Archive for April 2009

Stranger Than Spycraft: Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control

April 29, 2009

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL

“No guns, no mobiles, no sex. How can you stand it?”

This is the question asked by a very naked, very attractive Paz De La Huerta as she lies in bed pointing a gun at “Lone Man” (Isaach De Bankole).

(For context, the previous question she asked him was, “Do you like my ass?”, his reply: “Yes.”)

His reply to this question is given in a cut to him lying awake, fully clothed, while the fully naked Ms. De La Huerta lies next.

And thus the bed is made, literally or figuratively, for Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control,” a crafty satire so on edge you might just miss the comedy of it all.

The story–if there is much of one–follows Lone Man as he weaves his way through provincial Spain, discovering various characters (i.e: an umbrella-toting Tilda Swinton) and also includes a lot of match-boxes and something about diamonds somewhere and a conspiracy.

Knowing Mr. Jarmusch, you might also suspect the presence of both coffee and cigarettes, and be sated, for they are in the film in profusion.

And even though, as I said, there’s something of a conspiracy afoot (involving diamonds, remember?) and maybe some existential philosophy, what we really do for most of the movie is see what Lone Man is seeing and then stare, shot after shot, into his face.

This would be a more onerous task if Mr. De Bankole did not have such an interesting face. Indeed, Mr. Jarmusch (after pronouncing me a “lowlife”) claimed that the movie was written for him and that it would not exist without him. And Mr. De Bankole is indeed an actor of some great talent, as can be seen clearly in Lars Von Trier’s “Manderlay”, though American audiences may know him better from “24.” We hold on Lone Man in many shots of doing Tai Chi, of staring at a matchbox, of memorizing directions on small pieces of paper and then eating them (I was glad I had popcorn). It holds together because Mr. De Bankole is facinating in his motions, in the interesting lop-sidedness and angularity of his body (something mirrored somewhat by Ms. De La Huerta).

But didn’t I mention in the beginning that this was a satire? Indeed it is, though it might take you a while to catch on. What we are seeing here, is the inverse of Bond movie, round in all the places those films are sharp and vice-versa. Rather the frenetic pacing of a film like Casino Royale (which Mr. De Bankole was also in), we are given a lot of time with nothing at all. Rather than a bunch of high-tech gadgetry, we are given a spy who hates mobile phones. Rather than a polished, British-ized, anesthetized hero, we are given the distinct-looking Lone Man. Our arch-villain–none other than Bill Murray–tries to spout a bunch of nonsense about changing the world, where previously he was calling for a latte. Our hero’s greeting phrase for god-sakes is an acknowledgment that he can’t speak Spanish. What kind of International Man of Mystery is this?

Perhaps the most sublime moment of comedy comes from Ms. De La Huerta who greets Lone Man wearing nothing through a see-through plastic vest.

“Do you like my new raincoat?” she asks.

I guess that’s no more blunt than naming someone “Pussy Galore.”

Mr. Jarmusch has experimented with genre before, with the hip-hop/samurai-tale “Ghost Dog” and the concert film “Year of the Horse”, but here he tries a spin at comedy with sleek syle and gets somewhere, I think.

I discussed it with friends later.

“Well, it’s kind of like, you know Scary Movie and Epic Movie and all that stuff? Well, it’s kind of like if someone hired Jim Jarmusch to make Spy Movie.”

“But in a good way.”

“Yeah, in a good way.”

***

-Nicholas Feitel, Contributing Editor

“The Limits of Control” plays on Thursday April 30th at the Walter Reade with a Conversation with Jim Jarmusch to follow, part of FSLC’s Young Friends of Film Program.

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The Path Panchali and thoughts on Satyajit Ray’s place in film history

April 29, 2009

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It’s been said that all you need to do in order to get sympathy from your audience is put animals, old people, or little kids in your movie. When I watch the first five minutes of Satyajit Ray’s 1958 directorial debut, Pather Panchali, this is the line recalled by the cynical little commentator located in my cortex – the film takes no time in giving us a fleet of mewling kittens, a wide-eyed little girl, and a catty if frail old lady. By the time five minutes have passed, however, something amazing happens: I am sufficiently captivated by these particular kittens, this particular little girl, and this particular old lady that my sarcastic id shuts the hell up.

The film continues to lead me along a rocky path in rural 1920s India, overgrown with the brambles of life’s most organic trials: poverty, illness, jealousy, and inclement weather. The Ray family has lost its guava orchard to some cousins as the result of a brother’s debt, and Durga Ray’s mother must constantly scold her daughter for taking a little of the fruit that should be hers. There is a surprisingly hilarious and touching camaraderie between Durga and her great aunt Indir, who always share the fruit that Durga steals. The movie moves me unquestionably – I laugh, I cry, I shudder – but as I watch it I remain perplexed as to the source of its prestige (a quick Wikipedia search before seeing Pather told me that the film is on the best movies ever list for The New York Times and several others). Sure this film is moving, but isn’t it too simple, too elementary, too basic for all this glory? My complex modern commentator has somehow found its voice again. The rest of me wants the silence back.

To regain the quiet, I consider that in this film, the most simple of problems grow to be at least as dark as the complex poisons that modern life concocts. Somehow, though, Satyajit Ray can counter all the darkness of Pather with pure lights. Ray has a unique ability to show us these joys unfettered despite life’s thousand natural shocks. Aunt Indir’s smile is toothless, and the inspiration for about a million wrinkles, but at the same time I have never seen an image more purely beautiful or eloquent in my life. Even my inner smartass begins to see why this movie has been slated in filmic circles as a timeless classic. The voice becomes sedate again, and I find myself hoping that the change is permanent.

-Morgan H. Green

The Film Talk podcast chats about Satyajit Ray

April 28, 2009

Coming to you from Belfast and Nashville via the Internet, the opinionated gents of The Film Talk (Gareth Higgins and Jett Loe) dissect our Satyajit Ray series. You can listen to them talking about achieving effortless naturalism in cinema, the proper pronunciation of Satyajit Ray’s name, and the meaning of a Ray retrospective in the midst of a world of multiplexes. It’s a great contextualization of our Ray series, which is closing tomorrow (Wednesday).

New podcasts from The Film Talk come out frequently, and cover notable movies both high and low. You can subscribe to them on iTunes, or visit their official site.

[Open the Film Talk podcast here]

Guest post: The Film Talk’s Jett Loe on Satyajit Ray

April 28, 2009

Straight out of Nashville, The Film Talk‘s Jett Loe files this reaction to the films of Satyajit Ray.

There was a strange mental disconnect involving the escalators at the Regal Cinemas Green Hills during the Nashville Film Festival last week.

The Festival screenings all took place on the lower level of the building.  If you had to go up a level, say to get to your parked car, you ascended the escalator – and in doing so you left behind intrusive, investigative cinema that tried to apprehend the world and entered…what?

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The world of  ‘17 Again’.

This contrast between cinema that actually tries to do something, (convey the human experience perhaps?), and cinema that exists seemingly only as a joyless works program, is so great that I don’t think these different types of films are actually the same medium.

Pics like ‘Fast and Furious’ or ‘State of Play’ aren’t films in the way we are used to thinking of them – they’re animated Power Point Profit Projections – they’re advertisements for themselves.

Which brings me to Satyajit Ray and Pather Panchali: Ray’s Panchali is the antidote to today’s crass commercial cinema.

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Now, until today I had never a Satyajit Ray film.

How can this be?

I’m a cinephile – I love movies – my church, my Cinematic Shrine growing up was the U.C. Theatre in Berkeley.  Long since closed due to technological advances in film distribution, the U.C. showed everything.  Day after day there’d be two different Hitchcock’s, two different Truffaut’s, two different Ozu’s – I saw it all.

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But I stayed away from Ray.  I don’t know why, (my earliest memories are of being in India so that may have something to do with it – but I’ll save theories on Ray avoidance for another post!);  the point is I never saw a Satyajit pic until until an hour ago.

Now, astoundingly, my podcast co-host and fellow cinephile Gareth Higgins has never seen a Ray picture either, (!), so we are compelled to record a show dedicated to Pather – online tomorrow, April 28.  In the meantime I’ll make some observations, not about the themes of the film, which we’ll discuss on the podcast, but on technique.

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In Yojimbo director Akira Kurosawa used a simple trick that I wish modern film makers would make more use of.  He established a world that existed independent of the protagonist – so we see Yojimbo walking into a new town then cut to the inside of a bar:  we see the bar owners for a minute –  a couple squabbling, and then Yojimbo enters.  They, and by extension the world, existed independent of the hero.  This is contrary to most modern commercial films that posit a universe that revolves around the main characters.

Ray used this technique in Pather – taking it to an extreme by opening the story before Pather’s hero, Apu, is even born.

So in Pather we feel we’re seeing something real – a real, lived in world; artificiality, the artificiality of Hollywood cinema, has been stripped away.

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Ray carries off another trick – in Pather compelling performances make you empathise with the people on screen – so traditional narrative structure is not required.  What Ray does do is show you events. This also creates a sense of the real world – we move beyond structure and are immersed in the real – the power of the story is increased immensely as a result.

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I could go on for thousands of words here – but will save it for tomorrow’s podcast – I hope it will make you go out and see as many Ray pics as you can.

-Jett Loe

Our Satyajit Ray series continues through this Wednesday.

Satyajit Ray’s Tender Twisters and Trysts

April 28, 2009

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While one tendency is to describe Satyajit Ray – one of India’s foremost auteurs – as a deeply lyrical, characteristically humanist filmmaker, another, perhaps altogether similar tendency is to place him alongside the ranks of cinema’s most tender observers of the world. The twenty-one features included in the Film Society’s ongoing retrospective are encounters with what Film Comment’s Nicolas Rapold has called Ray’s incomparable cinema of impasses and reinventions. However, like the Italian Neorealists before him – who were early, venerable influences – Ray drops his characters into conditions that are ultimately too hostile and too unnameable for reinventions to take place. What remain are the impasses, and it’s with these that Ray’s characters most memorably come alive.

Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) (1970), coming alive means taking a trip to the country and awkwardly putting big-city attitudes aside; it means sex with local women and doing the twist in the middle of the night. It means, for Ray’s four Calcutta natives (Soumitra Chatterjee, Samit Bhanja, Subhendu Chatterjee and Rabi Ghosh), a road trip that never really ends, a shove to their bourgeois mental baggage (Japanese radios, Hollywood Westerns, sunglasses and Scotch whiskey) and contact with a different kind of reality.

The contact becomes too much for the four men, however. Ray’s images alternate between different speeds and rhythms, keeping these characters out of syncopation with their new surroundings and ultimately disturbing their momentum. Late in the film, a set of conversations between the men and their newfound romantic interests (Sharmila Tagore and Kaveri Bose) are quickly interrupted by vertiginous, almost depersonalized images of dancers and musicians, linking carnival to confession in ways that accommodate the push-pull, stop-go presentation of Ray’s narrative.

As the characters’ relationships become more complicated, so do our feelings about their intentions, whether these intentions are disguised or made public. But the warmth and humor behind Ray’s images – the mindfulness his images have for gestures of different scales and intensities – give them a tenderness that sticks. It’s precisely this rejection of contemptuousness that ennobles Aranyer Din Ratri (and Ray’s cinema at large) with a sense richness and luminosity. Impasses are turned into possibilities.

– Ricky D’Ambrose

Relive the heydey of Sonic Youth and Nirvana in 1991: The Year Punk Broke

April 27, 2009

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If you’ve been feeling lonesome lately for your grunge rock days, the no-budget indie doc 1991: The Year Punk Broke is coming to the Walter Reade this May.  In his self-produced film, director Dave Markey follows Nirvana and Sonic Youth on their 1991 European tour, offering up a view of Kurt Cobain and company with home-video intimacy, and capturing live performances by said bands including appearances by Babes in Toyland, Gumball, and Dinosaur Jr. This month marks fifteen years since Cobain’s death, and a screening of The Year Punk Broke is the perfect way to commemorate the influence grunge music had on the music of today.

Nirvana and Sonic Youth were the spearheads of the movement that took the world by storm in the 90s, composed of Generation Xers whose disdain for the Regan/Bush establishment filtered into their music.  The sound was a melding of punk, indie rock, and pop that sought to reject the values of the highly-synthesized commercial pop of the 80s and reclaim the graininess of analog for one last victory lap around the mosh pit before the impending arrival of the digital age.  It was a time when it was not only acceptable but encouraged to play a casually off-key set without a shirt on and then smash your instrument when the set was over.

But amongst the guitar smashing, there is a distinct thread of social consciousness throughout the movie.  Mudhoney’s Mark Arm interrogates bewildered European fans on the street throughout the doc about their opinion of the capitalization on youth culture, and Sonic Youth, who was one of the first bands of the scene to maintain artistic control of their music when they signed on with a major record label, reiterate their suspicion of record companies and the capitalistic industry in general.

1991: The Year Punk Broke is raw and playful, with a handmade quality that honors its grunge roots, and is dominated by live performances by all your old favorites, so come feel nostalgic with us and watch this film that is as loud and loosely-structured as the music it celebrates.

-Christianne Hedtke

Christianne Hedtke also writes for BananaWho

Buy tickets to 1991: The Year Punk Broke Mon May 4: 8:15pm

How YOU can help the Film Society enhance our social media offerings with 1 simple click

April 24, 2009

Friends,

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is in the running for a very exciting Social Media Leadership Award from the Jenzabar Foundation. But to win it, we need your help. Finalists are selected by the number of comments on each application.

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WE NEED YOUR HELP BEFORE NEXT THURSDAY TO WIN! Helping is simple and will only take a couple of minutes.

All you need to do is visit this post, and add your two cents. Your comment can be short and sweet. You can talk about what you enjoy about the blog, or any of the Film Society’s other social media offerings on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or Flickr. You can even tell us where you’d like to see us improve. You do not need to register to make a comment.

Every single comment matters, and your comment could be the one that puts us on top!  So please take the time to help out by adding your comment to the post, and share this link on Facebook, Twitter and with whomever else you’d think may be interested.

It’s a simple way to have a great impact on our ability to bring you great online multimedia content and new tools to involve our online community.

PLEASE, COMMENT TODAY!