More on Hannah

From this Salon article about SXSW and Hannah Takes the Stairs: “An entire row of Austin women in front of me got up to leave about half an hour in, and I almost ran after them to hear their reasons.”

I can only hope it was for the reasons I mentioned in this post.

IM Chat w/Adam Roffman, Program Director, IFFBoston

untitled.JPGme: hi
adam: Hi Cynthia
me: how are you doing
me: is the festival stuff over now?
adam: tired!
me: i can imagine
adam: Still doing wrap-up. Gathering the press, mailing back some posters, paying some vendors, etc., etc. And cleaning house for the first time in months.
me: do you live full-time in boston?
adam: yep
me: i read somewhere that you do props for studio films during the rest of the year
me: does that take place in boston?
adam: Well, I do props and set decoration on studio films from May-December. January-April I take off from work to focus solely on the festival. The film work is almost entirely in Boston, RI, and New York for me. The next film I start on Monday in Rhode Island.
me: any films i’ve heard of?
adam: The Departed, Fever Pitch, State and Main, The Perfect Storm, and upcoming films include Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” and Peter Hedges “Dan In Real Life”
me: yep, i’ve heard of those
me: have you made any films, or have plans/aspirations to do so at some point?
adam: I made a one-minute short film called THE TERROR OF THE INVISIBLE MAN which played at 26 festivals and then was acquired by IFC. Now, in addition to my art department work on studio films, I am a producer on Alex Karpovsky’s new feature GENERAL IMPRESSION OF SIZE AND SHAPE and will be producing a few other features in the coming year or so
adam: I plan to direct a feature at some point, but am in no hurry. I’d rather have a great script and do it right than rush into it just so I can say “I’m a filmmaker”.
me: you are a busy man
me: do you also travel around to a lot of festivals?
adam: I go to a few each year, but my filmwork keeps me from going to as many as I would like. I make it to Sundance every year (7 years in a row now) and usually hit a few others each year. I’ve been to Seattle, Newport, Cleveland, Hamptons, IFP Market, and some others. Some of the fest staff go to Toronto every year so we get that covered too.
me: can you describe what exactly is a program director’s job?
adam: I oversee the film and special guest programming for the festival. There are 5 people on our core staff who have input in programming and as Director I make the final call on which films actually get in.
me: would you say yours is a more casual or intimate fest than most others? it seems to be to me, but i’ve only been to a few
me: been to silverdocs, and i worked with the boston jewish film fest
me: silverdocs is very corporate though
adam: I feel like it is definitely more casual and intimate from my experiences and most of our visiting filmmakers tell us the same.
me: yeah it seems like a big film party
adam: I haven’t been to Silverdocs, but hope to make it one of these years. I’m friends with Sky Sitney there.
me: whereas others seem much more professional-oriented
me: iffboston just seems much more open and approachable
me: and there seem to be many more friendships being made rather than just “networking”
adam: I think alot of that probably has to do with the fact that from top-to-bottom our staff is between the ages of 25-35. We just try to give the fest a more casual and youthful vibe.
me: also, the film announcers always take care to note that the festival is entirely volunteer-run
me: what exactly does this mean–none of you get any salary whatsoever for the festival?
me: including the directors?
adam: Yes, festival directors are volunteer as well
adam: We put every dime we make at the festival back into the festival. For the time being we are all living off our day jobs and doing the festival as a passion. We hope it gets to a point where we feel comfortable taking some salary, but for the moment we would rather put that money back into the festival and make it as successful as possible.
me: that’s amazing
me: is that common? i imagine it’s not a big money-maker generally for the staff of any festival and every fest has lots of volunteers but i don’t know how common it is for the directors to be unpaid as well, especially for one as big as iffboston
adam: I think it’s common for very small film festivals to be completely volunteer-run, but I don’t think any other festivals our size are volunteer-run from top to bottom. We’re probably unique in that way.
me: there also seem to be more men doing the organizing, which from what i’ve seen is a little unusual
me: seems like most fests are run by women
me: again, from my limited experience
adam: Umm, I am thinking of all the fests I’ve been to and whether it’s more men or women as organizers before I answer the last question
me: ok
adam: From my experience, it is pretty balanced at most of the fests I’ve gone to. BJFF and Silverdocs is almost entirely run by women and those are more the exceptions. I don’t think any of the other fests I go to have a woman as their Exec. Director or program director
me: interesting that the two i know are the exceptions
me: i also heard at silverdocs, on some panel, a complaint from filmmakers that festivals pretty much only show invited films and rarely show blind submissions
me: does iffboston show many submissions or is it mostly invites?
adam: We show more submissions than invites every year. I would say about 70-75% of the films we are show are submissions. Alot of people would like to assume that if a film played at Sundance and then plays at our festival that is was invited, but that’s often not the case. We had a number of films submitted to us this year that played Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, etc.
me: wow that’s good to hear
me: i imagine the more corporate festivals are the ones that show mostly invited films?
adam: I can’t really say since I don’t know about the inner workings of other fest’s staffs. I would make some of those same assumptions too, but people make assumptions about IFFBoston inviting films all the time and they are usually wrong.
me: is this a common complaint then?
me: sounds like you’ve heard it before
me: it was the first i’d heard of it
adam: no, once or twice a year on a filmmaker messageboard I’ll hear some filmmaker complain about that, but it’s usually coming from a film that has just been rejected so we take it with a grain of salt.
me: always some sour grapes
me: so do you have any favorites from this year’s festival?
me: or do you have a favorite genre in general?
adam: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre in general. I definitely lean towards darker material, but I like to mix it up. My faves this year would probably be DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, MONKEY WARFARE, PROTAGONIST, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY, and THE PATTERNS TRILOGY, but I am very, very happy with the program overall this year. I definitely think it was our strongest program yet.
adam: I checked your blog last night and I was excited to see that you both saw and liked KINETTA. That was a film I knew the good majority of people that saw it wouldn’t get into, but I thought it was a well-made and challenging film and I like to throw a few of those in the program each year even though I know they will probably not well attended and will get murdered in the audience vote.
me: yeah i really liked that one
me: and saw some bashing of it on some blogs
me: it takes some patience to get into
adam: exactly
me: also a strong stomach!
me: i wish i had one, i can’t handle the shaky cameras
adam: so I read
me: happens frequently in indie film unfortunately
adam: luckily, the shaky camera thing doesn’t get to me. I see alot of it going through the submission process
me: i’m bummed that i missed day night day night
me: but hopefully i’ll get to see it at another time
adam: I know it will come out on dvd at the very least. And probably have a one-week run at the Kendall
me: cool
me: did you go to film school?
adam: I went to Radford University (in Virginia) for undergrad and Emerson College for Grad School, both for video production. Then I left grad school a credit shy and started working on Bill Nye, The Science Guy for a season, and then started working on films.
me: leaving grad/film school early makes sense, especially if there’s work available
me: i was film studies so didn’t get to make any films
me: but i’ve been writing screenplays lately and very much want to make one
me: we need some female mumblecores!
adam: I would advise against film school for most people serious about working in the business, except for the growing up/maturing factor. As far as working your way up the ladder, college only slows that down.
me: that’s what i tended to hear from some people outside of grad school, working in the business
adam: I would love to see some female mumblecores! I enjoy films with female protagonists much more anyway.
me: yeah we really need it
me: i have no problem with male directors we just need to add more females to the mix
me: so i need to get moving
me: and make one!
adam: yeah lazy! Get on it!
me: 🙂
me: so do you have any advice for someone interested in starting a festival, what would be the first thing you would do? (or did)
me: i had for some time been thinking boston needed a doc fest, but iffboston covers docs pretty well
me: and the kind of doc i like isn’t made often anymore
me: a more arty doc rather than the typical doc, which is more like journalism
adam: I don’t know why, but I’m having a hard time answering that “first thing to do” question. We do try to cover the docs pretty extensively at the festival and that has always been the strongest part of the program. I think a doc fest would be cool, but I don’t know that there would be enough good docs in a year to support both IFFB and a separate docfest.
me: yeah that was my concern
me: even at silverdocs there are only a handful that i really like
me: as for the ‘first thing to do’ your response is pretty much the same as i got from some other festival people
me: some said pick a date
me: some said pick a venue
me: but the rest is kind of ummmmm
adam: I was going to say “venue”. That is kind of the most important thing to do when starting a fest. Figuring out if it is in the neighborhood of your target audience, making sure it’s not the stronghold of another festival, making sure it is accessible to public transportation, etc.
me: yeah
me: and having a strong theme would help
me: have you heard of the true/false festival?
adam: of course!
me: i like the idea of that festival
me: have you been?
me: i’d love to go but have never made it yet
adam: no, it’s way too close to our dates for me to be able to attend. Same with Sarasota, Nashville, HotDocs, etc.
me: i met the director of that fest at silverdocs last year he was kind of stumped by my question about starting a fest too
adam: Like I said, I think the venues are key. Part of the reason it may stump people is because they are probably thinking back to what they did when they started their fest, not the important thing they learned by year 2 that they should have done from the beginning.
me: yeah
me: so what’s on the radar for iffboston now, do things shut down or is there work to be done throughout the year?
adam: we are starting our monthly screening series at the end of May with a film called THE HAWK IS DYING starring Paul Giamatti and Michelle Williams. It will be at the Somerville Theatre. Date TBD.
me: interesting
me: we’ll watch for that

On Guy Maddin

“Go fuck your couch, you Canadian!”

Chunklet’s “The Most Overrated Indie/Underground/Art Filmmakers of All Time!”

via Bitter Cinema

Misunderstood

Hmmm, my review of Hannah takes the Stairs is noted, misinterpreted, and linked to by the Guardian blog … mine was a negative review, of both the film and the “Mumblecore” movement, but they say I am lauding it? I suppose I alternately laud and chide in that review, and they are merely selectively and reductively referencing me. Thanks for the nod, though.

Zizek, No Thanks

I skipped the doc about Slavoj Zizek at IFFBoston because I’ve already been to grad school and didn’t want to sit through another film-studies lecture, and judging from this post I’m glad I did:

…[I suspect] Zizek’s contrarianism is just a sort of idiotic macho one-upmanship (as in: I can be even more outrageous and anti-commonsensical than anybody else), of the same sort that is routinely practiced by right-wing political economists like David Friedman and Steven Landsburg (who delight in arguring, for instance, that Ralph Nader’s safety regulations caused automobile accidents to increase), or evolutionary theorists like the guys (whose names escape me at the moment) who wrote about how rape was an adaptive strategy.

There is something drearily reactive about always trying to prove that the opposite of what everyone else thinks is really correct. It’s an elitist gesture of trumpeting one’s own independence from the (alleged) common herd; but at the same time, it reveals a morbid dependence upon, or concern with, the very majority opinions that one pretends to scorn. If all you are doing is inverting common opinion, that is the clearest sign possible that you are utterly dependent upon such common opinion: it motivates and governs your every gesture. That is why you need so badly to negate it. Zizek totally depends upon the well-meaning, right-thinking liberal ideology that he sets out to frustrate and contradict at every turn. His own ideas remain parasitic upon those of the postmodern, multicultural consensus that he claims to upset.

via Greencine

IFFBoston: Awards

Once again, the audience at IFFBoston had different priorities than I, as I have seen only one of the festival winners (YEAR OF THE FISH):

Grand Jury Prize:

(Narrative Feature) DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT
(Documentary Feature) THE KING OF KONG
(Short Film) POP FOUL

Special Jury Prize:

(Narrative Feature) MONKEY WARFARE
(Documentary Feature) KAMP KATRINA
(Short Film) SONGBIRD

Audience Awards:

(Narrative Feature) YEAR OF THE FISH
(Documentary Feature) DARIUS GOES WEST
(Short Film) FREEHELD

Dewars Collective Choice Award:

YEAR OF THE FISH

Apple Programmers Choice Award:

GRETCHEN

IFFBoston: Hannah Takes the Stairs

The film I was most eager to see at IFFBoston was Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs. I’m a fan of his previous films and a big supporter of his style of working, which is to entirely improvise his films in conjunction with his friends. There is no script, and the scenes merely grow out of lots of lengthy conversations with his friends/collaborators. For this latest film, he says he rented an apartment in Chicago for one month, had everyone sleeping on the floor, shot the movie every day and edited it at night. He says it was a “magical” month. And I’m sure it was. I’m a bit envious of the depth of connections he must be making in the course of his work. But also inspired.

hannaandrew.jpgWhich is why I am having trouble saying that the film left me a bit underwhelmed. I haven’t quite placed my finger on why, but it might have something to do with the tiny groan I emitted when, after the screening of the film, Swanberg said that it only took a few minutes of meeting his lead actress, Greta Gerwig, to know she could carry a movie. It seemed a particularly male comment to make–not simply because she’s quite fetching, but because her charms are the kind that really only work on men. I have very much liked all of Swanberg’s films, but I like Hannah less so, primarily because I found the actress so irritating.

She’s damn cute, for sure, but she is constantly projecting an awareness of her cuteness and an awareness of being watched and admired for her cuteness that makes me want to *shake* her. I kept waiting for her to drop the giggly act and get real. Even in scenes with other females, or in scenes where she was crying, the tone I got from the scene was “I know you think I’m cute when I’m crying.”

Perhaps it’s not her fault though, perhaps it’s the fault of the filmmaker’s gaze, which clearly adores her. To me, the film was about the relationship between Greta and the camera. It felt oppressive to me, and I really wanted it to back off. I wanted to know more about some other characters. I wanted to breathe; I wanted Hannah to have a chance to breathe. In one scene she’s dancing crazily to some loud music and the camera holds her in a medium closeup as she thrashes her arms and fists wildly, and I like to imagine she is trying to break free of the camera’s frame, its gaze. I have always felt that all of Swanberg’s films have a very male perspective, but it has never bothered me until this film. It felt, overall, like nothing more than a chance to get Greta on film and stare, stare, stare. And for her to enjoy being stared at. And being female, that just doesn’t speak to me.

It’s part of a greater problem I’m having with a lot of indie film, especially the “Mumblecore” movement Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski have been lumped into. It’s a bunch of white twentysomething guys and their gaze. It’s a smarter and more sensitive gaze, but a gaze nonetheless. In and of itself that’s not a problem–they make great films, and I look forward to more from them. I guess we just need more female filmmakers. Lots more, to balance out the gaze. (I’m working on that myself…)

I’d love to hear from any other women who’ve seen the film–did you feel similarly? I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but my feeling is that most men will love the movie, while women will find it a bit lacking. Judging by the questions asked at the Q&A after the film, that’s probably right. Only men asked questions, many of which gushed over Greta’s “luminosity.” The film was speaking to them, and they heard it.

UPDATE–From this Salon article about SXSW and Hannah Takes the Stairs:  “An entire row of Austin women in front of me got up to leave about half an hour in, and I almost ran after them to hear their reasons.”

IFFBoston: Year of the Fish

I recently got a manicure in New York City and remarked to a friend that every time I go into one of these salons I feel an air of oppression. There are teams of Asian women who barely speak English doing the fairly difficult labor of manicures and pedicures all for $8. How can they afford to live? How did they get here? Who is the scowling man who sits in the corner and watches the operations? Am I a jerk for participating in this situation? If I give her a big tip will she even get to keep it?

yearoffish2.jpgThese questions were fresh in my mind when watching Year of the Fish, a sort of fairy tale set among Chinese immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. In fact, the film is based on what is said to be the oldest known version of the Cinderella story, the ancient Chinese fable of Ye Xian. Shy new arrival Ye Xian lands in Chinatown expecting to work in a beauty salon to pay off her travel costs, only to find out that the salon in question specializes in “massage”, not beauty, and the evil shop madam and her bitter masseurs (step-daughters) hold her hostage to pay off her debts. After refusing to do massage, she is forced to scrub floors and toilets and cook for the “family” of prostitutes. There is a dashing prince (an American-born Chinese musician), a royal ball (Chinese New Year Party), and a fairy godmother (fortune-telling sweatshop-owning old chinese woman). It’s a clever premise, and I very much enjoyed the setting, one we rarely get to see close up in film, from the point of view of characters who actually live there rather than just visit for a drug deal and start shooting things and beating people up and crashing cars into wonton carts. I did ask the director why he didn’t shoot the film in Chinese, which would have added to the effect, but it’s understandable that he had certain constraints and this is after all a fairy tale–gritty realism is not a requirement. Then again, the massage-parlor storyline gets pretty graphic in places, and the grit of the Chinatown streets is certainly on full display, so it seems that if you open the door to this kind of mixture of reality and fantasy it’s fair to hope for the full effect.yearoffish.jpg

The director also made the decision to rotoscope the entire film with a kind of painterly effect, which is a clever way to make digital video look less like … well, video. Which, in a fairy tale such as this, is appropriate. It’s odd though, after watching the effect for awhile you become accustomed to it and forget it’s there, and in some ways it loses its effect. I almost wished they had made the effect more dramatic in some way–some of the costuming looked very “costume-y”, which I think is the fault of video. Even with rotoscoping I just saw a guy with a big fake mustache. There were also clever painterly transitions and fades between scenes, all of which could have been kitschy in another film, but here were effective in keeping the film fantasy-like.

And there was absolutely no shakycam! Overall it’s an admirable film and I look forward to David Kaplan’s future projects.

IFFBoston: Kinetta

I very much admire the intentions of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinetta, but unfortunately the camerawork was a little too “kinetta” for me to really enjoy the experience. I was looking away for about 85% of the film to tame the shakycam-induced nausea that is so prevalent these days in indie film. I really hope that trend stops someday. Either my stomach getting stronger or the shakycam stopping, either would be fine. But either is equally unlikely.

 

kinetta.jpg

 

Nausea aside, it was a beautiful and bizarre film, slow and nearly no dialogue other than the scripted stage directions of the man orchestrating the re-enacted murder scenes. The film unfolds at a glacial pace, revealing bits of the isolated lives of the three characters–a maid at the off-season seaside resort which serves as the location for the re-enactments, a policeman who supplies the scripts for the murders from the crimes he investigates, and a photographer who takes passport photos and aspires to be a filmmaker–just barely giving you an impression of who they are and why they might be participating in these bizarre rituals.

The sparse (really nearly non-existant) dialogue dramatizes the characters’ isolation, especially when they are in the presence of others–whatever words are spoken end up sounding useless and futile, like the cries of a person falling off a cliff. The only source of anything resembling intimacy and connection comes in the form of touch, when the characters are acting out murder scenes. They cannot face each other in normal situations–the girl hides in the bathroom when the photographer delivers shoes she is to wear for a beach murder scene–but the way they grapple with each other with faux violence becomes at times like an awkward dance, at times a very satisfying (for the viewer) release of their excruciating longing and isolation. None of the scenes are of sexual crimes, but their re-enactments take on sexual overtones; when the maid practices her scenes alone, it is reminiscent of masturbation. The film reminds me of Bresson’s Pickpocket in this way, especially in that film’s beautifully choreographed and strangely intimate and tactile scenes of the title character teaching a protegee how to get close to strangers and lift their wallets. Like in Kinetta, these practiced crimes are the only intimacy in the film, and itself a kind of faux intimacy, an intimacy by proxy.

The silence also heightens the effect of the images and sound. The crackling of feet walking on gravel, the clinking of dishes, the sound of a prostitute’s hair slapping across a man’s chest. Certain scenes are beautifully impressionistic–in one scene, we suddenly have loud swooping ballroom dance music on the soundtrack and we see an extreme closeup, out of focus, of what looks like part of the back of a woman’s head with the ocean in the distance, sparkling with light. Eventually the film cuts back to silence and a long shot of our hotel maid, sweeping the floor and listening to this music with headphones, lost in her own world, a world we just glimpsed in the blurry ocean shot.

I could go on for days about this film, and I realize more about it even as I write. It’s a film that stays with you and gets richer over time, and I encourage you to see it. If your stomach can handle the shakycam, that is.

Dunst the Dunce

Kirsten Dunst can always be counted on to say dumber and dumber things in interviews. Her latest:

Kirsten Dunst has been dating Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell – and apparently rock stars make better boyfriends that movie stars.

“I don’t ever want to date another actor again,” the Spider-Man 3 star, 24, tells Jane magazine in its May issue.

“This quote is probably going to come back in my face, but I know someone who has a great saying: ‘There are no actors, there are only actresses,’ ” she continues. “Sometimes creative people can be very dark and destructive.”

Still, Dunst, who dated Jake Gyllenhaal off and on for nearly two years before they split last year, admits: “I’m only saying bad things. I do know a few actors who are good and sweet and adorable.”

Yeah, rock stars are a MUCH safer bet than actors. I’m sure Jake Gyllenhal is a total psycho compared to her current boyfriend:

IFFBoston Day 1 … er … 2

Due to unforeseen logistical problems, namely a mover who never showed up and left me waiting in an apartment the entire day, I missed IFFBoston‘s opening night last night. The film was Hal Hartley’s latest, Fay Grim, a sequel of sorts to Henry Fool, and as I am not a huge fan, I was not hugely disappointed to miss it. I was mostly just bummed to miss the festivities. And it’s a film I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity to see.

On the slate tonight is a Greek film called Kinetta, which my Greek friend Serpico will be proud of me for making time to see.

“Against the backdrop of a deserted resort town, three otherwise unconnected people—a chambermaid, a photographer, and a government official—meet to re-enact murders. But these documented re-enactments have nothing to do with crime-solving or for that matter any other discernable productive purpose; rather, the three appear to perform out of a perversely pleasurable fascination with death and with male-female power dynamics. They work with few props, but the government man, who provides the “scripts,” insists on such detailed blocking that their movements are mechanical, slow, awkward, and unprofessional. What emerges from this strange relationship is a meditation on despair, restlessness, and a disturbing attachment to prescribed roles.”

There are two other films competing for my attention tonight:

The Good Times Kid. “What would you do if you met yourself? Rodolfo Cano (Azazel Jacobs) and Rodolfo Cano (Gerardo Naranjo), by chance, cross paths. But there is more to these men in common than just their names. Both Rodolfos flounder through life, barely getting involved and want to step back even further. Rodolfo is exasperated with his girlfriend, Diaz (Sara Diaz), and walks out on her. Rodolfo walks in on her. These multiple chance meetings have created the most magical night for any of them and as the night flows on and on, each character’s secrets slowly rise to the surface. As the sun starts the next day, we finally see who each character really is.”

Gretchen. “Wildly expressionistic and deeply strange, this expansion of Steve Collins’ SXSW prize-winning short film GRETCHEN AND THE NIGHT DANGER follows Courtney Davis’ titular foot-clomping high-school casualty, adrift in ugly sweaters and laugh-out-loud pig-tail holders, and still always undone by her misguided love for bad boys. Stringy-longhaired chain-smoking Ricky hasn’t been treating Gretchen right, which – for reasons it is probably best not to get into here – leads to our heroine spending a fair amount of time at the Shady Acres Center for Emotional Growth. … an eerie echo of a recently bad affair sends Gretchen on the road to track down her long lost father (News Radio genius and Texas indie film hero Stephen Root). The results of this reconciliation are both heartbreaking and darkly hilarious, as Collins finds a way to convey the awkward outsider ethos that appreciates and accepts his main character’s pathos without ever devolving into NAPOLEON DYNAMITE-styled mockery.”

Gretchen has gotten good reviews but that mention of Napoleon Dynamite is possibly enough to keep me away. And I’m working up a post about how indie film–and indie culture more generally–is annoyingly obsessed with the childlike, the childish, with childhood in general. I think it’s damaging and I’m tired of seeing it. I thought it was exclusively an American thing but I heard recently that a recent trend in France is people drinking cocktails out of baby bottles in bars. WTF.

Blog Changes

Starting this week with my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston, this blog will be a film- and photo-only blog; I’ve deleted all non-film-related posts and moved them to a new blog. Past and future non-film posts can be found at a new address, which you can obtain by emailing me at cynthia dot rockwell at gmail. Or just look in your referer logs.

IFFBoston Here I Come

Look out Davis Square, I’ll be back April 25-30 to cover the Independent Film Festival of Boston. The lineup is looking good, and seems very doc-heavy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Here are a few of the narrative features I’m looking forward to:

Hanna Takes the Stairs. I really liked Joe Swanberg’s LOL, which I saw at last year’s IFFBoston, and I also very much liked his Young American Bodies series for Nerve.com. So I’m looking forward to his new film, though am wondering if he’s going to break any new ground with this one…the other two projects are good, but mostly cut from the same cloth, and this one looks to be as well, so making something fresh out of that cloth is the challenge he’s facing. Although perhaps it’s a vast enough cloth that there’s still material to be mined. At the very least the film has plenty of cameos by indie film darlings to check out–Andrew Bujalski, Mark Duplass, and Todd Rohal. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Congorama. A Belgian finds out he was born in Canada and travels there to find his biological parents, but “all he finds in the Canadian countryside is bad fries and bad beer.” I look forward to someone making a movie that slams Canada for a change. Move over America, there’s a new asshole on the map!
(Full disclosure: I stole that line from The Kids In the Hall. And I have a grudge against Canadians.)

Day Night Day Night. The description of this film sounds very Jeanne Dielman: “A 19-year-old girl prepares and waits. Though what she is waiting for is not immediately clear, we are caught up in the minutiae of her preparation. When hooded handlers arrive, what follows is the suspenseful and emotional outcome of someone who has not only chosen when and how she will die, but also why.” But if that film description just totally ruined the film I’m going to be pissed.

Year of the Fish. And indie film fest usually specializes in films that are trying hard to be ‘quirky’. It can get to be annoying because all the films start to seem the same. But this one just sounds loopy enough to be interesting: “A modern-day Cinderella travels to New York’s Chinatown to earn to money help her father. Before she knows it, she’s working as a servant for an evil massage parlor madam. Her only companion is a fish that acts as narrator to our trip through this painted fairy tale.”

And this festival is no exception from the quirky-as-genre rule–there are several which seem to fit the profile, but could be good: Eagle vs. Shark, GoodTimesKid, Gretchen, Quiet City, Low and Behold, Monkey Warfare, The Sensation of Flight. There are also several films in the fest which are, as usual, questionably “indie”–there’s Brooklyn Rules, a gangster film starring Alec Baldwin and Freddy Prinze Jr., Away from Her, an alzheimer’s drama starring Julie Christie, and On Broadway, a Boston Irish funeral drama starring former NKOTB Joey McIntyre and Eliza Dushku. But hey, every festival needs a little starpower, no?
As for docs, there are so many I’m looking forward to but I’ll name just a few–A Lawyer Walks Into a Bar, about lawyers and lawsuits and America’s fascination with both, The Paper, about modern journalism and its problems, including declining circulation, and Strange Culture, about an artist who was interrogated post 9/11 but who can’t speak about the case, so actors such as Tilda Swinton tell the story.

Good Line In A Fairly Dull Movie

“You failed the polygraph test.”

“All Russians fail the test. Your polygraph does not understand the Russian soul.”

–Matt Damon interrogating a defecting Soviet spy in The Good Shepherd.

Separated At Birth?

The phenomenally sexy Clive Owen:

and the almost-as-sexy Daniel Craig aka James Bond:

Depression In The Movies

Great article in the Guardian about the representation of mental illness (and mostly depression).

“…genuinely accurate depictions of mental illness are still rare in all the art forms. Why? For the very good reason that real mental illness is boring. Depressives are toxic and dull. Manic depressives are irritating. People with schizophrenia or autism are largely indecipherable. Most of them are best treated not by charismatic psychoanalysts who carefully excavate the early, repressed trauma that has “led” to their illness, but by doctors who administer psychotropic drugs of one kind of another. Thus, dramatic narrative and the reality of mental illness rarely go hand in hand.” 

I have a personal stake in the issue, as I hope to shoot a film that will be a bit more true to life on these matters. The article mentions a Terence Davies film called Trilogy, which I’ve never even heard of, has anyone seen it? I want to get my hands on a copy.

I must also state that his description of the mentally ill character of Anne in Little Britain is off–yes we are laughing at her but it’s also questionable whether she really is mentally ill. That’s part of the joke, which this person seems to be missing.

What a Stressful Movie

My heart could barely take it. I didn’t think Scorcese had it in him any more but it seems an adaptation of a Hong Kong action flick was a very good choice to give him some juice again. 

I Forgot to Mention…

…that I’m now writing film reviews for Gothamist sister site DCist.

More Marie Antoinette

After an email exchange with a friend in which I stated the following:

> i saw the queen and marie antoinette as well–enjoyed the queen, and i admired sofia’s intentions in antoinette but didn’t think it really came to fruition–i understand that she wanted to show her to be completely isolated and oblivious but the way she did it i felt it amounted to little more than a statement that it’s great fun to be rich and why do the dirty plebes have to ruin our fun? i thought the queen did a much better job of showing an equally oblivious character because we also got to see what all the fuss was about among the commoners. just because a character is oblivious doesn’t mean the film should be, in my opinion, and sofia’s is. i honestly don’t think she has it in her to criticize the rich, at least not yet.

he then forwarded to me a review of the film by David Mendelsohn, saying that he seemed to share my opinion. And indeed, I loved it so much I must quote and link it. He says much more elegantly and forgivingly what I said so angrily. Sorry for the length of the quotes but it’s just so good I couldn’t cut it.

First, on her slapdash inclusion of historical events:

One of the two great problems of the film is the sense you often get that she’d done her homework rather too faithfully: the languid freshness and visual originality of many scenes that seem evocative of Marie Antoinette’s inner life stand in vivid contrast to the impression often given, as in so many film biographies, that the narrative is ticking off the big moments in the well-known life.

Here Coppola’s film falls apart, because her special gift is for conveying emotional and psychological states suggestively, allusively, and impressionistically, by means of collocations of images; she has less talent for telling a straightforward tale. The movie suffers when you feel, as you often do, that she’s read Fraser’s biography thoroughly and is dutifully reproducing incidents of her subject’s life. Do we really need the story, which Fraser tells in great detail and which Coppola obligingly includes here, of how the dying Louis XV was forced to send away his mistress, Mme du Barry, in order to receive communion on his deathbed? The episode, hastily sketched in and, I suspect, incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with the sorry story of the awful death of the Bien-aimĂ©, adds absolutely nothing to our understanding of the film’s subject, and ends by being a confusing distraction.

So too many of the episodes taken from the latter parts of Antoinette’s life—which is to say, the part of her life that took place after the crisis that is of real interest to Coppola, which is the crisis of a young girl torn from her natural setting and forced to stay afloat, willy-nilly, in a strange and foreign place. Coppola’s apparent lack of interest in anything outside of the cocooned and photogenic private world of the doomed Queen is evident in the desultory quality of the many stilted moments designed to convey what’s going on in the world beyond Versailles—the kind of clanking scene in which someone says to the King at a meeting of his council, “The Americans are asking for help with their revolution,” or, worse, when we see someone rush up to the King and announce, “The Bastille has been stormed!”

The director tries to cover over her slapdash approach to history with some familiar technical tricks (there’s a little montage in which we see some portraits of the Queen bearing scribbled labels that say things like “Madame Deficit,” and so forth), but it seems an afterthought. Such moments are mere chron- ological signposts, and the film loses its appeal whenever we are forced to rush by them. Marie Antoinette would have succeeded better purely on formal terms if it had never attempted to include this material—if it had been what I suspect Coppola always wanted it to be, a reverie on what it might have been like to be the very young Marie Antoinette, rather than a straight account of her life. In the end, it’s too little of either.

And on Sofia’s own Marie Antoinette-ish obliviousness:

But then—and this is the second and fatal problem with Coppola’s movie— could you, should you really make a film about Marie Antoinette the victimized young woman as if she were the private person she apparently wished, at times, she’d been? There is something Marie Antoinette-ish about the director’s impatient disdain for the outside world, for the history that was going on all around her sensitive and troubled heroine. (And not just around her, but right in front of her: when the Estates General finally met in May 1789, it was at Versailles—the first great intrusion of the coming Revolution into that enclave—although you’d never guess as much from this movie.)

There’s nothing wrong with being interested in the inner life of a queen who was, in the end quite tragically, nothing more than the “average woman” to which the subtitle of Stefan Zweig’s 1932 biography alludes,[2] placed by fate in extraordinary circumstances. But this particular life, the rather ordinary personality whose contours Coppola is interested in delineating here—and which she does delineate so effectively at times—had an enormous impact on history, on real events and persons. That this was already clear to the Queen’s contemporaries is evident from the concerns about the young queen’s behavior expressed by Joseph—no slouch himself when it came to hectoring letters—which are, in hindsight, particularly significant. “In very truth I tremble for your happiness,” he wrote his sister, “seeing that in the long run things cannot go on like this…the revolution will be a cruel one, and perhaps of your own making.”

The provocative relationship between personality and history in the case of Marie Antoinette has indeed been clear to subsequent generations. Writing thirty years after the Revolution, the comtesse de La Tour du Pin, by then a fifty-year-old Ă©migrĂ©e, who had been presented at court as a young woman and whose glamorous mother had been a lady-in-waiting to the Queen (“the queen liked my mother, she was always captivated by glitter and my mother was very much the rage”), ruminated on the inevitable lessons to be gleaned from the Queen’s life:

My earliest visit to Versailles was in 1781, when the first Dauphin was born. In later years, when listening to tales of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s sufferings and shame, my mind often went back to those days of her triumph. I was taken to watch the ball given for her by the Gardes du Corps in the Grande Salle de Spectacle at Versailles. She opened the ball with a young guardsman, wearing a blue dress strewn with sapphires and diamonds. She was young, beautiful and adored by all; she had just given France a Dauphin and it would have seemed to her inconceivable that the brilliant career on which she was launched could ever suffer a reverse. Yet she was already close to the abyss. The contrast provides much cause for reflection![3]

But the contrast has apparently provoked no such reflection in Coppola, who in her new film gives you, as it were, the dress but not the abyss. To be so unreflective, to want to make a film about Marie Antoinette that ignores who she was in history, seems shockingly naive, intellectually. It’s like wanting to make a film about what it’s like to be a starving artist and deciding to have your hero be the young Adolf Hitler.

And so Coppola’s movie, which works so hard and with such imagination to include in its portrait much that has been ignored, ends up leaving out much that cannot be ignored. Most egregiously, it fails completely to convey in any way why it was that this particular queen aroused the loathing of many in her country. You get absolutely no sense from this film of the immense hatred that was felt for the Queen as the years went by, as she was languishing in her unstructured muslin lĂ©vites among the soft pillows of the Petit Trianon, to which Coppola’s swooning camera gives an almost erotic allure. The irony is that this willed ignorance of the larger world disserves Coppola’s artistic and emotional purpose. If the director had gone into all this, she’d have only underscored some of her subject’s sympathetic qualities; for there’s little question that while she could make gross mistakes of judgment, nearly all of the calumnies heaped on Marie Antoinette, including the notorious Affair of the Diamond Necklace, were absurd and vicious misrepresentations, when not downright inventions.

The result of all this is a film that is ultimately, like its subject, horribly, fatally truncated. Stefan Zweig, a far more tart and critical biographer than Antonia Fraser, wrote of the Queen that “though but little inclined to reflection, she was quick of perception, her tendency being to judge all that happened in accordance with her immediate personal impressions—for she saw only the surface of things.” It would be unfair to say that Sofia Coppola sees only the surface of things— she sees a great deal more, sees what surfaces can be the reflections of, and renders what she sees with artful ingenuity—but in this film, at least, it’s as if she’s been so bewitched by the fabulous beauties of the world she has chosen to depict, the silks and satins and shoes and frosting on the bonbons everyone always seems to be eating, that she’s lost track of crucial events and the inescapable larger meaning of her subject’s life. It seemed significant to me that this movie ends on the day the royal family leaves Versailles for the last time, prisoners of the Revolution—as if Coppola couldn’t bring herself to imagine where it was that all of the indulgence, all of the escapism, that she’s so artfully presented led to in the end.

The final silent image in this movie, so filled as it is with striking and suggestive images, tells you more about Coppola, and perhaps our own historical moment, than it could possibly tell you about Marie Antoinette. It’s a mournful shot of the Queen’s state bedchamber at Versailles, ransacked by the revolutionary mob the night before the Queen and her family were forced to leave, its glittering chandeliers askew, its exquisite boiseries cracked and mangled. You’d never guess from this that men’s lives—those of the Queen’s guards—were also destroyed in that violence; their severed heads, stuck on pikes, were gleefully paraded before the procession bearing the royal family to Paris. But Coppola forlornly catalogs only the ruined bric-a-brac. As with the teenaged girls for whom she has such sympathy, her worst imagination of disaster, it would seem, is a messy bedroom.

What He Said

Daniel Craig.jpg

The Bond franchise bores me but this one I will definitely see. Tonight. Meow.

UPDATE: Saw it. Tedious. Interminable. I left before the end. Even Daniel Craig’s hotness could not wake me up. My opinion remains that Bond movies are boring as shit.

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