29 mars 2007

Cinephile NYC: March 30 - April 5

Highlights: This month's screenings at BAM are spectacular. MoMA screens Fassbinder films in preparation for the US premiere of Berlin Alexanderplatz. The Alliance Française kicks off its Jacques Tati Retrospective. Killer of Sheep comes to IFC Center, where Cobra Verde and The Wind That Shakes the Barley are still playing. Black Book gets a US release. AMMI hosts films starring Edie Sedgwick.

Friday March 30

Poor Little Rich Girl (Andy Warhol, 1965)
screens at 2 pm at AMMI

Saturday March 31

Restaurant (Andy Warhol, 1965)
screens at 3:30 pm at AMMI
followed by Screen Test Reel #10 (Andy Warhol, 1964-6).
Factory screen tests including Edie Sedgwick, Jane Holzer, Lou Reed, John Ashbery, Jonas Mekas, and Paul Morrissey.

Vinyl (Andy Warhol, 1965)
Warhol's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.
screens at 5pm at AMMI

Space (Andy Warhol, 1965)
screens at 6:30 pm at AMMI
preceded by Match Girl (Andrew Meyer, 1966)

Sunday April 1

Outer and Inner Space (Andy Warhol, 1965)
screens at 3 and 6 pm at AMMI in Double-Screen Projection
Preceded by Lupe (Andy Warhol, 1965)

Monday April 2

Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
screens at 4:30, 6:50, 9:15pm at BAM

Recruits in Ingolstadt (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1970)
screens at 6:15 pm at MoMA

Why Does Mr. R. Run Amok? (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1969)
screens at 8 pm at MoMA

Tuesday April 3

Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
screens at 4:30, 6:50, 9:15pm at BAM

Jour de fête (Holiday) (Jacques Tati, 1941)
screens at 12:30 & 7:30pm at Florence Gould Hall

Trafic (Traffic) (Jacques Tati, 1971)
screens at at 4 & 9pm at Florence Gould Hall

Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)
screens at 6pm at MoMA

Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975)
screens at 8:15 pm at MoMA

Wednesday April 4

Belle toujours (Manoel de Oliveira, 2006)
de Oliveira's tribute to Buñuel's Belle de Jour
screens at 4:30, 6:50, 9:15pm at BAM
screens with Les Signes (Eugène Green, 2006)

Lili Marleen (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980)
screens at 6pm at MoMA

In a Year of 13 Moons. (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978)
screens at 8:30 pm at MoMA

Louisiana Story (Robert J. Flaherty, 1948).
screens at 5:30 pm at MoMA

Thursday April 5

Katzelmacher (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1969)
screens at 6pm at MoMA

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973)
screens at 8 pm at MoMA

Continuing Engagements:

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach, 2006)
at IFC Center

The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)

Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2006)

Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)

Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)
at IFC Center

B Musicals Series
at Film Forum

28 mars 2007

Rear Window and "incidental" popular music

Eric Harvey's article The Soundtrack of Our Lives addresses Hitchcock's use of popular music as a narrative and thematic element in Rear Window.

Here's an excerpt:
"This highlights Hitchcock's approach to his audience: as passive viewers seeking manipulation and needing their strings pulled at just the right moments for maximum impact-- the same view he took toward the passive radio and record listeners in the film. Rear Window is arguably Hitchcock's most intellectual film; a biting, artful work of social comment on what he saw as a true horror-- the quickly creeping influence of mass culture on postwar urban American society, something which threatened his reputation as a master showman in the theatrical tradition."

25 mars 2007

(Fake) Cinephile NYC March 24 - 29

Since I was put out of commission by a weeklong shoot for work -- immediately followed by a weekend-long migraine -- in lieu of a long-overdue Cinephile NYC I will list just a bunch of worth-seeing movies that are out this week. Sorry for the difficult (lack of) formatting. In no particular order...

The Host

The Mother and the Whore (Tuesday at Alliance francaise)

Cobra Verde (at IFC)

Black Rain (Sunday at BAM)

The Eel (Tuesday at BAM)

Earrings of Madame de... (at Film Forum through March 29)

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Thursday at BAM)


Black Book

19 mars 2007

The Politics of Form

Darren at Long Pauses recently posted excerpts from a 1981 interview with Peter Watkins about the politics of form.

I may have further comments later, but for now, Mr. Watkins has said it all.

18 mars 2007


One of the better posts of late from the often brilliant Coming Anarchy is entitled This is not madness…:

"what’s maddening about 300 ... is that no one involved … seems to have noticed that we’re in the middle of an actual war. With actual Persians. ... to cast 300 as a purely apolitical romp of an action film smacks of either disingenuousness or complete obliviousness. One of the few war movies I’ve seen in the past two decades that doesn’t include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity."

I have one thing to say to the over-sensitive Slate movie reviewer Dana Stevens: This is SPARTA! (*kicks her down well*)

The politics of 300 perfectly sum up the present American political moment.

Gender politics:
300's gender politics are kind of awesome (where kind of = qualifiedly, as opposed to unexpectedly). Leonidas looks to his wife before kicking the Persian emissary down a (very deep) well not for approval, but instead for decision-making. One reason the emissary is eligible for a well-kicking: insulting Spartan women, who not only give birth to Spartan warriors, but who are declared to be stronger as warriors than soldiers of other cultures.
The Queen gets some bloody vengeance on her own on a traitor to Sparta who convinces her to trade sex for politics. (And here's the 'kind of': trading sex for politics is feminism? leadership? It's supposed to be self-sacrifice for the good of the state, a sacrifice to match those of her husband and his warriors, but instead it's complicatedly problematic.)

Sexual politics:
This movie is unabashedly and dramatically homophobic. Xerxes looks, sounds, and acts like RuPaul, only with more makeup, more jewelry, and more effeminacy. I won't even get into the 'all I ask is that you kneel before me' component of his characterization.
Outside of the overpowering enemy-as-gay-icon themes, the Spartans themselves make comment contrasting their culture with Athenian "boy-lovers." This is noteable not just for its factual falsehood - if anything Spartan culture was more prone to homosexual/homosocial relationships within the confines of military authority (boys at the age of 7 taken from their mothers and becoming wards of the all-male military culture for, essentially, the rest of their path to adulthood) - but also for its establishment of masculine virtues as heterosexual ones.

War on Terror politics:
Here's where it starts to get interesting. The film's political stance on the War on Terror is appropriately muddled, given the present American relationship to our neverending conflict with radical Islamism. 300 confidently asserts the values that we can all agree upon ("Freedom isn't free" is spoken more than once in the film). Sparta's need to defend herself is unquestioned by the film's point of view, just as the need to use violence to defend America against radical Islamism is nearly unquestioned in our society. But there is no strict allegorical correlation between the War on Terror and the battle of Thermopylae. Dana Stevens claims in her article that "we're in the middle of an actual war. With actual Persians (or at least denizens of that vast swath of land once occupied by the Persian empire)." Only, we're not. Not exactly, anyway. We're at war with religiously-inspired zealots who hail from these lands but who are a definite minority. The enslaved fighters who fight for Xerxes fail for lack of motivation; they need to be whipped to be spurred to battle. The zealots in 300 are the 300 Spartans, fighting for ideology and the liberation of their land from foreign occupation. With the right directorial hand, this battle of East vs. West could have taken a turn towards Battlestar Galactica and carried inverse political implications. Yes, the enemies fight for Persia, but they hail from all of the lands conquored by Xerxes. They are the previous victim's of Xerxes' expansionist imperialism.

"All that was once directly lived has become mere representation." - Guy Debord

Bloody carnage. Under the attack of great numbers, from all sides. An impossible defense. The capability for heroism in spite of certain death. The muddled politics of a divisive and eternal war. A willingness to engage the enemy from the safety of an theater seat. An entertainment mechanism for dealing with uncertainty, victimhood, terrorism, and continuous global conflict?

Forget the politics; is it effective? Is 300 moving? Short answer: uh, not really. Pretty boring, in fact, to say nothing of overwrought. Whichever critic cut through the movie with its own dialogue ("This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this.") had it nailed. But most people go to the movies to be entertained for 2 hours, not to be haunted or spurred to thought. It serves well enough as spectacle to erase the outside world, and for most moviegoers that's all you can ask for.

15 mars 2007

Cinephile NYC: March 16 - 23

This week I intend to make good on limiting my listings.
I'd prefer this to be a listing of unmissable, or at least essential, screenings in a given week. Some notes on what I've left out: in addition to The Blue Kite, the Walter Reade is showing two other Tian films (The Go Master and Springtime in a Small Town) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I've only mentioned a few of the films from the New Directors/ New Films series that runs through April 1, but I'm just guessing; I haven't seen any of them. One of the ones I left out, Paul Auster's The Inner Life of Martin Frost, stars David Thewlis, Irene Jacób, Michael Imperioli and Sophie Auster. I may get to see this at the fest but I'm leaving it off since I suspect it will get an American release. It screens on the 21st, 22nd, and 24th, but at least one of these is sold out already. Buy tix online at FSLC.
One more note: on Friday and Saturday, it's all about the Imamura.

Update: Just added a few screenings at AMMI this weekend as part of the "Fashion in Film" series

Friday March 16

Profound Desire of the Gods (Shohei Imamura, 1968)
at BAM
screens at 3, 7pm

The Organizer (Mario Monicelli, 1963)
at IFC Center
screens at Noon

The Wind Will Carry Us 1999 (Abbas Kiarostami, 1999)
Screens at 6 PM

Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
Screens at 8:30 PM

Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
at IFC Center
screens at Midnight

Sat March 17

The Pornographers (Shohei Imamura, 1966)
at BAM
screens at 3, 6, 9pm

The Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)
at MoMA
screens at 2 PM

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
at the Museum of the Moving Image
screens at 4 PM

Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
at MoMA
screens at 6 PM

Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman, 1982)
at the Museum of the Moving Image
screens at 6:30 PM

The Blue Kite (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993)
at Walter Reade Theater
screens at 8:20 PM

Sun March 18

Five (Abbas Kiarostami, 2004)
at MoMA
screens at 2 PM

Fig Leaves (Howard Hawks, 1926)
at Museum of the Moving Image
screens at 2 PM

Diary of a Chambermaid (Luis Buñuel, 1964)
at Museum of the Moving Image
screens at 4 PM

The Blue Kite (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993)
at Walter Reade Theater
screens at 4:10 PM

Intentions Of Murder (Shohei Imamura, 1964)
at BAM
screens at 3, 6, 9pm

Monday March 19

A Kick-Off Cocktail Party for New Directors/New Films
Where: The Hudson Hotel Bar, 356 W. 58th St.
When: March 19th from 7 - 9pm
Tickets: $20 for YFF members and their guests (limit of 2 per member); $25 for non-members

Tuesday March 20

Wednesday March 21

Glue (Alexis Dos Santos, 2006)
at MoMA
screens at 9:00pm

Thursday March 22

El Custodio (Rodrigo Moreno, 2006)
at MoMA
screens at 6 PM

Continuing Engagements:

The Earrings of Madame de... (Max Ophüls, 1953)
at Film Forum (Friday, March 16 - Thursday, March 29)

The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Ken Loach, 2006)
at IFC Center

Exterminating Angels (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2006)
at IFC Center

The Namesake (Mira Nair, 2007)
at BAM & Angelika Film Center

Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
at BAM

12 mars 2007

Cinematics: Sports and Cinema

First off, the excuses:
No Cinephile NYC this week due to time constraints placed on me by work. For those who don't know, I produce television at a network that covers college sports. The next few weeks are all-hands-on-deck in the college sports world, as the NCAA basketball tournament gets going. I feel really bad about this absence, as it's a little early to be copping out on this, but I promise it'll be back this week.

As far as the relationship between sports and cinema, there's a lot more in common than most film buffs think. First off, there's the primary reason I love film: its ability to tell us something about what it means to be human. But it's not as pretentious as all that - mostly, I just want to be moved. One of the other major ways/reasons to appreciate film is the formal artistry of the filmmaker, and how it creates a storytelling process for expressing that knowledge. Which is to say - how and why am I moved?

Andy Horbal's excellent post on the relationship between sports on TV, avant-garde film, pedagogy, and narrative (The Passion Of Patrick Sparks And Other Stories) speaks to how a television broadcast of a sporting event can serve as a window into the world of film studies for the novice. I suppose I'm trying to do the inverse here, hoping to convert self-designated aesthetes into armchair athletes.

In one of my comments on Andy's post, I referred to producing a sporting event for TV as "the art of documentary production in real time." Any sports telecast is constantly seeding storylines for later payoff; this is one way to keep the (non-sports fan) viewer involved. I also mentioned in the comments that after graduating from film school, I had to re-learn most of my storytelling strategies for television. In a film, you create your own rules and then keep to them; TV has a series of preestablished rules (not unlike Hollywood's 'intensified continuity') that approach storytelling as a formula to be executed. Like Hollywood cinema, however, there's a serious level of artistry involved in using these conventions to great effect. There's one major difference - in sports, everything happens live.

For a better understanding of artistry in the the sports telecast, read Andy's post. As you think about it, realize that a documentary needs to plan for a shoot and then react, but the pieces are put together in post. For a live game, though, all the assembly happens instantaneously. Without our set of rules, storytelling becomes too complex. Foregrounding form is antithetical to good game production, whose goal is to capture the game and the story of the game [sports television production shares much with the studio system].

Sports exemplify what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the decisive moment. Talent, expertise, and opportunity combine for one chance at something approaching immortality. Sports create moments that you remember forever, like the falling of the Berlin Wall or a row of tanks stopped by a single man. When you're lucky enough to see these things happen, they can change you. You can be part of a moment that stands still, one that lives forever.

The NCAA basketball tournament starts this week.

Bryce Drew
Christian Laettner
Northwestern State
George Mason

05 mars 2007

Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity: Sátántangó

{Nearly titled Sátántangó (or, Bela likes to dance)}

Bela Tarr's 1994 epic recently screened as part of a 3-day mini-Tarr fest at BAM. I saw all 3 films (Damnation, Sátántangó, and Werckmeister Harmonies) that weekend, and so got the kind of crash course in Tarr that allows for a more intuitive understanding of his formal and thematic approaches. Once the lights came up after the 7 1/2 hour cinematic marathon that is Sátántangó, the first thing I said to the friend sitting next to me was: "If it was screening again right now, I would definitely stay."

Told in 12 sections (mimicking the 6 forward and 6 backward steps of the tango), Sátántangó warps the viewer's experience of time. Sections overlap, and Tarr invests a heavy significance will the act of watching as events develop.

Assorted reflections on the film:

The use of Black and White photography, combined with the exclusive use of the (extremely) long take, asks a question: What is realism in the cinema?

Tarr's view of human nature is not as dark as has been otherwise suggested, but the film asserts that human life is primarily a dilemma. This dilemma is inescapable, not even by music, drunkenness, or suicide. Our escape from the problem is also the problem.

The long take extends time. Each shot spends so much time observing a character that it becomes a sort of presentation without judgment. The experience of watching each shot is meditative; as a result, the viewer spends most of the film in his/her own head. For me, a typical experience of watching a single shot in the film might go like this: I identify the action and the character. I process how it relates to what I've seen. Then I get an idea of what it "means." I then have time to contradict my thoughts and construct an alternate - or opposite - meaning. I then am struck with the weight of time, and the length of an action as it occurs. This time then forces me to be aware of the moment presented as a component of life, an event that exists but then fades away (both on screen, and for me). I then think about the limitations of time, and about my impending death. I then return to the scene and feel empathy for the characters even as they commit morally questionable acts. Finally, I'm left watching them, seeing them as they are: striving, flawed, human.

Broken bottles, drunken people, drinking glasses (or: suffering, suicide, mourning)... so much of this film is about consequences, about loss as a part of the natural flow of human events.

Life goes on for so long even as it speeds by. The shots tell this story, but so do the actions: struggling on the trip to refill a brandy jug, replacing spaghetti with bread as two lovers approach a kiss.

Things must be seen to be understood.

Moments of glory are not an endpoint.

Irimiás is a poet: "Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity." I wish I had a copy of the letter he dictates in the cafe. I intend to transcribe it when I get the DVD.

Note also that Irimiás is played by Mihály Vig, who also scores all of Tarr's films (Sátántangó included). This score stands out for its excellence.

Sátántangó is a masterwork.

Its a film that I could watch over and over again, that I could write on for years. But in absence of some Sátántangó book deal, life goes on.

If you have not seen the film, DO NOT watch it anywhere except a cinema (or, if you must, as part of an uninterrupted DVD screening, but that's really no way to see this for the first time). If you have seen the film, you can relive the first shot on YouTube. Or watch the "plodding and plodding and plodding" scene in the bar (one of my favorite examples of self-referential humor in Tarr's work). I do wish the scene with the drunken accordion-accompanied dancing - and the man balancing a loaf of bread on his head - was available for me to link to in one of its iterations.

Others on Sátántangó:

Jonathan Rosenbaum's 1994 article on Sátántangó The Importance of Being Sarcastic is included in his book Essential Cinema.

Sátántangó: And then there was Darkness by Donato Totaro at OffScreen

Ryland Walker Knight's eloquent post Lateral Sculpture: Béla Tarr's Sátántangó.

Waggish on Sátántangó, in 3 parts: 1, 2, 3.

Harry Tuttle, briefly, on Tarr

David Bordwell has a post that offers some insights - and a few good links.

Acquarello reviews Sátántangó

Waiting For The Prince - an interview with Béla Tarr

In search of truth - Béla Tarr interviewed

04 mars 2007

Red Balloon

The trailer for Hou Hsiao-Hsien's new movie The Red Balloon - apparently, it is a sort-of remake - has sailed into the air. Juliette Binoche and Mr. Hou are 2 major selling points for me [a side note: Binoche and Hou? Swinton and Tarr? I love you already, 2007]. Please watch it; I've been enjoying it all day. (hat tip: David Lowery)

03 mars 2007

The Cinema of Tomorrow

Scanning today through the Makhmalbaf family website, I stumbled across an (old?) article on the cultural and artistic ramifications of the democratization of the tools of cinema. Highly recommended (and brief): The Cinema of Tomorrow.


"If the camera is turned into a pen, the filmmaker into an auteur, and the intervening harassments of power, capital, and the means of production are all eliminated, or at least radically compromised, are we not then at the threshold of a whole new technological change in the very essence of cinema as a public media? I tend to believe that because of the increasingly individual nature of cinematic production, as well as spectatorship, the cinema of the 20th century will become the literature of the 21st century."
"By the end of the 20th century, the filmmakers were in a position of power and choice. Would the digital revolution and its ancillary consequence of a massive increase in film production result in a stalemate where there are more people to make films than those who are willing to sit quiet in a dark room for a sustained period of time and actually watch a film? What if buying and operating a camera is as easy as buying a pen and writing with it? Certainly there has never been as many great creative writers as there have been pens in the world. Nor would the inexpensive availability of digital camera mean the disappearance of the creative filmmaker. But cinema as an art will certainly lose its multitudinous audience. The general appeal of cinema may thus be fractured into more specific attractions, and a division of labor and market may take place in world cinema. Gradually, in fact, the audience, as consumers, may begin to dictate the terms of its expectations, and cinematic narrative may begin to be deeply affected by the expectations of its viewers."
"When books were not too many, people considered what was written superior truth and if a book was found in a remote village they would attribute its origin to heavenly sources. When books became abundant, this absolute and sacred assumption was broken and earthly authors lost their heavenly presumptions. In the age of the scarcity of cinematic productions, "Titanic" has the function of that heavenly book, and our world very much like that small village."

01 mars 2007

Top 20 Films

Inspired by a recent two-week-old post at Long Pauses, I've posted the current Top 20 films from my not-quite-finished Top 100 list (I'll never truly finish, of course, but I'd settle for having a Top 100 that I can commit to on the day it's posted). The top 18 are pretty well set; spots 19 and 20 could be these two, or any of about 15 other films. I've felt free to break the "one film per director" rule - and the only one who did was Lubitsch (barely). Note also that most of these I haven't seen in some time. The major exception is Sátántangó, which I saw for the first time only last weekend; I discovered Army of Shadows and Rules of the Game in 2006. Regardless, this should give you a good idea of my cinematic approach (as a critic and otherwise).

My Top 20 Films:

1. Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)
2. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
3. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)
4. To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
5. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
6. Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
7. Elephant (Gus van Sant, 2003)
8. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
9. Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)
10. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
11. Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967)
12. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
13. An Actor's Revenge (Kon Ichikawa, 1963)
14. Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
15. Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
16. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)
17. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
18. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Werner Herzog, 1979)
19. Design For Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)
20. Pandora's Box (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1929)

You'll notice that most of these are definitively big-screen experiences - I won't even watch Lawrence of Arabia on DVD because of Lean's use of the full canvas of the big screen, and most of these shouldn't be watched on the small screen. Also notice that the color films tend to make very specific use of color interactions and harmonies (a former area of study... hey, where's The Red Shoes?) In addition to color, you'll see some of my other obsessions: (romantic) loss, revolution, circular time, and perhaps most significantly, a particular approach to storytelling through the camera - not that I can articulate exactly what that might be.