Posted tagged ‘Werner Herzog’

ND/NF: Birdwatchers glares from afar

March 30, 2009

Reaching at but never grasping the heels of the likes of Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog, Marco Bechis’s Birdwatchers portrays the on-going conflict of paradigmatic shift between the indigenous people of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil and the “fazendeiros,” opulent opportunists who exploit the land and its naturals for monetary gain.  The wordless opening scene cuts from a glorious wide shot of the jungle to a motor boat cutting through a river, slowing to a stop so that the binocular and camera-clad tourists can gawk at the Indians standing around at the riverbed like a herd of deer.  As soon as the boat is out of sight, the Indians disperse into the woods to a clearing where they receive payment for a day’s work.  They get onto a truck bed where their jeans and T-shirts are, and are driven back to a reservation.   There, the supposed chief, a drunkard, and the tribe shaman decide that they must take their land back, and camp out on the property of the fazendeiros.  More Indians join “the movement” as time goes by, and soon the tensions escalate into “metaphorical and actual war.”

Bechi makes no qualms about his intentions being as didactic as they are lyrical.  His frames are constantly bisected, symbolizing the schism inherent to the film’s story, using as his go-to image that of harvested land versus the sprawling jungle.  The tribe’s youth are prone to the tonally accurate but logically ambigious act of suicide by hanging, putting an emphasis on the helplessness that plagues the marginalized group but also limiting the taking of one’s own life to a conceit (see: device).  The gravity of life lost is obscured by the preference for polemical narrative.  The most problematic and in some ways indicative misstep is in the decision to assign a shaky P.O.V. shot and boogeyman soundscape to the evil spirit the Indians believe are inhabiting the forest — Belchi’s images have a tendency towards the literal, and prove to be a disservice to its elemental story.

Films with the ambition of Birdwatchers rarely come this close to success however.  While Belchi may not be able to find the right balance between his aforementioned impulses towards sensory cinema and didactic grandstanding, there’s no shortage of talent on display here.  The film’s most powerful scene is a testament to sensibilities worthy of attention.  A young shaman-in-training, lit by headlights and guns pointed at him, lashes out against his oppressors, screeching a native war cry and promising their death by his hands.  It is at once cathartic in its moment of empowerment but devastating in its futility.  

One may wish that Malick or Herzog had helmed this instead, but there aren’t too many films that can’t be said about.

– Sam Song

Buy tickets:

Wed Apr 1: 9 (MoMA)
Thu Apr 2: 6:15 (FSLC)

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9 mind-boggling, gut-churning illustrations of why moviemaking is hell

February 16, 2009

Who remembers American Movie, the documentary about the hapless arc of aspiring no-budget filmmaker Mark Borchardt? Well, if you enjoyed that film, you’ll love Demon Lover Diary, a cringe-inducing primer on how not to make a movie. In the 1980 documentary, the producer/star of the horror film—forever wearing a single black glove—half admits to financing the film by lopping off his own finger in an insurance scam, to name one of the funniest/most horrifying moments.

In the spirit of the film, here are our favorite illustrations of why filmmaking is hell:


  • Living in Oblivion. This low-budget indie about the making of a no-budget indie was just about the truest representation of “the life” in New York independent film circa the late nineties I’ve ever seen, complete with the boom operator with the script and pretentious dream sequences. Those were the days when so many of us were driving around the city in a C&C Rental truck, truly living in oblivion…
  • Final Cut. How do you bring down a whole studio? You truck out into the desert and shoot millions of feet of film without a clear plan. Steven Bach gives us a scathing portrait of how the making of Heaven’s Gate destroyed United Artists.

  • Hearts of Darkness. The subtitle, “A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” says it all about this depiction of the legendary production process behind Apocalypse Now. Check out the film for reasons why when you’re going out to the jungle, getting stoned out of your mind and casting lunatic actors, you don’t want to give your wife a camera to document it all. In contrast to Heaven’s Gate, this nightmarish process produced a masterpiece. Discuss….
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Kinski was a very "hands-on" actor

  • My Best Fiend by Werner Herzog. The claws come out in the acclaimed filmmaker’s portrait of his troubled relationship with madman/collaborator Klaus Kinski.
  • A Pound of Flesh by Art Linson. In case you were harboring any ambitious of being a producer, Linson’s tales of working with some of Hollywood’s biggest egos, as well as a gun-toting Hunter S. Thompson will disabuse you of your fantasies.
  • The Devil’s Candy. Julie Salamon, film critic for The Wall Street Journal, was given seemingly unlimited access to the production of Brian De Palma’s film version of Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. Echoing the frightening tale laid bare in Final Cut, DePalma’s bloated production quickly went way over budget without a clear plan. My favorite part is where the crew burns through thousands of dollars while waiting for a once-in-a-lifetime shot they can’t guarantee: the Concorde framed miraculously against the setting sun.
  • Force Majeure by Bruce Wagner. This is the first novel of a masterful Hollywood satirist, and though not as strong as some of his later work (see I’m Losing You), it is a pretty funny and twisted story of the hapless misadventures of failing screenwriter/chauffeur Bud Wiggins.

Buy tickets to Demon Lover Diary: Sun Feb 22: 2:30