Movie City Indie Archive for March, 2006

Snakes one to know one: retooling the Plane

Snakes on a Plane, anyone? The Reporter’s Borys Kit updates. New Line’s one of the few studios to regularly take chances with extreme, outrageous R-rated materal of all sorts, and last week’s reshoot of SoaP, to be released August 18, was to insure an R rating. [There are several swears below.] “Movie fans began noticing the black sheep of the New Line slate. They seized upon the title and started spontaneously creating fan sites, blogs, T-shirts, poems, fiction and songs. The title itself… has emerged as Internet-speak for fatalistic sentiments that range from c’est la vie to “shit happens.” tasero.jpgThe Reporter quotes a website quoting Samuel L. Jackson: “That’s the only reason I took the job: I read the title… You either want to see that, or you don’t.” Kit writes, “When [the studio] assembled Jackson and others for the recent shoot, the filmmakers added more gore, more death, more nudity, more snakes and more death scenes. And they shot a scene where Jackson does utter the line that fans have demanded.” And what motherfucking line about which motherfucking snakes on which motherfucking plane might that be? [Also check out the comprehensive Snakes on a Blog, which links to today’s NPR story and the official title treatment as snaked by EW; for some ancient history, move on to screenwriter Josh Friedman‘s original epic anecdote about the script and the titling-retitling of the pic, “Snakes on a motherfucking plane.” Plus more here.]

Motion picture sickness

Before interviewing Wim Wenders for DON'T COME KNOCKING.jpgA mess of interviews every day this week, two movies today, four on Thursday: Indie hopes to return by Friday. In the meantime, a portfolio of pictures I’ve taken after interviews in Chicago with filmmakers over at SharkForum, and this one on my way to moderate a Q&A with Wim Wenders on Sunday night.

Aki Kaurismaki on Dusk: What's happened to all the years in between?

Aki Kaurismäki counts the days after 16 winters near Oporto in Portugal and before the Cannes debut of the end of his “loser trilogy.” Hannu Martilla reports for Helsingen Sanomat. “Kaurismäki has completed work on his 15th full-length movie. Laitakaupungin valot (Lights in the Dusk)… completes the trilogy started ten years ago with Drifting Clouds. The success of this picture was followed up by The Man Without a Past, winner of the Grand Prize at [Cannes 2002]… Before the third film was in the can, movie writers were referring to Kaurismäki’s “unemployment trilogy”, and even to a “Suomi trilogy,” as Shadows in Paradise, Ariel and The Match Factory Girl “, had earlier been dubbed his “working-class trilogy”. “One is a working-class trilogy, and the other is a loser trilogy, but I don’t know which is which”, the 48-year-old director says. Here’s how they describe the new movie, focusing on “loneliness”: “In the film, which was shot in the commercial- and office-block canyons of the Helsinki district of Ruoholahti, life – through its various agents and representatives – smacks down a forlorn nightwatchman hard and in very concrete fashion. Unlike before, this time there is no human rights lawyer stepping in, sent by the Salvation Army, nor the solidarity and camaraderie of a group of other losers. When the movie has run its course, the betrayed and bludgeoned man lies dying on the ground. In Kaurismäki’s view, Man Without a Past, with its cast of good and supportive souls, was “already insufferably sickly-sweet”. aki in porto218543427.jpeg“Personally, I find the theme of bullying and being knocked around a more comfortable one than excessive optimism. There is no cause for optimism, not in the film nor outside it…. The initial idea for the film was a modern, exceptionally bleak suburban milieu and a battered individual, whom I’d have liked to batter and bully to death, but my soft side got the better of me”, grins Kaurismäki.” The antagonists “drive ‘50s American cars and don’t use mobile phones even when they are ringing in to grass someone out – “Proper crooks, not your IT-criminals of today”, says Kaurismäki by way of clarification.” Of his four years of silence, Kaurismaki asks Martilla, “Has it really been that long?… Back in the day, I used to make three films a year, now it is one in three years, or in four. The old vim and vigour of youth has been blunted… No, it can’t be four years. What’s happened to all the years in between?… I wrote the screenplay in a week at the end of February, and before that I suppose I thought about it for two or three months. It used to be that a weekend was enough for the actual writing work.” Of his winter home, Kaurismäki says, “I don’t believe I will ever make a full-length feature about Portugal; it would require a greater understanding of the details of everyday life here. At one point I was going to make Juha here, as a talkie and in colour. I was already writing it when I suddenly realised I did not have the local knowledge to say what the main character would have taken with him as a snack when he went off to herd sheep.” [Photo: Hannes Heikura, Helsingin Sanomat]

Jane Birkin on the secretion of milk through fur

Even if she weren’t Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s mother, Jane Birkin, out thumping for a new album, is a timeless cinematic icon for several reasons. Aidan Smith has a gambol in the Scotsman, sampled here: “Birkin today looks fantastic. She’s wearing a jersey, jeans, Ugg boots and a big, wide, full-lipped smile showing off the sexiest thing about her: the space between her front teeth. Her hair, tied at the back with a pencil, is flecked with the odd strand of grey and, of course, there are lines on her face. But it’s hard to believe that this year… she will be 60… jane_birkin_kate_barry617.jpgShe’s charming, if somewhat batty, company. She speaks without stopping to take in air, which is ironic, considering it was heavy breathing that made her name… The first woman to appear full-frontal in a movie – Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up in 1966 – Birkin was always too sexy for Britain… So who, Jane Birkin, is sexy these days? “David Attenborough, Jonathan Miller, someone who can tell me that bats have nipples under their arms. The other night I met a man, equally scientific, from whom I learned that the flat-billed platypus doesn’t have nipples but secretes milk through its fur for its young to lick. That’s sexy!”

Cinema Scope 26: David Bordwell and something worthy of the art we love

Cinema Scope 26 is out now, with a few tidbits on line. Offline, Jason Anderson writes up Patrick Keiller‘s “peripatetic hybrids” and editor Mark Peranson has a regionalist perspective on Sundance 2006. Chuck Stephens has an extended conversation with just-retired film scholar David Bordwell, who describes how he comes across topics for his many books: “I think of a book as a cluster of questions or problems I want to illuminate, and usually those are ones I think have been neglected by other scholars. Fortunately or unfortunately, not many people are interested in most of the topics I write about, so I always have fresh material. Even subjects that people have written a lot about, like Eisenstein or Hou or Hong Kong cinema, haven’t been studied from the angle I favour, so I always seem to have a lot to study. For example, in “The Way Hollywood Tells It,” I try to talk about script structure and visual style in ways congruent with the way the creative people seem to handle those matters, even if I also try to maintain some critical distance on their conceptions of their craft. This is something that most academics just aren’t interested in. Same thing with the CinemaScope talk you heard; there’s been a lot written about Scope, but academics haven’t much tried to figure out the various approaches directors and crews took toward Scope composition.cs26_logo.gifOne way to frame this more broadly is to say that most film scholars aren’t interested in film as a creative art. I know it sounds odd to say that, but I think it’s true. Most scholars are interested in film as an expression of cultural trends, interests, processes, etc. or of political moods, tendencies, etc. More specifically, those who are interested in film as an art seldom try to find out the craft traditions—the work processes, the technologies, etc.—that give artists the menus they work with. The approach I try to develop is commonplace in art history and the history of music, but not very developed in film studies.” Bordwell also contributes a brief cri de coeur for a different kind of film criticism: “Film magazines and free city weeklies promote that self-assured nonconformity which prizes jaunty wordplay and throwaway judgments… There are some fine journalistic critics and film scholars. Still, no one, as far as I know, is producing what I’d like to see. The film writing I have in mind would be essayistic, but it would have a solid understructure of evidence. It would be conceptually bold and bristling with subtly defended opinions… Add a graceful writing style leavened with humour and purged of vainglorious anecdotes… Something worthy of the art we love.”

Roadside to Guantanamo: Winterbottom's pic to play US

indieWIRE reports on Roadside Attractions’ acquisition of Michael Winterbottom’s latest super-size provocation. “These are bad people,” U.S. president George W. Bush is seen saying as The Road to Guantanamo opens. He, and later U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, are pictured in news footage defending the existence of the base and [its detainment] of prisoners, hundreds of [whom] have already been released with no charges. U.S. leaders, and in particular U.S. military soldiers working the base in Guantanamo are depicted as brutal captors, leading one journalist at the [Berlin debut] press conference to question such a negative portrayal of Americans.winterguantanamo1.jpg
Asked, in his first question from the media in Berlin, how the U.S. government may react to his new film, Winterbottom said directly, “I don’t know and I don’t really care to be honest.” “We think this film is a visceral punch to the gut that will leave everyone thinking about Guantanamo in a new way,” said Howard Cohen, Roadside Co-President, in a statement today. “It plays like a thriller, but it also shows the real-life struggle of nations to balance fighting terrorism with preserving human rights.”

William Klein's eye: a glimpse

Klein-Tokyo ©William Klein.jpgLiberation has a timeless portfolio of nine stills by photographic great and filmmaker William Klein, including Cineposter, Tokyo 1961. [Here’s a bio of Klein.]

Nicole Holofcener's shitty first drafts

In the Reporter, Martin Grove asks Friends with Money‘s Nicole Holofcener about her writing habits. “”I’ve got a Mac and I write on Final Draft. I set my nice office up. I’ve got a view of my garden. My dog sits there. And, of course, I can’t work in there. I don’t know if you’re the same way. If I’m in my office, I’ll pay bills or fall asleep. So I prop myself up in a coffee shop generally with my laptop. Sometimes I’ll spend 10 or 15 minutes making notes about where the characters are and where they came from in terms of the scenes that I’ve already written and I’ll just start typing. I really encourage myself to be as stupid and bad as I can be. I really try to let myself be dumb about it because if I don’t I’ll be paralyzed. I even titled my folder ‘Shitty First Drafts,’ which I got from Anne Lamott. She wrote this terrific book called ‘Bird by Bird’ and it has helped me a lot over the years. It’s a book about how to write. She’s so funny and so brilliant… She might have had a chapter called ‘Shitty First Drafts’ and if you don’t let yourself write one you can’t write. I mean, that’s the way I am. fwm 8704587.jpg And often the stuff that comes from the place that lets yourself play is the best stuff—not what comes from your head or an outline. That’s why I don’t use an outline—because it kills the spontaneity, it kills the life for me. And since my scripts are not plot-driven—but don’t tell anybody because I know no one really knows that!—I don’t need it. I think if I was writing a plot-driven script, I would absolutely need an outline and index cards. I used to waste a lot of time with index cards. They’re a really good thing if you don’t want to write and you just want to screw around. ‘Oh, I think I’m going to spend the day doing my cards.’ You know, you write these beautiful cards and they’re up on the wall and then you never look at them again. At least for me… I do the opposite of everything I was taught in film school [at Columbia University]. It’s funny. I guess teachers are so afraid they’re going to get this mess of 300 pages handed to them if they don’t do that [about using index cards to organize screenwriting].”

Teasing Snakes: they're on a Plane of their own

snakeblouse.jpgSnakes on a Plane. A teaser here. Sam Jackson with a Taser up in their face. Loopy goodness. The only place there’ll be more mayhem is at the press junket: it would be a public service for someone to capture Mr. Jackson’s grin at the roundtables for posterity.

Bettie Page lives: My first bikini was green with a little rickrack all around it

Sometimes a writer is right there and in an LA Times profile by Louis Sahagun of elusive, reclusive pin-up Bettie Page at the age of 82, the writer captures a simple scene but also much of her allure, charm and outrageously healthy look, which of course led to the oh-so-close Picturehouse release of The Notorious Bettie Page. Whether the excuse is Mary Harron’s movie or an epic signing session by Page, there’s no need to excuse such sweet prose. 78787bettiepage.jpg “The 82-year-old Page—a taboo-breaker who helped usher in the sexual revolution of the 1960s—is not a quitter. “I’m about ready to roll,” she said in a Southern drawl, freshening her bright red lipstick. “But I’m going to go slow. I won’t squiggle if I write slow.” … Nearly five decades after the last photos of her appeared in magazines like Chicks and Chuckles, Page is finally earning a respectable income for her work. “I’m more famous now than I was in the 1950s… Being in the nude isn’t a disgrace unless you’re being promiscuous about it… After all, when God created Adam and Eve, they were stark naked. And in the Garden of Eden, God was probably naked as a jaybird too!” … “My land! Is that supposed to be me?” asked Page, surveying a painting of her reclining in a negligee with an ecstatic smile on her face. Putting pen to canvas and concentrating mightily, she muttered, “I was never that pretty.” The sadder details of her long life follow. “From the start, Page — whose measurements were 36-24-37 — preferred the skimpy outfits she designed and sewed at home. “I made all of my bikinis and most of my lingerie,” she said. “My favorite was my first bikini. It was green with a little rickrack all around it.” … Minnesota artist Rick Volkmar… has spent years painstakingly touching up old black-and-white Bettie Page photos, erasing rips and tears and thousands of tiny white specks with a fine brush to rebuild the mesh of her stockings, the sheen of her hair, the shadows on her face.” Volkmar exhaustively describes her features, concluding, “Her thumb and hands are muscular, almost mannish. Same with her feet. Her rear end is noticeably squarish, and there are two creases under the left buttocks and one under her right buttocks…. It all adds up to this… She looks like fun.” [Page’s official website is here.]

Vendetta: Hoberman sez impossible not to break into a grin

affiche-v_for_vendet27978.jpgOver at the VOICE, J. Hoberman keeps his fingers nimble in their cover package on all things V for Vendetta. Somehow, he seems smarter, more stylish and more sly than some of the early typists on this one: “Supremely tasteless, V for Vendetta, with the mysterious V (Hugo Weaving) haunting London in an insouciantly smiling Guy Fawkes mask, was scheduled to have its premiere last November on the day of the Plot’s 400th anniversary. The opening was delayed out of deference to last summer’s London subway bombings… What’s remarkable about the Wachowski scenario, as opposed to Moore’s original, is the degree to which it stands Fawkes on his head—recuperating this proto–suicide bomber as a figure of revolt… A movie of multitudinous comic book tropes, V for Vendetta is predicated on secret identities, floridly alliterative dialogue, and gnomic bromides… V’s lone disciple, Evey (Natalie Portman), daughter of two disappeared social activists, works in a version of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Given V’s essential abstraction, she’s the movie’s most human presence. A former Broadway “Anne Frank,” Portman adds Saint Joan to her baggage—once captured and processed by the police, she looks like a diminutive, doe-eyed Falconetti… Absorbing even in its incoherence, V for Vendetta manages to make an old popular mythology new. Impossible not to break into a grin: It’s the thought that counts.” [Smarter smart-guy stuff at the link plus links to the VOICE sidebars on the pic and its background.]

Claire Denis: I have no choice. I’m outside. That’s my fate

claire_denis.jpgClaire Denis‘ brilliant, lyrical, elusive L’intrus is making its Los Angeles debut as Wellspring wheezes its last theatrical gasps; in LA WEEKLY, Scott Foundas finally gets to publish his 2004 Toronto interview with the great director. Of the film’s three locations: “Tahiti was this dream Southern island — I didn’t know it would be Tahiti for sure, but I knew it was going to be like Gauguin’s paintings, and Gauguin described with such strength a place of the world that is in fact not a paradise. His paintings were misunderstood: Gauguin never painted a paradise. He painted a culture that was more than open sex, sunshine, fruit, and fish. The French-Swiss borderland, that I knew from childhood — one of my aunts used to live there and we were crossing the border very often. Also, it’s very wild, with beautiful forests and lakes — you can hide there. Korea I had been to, and in the script I had this in-between country where Louis is buying the boat, a sort of limbo between inferno and paradise.” Her movies are very different from American ones. “You know, what is so attractive for me, being French, about American cinema, is this complete, solid American-ness — that American cinema is built solidly like a house with solid walls, and concentrates on what is inside the house. f2.jpgIt makes American filmmakers sometimes so attractive and their films so attractive, because they’re so concentrated that they diffuse a sort of strength and power and reality. But on the other hand, it’s striking sometimes about some American directors — they might go to festivals and I see in their eyes how open they are to other cultures, but they would not take the risk to go outside with their cameras and film other people. Maybe they’re right in a way, because they make more solid films. Films like mine are maybe fragile in a way, more porous, more open. Sometimes, I would like to be in a more solid position, to be inside the fortress. But I have no choice. I’m outside. That’s my fate.”

N for Neocon: Wolcott susses Denby's shushing

portman_flees courtesy STV.jpgWhile I’m awaiting a Wednesday night second viewing in IMAX before frying my bacon over the ultra-crispy V for Vendetta, James Wolcott offers a tart aside to the most goombah of early reviews, with the New Yorker’s august David Denby partaking in the aborning controversy over the movie’s mere existence: “It’s been awhile since we’ve had a truly critically divisive movie, and V for Vendetta is shaping up to be it. As David Poland writes in The Hot Blog, the next week or so promises to be an interesting ride for this film, with reviewers already declaring their opinions as “facts” as they try to dampen down expectations and excitement. Beware of professions of boredom when the subject and execution are this controversial. I anticipated that my Upper West Side neighbor David Denby—such a trial for him, bumping into me wherever he goes—would render a negative verdict on V for Vendetta, and so he does, rapping his gavel with stern monotonony… With this review and his pan of Why We Fight, I fear David is drifting toward neoconservatism, a doctrine more congenial to the sort of principled stands he likes to take, offering more room for rhetorical heroism. I pray I am wrong.” [It’s probably important to recall that Mr. Denby was making such invocations as far back as Do The Right Thing from his elevated step-stool at New York magazine. Of that movie’s incendiary finale, Denby wrote, “Lee appears to be endorsing the outcome, and if some audiences go wild, he’s partly responsible.”]


Towne's L.A. Dust: there are occasional baboons

dust-set35476.jpgThe Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea talks to Robert Towne about the $19 million Ask the Dust. “Towne wrote his… adaptation in 1993, and tried to get it off the ground with Johnny Depp… But the money was never there… Both Towne’s screenplay and Fante’s novel…became the stuff of legend.” Why was it shot in South Africa? “There were pockets of Los Angeles in 1971 and 1972, when I first read the novel, that could still be exploited as the 1930s… but that was 1972,” explains Towne…”But by the time I’d written the script in 1993, there wasn’t much of it left. People were saying you couldn’t shoot in L.A. because it was too expensive, but it was equally true that you couldn’t shoot in L.A. because there wasn’t that L.A. to shoot in.” So they “re-created downtown L.A.’s Bunker Hill neighborhood on two football fields in the shadow of the Cape Town hills. “There were unexpected benefits of shooting in South Africa… The quality of the air and the sky was so much like Los Angeles, and it wasn’t just that we were able to afford building downtown L.A. The location we found for Laguna Beach was more like Laguna than anything that’s left in Laguna today. And the desert: three hours from Cape Town, there is desert that looks like the Mojave. There are occasional baboons out there, but you keep them out of the shot.”


Jarecki: You're either with David Denby or you're with the terrorists

Over at Pride, Unprejudiced, I have a few thousand words each with directors Gavin Hood and Eugene Jarecki, both of whom are infectiously enthusiastic and uncommonly smart. Here’s a sample exchange with Jarecki, when I asked him about “the incredibly jejune review that David Denby wrote in the New Yorker of Why We Fight. “I think it’s a form of unfortunate elitism where the reviewer probably does not have sufficient experience sitting in an audience and feeling the way people are affected the movie. So their review reveals more about the rarefied world in which they watch films than about the way those films actually impact the public. In the particular case of that review, I think Mr. Denby literally didn’t realize that most of the film he was watching was original footage. whywe03.jpg… He often invokes the name Marcel Ophuls in the review. I daresay, I think Marcel Ophuls, wherever in this universe he is, was an artist who would not have thought that a critic should set parameters by which artist should operate. It’s just a tragic closure of the American mind, and thankfully audiences have not seen the film the way Mr. Denby did… I do go out of my way to find people who disagree with whatever impulses I have when I start… I honestly believe that David Denby has hurt too many filmmakers by writing things in the mainstream press that are vicious, that reveal a too-great distance from the creative process. If that makes me unpopular with David Denby, I think that any artist should be unpopular with any critic who sets tyrannical parameters about art… I guess, the way Mr. Denby would see the world, you’re either with him or you’re with the terrorists.

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“Why put it in a box? This is the number one problem I have—by the way it’s a fair question, I’m not saying that—with this kind of festival situation is that there’s always this temptation to classify the movie immediately and if you look at it—and I’ve tried to warn my fellow jurors of this—directors and movie critics are the worst people to judge movies! Directors are always thinking, “I could do that.” Critics are always saying, “This part of the movie is like the 1947 version and this part…” And it’s like, “Fuck! Just watch the movie and try and absorb it and not compare it to some other fucking movie and put it in a box!” So I think the answer’s both and maybe neither, I don’t know. That’s for you to see and criticize me for or not.”
~ James Gray

“I have long defined filmmaking and directing in particular as just a sort of long-term act of letting go,” she said. “It’s honestly just gratifying that people are sort of reapproaching or reassessing the film. I like to just remind everyone that the movie is still the same — it’s the same movie, it’s the movie we always made, and it was the movie we always wanted to make. And maybe it just came several years too early.”
~ Karyn Kusama