Finally, and at last, and released on the day after filmmaker Bela Tarr’s 53rd birthday, you can hold Satantango (1994, ****) in your hands. Facets Video has been working on this project for ages—a November release date came and went—but this impressively rich, epic yet minute seven-and-a-half hour accomplishment may be the week’s most impressive release (although as an our-DVD set than as an exhibition of the reported single copy of the extremely expensive 35mm print). A dark night all its own (which I watched again across a hot and hyper-humid weekend), Tarr’s 1994 story of muddy, rain-streaked, poverty- and booze-battened Hungarian village life works his idiosyncratic ideas about the representation of time and space through duration and it’s mysterious just how the emphatic, understated grace of his camerawork affect the small shreds of story. How can the tempo of experience be expressed in the tempo of film? Each director finds their own way, but it seems wrong to resist the pull of music, which, like other forms of sound, works directly in the mind rather than requiring interpretation the way images do. It’ll be intriguing to see what those new to this beautiful and elusive film make of it. [Manohla Dargis wrote a fine appreciation in January 2006.] Extras: letterboxed; several shorts, including Macbeth (1982, 64m), Tarr’s rarely seen version of Shakespeare’s tragedy in two shots; Journey on the Plain (1995, 34m), an anomalous enterprise in which actor-composer Mihaly Vig revisits Satantango locations; Prologue (2004, 5m), Tarr’s contribution to the omnibus Visions of Europe and the transcript of a panel discussion including Jonathan Rosenbaum and Scott Foundas. [Facets, $80.]
Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit, (***) an Israeli film that got bounced out of the competition by the Academy for Best Foreign Language Feature for having too much English in it, is a sweetly deadpan comedy of miscommunication where an Egyptian police band in boldly baby blue uniforms take a wrong turn and find themselves stranded amid Israelis in a dusty village and can only converse through that lingua franca. (Notch another one for the bureaucrats.) While it’s obvious that Arab-Jewish relations are being made metaphoric, Kolirin is more interested in observational whimsy, and his best moments of comic composition show the influence of august forebears like Jacques Tati. And the delivery of the line, meant as seduction, “Do you like Chet Baker?” is an instant classic. With the always-welcome Ronit Elkabetz.
When the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film was announced, a New York journalist attacked Cao Hamburger’s The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, sight unseen as prototypical sentimental Oscar bait. If the writer had bothered to see the movie, a far different story would have unspoiled before blogging. Sly and ironic, and not unlike the Blame It on Fidel, Hamburger uses a child’s perspective to examine complicated political turmoil (which likely took place in his own childhood). Set in 1970, a warm comic tone prevails even against the backdrop of the military dictatorship’s crackdown on leftists during the 1970 World Cup. Twelve-year-old Mauro winds up in this hands of a neighbor of his grandfather, who’s died before Mauro’s arrival, and he’s sheltered by a world that’s a rush of Yiddish rather than Portuguese. Assured in most of its particulars, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation” (a euphemism for going into hiding from the secret police) manages to mingle sweet and melancholy with likable results (and occasional gratifying surprises, such as the ending.) Extras: extended scenes, outtakes, international trailer, interviews. [City Lights, $27.]
Enzo Castellari’s spaghetti western-front action movie Inglorious Bustards (** ½) is so much a favorite of director-geek Quentin Tarantino that he’s purchased its title [re-spelling it as “Inglourious Basterds”] and based his upcoming Jews-kill-the-Nazis fantasia distantly on its content. I can’t imagine anyone finding this amiable but thin Fred Williamson-Bo Svenson vehicle so inspiring without an ample amount of narcotics in the house. (You can almost hear the ghostly cry of the vendors pacing the aisles of an urban grindhouse on first release: “Loose joints… loose joints…”) Still, it’s sweetly nonsensical diversion. Released under various titles, including Hell’s Heroes and G. I. Bro. Two versions are available, a slimmed-down edition and a three-disk monster. Both include Tarantino’s emanations about what he considers its greatness. Three-disk extras include “Train Kept-a-Rolling,” a doc with Castellari, Williamson, Svenson, Massimo Vanni, the SFX artist, producer, screenwriters; “Back to the War Zone,” a locations featurette; audio commentary and soundtrack CD. An impressive package for those prepared to be impressed. [Severin; $18; $30.]
Trailer. Tarantino-Castellari teaser. American Slapstick Volume 2 offers up three discs of 30 lesser-known silent shorts, never released on home video before. While dipping into the discs offered interesting glimpses of performers like Larry Semon, Syd Chaplin (Charlie’s brother), Alice Howell and Anne Cornwall, the series is likely for enthusiasts only, who would watch from start to finish. For non-specialists, the liner notes provide interesting sidenotes yet are forbiddingly unhelpful for navigating the shorts by artist. [Allday Entertainment/Facets, $35]
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Wong Kar-Wai choreographed Tony Leung and Carina Lau’s wedding, administered by monks in Bhutan; a Chinese site expresses shock at a shot of WKW without his customary dark shades: “This is the first time that I have ever seen Wong Kar-wai without his trademark sunglasses. I never realized his face was so big; evidently the shades he wears occupy a good part of his face… [H]e looks like such a regular postman dude in the picture that I was left scratching my head…so that’s WKW? How could this be? I hope he dons his glasses again soon.” Oh, here’s a huge version of the portrait of the bride and groom at Ugyen Pelri Palace. Reports Alexandra Seno of Far Eastern Economic Review, WKW lavished himself on calibrating the soundtrack as well: “At the relatively intimate wedding today at the Uma Paro in Bhutan, the admirably tenacious Hong Kong paparazzi outside may be doing all they can to get pictures of the ceremony and parties (ivory Vera Wang wedding gown chosen by William Chang Suk-Ping), but we can give you more: the sounds of the celebration. Since signing up as unpaid (and outrageously over qualified) “wedding planner” for the nuptials of Carina and Tony, Wong has been consumed with selecting just the right tunes to set just the right mood. Wong and his regular crew are essentially planning and executing this wedding—running it like one of his movie sets with his usual film cabal. When it rained during an open-air wedding portrait shoot last Saturday, Wong ordered his regular producer to scout for another “set” immediately. A good thing that the crew were used to the director’s improvisationational working style… [H]ere are the songs and artists that the filmmaker and his crew have lined for the wedding: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You; Mendelssohn’s wedding march; Happy Together; Even If; Songs by Sergio Mendez; Songs by Abba; Songs by the Bee Gees; Songs by Stan Getz; Live performances by Faye Wong and Tony Leung.” A dispatch from IHT. China Daily’s version. [Portrait via Jet Tone Films.]
Mark Duplass: “Working on our first movie, The Puffy Chair, we were driving around with the crew in rural Maine one night and Mark, who was obsessed with horror movies at the time, asked everyone, What’s the scariest thing you can think of?’ Somebody from the back of the van was like: ‘You’re watching TV and you look out the window and there’s a dude with a bag on his head staring back at you.'”
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Images from a humid-torrential-downpour Pitchfork Music Festival weekend for now, until the type-type-typing’s done; this is minutes after a basement afterparty with No Age was flooded and the Chicago skies continued to pour. [Dov Charney is nowhere in sight.] No Comments »
Milestone Films’ The Exiles, presented by Charles Burnett and Sherman Alexie, a restoration of Kent McKenzie’s 1961 fiction film in film noir tradition, the story of Native Americans in Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill District as they struggle during the Bureau of Indian Affairs “relocation period,” boasts the most unlikely but strangely thrilling product tie-in in an age. Writes Milestone’s Dennis Doros, “Possibly the very first tribute of its kind for any classic film release, we are particularly pleased that The Exiles has struck a chord with Native Americans throughout the US and Canada. It is interesting to note the coincidence that it was Douglas Miles’ own San Carlos Apache Reservation in Gobe, Arizona where Kent Mackenzie first conceived the idea of The Exiles when he visited in 1957. Mackenzie’s stark vision serves as the template for the (often misunderstood) stark artistic vision(s) of Douglas Miles as he re-creates scenes from the film… Using spraypaint, exacto knives and found objects, imagery from The Exiles comes to life via Miles’ singular vision. His guerilla art method provides the backdrop for the collision of two works of art/artists exploring the so-called native experience. A perfect combination. The results being a one-two punch that builds interest and respect for The Exiles film, director, music and cast.” To cite two of the many celebrations of the film, here’s Manohla Dargis at NYTimes: “The restoration and long-delayed commercial release of The Exiles, a 1961 film about a largely forgotten corner of that deceptively bright city, is nothing less than a welcome act of defiant remembrance…” And Richard Brody at the New Yorker; “[T]he night photography alone would make the film immortal.” The film’s website. The site for Miles’ Apache Skateboards. Coverage of his work here. [Below: a clip from The Exiles.]
A strong interview with director Marina Zenovich on the day Roman Polanski asks LA prosecutors to consider the charges of judicial misconduct in Roman Polansk: Wanted and Desired. A few bits: “I read an article in the Los Angeles Times that kind of piqued my interest in 2003. So, I had some people from that article who I cold called. The article was about whether or not [Polanski] would be able to come to America if he got nominated for The Pianist. When he got nominated there started to be more press, and then the girl and her lawyer went on the Larry King show and her lawyer said, “The day Roman Polanski fled was a sad day for the American judicial system.” That was really the comment that got me going, but I didn’t know anyone who knew her lawyer. I cold called him. I love cold calling [laughs]. I cold called the judge’s girlfriend. It was amazing; I found the judge’s obituary online and she was mentioned as being with him at his death. This was 2003, and he died in, I think, 1994. It was 11 o’clock when I found her number, and the next day by noon I was in her living room. And I said to her, “You shouldn’t let strangers into your house.” Anyway, that’s part of the fun, trying to find people, and then people hook you up with other people.
“I was never trying to humanize him. I think you can’t help but humanize people by telling their story, because he is a human… I think of him as a man who’s had a long and varied life filled with more ups and downs than most people. I wasn’t trying to be sympathetic, I was just trying to understand what got him to that night. I wanted to go backward in time to tell some of his history. I would have [told] more, but we had to keep to the story. I would have wanted to show maybe a little bit more of his childhood, but people know about his childhood, at least the people that I’m telling the story for. To me, he is very human. We’re all flawed human beings. If you tell a story about someone, you can’t help but make them human. I have archive[d footage] of him where he’s being very human. He’s very real. He’s not like—I can’t think of the male equivalent of Britney Spears. If I was to make a film about her, I would try to humanize her. I’ve never seen her do anything that seems particularly humanizing except for maybe when she was really, really in trouble. I remember reading something about her, like she got on an airplane, sat in coach, sat in the last row and was shaking all the way to L.A. That was the most human thing I’d ever read about her. She’s presented as a celebrity and you don’t even think of her as a human. To me, Roman Polanski is a full-blown figure and human being.” [Much more at the link.]
Girl Talk is Greg Gillis, whose second album is “Feed the Animals.” He’s an epic practitioner of the mashup: every song is comprised of what he considers “fair use” samples from other recording artists. Enter “Bunny Greenhouse,” who’s compiling videos with snippets from videos by those musicians. Jeeeeez….. Then again, BG did re-edit Magnolia to Gameboy music.
From Kubrickonia, a small trove of Kubrickiana, a spot of door wide open: Mr. Kubrick’s offices had cat doors. And you might be amazed what you could learn about Kubrick’s boxes if you were to move around the web. No, I don’t mean the complete Barry Lyndon on YouTube. JMW Turner never engraved a postage stamp in his life. [Below: For the love of a nice, normal fella and a trailer that might just be a Kubrick homage.]
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola
“Probably the most heralded movie I’ve ever been in was Forrest Gump. While I was sitting on the park bench, I asked Bob, ‘Is anyone going to care about this guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t know Tom. It’s a mine field. It’s a fucking mine field.’ So when it works, you just say, ‘We dodged all the mines.'”
~ Tom Hanks