“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
Movie City Indie Archive for February, 2006
At Springboard Media, Brian Newman starts a conversation about the role of film festivals in distributing independent filmmaking: “Today, too few independent films reach a broad audience, and despite some signs to the contrary, the situation is worsening. Outside of a few successful instances, truly independent work by exciting makers remains largely in the realm of film festivals, limited theatrical runs and institutional sales, brief (if any) exposure on cable or broadcast television and the extremely rare success on home video. In spite of—and often because of—recent developments, including the DVD, the distribution system for independent media remains in crisis, with few films successfully reaching a broad audience… It has become obvious that the market for a diversity of voices has grown over the past several years, as evidenced by the success of blogs and the recent success of several documentaries. American audiences hunger for diverse, interesting work and are connecting with it in new ways. At first confined to major cities, film festivals of one form or another began to pop up in towns across the U.S. (and internationally) more than 30 years ago. These smaller, less internationally recognized film festivals have become the de facto art house circuit, often screening works in conjunction with local film societies. General audiences have prospered culturally by having more access to a wider range of films than ever before. Unfortunately, this type of exhibition leaves the filmmakers well-traveled but none the richer for their efforts… What if the same filmmaker could sell copies of their film at the festival? What if filmmakers handed out postcards to the audience, with a website where they could buy or rent the film and recommend it to a friend?
At Truthdig, Sheerly Avni checks in with film uberpundit David Thomson to dismiss this year’s Oscar crop. “I think they’re quite good examples of small independent pictures carefully made. It’s a fairly good group, I think. I just don’t think any of them is what I would call a knockout big-experience picture. They’re thoughtful. And I like that, I mean, please, don’t think I’m against it. And they all have an interesting, valuable, useful point to make. But I don’t think they are going to be remembered in 50 years’ time…. Very few of the movies up for nomination this year have cost very much, and very few of them have done the kind of business that Best Pictures are expected to do. In many respects those are good things. Brokeback Mountain… cuts quite radically against the grain of popular American taste and, as you say, there are a whole lot of places where the movie has not been playing at all.” Crash avers Thomson, is “heavy-handed and somewhat self-righteous.” Good Night, and Good Luck is also shit, Thomson believes. “If Good Night, and Good Luck can congratulate itself, which it sort of does, I think, about being an indirect oblique political statement about the world we live in, the world now, I think that is also a sign of a sort of helplessness—a cowardice still in dealing with situations… If there’s a political consciousness that made that film, why isn’t there a film about what we’re going through now, that might really have offended and made trouble? And after six years they’ve had time to respond, and I think it’s still the case that the liberal faction in Hollywood are much better at going to parties and raising money than actually making challenging film…. Sound is not good these days, the projection is not good, and you have to pay a lot of money. When I say old, I mean people 40 or older. People think, “I’d rather not see this latest horror film with eye-gouging and so forth…. I’d rather sit at home and get a good DVD and see if it’s as good as I remember.”
Over at Offscreen, David Church takes a 12,000 word peramble with the always-loquacious Guy Maddin on what’s revving his Manitoban motor these days. On getting in the water for Cowards Bend the Knee: “I spent many hours daydreaming while swimming. Swimming requires a lot of patience and I’d swim for about an hour a day and just daydream about this movie and about things that have happened to me and how to fit it into templates established by maybe Electra or The Hands of Orlac—only to be astonished, after the swimming pool water had made my entire body as wrinkly as a prune, that all those stories somehow fit together. Maybe the soaking in the water really helped all those stories fit together; Euripides, Orlac, and my own autobiography were all the same story somehow and I got a sort of chlorine delirium everyday…. [I] just picked up a camera and shot it, kind of from memory—just gathered all the actors together and had them act out my life as I remembered it through a haze of chlorine and amnesia. I would shout out orders, directing while operating the camera so I could make instantaneous judgments in my head. It was a real pleasure and really strange…” The almost-50 auteur’s brimming 2006-2007 roster includes a doc: “Although I’m no expert on budgets… it’s easy to forget that the most expensive element in filmmaking is time if you’re paying everybody… I think it’s got to be a little bit cheaper to use video. At least you can tape over it or something like that, although I don’t think you’re supposed to. More and more I like the look of it for certain subjects. When you’re making a documentary of a city, Winnipeg looks ugliest on video, and that might be the way to go.” Working at such velocity? “I love being busy, I really do. I’ve been a lazy person for so long in my life. It feels good to lick it for a while. I know I could slide back at any second like an alcoholic can start drinking or a smoker could light up again; I feel like I could just fall back on a couch and never get up… So I really love the feeling that putting in consecutive days, months, and years of productive time gives me.”
Some college film societies don’t read the warning labels and don’t realize they need a public exhibition license to show DVDs, reports Dave Newbart in the Chicago Sun-Times. “All the students in the Illinois State University Cinema Society wanted to do was get together, watch alternative films largely absent from theaters in Bloomington-Normal, and talk about the movies afterward.” Distributor New Yorker Films found their listings on the internet, and sent along an $8,000 bill for 20 titles they hold shown since 2000. “I would call it a shakedown,” said ISU English professor Curt White, the cinema society’s adviser [and publisher of alternative press FC2]. “The effect of what they are doing is, there isn’t going to be any alternative cinema here.” New Yorker Films, per Newbart, with DVDs available, has “to be extra-diligent these days in enforcing copyrights.” Chicago’s Columbia College can’t afford to run a film club, claiming “the cost of the permission rights are prohibitive.” The student coordinator of ISU’s program, William Barker, “said the group’s budget has never exceeded $1,300, and that went toward promoting events and bringing in speakers. He said the group can’t afford the so-called catalog rates for showing 15 movies a semester. “In good conscience, I couldn’t ask [ISU] for $6,000 to show films,” Barker said.
James Wolcott enthuses elliptically over on his corner: “If it seems as if I’m darting around V for Vendetta rather than zeroing in on what I liked/didn’t like, grading the performances, and pointing-out-subtle-details-to-prove-how-observant-I-am, it’s because I don’t want to give away too much of the movie, leaving that job to A. O. Scott and his fellow divulgers. To say that I found the domino montage as thrilling a coup de cinema as I’ve seen since DePalma first displayed his slashing mastery of crosscutting is to sound cryptic, but to be unelliptical I’d have to explain too much and wreck your fun. And make no mistake[,] V for Vendetta is fun, dangerous fun, percussive with brutality and laced with ironic ambiguity and satirical slapstick (a Benny Hill homage, no less!). But gives the movie its rebel power is the moral seriousnessthat drives the action, emotion, and allegory. That’s what I didn’t expect from the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix), this angry, summoning Tom Paine moral dispatch that puts our pundits, politicians, and cable news hosts to shame. V for Vendetta instills force into the very essence of four-letter words like hate, love, and (especially) fear, and releases that force like a fist. Off come the masks, and the faces are revealed.”
At Reel Chicago, news of a truly underground prodigy hoping to cross over to the bank. “After eight features and more than 100 shorts that have made him a favorite of museum and underground festival programmers, James Fotopolous is embarking on his first commercial production,” writes Ed M. Koziarski. Area Six is budgeted at $2 million and based on Chicago novelist Jay Bonansinga‘s “The Sleep Police.” The producers, Fotopoulos says, are “taking my art world rep and moving it into commercial territory.” Fotopoulos sees both he and Bonansinga as profilic Chicago compatriots. “Fotopolous said he was attracted to “the fact that it’s about sleepwalking, hypnotism and abortion. All those themes are interesting to me.” … Fotopoulos, whose father was a police officer, said he’s interested in exploring the stylistic contrast between the procedural and hypnosis/sleepwalking aspects of the story.” [You can read my 2003 profile of Fotopoulous here.]
How committed to free expression in a secular society are our elected leaders? Howie Klein, former head of Reprise Records, writes memorably and with telling details about firsthand encounters with censorship instincts of US politicians like Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman, and it’s an ugly, ugly portrait. “People often ask me what happened [with the parental ratings implementation] and what was the big deal. Lieberman knew exactly what he was doing… when he insisted on ratings on CDs and it had nothing to do with helping parents supervise their children. Few people understand, the way Lieberman did, that in the late 80s something like 70% of all recorded music was sold in stores in malls and that malls have very stringent lease arrangements about their tenants not selling “pornography.” Klein characterizes the failed Vice Presidential candidate and his compatriots this way: “Over the course of this controversy two of the Senate’s most uptight and close-minded prigs, Sam Brownback and Lieberman, pushed for the kinds of stickers that would make it impossible for the kind of music they objected to… to be stocked by 70% of American retailers. The effect inside the music business was chilling—and instantaneous. Suddenly a whole new internal bureaucracy had to be created to police every record and suddenly artists were being pressured—sometimes overtly and sometimes less overtly—to cave in to demands by two really reactionary fundamentalists whose values are far from mainstream. In one fell swoop Lieberman destroyed an alliance between young voters and the Democratic Party that had started with John Kennedy’s election as he ham-fistedly savaged their culture for his own political ambitions.” Klein quotes Danny Goldberg, former chairman of Warner Bros Records and his book, “Dispatches from the Culture War: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit.” “When former LBJ advisor Jack Valenti, then head of the movie industry trade organization, and a friend of Lieberman’s was asked by Danny if he had ever told Lieberman about the First Amendment implications of the type of censorship he was advocating, Valenti replied, “When people get very religious and they believe their course of action is sanctioned by a higher authority, there’s not much you can do to communicate with them— left, right or center.” [More venom at the link.]
I’ve read too much during and after Sundance and still have a wrap-up piece I want to write; in the weekend FT, Nigel Andrews does a bang-up job considering the omniporn omnibus Destricted and Kirby Dick‘s This Film Is Not Yet Rated and then a casual run-in sends him another way: “The most educative encounter I had in Park City—simultaneously charming and chastening—summed up the whole business. For whom should I run into near the festival’s close but Harry Reems. The Deep Throat star, once the biggest male porn actor in the world, is now a Park City realtor…. “I’m married now, I own my own business, I converted to Christianity. I’m a trustee of my church, I’m seventeen-and-a-half years clean and sober of alcohol, and it’s not a part of my life to speak now and I don’t think I have anything of value to add to what you’re doing… I’ve stepped back from that, it’s been good for me to retreat into a private life.” He adds that he didn’t settle in Park City… in order to be near a film festival. “I first came up here with skiing friends. It seemed such a quiet, quaint little town 30 years ago. I said to myself, this is the place I’d like to hang my hat and live the rest of my life. And I’ve made my dream come true.” As he says, he also found God, conquered alcoholism and settled into family life. For half a second I almost envy him. He makes me wonder why I spend half my life gallivanting around film festivals courting encounters with the world, the flesh and the devil. Then I come to my senses. I realise that chaos is where I want to be and where every self-respecting film critic should be. Not for the first time I think of St Augustine’s prayer and offer up my own paraphrase. Give me a chaste and contrite life, Lord, away from the feverish task of monitoring screen freedom. But not yet.” [Photo: Ray Pride]
NY Post’s Lou Lumenick makes some calls about the aborning practice of not previewing crap movies for critics, such as Friday’s Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion and Weinsteinco’s Doogal. Lumenick quotes Lionsgate boss Tom Ortenberg: “We are not going to spend $50,000 for the privilege of negative reviews for a film that isn’t going to be affected by them.” The Postie counts eight movies kept out of sight this year, as opposed to only 7 in 2005. “Kids aren’t reading reviews, so these movies are essentially bulletproof,” Lumenick quotes a reformed studio publicista. “Ortenberg is more blunt about why there were no screenings for… Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which grossed… $50 million… last year—despite awful reviews. Ortenberg concedes it’s a “tough decision” to skip screenings… ‘The money for screenings will be better spent on more advertising.”
Sarasota Film Festival programmer Tom Hall has the most lucid fury yet published over at Back Row Manifesto about the Weinsteinco-Genius-Wellspring death toll. The amperage is high. Excerpts: “I consider the closing of Wellspring’s theatrical distribution arm to be a death knell for foreign film distribution in America. There are already far too few opportunities for foreign films to be seen on our theatrical screens… The first [problem] is obviously political; we are living in a time when internationalism, connections to other cultures, diverse perspectives and ideas are considered… culturally irrelevant…. Most foreign films [shown] in America [are] dedicated to the idea that art should challenge audiences to examine their assumptions, well, there is no domestic cultural network that supports art, challenging ideas, or foreign perspectives. Where is the cinema culture in America? The second problem… is economic; we are talking about the slimmest of margins for these companies. The idea that a film company is migrating its entire foreign film distribution business to DVD and firing its entire theatrical distribution staff in order to save a mere $1 million in overhead tells me that this has nothing to do with Wellspring as a business or movies at all; it is about Wellspring as an asset… This is the complete undermining of the collective, theatrical experience which, as a film festival programmer, is something that I consider to be the essential component of cinematic pleasure. The idea that art will be relegated solely to a private financial transaction between an individual, isolated multimedia buyer and a smaller and smaller batch of media owners completely goes against the nature of what going to the movies has always meant…
Over at his indieWIRE blog, New York writer Anthony Kaufman, “wherein I rant about all things film and film industry unfit to publish in any official capacity,” publishes a reply to a recent dis of another writer new to his turf: “Luke Y Thompson—the critic we lambasted in my previous blog about the Village Voice[-]New Times merger—has seen his public flaying. Admittedly, I feel a little bad for the guy now, and I have had several conversations about one of my points: that New York papers should have New York-based critics…. My main problem with Luke… isn’t that he’s based in Hollywood, but it’s that he doesn’t reflect a “Village Voice” or New York state of mind….” Writes Thompson: “Wow, I have never had such a vocal reaction to anything I’ve written, ever, anywhere else. I must be doing something right at last… Your complaints about me seem to boil down to the fact that I don’t have the same sacred cows you do. It’s easy to find art house movies I’ve disliked and mainstream movies I’ve liked—it would be equally easy to pick and choose indie movies I’ve championed (my [top] film of 2001 was the still-undistributed Tomorrow Night) and mainstream movies I’ve disliked (Gladiator, for a big one). If you want a critic who agrees with you all the time, I’m sorry to say you’re never going to find one. That isn’t the point of criticism anyway. Anthony—if I feel like it, maybe I’ll find your top ten list and pick it apart sometime. But right now I’m on vacation.”
Paul Barman Q’s and Albert Maysles A’s in the VOICE: “I’ve been thinking especially lately of where I go from here? What have I yet to film that I should be getting? I go back to my childhood and think of the 1930s when it was most common for a father to hit the child with a strap if the child misbehaved. One day I must have done something terribly bad; [my father] did hit me with the strap. It didn’t bother me, it didn’t hurt me. Later I happened to walk past his bedroom and there he was with his head against the wall crying, and I stood there in amazement, but really understanding how much my father loved me. That’s the kind of thing I want to get… My daughter, when she was four years old, we used to go pick up The New York Times the night before at the newsstand. One day we got to the newsstand and the paper hadn’t arrived yet. I was getting a little fidgety and she said, “Daddy, the paper’s not ready yet because the people haven’t been killed yet.”
With a dry spell of linkables, here are notes on recent releases, including Manderlay, Marebito, Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story; Nightwatch; and Neil Young: Heart of Gold, as well as the loathsome London and the low Dirty Work.
USATODAY’s Scott Bowles works the Brokeback Mountain angle that the homophobes are home alone. “Organized protests over Brokeback Mountain have been conspicuously absent, despite the film’s focus on a romance between gay cowboys… “It’s been pretty stunning to see how quickly we were able to expand it in theaters across the country,” says Jack Foley, distribution chief for Focus Features. “Even in conservative states where we’d thought there would be resistance, people have been welcoming.” … “We didn’t have any protests,” says Melanie Bell of 5,600-screen AMC Theatres. “We picked up Brokeback Mountain in as many theaters as we could after the Oscar nominations came out.” Bowles finds one “conservative policy group” who avers that it’s gotten too much attention: “Why should we add to it?” O’er at the Reporter, Martin Grove handicaps the race at extensive length. On its website, however, USATODAY’s link to awards coverage has its own fuel to the fire, featuring a still from Crash.