Click here to read the rest of the dispatch, which is published at GreenCine Daily.
As a regular quiz entrant put it, "the movie where a young Ben Kenobi makes sweet love to Batman." Yes, it's Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes' ode to glam rock that is (in my opinion) light years better than the dour I'm Not There.
Forgive the brevity this week. I'm writing this at JFK, just moments before boarding my flight to Berlin.
This week: Moo! Name the film. Submit your answers to this address. Good luck!
|With the Berlinale just one week away my inbox is overflowing with news from global sales agents about films being screened at the European Film Market (EFM), which I'll be attending as head of Benten Films. |
There are around 700 titles being shown at the EFM, and sales companies are doing all they can to entice perspective buyers to see their films, which include offers of booze, food, parties, etc. Many of the films shown are, well, crap, and it takes a heck of a long time to comb through the guide to find the titles worth seeking out.
Each year there are a handful of private screenings of works-in-progress, some of which I actually get invited to. Last year, I couldn't talk my way into the Morgan Spurlock Osama Bin Laden film (I now consider myself lucky), but I did have a chance to see what was then called Untitled Jean-Claude Van Damme Project. Not realizing it would be the wonderful JCVD, I foolishly declined.
This year there are two works-in-progress that I've been invited to see that I'm very excited about. One is Tarik Saleh's Metropia, a Swedish-produced CGI/live-action hybrid set in a dystopian Europe that has run out of oil, while at the same time "a net of undergrounds has been connected, creating a gigantic web underneath Europe. Roger, from a suburb of Stockholm, tries to stay away from the underground. He thinks it’s unpleasant and sometimes he hears a strange voice in his head." Kafka meets Kusterica? Who knows. The news that matters most is that Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis are the voices of the lead characters -- two actors I've long prayed would work together. (Crazy, meet crazier.) Also along for the ride are Stellan Skarsgard (and his son Alexander) and everybody's favorite giant baby, Udo Kier. How can this not be phenomenal?
The other big news (not 100% confirmed, unfortunately) is that Lars Von Trier will be coming to the EFM with, and I quote, "about a third" of his upcoming horror film Antichrist, a glimpse into the dark world of Lars' imagination and the nature of his fears, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. From the Zentropa website:
"He and she lose their little son and she subsequently suffers from terrible anxiety attacks. Her husband is a therapist, and in spite of warnings not to treat people with whom you have close relations, they begin to tackle her fears together, and in the place where her anxiety is strongest: Eden, a deserted cabin in the woods. The tough therapeutic struggle develops into a battle of the sexes. Her fears inhabit them both and even he is not exempt from experiencing the merciless evil of nature. Natural brutality takes over and his cool reason is rendered futile. The evil in her runs wild."
I could be wrong, but I forsee a bidding war over this one. Von Trier is good at horror, and I don't imagine he'll take take a Brechtian approach on this one. I sincerely hope he shows. I'm dying to ask him if there's still a chance that he'll make Washington, the final chapter in his USA trilogy.
Casting Jack Warden as the President of the United States is but one of the many strokes of genius that Hal Ashby brought to his adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's Being There. The film celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year, but it hasn't aged a bit.
I read just moments ago that the film is being reissued on DVD and Blu-Ray, which is in theory exciting, though I was disappointed to learn that only the Blu-Ray release will contain newly discovered deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Is this how they're going to get us to convert? It reminds me of the early days of CDs, and the bonus tracks that weren't available on vinyl. Sigh....
The alt-text clue was a reference to friend and Filmmaker Magazine writer Nick Dawson, whose highly anticipated biography, Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel is just over a month away from publication. I can't wait to read it.
This week: From Being There to being there. And oh what a time it must have been. Name the film. Submit your answers to this address. Good luck!
Sundance, Slamdance, Rotterdam, Berlinale, Golden Globes, SAG, Oscars -- it's certainly awards season all over the place, so why not here as well, if just for a few moments.
The first bit of news is that Like Anna Karina's Sweater was nominated for a Movie Blog Award by TotalFilm.com, the online wing of the UK-based glossy film monthly magazine, Total Film. I was nominated in the World/Indie category, along with LoveAsianFilm, Boyd van Hoeij's European-Films.net, and Ray Pride's Movie City Indie. (For truth be told, ours are the only four such sites on the Interweb.)
I'm pleased to announce that I won with a whopping 78% of the vote (take that Obama!) -- a number that's not so impressive when you consider that only 65 votes were cast. Still, I'm flattered for the recognition from across the pond, particularly from a magazine that's been around for over a decade. Here's thanking the magazine for the nomination, and those that helped lead me to victory.
In other news, Glenn Kenny chose my site to be one of five recipients of the Premio Dardos, an award whose origin is shrouded in mystery. (To me, at least.) I'm honored to be included in Glenn's list along with such personal heroes as The Cinetrix, Girish, Campaspe and Craig Keller. The official description:
"The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the web.
The rules are: 1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog. 2) Pass the award to another 5 blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know that they have been selected for this award."
So, in the spirit of pay-it-forward (and other forgettable Kevin Spacey films), I hereby bequeath a Dardos to:
Fin de Cinema: Saint Louis' own Joe Bowman runs this lively, extremely well-written site that contains a healthy balance of cinephile-friendly news and analysis, and reviews of films both hi-art and low, with an emphasis on film that don't receive a ton of coverage elsewhere. It was his review of Julia that first drew me to the site, yet his brief write-up of Agnes and His Brothers (a film I thought I was alone in liking) turned me into a regular fan.
More Than Meets The Mogwai: The blog of Aaron W. Graham, who also write for the Canadian magazine Uptown. Much like this site, posting frequency on the Mogwai has been lighter than in the past, but his quality has never faltered. Interspersed with his film reviews are phenomenal YouTube clips, classic album art, and even some notes on music.
Boredom at its Bordest: Filmmaker (Cocaine Angel, Silver Jew), musician, passionate cinephile, dedicated champion of American independent cinema and all-around great guy Michael Tully calls this IndieWire blog home, even though he spends most of his time at the Indie collective Hammer to Nail. Unabashedly subjective, Tully loves to share his discoveries with the blogosphere, and there are easily fifteen films I've looked into based solely on his raves. (I'm convinced it was his praise of Glory at Sea that led to its standing-room-only screening at the Walter Reade last year.) His open letters to Sam Mendes about Revolutionary Road (both pre-production and post-release) are the reason I didn't bother writing about the film, for they say it all, and then some.
Out of Focus: Friend, occasional antipode, and fellow miserablist Aaron Dobbs is one of the first bloggers I ever met in person, and both our sites date back the late 60s or so. We've had some notorious dust-ups both online and off, mostly about Vincent Gallo, but the past two years have found us in agreement as to the best film of the year. (Should it happen three years in a row, something cataclysmic is bound to happen.) Along with film, Aaron is equally as passionate about theater and television, and to this day I enjoy hearing about programs I never knew existed. Aaron hasn't been posting all that much lately, and I'm hoping this award serves to jumpstart his passion. To his defense, his employer keeps him quite busy, particularly around this time of the year.
GreenCine Daily: Yes, yes...Aaron Hillis is both my business partner and a good friend, but his inclusion has nothing to do with cronyism. As most of you know, Aaron recently took the reins over at GreenCine after David Hudson set up shop at IFC. Big shoes to fill, to say the least. Rather than a direct continuation of what the site was, Aaron is making efforts at building a site that encourages dialog, while avoiding the snark and outright nastiness that's become the lingua franca of the web. Amen to that. His posts during his inaugural month have ranged from drunken podcasts with some of NY's finest critics, thoughts on Sundance, the state of distribution and the Oscars, as well as reviews of overlooked gems.
Congratulations awardees. Now go do unto others....
One of auteur Alan Rudolph's stranger films, Love at Large is a comic noir romance oddity that was sadly neglected when it was released. Arriving at the tail end of the 80s as it did, it was perhaps a bit too much to expect from audiences in a year that found Home Alone, Ghost, and Dances With Wolves as the top three grossing films. It's available on DVD, and it's a must-see if you haven't.
The woman in the screen capture is Ann Magnuson, of the seminal New York art-rock band Bongwater, who is pitch perfect in her supporting role as Doris, Tom Berenger's jealous girlfriend.
This week's quiz is something a milestone in that it's the first one ever to appear not under the Bush regime, which as you all know came to an end yesterday. (Three cheers for our side!) We can only go up from here, yes?
In light of the inauguration, I tried to find something both presidential and optimistic, but just didn't find the time to seek out the perfect film. This one will have to do. Name the film. Submit your answers to this address. Good luck!
I spent some time this morning perusing the list of films that have already been announced for this year's Berlinale, which takes place between February 5-15. On paper, at least, it seems that 2009 could turn out to be a vast improvement over last year's festival, which, by all accounts, was lackluster at best. Four films that I'm particularly excited about are:
Kill Daddy Good Night (Das Vaterspiel) - Michael Glawogger, Austria
I'm only familiar with Glawogger's documentary work, especially the wonderful Workingman's Death, which was popular on the festival circuit in 2005. His latest film is based on the best-selling novel, Das Vaterspiel, which is about Rupert, a 35 year-old Austrian computer programmer (and loser) designing a video game about killing his father. A former girlfriend now living in New York asks for his help in dealing with a distant relative, who happens to be a former Nazi hiding in a basement in Long Island. Even more appealing that than plot is the fact that the cast includes Sabine Timoteo (pictured, left), co-star of The Free Will. As David Hudson concurs, that's all I really needed to know.
Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (Singularidades de uma rapariga loura) - Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal
Oliveira turned 100 a few weeks ago, but that hasn't slowed him down any. He's got two films slated for 2009, and this one, based on a short story by Eça de Queirós is having its world premiere at the fest. I don't know a thing about it, but who cares? With a title like that, it has to be good.
Katalin Varga - Peter Strickland, Romania/UK/Hungary
Vengeance and redemption-themed debut from this UK-based filmmaker sounds oddly compelling: Antal Borlan's loving wife would never even suspect that her devoted and kind husband is responsible for a past atrocity. Antal believes he has felt God's forgiveness and that his enduring marriage is testament to his redemption. An avenging angel by the name of Katalin Varga scales the Carpathian Mountains by horse and is in possession of the one thing that can redefine Antal's notion of redemption. Yet Katalin cannot fully comprehend the notion of vengeance until the devastating trail she leaves behind in her search for Antal finally catches up with her. Check out the trailer below:
Ricky - François Ozon, France
Francois Ozon is without question one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. A formalist who is continually reinventing himself, he's never afraid to take chances, but there's a remarkable restraint to his audacity. I'm still shocked that Angel, one of his best films (and a highlight of the 2007 Berlinale) has yet to find a release in the States. (And it's even in English!) There's not enough in this deceptive trailer for Ricky, which is having its world premiere, to suss out exactly what's going on, but who can resist a magical baby? Horror film, tragic family drama, or light comedy? You be the judge....
A period gangster film with an all child cast (including Jodie Foster) and songs by Paul Williams? What else but Bugsy Malone, which still remains one of my favorite Alan Parker films, along with Angel Heart and Shoot the Moon. A few people asked if the film holds up, and I believe it does. Sure, Paul Williams isn't quite the household name anymore, but the originality of it remains, even if it does seem a bit creepier than when I was a kid.
That's Florrie Dugger on the right as Blousey Brown, one of the leads in the film. As far as I know, she never acted again, though I don't know why. Anybody out there have some info on what became of her?
Of course the big news in the film blogosphere this week was the sudden removal of Kevin Lee's YouTube channel. For those unfamiliar, Kevin creates wonderful critical video essays as part of his project to watch the 1000 greatest films of all time. Yes, they include clips from the films, but can they hardly be counted as piracy, or in any way interfering with the copyright holder's ability to make money. If anything, they function to drive people towards these films. It's not yet known who issued the complaint, but whoever it was should be forced to justify their decision. I for one would like to hear it.
This week: I heard a song from this film today in, of all places, a Rite Aid drug store. I haven't seen it in years, and it's about time I rectify that. Name it. Submit your answers to this address. Good luck!
Some months ago I posted a contribution to the 12 Hard-to-See-Movies meme, where I listed a dozen films from the 60s and 70s that I've long wanted to see. An extremely kind reader from the UK sent me three of the twelve, including Move, the lone entry in Stuart Rosenberg's 70s output that I hadn't seen. Though the DVD quality was awful (from a pan-and-scan PAL VHS), it was well worth the wait.
Rosenberg has always been something of a head-scratcher for me, for his films are so wildly inconsistent, both tonally and aesthetically. Perhaps a closer study would reveal some directorial signatures, but I never would have guessed that the same person was responsible for Pocket Money, Voyage of the Damned, The Amityville Horror and The Pope of Greenwich Village.
Move was one of two films Rosenberg released in 1970, the other being the nearly-perfect WUSA. Though nowhere as ambitious as the latter, Move finds Rosenberg at his furthest from the mainstream, and clearly taking inpsiration from the nouvelle vague. It's one of those 70s films you find hard to believe a major studio produced and distributed. Yet Twentieth Century Fox did just that.
It was in the 60s that Manhattan real-estate, specifically the issue of apartment space (and occasionally lack thereof) became a fairly common theme in New York-based cinema (and eventually television) -- where the apartment itself functions as a character. ( cf. The Apartment, Barefoot in the Park, Rosemary's Baby, Seinfeld, etc.) Move takes it one step further, addressing every New Yorker's secret dream -- to get out of a five story walkup and move into a proper building, with doorman and elevator.
Hiram Jaffe (Elliott Gould) and his wife Dolly (Paula Prentiss) want nothing more than to live that dream, yet their planned move from a cramped Upper West Side studio to a slightly larger one-bedroom just two blocks away becomes an almost Odyssian adventure -- ideal fodder for a situational comedy. Yet Move is nothing of the sort, and it can best be described as paranoid New York take on Waiting For Godot, with the Jaffes waiting for movers who never show, and whose existence is questionable.
The opening moments, a bit of reversed film which finds Elliot Gould walking forward through Times Square as the rest of the city walks backwards, brilliantly sets the tone for this absurd comedy that seamlessly blends reality and fantasy. The theme song, a bit of Bacharach-esque sunshine folk-pop by Marvin Hamlisch and Alan and Marilyn Bergman (sung by Larry Marks) is pretty amazing. (Click the link below.)
Hiram, a self-professed Zoroastrian (but in fact an echt New York Jew) is an unsuccessful playwright who makes a living writing cheap porn novels and walking dogs in Central Park. He spends most of his day lost in oddly perverse fantasy, including dreams that his ever-braless (ah...the 70s) wife Dolly is sleeping with her boss, or imagining a third breast on an attractive neighbor. Their drab, tiny apartment is in a state of flux, crammed with boxes for a move that's meant to happen that day. Their marriage is a happy one, though the stress of NYC compounded with his lack of success has created a rift between them, and Hiram bemoans the fact that he hasn't been able to sleep with her for months.
Permanently on-edge, and unable to sit still for very long, Hiram keeps leaving the apartment, which gives rise to the film's loosely episodic structure of one bizarre event after another, including a psycho-sexual phone call with the mover's wife, an epic afternoon sexual tryst with a breathy, British, child-like blonde (Geneviève Waïte, mother of Bijou Phillips), and a nightmarish costume party that would put a smile on Bunuel's face. Most of these encounters end with a nearly-nude Gould in all of his hirsuted glory.
Masculine inferiority is at the film's core, and many of Hiram's paranoid fantasies are rooted in his insecurities and fears. A pretty, topless breastfeeding neighbor is a threat to him, and the women he flirts with taunt him with details of their husbands' intense sexual prowess or immense endowments. He's convinced his wife is sleeping around, and even views his two-hundred pound St. Bernard as a sexual competitor. The moving from a the tiny apartment to the larger one can, I guess, be read as allegorical -- upsizing apartments as compensation for perceived penile inadequacy. There's a scene of Gould painting the new apartment in lusty bright colors, in the nude no less, that will keep Freudians busy for hours.
Other Hollywood comedies around this time dipped their toes into the borderline experimental, but few were able to pull it off as successfully as Rosenberg has in Move. There are no comic set pieces, and it doesn't devolve into slapstick in the final act. That's not to say it isn't funny -- it's just that the humor is more cerebral than silly, and very New York. The inconsistent pacing, fragmented narrative, jagged editing and exaggerated use of sound is more in line with sixties Godard than with seventies Hollywood. What's remarkable is just how different it is from Rosenberg's other films.
1970 was a busy year for Elliott Gould -- besides Move there was MASH, Getting Straight, and the similarly-themed I Love my Wife. Audiences (and the studio) may have felt it was overkill, which might explain why the film quickly faded into obscurity. (I don't think it was even issued on VHS in the States.) It's a shame, for it's one of Gould best roles, on par with his work for Altman. Paula Prentiss, another seventies staple (and early childhood crush), is also at her best, though sadly her part is all too brief. I've heard that the Fox Movie Channel has aired the film, but I've never seen it listed. Fox recently released the inferior S*P*Y*S on DVD, so perhaps one day they'll get around to this one.
Related Link: Theme from Move - Larry Marks (mp3).
As 2008 drew to a close, I spent some time reflecting on the many changes I've gone through -- both personal and professional -- over the past several years. A schizophrenic period (to say the least) that found me bidding a bitter farewell to corporate America and the many years I spent whoring myself in the financial sector -- a series of middle-management positions that were soul-numbing and pointless. Yes, the money was great, but my entire existence was built on a foundation of dishonesty and self-betrayal.
Things began to change when I started the blog, and I soon found myself immersed in a world that was the antithesis of the corporate mindset. I began to meet fellow travelers, both in person and via email, several of whom have gone on to become close friends. Opportunities began to arise -- invitations to speak on panels, or contribute to symposiums, as well as offers to write elsewhere -- all of which I was immensely grateful for. Hell, if it wasn't for the blog there's no way I would have been filmed for the upcoming Synecdoche, New York DVD.
Yet in the past year or so I've felt a gradual souring in the blogosphere -- a sense of aggression and competitiveness that I hadn't felt before. It's as if there's a race to see who can churn out the first words on a particular film. The now infamous live-blogging of the Indiana Jones film from Cannes was just one of the many lowlights of 2008, and at this year's New York Film Festival press screenings I was dumbstruck by the number of people who would race to their laptops before the end credits had finished rolling.
In the world of paid blogging, things are even worse. There is incredible pressure to maximize hit counts, and the fallout of this is that many sites have adapted a quantity over quality model. There's also been a rise of faux-contrarian and/or narcissistic posts geared to generate controversy and oodles of angry comments. The end result being that it's become increasingly difficult for me to find the motivation to go on.
Thoughts of putting the blog to rest filled my head, and for a while it seemed like the wise thing to do. I kept starting posts that I'd never finish -- mostly on awful Hollywood films. I came to realize the futility in those exercises -- other than catharsis, what purpose does it serve to rail against the screenwriting crimes of Eric Roth, or Sam Mendes' homicidal act on Richard Yates masterwork? These films will continue to get made, and seen by millions. Do I really need, or want, to be just another voice amongst the throng -- writing about crap films that hundreds have already weighed in on?
A few things happened in December that changed my outlook. First, there was the debut post from friend and Benten partner Aaron Hillis over at GreenCine.com, which he has been asked to helm now that David Hudson has moved on to IFC. There are some inspiring words contained within, and it served to remind me why I started this site in the first place. The second incident occurred right before the year's end -- a handful of stimulating conversations at an old-timey Brooklyn watering hole with some of New York's finest film-folks. It was during my 3:00AM walk home in sub-zero weather that I decided to persevere, and at the same time to simplify.
Step one is to heavily prune my RSS list. The old faces and places will remain, as will some more recent discoveries, but there's a lot of fat to be trimmed. I'm also going to make a stronger effort to be more participatory, and not shy away from epic threads on other sites as I've done in the past. As for this site, I'm going to return to my roots, as it were, and make an effort to concentrate on films that aren't being done to death everywhere else. I'm going to dig deeper into the 60s and 70s, as well as pay closer attention to Asian cinema, which I've admittedly been lax about for quite some time. (The timing of today's news from the Berlinale seems fortuitous.) I'll use the Tumblr blog to post clips, posters images, and other ephemera. I'm also considering taking a stab at video essays, as I've become very inspired by the work of Kevin Lee.
Oh, and...yes, the quiz will go on.
As Emily Watson said to Adam Sandler at the end of Punch Drunk Love, "Well, here we go."