Movie City Indie Archive for October, 2006
ONE OF THE REGRETTABLE THINGS about not having the luxury to write only about one film or two films a week is the lack of time to consider what truly constitutes “acting” in movies.
It’s one of the most mysterious components of the alchemy of filmmaking. Pauline Kael, for one example, was terrific at finding zingy one-liners to describe the physicality of a performer. “There are things you just can’t write, like the way an actor will look at another actor,” Oliver Stone once told an interviewer. “And these little things are everything in a movie. So I think that as filmmakers, we don’t truly have control over everything.”
Made on the most modest of budgets on digital video, Debra Granik’s Down to the Bone, (Hart Sharp, $20) which won two prizes at Sundance 2004, including for actress Vera Farmiga’s “outstanding performance” is a powerful mix of control and fearlessness, of observation and contemplation.
The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy calls it Todd Field‘s Mystic River moment in this scarifying outtake from a long Sunday interview about Little Children: “I remember coming home one day on my bicycle along this gravel path near 157th and Division, and this Ford Falcon pulled up, this white Ford Falcon with two guys in it, and they said ‘Come ‘ere kid, come ‘ere.’ And you know when you’re near trouble, at any age. And I knew they were bad, and I knew they were gonna get me in that car, and I knew that no one was every gonna see me again and they would do bad things to me and I would be dead. And I was screaming and tried to get away, and my bike fell in the gravel and they started chasing me, and lo and behold the next-door neighbor started coming down the street and saw me, and these guys ran and they sped off. And they didn’t catch them. And I went home and I told my parents and they didn’t show the fear that they had about the situation, but they didn’t stop letting me have my independence. And that’s what formed me as a human being: being allowed to have that childhood. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’d just as soon have gone off in that car and not exist as not have the childhood that I had, which was tremendous—a great, great childhood. And as I’ve observed other parents in places I’ve lived—Los Angeles, New York and even London—it was a rare childhood. And it didn’t have to do with my parents being good consumers and going out and buying everything and making you safe. They let us be as children and let us be feral and let us figure out who we were. They let us fight our own battles and some of them were hard.”
Filmbrain contrasts the respective legacies of film cricket and filmmaker in a ditty entitled John Cassavetes and the Shoes of Pauline Kael.” The piece begins by quoting Kael: “The acting that is so bad it’s embarrassing sometimes seems also to have revealed something, so we’re forced to reconsider our notions of good and bad acting… Faces has the kind of seriousness that a serious artist couldn’t take seriously—the kind of seriousness that rejects art as lies and superficiality. And this lumpen-artists’ anti-intellectualism, this actors’ unformulated attack on art may be what much of the public also believes—that there is a real thing that ‘art’ hides…”Of which Cassavetes once said to cinematographer Frederick Elmes: “The way I figure it, if Pauline Kael ever liked one of my movies, I’d give up.” Writes FB, “[T]he reasons behind my veneration have changed tremendously over the years. What grabbed me back in the 80s was just how different his films were[, a] sense of immediacy combined with a seemingly ‘fuck you’ attitude towards Hollywood was terribly exciting… [N]ow that I’ve reached the age of Archie, Harry and Gus (the infernal trio from Husbands), I find myself looking at Cassavetes’ films through an entirely new set of eyes. The modes of behavior seem less foreign to me, as do the intricate subtleties of the various relationships—be it between friends, lovers, spouses, or parent and child. The desperation, the loneliness and longing, the inability to communicate, and the overall tragic nature of many of his characters speaks to me in a way not possible back then… Cassavetes’ work wasn’t fully appreciated during his lifetime, and his relationship with film critics was tumultuous at best. For every critic that praised him, there was a Vincent Canby, John Simon, or Stanley Kauffmann ready to cut him down. Yet the harshest of all his detractors was New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, whose distaste for Cassavetes was nearly as strong as [hers for] Kubrick.” Re-reading Kael on Cassavetes “reveals that she spends as much time rebuking the audience as she does the film itself. That the realism in Cassavetes’ films is not her liking is acceptable, but her attitude towards those genuinely moved by them is nothing short of condescending…” [Always a danger when a cricket's pique reveals more of themselves than of the art/artist on view.]
An offer for 5,000 tickets to Borat on its opening night, via MySpace, turned out to be an intense irritation: following the link led to a pernicious “survey” site offering Readers Digest, nicotine patches and travel packages to Branson, Missouri, in which it was necessary to “opt out” of hundreds of choices after giving personal information. I didn’t make it through: almost 20 pages of junk was enough for me. [I've started getting spam already from these gentle folk.] Impulsively, I sent a message via the site to the “Borat” identity, and have gotten these two replies so far. Special attention, or is there a Borat-bot shuffling random replies? Not very nice.
Reports Variety, The Weinstein Company is claiming that General Electric’s NBC network and the Viacom-Warner Bros. CW network have kicked the Chicks, refusing to accept national advertising for Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck‘s brilliant documentary, Shut Up & Sing! [View the offending ad here.] While a CW rep denies the Weinsteinco assertion, NBC “has specifically said it won’t accept the spots because they are disparaging of President Bush. Opening today in NY and LA, the deeply felt and incredibly entertaining doc “revisits the fierce fallout that occurred in 2003 after lead singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed that the president is from Texas, her home state. The national spot shows a clip of Bush authorizing troops to fight in Iraq, then cuts to a clip of Maines’ comment. Next is a clip of the president saying publicly that the Dixie Chicks shouldn’t have their feelings hurt if people don’t want to buy their records anymore. The final frame shows Maines saying that Bush is a “real dumb (bleep).” ["Fuck" would be the epithet in question.] “It’s a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America,” Harvey Weinstein said in a statement. “It’s a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America. The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American.” While Weinstein is, of course, one of the masters of “free media,” the practice of creating controversy where there is no intention of actually dishing out for paid advertising, NBC’s blunt statement that it “cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush” is pretty frightening. [At the link, the counterclaims by the CW versus TWC.] [UPDATE October 28: Weinstein reps have been quoted in Saturday reports to the effect that if this were an attempt at free media, they'd've done it last week, in order not to diminish the thunder of the largely approving opening day reviews in NYC and LA.]
Babel producers Jon Kilik and Steve Golin are lucky enough to be able to afford an ad to respond to the Right Coast Paper of Record: In the October 25 New York Times, the pair purchase a fair number of square inches to address a double-barreled blast of hearsay from the LA Times and NY Times regarding the writer and director of that film (and of Amores Perros and 21 Grams): “To The Editor: As the producers of Babel, we feel it is a shame that The New York Times chose to base an October 22 article upon a gossip piece that the Los Angeles Times Arts section printed on October 4… We have worked side by side with Alejandro González Iñárritu for the past two years and have witnessed a great example of the collaborative processes of moviemaking… [E]xamples of the loyalty, trust, inclusion and teamwork that define his way of working [include the] continuity of Gael Garcia Bernal… Adriana Barraza (Amores Perros, Babel), Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel), composer Gustavo Santaolalla (21 Grams, Babel), production designer Bridgette Broch (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel)… editor Stephen Mirrone (21 Grams, Babel) and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel). We have never heard [González Iñárritu] use the word “auteur” to describe his filmmaking style but often the word “we.” … While the debate of authorship is as old as cinema, philosophical differences that had nothing to do with the creative process of making Babel… [have] resulted in Alejandro and Guillermo choosing not to work together on their next features. Those same philosophical differences [led to] the decision to not appear together in Cannes… We know that both of these men are saddened that their long and successful relationship has been reduced to salacious gossip.” Kilik and Golin quote a letter sent to the LA Times by the collaborators but which was not published: “We were both saddened to see your article. It is disappointing when the focus of a 10-year relationship is at its conclusion… Alejandro does not have a manager and therefore could not have confirmed anything. The fact of the matter is our professional relationship has run its course. We have worked together… on three very successful projects and are incredibly proud of those films. We intend to move forward independently.” [A partial LA Times correction is here. Pictured: Rinko Kikuchi.]
THE TWO MOST STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL SENTENCES OF THE WEEK were likely penned by a lawyer: “This film is fictional. It is set in the future.” Coming at the end of British director Gabriel Range’s Death of a President (co-written by Simon Finch), about an aftermath of authoritarian opportunism when President Bush is killed while politicking in Chicago in October 2007, this disclaimer suits Range’s neatly arrayed paranoid prognostications, which, of course, are trumped by reality each and every present day. (“Habeas Corpus”? What’s that?) How would a patriot act after the death of a president? By destroying every last vestige of civil liberties and anointing themselves saviors; by committing all manner of craven cover-up and pitiful power grab, DOAP suggests, and in the director’s own words, a metaphor for what came after 9/11. Range’s use of Chicago topography (and footage drawn from several Bush visits to the city) in his neo-doc (or “retrospective documentary” style, in his words) is astute, as is the examination and reexamination of “surveillance” footage in the fictional dissection of whodunit. Haskell Wexler‘s Medium Cool is an obvious antecedent for this style of speculative fiction, as are Peter Watkins’ post-nuclear scenario, The War Game (which won the 1965 Best Documentary Oscar) and Kevin Brownlow’s It Happened Here, and while DOAP proposes the existential quandary of a fear of “terrorists” dictating entirely the course of a country’s decisions, the film’s follow-through, while compelling, never reaches the heights of irresponsibility attained by numberless politicians and business leaders. Of Nazism, and by extension, any vast, complex horror, George Steiner wrote of the “sheer incapacity of the ‘normal’ mind to imagine and hence give active belief to the enormities of the circumstance.” Range does yeoman’s work in capturing circumstance, but he cannot run as fast as a contemporary headline ticker. In a director’s statement, Range writes: “While the premise… is certainly an incendiary one, as a metaphor for 9/11 it must by necessity be unspeakably horrific. And history teaches us that there is nothing that can have a more convulsive impact on America than the assassination of a President. I have always known that I would be condemned for the very idea of this film, but I believe that sometimes it is not only acceptable for art to be outrageous—it is necessary. We live in a time of incredible fear… The advance condemnation… by politicians and pundits who have not seen—and may never see—this film reflects the landscape of fear in which we live today, and which my film attempts to address.
Hadn’t visited Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s website for a while, so it was a swell surprise to happen upon an extended gallery of his work, especially the folio this image is drawn from, called “Turkish Cinemascope.” His intensely beautiful movies of contemporary discomfort, such as Distant and Climates are important, and these 24×50 images look pretty terrific. [They're larger on his site than shown here; this one took my breath away.] The series is of panoramic photographs shot across Turkey in the last four years, mostly during location scouts. They’ll debut at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece in November 2006, along with a retrospective of all of his films. Here’s the trailer for his latest, opening this weekend at Film Forum in Manhattan:
If I had an item about Black Snake Moan, the world would be so different… but Variety’s Michael Fleming & Ian Mohr offer intel of the moment on Borat‘s queasy-making for FoxNewsCorpZondervan upon its very nice preem at GrauMann’s Chinese: “Much as unsuspecting people try to gauge the strange [character], Fox and rival distributors are trying to figure out what to make of the Borat box office potential…. Fox maintains standard tracking methodology doesn’t apply. “This is a new genre of movie,” said Jeffrey Godsick, exec VP of marketing… “The awareness is beginning with a targeted audience. When you are breaking a new kind of genre, not everyone knows what to make of it.” …Cohen was to be ushered into his preem by a phalanx of Kazakh locals bearing fruits and wonders of the country. Plans were for Borat to be carried, bridelike, to the podium by an oversized woman. There, he would address the throng of press and fans and respond to a recent invitation to visit Kazakhstan, which has tried to disown Borat almost from the moment he claimed it as his country of origin.” Or, as one of Baron Cohen’s subjects puts it, more condescendingly than the poop he puled on her in a BBC piece about the production’s m.o.: “I thought I was talking to an uneducated man, maybe from a tribal community,” Ms Stein says. “I mean, that’s how it seemed to me… I thought about it, I worried about it, and then felt I have to get back to my work. I just have to move on. I’m a New Yorker, all sorts of things happen in New York. I’m not angry.” But the artist, whose sculptures represent “empowerment and strength”, wants to ask Baron Cohen why his art “zooms in on human weaknesses and foibles.” [DEVELOPING...]
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: the opening four minutes
And it’s only the set-up for his journey… The BoratMovie YouTube page also has deleted scenes and other crunchy bits. The Borat homepage is ridiculously funny as well, even after being bounced from its original “kz” domain. Very nice.
Omen auteur John Moore comes to a conclusion about Full Metal Jacket: “It occurred to me the other day,” he tells the Telegraph’s Marc Lee, “that I might fucking hate Stanley Kubrick. I’ve spent 20 years thinking I love him, but now it feels as if his movies are like some cancerous, mean-spirited construction on mankind. It’s as if he whispers something in your ear that you wish you hadn’t heard. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, but it’s similar to when you watch something grotesque on the internet, like an al-Qa’eda execution, and you immediately wish you hadn’t seen it. But you can’t unknow it, unlearn it. It seems to me that most of Kubrick’s stuff is like that. There’s a horrible meanness to it. You know, I don’t think there’s an ounce of optimism in Full Metal Jacket.” [Opines JeffMCM in comments: "It sounds like the auteur of Behind Enemy Lines is missing the point. No great artist is ever truly a nihilist; the very act of filmmaking, in Kubrick's case, is proof that, underlying all his cynicism, rests the belief that mankind is capable of redemption and change. This is why Dr. Strangelove is a comedy. This is why the ending of Eyes Wide Shut happens as it does. Moore's The Omen is certainly a more soul-dead movie than anything Kubrick ever made."]
There is no more powerful device in cinematic grammar than a close-up of the human face. In this blunt, elegant, powerful political advertisement Michael J. Fox demonstrates. The human face, no one draws so close to it as Bergman does. In his recent films there is nothing more than mouths talking, ears listening, eyes expressing curiosity, hunger, panic.—Francois Truffaut.
There’s more than enough misunderstanding to go around ine arly reviews of Todd Field‘s ambitious second feature, Little Children. The writer-director articulates to Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay, but does not explain: “It’s the basic rule of illusion. It’s like in the magicians’ union: If you sign into the Society of American Magicians or the International Brotherhood of Magicians, there are two rules. You work on something, and when you finally show it, you don’t do it again right away. And the second [rule] is that you don’t explain it. It’s the same thing with storytelling… Why would you go to all that trouble to do something that hopefully people are going to engage in enough to have a conversation about, and then get up and say, “What I really meant was…” Or, “Oh, and by the way, the characters you’ve been caught up in for two hours, they’re really actors, and here they are! … That’s why cinema is great. It’s a very democratic process, and it’s open to everyone. Why do we sit and watch Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films that have no reflection of our culture at all? We’re not from Istanbul, yet we’re so profoundly moved. That’s why film, I think, is the closest form of expression to music. It doesn’t require that someone [be of] a particular background or gender or race or age.” Of adapting Tom Perotta’s novel, Field says, “What interested me about the book were its characters, its themes and, almost in an allegorical way, its sense of paranoia [and how that connected with] the state our country is in right now. Probably the only thing that made me take pause was the fact that it was set in this bedroom community and that it might be accused of being a send-up of suburbia, because I don’t believe that that’s what the story is. I think that would be a lazy way to perceive it.” [More at the link.]
As a newly restored print of Dr Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, makes an appearance at the 50th Times BFI London Film Festival, Christiane Kubrick appears as The Good Widow, taking the Times’ James Christopher into the Kubrick cloisters for a rare chat. “The gravel drive leading up to Christiane Kubrick’s mansion near St Albans in Hertfordshire is protected by three sets of electronic gates and “Strictly Private” signs… It’s a rare honour… to stroll through the glass-roofed courtyard littered with paintings, past the creepy feathery masks for Eyes Wide Shut, and into a blood-red library crammed with art books, Thackeray, De Sade and the well-thumbed volumes on witchcraft that Stanley Kubrick collected for The Shining.” Of the abandoned “Aryan Papers” project, Christiane says, “He also had some bad luck. He couldn’t get the finance to do ‘Napoleon,’ and the film he wanted to make around 1993 about the Holocaust… he gave up because he couldn’t stand it any more. It was far too dark. The SS papers were too much to bear. Stanley would lie in bed all day after researching this stuff because he didn’t think it was worth getting up. It’s the only film I persuaded him to leave alone.” This can’t have been easy for a director with legendary stamina. “Even though he died at 70 he probably lived much longer than most people because he only ever slept for four or five hours a night,” says Christiane. “If people were ever exhausted by him it was never intentional. He just didn’t get tired.”
Winnowing the clip file, I came across an article I wrote for a British magazine that’s never been online: a search for the ‘World’s Stroppiest Actors,” or in Left Coast, difficult talent. Here’s the opening; the link takes you to the rest.
“WARREN BEATTY WILL NOT BE SPEAKING WITH YOU. Burned by journalists in the 1960s, Beatty was one of the first Hollywood bigs who refused to submit to the indignity of journalistic interrogation. Adam Sandler’s used his box-office clout to resist interviews for his latest comedies, and you can’t blame him. How many times can you answer the same questions about your life, your loves, your latest movie? There are actors like Tom Hanks or Harrison Ford who soldier onward, revealing little but at least making the gesture. Tom Cruise is all smiles and intense eye contact, a shining exemplar of all the self-help non sequiturs that stream from his anecdotes. Tom Hanks is all sunlight and jollies. He doesn’t say much, but it’s always with lighthearted good-cheer. While Ford does the circuit, he telegraphs answers shorter than the dialogue of any character he’s every played. “I do this because it’s part of my job, I do this because, what’s the word,” he told me recently. “It’ll come to me.” He slow-burns that famous smile, nearly a smirk. “I’m a profit participant.”
Yet those luckless artistes earning less than $20 million a picture are contractually obligated to meet the ladies and gentlemen of the press. Most Hollywood publicity is manufactured during an exhausting weekend-long clusterfuck, day-long series of seven-minute television interviews and twenty-five minute roundtables where journalists fire their impertinent (or idiotic) questions at increasingly punchy performers. We’re all working here, you want to shout at the stroppy lot.” [More at the link, including Mr. Jones on what makes a good dog good.]