The festival has ended. American Express has given up their stronghold on lower Manhattan and allowed the natives to return, the UA Battery Park Stadium 11 can safely return to showing Mean Girls and Van Helsing, and the owners of the bagel place next door can probably retire. (It was the only place to grab some quick food before/between/after screenings.)
Of the eight films that Filmbrain saw, only one can be called great -- the aforementioned Last Life in the Universe. Of the other seven, they ranged from abysmal to ok to very good -- not too great for a film festival. True, it's possible Filmbrain missed some of the best pics, like 1/2 Price, which was meant to be fantastic.
While a full review of Last Life in the Universe is still in the works, here are some shorter reviews of the other films Filmbrain espied:
A Letter to True (Bruce Weber, USA) Fashion photographer Bruce Weber created this film-letter to True, one of his five golden retrievers. It follows Weber on his travels, and contains his narration on subjects such as his friends, his work as a photographer, his reaction to 9/11, his thoughts on Jonathan Demme's documentary The Agronomist, etc. The soundtrack is non-stop cool jazz of the 50's and 60's. The images are lush and lovely, with an (expected) abundance of homoeroticism in the form of shirtless young men posing and playing. Interspersed throughout the film are clips from old dog-themed movies (including a young Elizabeth Taylor in The Courage of Lassie) and some home movies of Dirk Bogarde. What it adds up to is a slightly narcissistic seventy-eight minute Calvin Klein ad. While there are moments that are quite touching, the film is just too scattered. What are we to make of shots of Haitian refuges followed by models and dogs frolicking in the surf (in slow-motion), all while Marianne Faithful recites a Stephen Spender poem? You decide. The screening was notable for the excessive amount of fashonistas in attendance. Filmbrain spotted Calvin Klein and a whole slew of pouty models, none of which he can identify by name. Weber, looking more like a benevolent biker in jeans, denim jacket, and bandana spoke a bit at the end. He said something about this being an unfinished work, and that we could expect more. Lucky us.
Original Child Bomb (Carey Schonegeval, USA) Wonderful meditation on nuclear weapons and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Inspired by the Thomas Merton poem of the same name, the film consists of old newsreels, interviews with both Japanese survivors and former American soldiers exposed to radiation during tests, previously suppressed footage shot in Japan after the bombings, and some original animation. It's sort of like a visual equivalent of a DJ Shadow song, whose music is featured in the film. The film contests the American decision to drop the bomb, claiming that there were other options, and adding that Japan was never told about the bomb. The film is at its most powerful when the images are just left to speak for themselves. The inclusion of Bush and his WMD speech actually detracts from the film's more important message. The amount of nuclear weapons that exist today is staggering, and the fact that more countries are seeking the bomb brings us that much closer to annihilation. A fascinating film that deserves to be seen by many.
Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16 (Paul Cronin, UK) Documentary of a fascinating subject that is sadly very dull in its execution. Amos Vogel, an Austrian Jew who fled Europe in 1938 was one of the first people to bring experimental and avant-garde cinema to New York City. Ridiculous censorship rules that existed in the 1940's forced Vogel to create a private cinema club, and thus Cinema 16 was born. Over the next two decades, Vogel would introduce New Yorkers to such directors as Polanski, Bunuel, Ozu, Rivette, and Herzog. What is remarkable is that the club had around 6000 members, and screenings in the 1600 seat theater were often packed. (Interest in experimental film has radically waned since the 60's!) The film spends a fair amount of time with Vogel in his apartment, going through old program notes, describing pictures and clippings he has hanging on his bulletin board, and simply reminiscing about his time with Cinema 16. At other times we see rather generic shots of Manhattan that have little bearing on the topic at hand. The film also lacks in detail -- dates are never mentioned, there is scant recognition of Vogel's groundbreaking book (Film as a Subversive Art), and hardly any mention of his work as creator of the still-running New York Film Festival. Fortunately, Vogel (a self-described radical) is fascinating enough to listen to, making the poorly made film certainly worthwhile. Vogel and his wife were at the screening (which was quite a thrill), along with Ken Jacobs and a host of other pioneers in the New York experimental film scene.
More tomorrow. . .