Sunday, October 2, 2005
The next film I saw, Tale of Cinema, was a painful Korean puzzlebox. I guess, the idea here, was that one filmmaker had made a film about two young people, and another (less successful) filmmaker believed that a lot of the details had been stolen from his life. Interesting idea. The problem is that the "film-within-a-film" part was such a laborious adolescent angst-fest that I fell asleep. I missed the transition to "normal reality," but when I did wake up I realized it had switched over and I found that the adult characters were so awkward, overly dramatic, and unlikable that it really wasn't much better. In fact, this film put me in such a bad mood that I called one of my friends afterwards and had an entire conversation in which I acted like an asshole before I realized what was bothering me.
After I figured out why I was in such a bad mood, but before I left the area, stars started to arrive for the "centerpiece" film, Breakfast on Pluto. I didn't get to see it, but apparently Cillian Murphy plays a young Irish man who moves to London in the 1960s to become "a fabulously attired transvestite cabaret chanteuse." Cillian, Liam Neeson, and Stephen Rhea were all there, along with director Neil Jordan. I snapped this picture of Cillian right before he entered the... well, it was a little more like a snake pit than a red carpet (especially considering that there was no carpet). If you've ever seen that SNL sketch where the photographers yell obnoxious things at the celebrities, it was a lot like that.
P.S. I later saw Breakfast on Pluto and I loved it!
Monday, May 2, 2005
Next up was the Made in New York Narrative Competition Winner: Red Doors. A film about a Chinese-American family living in the New York area. The parents and youngest daughter lived in the suburbs, the two older daughters lived in the city. The father of few words repeatedly tries (half-heartedly) to kill himself. The youngest daughter is entangled in an ever-escalating courtship of dangerous pranks with a classmate. The oldest daughter is caught between her (Anglo) fiance's desire for a "fashionable" wedding and her mother's desire to see it infused with some traditional elements. And the middle daughter is a doctor, whose storyline I will leave untold, just to retain a little bit of the mystery and fun.
This movie isn't particularly earth-shattering, but I found it really, really enjoyable. I was just thinking the other day that you see so much in movies or TV that is cliched and unbelievable. I really prefer things to be (at least) either a) original or b) authentic. Preferably both. This film tells a story with a lot of surprising, original elements, and yet it feels very authentic. I hope it gets a distribution deal soon.
As my last screening of the festival, I saw a program of six shorts called Urban Landscapes, all of them about New York. Some were documentaries and some were narrative. I didn't really get to watch all of them, because I was running around a little. One called "The Kings of Christmas" (by David Katz) was really interesting. It was about several people who get very serious about their Christmas decorations. My favorite, though, was one called "Bicycle Gangs of New York," by Cheryl Dunn. The whole opening sequence (which was almost half of the film) had no narration, and very little dialog. It was just a montage of shots of the various bicycle gangs featured in the film, set to music. It was very, very cool. You can see a clip of it on the filmmaker's website.
And that was it, the festival was over. At least, for me. My brain is completely filled with movies now. Time to decompress.
Sunday, May 1, 2005
Next up was a collection of shorts in a program called Animation by the Hubleys. These spanned several decades, and were made by various people in the Hubley family, notably John and Faith, and their daughter Emily. Another of their daughters is Georgia Hubley (of Yo La Tengo). As a young child she appears as a voice in at least one of the animations. I particularly liked one called "The Hole" which stars Dizzy Gillespie as one of the voice actors, "Moonbird" which was voiced by two of their sons, and the one in which Emily and Georgia perform a play (I can't remember what it was called).
Lastly I went with my sister and one of her friends to see The Souvenirs of Mr. X. We weren't totally clear, from the description, what this documentary was about. After seeing it, we kind of figured out why that was. Broadly, the movie was about amateur filmmakers (people who make home movies, not independent filmmakers who just aren't getting paid anything). The problem is that, from there, they couldn't seem to figure out where the film was going.
It was sort of about the quest to find out who had created this one film that the director had purchased at a flea market. In the course of his search, he discovered some amateur film clubs, and he would visit them, talk to them about their own views on the hobby, and show them the mystery film to see if they recognized it. Unfortunately, this particular film wasn't a very interesting specimen, and this avenue of inquiry didn't really lead anywhere. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if he had focused the documentary entirely on the sophisticated hobbyists in the clubs and their films. Instead, it meanders back and forth, interspersed with "clever" little snipets from random home movies that illustrate, in an overly literal way, the things that the interview subjects say. It's a precious technique that becomes pretty annoying, pretty quickly.
Oddly enough, towards the end of the film, they use the narrative device of judges of an amateur film competition to point out these and other valid criticisms of the documentary itself. Which only begs the question, if they were aware of all these flaws in the film, why did they still make it this way?
One more day to go.
Saturday, April 30, 2005
So, The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 3 was quite interesting. Some parts of it were a little less engaging, but it also tied together elements from the other two parts. I forgot to mention these important aspects of Luper's character - he's a listmaker, a collector, and a "professional prisoner." The listmaking/collecting thing leads to the observation that the categories we use to classify the world affect the way we interact with it. Very cerebral, but I like it.
Next up was a documentary called Excavating Taylor Mead, a totally fascinating New York character. I don't know how to describe him, except that he was one of the earliest indi superstars (even before he fell in with the Andy Warhol crowd). He just has something about him. He showed up at the screening, and he's still a complete ham. One of my favorite quotes from him in the movie: "I depend on the kindness of bartenders." And in the Q&A, a woman asked him, "How did you come to be on a mountain with an arab?" (who subsequently stabbed him) and he answered, "Well, I'm in love with guys in tight pants."
Lastly I saw Reeker a second time. The movie was just as scary the second time. And just as funny. This time I knew when hide my eyes, or look away, so I checked out the audience when I didn't want to see what was on the screen. This was an 11pm screening, so the crowd was more in the right mindset - lot's of laughing and jumping. Also, because I knew what was going on, I was able to pay attention to some things that I didn't notice before. Of course, I can't say what any of them were, because that would ruin the surprise.
Friday, April 29, 2005
Just a patron today. Which is a nice change, actually.
The first film I saw was The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 2. Apparently these three films are actually part of a larger multimedia project that Peter Greenaway is working on. I don't exactly know what it's about, but it involves the number 92 and the history of uranium. Also, there's a lot of things about collecting stuff (particularly in suitcases), sex (of course), and imprisonment. I forgot to mention the way that he has made reference to several of his other films. The narrator has already mentioned "Belly of an Architect," "A Zed & Two Noughts," and "The Draughtman's Contract." There's also a character named Cissie Collpitts (which was the name of three women in "Drowning by Numbers"), and a play whose name was "The Baby of..." something, I can't remember, but apparently this is a reference to his film "The Baby of Macon". Again, probably more evidence that this is a self-indulgent project. But the fact is, if you aren't a Peter Greenaway fan already, you probably aren't going to sit down and watch three 2-hour movies by him. I don't think I liked part 2 quite as much as part 1. I'm hoping it picks up again in part 3 (which I'm seeing tomorrow).
Then came the film I've been anticipating for weeks, Wong Kar Wai's 2046. WKW wasn't there (busy working on the next project), but in his stead he sent... Tony Leung!! This photo is for Barbara :) Man, he was adorable. It didn't even matter that what he said didn't make a lot of sense.
The film was beautiful. A lot to take in, so I definitely want to see it again. It's sort of a sequel to "In the Mood for Love" (one of my favorite films ever) and, to a lesser degree, "Days of Being Wild." Despite what you might think from the name, it takes place in the late 1950s/60s, with the possible exception of some sci-fi scenes which take place in 2046 - which could be a time or could be a place. It's ambiguous.
The film is a little confusing because the story doesn't always unfold in a chronological way - sometimes characters or plot elements are briefly glimpsed, though they aren't really introduced until much later. Also, the characters travel between various places (like Hong Kong and Singapore), but because the story is jumping around in time, it's also a little difficult to figure out where they are at certain points. There's a lot more going on than in "In the Mood for Love", but it still has atmosphere aplenty. The movie was totally engrossing. I mean, I actually forgot where I was for a while. My only complaint is that Ziyi Zhang can't hold a candle to Maggie Cheung, so sometimes her performance seems to be a pathetic attempt to copy the older woman. In retrospect, though, I think that may actually be an intentional part of the character she portrays.
If you like Wong Kar Wai movies, I recommend 2046 very highly!
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
After that I saw a pair of movies that I really wasn't able to pay attention to, so I don't feel qualified to say much about them.
First I saw Reeker, a very cool horror movie made by Dave Payne. I don't want to give too much away about this film, but I will say: it's funny, it's visceral (there are times when someone is vomiting or some such and you can really almost feel it yourself), it LOOKS AMAZING, and yes, it was pretty freakin' scary. It was just damn cool, too. I'll be seeing the film again on Friday night (which I'm really glad about, because there are some things I feel I need to see again). Plus, I think it will be a totally different experience with a "midnight movie" crowd.
Next up, I saw Runaway. I'm not sure what to say about this one. I mean, it had some interesting ideas, and a lot of great performances. But I'm not sure it really works as a film. I was amused by the part when the guys who work at the theater asked me "Is it true that the girl from X-men is in there?" (Anna Paquin, and yes, it was true).
Then came a documentary called Gay Sex in the '70s. I think there were only 6 women in the audience. Haha! Seriously, this was probably the best documentary I've seen so far. I mean, for one thing it captured a really fascinating moment in history. But also, structurally, it was a very successful film. For one thing, it was only 67 minutes long. No extra padding. The other thing I really liked about it was the way it transitioned from one subject to the next. I believe it was told entirely through interviews (no narrator), and these were edited together in such a way that the focus of what they were discussing shifted subtly - from the piers, to the baths, to Fire Island, etc. It gave the film a very casual, natural flow, and yet there was a meaningful progression of ideas being presented. Plus, there was a lot of gay sex.
Lastly, I saw The American Ruling Class. I don't know how to describe this film. Partly because I was so exhausted by that point that I kind of dosed off for a bit. But also because it's a difficult movie to explain. The filmmakers called it a "Dramatic Documentary Musical". I couldn't tell you if I liked it or not because I know that the film was trying to make a point, I just couldn't tell you exactly what that point was.
Monday, April 25, 2005
My favorites were newcomers I love the '30s and Follow Up (which wasn't exactly a newcomer, since it was really about a show which had previously been cancelled, and one which never even made it to the screen). I also liked returning shows Roboto Supremo (even though it was clearly trying to get itself cancelled) and Cat News. To round it off, I voted for Gemberling, even though I previously thought it was really stupid. I guess it's growing on me.
The film focuses on three things:
1. The development of the marketing campaign. As manipulative as it is, is probably no more cynical than the way such things unfold anywhere else in the world. In fact, the filmmakers and the ad agents get into an ethical debate over whether they can use a phrase that the ad agents deem to be misleading. That's pretty amusing, since they've agreed to create a campaign for a product which doesn't exist, but somehow it also makes sense.
2. People's reaction to the marketing. It's unusual to see the unmitigated, powerful reaction people have to consumerism. A little surprising to hear them talk so openly about how going to the giant supermarket and buying things makes them feel. After a while you you may start to wonder if it's mean to exploit the trusting nature of people who take billboards, fliers, and TV commercials at their word. I mean, sure, we're used to folks like Tom Green pulling stunts like this (though not on such a large scale), so we might be tempted to feel a little sorry for an entire population that doesn't realize it's being Punk'd. But, there's two reasons why that isn't necessarily the appropriate reaction. One audience member asked the filmmakers how they feel about introducing such cynicism into the culture, and they pointed out that Czech culture has a long history of cynicism. Nothing new there. The other thing is that you get the feeling that these guys are not just pulling a prank. They really have something they're trying to say. Which brings me to...
3. People's reactions to finding out that the hypermarket is a hoax. This is a tough to describe, partly because I don't want to give away what happens, but also because the reactions are more complex and varied than you might expect.
I really loved this film (it's the reason that I specially requested to work that shift), and I highly recommend it to anyone who gets the chance to see it (as long as you aren't allergic to cynicism).
Next up I saw a short film series called Found Footage. There were four short films, made up of old films that told more or less personal stories about families (in some cases it was the actual family history of the filmmaker, in one case it was a fictionalized story about strangers, and in one case I honestly have no idea what it was about).
Not originally in the plan, I stayed to help out on a screening of Special Thanks to Roy London. This film was about an acting teacher and coach who has helped make the careers of a lot of people in Hollywood. He died in 1993, but it's taken them a while to put this documentary together. The movie was pretty interesting, despite the fact that it was composed almost entirely of interview footage with his students, after his death. Several of his famous students were in attendance, and spoke after the screening. Garry Shandling, Hank Azaria, Arye Gross, Elizabeth Berkley, Lois Chiles, and Julie Warner. Also there (but for some reason they didn't speak): Famke Janssen and Richard Kind.
Tomorrow I'm taking a break from Tribeca, but I don't want to go into film withdrawal. I'm going to see Channel 102 at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater.
Sunday, April 24, 2005
One interesting thing about this doc is that the filmmakers had unprecedented access to film in North Korea. For a lot of people, this will be their first exposure to the daily lives of North Koreans. Not as different as you might imagine.
One striking characteristic, however is that the North Korean culture seems incredibly symbolic. At the beginning of the film the narrator mentioned that the Mass Games are designed to subjugate the individuality of the children and prepare them to be good communists. I thought that seemed kind of judgmental. Then, as the movie progressed, it became apparent that the people in the film saw it that way too, only they see it as a good thing. They basically worship Kim Jong Il, and his father before him. And the chance to perform in this beautiful, grueling recital is, to them, a way of serving him, serving their country, and strengthening their nation.
There were several parts in the movie where the characters mentioned that they hate the United States. It was evident that they've been fed propaganda and misinformation, but at the same time you can see how they could be confused and resentful for us dropping bombs on them and blockading their import of food.
My sister pointed out that the focus on capturing these "hate the US" moments may have something to do with the fact that the filmmakers were British. Haha! In the Q&A, the (British) director mentioned that they hate US policy, but they like American people. That didn't really come across in the film. However, I question how much distinction North Korean people make between white, English-speaking Brits and white, English-speaking Americans, seeing as they have almost zero contact with people from outside North Korea to begin with. So, for all we know, they may have seen the filmmakers themselves as being not that different from Americans.
The film suffers a little from self-indulgent documentary editing syndrome, but less than the one I saw the day before. I think all documentaries need a good strong thesis and a ruthless editor to keep it on track. But still, it was pretty fascinating. Apparently it's going to play in New York in August. I forgot where, maybe the Film Forum. It might play in other cities after that.