Movie City Indie Archive for September, 2006
WHO WOULD JESUS KILL? Let me respond from the bottom of my heart: Jesus Camp is terrifying in its portrayal of sadistic things which are deeply oppressive, suffocating in its study of hostility to youth and knowledge, and I hope nothing else the rest of this year on screen, in the press, or in real life makes me feel as hopeless and helpless about the future of America. In their brave, necessary documentary, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys from Baraka) follow three small Missouri children-bright-eyed, mullet-haired pastor-to-be Levi and two girls, Tory and Rachael-and their trip to Pastor Becky Fischer’s annual “Kids on Fire” camp in Devils Lake, North Dakota. The children are freckled, wide-eyed, energetic, innocent, as beautiful as a child can be. Fischer is adamantine yet inarticulate, a middle-aged woman who fashions endlessly bizarre yet always banal metaphors to indoctrinate her charges into “God’s Army.” She sees a “key generation” of children ready to die in the name of Christ. “Are you READY?!” The offhandedness of Ewing and Grady’s frames is telling, without sarcasm: consider the William Eggleston-worthy shot of a girl in pink, her back turned, the image slightly out of focus as dances through raindrops, a flag drooping foreground. (It may be the only beautiful moment in the movie.)
At no point do Ewing and Grady purport to show a movement, only the ministrations of Fischer, who eagerly awaits Rapture from “this sick old world.” Typical words from Fischer, director of Kids in Ministry International, as she sits at her dining room table: “Where should we be putting our focus? I’ll tell you where our enemies are putting it, they’re putting it on the kids… You go into Palestine, and they’re taking their kids to camps the way we take our kids to bible camps and they’re putting hand grenades in their hands.” (Fischer supports the film, telling last Sunday’s Denver Post: “I have deliberately pushed the envelope because I feel like we are in such a ditch on one side, of not taking our children seriously in their spirituality.”)
We see not a message of love, but of violent separatism, as Fischer and not at all humble home-schooling parents rally the kids to become warriors, even to become martyrs. While a documentary does not capture every moment of a subject’s day, what’s on screen in Jesus Camp is evidence enough of malign hostility to reason and thought and beauty emanating from every action by these Pepsi-drinking, almost without exception white, middle-class suburbanites. Fischer revels in hostility to democracy, with some of her cohorts threatening “extreme liberals” who allegedly comprise the judiciary and who prevent a “righteous government.”
Nothing like a crackerjack cultural critic getting down to the nitty-gritty right out of the gate: “Admit it,” writes Chicago “Tribune staff reporter” Jessica Reaves, “sometimes you get tired of art house movies starring actors who take ‘their craft’ very, very seriously. Sometimes you want to buy an extra-large popcorn and settle in for a big budget Hollywood blockbuster replete with entertaining explosions, undemanding dialogue and completely unrealistic action sequences. If all that sounds like gloriously uncomplicated fun,” she writes in a two-and-a-half star review, “The Guardian is your movie.” And: “There are movies that burst out of the starting gate and soar along effortlessly right through the finish line. Those movies are rare, and School for Scoundrels is not one of them…” Reaves’ disappointment grows: Old School was “one of my favorite stupid movies in recent memory.” And what of Jesus Camp? “Whatever you think of America’s religious right, one fact is undeniable: They know how to make noise. And not just literal noise (although a quick visit to any worship service will prove they’re quite good at that) but figurative, symbolic noise in the form of political lobbying and outreach… If you weren’t aware of this powerful voting bloc, you’ve probably spent the past five year with your head under a rock.” (Note the demurely placed “probably,” a hacktastic feat of journalistic restraint.) Further evidence of the terrifying rigors of being a fourth or fifth string reviewer forced to take things seriously when all you want to do is sneer is heaped by one Michael Esposito, who writes of Kyle Henry‘s defiantly opaque 2005 Sundance entrant, Room: “Room is one of those films that wants to make you think. You know the kind: lots of weird stuff happens, topped off by no real resolution in the end. It may also be the longest 75-minute film in the history of cinema-there was a clock check 25 minutes in, after thinking, ‘this has got to be over.'” Surely mid-twentieth century Trib critic Mae T. Inee is rolling in her collective grave.
Another nail in the coffin of Super 8 film, writes Will Hodgkinson in the Guardian. “The factory in Lausanne, Switzerland, that processes Europe’s supplies of Kodachrome—grainy, colour-saturated frames of 8mm film that have convinced a generation that their 60s and 70s childhood and adolescence was spent leaping through flowers in a Technicolor haze—is shutting its doors on Saturday. The ritual of shooting a three-minute masterpiece on your Super 8 camera, sending off the film in a little yellow envelope and waiting… for the ready-to-project reel to drop on to the doormat is over. If you want to get your Kodachrome film developed now, you are going to have to get in touch with an outfit in Kansas called Dwayne’s Photo… Kodachrome is black-and-white stock to which colour is added during the processing. This gives the film its kaleidoscopic, escapist charm, but it is also expensive… [T]he Lausanne lab’s closure coincides with the biggest boom in Super 8 usage since its 70s heyday. The Widescreen Centre in London is shifting more than 250 reels a week, and its clients include the BBC, independent production companies, pop-video directors and even a few amateur-movie enthusiasts, who shoot the film and have it transferred to digital format… [T]he Burbank-based Pro8mm company is supplying Hollywood with reconditioned cameras and Super 8 stock, as more and more directors succumb to the film’s grainy allure. “Regular film doesn’t come with scratches and tramlines,” says Jake Astbury, a film-maker who has shot videos for the Corrs… and much of Nicholas Cage’s movie 8mm on Super 8. “You can deteriorate video but it looks fake. Only Super 8 has that romantic, worn quality. It has a roughness that no other medium has.” More at the link, including the high cost of refurbished Super 8 cameras. [Here’s Kodak’s telling of the tale.]
While John Clark‘s extended take-out in the Herald-Tribune eventually hits the fates of Sundance vets who want to be “independent” filmmakers but are stymied by the casting demands of the money men, it’s bracing to see him start the piece talking to, well, someone truly indie: “Jon Jost might be considered the epitome of the aging, alienated and aggrieved independent film director. He is sitting in a borrowed New York apartment in hand-me-down clothes, doesn’t have a place to live and has no visible means of support, other than a coming arts residency at the University of Nebraska.
“Most people from my generation became teachers long ago,” Jost said.” Across 40 years, “Jost, 63, has been making films on shoestring budgets with no-name casts that almost nobody outside of European film festivals ever sees. Perhaps the closest he has come to popular awareness was All the Vermeers in New York [which played on PBS]. Since then he spent a decade in Europe toiling away in relative obscurity and then moved to Montana, where for four years he scrounged from garbage cans and lived with a single mother and her daughter in one room with no heat or running water. His latest address was Portland, Oregon, where he stayed at the house of one of the actresses he cast in his most recent film, Homecoming, which he is still trying to find a festival home for domestically – forget about distribution. His income [comes] from selling DVDs of his work on the Internet. “I can’t say I’m happy not making a living after 40 years in the business… I’m not independently wealthy. I’m independently poor.” Clark cites many Usual Suspects and few surprises, but also gets this in: a “filmmaker who has found both a lucrative and technically satisfying way to make a living outside his chosen profession is the documentarian Errol Morris.
As attacks on Boys of Baraka directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing‘s new doc, Jesus Camp, accelerate, they talk sect vs. secular with Annie Nocenti at Filmmaker. Of the bubble the Jesus Camp kids live in, Ewing says, “Two types of parents home-school: far-right conservatives and the far left, the hippies. Anyone in an extreme situation wants to remove his or her children from the mainstream. That is their right. But you can’t shelter somebody forever. Eventually they’re going to interact with the outside world, and the parents’ hope is that their children will stay strong and be for God.” And what about the dogs? Nocenti asks, “When one of the mothers says something ridiculous, you cut to a dog looking up startled, almost like an eyebrow raised. I thought, Is that Heidi and Rachel’s POV?” Grady concedes, “You’re right.” Ewing says, “We have to be honest. You are right. It’s not like the dogs are the director’s voice necessarily, but we do have two scenes where we cut to dogs.” Grady adds, “The dogs look into the camera like, ‘Huh? I just live here.'” Nocenti asks, “What about the comparisons of the political side of the Jesus Camp training to the extremist Islamic madrassas? Is that a fair comparison?” Grady answers, “It’s fair in the way that you can make a comparison of all fundamentalist religions worldwide. They have something in common: blind faith.” But Ewing adds, “I initially said something similar. But comparing the kids in Jesus Camp to the kids in madrassas is a little overstated, just like it irritates me when people bring up Hitler Youth. The difference is that Evangelicals do not need to strap on guns and bombs. We have something called a democracy, and these children are learning how to utilize the offerings of this democracy to get what they want. That’s what the movement’s doing. They’re not doing anything illegal… Their leadership keeps abreast of every single hot-button issue, and that’s legal. These guys aren’t going to kill anybody, ever.”
“The massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha by U.S. Marines is the subject of Nick Broomfield‘s next movie, the Reporter’s Charles Masters reports from San Sebastian. Broomfield said “he will use dramatic reconstruction rather than documentary techniques to tell the story of the slayings. In November, Marines allegedly shot dead 24 Iraqi men, women and children in Haditha, in western Iraq, in reprisal for the killing of a lance corporal by a roadside bomb. Witnesses said the Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, including a 1-year-old child. Military investigations into the incident are ongoing. Broomfield said shooting on the film will begin in November in Jordan. “We met with some of the survivors of the massacre who had a lot of material that they filmed, which gave us a very detailed idea of what happened… We talked to members of the insurgency because I felt the insurgency is almost like a concrete wall. It’s like, who are these insurgents?” … It will be Broomfield’s second incursion into dramatic reconstruction of real-life events after Ghosts, which had its world premiere [at] San Sebastian… That movie uses nonprofessional Chinese actors to recount the tale of illegal immigrants and the slave-labor conditions that led to the death of 23 shellfish gatherers in 2004 on a beach in the north of England.” Narrative film, Broomfield says, “can take an audience into a deep emotional place that they will never get from a newspaper article or a more analytical documentary.”
It’s Alabama authenticity for the new John Sayles-Maggie Renzi production, writes Birmingham News’ Bob Carlton: “They film their pictures where they take place, and to give them more authenticity, they hire as many local actors as they can. Sayles and Renzi are in Alabama scouting locations… and doing other pre-production work for their next movie, Honeydripper, which they will start filming in and around Greenville in October.” Before accepting an indie lifetime achievement award on Friday at Birmingham’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, Sayles told Carlton, “It is very hard for people to continue to be an independent filmmaker… It’s very hard to raise money and very hard to get your movie seen… So more and more, that world is for people who are making their first or second movie – usually on video, sometimes with their mother’s credit card. But to survive and continue to make movies without getting accepted in Hollywood and getting that kind of money is pretty rare.” Of his 27 years with Renzi, Sayles said, “If you want to be a filmmaker… find a good producer and treat her right.” The Honeydripper takes place in a small, cotton-producing community in the 1950s, just before the outbreak of the Korean War,” Carlton writes, with the title refeering “to a struggling roadhouse owned by an aging piano player played by Danny Glover.” Glover’s character hires a young musician with an electric guitar he made himself. “It’s set right in 1950, when Ike Turner and Chuck Berry and those guys were starting to discover the electric guitar,” Sayles says. “That instrument, which had been in the background, is about to take over.” [More at the link.]
Why does Fox News’ Chris Wallace hate America? (Rhetorical question.) Every writer who’s been on a beat for years or decades has a few tropes, fixations and straw men they fall back upon on a morning with a touch of the flu: pudding-headed political commentators love to describe dark turns in a pol’s career as “Shakespearean,” which, unless it’s coming from a studied, articulate, passionate former theater critic like Frank Rich, is usually so much bumf drawn from a dip into the Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I don’t have a stock phrase to describe the fifteen minutes linked here, but former President Clinton‘s reaction to a dishonest set-up by Fox News’ Wallace is the most dramatic thing I’ve seen anywhere in too long. (Maybe Clinton should have advised Steven Zaillian on All the King’s Men instead of James Carville.) At the link, the art of countering the art of the devious interview, without the help of writers or prompters. [Via Crooks and Liars; the rush transcript has errors; the video has the fire.] “Okay, let’s talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits, but I want to talk about the context (in) which this arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network…ABC just had a right-wing conservative on “The Path to 9/11″ falsely claim that it was falsely based on the 911 Commission Report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission Report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough claimed (then) that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said that I did too much. Same people… You asked me why I didn’t do more to Bin Laden…. You brought this up, so you get an answer…
Memories of some movies are inseparable from where you first see them. My prime Chicago example: Oak Street’s 70-year-old deco dowager, the Esquire. In 1982, I saw Blade Runner there five, six times. That creepy, crapped-out metropolis is stuck in the same zone of memory as the bold, stories-high vertical neon marquee outside, Vangelis playing across huge curtains, forty feet high. Subdivided and sold several times since then, the Esquire closed last Thursday: as the developer who’s bringing the wrecking ball phrased it to the Sun-Times, the up-up-upscale environs of Prada-era Oak Street are missing “a restaurant component.” Loews and most recent lessor AMC, for whatever corporate interests, let the joint, like many before, run to ruin. Posters on the walls included E.T. (also 1982), and JFK and Bugsy (both 1991). Advertisements are the modern decor, and I get a coupon for $5 off at Old Navy, expiring the next day. Cup and napkin cartons are stacked in the foyer. A print of a Fox picture in two cans awaits an empty dolly at the other end of the lobby.
The metal doors clap loudly against each other with each entrance. At The Devil Wears Prada, a clutch of thirteen watches Stanley Tucci’s character talk about the proud tradition of fashion as art, forehead foreshortened by the projectionist. The overhead fans are off. Two abandoned poster cases flank World Trade Center, where, inside, 14 viewers are trapped underground with Nicolas Cage. I expected the dank smell of dirty carpet, but the third floor reeks of cherry Twizzlers. But the ivy-patterned carpet holds deep crimson and black stains, like shadows in shallows beneath the surface of a stream.
This final show is at 7:40: Scoop. A tiny woman as old as the theater sits in the back row, platinum hair high, an immense tub of fluids in lap. A trailer for Hollywoodland plays. “If it stops one person from a buying a ticket, I have to stop it,” a character menaces. The animated AMC filmstrip leaps about and the stereo’s off-whack, but Woody Allen’s a monaural man. Allen’s familiar white typeface against black pulsates, the dim, picture flickers. Twenty-four people watch without audible complaint.
There are intermittent open holes along the balustrade where footlamps once beamed. This place was thrilling once. In one abandoned marble-counter ticket booth, paint peels, the board that covers the gape of a missing machine is smashed. Back on Oak Street, the night smells of rain and the lake. Beneath the marquee, there are missing burned-out or missing small white bulbs. Across the street, a woman works angles with a flash disposable. A chubby man behind a tripod focuses on the orange, yellow and white light of the marquee that will be doused for good, seconds from now. [Photo: Ray Pride.]
I see nothing wrong with the majestically misguided and delightfully wrongful teaser trailer Paramount Vantage put in theaters when Snakes on a Plane was released, for Craig Brewer‘s Samuel L. Jackson-starring follow-up to the Oscar-winning Hustle and Flow, but there’s a new angle in town: PV is inviting DV filmmakers to craft their own trailer and maybe win a trip to Sundance (swag bags not included). Details, elements and legalese here.
While searching for the lyrics to the anthem, “Throw the Jew down the well,” to NewsCorpFox’s Borat in anticipation of tomorrow night’s 25-city, worldwide sneak via MySpace, word came through of another side to the Rupert Murdoch-controlled conglom. It’s called “FoxFaith,” reports LA Times’ Lorenza Muñoz, and will release up to twelve pics a year marketed toward religious audiences. “In the biggest commitment of its sort by a Hollywood studio, News Corp.’s Fox Filmed Entertainment is expected to unveil plans [for the] home entertainment division of Rupert Murdoch’s movie studio plans to produce as many as a dozen films a year under a banner called FoxFaith. At least six of those films will be released in theaters under an agreement with two of the nation’s largest chains, AMC Theatres and Carmike Cinemas. The first theatrical release, called Love’s Abiding Joy, is scheduled to [open] Oct. 6. The movie, which cost about $2 million to make, is based on the fourth installment” of a Christian novel series called “Love Comes Softly.” “A segment of the market is starving for this type of content,” said Simon Swart, general manager of Fox’s U.S. home entertainment unit,” using the word “content” rather than “message” or “artistic endeavor.” “We want to push the production value, not videotape sermons or proselytize.” … “Over the last four years, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has quietly built a network to mobilize evangelical Christian moviegoers… The network includes 90,000 congregations and a database of more than 14 million mainly evangelical households. FoxFaith films, to be based on Christian bestsellers, will have small budgets of less than $5 million each, compared with the $60-million average. The movies each will be backed by $5-million marketing campaigns.” Although relatively small, “the budget is significant for targeting a niche audience, especially one as fervent as many evangelical Christians… “It is extremely satisfying to be taken seriously,” said Nancy Neutzling, vice president of marketing for Word Distribution, FoxFaith’s distributor to Christian retailers. “It’s like we have arrived.” … FoxFaith’s biggest splash came in July at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver… Inside a massive white tent… a studio-sponsored event had all the earmarks of a Hollywood fete: a lavish buffet, an exclusive movie preview of 20th Century Fox’s upcoming family-friendly horse drama Flicka and acrobats from Cirque du Soleil. Because it was a Christian convention, no alcohol was served and the performers’ costumes were inspected to ensure demure necklines.” [More testimony at the link.]
In Sunday’s NY Times biz section, Focus Features chief executive James Schamus gets “The Boss” treatment, and shares this lovely moment: “After bouncing around several colleges, I got my bachelor’s in English at U.C. Berkeley in 1982. In grad school there, my academic interests shifted from Milton to the history of cinema. One of my first teaching jobs was as an assistant for Prof. Carol Clover’s Ingmar Bergman class. Incredibly, this summer Ang Lee and I were invited to visit Bergman on his little island in the Baltic Sea. He’s 89 and has been my hero since I was a kid. He touched our faces as if we were small children, which, I suppose, we were. As Ang said, “You can dream of winning an Oscar, but you could never dream of this.”
Writer-actor-director-sometimes-photographer Todd Field‘s multiple virtues don’t escape Anne Thompson as his soph feature, Little Children debuts: “Like many actors, Field’s emotions run close to the surface; after the first screening of In the Bedroom at Sundance, he broke down as he talked about losing his two mentors before they could see the film: author Andre Dubus, who wrote the short story on which the film was based, and his… Eyes Wide Shut director Stanley Kubrick. Field’s experience makes him a brilliant actor’s director… After Miramax… picked up Bedroom, then-Miramax head [Harvey] Weinstein recommended cuts. [Field] guarded his print with his life. Weinstein was not pleased, but when many critics hailed Bedroom, Miramax pulled out the stops on an Oscar campaign. Field “frets about the details. All directors are control freaks to some degree… He fusses and worries and drives many people around him crazy. “He thinks he knows more than everyone else,” says one producer who worked with Field as an actor… “He carries the weight of everything on his shoulders,” one source close to the production says. “He makes the movie in his head and sweats and bleeds for it. He’s absolutely fully committed to what he’s doing. How to achieve what he’s trying to do is the only thing he cares about. He’s wedded to actualizing his vision. He’s one complicated dude.”