28 February 2006

Peter Greenaway and Others

For all those wild and crazy Peter Greenaway fans out there (I know there aren't many), Zeitgeist Video is releasing a collection of his early films, including the pseudo-documentary epic The Falls on April 11th, for all those who don't have a region-free DVD player (as BFI released all of these a long time ago on DVD). I think maybe this will encourage me to revist some of his best work, specifically A Zed and Two Noughts and, of course, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, since I don't think his Tulse Luper Suitcases series will be in the States any time soon. Expect some longer criticisms of these films at a later date. Right now, I'm going to immerse myself in some lurid Abel Ferrara after finishing Rois et reine. Here's what you may be interested in on DVD tomorrow:

Where the Truth Lies - dir. Atom Egoyan - 2005 - Canada - Sony Pictures

Be sure to get the unrated version if you want to see Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth tag-teaming some young girl. It's strange that sometime after his sublime adaptation of Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter, Atom Egoyan became a forgettable director. This may have to do with his lousy Felicia's Journey and challenging, but ultimately messy Ararat. Bradford (Being Boring) saw it in the theatre and gave it an enthusiastic yawn.




Werckmeister Harmonies - dir. Bela Tarr - 2000 - Hungary - Facets

Cinephiles wet themselves over this film. I haven't seen it. I will soon.









The Walerian Borowczyk Collection - Cult Epics

And for the sickos out there, pick up the Walerian Borowczyk boxset, which includes a single-disc edition of his notoriously vile La Bête, his steamy Love Rites (Cérémonie d'amour), and, for the first time on DVD, Goto, Island of Love (Goto, l'île d'amour).

23 February 2006

Sex and Car Crashes > Racism and Brendan Fraser

Rant of the Day: Crash - dir. David Cronenberg - 1996 - Canada

Instead of wasting your time seeing some lame-ass Oscar nominated film that makes stupid people think they're smart, go rent a film by the same name that'll make you forget you ever attributed the word crash to something involving Ryan Phillippe. Cronenberg made the bold decision to adapt J.G. Ballard's cult novel about a cult of people fascinated by sex and car crashes. The film succeeds at being overwhelmingly enticing without ever being remotely erotic. On their own, Cronenberg's images ooze of sexuality, particularly the shot of Rosanna Arquette leaning into a car with her leg braces on, Holly Hunter straddling James Spader in a car, and Elias Koteas revealing his chest wounds. But in the context of the film, they stand cold as ice. This probably has to do with Cronenberg's lack of gore. Even in some of his equally-bleak films like Videodrome and Dead Ringers, the excessive nature of blood and organs actually brings some life to the coldness. While we get vagina-shaped leg wounds and passengers hurling through car windows, our tale of fetishism is very clinical. All of this doesn't sound like much of a recommendation, does it? Yet Crash falls into a wonderful category of films that received an infamous booing at the Cannes film festival (other past Cannes disasters include Antonioni's L'Avventura, David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and even to a lesser extent Fellini's La Dolce vita). That's not bad company to be in, which makes me wonder whether Crash might even blossom with time. I'm not saying you're dumb if you don't like this movie (plenty of people I respect highly can't get into it), but it'll probably wash away your bad memories of a certain, mind-numbingly bad Paul Haggis film of the same name. Maybe if Sandra Bullock's Latina maid had violated her as she lay paralysed at the bottom of the steps, that other, lesser Crash might have been worth something. Maybe not.

22 February 2006

I've Asked You Forty Different Ways, It's Time You Come Up with a Fresh Answer

Walk the Line - dir. James Mangold - 2005 - USA

When Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) proposes marriage to the love of his life June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), he asks her to come up with a fresh answer. Strange, we as an audience were asking the same thing out of this film. A fresh answer. The world of film biopics has always bothered me. How many times do we have to see the tortured artist's humble beginnings, rise and fall and rise and fall and phoenix-like return onscreen before we just stop caring? Apparently, we haven't reached that point. But, I don't think we (as in the film public) will ever. There will always be a built-in audience for each separate biopic the studios throw at us, and even if we are seeing the exact same thing, the fans will flock. Especially with Hollywood's timing of releasing these films right after the fans have mourned the artist(s) in question's death(s). Then again, I suppose that makes sense. Who wants to see a biopic of a thirty-year-old? To find out the answer, see how few people buy Alanis Morrissette's upcoming autobiography. Although, my predicted low sales may have more to do with the fact that no one ever really cared about her in the first place, not because of her age.


Anyway, I digress... Johnny Cash. What makes Walk the Line different from What's Love Got to Do with It?, Ray, or Pollock? Really very little. We begin with an audience of prisoners anxiously awaiting Johnny Cash's big comeback at the Folsom County Prison. Johnny is backstage staring at a table-saw. Cue childhood flashback! Humble beginnings on a farm with a loving mother and a repressive father. Father disapproves of Johnny's obsession with music. Angel-child brother dies in accident. Father takes blame out on Johnny. Welcome onscreen, Joaquin Phoenix! These childhood moments are significant, you see. How are we to understand the tortured artist without knowing about his childhood neglect and parental disapproval? Apparently these moments are where we can say, "Well, his drug problems are okay; he had a horrible childhood! He feels responsible for his brother's death!" Strangely the same exact thing happens in Ray. The key to being a successful tortured artist is dealing with the death of a sibling. Children, take note. You wanna be the next Ray Charles or Johnny Cash? Make sure to get your gifted sibling in a deadly situation. Allow your parents to take their anger out on you, battle with severe drug addiction for a few years, and voila! A tortured genius, Hollywood-style.


The biggest problem in dealing with Hollywood biopics is the great question, "by applying dramatic conventions to a real person's life, are you in some way cheapening it?" I found myself caring less about Johnny as a man seeing him portrayed as the Hollywood 'tortured artist.' I thought to break out of this rigid structure one could make a documentary... but conventions lie there as well. And when dealing with a popular figure, it's hard to get away from those traps. When she approached a subject like Valerie Solanas, director Mary Harron planned on making a documentary, but when so few footage of Valerie was available, she decided to make a narrative, called I Shot Andy Warhol. And while I don't remember being wowed at the time, I currently long for the freshness of that film. No childhood flashbacks, no obvious dramatic clichés, just an entrance into the mind of an historical figure.


For as much as I'm spitting on Walk the Line, it's probably better than Ray or What's Love Got to Do with It? Phoenix does a decent job in making Cash more of a person than an impersonation, which was the huge flaw of Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles. And Reese Witherspoon is exceptionally good as Carter (probably her best performance since Freeway, though a strikingly different one). There are moments where I allowed yourself to be emotionally manipulated, but those moments may have been premeditated in my mind. Everyone knows how Johnny Cash and June Carter's story ends. June dies, Trent Reznor gives Johnny the rights to his song "Hurt" which beautifully fits Cash even more than Reznor, and Johnny dies just months after the love of his life passes. I've always found it strangely beautiful when lovers die within months of one another, and the popularity of Cash's Reznor cover really drove it home. So I allowed myself to fall into the screen when Cash unsuccessfully woos Carter (only to get her in the end). And maybe that's what Hollywood wants from an audience? They assume you know the story, so they hope your own emotions can fill in the wholes. I guess I just ain't buyin' what they're sellin'.

20 February 2006

Euroerotica

A little late for Valentine's Day, First Run Features is reissuing a handful of Radley Metzger's films individually on DVD today. Often referred to as the counter of Russ Meyer, Metzger was probably the king of American art-house erotica in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Lickerish Quartet (1970) is regarded by some as his masterpiece. And though three of his prior films (the lesbian romance Therese and Isabelle (1968), his erotic adaptation of the opera Carmen entitled Carmen, Baby (1967), and somewhat kinkier Camille 2000 (1969), by the time The Lickerish Quartet hit theatres, the discerning film-goer knew who he was. A nameless upper-class family of three (father, mother, son) become enthralled by a circus biker chick (Silvana Venturelli) whom they invite to watch a 'blue movie' with them. The woman, credited as 'the visitor,' is not a lusty tough-girl in the fashion of Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, in fact her character is far more reminicent of the Terence Stamp's "visitor" in Pasolini's Teorema. She's a mystery that's never solved, but not without becoming the object of the family's sexual fantasies.

Score (1973) was Metzger's first film before donning the alias Henry Paris. Though he claims Score was filmed as a hardcore feature, the hard sex has been lost in time; all that remains is a saucy comedy about a bourgeois couple who invites two naive newlyweds for a night of erotic awakenings. Elivra's seduction of the young Betsy seemed pretty natural, but when the film begins to explore the two men's (homo)sexuality, you begin to understand Metzger's idea and presentation of sexuality onscreen. Though he does delve into a Bataille-esque world of sadomasochism in The Punishment of Anne (or, The Image, as it's known on DVD), his ideas of sexuality are refreshingly positive ones. Though one might bring up the fact that all of these films were made pre-AIDS, The Lickerish Quartet, Score, and his porn masterpiece The Opening of Misty Beethoven do more that offer a look at the sexuality or sexual fantasies of the time. Instead, they offer a sex-positive expose, where characters embrace fully their own complex sexualities. All of his films (as most erotic films of the time period and contemporary pornos) allow the female characters to expose their attraction of other females, but, in Score, he shows us that it's a two-way highway. And never does Score feel "gay" as it does "sexual," and this is where the adjective "Euro" works best. While his scores, actors, and setting recall a non-specific European feel , it's truly his openness and embrace of human sexuality that clarifies this description. Metzger displays a healthy, beautiful fantasy world where people take risks and no one judges them for it. A surprising outlook coming from one of the meccas of occidental sexual repression, the United States.

Spanning Time

I truly apologize. I have not had time to watch anything, let alone write about them... so, just to keep active, I have been posting strange cinematic news instead. Here's the latest. Vincent Gallo is now offering his sexual services for the modest fee of $50,000, which is a steal compared to the $1,000,000 he's charging for his sperm. Sometimes I just don't know what to say about Vincent, outside of just stating facts. I adore Buffalo '66 and thought The Brown Bunny was the best film of 2004... but... but... God, I have nothing to say.

18 February 2006

Fuck Basic Instinct 2

...the next great bad movie is on its way. An Indian director by the name of T. Rajeevnath has apparently offered the role of Mother Teresa to none other than Paris Hilton. If you don't believe me google it. I'm sorry, I haven't had time to watch anything or write in-depthly lately... and I hate to further jerk off Paris' publicist, but this sounds absolutely marvelous. While I couldn't give two shits about her, cinematic disasters will always be noteworthy.

17 February 2006

Damnation

Horrible news. According to someone on the IMDb message boards, Warner has yet again delayed the two-disc DVD version of Ken Russell's The Devils. I realize that the IMDb message boards are not a very reputable source (just look at any of the topics related to The Brown Bunny if you want to see how unbelievably moronic the people who use those boards are), however Warner has delayed this release numerous times. Initially, they delayed the release because the English found the cut footage that was believed to have been lost. Now... I have no idea. This is also the case for Nicolas Roeg's Performance. All would be fine and dandy if someone in Europe had already beaten Warner to the punch, but as of this year, no one has released either title on DVD in any region.

2006 was supposed to be an amazing year for studios finally throwing out the rest of their catalogues, but I'm afraid Warner's delays may be only the first of a series of 2006 disappointments. Paramount still claims they're working on Season 2 (and possibly a rerelease of Season 1 with the pilot) of Twin Peaks, but their claim is that they are awaiting transfer approval from David Lynch... though David is quite busy wrapping up Inland Empire (which will probably premiere at Cannes and come to the States sometime this fall). While Lynch's reteaming with Laura Dern, Kyle MacLachlan, Harry Dean Stanton, and Justin Theroux sounds ever-so-promising, Season 1 came out over four years ago, and with video stores slowly phasing out VHS, Twin Peaks is becoming harder and harder to come by.

And while Warner will probably shelve Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point for as long as they can, at least Paramount is releasing The Passenger on April 25th. Paramount also has Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist on their bill for this year, finally. Maybe there will be some joyous surprises for 2006 DVD. Just keep your fingers crossed, I guess.

16 February 2006

One of Us

She's One of Us [Elle est des nôtres] - dir. Siegrid Alnoy - 2003 - France

I'm kind of sick, though I've only done it three times prior, of mentioning all the notable or, in the case of Elizabethtown, not-so-notable films releasing on DVD each week. I just find I'm not clever enough to have some witty sentence or two about each of the films. Just for Valentine's Day, Home Vision released Elle est des nôtres, a film that would oddly fit with my Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Bad Boy Bubby double-feature. So if you're up for a triple-feature, here's your gal. Like Kaspar and Bubby, Christine (Sasha Andres) just can't fit in with the world. She's a social cripple and, like our two other friends, likes to mimic dialogue and experiences from others and pull them off as her own. It's her only way of successfully communicating outside of her world of temp jobs and solitude. Eventually, she becomes one of "us"... or, more specifically, them. The collective "us" is always a "them," as she conforms to both office and social politics -- turning from wide-eyed and creepy to cold and cruel, and finding herself a man. This is Alnoy's first film and, though admirably eerie, you can tell. She composes several shots to be blatantly "arty," (above) though her cool plasticity and use of the ugliest hue of red you'll ever see work stylistically in the rest of the film. Christine has a fascination that's quite comparable to Kaspar and Bubby, yet while Kaspar's story is sad and Bubby's is darkly humorous, Christine's is coldly French.

Instead of making the weekly DVD summaries, I'll just tell you about some DVDs you should be looking forward to.

Sliver (Unrated) - March 28th

Oh, how Joe Eszterhas-crazy I am. Here's the middle-child of his Hollywood sex opuses (we'll just forget about Jade), putting Sharon Stone in the Roman Polanski/Tenant role as a publishing exec who has a striking, murderous resemblance to her apartment's slain former tenant. Truly a despicable motion picture, but it holds a little soft (or is it..... I'll stop there) spot in my heart after watching it late night as any ten-year-old Catholic schoolboy shouldn't. I actually double-featured this with another painfully awful Hollywood sex bomb, Body of Evidence. And that Enigma song... boy. I may just have to pick this one up.

Funny Games + the Emotional Glacation Trilogy - May 16th

What a brilliant cover. I mentioned this a few posts ago, but I don't want you to forget.






The Intruder (L'Intrus) - April 25th

Probably Claire Denis' most highly acclaimed film, even more so than Beau travail -- yet also probably her most cinematically ignored.

Mother Joan of the Angels [ Matka Joanna od aniolów ] - April 25th

Nuns gone wild. Unfortunately these nuns don't go nearly as wild as they do in Ken Russell's The Devils, as both films are based on The Devils of Loudon.

These are just a few titles worthy of getting excited about (well..... it's your call with Sliver). I'll try to draw attention to other notable DVD releases as they become available to me.

14 February 2006

Late Bloomer


Showgirls - dir. Paul Verhoeven - 1995 - USA

So, I'm a little late in the game. In what GreenCine Daily called "Blog Orgy," a well-known blogger by the name of Girish declared a worldwide blog-a-thon on January 11th to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Showgirls' Dutch cinema release. (I'm particularly fond of the quote Flickhead found of Jacques Rivette (La Belle noiseuse, Va savoir) hailing it as one of the greats of American cinema) As I was rather blind to other bloggers and new at the time, I did not jump on the bandwagon. Nor did I with Girish's recent Code Unknown (Code inconnu) blog marathon. Strange to know you're not the only sick-o who's been thinking a lot about Michael Haneke and Paul Verhoeven at the same time. So I suppose it's better late than never to write about a film whose genius has only been discovered in the past few years... the one, the only... Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls!


That anyone was surprised by Showgirls is a true mystery to me. Verhoeven himself has always danced on the dramatically-thin line between delicious camp and complete misery. Most of his prior films succeeded on the first level. The 4th Man, his tasty homage to Hitchcock, takes the ever-prevalent undercurrents of homosexuality in Hitch’s works and showcases them in lurid detail as a gay novelist (Jeroen Krabbé) who embarks on a sexual affair with an androgynous beautician (Renée Soutendijk) who may or may not have killed her former husbands so that he can simply attract her hunky boyfriend (Thom Hoffman). Flesh + Blood, Verhoeven’s seedy medieval parable, finds ruthless vagabond Rutger Hauer (in one of his best performances) seducing virgin maiden Jennifer Jason Leigh. And of course, there’s Basic Instinct, Verhoeven’s first teaming with Joe Eszterhas. Nearly all of his films contain a peculiar morality that never seems to successfully eclipse the rest of the film’s sensationalistic sex and violence. And never does it work better than in Showgirls, his “MGM musical” of the perils of stardom, a film so heinously bad that it can be seen as nothing short of a masterpiece.


Unlike Mommie Dearest’s initial ascension to cult classic, Showgirls was reviled and largely dismissed by both critics and audiences upon release, further distancing studio execs from the NC-17 rating, one created to allow for non-pornographic, adult-oriented films to play in multiplexes. What’s most amusing about Showgirls’ NC-17 is that it’s pretty widely-regarded as one of the least sexy “sex movies” ever made, one that makes David Cronenberg’s Crash seem like a toe-curler. There are several reasons one might explain this lack of sexiness (both of which are hilariously dissected on the V.I.P. Edition of the film, with a priceless commentary by Showgirls aficionado and comedian David Schmader, pictured above). Firstly, all of the characters (and most importantly the women, in Eszterhas' world) do not seem to exist in any sort of world we're acquainted with. Our heroine Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkely, in one of the best bad screen performances of all time) solves her problems by slamming doors, storming out of rooms and arguments, and bascially pushes every character in the film at least once; perhaps this is Verhoeven's attempt at foreshadowing Nomi's rise to glory after pushing the star of the show Cristal Connors (the wonderful Gina Gershon) down the stairs. You saw her push everyone else in the film, so you know the damn girl just can't control her hands! Secondly, the tag-team of Verhoeven and Eszterhas make sure that every intended moment of erotica be followed by a cold, wet fish thrown onto your crotch. Berkely’s seizure-like movements are truly the visual equivalent of that wet fish. In another scene whose disgustingness and hilarity is expertly pointed out by Schmader in his commentary, Nomi fends off a sexual advance by making her partner inspect her menstrual cycle with his fingers. I’ll take James Spader fucking Rosanna Arquette’s leg wound over that any day!


So where does the appeal come from? According to Schmader who quotes Verhoeven's essays featured in the Showgirls coffee-table book, he takes the film very seriously. He shares his thoughts on the comparison between Showgirls and ancient and Christian mythology and Pygmalion, in addition to rants about the power-exchange between Nomi and Cristal. And when thinking about the film in a purely thematic level, this makes a bit of sense. Las Vegas (especially seen through the eyes of a foreigner) seems far more fitting of an American Hell than cinema’s normal target: Los Angeles. We’ve seen Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas, so therefore we know Las Vegas is a town of empty promises and death. With all of its excess, Las Vegas reeks of the gaudiest of deaths, a far more pungent smell than the sheep-in-wolves-clothing nature of LA. You might note the parallels that, upon first viewing, seem cliché in the first and last shots of the film. In both scenes, Nomi is hitchhiking her way out of one town to the next. In the first shot, we see a Las Vegas mile counter behind her; in the second, there’s another mile counter that reads Los Angeles. There’s a strange clever irony about this, as Eszterhas has just superficially “redeemed” Nomi only to take her to yet another dimension of hell. A strange glowing sign outside of James’ apartment reads “Jesus is Coming,” calling to mind the apocalyptic billboard-ridden LA wasteland depicted in the films of Gregg Araki. All of these ideas that Verhoeven plants in the coffee-table book appear perfectly fitting in theory for a film about a girl’s hedonistic rise to stardom, but this begs the question: has he actually seen the film?

While I will go into some greater detail about the nature of Eszterhas' revolting screenplay, I don't think one can truly understand Showgirls without an understanding of Elizabeth Berkley and Verhoeven's use of her. Every frame she's in screams of unconscious badness. Nothing about her is remotely believable, and not only that, Nomi looks like plastic blow-up doll throughout the entire film. As the thesis for Schmader’s appreciation of Showgirls, he states that “everyone involved in the making of this film is making the worst possible decision at every point in the film.” You can see this statement come to life in even some of the subtler moments of Showgirls. Even the way Nomi puts ketchup on her fries is awfully hard to watch! It’s not exactly through Nomi’s eyes that see this world; Verhoeven shows us stuff (Kyle MacLachlan’s phone call, Nomi’s stripper friend Penny, also known as Hope (oh, Jesus), hiding in James’ apartment) that Nomi does not see. But it’s not as if the seediness of this world is blind to Nomi… and, really, it’s not like she’s not just as seedy as her surroundings. It’s certainly one thing for Verhoeven to make Nomi and her rise to fame completely repugnant, but it’s quite another when we get shots like the one in the pool, when she has a seizure (er, fucks) MacLachlan (Oh, Agent Cooper!). Just as the sex terminates, Nomi leans back and a geyser of water from the tacky dolphin fountains erupts on her face as MacLachlan empties his dick (look to your left). This is the most notable moment where Verhoeven joins in on the absurdity, instead of letting Berkley and Eszterhas have all the fun.


Berkeley’s unbelievable performance greatly compliments the script itself. As Schmader remarks, “Eszterhas has no access to real women, so in Showgirls, the tender moments between women involve doing each other’s nails, eating potato chips, or talking about their breasts.” While this was something I noticed without the commentary, Schmader refers to this as a classic Showgirls motif that surprisingly runs fluid throughout the film. Many would like to call Eszterhas (especially after the deplorable Jade) one of the worst screenwriters of our time, but he paid attention during screenwriting class! There’s even a scene where Cristal and Nomi toast with a god-damn potato chip. And while the script itself is painfully formulaic (hello, All About Eve!), the film itself works so well, because everyone seems to exist in some other dimension or separate planet. Really, this makes the metaphor for Las Vegas as Hell a lot more believable.

I might argue though that the beauty of Showgirls is its own bizarre earnestness. Who doesn’t believe that Joe Eszterhas thinks this is how real women act? And though it’s almost too easy to pick fun at Elizabeth Berkley’s attempt at Hollywood fame, but can’t you see how honest she is here? Can’t you see that she thought she was doing good work? It’s pretty much understood that, unlike the failed attempt at stardom suffered by Berkley (maybe she should have pushed Claire Danes down a staircase) and a career killer for MacLachlan, Gina Gershon emerged unscathed, and Showgirls actually made her career. It’s probably because her performance was the only one that felt conscious of her surroundings. As I mentioned earlier, Verhoeven wanted this film to be his glitzy, trashy masterpiece, and when the film tanked, he was very upset. There’s no way I can prove the validity of Verhoeven’s statements, but doesn’t his adoration for the film fit into the earnestness of Eszterhas’ screenplay and Berkley’s performance? Self-conscious bad movies don’t really stand the test of time. Why do you think people still remember Plan 9 from Outer Space? Because like Verhoeven, Eszterhas, and Berkley, Ed Wood has delusions of grandeur. Showgirls was supposed to be a masterpiece of behind-the-curtain seediness, yet in its extreme failure, years after its original release, does it not somehow reach the same pinnacle that it had so hoped to accomplish?

Infuriating

Why is Caché so difficult to write about? I suppose this makes sense in that I could not find the appropriate words or explanation for Tropical Malady either. I know exactly what needs to be said, but I am having a lot of trouble approaching the subject itself. So it may be a few days before I get something up here. And you can expect either tomorrow or the next day the DVD picks of the week.

12 February 2006

Rien spécial 12 february 2006

As I have nothing lengthy or terribly insightful to say at the moment, I thought I'd just run my mouth (er, fingers) off on what's going on in my head cinema-wise.

I'd first like to talk about Michael Haneke, who I am finally understanding to be just about the greatest working filmmaker out there. I saw his latest, Caché, this evening -- and it might just make its way onto the top slot of the Best of 2005. Haneke is a genius at giving you all the clues you need without ever really mentioning what the underlying problem is. He also has a strange capacity to intellectually rape you (you know, in the good way) and viscerally enthrall and horrify you. There's so much I want to say about this film but I think I'll save it for a later time. On another Haneke note, Kino recently announced the DVD releases of four of his earlier films for the 16th of May: The Seventh Continent (Der Siebente Kontinent), Benny's Video, 71 Fragments of a Chronicle of Chance (71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls), and a rerelease of his glorious, shocking Funny Games (pictured to the right).

After my post about double features, my friend Tom suggested a rather interesting, bizarre double feature: Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar and George A. Romero's Day of the Dead. You wouldn't think a film about a beloved donkey and an apocalyptic zombie film would go so well together. Per his request, I shall be watching the both back-to-back (though I've seen them before) within the coming weeks. So get excited.

With the upcoming release (and subsequent tanking) of Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction (what a wonderfully terrible title!), I've been dreaming a lot about Paul Verhoeven. He hasn't made a film in six years since the oh-so-bad-but-not-in-a-good-way Hollow Man, and I read he's working on two war films right now.... So really all I can do (since I have no desire to see another Verhoeven war film) is go back and watch some of his tastier treats like The 4th Man (De Vierde man) or Flesh & Blood or... his masterpiece, Showgirls. My friend just purchased the V.I.P edition of Verhoeven's gem, and I'm finally going to get to the bottom of why Showgirls is so profoundly brilliant in its horrific excess. If I can't, at least I'll have another excuse to see Elizabeth Berkley lick that pole, talk about eating Doggie Chow, flop like a dead fish in the pool, and kick some serious rapist ass! But, seriously, Basic Instinct 2 better be as big of a trainwreck as I hope it to be.

10 February 2006

Double Feature #1

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser [ Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle / Every Man For Himself and God Against All / The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser ] - dir. Werner Herzog - 1974 - West Germany
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Bad Boy Bubby - dir. Rolf de Heer - 1993 - Australia/Italy

I remember reading a column in the loathesome Entertainment Weekly about how home video can allow for some of the strangest and wonderful double-features (this was in a review of Election and The Rage: Carrie 2). I didn't think I was going to say anything about Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Buddy after viewing it a couple of days ago, but it has become rather prevelant in my thoughts (mostly in regards to Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), and yet strangely all this relates back to my viewing of J'irai comme un cheval fou. Strange how films you initially dismiss sneak up on you later on. Both Bad Boy Bubby and Kaspar Hauser deal with the attempt at integration of men who've never experienced the world outside of their non-literal prisons. Neither Bubby (Nicholas Hope) nor Kasper (Bruno S.) have any real skills in language -- they mostly just repeat word and phrases spoken to them by their captors, er... disturbed parental figures. And both have attraction to animals. Upon their release from captivation is where the two films differ and where the comparison becomes quite interesting... especially when one consideres the separate outcomes of the two men -- and how the directors view essentially the same extreme tale of a fish-out-of-water. I may consider posting some other strange double features as they come to me.

09 February 2006

True/False

I'm taking a course on Werner Herzog right now and had to write a paper for tonight's class... so since I use this blog as a way to push my own writing skills and theories about film, I may as well post it here. On a side note, I think I need to come up with some new adverbs to circulate in my vocabulary. Thoughts on that or, even better, on the paper itself are, as always, encouraged.


Land of Silence and Darkness (Land des Schweigens und der Dunelheit) - dir. Werner Herzog - 1971 - West Germany
Grizzly Man - dir. Werner Herzog - 2005 - USA

Since Werner Herzog himself makes no distinction between his narrative films and documentaries, it can be a bit troubling when approaching his idea of truth. Achieving complete objectivity in film is impossible. You can take Andy Warhol’s Empire as the closest thing to the idea of objectivity in cinema, but you have to take in consideration that he was the one who placed the camera in front of the Empire State Building. Therefore, complete objectivity does not exist there. In cinema, a director is credited for a documentary not just because he or she came up with the idea and conducted the studies, interviews, or whatever else was needed to complete the film. Instead the director is credited for the semblance of images and scenes as well as for the choosing of footage that will go into the finished product. Some documentarians aspire to be as impartial as possible; others (Michael Moore, for example) are not. So where does truth lie in Herzog’s so-called documentaries?


Herzog has always stated that there are levels of fiction and reality in all of his films. In Aguirre, the Wrath of God, for example, Herzog tells a tale of expedition in the Peruvian jungle during the sixteenth century. He pays close attention to period detail, especially the costumes and props, and literally threw his cast and crew into the jungle. The harsh conditions of the expedition are not dissimilar to what surely took place behind the scenes. However, there’s an even stronger element of fiction to this film. The realism of the period detail is eclipsed by the fact that our conquistadors speak German throughout the whole film. Werner himself wrote the “found” diaries of Brother Gaspar de Carvajal. For the sake of argument, Aguirre is a fictional narrative.


On the other side, Land of Silence and Darkness is essentially a documentary. Herzog turns his camera to Fini Straubinger, a woman blind and deaf since adolescence. His camera follows her visiting blind and deaf children, attending a birthday celebration, going to the zoo and botanical gardens. Land of Silence and Darkness adheres to general expectation of a “documentary.” It’s a rather traditional, non-exploitive expose of a particularly fascinating, real person. However, it was stated in class that not everything we hear is true. Fini tells a story about one of her fondest memories of sight, in which she speaks of a ski-jump competition. She speaks in vivid detail about the experience, but Herzog himself has admitted that he wrote that line and asked her to narrate it in the film. He did the same with another line, where Fini states “if a world war were to break out, she wouldn’t even notice.” Herzog wrote this line too. Is this deplorable manipulation? It’s manipulation for sure, but whether it’s deplorable or not is really up to the viewers themselves.


Our eye’s persistence of vision creates the illusion of cinema, but it’s the director who orchestrates that illusion. Herzog’s creation of two narrations in Land of Silence and Darkness does not prohibit our appreciation of the film. There are so many moments of a sad tenderness in the film that one cannot wholly dismiss the film for reasons of complete validity. Do they arouse thought and feeling toward the character of Fini? Of course, they do. The lines work in the context of the subject. While the opening scene with Fini, her “translator,” and her goofy friend might suggest a level of campiness à la Grey Gardens, but Herzog’s agenda comes clear as the film progresses. For the simple fact that he chose to make a documentary about her, one can see an admiration for Fini on Herzog’s part. Yet it’s in the film itself that we find out what sort of admiration he has for her. While one might argue that making a broad documentary about people who are both blind and deaf would not be as interesting as one about a single person, adding a more personal humanistic approach, Herzog is not a director who employs what is expected out of him or his subject matter. Instead, Land of Silence and Darkness is a film about the sadness and triumph of a particular woman. The camera does not follow her in a curious, exploitive way, but instead the camera looks upon her admirably, exposing her activism and good spirits despite her sizable obstacles. Herzog chose the footage he wished to be in the final version of the film, which is a form of manipulation, just as Warhol’s choice to place his camera in front of the Empire State Building. Surely, there are degrees of manipulation, and Herzog’s ranks higher than Warhol’s. With the inclusion of those fabricated lines of narration, Herzog expresses to us a further look into a world of sensory deprivation, pulling us in closer to the minds, not of Fini in particular, but of those others who have the same problem. Herzog is no James Frey.


These elements of reality and fiction also directly relate to an appreciation of his latest film, Grizzly Man. What’s essentially Herzog’s essay about the relationship between man and nature, it’s also a document of a man’s demise at the hands of those creatures he’s trying to protect. There are a handful of interviews within the film, from former friends of Timothy Treadwell to environmentalists. One interview in particular, that of the coroner, seems particularly false. He addresses the camera almost in the same silly manner as Dracula might when introducing a midnight B horror film. He goes on to tell the camera about the audio footage of Treadwell and his girlfriend’s murder at the hands of the bear. The corner never misses a beat, and when he’s said all he needs to stay, Herzog’s camera zooms out to a shot of the coroner standing in the morgue. With this particular scene, I don’t know anything about the validity of this testimony. The coroner in fact might act like that; considering their job, one might even expect him to act in such a bizarre manner. However, the scene works completely within the film itself. Timothy Treadwell is an odd figure; he chose his obsession with living with wild grizzly bears to basically overcome his failure as an actor in Hollywood and battles with drug and alcohol addiction. This is an odd choice to most people. Why would someone chose to live in a constant state of danger like that? However, we only really get to understand how truly strange Timothy is through the footage he shot of himself. His monologues about the bears and his relationship with him are so strikingly bizarre that you almost feel uncomfortable watching him. He’s so strange that you can almost dismiss his decidedly naïve and politically incorrect rants about women or about homosexuality. These are just further tools in getting inside a man who would chose to live his life in such a way.


The footage of the coroner, whether fabricated or not, works within the context of the world of Grizzly Man. By editing together the video tapes Timothy filmed before his death, we’re taken into a foreign world that’s bizarre and unsettling (especially to a city boy, like myself). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that two weirdos like Timothy Treadwell and that coroner would coexist within this world. Timothy’s former girlfriend and partner in wildlife activism also fits perfectly in this world. There’s a strange curiosity about the way she holds herself and reacts to certain things, most notably when someone gives her Timothy’s watch and she cries, “it’s the only thing left.” I, and probably most of the people I know, have never encountered people like her, like Timothy, or like the coroner, and though Herzog has surely lived a more strange and worldly life than I have, he too does not relate with these people. His narrations frequently contradict or disagree with things that Timothy says, especially on the subject of the balance of nature. He does not sympathize with Timothy as much as he uses him as a counter-example of his own personal beliefs about man’s relationship with nature. But since this is a film, he can manipulate the audience as he chooses. Whether the coroner or the ex-girlfriend are putting on an act for the camera or if Herzog requested them to do so doesn’t matter. He has created a world through his film, like Land of Silence and Darkness, where factual elements don’t really matter.


When you boil everything down, you realize that Herzog’s play on reality and fiction don’t really destroy the magic of his vision (and, boy, is that photo of a strip of film I included lame). In certain situations, like Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo, his elements of reality are cause for a greater appreciation. His type of almost guerrilla filmmaking doesn’t exist anymore in the world of blue-screens and CGI. The audience, the character of Fitzcarraldo, and even Herzog himself marvel at the same time in the fact that they actually got that boat over the mountain. Yet, when people hear about a scripted line in a film they assume to be a documentary, they’re outraged. It’s a rather strange balance when you think of how someone might react in either situation. But these questions of definition (What is a documentary or a memoir?) and the nature of reality (In the form of media, is there so such thing as the truth?) are especially relevant today. Herzog is, at the very least, a master at adjusting and challenging our popular notions of both cinema and truth. Through both Land of Silence and Darkness and Grizzly Man, the lines of fact and fiction are crossed (or are they?). But doesn’t this all make sense in a medium where a flaw in our own eye allows us to see still frames create a moving picture?

08 February 2006

In Your Stores 7 february 2006

I try not to let my mood fuck up my writing -- but as you can see below, I wasn't feeling terribly clever or insightful today. So here you have it.


The Best of Youth (La meglio gioventù) - dir. Marco Tullio Giordana - 2003 - Italy - Miramax

A.O. Scott of the New York Times called this six-hour Italian flick the best film of 2005. It follows the lives of two brothers from the 1960s to the present, so if you've got six hours to spare, A.O. Scott suggests you see this bitch now.





Blood and Wine - dir. Bob Rafelson - 1996 - USA - 20th Century Fox

I remember truly disliking this crime flick, loosely related to director Rafelson and star Nicholson's magnificent Five Easy Pieces. While Michael Caine and Judy Davis also grace the cast, you're going to have to endure the likes of J. Lo and the usually-deplorable Stephen Dorff.






Buddyhead: Punk Is Dead - 2006 - Image Entertainment

The hilarious assholes from Buddyhead.com have compiled just for you a collection of music videos you're sure not to see on MTV, MTV2, MTV84, or really any of their other incarnations. Features on the disc are Enon, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Atari Teenage Riot, TV on the Radio, etc. For a full track listing visit the link above.





Don Vito presents Crunk & Famous - Koch

Apparently 'crunk' does not just mean being drunk and high at the same time, but also refers to a particularly rap music "movement" that is "sweeping the South" as the description reads. Hmm. Do you wonder if a bunch of high school moms are going to ever form M.A.C.D. (Mothers Against Crunk Drivers)?





Côte d'Azur (Crustacés et coquillages) - dir. Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau - 2005 - France - Strand Releasing

From the directors of Drôle de Félix (The Adventurs of Felix), Jeanne et le garçon formidable (Jeanne and the Perfect Guy), and Ma vraie vie à Rouen (My Life on Ice) -- all of which are pretty decent flicks -- comes an outrageous (!) French sex farce. Starring Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (5x2) and Jean-Marc Barr (Dogville).




Elizabethtown - dir. Cameron Crowe - 2005 - USA - Paramount

Do you really think this could be as vile as Jerry Maguire or Vanilla Sky? On a high note, this one doesn't pair Cameron Crowe with Tom Cruise (if I haven't mentioned this before, I shall now... the only thing I hate more than genocide is Tom Cruise). But are Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom amiable substitutes? I think not. Just keep in mind that Jane Fonda turned this down to be in Monster-in-Law. Scary.




Eros - dir. Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni - 2004 - Italy/Hong Kong/USA - Warner

He's made enough masterpieces... let's just let Antonioni, at 90, film a bunch of naked ladies dancing on a beach. It's fine. Thankfully, Wong Kar-wai's entry, "The Hand," comes first, so you can turn it off after that. Plus, it contains the most heartbreaking hand job you'll ever see onscreen.





Evilenko - dir. David Grieco - 2004 - Italy - TLA Releasing

I'm working on a longer piece about this film, about Russia's most infamous serial killer. Malcolm McDowell is quite good, and Angelo Badalamenti provides a wonderfully dreamy score to this otherwise throw-away flick.







Julia - dir. Fred Zinnemann - 1977 - USA - 20th Century Fox

A film about the memoirs of Lillian Hellman (played by Fonda), writer of the play The Children's Hour, and her relationship with the title character (Vanessa Redgrave) as she tries to get Hellman to help smuggle money out of Nazi Germany. It won a bunch of Oscars back in the day, including one for Redgrave and Jason Robards, and marks the film debut of Meryl Streep.





Making Love - dir. Arthur Hiller - 1982 - USA - 20th Century Fox

Probably only released on DVD because of the success of Brokeback Mountain. Here's Hollywood's first attempt at presenting a gay romance as normal, starring Michael Ontkean who will always be known to be as Sheriff Harry S Truman from Twin Peaks.





A Slightly Pregnant Man (L'événement le plus important depuis que l'homme a marché sur la lune) - dir. Jacques Demy - 1973 - France/Italy

Oh boy. As my friend Mike said, "look, it's a French Junior!" Another oh-so-silly Demy film with the oh-so-beautiful Catherine Deneuve... this one isn't a muscial (unfortunately) and stars Marcello Mastroianni as a man who finds out he's got a little bun in the oven.





Sugarcubes: The DVD and Sugarcubes: Live Zabor - Rhino

Two Sugarcubes discs are being released this week: one a collection of music videos, the other a live performance. I'm sure you'll get to see plenty of former-frontwoman Björk dance on both discs.






The Unbearable Lightness of Being - dir. Philip Kaufman - 1988 - USA - Warner

Based on the celebrated novel by Milan Kundera (Jesus, these are starting to sound machine-generated... you can tell I'm in a lousy mood), Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and the exceptional Lena Olin star as a trio of lovers in war-torn Prague. Sure, you have your Criterion disc of this -- but Warner has actually gone and improved the transfer, adding the same features and using an anamorphic transfer (Jesus, who cares? Sorry.) Really, the best reason to buy this over the Criterion is the hot cover with Lena on the mirror. Definately my pick of the week.

Wallace & Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit - dir. Steve Box, Nick Park - 2005 - UK - Dreamworks

I don't have anything witty to say about this. I'm sure if you like Wallace and Gromit in A Close Shave and The Wrong Trausers, you'll like the feature length film.