Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)

Alfred Hitchcock deplored movies that amounted to “pictures of people talking.” He considered the making of a film containing little action and structured around conversations to be the worst crime a filmmaker could commit. The irony that a work such as NOTORIOUS (1946) essentially fits that description and remains one of Hitchcock’s greatest masterpieces, was apparently lost on the master director. Hitch’s assessment can also be shot down with a viewing of Louis Malle’s MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981), a film that is not just a talk fest, but one of the most fascinating and riveting cinematic treats of the 1980s. If the conversation is bright and intriguing… It is with these possibilities in mind that I viewed BEFORE SUNRISE (1995). This very wordy (but never verbose), one hundred minute long acting exercise follows the conversations between a young American named Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and a French woman (Celine, played by Julie Delpy) as they spend a day and night traversing the breathtaking landscape of Vienna in the late Spring.

Jessie (his real name is James but his friends call him Jessie – perhaps because he shoots from the hip), first encounters Celine on a Vienna bound train as they travel through Europe. He is just “traveling around.” She is returning from Hungary where she was visiting her Grandmother, and plans to take the train to Paris. The first shot of the film is a clue that they will be together – at least temporarily: The parallel rails of a train track as the locomotive speeds on its way. Celine and Jessie meet when she changes her seat to avoid a bickering couple (Andrea Eckert and Hanno Poschl). This is another clue: BEFORE SUNRISE will be about relationships, especially the conflicting personalities of men and women. One of the first lines in their conversation will be about conversations, with Celine remarking, “As couples grow older they lose their ability to hear each other.” It seems men lose the ability to hear high-pitched sounds and women lose touch with the lower pitched end of the spectrum. While she is referring to a literal loss, her statement could also be interpreted along figurative or symbolic lines, as we recall the arguing couple.

Later, as they ride a tram through Vienna, the subject turns to sex and love. When the couple play a version of twenty questions, Jessie asks about her first sexual attraction. Celine asks if he has ever been in love. This is the eternal divide with women interested in love and men forever obsessed with sex.

The film could also be read as an exploration of the differences between Europeans and Americans. She is cosmopolitan and speaks several languages (including English) while he is a self-described “crude American” who has only mastered English. Celine is preoccupied with stories of her Grandmother and sees herself as an elderly and wise woman (though she is only in her mid twenties.) Jessie thinks of himself as a very young boy and it is laid out clearly: Europe, the older, wiser partner and America the young snot nosed kid, will always be in conflict. Jessie plays the ignorant, ugly American joke to the hilt. When Celine points out the Danube from atop a ferris wheel, he jokes “That’s the river, right?” And he is genuinely cynical. Encountering a fortune-teller on the street, the grandmotherly woman (Erni Mangold) reads Celine’s palm, eliciting disdain from Jessie. Celine, of course, believes in the woman, partially perhaps, because of her respect for the aged. Jessie will have none of it. Affecting a Romany accent, he recreates what he feels a truthful palmist would tell a disappointed old lady. “You’re life will be a tedious collection of hours with no new passions.”

But Celine is falling for him. AS they happen upon an impoverished street poet (Dominik Castell) who asks the couple to suggest a word he will use in a poem (in exchange for a small donation), Celine picks a uniquely American one:”Milkshake.” The poem he creates on the spot is all about relationships and ends with the query “Don’t you know me by now?”

Stopping in a pub, they play pinball while once again discussing love. Both seem to take out some suppressed anger on the machine. Hitting the button with more and more intensity as they take turns, there is a sense of barely subdued violence and perhaps, sexual tension. Jessie: Love is for people afraid to be alone. There’s nothing more selfish!” Later, after leaving the pub, he reveals a paranoid streak when he states, “On some level women don’t mind the idea of destroying a man.” Celine is more philosophical, saying “Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”

There is ample discussion about God and the deeper meaning of existence. An emotionally pointed scene has the couple visiting a cemetery. The countless black crucifixes that decorate the landscape of the grounds remind us of comments Jessie made earlier about reincarnation, in which he states his belief that the million or so souls that populated the world at the beginning have splintered into the six or seven billion that exist today. The crosses stretch to the horizon and we are struck by the universality of human existence.

We see the couple working together in a revelatory scene in yet another pub. Jessie talks the bartender (Hayman Maria Buttinger) into giving him a bottle of wine (the broke American is now the panhandler), while Celine steals wine glasses from under the preoccupied barkeeper’s nose. In an isolated park the two share the wine, and apparently sex, but not before much discussion as to whether the latter is a good idea. Jessie, of course, thinks it’s a great one, eventually having his way with Celine.

As morning beckons, Celine and Jessie end up on a deserted street dancing to harpsichord music played by a man in a nearby apartment (Wolfgang Gluxam), just as they danced the night before to “Yakety Sax” at an amusement park. The crude red neck American song has given way to the elegant strains of European classical music. Celine and Jessie have each given up a piece of themselves for the relationship.

At the train station that morning, they agree to meet again “six months from last night.” Originally they intended to keep their evening together a one night affair – something to remember for the rest of their lives – but emotions got the better of them – even the love leery American. In what appears to be a nod to Yasujiro Ozu, Linklatter closes his film with shots of all the places the couple visited during the previous night. Each location is now empty (Ozu frequently ends a scene on a shot of an empty room – creating a feeling of melancholy), except for an old man in the town square and an elderly woman in the park where the couple indulged in the pilfered wine and much debated sexual coupling. No matter our experiences in life, we often end up old and alone. Perhaps it will be a mistake for the two to meet again. I may view the sequels that followed to find out Celine and Jessie’s ultimate opinion of their decision. The continuing conversation would be an interesting one on which to eavesdrop.

CREDITS: Produced by Anne Walker-McBay. Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan. photographed by Lee Daniel. Edited by Sandra Adair. WITH: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckert, Hanno Poschl, Erin Mangold,Dominik Castell, Hayman Maria Buttinger and Wolfgang Gluxam.

July 24, 2013 Posted by | 1990s cinema, American Film, film directors, film drama, films set in Austria, independent film | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE HITCH-HIKER (1953)

Ida Lupino was an actress before she became a director, but her roots don’t show. You might think she would be a filmmaker preoccupied with performance at the expense of pictorial designs. As it happens, she proves herself quite adept at the visualization process in THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), one of six films the British born Lupino made as just about the only female director in Hollywood during the 1950s. Most of her films were overheated melodramas which she frequently co-wrote as well as directed. If her writing did not always match her clever visuals, she should at least be congratulated for surviving in these capacities in male dominated Hollywood.

In THE HITCH-HIKER, Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) and Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) are on a fishing trip through Mexico, when they pick up a hitch-hiker whose car has run out of gas. But Emmett Myers (William Talman) is actually a serial killer who has murdered several drivers unlucky enough to offer him a helping hand. A few minutes into this drive the wanted man pulls a gun and lays out his plan: His captives will drive him south to San Rosalia, where he will catch a ferry to freedom. If they try anything, they will die.

The film begins with a montage of the killings, punctuated by a woman’s scream. This is one of the few appearances of a female character (though we never see her face) in a film heavy with testosterone. How odd – considering the gender of the director, who also co-wrote the screenplay (with Collier Young). Gilbert and Roy’s first encounter with Myers is memorably ominous as the silhouette of his hand, thumb extended, looms in the foreground on a dark desert evening. Soon he is worming his way into their subconscious by calling attention to the class differences between the two men. Upon discovering their professions (Gilbert is a draftsmen and Roy owns a garage) the oily villain says to Gilbert “That makes you smarter.” elsewhere, he plays on this alleged difference: “You’re the smart guy” he barks, handing Gilbert a map. Myers is ill at ease with Gilbert’s status, castigating him for speaking Spanish to a gas station attendant, “I don’t speak Mexican!” he growls. He tries again to drive a wedge between the two men in a brilliant scene involving a game of target practice. Having found one of the rifles they intended to use for hunting, Myers uses his own gun to force Gilbert to shoot a tin can out of Roy’s hand at 50 paces. He sadistically instructs Roy to hold the can closer and closer to his face before commanding Gilbert to fire. Lupino uses a clever subjective shot to heighten the suspense as we, in the audience, seem to be holding the rifle.

Another sublime, though perhaps more subtle visual touch, comes as the men drive on, listening to radio reports from the States, of the police search. Myers has a dead, partially paralyzed right eye and his good eye seems to glow menacingly as the sun shines through the car window. A weird, comic moment comes as the men bunk down for the night. Gilbert and Roy are wrapped tightly in their sleeping bags with only their heads popping out from the top of the bundles. Myers leans against a tree holding his ever-present gun on the helpless men, with Lupino’s sleeping bag imagery acting as a symbolic comment on their entrapment.

The only female character of note appears when the three men stop at a small grocery store to pick up supplies. A little girl playing with a doll annoys Myers making it necessary for Gilbert to come to her defense. Woman are peripheral in this world, always thought about, even discussed but almost never seen, and the female character with the most significant role in the drama is a small child. In OUTRAGE (1950) Lupino depicted a woman at the mercy of a man, and the rape victim in that film becomes undone by the trauma. Interesting…

Gilbert’s expensive watch becomes a symbol of privilege to Myers. “You always had it good so you’re soft”, he says admiring the wristwatch. It also becomes a symbol of the kind of love Myers has never known, when he discovers the timepiece was a gift to Gilbert. It is obvious that Myers is intimidated by Gilbert, but it is gas stations – a representation of Roy’s profession, that haunt him. A service station figures most prominently when Gilbert purposely leaves his wedding ring at a station as a clue to the police who are closing in. And the ring being left behind seems to represent Gilbert’s heartache at being separated from his wife, a yearning Myers will never understand.

Though he began by belittling Roy, it becomes clear that Myers feels a strange connection to this blue-collar working class hostage. In an effort to fool the police as they get closer, the two men exchange cloths late in the film (at Myer’s command). But Myers is a lone wolf who resents Gilbert’s relationship with Roy. He mocks them suggesting that at least one of them could have escaped had they not worried so much about each other. The relationships between men are at the heart of this film by a woman director, and she handles the task with aplomb – at least visually. Her screenplay unfortunately displays a certain lack of imagination at times. Despite its perfunctory nature it serves a purpose as a clothesline on which Ida Lupino hangs her themes and pictorial ideas, making for an entertaining low-budget thriller.

CREDITS: Produced by Collier Young. Directed by Ida Lupino. Screenplay by Ida Lupino and Collier Young. Adaptation by Robert Joseph. Photographed by Nicholas Musaraca. Music by Leith Stevens. Edited by Douglas Stewart. With: Frank Lovejoy, Edmond O’Brien, William Talman, Jose Torvay, Sam Hayes, Wendel Niles, Jean Del Val, Clark Howat.

July 3, 2013 Posted by | 1950s cinema, film directors, film drama, independent film, suspense films | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FULL FRONTAL (2002)

FULL FRONTAL (2002) is one of several Steven Soderbergh digital video experiments, the most famous of which is the 2005 work BUBBLE.  The former is concerned with a lot of things, from Hollywood’s depiction of the sexuality of black men to a more severe form of fascism – as a theater group prepares a satirical low-budget play about Hitler.  But ultimately it seems to be an exploration of the relationship or conflict between art and reality.  Several of  the characters in FULL FRONTAL are actors involved in the creation of a film called RENDEZVOUS, which tells the story of a film journalist falling in love with a black movie star.  The actors who star in this film within a film (Julia Roberts is “Catherine” who portrays “Francesca”  and Blair Underwood is “Nicholas” acting the part of “Calvin”) are among the unhappy people preparing to attend a party for a movie producer (David Duchovny) who ends up committing suicide the day of the gathering.  The screenwriter of RENDEZVOUS, Carl (David Hyde Pierce) is involved in a failing marriage to Lee (Catherine Keener), a successful business woman who is having an affair with Nicholas. 

An engaging moment from RENDEZVOUS has Calvin reciting a rap poem about Hollywood’s fear of black male sexuality, and when an interracial sexual encounter between Lee and Nicholas occurs, Soderbergh shoots it in a distorted blur, implying that Americans in general are not ready for such things.  (He may be selling us short, considering the mixed racial identity of our current President). 

In FULL FRONTAL’s sharpest scene, Lee tosses around a balloon globe with her employees, demanding they name all the countries in Africa.  This presses the African/black theme further while simultaneously reminding us of Chaplin balancing that globe in THE GREAT DICTATOR.  Could Soderbergh be commenting on what he feels are the fascistic aspects of big business?   Another Hitler knock off (Nicky Katt) amuses us in the experimental play “The Sound And The Furher”, scenes of which periodically pop up in FULL FRONTAL

The scenes of the daily interactions between all these disparate characters are cunningly shot on home digital video, while the scenes from RENDEZVOUS are filmed on glossy 35 millimeter film stock.  The glamorous Hollywood images are contrasted with the drab reality of everyday life as depicted in the digital footage.  However, even those “realistic”  images, as the last shot of the film reminds us, turn out to be artifice: The creations of  skilled story tellers – director Soderbergh and screenwriter Coleman Hough.  Film (and video by inference) is fake, in spight of or perhaps because of  the efforts put into its presentation.  FULL FRONTAL is ostensibly a piece of cinema verite, but the director (as he had planned all along) eventually throws up his hands implying that capturing reality on film or video is impossible.  And what about the reality of Soderbergh’s pronouncements on race and big business?

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.  Written by Coleman Hough.  Director of Photography: Peter Andrews.  With David Duchovny, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, Julia Roberts, Blair Underwood and Nicky Katt

June 10, 2012 Posted by | American Film, film directors, independent film | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talmage Cooley’s DIMMER

There are a couple of reasons why Talmage Cooley’s DIMMER (2005) is the shortest film to which I have ever dedicated an entire column.  For one, most short films simply do not contain enough material to accommodate a review.  And most significantly, DIMMER is a work so rich and soulful that it can be analyzed in print and still leave viewers with hours of discussion ahead of them. 

From the very first image – a young blind man pointing a pistol directly at the camera – DIMMER takes aim at the expectations of the audience.  This amazing documentary follows four blind youths, who seem to be in their late teens or early twenties, as they traverse the ruins of Buffalo, New York.  These men destroy our illusions of what it means to be blind as they undertake activities from playing catch (though not very successfully) to riding bikes.  The latter moment is captured in cheeky fashion by director Cooley who shows the young people cycling in the pitch black of a northern New York night.  In such situations we are all equal.  One of the group discusses the ease with which sightless people can engage in fist fights with the sighted.  “Landing punches” is easy he assures us, just listen for the breathing.  Well, easy for him. 

The film’s main focus is Mike Cieslinksi, who became blind as a baby and now has artificial eyes.  He wanders the city talking with his estranged girlfriend on his cell phone.  His pain is palpable as he tries to bring about reconciliation.  A broken heart is the same in blackness or in the bright light of day. 

For a film ostensibly about blindness DIMMER is a work rife with sensory excitement.  The cinematography provided by Jim Wall is revelatory in its explicit black and white textures.  The sounds as well overwhelm us: The foul language used by the cast to express themselves.  Distant trains rumble along.  The echoing of sticks and rods banged against empty oil drums.  The winds ceaseless mourning.  The creepy Hitchcockian bird cries that follow us around.  And especially the roar of Niagara Falls.  We wonder what it would be like to experience these sounds as the blind hear them – so much more haunting and intense.  After experiencing life through these young men, it makes sense when Mike comments on his lost love: “I’m blind so I don’t judge by looks, but that bitch was ugly!”

Several times throughout the film the screen goes black, leaving us in total darkness.  For just a brief moment here and there, we can imagine what blindness must be like.  But then the lights come back on… for us.

CREDITS: Directed by Talmage Cooley.  Cinematography by Jim Wall.  Edited by Crandall Miller.  Sound by Brian Blackburn, Michael Fitzpatrick and Lustmord.  Produced by Talmage Cooley, Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti.  Music by INTERPOL.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | American Film, documentary, film directors, independent film | , , , , , | 2 Comments

NOAM CHOMSKY AND POWER, DISSENT AND RACISM

The 2003 film ON POWER DISSENT AND RACISM, A DISCUSSION WITH NOAM CHOMSKY, begins with a shot of the earth hanging precariously in space.  The filmmaker, Nicolas Rossier, seems to be telling us something world shaking is about to happen.  When we first glimpse Chomsky, a Professor at MIT, he hardly seems the type to be worthy of the title “Rebel without a pause” bestowed on him by Bono.  His is a decidedly nondescript appearance.  It is the look of an everyman, with the only hint of fire being his modish long hair.  It seems only fair to view the film with an open mind, since Professor Chomsky is often considered by many to be the quintessential radical leftist University hack, a man consumed by hatred for his own country (and strangely enough, Israel). 

At times during the film, it is difficult to digest Chomsky’s words, since Rossier’s approach is so straight forward.  As the title suggests, this is not so much a motion picture as a picture of Chomsky talking.  And talk he does-for nearly 70 minutes, and there is very little to break up the monotony.  The footage of Chomsky being interviewed in his classroom in 2002 is alternated with moments from his 2003 lecture in New York city before the media group Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting.  The topic at both locales is the war on terror conducted by the Bush administration and what the Professor sees as the fascist history of the United States.  He explains that individuals such as Osama Bin Laden hate the U.S. and other western nations  because these powers support corrupt middle eastern regimes that thwart the growth of democracy in that region.  Our support for Israel, Chomsky maintains, is another reason for this unparalleled hatred. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

This potentially heavy subject matter is undercut on at least one occasion during the film when Rossier shows us Chomsky in his classroom discussing Anglo-American military historian Michael Howard’s approach to handling terrorism.  He then cuts to the Professor’s lecture where he says the exact same thing in precisely the same language.  Why show this argument twice?  Though this may be an attempt to emphasize Chomsky’s point, this editing choice only dilutes it. 

It is an interesting moment indeed when Chomsky comments on racism against Arabs, which the Professor claims has always run rampant in America but intensified after 9/11.  Strange, I attended high school with Arab kids in the late 70’s, and so far as I know, they suffered no great torment at the hands of their fellow students.  They seemed to fit in quite nicely.  In fact, when I first encountered them I mistakenly believed they were Sicilian Italians.  Of course, these were Christian Arabs, and it is undeniable that anti-Muslim bigotry has always been with us and has exploded in recent years. 

The final shot of the film is the same as the first: The earth floating quietly (or coldly?) in space.  From the beginning of time until the end of this film, at least, the world has remained constant.  Violent, ugly, the story is the same in every corner of the globe.  Chomsky places special blame on those of us of European ancestry.  Has he forgotten Genghis Khan?  And no one should forget the Cultural Revolution in China, the Sudanese genocide, the Bataan death march and Pol Pot.  Interviewer/director Rossier allows the Professor to do just that.    Perhaps all people are born to be fascists.  With power comes opportunity-to do good or wreak havoc.  The world will usually choose the latter.  It is part of the human condition. 

I watched with an open mind and where did it get me?  I certainly don’t think America is a fascist country, but I am no longer convinced that Chomsky is a loon.  He is ultimately a good and compassionate man who is obviously genuinely concerned about the plight of his fellow human beings.  It is understandable if he occasionally lets his passions get the better of him.  That is part of the human condition as well.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

May 19, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, independent film, indieflix, Nicolas Rossier, Noam Chomsky | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

indieflix collection 2

It’s time for another perusal of my indieflix collection.  We begin with an unusual documentary on one of the most embarrassing situations anyone can face.  Just about everyone, at one time or another, has encountered that crazy feeling when a lunch or supper just doesn’t lay right-and that certain moment when we realize said meal is going to come back up.  WHAT’S UP (1998, eighteen minutes) directed by Christopher Clements and Maria Bowen,  is an often hilarious, frequently repulsive collection of tales from ordinary people focusing on the golden moment-chunks and all.  Thankfully, there are no reenactments in the piece, just people telling their stories.  The universality of the predicament is brilliantly conveyed to the audience in Spanish by a young Hispanic woman.  There are no subtitles (a smart filmmaking decision) yet we know exactly what she’s talking about. 

The next film on the menu is BOMBS AWAY, MILLIONS A DAY (2005, eight min.) by Patricia Boiko.  In this film, the director of THE CORPORAL’S BOOTS (discussed in an earlier blog entry) examines a nuclear waste dump along the Columbia river.  Hanford, in eastern Washington state, is the largest toxic waste dump in the western hemisphere.  Since the area was chosen to produce plutonium for nuclear bombs, Boiko is given ample opportunity for animation sequences attacking nuclear war.  One of these, depicting a little Japanese girl presenting her Mother with a flower, just as the bomb goes off, is terribly trite.  Oh, well… after making THE CORPORAL’S BOOTS (a masterpiece), Boiko is entitled to stumble.

 

Next up is WAITING FOR A HEART: A PORTRAIT OF MY BROTHER (2004, twenty-six min.).  Director Edward Waisnis documents his brother Donald’s ordeal as he waits for a heart transplant.  The two bond as never before in this moving film and Waisnis must, in the end, be forgiven for opting for the melodramatic climactic moment when the camera circles Donald again and again.

 

Finally, there is RALLY AGAINST THE WAR ON IRAQ (2006, nine min.).  Though filmmaker Jeff Hahn cleverly shoots his interview scenes in black and white, creating a grim sense of urgency about the Washington D.C. rally, the events and people featured are often so obnoxious and shrill that the film becomes annoying.  Even at this short running time, the film seems too long. 

These films, as well as my political documentary WINDOW ON A WORLD (2009, fifty min.) can be found at indieflix.com, one of the most well-rounded collections of independent, low-budget films on the web.  Of course, not all indieflix films are masterpieces.  A few of them are, a few are mediocre, but amazingly all of them are interesting, which is more than can be said for many big budget Hollywood productions.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

March 13, 2010 Posted by | Christopher Clements, documentary, Edward Waisnis, film directors, independent film, Jeff Hahn, Maria Bowen, Patricia Boiko | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Janks Morton’s MEN TO BOYS (2009)

Filmmaker Janks Morton begins his new film MEN TO BOYS with a single question: Can a woman teach a boy to be a man?  As he encounters people of color, male and female, his voice on the soundtrack serves as a melancholy echo of similar questions posed in the past.  But this is a film about hope.  Never has so much artistic integrity gone into finding the solution to a major problem facing the black community.  Inspired by Lamarr Darnell Shields book 101 THINGS EVERY BOY OF COLOR SHOULD KNOW, the film is the second in a series that began with WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007).  This new film is as politically brave and stylistically mature as the first.  Both of these characteristics are evident in the haunting “March Of Cries” segment, featuring young African-American boys marching down a school hallway as if in a funeral procession, accompanied by captions such as “69.7 % out of wedlock birth rate”. 

It can get you into trouble just bringing up some of the trials facing young men of color, but Morton and his team at IYAGO Entertainment Group face the issues head on.  The main problem according to the filmmakers is the disconnect between black men and the sons they help bring into the world.  The aforementioned birth rate and a divorce rate higher than the national average, have a large percentage of black children growing up without a father, and the situation is especially damaging for male children.  The possible reasons for these statistics were explored in WHAT BLACK MEN THINK.  The focus this time is on the solution.  But the conclusion is clear: every boy needs a father.  The film as well as a lecture series featuring Morton and Shields aim at getting black men involved in the lives of their sons.  Any man, whatever his race, will be moved to hold his sons a little closer after what Morton, Shields and the men appearing in this film have to say. 

MEN TO BOYS is less reliant on celebrity interviews than WHAT BLACK MEN THINK, but the notables here have some poignant stories to tell.  The most memorable is from Congressmen Elijah Cummings, who touches us with a Christmas recollection about his father and the neccessity of simply being there for one’s family. 

There are three interview techniques used in the film: Man on the street interviews are shot from low angles.  The young black men are bundled up against the cold-a striking visual metaphor.  The low angles make the speaker’s statements resonate with great power.  In another technique Morton photographs ordinary men against a neutral background addressing male youths, as they look directly into the camera.  The interviews of notable personalities are shot in the men’s homes and offices.

This new film has me looking forward to a third installment in the series.  Janks Morton releases one film every two years, and it is always worth the wait.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, independent film, Janks Morton, Lamarr Darnell Shields | , , , , , | 1 Comment

WHOSE WAR?@indieflix.com

There are those who consider all wars to be folly.  The U.S. led invasion of Iraq is one of the most despised military actions of all time and is regarded by many as the ultimate folly.  Filmmakers Demetrios Papigans and Donald Evan Farmer brought together three noted anti-war activists to dissect the motives and consequences of “Mr. Bush’s war”.  The result is the 2006 production WHOSE WAR?, featuring actor Mike Farrell, director Keith Gordon and musician and “satirist” Jello Biafra.  A definite problem with the film is that excerpts from the latter’s concert in California are interspersed throughout the film.  Referring to Mr. Biafra as a “satirist” is using the word so loosely that it drops to the floor like a teen-aged boy’s hip-hop trousers.  That aside, the three men offer some thought-provoking opinions that keep the viewer interested for most of the films 59 minute running time. 

Stylistically, the film is similar to another political documentary WINDOW ON A WORLD (2009), consisting mostly of skillful cross cutting between interviews.  Unlike WINDOW, there is no news footage to bring home the points made by those interviewed.  An interesting choice-not good or bad-just interesting.  Both films are available at indieflix.com.

   

Keith Gordon (A MIDNIGHT CLEAR) and Farrell (TV’s MASH) have well established bon fides in the area of anti-war activism.  I know less about Jello Biafra, except that he was the lead singer of the punk band THE DEAD KENNEDYS.  He seems to be the angriest of the three-railing against the entire “system” that he feels runs America- the corporations, etc…  Gordon and Farrell are examples of pure erudition.  Though early on Gordon does posit the absurd notion that Bush may have invaded Iraq for the oil. 

The belief that Bush used the tragedy of 9/11 as an excuse to trample on civil liberties is presented.  Gordon brings up the patriot act as an example.  But President Bush’s big move, according to all three men, was shifting the blame for 9/11 to Iraq.  After this clumsy (but effective) bit of slight of hand, Bush was able to crush dissent at home and was given the excuse to invade Iraq.  Or so say those gathered for this film. 

As is so often the case with low-budget movies shot on digital video, there is a slight technical problem.  The sound for Mr. Biafra’s concert footage is often so low that I had to turn up the audio during these segments.  This caused me to jump on at least one occasion, when there was an abrupt cut to Keith Gordon’s interview and its much louder audio.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

January 24, 2010 Posted by | Demetrios Papigans, documentary, Donald Evan Farmer, film directors, independent film, indieflix, Jello Biafra, Keith Gordon, Mike Farrell | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

APRIL SHOWERS (2009) @indieflix

When it rains it pours, and in April 1999 it rained hard at Jefferson High School.  The fictional stand in for Colorado’s Columbine High and the infamous tragedy that befell its students, faculty and their families is the subject, with a few alterations, of APRIL SHOWERS (2009) by Andrew  Robinson.  Because the scenes surrounding the massacre have such a fierce intensity (and they accost us almost from the beginning of the film) it is easy to praise the picture almost without taking a breath.  But when we do come up for air, we make some observations that color our interpretation of the viewing experience. 

There  are some sound problems, particularly in scenes taking place in a kitchen and on a middle class home’s staircase.  Sound, of course, is the bane of the low-budget filmmaker’s existence but Robinson and his crew do well with their resources overall.  Another problem with the film is an over ripe quality to some of the more melodramatic sequences.  There is the moment in a convenience store  where one student, plagued by guilt over his actions the day of the shooting, almost wigs out in a paranoid breakdown.  It is to say the least, a bit much.  Still other scenes, such as the same student’s suicide, seem terribly contrived.  Nevertheless, it is obvious that this is a pretty good film. 

This version of events, as told by director-writer Robinson, an actual Columbine survivor, focuses mainly on the relationship between Sean (Kelly Blatz) and April (Ellen Woglom).  It is Sean’s realization that April is one of those killed in the attack that provides most of the drama, and some scenes have a surreal quality for which Robinson deserves kudos.  Ironically, in a film with a few sound problems, the use of sound elsewhere is exemplary.  In the frantic moments after the assault, Robinson and his sound designer Craig Polding, have the sounds fade in and out, creating a touch reminiscent of the boxing scenes from RAGING BULL (1980).  It is as though the characters are losing contact with the outside world.  Near the end of the film is another fine touch – this time a visual one.  Sean leaves the church following April’s funeral, photographed in long shot.  The cars are frozen in the middle of the street as if they have all been abandoned-a superb visual metaphor for Sean’s world coming to a stand still. 

The performances are just adequate, but Tom Arnold in a small roll as a beloved teacher, makes a moving impression.  Aaron Platt’s cinematography is at its best capturing images such as the sunset behind the crosses erected in memory of the dead, and elsewhere creates lasting memories. 

APRIL SHOWERS has been given the deluxe distribution treatment by indieflix, meaning it is not only available on the company’s website, but also can be found in video stores and other outlets and has been distributed to theatres.

December 26, 2009 Posted by | film directors, independent film, indieflix, screenwriters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007) @ INDIEFLIX

What do black men think?  What do they really think?  With wit and journalistic skill, as well as a cinematic sensibility rare among documentary filmmakers, Janks Morton explores the possibilities presented by this question in WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007) available at indieflix.  The film is an examination of the issues facing the black community with a kino eye view of the African-American male experience.  While Morton does not let white racists and the damage they’ve done off the hook, he places a great amount of focus on the “Great Society” and the “War On Poverty” of the 1960’s.  Morton believes that the liberal policies of the Lyndon Johnson administration led to a dissolution of the black family (most prominently displayed in a skyrocketing illegitimacy rate), which in turn has had a devastating impact on black society as a whole.  To illustrate his point, Morton interviews a wide variety of black political and journalistic personalities.  Here Morton engages not only the liberal establishment figures appearing so often in the media, but more conservative commentators such as Jesse Lee Peterson, Shelby Steele and Armstrong Williams.  This alone sets the film apart from many other dissertations.

 

While pundits such as Peterson decry the “blame the white man” approach taken by leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Morton resists the temptation to identify completely with one side or the other.  White and black liberals come in for their licks as mentioned, but white mainstream society is under scrutiny for our appetite for some of the more negative media interpretations of black culture, such as gangsta rap and Tyler Perry drag comedies.  Indeed, the penchant of black entertainers to mock black womanhood is one of Morton’s main targets.  Perry and Martin Lawrence among others are brilliantly trashed in a segment in which young black men, one by one, hold up women’s wigs and derisively name the actors most associated with African-American gender bending.  For not only do such interpretations affect the views of the white society in which blacks must live, they also have a profound effect on black attitudes as well. 

Of course, Morton also debunks many myths about black men, including the crazy belief that there are more black men in prison than in college.  This is done in a very cinematic way by innovative staging and editing of man (and woman) on the street interviews illustrating the great chasm between popular belief and actuality.  Many, if not all of these myths, are propagated by the media loose in our land, (black and white), and find popular support among both the right and left.

There are a lot of wrongs that must be righted and more is to be discussed as the director suggests a sequel is in the works.  With Janks Morton at the helm, it is bound to be a riveting ride.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

December 11, 2009 Posted by | documentary, independent film, indieflix | , , , , , | 1 Comment