Week: "Jandek on Corwood" (Chad Freidrichs, 2003)

This strange documentary about avant-garde musician Jandek doesn’t seek to define the reclusive artist, and that is precisely why it works. By exploring fans, friends, and others who have fallen under Jandek’s simplistic, rambling mystique, Jandek On Corwood is an interesting document on the artist, and even more interesting in the way it reflects a culture obsessed with definitions. Though Jandek may be far from a conceptual genius, yet his influence is made clear without the need to know anything about the person behind the bizarre work. Jandek On Corwood is a quiet and simple documentary, but beneath the surface there is much to discover and even more to think about.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Upcoming Posts Update

Hello everyone. I just wanted to give everyone a status update as to why there have been so few posts this week, and wanted to assure you all that there are plenty coming up very soon. I have been in the process of moving to a new apartment all of this week, and this process included not having any internet access. I am on a computer at work as I type, which has no capabilities to include pictures or save writing. And due to Time Warner Cable being insanely slow about things, I will not have internet until Tuesday of next week (the 8th.) As soon as I have access to the internet at home, you can expect us to really get rolling. Reviews of The Last Mistress, Razzle Dazzle, Wall-E, and Man on Wire are in the works, as well as some entries for our in-hiatus Forgotten VHS Series and a DVD of the week will start back up as well, hopefully this coming Tuesday. We will try and fit some other specialized entries in throughout the summer and Brandon Colvin may share some of his cinematic experiences from his time studying abroad in Paris. Welcome back to the USA, Brandon!

Thank you all for your patience and please keep telling your friends and other bloggers about us. We're trying our hardest and really appreciate everyone's support in making this a successful journal.

Best wishes to all, and a happy holiday weekend.


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