Archive for January 2009

More web trivia treasures for Mavericks and Outsiders (Saturday Edition)

January 31, 2009

More hunting on the Inter-webs to add a few more details for Saturday screenings Michel Ciment’s Mavericks and Outsiders series on now with the Film Society that I didn’t cover in my trivia Friday Edition. Ah, unattributed IMDB trivia notes, how I love and disbelieve you. Decide for yourself. Or better yet, ask for confirmation/refutation during Q&As.

A number of sources cite True Confession (1981) as the still-reigning champion of the Black Dahlia features from the past several decades. Adapted by John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, directed by Ulu Grosbard. I’m looking forward to seeing Robert Duvall with Robert DeNiro in a film with a reputation for compelling performances. Robert DeNiro came to True Confessions right after Raging Bull (1980), keeping some of the Jake La Motta weight for the new role. In fact, the theatrical release of True Confessions was pushed into 1981 to avoid competing against the Scorsese’s Oscar contender. A quote from DeNiro: “If we get through one shot before lunch or one day of shooting we considered ourselves lucky.”

After watching Ken Park (2002) at the Lake Placid Film Forum seated next to my sister, I don’t have to limit myself to abstract conjecture regarding the difficulty and cinematic punch of  Larry Clark’s work. (My sister admitted she, too, admired the film and was happy the festival presented Clark with an award for valor for pursuing these subjects, but there endeth discussion.) Here’s some fine work from the IMDB trivia poster brigade for Another Day in Paradise (1998):

  • The word “f*ck” is used 327 times in this 101 minute film.
  • The scene in the woods with James Woods and Vincent Kartheiser was completely improvised and involved Woods hitting Kartheiser repeatedly with his fingers. The gestures are so rough and sudden that you can hear each hit and see Kartheiser’s genuine surprise, respectively. Afterwards, Kartheiser went up to director Larry Clark and said, simply, “I didn’t know that motherfucker was going to hit me.”
  • Director Larry Clark didn’t believe that Vincent Kartheiser, then 18, was of a legal age for his role (involving nudity, sexual situations, and drug use) and wouldn’t cast him until he was able to prove his age. Kartheiser was cast once he produced his driver’s license.
  • This was the final movie to receive the famous “Two Thumbs Up” from film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.
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Our Positif correspondent mines the web for cine-fantastic trivia (Friday Edition)

January 30, 2009

The iconoclastic American films selected by French Positif editor Michel Ciment for the Mavericks and Outsiders series are an intense, uncompromising group. And I’ve only to-date seen one of them. (In my defense, many of these films are difficult to track down, unavailable uncut on DVD outside of import/greymarket.)

I haven’t seen most of these films yet, but I didn’t say that I haven’t heard about them. Word-of-mouth re: these films/filmmakers are certainly in wider distribution than box office or theatrical/video distribution suggests: those who see these films are catalyzed to share their experiences, whether passionately for or against them. Wanda (1970) and David Holzman’s Diary (1967) often referred-to touchstones have been on my “see these (somehow!)” list for years, and I’m starting to feel that tingle of eagerness I felt leading up to the chance to see Rivette’s Out 1 (1971) in New York a few years ago.

I’ve been a-hunting on the Inter-webs and have uncovered some interesting facts and trivia about these films. The sources in some cases quite questionable, but I’m thrilled to share them with you anyway.

Film critic David Thomson, a tremendous fan of Toback’s debut film Fingers (1978), wrote at Salon.com: “Long before people had the idea of making movies from graphic novels, Fingers is like the screen treatment of a comic book that might have been written by Sigmund Freud and illustrated by Lucian Freud.”

If the chance to see a highly regarded dramatic performance from Richard Pryor wasn’t enough to get me to show up for Blue Collar (1978), the filmworld-meets-realworld on-set battle royale between Richard Pryor v. first-time director Paul Schrader v. Harvey Keitel seals the deal. (Rumor has it fist fights were a common occurrence on set and according to Schrader, Pryor punched Keitel and hit Kotto with a chair during filming.) And thank you to IMDB for assuring me that permutations of the f-bomb are used 173 times in this film. (Is that a lot?)

The writer-directors Leonard KastleHoneymoon Killers (1970) — and Barbara LodenWanda (1970)– never directed another feature film. A situation bemoaned by dedicated fans of both works.

Kastle composed opera before directing his sole film. Michel Pérez’s article in Positif engages the role opera in Kastle’s film, and writes prophetically: “It is this total faithfulness to the subject that could cast a shadow over the cinematographic future of this man of the opera.”

Loden, an uncompromising actress and wife of director Elia Kazan, died of cancer before she could put together a second project (continuing to develop other projects up until her death in 1980). While many assumed Wanda was made possible by Kazan’s active support, Loden worked with limited support from her husband, finding its major funder and putting together Wanda on her own with the assistance of filmmaker Nicholas T. Proferes (in-person at Friday 6:15pm screening).

More of these delicious distractions in the days ahead.

From The Hurt Locker to Paradise, situationists to Korean thrillers, Film Comment Selects tickets now on sale!

January 30, 2009

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The yearly two-week series of idiosyncratic visions, must-see restrospectives and the occasional nekkid lady handpicked by the editors of Film Comment is back and it’s more provocative than ever. A few highlights of this year’s selection:

A rare chance to see a pair of legendary cult documenaries from the early 80s by filmmaking couple Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines. A must for fans of American Movie and American Teen, here’s your chance to check out Demon Lover Diary and Seventeen.

A rocking Guy Debord retrospective. We whetted your appetite with In girum at the New York Film Festival, now you can fully immerse yourself in Debord’s unique world-view. What you were looking for, puppy dogs and rainbows?

One more major Film Society screening and afterparty: see Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains–a backstage satire and valentine to the faded glory of punk featuring a then-unknown Diane Lane and Laura Dern in flaming eye shadow and fishnet stockings–followed by a post-punk afterparty featuring DJ’s Dan Selzer (Acute Records) and Aileen Brophy (Corita). We all know what happened last time. You can RSVP on Facebook.

The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s rewriting of the action genre, a high-adrenaline look at soldiers putting their lives on the line in Iraq that’s been garnering lots of festival buzz and year-end list love.

An unrelenting new action thriller from South Korea (and a mega hit and award-winner in that country), The Closer.

Michael Almereyda’s latest, Paradise, a fragmentary video diary that defies categorization. Almereyda will join author Jonathan Lethem onstage after the film for a Q&A.

Stayed tuned for in-depth coverage from the filmlinc blog, but for the moment, see the whole program here.

Positif cheatsheet: why French film criticism still matters

January 30, 2009

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First things first, before exploring the Mavericks and Outsiders series currently on at the Film Society I needed to learn a little more about Positif. I was aware of its reputation as a crucial, longstanding French film magazine. I knew the publication to be kissing/fighting cousins with Cahiers du cinema. That I knew more about the latter is simply because Cahiers and Bazin are forced on university students in 101 courses as the lone artifact from that ancient time film viewers talked about “Film” rather than “Film Industry”: these days, I’m hungry for other examples.

I called the film programmer who introduced me to The Honeymoon Killers in 2000, Dylan Skolnick. He pointed out that Positif‘s willingness to engage films out of step with the mainstream politically and aesthetically — championing the surreal and the ineffable alongside genre films overlooked in other “serious” film magazines — meant the magazine can be trusted as a place of discovery for authentic voices in cinema. The editorial policy of similar-aged publications reveals shifts in the fashions of critical sentiment over the years, while a similar analysis of Positif — governed by an evolving editorial committee of past contributors rather than an editor-in-chief — reveals a surprisingly evergreen list of cinema worthy of engagement, argument, and preservation. (I’ve grabbed him watch some of the films in this series with me.)

I am reading Positif 50 Years: Selected Writings from the French Film Journal from the MoMA/Positif series a few years ago. Snips I found interesting below. First, from Michel Ciment, Positif‘s public face and responsible for selecting this series:

“Labels give people a feeling of security. Positif was upsetting to those who liked neat categories, and was distasteful to some because of its extreme freedom. Depending on whom one spoke to, it was either too theoretical or not theoretical enough. And then they were the intellectuals, the hair-splitters, who loved the labyrinths of Last Year at Marienbad and the speculations of Raúl Ruiz or the traps set by Peter Greenaway, but who just as readily defended the horror films produced by Hammer Films or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, unanimously rejected when it was released by the “serious” press, as well as the golden age of Italian comedy neglected on both sides of the Alps! … It is always dangerous to be out of sync with fashion, to explore the contours of future cinema, at the risk of being called elitist or for basking too readily in the pleasures of old films and being labeled retro.” (Michael Ciment, “For Your Pleasure: A Brief Overview of Fifty Years of Positif“)

And finally, from the 1952 Positif issue 1 editorial by Bernard Chardère, who at twenty-two founded the magazine in Lyon with friends:

“WE SAY:
You like the movies: you also know that film is an art. It took fifty years for the professors to admit it; in another half-century students will be writing theses that attempt to reconstruct lost masterpieces. But whose fault was it that they disappeared? It is up to us to do something against the merchants of the mediocre.

WE WANT:
— Discoveries rather than rehashes, even subtle ones. Shedding light on the unknown John Huston is far more useful than trotting out the usual clichés about The Devil’s Envoy (Les Visiteurs du soir) for the nth time.
— Interesting contributions, in particular from those who do not often get opportunity to express themselves: the makers of films that we admire. Doesn’t a single sentence from Jean Renoir have more resonance than a hundred books of exegesis?” (Bernard Chadère, “Why We Are Going to Fight”)

I’ll continue to be exploring selections from Positif parrallel to the series….

Positif editor Michel Ciment on the good sense of ‘amateurism’ and loving movies

January 30, 2009

Long term editor and contributor to Positif, France’s major magazine of film-lover fanaticism; author of Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, “The best book ever put together about a filmmaker” (James Toback); field commander of the anti-Cahiers camp, firing pointed polemics and withering wisecracks deep into enemy territory (“When Godard says, we were the first one to give the director its place in the cannon–it’s absolute bullshit”):

Ladies and gentlemen, Michel Ciment is in the house.

“They were all students who started this magazine,” Ciment explained of Positif‘s earliest days.  “The characteristic of it was amateurism, not in the bad sense of the word, but in the good sense of ‘to love.’  People who loved movies….  I think the magazine has been faithful to [founding editor Bernard] Chardere’s initial young-man, passion-for-cinema openness.”

This ecumenical enthusiasm for all kinds of movie making is amply on display in Positif: Fifty Years, an English-language anthology of the magazine’s greatest hits, published by MoMA in 2002.  But Ciment himself is an even more eloquent embodiment of the Positif spirit.  Shuttling back and forth between modernist masterpieces and pop ephemera, the 70 year-old critic displayed a level of physical energy and up-to-the-minute awareness that put this 24 year-old interviewer to shame.  Merely suggest a topic for discussion, and Ciment takes off like a bottle rocket.

On Positif‘s origins in the city of Lyon: “Because of the provincial aspect [the founding editors] were not inside this self-centered Parisian intellectual life, which is at once great but also has its limitations… Like Belgium is sometimes more open than France to a lot of intellectual currents because they are more curious and so on, because they are not the center.  When you’re in the center it’s sometimes easy to forget that there is something around the center.  So I think that in a way the magazine has kept this spirit.”

On the critical philosophy of the magazine: “When we look at a film, the only criterion really has never been ideological, has never been theoretical—it has always been, do we like this film?  Which can be Last Year at Marienbad or a John Ford movie.  There is not any category.  And it’s why we survived the horrible theoretical decade of the 70s with Lacanism and Maoism and structuralism, and so on.  Because people had totally forgotten what cinema was about.  They were just looking at films and trying to put films into slots.  Either they fitted into the slot or they didn’t fit into the slot.  Positif never reacted like that.  After that of course, once the pleasure is there, once the love is there, there is a will to analyze, the will to use concepts, the will to use psychoanalysis or sociology or history or whatever.  But the aesthetic approach has always been paramount.”

See Mavericks and Outsiders: Positif Celebrates American Cinema at the Walter Reade Theater January 30 – February 4, 2009.

For an extended interview with Michel Ciment by Paul Brunick, please see the Mar/Apr issue of Film Comment magazine.

Guest blogger Matt Griffin gets ready for “Mavericks and Outsiders” series

January 29, 2009

Over the next week, I will be posting here at the filmlinc blog while following the Mavericks and Outsiders: Positif Celebrates American Cinema series at the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess: the detail that first drew me to the Positif series was the chance to see The Honeymoon Killers again, which I saw the first week I moved to the New York area nine years ago. I showed up expecting an outlandish, unintentionally-ironic cusp-of-seventies exploitation film so was in no way prepared for such starkly, painfully human performances — they crept up on me and into me. For a sample of how this film was (mis)marketed as b-movie/exploitation fare check out its trailer here — I want you as unprepared for this solid underground touchstone as I was.

Positif editor Michel Ciment has programmed a lineup of films in the spirit of his publication’s commitment to championing voices too fiercely-individual for  a priori critical theories of film (ahem, early Cahiers): these are films hard as hell to catch outside an archive (only a few obtainable as cut-for-R-rating DVDs at all much less as unexpurgated film prints — you won’t be catching up on these on Netflix anytime soon); and films I expect to challenge me and knock my socks off a little —  like The Honeymoon Killers did to me to kickstart my film house habit.

I’ll tease you with what I turn up as I catch up on Positif and find out more about films in the series. I’ll report back on screenings and onstage discussions as I attend. And don’t worry: you’ll be hearing from more than just me. I’ve buttonholed filmmakers and festival colleagues into watching this series with me, and the snatches I grab from the arguments/conversations will provide the filmlinc blog with more spirited material than I can generate on my own (and this only if the powerhouse in-person q&a’s ever quiet down).

As with many unrepentant filmmaker/cinephiles waking up this January to the reality of a post-Kim’s-Video-rental New York, I’m back to stalking the wild “true cinema” beast in its natural habitat. I should be mentioned, and I’m sure the Film Society will remind you, that the Series Pass ($40 for public/$30 Film Society Member) makes Mavericks and Outsiders a hell of hot stack of tickets this week, cheaper than rentals plus late fees for import DVDs and fuzzy greymarket VHS copies of these edgy films from the now Sicily-bound Kim’s Video “poorman’s film schoool.”

Inside the NYJFF: Belief at a crossroads in Waiting for Armageddon

January 28, 2009
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Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, Franco Sacchi (directors of Waiting for Armageddon) with Richard Peña

If you had any doubt that the grass-roots growth of apocalyptic Evangelical Christianity could have the power and influence to shape American foreign policy, the new documentary Waiting for Armageddon will open your eyes. Centering on little-examined player in the conflict over Israel–American Evangelical Christians who heap support and tourist dollars on the embattled region–the documentary takes pains to thoroughly explore a complicated subject.

“Our purpose was to open a debate and make the world aware of the [Evangelical Christian] point of view,” said one of the film’s directors, David Heilbronner, at his appearance after the film’s premiere during the New York Jewish Film Festival. The documentary tracks followers of “dispensationalist” theology–the belief that the end times are coming and defusing geo-political conflicts, especially in the Middle East, may go against Biblical prophecy. What you hear from true believers over and over in the film is that Israel must exist for Armageddon to come, even though that Armageddon means that Jews in Israel and everywhere must accept Jesus as their savior.

Exploring this central contradiction provides the dramatic backbone of the film. And despite the extreme, apocalyptic beliefs of many Christians featured in the film, co-director Franco Saachi noted that “there is a real pitfall in cultivating an us vs. them mentality. We really wanted the critical perspectives to come from within the movement.” To that end, the filmmakers interviewed Mel White, a prominent former ghostwriter for Billy Graham, and others who have strong internal connections to American Evangelicalism.

Waiting for Armageddon manages the difficult feat of balancing illuminating everyday stories (like the Evangelical couple who work for a jet-engine manufacturer who say “a lot of tears were shed trying to reconcile science with scripture”) with eye-opening pronouncements from major actors on the world stage (Ehud Olmert is shown making an personal appeal to the Christians: “Israel loves you”). Further, the film demonstrates how important pressure from Evangelical groups have been in influencing American policy in the Middle East during the Bush adminstration. As Christians, Muslims and Jews alike personalize a culture clash, the filmmakers’ aim to shape the film as “the story of the end of the world” becomes a stark, but dramatic, choice.

Waiting for Armageddon closes the New York Jewish Film Festival tomorrow night at 8:30 PM.