Movie City Indie Archive for March, 2007
Rumors repeated by Cineuropa’s Fabien Lemercier hold that Cannes 2007 will open with Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights and close with Zodiac. Out of competition titles include Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth; the competition is said to include Denys Arcand’s Age of Innocence, Todd Haynes’ fractured Dylan biopic I’m Not There, The Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, Ballon rouge by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Gus van Sant’s Paranoid Park, Promise Me This by Emir Kusturica, Kantoku Banzai by Takeshi Kitano, Silent Lightby Carlos Reygadas, and new films by Roy Andersson, Fatih Akin, Alesandr Sokourov and Bela Tarr. Yow! [More rumored titles at the link.]
“Herzog lifts his large, solemn head to explain that he isn’t drawn to excess but that it somehow just happens to find him,” writes Brigid Grauman In the FT. ” He recalls a surrealist moment last year in LA when a sniper shot him while he was being interviewed by the BBC. “The bullet — small calibre, it wasn’t a serious bullet —went through a catalogue that was in my pocket, so I wasn’t seriously hurt,” he says. “Everyone freaked out. I had no problem with it.” He has, he says gently shaking his head, a singular capacity for attracting violent events. Recently, while filming in Antarctica for a television documentary, a snowmobile flipped over on top of him. “Strong bones,” he says with satisfaction at surviving unscathed. “My attitude has always been that certain events cannot be covered by insurance.” … Herzog has a fondness for dictums which he says are born of lifelong experience. “Those who watch television, lose the world,” he warns, “and those who read, gain it.” The late travel writer Bruce Chatwin, with whom he had “a cautious but very substantial friendship”, quoted with approval Herzog saying, “Tourism is sin, walking is virtue” and made it his own motto at the end of his life. On his deathbed, Chatwin gave Herzog his battered leather rucksack and Herzog now takes it along with him on all his long walks.” Plus: a downloadable PDF of Alan Greenberg‘s screenplay for Herzog’s planned next feature, “The Cheese and The Worms.” [UPDATE: Greenberg also authored a screenplay on the life of bluesman Robert Johnson, which Herzog has spoken highly of; it's called "Love in Vain," and it's a superb read if you look for it.]
With Julia Loktev‘s gorgeously restrained Day Night Day Night showing at New Directors/New Directions, cinematographer Benoit Debie‘s showreel is worth a peek, as well as this excerpt from Loktev’s film. [Debie's main page is here; other films such as Irreversible and Calvaire are on show. Up this fall: George Ratliff's daylit deviltry, Joshua.]
Recently, filmmaker Joe Swanberg (Kissing on the Mouth, Hannah Takes The Stairs) told me he thought Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense was as close to perfect as nay movie he knows. Directed by Demme and shot by Henri Alekan, the video for New Order’s “Perfect Kiss” (1985) always struck me as a perfect film: the band performing music in a practice room, their activity a cross between daydreaming and operating a submarine, with patient close-ups worthy of Dreyer. It’s 10 lovely deadpan minutes; I stood there beside myself thinking hard about the weather… From a 1998 Guardian interview with Demme: “One of my favourite things in watching any performance on film is when there isn’t a lot of cutting going on and when you get a chance to become really absorbed in the artist in hand. The same way we do, hopefully, at a concert, when we get a chance to really trip in to something that’s happening on stage. Whether the singer’s singing, or one of the other musicians is playing, we sort of stay there instead of cutting round with our eyes a lot.” (H/T Faisal Qureshi at Screen Grab.]
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“I WALKED AROUND THAT NIGHT AND THERE WERE ALL THESE PEOPLE CRYING AND YOU KNEW THEY HAD LOST SOMEONE,” writer-director Mike Binder says of his experience the day of September 11, 2001 in Manhattan. “A couple of years later, I was in New York with my family, and I just thought, ‘There are still people wandering the streets who lost someone that day.’ Everyone else has moved on, but these people are still living with it. What’s that like?” Earnest research and many conversations resulted in Reign Over Me, a powerful Adam Sandler-starring drama about a widower unable to forget the loss of his family. “We were looking for people who have suffered a loss that was so traumatic,” Binder says, “that they couldn’t get off the couch, even after several years.” Like the Detroit-born writer-director’s The Upside of Anger (2005), complicated emotions and generous digressions make for unusually intelligent and involving drama.
Sandler plays Charlie Fineman, who had been a successful dentis, but now lives out his days on a motorized scooter through mostly-deserted Manhattan streets, listening to songs that mattered to him in that time called “before” that he does not want to forget, 1970s rock like The Who’s “Reign O’er Me” (a cover of which by Eddie Vedder provides a drenching crescendo to the movie under the end credits). One day, an old friend, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) sees Charlie on the street, a mop-haired, wild-eyed mess, but he doesn’t seem to remember Alan—even though they were college roommates. Alan is married with kids, life seems good with wife (stern Jada Pinkett Smith) despite an unspecified chill between them. Alan has a colleague in the same professional building, a therapist (quietly empathetic Liv Tyler) whom he peppers with inappropriate questions, and later leads Charlie to visit in hopes of coming out of his angry rituals of denial. (Sandler readily goes from shattered to shattering; the wells of emotion in Punch Drunk Love were not an anomaly.)
The two men begin to spend time together, mostly in the deep twilight of Charlie’s life, bounded by his iPod, movies, a videogame filled with battling titans. “To me, the whole movie boils down to a piece about communication and kind of the restoring powers of having someone to talk to,” Binder says, “and the flip side of the damage that can slowly accumulate of not having someone to talk to.” The location shooting is extensive and gorgeous, enabled by the Panavision Genesis high definition camera. Visually, the film swaddles you in Charlie’s closed-off melancholy. The abandoned night streets of Manhattan have a dreamy immediacy: without the need to light as extensively near and most effectively, far, the perspective emulates what you’d see walking out the door of an apartment, a café, a bar. The camera system also favors Charlie’s shaggy, sallow look, the tiny Pinkett Smith’s imperious cheekbones and the powder pale of Tyler’s skin, a much different manner of stylization than the yellowed, brittle newspaper clippings palette of Zodiac.
At Cafe Babel L’auberge Espagnole director Cédric Klapisch, almost the same age as the European Union, reflects on changes in cinema and culture with more countries joining the E.U. “Europe’s shift towards the ultra-liberal seriously threatens culture. Europe’s shift towards the ultra-liberal seriously threatens culture. I’ve got a habit of saying that Europe is the ‘Disunited States’, as opposed to the United States. But bizarrely, our strength lies in us being pulled together by our gaps and differences. To have so many different languages, so many different gastronomies, so many opposed cultural habits, so many diverse architectures. tears us apart but also creates dynamism. It’s going to be extremely difficult to make the political Europe of the 27 a success, but I think there is a common will to combine Hungarians, Poles, Scandinavians, Germans, and Latins in a common spirit. What will that result in? I have no idea. It is perhaps chaotic but very vibrant.”
Via Italy’s Espresso and republished on the “David Lynch Electrical Resource”, Dugpa, a passel of pics of Mr. Lynch’s gee-wow art lookback in Paris; if you’ve wondered what the walls the art’s hung on looks like, here you go. In New Statesman, Alice O’Keeffe has a keen interview with Lynch about where he stands today: “Though a genius he may be, the thought of Lynch sitting alone in his studio with these images, lopping a leg off here and adding a festering gash there, is not pleasant. “Those distorted nudes thrill me, and I don’t know all the reasons why… Sometimes when there’s a distortion or a rearrangement it makes you see things afresh, and something jumps. I do like fragments of the human form, and then there’s all kinds of variations, and that’s interesting. It’s like jazz: there’s the melody – the human form – and then there’s all kinds of variants, and that’s real interesting.”
Would it bother him, I wonder, if someone got off on them? “Oh no, you can’t worry about stuff like that, because you would stop working,” he insists, but then says: “There must be some responsibility when you make something. They say for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. There could be something coming back from what we do, but I’m not positive.” [On a different note, Lynch collaborator Freddie Francis, cinematographer of The Elephant Man, Dune and The Straight Story, is dead at 89.)
Observers at a “Just Talking” documentary filmmakers’ panel.
Trying to find time to post between movies and panels and spring weather in the north of Greece… Maybe a folio of photos from Thessaloniki in just a bit…
Actor James Urbaniak recalls Betty Hutton’s vivid perf style: “With her super-amped comic energy, musical chops and everygal persona, Betty Hutton was Jack Black’s spiritual foremother.” Urbaniak finds a YouTube link to ” a not particularly interesting novelty number… that nevertheless offers a typical example of her this-one-goes-to-eleven approach to performing… The bittersweet flipside [is] the Preston Sturges masterpiece The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, wherein her boy-crazy Trudy Kockenlocker (!) gets knocked up by an anonymous soldier after a shipping-out party. In that relentless comedy machine of a movie she brings moments of quiet vulnerability that make you genuinely care about her.” [More at the link.]
“JOEY, DO YOU LIKE GLADIATOR MOVIES?” Why yes, I do, if they’re 300, with its rich, brute beauty. While keening early reports from a Berlin Film Festival press screening suggested that any woman seeing 300 (*** 1/2) ought to check their male dates for bi-curious pup tents, vet commercials director Zack Snyder’s second feature (after 2004’s Dawn of the Dead) is more than a homoerotic vista of rippling man-bulk. It’s a distinctly otherworldly tapestry, a bloody, violent storybook-look imagining of the 480 B.C. battle at Thermopylae, as well as blunt assertions on the nature of masculinity, war-making and murder. This is grandiloquent, bravura, exquisitely inventive movie-making, but since its subject is vainglorious battle to the death of civilization, one of several tempests in a crackpot about 300, highlighted by a thumbsucker in the Sunday New York Times, is the venture that the movie is intended as commentary on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Get this: war is war. “Remember why we died” is always a statement of sorrow as well as succoring of bloodlust. These figures, too, worried of “hold[ing] our gates” against “Asia’s endless hordes.” (Of course, no modern army would ever go into an incursion so severely undermanned or without necessary protective gear.) And while testosterone and heights of the visceral and viscera and suicidal doggedness are on display, and ideas of patrimony and honor are parsed with copious limb-slicing and decapitation, 300 is ultimately an admirable imaginative feat, drawing for style from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, but also the world of painting, the grammar of videogames, rock-ribbed rhetoric and the possibility of what millions of dollars can wreak out of one director’s mind and thousands of terabytes of computer memory. (Yet I cannot imagine a studio financing this gory work in a less bloody and fearful time.) Images: priests of the gods convening within an octagon-topped knob against a moon hundreds times larger than true. A redheaded oracle, pale beneath shimmers of sheer and smoke, hair the red-gold of koi, writhing to demonstrate both fever and erectness of nipple. Pale hairs on another woman’s belly by reflected blue light of an absurdly bright, near moon. (Female flesh is not neglected amid the sweaty flesh of fighting men.) An orgy by torchlight and hookah under the gaze of Xerxes that seems either a parody or celebration of the multiethnic sex-fray in Matrix Revolutions. Bull elephants twice-three times actual size backed off hillocks to the stony shore below. Golden light blighted suddenly by the rain of a thousand, thousand singing spears. Clouds do not scud but roil, women’s breasts are always in motion, red capes and draping swirl. The landscapes are peopled with taut beefcake bellies, but the 41-year-old writer-director’s camera dwells also on the the taut extension along ribcages as spear- and sword-bearing arms strain upward toward release. Snyder also delivers setpieces of extended sequence-shots that are stitched digitally from myriad smaller bits from cameras clustered near each other at differing focal lengths. You’ve not seen it all until you’ve seen this odd yet exciting effect. Fair history? (Snyder eagerly admits to refashioning of formations and tactics so that the battles would be more vivid on screen.) At the least, fine spectacle, po-faced and only lightly Pythonesque. (This review is of the IMAX version.)
The Greek poster for 300, Plateaia Odeon, Thessaloniki, Greece. Indie returns shortly. [Photos from the Ninth Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival here.]
AS Zodiac BEGINS, FOURTH OF JULY FIREWORKS BURST over San Francisco Bay in an aerial shot suffused with the soft dark of California night; the shot holds for a moment before descending to earth, traveling along a suburban street of elevated banality in the style of photographer William Eggleston, while exploding flowers of skyrockets loom with quiet bursts between ordinary homes. An ideal night to fire a gun and not be heard.
DAVID FINCHER RECREATES WITH RAPACIOUS PRECISION a season of fear in the San Francisco that began when he was 7 years old, a mere second grader. As a grown man, the movie he has painstakingly fashioned answers the child’s questions, What does father do when he is away at work or at war? He grows weary. He grows impatient. He grows old. I cannot tell you if Zodiac, following the footsteps of the men who shadowed one of the most notorious of unsolved cases, is a great film, but it seems to be a perfect one. It is a thrill and a privilege to witness a work of art like this. Drawing on the estimable forebears of 1970s cinema, such as Coppola’s The Conversation, Pakula’s All the President’s Men and much of Lumet, Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt observe the routines of several newspapermen and detectives as they hope to solve a series of killings by a man who eventually calls himself the Zodiac killer and who sends taunting, partially-encoded letters to the press. Fincher recreates the late 1960s and early 1970s with anti-storybook precision.
Jon Heder, Zooey Deschanel and Jeff Bridges at a preview in Culver City for Sony Animation’s summer release, Surf’s Up, a “Pengu-Town and Z-Boys”-style mock doc about… surfing penguins (its genesis about four years ago was the third, separate, parallel inspiration that also brought March of the Penguins and Happy Feet). Among the inspired comedic touches: actors experienced in improv riffing in the same room together rather than in isolated recording booths, leading to scenes where jokes pile on mercilessly. It’s very funny stuff.
OUT IN THE REAL WORLD, BY THE GLOW OF WEBCAMS and computer screens, the potential for the average Joe and Jane to chronicle the most intimate moments of their lives is in motion every night and day. Feature films are another matter; studio pictures can’t move quickly enough to encompass what happened five yesterdays ago, let along six months to a year from now at the pace of an iPod-YouTube-MySpace-BitTorrent world. While the culture of surveillance and self-surveillance has begun to prompt and provoke interesting art, one Chicago filmmaker has made the lives (virtual and otherwise) of his friends and himself the center of his work.
JOE SWANBERG TURNS 26 LATER THIS YEAR, he’s shot his fourth feature, a look at long distance relationships, and his third, and most playful, the sunny, Chicago-set Hannah Takes the Stairs, has its world premiere Sunday night at Austin’s South by Southwest festival. Swanberg, whose 2006 LOL and 2005 Kissing on the Mouth also debuted at SxSW, is cautious to a fault about his working method, with his new movie’s “A film by” credit going to eight people, including himself, lead Greta Gerwig, the filmmakers Kent Osborne (Dropping Out), Ry Russo-Young (Orphans), Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation), Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair), Todd Rohal (The Guatemalan Handshake), and musician Kevin Bewersdorf. While it sounds like a clever-clever conceit, casting actor-directors whom he’s befriended on the festival circuit in a kind of cinematic twentysomething supergroup, it’s central to the film’s success. Swanberg likes to collaborate, and he likes to work with people he likes, which shows in Hannah, which like his earlier movies, captures a tentative intimacy rare on screen but common in life, how two people alone in a room do dances of gesture, with clothes and without, searching for self-definition and happiness, baring scars and kissing for minutes at a time. (While sometimes discomfiting within the context of the characters’ lives, the nudity in his work is handled with offhanded aplomb.) His second feature, LOL dealt with how life spent on the internet can ruin relationships. And: Swanberg’s second season of a web series for Nerve.com just debuted, and several days I spent on the set—that is, in cast members’ apartments—of the first series of Young American Bodies further demonstrated his affably casual, offhanded approach to getting through the day’s notes. [In the extended Q&A below, we talk about his work being a calling card to kindred spirits; how he sold Hannah to its producer in the form of a drawing of a martini glass; the impact of the 1980s American indepemdent movement on his ambitions; why his work is "selfish"; and why Stop Making Sense may be almost as perfect as Kieslowski's Blue and Double Life of Veronique.]