Friday, May 25, 2007

Woke up, and my left foot felt like lead. Great. This cold is lingering, and now gout? I can't take it. It's like i'm falling apart.

Anyway, did wake up and get out and got to the Walter Reade in time to see "Caravaggio". So i did make it to two out of the five press s creenings for the New Italian Cinema series. About "Caravaggio": what's the Italian word for kitsch? And it makes me long for Derek Jarman's version of "Caravaggio". The director of this Italian biopic is Angelo Longoni; the writers are James Carrington and Andrea Purgatori. About the last, it's taking all my willpower to resist making a joke. And the lead performance by Alessio Boni... it's one of those "energetic" performances that soon becomes exhausting.

I have to say, i was really disappointed. The only compensation seems to have been that the print was supposed to be 150 minutes long, but it seems to have ended ten minutes early: was this the cut print? According to the Film Society of Lincoln Center press release: "Caravaggio is a major European co-production that will be released in theaters at a reduced length. We are proud to premiere this longer version at this year's Open Roads." What exactly made it so bad? This movie had the burnished look of importanec (Vittorio Storaro was the cinematographer), the score kept blasting in a sub-Morricone way (composer of record: Luis Enriques Bacalov)... but it was the fact that the main character was always "volatile", always brawling, always so overwhelming... when does he have time to paint, when he's always bouncing around?

It made me a little (though only a little) nostalgic for the biopics that Ken Russell used to concoct.

But with "Billo" and "Caravaggio", that made two out of the five press screenings for the Open Roads series, but i'm feeling so sick....

However, i did see the entire Mick Travis trilogy. An interesting experience. Of course, "If...." is an embedded experience: it's one of those films which, once you've seen it, it stays in your memory (at least, mine). "O Lucky Man!" was a little overextended... somewhere in the second hour, the film lost me, and before i knew it, the last hour of the film was at hand. But it has some terrific bits, the score by Alan Price is really marvellous, and it's a considerable achievement. Though the Mick Travis of "O Lucky Man!" isn't quite the same Mick Travis in "If..." It's rather like the evolution of Antoine Doinel: the fiercely independent little boy of "The 400 Blows" never seemed to be the same character as the rather befuddled aspiring bourgeoise in "Bed and Board". And by the time of "Britannia Hospital", Malcolm McDowell's Mick is merely a subsidiary character.

On the Advocate website ( Michael Giltz has a blog from the Cannes Film Festival. It's quite entertaining and really informative. In addition to writing about the movies (which seem to have been a very strong group this year, thank goodness, or the 60th Anniversary celebration would have been a fizzle), there are some amusing comments on social events (such as the AmFar benefit auction) and on meeting people (interviewing Angelina Jolie, running into Cheryl Dunye, interviewing Julianne Moore and Tom Kalin). Of course, it's so odd: Cheryl and Tom being old friends, so it's funny to read about them.

Of course, there's been a lot of controversy about "Savage Grace", with a lot of the critics feeling the film was the material is distasteful (what with incest and murder and so on) and the handling is so blase. Well, hadn't any of these people seen "Swoon"? Hasn't that always been Tom Kalin's modus operandi?


Anyway, there was a documentary about Lindsay Anderson which Michael Giltz saw in Cannes; it's (evidently) not really that good, and certainly not really illuminating, but if Michael wants more information on Lindsay Anderson, i would suggest that he read Gavin Lambert's book "Mainly About Lindsay Anderson", in which Anderson's sexuality is discussed.

I'm starting to get tired but i did have a lot of thoughts after seeing the Mick Travis trilogy. One thing: in "O Lucky Man!" there's the startling scene where Rachel Roberts plays the suicidal mother, who's cleaning her apartment so that it'll look nice when people find her dead. In Gavin Lambert's book, her life is touched upon, and it's so sad. She was such a strong actress, but she fell in love (and married) Rex Harrison. She was the fourth Mrs. Harrison: his two previous wives had been Lilli Palmer and Kay Kendall. For someone who was insecure (as Rachel Roberts was), it must have been traumatic for her. Lilli Palmer and Kay Kendall were known as great beauties, which is certainly not true of Rachel Roberts. Roberts was a "chaarcter actress", and also an actress who came up with the working class boys of the North (Tom Courtney, Alan Bates, Albert Finney, etc.). In reading "Mainly About Lindsay Anderson", i hadn't realized how revolutionary it had been for these working class people to be in the theater, and that, of course, has been one of the fundamental changes in the British theater since the 1950s. (The reason so many of the women of that generation - Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Diana Rigg, Helen Mirren - seem to be "classier" than the men is because they were: they were from a different class. But a few of the actresses - Glenda Jackson, Rachel Roberts - were also working class.)

I have to say that it took me a long time to really start to like Glenda Jackson. Initially, in so many of her performances, she seemed almost deliberately abrasive, and unlikeable. But in "Return of the Soldier", she was so... comforting. And so wonderfully instinctual and warm. And i loved "Stevie" (which is a movie i wish were on DVD).

But she's someone who really believes that if she wants to make a difference, she had to actually do something. So now she's in politics, and has retired from acting. It's rather the opposite of Nile Rodgers....

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Other people born in May include: Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Kay Kendall... Max Ophuls, Satyajit Ray and Orson Welles among directors. What's funny about "The Third Man" and "Jane Eyre" "controversies" is that Orson Welles never tried to take credit for turkeys like "Tomorrow Is Forever" or "The Black Rose"... only movies that did well, like "The Third Man" and "Jane Eyre". hilarious. It's like if you believe Howard Hawks, there was no Josef von Sternberg, Hawks was actually on the set of "Morocco" and "Shanghai Express"...

The cold is still here, today it's pretty bad, really feeling stuffed up and coughing a lot. On Monday, did get to see one of the Italian screenings at the Walter Reade: "Billo, Il Grand Dakhaar" directed by Laura Muscardin; a few years ago, she directed "Giorni", a film which proved very popular on the gay film circuit. Here, there's a gay couple, but it's a complicated story about a Senegalese tailor who comes to Italy to try to work in the fashion industry. (He gets involved with the sister of one of the gay men, but there's also an arranged marriage in Senegal, etc.) It was a very lively movie, bright and colorful, "bittersweet" is the word that comes to mind.

On Tuesday, went and saw "If...." Was especially interested in seeing it again because i recently read Gavin Lambert's biography on Lindsay Anderson. What surprised me was how much i remembered of the film.

But went to the NewFest launch party last night. have a feeling i shouldn't have done that, should have just taken a rest when i got home from the screening of "If...." Just feel terrible now, but want to see the screening of "O Lucky Man". But missed the screening of the latest Mario Monicelli movie. Can you believe it? Mario Monicelli? The man must be.... well, when MoMA had its retrospective in the early 1970s, the man was already in his 50s, so what is he now? And he's still directing?

If i did get to that screening, with the Manoel De Oliveira films, that would be a lot of movies by people in their 90s!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Well, last night, while the panel discussion was winding down, Larry called on my callphone; i hadn't turned it off, so i rushed to answer, and it turned out he was down the block from the Cue Foundation (where the AICA meeting was held). So we met, and went to some of the design openings. At one of the openings, the person who was catering was talking to someone, explaining that the recipe came from the Barefoot Contessa; nice to know that other people are watching the Food Network! But it was drizzly while we were walking around last night. At one of the stores, we ran into John Haffner. He actually moved from NYC for a while, and is now back. We talked about the fact that so many people are now in Brooklyn... like us!

But watched "The Slanted Screen" on Channel 13 last night, the kind of documentary that's really distorted. I mean: i never took Hollywood movies seriously as a sign of my identity. Why would i? But you keep hearing it again and again, about how Hollywood movies emasculate Asian-American men. But no one talks about going to see Asian movies. Certainly, from the 1950s on, Japanese movies were available, and there was the Chinatown circuit, where all those Hong Kong movies of the 1950s and 1960s were shown. Even if these guys were too ignorant to seek out Mizoguchi's movies, why wouldn't they go to see Kurosawa's movies? Why does it always have to be Hollywood?

I can't deal with it. Then i watched "Last Days of Left Eye" on VH-1. A lot of it was padded out with a lot of the stuff that showed up on the "Behind the Music" show on TLC (which had been one of the most amusing episodes of that series). But it was still very poignant.

Anyway, i woke up and i feel terrible. I think i have a cold, and i'm trying to rest, because i want to be able to go to the press screenings over the next two weeks. Every day, there are at least two screenings pre day, and i want to be able to see everything. I'm really looking forward to seeing the three recent James Benning features. But i feel so dreadful! Oh, well, that's what come from walking around in the rain!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

In the last three days, have seen Rolf de Heer's "Ten Canoes", Manoel De Oliveira's "The FIfth Empire" and Franco Brocani's "Necropolis". Also: watched Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige". In terms of the last: since we'd seen "The Illusionist", Larry and i figured that we should catch the other period-magician-melodrama that had been released last summer. "The Prestige", as with "The Illusionist", turned out to be beautifully crafted (incredible sets, costumes, cinematography, soundtrack)... but the story of "The Prestige" was a little too tricky, without a central through-line, it kept splitting, and the characters weren't so much ambiguous as confounding. Ultimately, "The Prestige" wasn't as satisfying as "The Illusionist", but it still wasn't bad, it just didn't really work.

Rolf de Heer's "Ten Canoes" was quite viusally spellbinding. In his previous film, "The Tracker", he was going for a mythic quality, which he barely got away with because of the intensity of the performance by David Gulpilil, but in "Ten Canoes", there's the stolidness which often comes about when casting nonprofessionals. There's no illumination, so everything seems opaque. Yet it's a very beautiful movie.

"The Fifth Empire - Yesterday As Today" isn't quite as wonderful as "The Magic Mirror", but it's fascinating, especially in light of the attempt to create a contemplative style. Stylistically, the long takes, with the emphasis on the dialogue, can be seen as reminiscent of late Dreyer (cf. "Ordet" and "Gertrud") . The textured compositions, often shadowed figures in darkened rooms, with layered perspectives, are often amazing.

"Necropolis", from 1970, seemed so quintessentially of its period, a rather minor European attempt at an underground film. Watching it, i was reminded of Raymond Durgnant's comment on "underground movies" when he was writing about Godard's "One Plus One": "'One Plus One' is an underground movie; as sullen, as uneven, as superficial, as underground movies are, yet also as abruptly beautiful, just as the film's elongated, etiolated architectonics converge on the apotheoses of Jagger and Wiazemsky." Though "Necropolis" doesn't converge on anything quite as mythopoeic as Mick Jagger, it does have Viva in what seemed to be an interminable monologue.

Today, there was the annual AICA meeting, plus a panel on the AICA mentoring program. A lot of questions being raised about the future of art criticism. Is there a future for art criticism?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Monday, saw the documentary "Six Days", which detailed the Six Day War in June 1967. It's been forty years, and the tensions between Israel and the surrounding Arab/Palestinian population has only increased. What astounded me was the way in which the Israeli military (Moishe Dayan, et al) simply used the initial conflict as a way to annex other areas of the West Bank. The takeover of Jerusalem (which had been a "divided" city, but the reason for the division had been the acknowledgement of Jerusalem's importance for different religions, and this was obliterated, as well as the original population) was particularly horrifying, as the Israeli army simply bulldozed people out of their homes (which stood for centuries). The people were simply ordered to leave their houses immediately, and everything was then destroyed.

The documentary itself (directed by Ilan Ziv) had a very "Frontline" feel to it; the use of the narrator, and the "objective" stance. "Six Days" was very well-done, but left me feeling really bereft, as if the possibility for peace in that region were really impossible. It's like watching people throwing gasoline on a fire, and that fire continues to rage out of control, forty years later.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I can't even think, today was such a strange day, i had planned to go to the press screening of "The Chelsea Girls" at MoMA... for some reason, there were delays on the subway, the N line was having problems... anyway, i wound up missing the screening.

I have never written about Carmen before, because i don't know what to say, but he's here, at our house, it's past two o'clock, and he's drunk and screaming and being belligerent. He keeps screaming that if we want him to leave, we'll have to call the cops. Why is he here? Larry tapes "The Sopranos" every week, because they don't get HBO, so Carmen comes down from Yonkers to watch it. We try to be nice, but Carmen keeps getting drunk and screaming and being belligerent and insulting. That's about all he knows how to do. It's the belligerence and insults that really are horrifying. That, plus the noise: we do have neighbors, after all, and we live in an attached house, so people are really close, and there he is, screaming while listening to music (played very loud). And it's two o'clock in the morning!

I can't stand it.

Anyway, this week, there are a few press screenings. At Anthology, they had to change the press screening for "The Fifth Empire"; it's now on Thursday. Since "The Magic Mirror" was so extraordinary, i'm looking forward to "The Fifth Empire". And Anthology is having a screening of "Necropolis"....

But here's a sick joke. Christine didn't show up for the party on Sunday, and i hadn't heard that she might not show up, so i got worried. It turns out that Steve's cousin had died, the one who was in a nursing home in Brooklyn. So when i talked to Christine, i said, well, the only excuse for missing the party would be if someone died... oh, wait, that is your excuse!

Plus Gary is in the hospital because he has pneumonia.

That's certainly a reason to miss a party!

But now onto movies. Today was Laurence Olivier's birthday tribute on TCM. What people forget about Olivier (as with Brando) was that there was a period when he was enormously popular. Not just considered a "great" actor, but a box office draw, and a real movie star. With Olivier, it happened with four films in a row: "Wuthering Heights", "Rebecca", "Pride and Prejudice" and "That Hamilton Woman". Both "Henry V" and "Hamlet" were also very popular, which made people toss around superlatives. But by the time of "Carrie" and "Richard III", Olivier began to be associated with "classics"... it's like he was no longer considered popular, he had become highbrow.

In the NY Times today, Dave Kehr reviews the Classic Westerns set (Volume 1) which contains King Vidor's "The Texas Rangers" and Jacques Tourneur's "Canyon Passage". Dave spends most of his time giving a very sensitive analysis of "Canyon Passage". I saw the restored print during the Walter Reade Theater's Jacques Tourneur retrospective, and the colors were amazing, though there were problems in spots (in one section, the three separate strips had shrunk at different points, and the congruence was off, making parts of the image fuzzy or doubled). I hope that they've been able to fix this digitally.

In his book "The American Cinema", Andrew Sarris talked about the fact that American cinema may yield (somewhat) to the very top in terms of artistry... well, here's what he said: "If Hollywood yields a bit at the very summit, it completely dominates the middle ranges, particularly in the realm of "good-bad" movies and genres." And it is in writing about what i guess are the "middle ranges" that Dave Kehr often finds the most amazing meanings.

In The Village Voice, Jim Hoberman writes about Hal Hartley's "Fay Grim". It's sad... it's as if the enthusiasms of a decade ago have now dimmed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Actually, "Fury" was produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the original story was by (of all people) Norman Krasna. Krasna was noted in Hollywood for the type of "meeting cute" comic plots, but this was one of his attempts to really do something serious. But it should be noted that, throughout the Depression years, a lot of "serious" films from Hollywood were very popular. Another example would be Mervyn LeRoy's "They Won't Forget" (which, ironically, is also the movie which made Lana Turner a star, as the teenage girl wearing the tight sweater... her murder propels the plot, but the image of Lana Turner walking through the street in her sweater became iconic).

But the whole issue of how effective art can be in a social context is one which remains perplexing.

Today was exhausting. I've spent two days preparing for this party that we had. As usual, i seemed to be expecting an army: we have enough food to last all week. This is actually the first party we've had in years....

When we first moved to Wooster Street, we would give parties all the time. And i would cook tons of food. And then, we wouldn't have parties, we'd have rehearsals: since my performances always involved many performers, we'd rehearse, and i'd cook for everyone (20 or more people).

But it's been a long time since we gave a party. If i'm not mistaken, the last party was probably the one we gave a few months before Kenny died. That was nine years ago...

Today was a combination Mother's Day party and birthday party for Larry and Barry. One thing: Christine didn't show up. And i couldn't reach Douglas all week. But i talked to him this evening, after people left, and it's his birthday this week, so i'm bringing him some of the food, so he can serve it at his own party.

May is a big month on Turner Classic Movies. Some of the people who had birthdays in May: Bing Crosby, Alice Faye, Max Ophuls, Orson Welles, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Margaret Rutherford, Satyajit Ray, Rex Harrison, Laurence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, among others. Some of those people have gotten birthday tributes, with Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne getting entire weeklong tributes.

While i was cooking last night, i decided to watch "The Rainmaker", the reason being that the musical based on "The Rainmaker", "110 in the Shade", has just been revived on Broadway with Audra McDonald. But nobody mentions that the part of Lizzie was played by two actresses who were considered among the greatest of their respective generations: in the original Broadway production, Lizzie had been a defining role (along with "Summer and Smoke" and "Sweet Bord of Youth") for Geraldine Page, and then the movie starred Katharine Hepburn (one of her most acclaimed performances, and one of the roles for which she was nominated for an Academy Award). I remember reading about the original Broadway production (though i didn't see it), and the acclaim for Inga Swenson, and Robert Horton as Starbuck. (In the original Broadway production, Darren McGavin had played Starbuck; of course, in the movie, the top-billed player was Burt Lancaster.) About "The Rainmaker", Pauline wrote: "Although this is a fairy tale (the ugly duckling) dressed up as a bucolic comedy and padded out with metaphysical falsies, it is also genuinelyappealing - the sort of fairy tale that people need to see now and then to remind them what they used to believe in." And (in a way) that's why i feel the way i do about "political" art, about those films from the late 60s-early 70s ("Battle of Algiers", "La Chinoise", "Partner", "China Is Near", "La Guerre est finie", the Straub-Huillet films) which attempted to join formal radicalism with political radicalism.

It's what i used to believe in.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

One of the reasons that the movies were regarded as such an important art was that there were always examples of movies which became wildly popular and led to reforms. This was the case with a lot of the early Warner Brothers films, such as "I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang". A film which appears to make a political statement (such as the anti-lynching "Fury", directed by Fritz Lang and written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) can make that film seem to have dimensions (and meanings) which might be far more complex than a simple "entertainment". I use words like "appears" and "seem" because, of course, a film like "Fury" is powerful, but the Expressionistic movements of the crowds during the lynching scene are so effective, but is it different from the crowds in Lang's earlier "Metropolis"? Stylistically, it's similar, but the effect is suppsoed to be different, because one film is science fiction, the other film is social realism.

Yet it's interesting to see what's remembered. In 1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed two movies. One is remembered as a highlight of Hollywood cinema, the other is often barely noted. Yet Mankiewicz was always proud of "No Way Out", his 1950 drama about racial tensions. It's an amazing movie (i can barely bring myself to watch it again, because the tensions and the anger are still so potent; the riot at the end is almost a relief), but Hollywood seriousness is now derided. Of course, his other 1950 movie, "All About Eve", was the one which won all the awards at the Oscars, and is considered a Hollywood classic.

But in the late 1960s, the whole problem of artists straining to be political was very acute, and it affected a lot of people's careers. Jean-Luc Godard, of course: his whole"Dziga-Vertov" period, mostly in collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin. What was depressing for me a few years ago was that a lot of people i know came out of the revival of "Battle of Algiers" and talked about how the film didn't hold up. Well, i think the film did hold up, but i think a lot of people used their disillusionment with the current state of politics as a way of dismissing Pontecorvo's film, as if the film had disappointed them, rather than the current political situation. Pontecorvo's "positivism" seems naive, and that's what people were reacting to, though i think that Pontecorvo was aware of the ambiguities of the situation, and wasn't just proclaiming a positive spin on the coming revolution.

Interestingly, Bertolucci's rather gaga optimism for psychosexual revolutionary fervor was derided by most people in "The Dreamers" but Philippe Garrel's more languid pessimism about political action was applauded by the same people in "Regular Lovers". Yet neither film really captures the true intensity, passion, and (yes) humor of the situation, which (i think) were captured so acutely in Godard's "Masculin Feminin" and "La Chinoise", and Peter Whitehead's "The Fall". (Interestingly, younger people seem not to understand - at all - what "La Chinoise" is about, and can't discuss the movie in terms of its meaning, but resort to cliches about its "minimalist" style.)

But i'm thinking this because a lot of artists i know are struggling to find a way to make a statement in these times, because the situation is so perplexing (i don't want to use the ord "hopeless"). Bush's approval ratings have dipped below 30%: he is now one of the most unpopular presidents in the last century. Yet he refuses to acknowledge anything, he continues to believe he's "the decider" and he is marching so many to war (and death) for reasons which remain obscure. How can you say you're bringing freedom to the Iraqi people, when you're bombing them left and right, and you've destroyed the entire fabric of Iraqi society? The hideous thing about a number of the documentaries at Tribeca, such as "I Am an American Soldier", was seeing the troops, whose feelings of confusion and hurt have gotten to the point where their impulse (which they are proud to share) is simply to shoot any Iraqi on sight, since they're all the enemies. If we continue to kill the people we're supposed to protect, what kind of liberating force are we? Well, Americans aren't a liberating force, Americans are an imperialist force that just wants to wipe out the Iraqi population, and secure the oil fields.

And Bush refuses to acknowledge anything.

But it's great to see that people really are trying to do something. Somehow, that's something positive in the midst of this morass. So signs like "For Life, Against the War... Again!" are welcome, and needed at this time.

It's been almost three days since i've posted, and have been reading "The Reeler" in which the "wind-down" from Tribeca is discussed. Right now, there's a program going on at Anthology Film Archives: "For Life, Against the War... Again!" In 1967, artists organized the Angry Arts Week, in which all sorts of events were held to protest the escalation of the war in Vietnam. And a huge group of filmmakers (i think it was over 30 in all) collaborated on a huge (over 2 and a half hours) episodic compilation film. Well, there's another war, and another protest, and another compilation film. This time, the Filmmakers Coop is the spearhead, and 28 artists responded, all contributing segments for this work. "For Life, Against the War... Again!" includes Bradley Erod, Jeanne Finley, Alfred Guzzetti, Barbara Hammer, Ken Jacobs, Les Leveque, Cynthia Madansky, Sheri Milner, Martha Rosler, Lynne Sachs, Jeffrey Skoller, Mark Street. The screenings are today (Friday, May 11), tomorrow (Saturday, May 12) and Sunday, May 13; at each screening, a group of the artists will be present, including Artemis Willis, Jim Costamnzo, Lili White, MM Serra, Mark Street and Lynne Sachs. It's also available on DVD, through the Filmmakers Coop, and the sales will benefit anti-war organizations.

The whole issue of how effective art can be politically is a question that keeps coming up. Last night, Jane Fonda was on the Larry King Show, and he asked her if she would ever consider doing a play, and she answered (very emphatically) no, because (in her words) the theater is so small, and she wants to reach the widest audience possible. That's why she'd like to do more movies, and more TV.

Yet is simply going for the widest possible audience an invitation to "action" (political or otherwise)? When Yvonne Rainer started making movies, she said that she was dealing with emotions, and thus going for a wider audience than the one which she had as a choreographer/dancer. But was that true?

And artists: shouldn't they remain true to themselves? Joseph Cornell was an artist who was totally committed to an interior vision, his engagement with the world was very fanciful....

It reminds me of something that Nile Rodgers said... when he was a teenager, he had been a member of the Black Panthers. And yet, as a musician and composer, he created the band Chic and was a leading exponent of dance/"disco" music. And he was asked why he didn't try to make music which would be "political", and his answer was: the work he does as an artist is the work which makes him happy (and, hopefully, other people happy); if he wanted to be political, he would do something political, as he did when he was part of the Black Panthers and was helping to set up the free breakfast program for Harlem.

Anyway, today was spent grocery shopping for the big party on Sunday. And then doing some of the cooking.

However, on Wednesday, i went to the press screening of Manoel De Oliveira's "The Magic Mirror" from 2004, and it's a wonderful movie. Not as slick as his recent "Belle Toujours", it's a little pokey at times (and it runs two hours and twenty minutes), but at the end, when the woman has her epiphany, damn if it wasn't one of the most transcendent moments in recent cinema. Just a marvellous movie.

And yesterday, went to see Ido Haar's "9 Star Hotel", a very intimate documentary about "immigrant" Palestinean workers in Israel. It had been at Tribeca, but i missed it there because i went to see something else instead (it might have been Pascale Ferran's "Lady Chatterley"). But i did catch up with it, and it is worthwhile (a heads-up from George Robinson, who reviewed the film for Jewish Week); it's coming to Film Forum.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It has been a few days since the end of the Tribeca Film Festival, and the decompression has been difficult. It became such a routine to go to the press screenings. And since the screenings even went into the weekends, so it was nonstop. It's a little like going cold turkey.

But it's time to reflect (a little) on Tribeca and its history. The first year, the press screenings were all held at the Tribeca Film Center, and, because of the haphazard nature of that first festival (it came late to the scene, and most of the movies, certainly most of the independent movies, were committed to other festivals, and the Tribeca staff had to hobble together whatever it could), it was the first festival in which a majority of the films were digital video productions. Three examples: "Manito", "Roger Dodger" and the arty, more experimental "Cloud of Unknowing". What was memorable was how terrible they looked: most of these films were shot on low-level digital equipment, and were never meant to be projected. So sitting in a theater, watching this fuzzy, murky mess... it was not pretty.

But that's my strongest memory of that first Tribeca Film Festival.

By the second year, they had decided to start taking the idea of having a festival seriously. Peter Scarlet was hired (away from the San Francisco Film Society, where he ran the San Francisco Film Festival), Nancy Schafer (from the South By Southwest Film Festival), and David Kwok. And there was a marked improvement, in that there was a real attempt to find international films....

So now we come to this current festival, which is still being called Tribeca, though it has moved from the neighborhood (screenings at the Kips Bay, the Loews 34th Street, the Clearview Chelsea, etc.). It's not as unwieldy as in previous years (there were less films than in the last two years), but it was more spread out, not as concentrated in one neighborhood. Fewer films, but screenings in more places. And the quality of the films (from what i was able to see) was on a generally high level. Of course, i didn't get to see that many of the American independent films... but i did see a number of documentaries that proved to be more intriguing than i thought they would be. (Last year, there was that doc about the Cosmos and the attempt to promote professional soccer in the United States, which was so much more entertaining than one would have expected.) This year, two examples included "Music Inn" (about one of the first jazz festivals in the Berkshires, which lasted from 1951 until 1960) and "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" (the public career has been documented, but the information from his family was really intriguing).

Yet Tribeca suffers from a schizoid approach: the publicity angle is always devoted to the Hollywood and sub-Hollywood films, the "premieres" of movies such as "Spiderman 3" (though this year, opening and closing nights did attempt something different: opening night was a program of shorts devoted to environmental issues, hosted by Al Giore, and closing night was the premiere of "The Gates", the doc about Jeanne-Claude and Christo's Central Park art project).

There's no denying the fact that Tribeca is showing movies such as "My Father My Lord", "Lost in Beijing", "Still Life", "Half Moon", and "Times and Winds", so for that, it's doing something worthwhile in the context of New York City. And because of that, Tribeca is helping to make these films more accessible (movies like the Chinese "Blind Shaft" or the Thai "Last Life in the Universe" were released in this country after their Tribeca screenings). And there's also some recognition of the avantgarde: this year, there were programs of shorts that included Jay Rosenblatt, Lynne Sachs, Bill Morrison, Jem Cohen, Anita Thacher.

I'm only now starting to look through my e.mails, to see what press screenings are coming up. (I did catch the last press screening for the Werner Herzog documentary program coming to Film Forum: "How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?" and "Death for Five Voices"... in the case of "Death for Five Voices", knowing that the so-called "historical" commentary is mostly fabrication makes the film more interesting, because it becomes a fictional film disguised as a rather straightforward PBS-style documentary.)

TCM is showing Katharine Hepburn this week, to celebrate her centennial: seeing her in some of her earliest films ("A Bill of Divorcement", "Christopher Strong", "Morning Glory", "Little Women", "Spitfire" and "The Little Minister"), it's so striking, so amazing, to see the self-creation of this most singular of American heroines. It's true that her career after the mid-1960s is pretty hideous, but to deny her originality early in her career seems rather harsh. (On Joe Baltake's blog,, Katharine Hepburn is his candidate for the ranks of the overrated. I love Joe Baltake's blog, i learned about it from reading Dave Kehr's blog, but though i agree that almost everything Hepburn did after 1966 was garbage, what she did before, in films such as "Little Women", "Alice Adams", "Sylvia Scarlett", "Holiday" and "Bringing Up Baby", is just incomparable.) It's similar to Brando: what Brando did in his first few years (from "The Men" in 1950 to "Guys and Dolls" in 1955) was unprecedented, and everything after that was an anticlimax. Hepburn did such amazing work from 1932 until 1938... but she had to reinvent herself, in order to regain her popularity. So she went from her RKO period to her MGM period, where she did reinvent herself, and was able to maintain some semblance of her originality and her uniqueness, though at a cost: she's more domesticated after "The Philadelphia Story". And MGM put her in some lousy movies ("Undercurrent", "Song of Love", "Dragon Seed"), but even that wasn't enough to kill her reputation.

But after 1968 and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", her career mostly goes to hell. It's not just that the vehicles are (mostly) bad, she's bad, she's everything that people who didn't like her earlier insisted she was: mannered and superficial. Every so often, she made an attempt (such as "The Trojan Women"), but it's a record of decades of hideous work.

But in the early scenes of "A Woman Rebels", she's just so stunningly beautiful. And that's the other thing: when she died, and so many people (including Claudia Roth Pierpont) wrote about her, one common statement was that she was a rare movie star in not being a great beauty. But when i first saw her (watching her old movies from her RKO days on TV), she seemed to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. She had been one of the standards of beauty (as Garbo was).

My loyalty to her (and i was a huge fan) was tested severely after the mid-1960s.... but then all i have to do is watch her in "Little Women" or "Alice Adams" or "Sylvia Scarlett" or "Stage Door" or "Bringing Up Baby" or "Holiday", and i'm captivated, all over again.

I just read Charlotte Chandler's book on Bette Davis, and Davis makes the point that, in the mid-1930s, the only women in Hollywood who tried to be individuals, who didn't conform to the cookie-cutter Hollywood glamour machine, were Katharine Hepburn, Margaret Sullavan, and her.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Just relaxing, trying to consider what the eventual consensus may be on this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Went to the gym today, and on the monitors, there were shorts from the Tribeca Film Festival: "Fairies", "Underdog" and Bill Plympton's "Guard Dog". So i haven't quite escaped the Tribeca Film Festival yet.

Yesterday, it was Audrey Hepburn day... when she was asked, Hepburn would name one of three films as her favorite of those she had starred in: "Roman Holiday" (the movie which made her a star, and which won her several awards, including the New York Film Critics and the Academy Awards), "Funny Face" (because of the opportunity to dance with Fred Astaire) and "The Nun's Story" (unquestionably the finest dramatic performance of her career; it would also bring her her second New York Film Critics Award, and would be the biggest box office hit of her career to that date, one of the biggest successes for Warner Brothers in its history, which was why Jack Warner insisted on her for "My Fair Lady"; she lost the Academy Award to Simone Signoret for "Room at the Top", signifying the importance of the emerging "art house" audience). She never mentioned "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (a film in which she felt - rightly - she was miscast) or "My Fair Lady" (another case of colossal miscasting). Though "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has become such a fashion icon as a movie, it's totally wrong: the character of Holly Golightly is quintessentially American, and Hepburn can't even fake an American accent (they added the line about her studying French to get rid of her hillbilly accent... but Audrey Hepburn never sounded like a hillbilly) and she's a tramp, and Audrey Hepburn is not a tramp. But that's why the miscasting makes the movie work as a fairy tale: if it had been better cast (Truman Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe, and Shirley MacLaine would have been fine), the movie would have been a rather sordid story of (in Radley Metzger's words) a boy whore who falls in love with a girl whore. She was also great in "Charade" (also a huge box office hit) and "Two for the Road". But i bring this up because Hepburn's "standards" (the films and performances she felt were important and/or "good") show that she was very conscious of "quality" and of trying to maintain a career with some semblance of quality. That's why she agreed to work with Billy Wilder and John Huston (two writer-directors who represented "quality" in the 1950s, having both won Academy Awards for writing and directing).

But those standards no longer seem to apply: her very conscientious and thoughtful performance in "The Nun's Story" (a staggering accomplishment, since she has to maintain a singleminded seriousness for almost three hours) has been overlooked, in favor of the fashion show which is "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Fashion now trumps seriousness. It's very sad.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The last day of press screenings at Tribeca yesterday. Was going to go to see the press screening of "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" at Film Forum, and then go to the remainder of the Tribeca screenings. But there were problems on the D train: it took forever for the D train to get to 36th Street, and then it stopped several times en route to Manhattan. By the time i got to the West 4th Street station, it was a little after 11, so i would have been late to "Little Dieter", so i decided to just continue and go to the Loew's 34th Street....

So i wound up seeing 5 movies: "Black Butterfly" from Peru, "Shame" a documentary, "Shut Eye Hotel" a cartoon short by Bill Plympton, "The Last Jews of Libya" and "Nanking". "Nanking" was the doc which was shown at Sundance....

John Ford's "Gideon of Scotland Yard" was on TCM, a good color print. I think it's a charming film, but i wonder when the English release print will ever surface (it ran 118 minutes in England; in the US it ran 91 minutes... since it's episodic, it's easy to see that things could be cut out or added, but almost half an hour is a substantial loss).

Larry and i then watched "Notes on a Scandal" (rented from Netflix). We hadn't caught it in theaters, though so many friends told us they loved it. It's fast-paced, and it's hilariously bitchy. It was very enjoyable, though why it was so enjoyable is a little hard to pin down.

Tribeca announced its prizes: "My Father My Lord" won for best narrative feature. From the films i saw, that was a good choice.

Today am waiting for my sister and brother-in-law to come by. He's going to look in our basement, because we've got some of those flying termites which seemed to come after the rains. But it's Audrey Hepburn afternoon on TCM....

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A lot to report; even before the day has gotten started, e.mails came in with a lot of news.

Raj Roy was just announced as the new Director of the Department of Film at The Museum of Modern Art. That's surprising in some ways. The trajectory of his career: from MIX to the Guggenheim Museum to the Hamptons Film Festival to MoMA.

The NewFest announced opening and closing night films: Duncan Roy's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" as opener, "Save Me" with Chad Allen and Robert Gant (they also produced) as closer.

The Cannes Film Festival has announced a special sidebar called Cannes Classics... and there's a list of films. Dave Kehr must be cursing the day he was born, because three of the films will be Laurence Olivier's Shakespeare trio, "Henry V", "Hamlet" and "Richard III" (which Dave reviewed when Criterion put out the DVD boxset, calling the films the most incompetently directed films this side of Ed Wood, in fact, claiming that Ed Wood was a superior director to Olivier). Another film is "Yo Yo", that Pierre Etaix neo-silent comedy. It's listed as "date and country unknown". What's the matter with people? Can't anyone do a little research? "Yo Yo" was made in 1967 in France. And i saw it at the Thalia in about 1970! Please!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Today saw "Taxidermia" by the person who made "Hukkle". Once again, a film of visual non sequiters, but in "Hukkle" it was little visual jokes, here it was more grotesque. Leaving the theater, one woman used the term "distasteful". But it's quite holding, with some corrosively memorable imagery. Online, watched a Tribeca Film Festival short selection: "Bicycle Gangs of New York" by Cheryl Dunn.

Watched the second part of "Brando", the TCM doc that had been at the Tribeca Film Festival. It's curious: all these people (Frederic Forrest, Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Johnny Depp) just lauding him. But Jane Fonda (at the end) talks about how sad she felt the last times she saw him, how defeated he seemed.

In the latest issue of Filmmaker, Steve Gallagher has an interview with Mary Jordan about her film "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis".

A very odd episode of "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E." with Margaret Leighton and Michael Wilding as guest stars. Looking it up, turns out that Michael Wilding married Margaret Leighton in 1964, a marriage that lasted until her death. "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E." was 1966; in 1970, Margaret Leighton (the then current Mrs. Michael Wilding) played the best friend of Zee, played by Elizabeth Taylor (the ex-Mrs. Michael Wilding). Show business is so incestuous... rather like art business....

Like last night, at that event for "Paris Je t'aime": Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands (who were in the film) were there, which reminded me that the first time i met Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes was at the opening night of Anthology Film Archives at the Public Theater in 1970. I remember that Linda Patton greeted them, and then, when they walked away, she shook her head and said, "oh, he's so commercial!" Imagine that! In 1970, those of us who were "avantgarde" could consider "independent" filmmakers commercial!

Now, we're lucky to find anyone who's as independent as Cassavetes was.

Quick notes. Yesterday, went to three films at Tribeca, bringing my grand total (to date) to 30 films seen so far. The three yesterday: "The Power of the Game", Michael Apted's doc on soccer (very much a "sports film" in a commercial sense, in that it's not about "the game" in that we don't really see a full game, but it's about the social and political ramifications, how soccer affects society, etc.); "The Cake Eaters", directed by Mary Stuart Masterson; "My Father My Lord" from Israel, a very moving, somber drama about the Hasidic community.

Will try to write more on all these films, but just a note. Yesterday was a Music and Art reunion day: when i went into the screening of "My Father My Lord" i saw Barry from Queens, M&A Class of 1970... to other people, he's known as Barry Sonnenfeld... i almost went up to say, Barry from Queens M&A 1970 but Wendy Liddell came in and we started talking.

Then after the screenings i went up to meet Debby (also M&A 1970) for the screening of "Paris Je t'aime" (a dud of a movie). If i'd gone to the Louise Nevelson press opening at the Jewish Museum, i would have run into Anne Scher, the Jewish Museum's publicist (M&A 1970). It would have been a triple header.

Turns out that the afterparty for "Paris Je t'aime" was at the Yves Saint Laurent store on Fifth Avenue... and it turned out to be a party where, if you bought a "Downtown Bag", the proceeds (or part thereof) went to Anthology Film Archives. And Stephanie Gray was there, and so was Oona Mekas!

Perhaps it's not a small world, perhaps it's just a limited one.