Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It has been a week since i've blogged. It was a strangely lackluster week. A few screenings, plus stuff on television.

This past weekend was Gay Pride weekend in New York City. NY1 carried some footage on Sunday, Larry actually was in Manhattan and saw some of the parade. It's a very different experience now. The whole religious contingent would have been unimaginable in 1970. And now, that's one of the biggest parts of the parade.

Saw a few movies. Anthology is going to be showing the fabled "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation", which was a film made by kids (three 12 year-olds) starting in 1982. I'd been reading about this movie for years. By the time they finished with the movie, they (Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos, and Jason Lamb) were almost adults. They tried to make a shot-for-shot "remake" of their favorite movie.

When people wrote about it in the past few years, it was always as the ultimate fanboy gesture: devoting 7 years of your life to trying to recreate the Hollywood blockbuster you loved as a child. George Lucas (who is notoriously prickly about his rights) was even charmed by the craziness of this work, well, charmed enough to the extent that he hasn't tried to prosecute them. And Spielberg has gone on record as feeling very honored by their devotion to the original film.

And it's some sort of crazy feat, and it's certainly adorable in its fanatic way...

Of course, there are all those works which are post-modern pastiches, the point being that the difference between Gus Van Sant's remake of "Psycho" and Zala-Strompolos-Lamb's remake of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is a matter of scale. "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" is home-grown, with the most ingenious substitutions.

And this brings to mind a discussion i had, about whether it's important (or not) that a film is "independent" (if it claims to be). It's the arguments that people had over "Little Miss Sunshine": there was something distasteful about the claims that "Little Miss Sunshine" was an independent production. The studio machinations to "remake" "Psycho" seemed rather superfluous (it also wasnt' really a shot-for-shot remake; there were differences, and the shots were often not the same, e.g., shot from a different angle, different composition, etc.) but in the case of seeing children remaking a big-budget Hollywood epic, there's an incongruity and an innocence, and that's charming.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The work has been done on the Bilco door to the basement, and it works: the work was finsihed yeaterday, and last night, there were thunderstorms. And there were no leaks! The doors are solid, and the sealant which was applied yesterday really has worked. But (of course) it's the first day. We'll see how it holds up in a few months.

We've been getting estimates for the roof work. The gutters need to be replaced, but the stuff blocking the gutters (two whiffle balls, one baseball, and a little toy plastic plate... how did those get on the roof?) has been removed. And so the leaks from the roof have been alleviated. But we're still looking into getting the whole roof and gutters replaced.

So i didn't really see anything in the last two days. On Sunday, it was the end of "Celebrity Fit Club". We didn't watch it every week, but it was the most bizarre show yet. Some of the people this season were practically certifiable.

The last press screening i went to was the doc "Manufactured Landscapes", which will have a run at Film Forum, but was also part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. There are some amazing shots in that film, with long tracking shots surveying various foctories, industruial sites, etc.

On George Robinson's website, he talks about some recent releases, and it bodes well, because (as i've mentioned) this is already an amazing year. He also talks about some films which i didn't get to see (a film about Primo Levi in the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series). At this point, a lot of times, festivals will target reviewers, and provide screeners (in George's case, screeners of films which will be of interest to his Jewish Weekly readers). If filmgoing and television-watching are splintering into niche audiences, now everything is evolving into these niche groups. But George has some interesting comments on "Lights in the Dusk" and "Belle Toujours". (

On Dave Kehr's blog, he announces a really significant upcoming set: 20th Century Fox will be releasing a huge John Ford boxset at the end of the year. It will include the extant silent films which ahve been restored (The Film Foundation restored John Ford's films about a decade ago, with the films deposited in the archives at UCLA.) This is major news, and people are encouraged to find out more. (

Rushing to a screening... but last night, after all was done, i watched "Ladies in Retirement" on TCM (part of the Ida Lupino series). Very enjoyable.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Anyway, yesterday went to Kingsborough Community College (a lovely campus at the end fo Brooklyn) to see the Covenant Dance Theater, a local (Brooklyn) ballet troupe. This was for the New York State Council on the Arts. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there, longer to get back. But it prompted a lot of thoughts. In terms of the work that was shown: certainly very competent, even skillful. The dancers ranged from students to highly trained professionals. I certainly can't complain about what i saw....

But the thoughts follow on Ben Brantley's comments on Lee Nagrin. I knew Lee Nagrin from her work with Meredith Monk. And i have seen... well, i have seen some ballet (i admit i am not that well-versed in ballet, but i did see the New York City Ballet during the Balanchine era, i have seen Baryshnikov, i have seen the American Ballet Theater, i have seen the Joffrey Ballet, etc.) but i have also seen so much dance which was possessed of... genius isn't too strong a word in some cases. I can't even count the brilliant work i've seen. But (of course) Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, Kenneth King, Phoebe Neville, William Dunas, Deborah Hay, Twyla Tharp, Gus Solomons... i could go on and on. I have such vivid memories of many of those performances, and i know i've seen some of the greatest works i'll ever see....

And yet the Covenant Dance Theater was like a very good regional dance company, except that it's based in New York City. Brooklyn, but New York City.

One of the films i saw this week was the new Australian "Macbeth", directed by Geoffrey Wright, who directed "Romper Stomper". He updates the material to the present-day, and it becomes a violent gang war movie, but he keeps the Shakespearean dialogue. I think it's a fascinating movie, but what it also shows is that the "classical" tradition of English theater continues in Australia. It reminded me that the kind of training that all those Australian actors (cf. Cate Blanchette, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, Rachel Griffiths, Judy Davis, Guy Pearce, et al) have had is that classical British conservatory training. It's a place where that tradition has continued.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

It's been a week since i filed anything on this blog. It's actually been a (relatively) "eventful" week, not so much in terms of screenings (only two this week, as last week), but "culture" in general.

Monday on The View, Barbara Walters admitted that she didn't watch the Tony Awards, because she wanted to see the end of "The Sopranos". Actually, Larry and i tried to watch both. Why we decided to watch the Tony Awards this year, i have no idea, since we haven't watched in the last few years. But it had a lot to do with the nonprofit theaters: so many were represented this year, and most of the winners came from the nonprofit theaters. Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia" won a record number of awards, including Best Play; "Spring Awakening" (based on the Wedekind play) won Best Musical, and almost swept the field. "Broadway" has extended itself, so that Lincoln Center is included; a lot of the nominated works began life at one of the off-Broadway nonprofits. But before any other comments on Broadway and the Tony Awards, i should add that Barbara Walters admitted that, when the TV screen want black at the end of "The Sopranos" (with a 30-second pause before the credits started to roll), she thought her cable service had been affected. That's exactly what Larry thought (and a lot of other people). I had no idea what was going on, but even though our attention to "The Sopranos" has been erratic (to say the least) after the first two seasons, we felt like we ahd to see how it all ended. And (of course) it didn't. But then seeing the rehashes ovre the next few days... it's brilliant, it's stupid, it's just like life, it's a waste, etc. It's a TV series with an open end. So what else is new?

But one striking thing about the Tony Awards: how many gay people there were, all willing to thank "my partner" (seemingly, the designation of choice for Tony winners). When the cameras showed the nominees for Best Choreographer (as an example), there were four men, seated next to other men. I'm sorry if i just assumed that all the (male) choreographers came with their (male) partners. But Larry and i kept switching between "The Sopranos" and the Tony Awards. We had to admit that the Disney people knew what they were doing: rather than simply presenting a number from "Mary Poppins", they came up with a song-and-dance medley, which really showed off the work. (A surprise on my part: i had no idea that Matthew Bourne had worked on the choreography for "Mary Poppins".) "Grey Gardens" simply had a solo song from Christine Ebersole.

But i was amazed... the Best Choreographer award was won by Bill T. Jones for "Spring Awakening". I haven't seen Bill T. Jones in years.

Lee Nagrin died this week (actually, the end of the first week of June, but her death was announced over the weekend). This reminds me of the fact that the era of art of which i was a part is slowly coming to an end. In today's NY Times, Ben Brantley reviewed "Behind the Lid", the collaborative work by Lee Nagrin and Basil Twist, which is now playing at the Silver Whale Gallery. I'd like to quote some of Brantley's review, because his observations are apt: "Ms. Nagrin, a staple of downtown Bohemia for more than half a century, belonged to a tribe now all but extinct in Manhattan, for whom theater was truly a religion, a means of pursuing the ineffable.... Similarly, the entire enterprise can seem silly, frightening, pretentious, sincere and magnificent, all at the same time.... Rather like the great experiment that was avant-garde theater in New York for the second half of the 20th Century. 'Behind the Lid' is an evocation not only of Ms. Nagrin but also of an entire theatrical subculture that now has only a flickering existence." I wanted to quote that because so much of my life had been devoted to that subculture, not just of the theater, but also its manifestations in dance, in film, in "intermedia" as it was called.

And yet the flickerings are still there, not as embers, but sometimes as a true flame. That's why i was (pleasantly) surprised when i realized that Bill T. Jones had been the choreographer of "Spring Awakening". (And it was nice to see him when he danced up to the stage after winning.)

After "The Sopranos", there was the new show co-written by David Milch and Kem Nunn, "John From Cincinnati". It's about the Yost family, a family of surfers living in Imperial Beach! This is one of those situations... Larry and i tried to watch, but it just seemed fake to us. We've lived in Imperial Beach (California), the southernmost town on the California coast. In fact, the apartment we had was right on the beach. There was something "off" about the show: it just didn't seem like the kind of people who would live in Imperial Beach.

But there's a lot more to write about. However, the little gray alley kitten, the one with the eye infection, has been getting bolder in coming near people. The minute you approach him, however, he runs away. It's so sad, but so many people on the block have been trying to take care of that kitten, but it's so feral now.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

It's been a week since i've blogged, and it's been a very strange week. There were only two press screenings that i went to this week, the documentary "Gypsy Caravan" (ok, an ITVS project, but one of those works which kept cutting from the musical numbers to do interviews, etc. and after a while, you just wanted to see part of the concert all the way trhough, because the music was so marvellous) and Richard Wong's "Colma: The Musical" which is finally being released. "Colma" was actually inventive and fun, and i was glad i finally saw it. (I hadn't remembered that it had played the Asian-American Film Festival last year; i have to admit that i didn't go to the film festival last year, just as i didn't go to NewFest last year... and i'm not going this year, either!)

One of the problems with NewFest is that most of the (better) movies have been at other festivals, such as: Rendez-vous With French Cinema, New Directors/New Films, Tribeca. In Gay City News, Gary Kramer reviews the notable feature films... and almost all of them are the ones i saw at Rendez-vous (cf. "One or Another"), ND/NF (cf. "Glue"), etc. So it means trying to decide on some of the American indie films which don't sound too promising (i admit, after seeing "Another Gay Movie" and "Adam & Steve", i still haven't recovered, and i don't know if i'll ever recover).

Larry and i watched two films which we rented from Netflix: "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" (ok, so we loved it, so sue us, we like these English movies with various Dames in the cast) and "Shortbus". To begin with "Shortbus": it's not very erotic. It's a curious movie, because it has explicit sex, yet it's totally unerotic. How can sex be photographed so flatly? After watching "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont", i was surprised when i realized it was directed by Dan Ireland. Dan Ireland is an American who has one of those peripatetic careers in film, starting out as a film critic, then founding the Seattle Film Festival in the 1970s, then working as an exceutive for Vestron when it was trying to branch out into film production, then being a producer (on such films as John Huston's "The Dead"), and finally getting the chance to direct in 1996 with "The Whole Wide World" with Vincent D'Onofrio and Renee Zellweger. How he wound up in England directing "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" is a bit of a mystery, but it was charming.... Joan Plowright was delightful, and the supporting cast (including Millicent Martin, Georgina Hale, and Anna Massey) was lively, giving the kind of shamelessly lovable character performances that make these films so endearing. But then there's Rupert Friend... and i turned to Larry and said, when i fall down in the street, i want him to take care of me.

(It reminded me of a little discussion i had with Michael Giltz... it was about movies with street hustler characters, and why is it that the movies always cast people like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Mysterious Skin" or Kevin Zegers in "Transamerica", and my response was simply, why would anyone pick up an ugly person from the street? In "Mrs. Palfrey", as in "Ladies in Lavender", the boys are quite beautiful... well, do you expect any of the great Dames of the British theater to be the aging muse of someone ugly?)

In "Mrs. Palfrey", as in "Ladies in Lavender", circumstances bring the old women (Joan Plowright in "Mrs. Palfrey", Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in "Ladies in Lavender") into contact with a young man, who (it turns out) is a struggling artist (a writer in "Mrs. Palfrey", a musician in "Ladies in Lavender"). And (of course) they helped to nurture that talent.

I guess i have a soft spot for those stories, because of all the women in my life who gave me encouragement.

But today was a dismal day. However, i'm now watching "Return to Paradise", a rather bum movie from 1953, but one that was referenced in Jacques Demy's "Lola" (because of Gary Cooper as someone dressed in white who was cast ashore on a Pacific island).

It's been a weird, rather dismal day, because i was exhausted. And Larry was exhausted. He went to openings, but when he came back, he fell asleep almost immediately. (Exhaustion is one of the causes of gout, and, sure enough, my feet have had slight tingles all day, but i still have some of the pills from the last time i had a full-fledged gout attack, so i took them.)

Thursday (as an example) was a good day, because i had a screening ("Colma"), then i had a meeting at ACV (very interesting), then there was the Industry Party for the NewFest, then Larry and i watched "Shortbus" when we both got home....

And i've been watching a lot of the movies in the Screened Out series on Turner Classic Movies. Larry and i watched "Our Betters", and it was better than i remembered. When i saw it years ago, it seemed rather too brittle, but now that brittleness and the almost heartless bitchery are much more amusing. Over the years, Cukor would be rather uncomplimentary to Constance Bennett (though he worked with her five times!) but she's quite stylish and elegant in "Our Betters". And her astringency is a relief.

(But it also proves that no one is infallible: Constance Bennett was better working with Gregory La Cava in "Bed of Roses" and "Affairs of Cellini" than she is working with Cukor. Cukor may have been the noted "woman's director", yet there were some actresses that he was hopeless with: he couldn't get a performance out of Lana Turner in "A Life of Her Own", Claudette Colbert tries but is miscast in "Zaza", and there's nothing he can do with Norma Shearer, who is saccharine in "The Women", terribly affected - rather than affecting - in "Romeo and Juliet", and hopeless in "Her Cardboard Lover", and Joan Crawford is arch in "Susan and God".)

But today i feel very isolated.... and i did something stupid, i looked through the IMDB message board on Classic Film, and answered two of the posts, one about how there have been no "stars" since 1967, and the other about Jean Simmons. I shouldn't have bothered, it's hopeless, there are no critical standards anymore. (I.e., in the case of Jean Simmons, just read any one of the "serious" critics from 1946 on, from James Agee to Manny Farber to Dwight MacDonald to Wilfred Sheed to Stanley Kauffman to... well, yes, even Andrew Sarris, to come upon statements about how Jean Simmons is ravishingly beautiful and potentially a great actress, while there is a concurrent mocking fo Elizabeth Taylor's efforts. One of my favorite articles was the one by Wilfred Sheed from Esquire in 1969, titled "Burton and Taylor Must Go", where he has such wonderful comments such as "But her acting closed up shop long ago, as one's handwriting does or one's walk, and she cannot do anything with it, short of contortion or shrillness" or "She was now the most beautiful girl in the world, but no more so than hundreds of others"... but his conclusion is hilarious and so apt: "Of course, there is always one other possibility: that what a thousand bleating critics have failed to do the iron laws of history may one day do for them - namely, split the megacelebrity back into its component parts. For some time now we have been getting hard rumors (as opposed to the usual soft gossip) that an astronomic convulsion is already in the works - new groupings, new names to memorize.... If so, will Miss Taylor continue to wrestle with Thespis, or devote herself to good works, or simply become a force for world peace?" Well, Elizabeth Taylor did give up the ghost of any pretense that she was an actress and she did devote herself to "good works", i.e., the cause of AIDS research, and now she's enshrined in Anglo-American culture, even being made a Dame to prove it. That's what's hilarious: that better actresses such as Claire Bloom and Jean Simmons (two other born-in-Britain brunettes who also started out in their youths, though perhaps not as children, Bloom and Simmons were teenagers when they became famous, Simmons with "Great Expectations" and Bloom with "Limelight") have now been downgraded, while Elizabeth Taylor is now a standard for... well, it's a sign of how little regard we have for culture, so that someone like Anjelina Jolie can give an interview and say how she hopes she is not remembered as an actress, that being a "mere" actress is utterly unimportant. But that's like saying that art is utterly unimportant.) And trying to explain those standards (or trying to explain why Jean Simmons and Claire Bloom are preferable to Elizabeth Taylor) is hopeless, because those standards no longer exist....

The standards by which John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, as exemplars of the true "classic" tradition in the English theater, were regarded as "great actors"... those standards no longer exist.

And it's fascinating to see what replaced those standards. I think i'd like to end by quoting Stanley Kauffmann from his essay on John Gielgud, "John Gielgud: The Actor as Paragon", written in 1977:

"The most questionable line that Brecht ever wrote is in 'Galileo' - on the subject of heroes. A disappointed disciple says, 'Unhappy is the land that breeds no her,' and Galileo replies, 'Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.' Unknown is the land that needs no hero. Unknown is the interior land that needs no hero.

"Brecht's line becomes even more doubtful when we see that what we have chiefly left to cheer us, in the whirl and disorder of these days, are some heroes, heroines: not mouthers of ideals but practitioners of excellence, men and women who have made personal wrolds in which the centers hold. They help us. Any excellence that gives us a model, however distinctly analogous to our lives, is a testament of possibility.

"Art is still one locus of such excellence, whichever art it is that speaks to you most directly. The epigrams above show that one art, acting, has long had such a voice. But our age, just because it is flooded with acting - theater, film, television and (still) radio - pays less attention to acting than past ages did. There is so much more acting these days, so much of it bad, so much of it glibly veristic and immediately trivial, that the very idea of finding models of excellence in acting as we do in other arts has become obscured: or has come to seem somewhat foolish."

But, of course, the rest of the article is Stanley going on the elaborate how John Gielgud ahs been one of those paragons of excellence. Stanley does not deny that Gielgud may have made failures, but what he is saying is that Gielgud always strove for quality. "By his excellence he comments on the inferior around him; by his design and his realization of it, he stands against confusion and chaos." Yet now, we accept the inferior as proof of importance.

This is similar to the spectacle in the recent documentary "Brando", seeing all those actors who revered Brando, and their acceptance of the decline in his choices. (I mean: "Morituri" and "Mutiny on the Bounty" are inexcusable choices, no way around it, and his acting in them was even worse.) But Jane Fonda (whom Brando had known since she was an infant) was the only one who spoke up and said how defeated and tired Brando was near the end of his life, how the Brando who had ignited and excited a whole generation with his revelatory performances in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" was long gone....

But Brando began to want something else, and others since then have followed suit. Yes, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Joan Plowright, Helen Mirren (all of whom are Dames) have continued, and have tried to find projects worthy of their talents.... yet the two greatest actresses of their generation (and i mean Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, both on stage and on screen) have been dissatisfied with "mere" acting, and have been involved in politics. (In Jackson's case, to the point where she has given up acting altogether to concentrate on politics.) And it's also important to note that neither Redgrave nor Jackson are Dames. (In the case of Regrave, it's commonly known - though she refuses to comment, because of protocol - that Regrave refused when she was offered, and Jackson can't be knighted - or whatever it's called when it's a woman - since she's right now in the House of Commons, but as soon as that's over with, i bet that Jackson will be rushed for her Damehood.) And then you have someone like Anjelina Jolie (who is - potentially - a great actress, at least, she showed such promise in her early work like "Gia" and the George Wallace TV-biopic) who is saying that acting is trivial.

It's all very sad.

But this week, i was e.mailing Dave Kehr (about his review of the "boxset" of Katharine Hepburn), and i realized how much Katharine Hepburn meant to me... but not anything after 1967, but all her work before that. Because, when my sister and i were growing up, when we were about four and five years, we watched movies on TV, and Channel 9 in New York City was the RKO station, and they played the old RKO library, especially from the post-Production Code period (roughly from 1933 to 1950), so the Katharine Hepburn of her RKO days was so vivid to me, and was an exemplar of what an actress could do. (And when she started to go bad, and i mean really bad, which means almost everything from 1967 on, i refused to go see it. I didn't go to see "The Lion in Winter", i didn't go to see "On Golden Pond", i refused to acknowledge that she was giving such lousy performances. Eventually, i saw most of those things on TV, but i just refused to admit that she had a career after "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", which i did see in a theater - and i was so mortified at how lousy she was, i swore never to see her again, so as not to destroy my memory of her in her heyday.)

David Thomson in his "Biographical Dictionary of Film" (in the early editions; i can't afford to go out and buy it every time he revises it) has written of Katharine Hepburn: "In forty years she has made only thirty-eight films. More remarkable, seventeen of these were made in her first ten years, only twenty-one in the next thirty. The record does not show that this rationing was always the result of discrimination. It is more likely that in the 1940s and 1950s, at least, Hepburn was both hurt and perplexed that her best work - which is to say, the best work any actress has done - only confirmed her reputation as box-office poison. Indeed, there is an irony (of which she is doubtless aware) that she should be lauded, loved and rewarded in films like 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner', when the dazzling achievements fo the late 1930s only hardened audiences toward her." And it is for those movies, for "A Bill of Divorcement", "Morning Glory", "Christopher Strong", "Little Women", "The Little Minister", "Alice Adams", "Sylvia Scarlett", "Quality Street", "Stage Door", "Bringing Up Baby" and "Holiday", that i will always love Katharine Hepburn. But who the hell thought up an anniversary boxset with "Without Love", "Undercurrent" and "Dragon Seed", by common consent three of the worst films Hepburn made? "The Corn is Green" actually isn't bad at all, and it's the last of the films Hepburn made that would be directed by George Cukor, but the others...! It's a desecration of Hepburn's memory, when movies such as "A Bill of Divorcement" or "Christopher Strong" or "Quality Street" would be much more appropriate.

But Katharine Hepburn (from her RKO period) means as much to me as Gielgud means to Stanley Kauffmann. but what does that mean? And why has it become so trivialized?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

DVD Beaver is (once again) undergoing another financial crunch. Hopefully, there'll be a way to get some financial stability for DVD BEaver. It's such a fun site, with its technically detailed reviews of DVD releases. But it's such a complex website, with so many pictures and screen captures and so on. It's so expensive for Gary Tooze to keep up. But what's the answer? Because it's almost impossible to keep up an "independent" publication (online or in print) anymore. Most journals i know are either institutionally affiliated or they're the result of somebody's passion (somebody with money). But people should check out DVD Beaver (

Larry noticed a bizarre item in today's NY Times: there's an article by C.J. Hughes about a wall painting found at 151 Wooster Street. The article does note that Edit deAk lived there, but it doesn't mention that she was thrown out a while ago. But it says how the Guggenheim Museum organized an "event" to look at the wall painting, and that Diego Cortez was one of the people there. Diego! I can't believe it. I wonder if Coleen Fitzgibbon saw the article? Coleen, Margie Keller, Christa Maiwald, Jane Kaplowitz all went to the Chicago Art Institute, and Diego was their classmate.

Spending the last two days (today and yesterday) resting, after a week of concentrated press screenings. Still trying to think about all the films i saw, and also noted that i did watch the DVD of the "For Life, Against the War... Again" collaborative project for the Filmmakers Coop. And i also watched a few movies on TCM this week, such as "Trio" and "Encore", which i remember seeing as a child.

Last night, Larry and i watched "Too Many Crooks". During the 1950s, Brenda De Banzie was one of the treasures of British cinema, and her turn in "Too Many Crooks" is right up there with her comic finesse in "Hobson's Choice". Then we watched "Larceny Inc." which isn't such a long movie, but it does get tedious after about 45 minutes.

On his blog, George Robinson ( mentions that reading as an activity which used to be so central... even among cinephiles, reading helped us to get our bearings. I thought of that this week as well, since i had some time in between screenings, and i spent that time at bookstores: one day, it was the Unoppressive Bookstore on Carmine Street, the other day, it was the Strand. And i picked up (and read) Horace McCoy's "I Should Have Stayed Home" on Friday. McCoy is an interesting writer... but it's easy to see why he's a minor writer. He sticks to the narrow viewpoint of his characters, and there's nothing extra. Absolutely nothing. "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" had the "metaphor" of the dance marathon, but in "I Should Have Stayed Home" there wasn't even that, just Hollywood as the boulevard of broken dreams for dumb hicks. And the character Ralph is such a dumb hick! He doesn't change, he doesn't learn enything... nothing. Just a dumb lug. "I Should Have Stayed Home" is a short book, but it became a slog to read.

At the Unoppressive Bookstore, i picked up "Pavese's "The Devil in the Hills", which i realized i'd read before. But it was nice to read... i love Pavese.

During the week, there are magazines and journals that come in. Post Script had a whole issue devoted the Susan Sontag... there's a famous story about the time Susan Sontag met Mary McCarthy, and McCarthy was reputed to have said, oh, you're the new me. During the 1950s, Pauline sent in a few reviews to Partisan Review, but in the 1960s, Susan wrote film reviews for a variety of journals, such as The Nation, Film Quarterly, and Partisan Review. It was interesting to see what people had to say about her film writing....

But one of the problems (now) with "theory" is that a lot of what (say) Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Deleuze and Guattari wrote was (shall we say) speculative. It was not demonstratively "factual". But for the past few decades, "theory" has assumed a scriptural dimension to the writings of Benjamin, Barthes, et al. And that's a little ridiculous.

What's interesting is that Americans don't seem to have the same assumption for American writers.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Good heavens, forgot to mention that after "Czech Dream" went to the last of the Benning screenings: "One Way Boogie Woogie 27 Years Later", which was similarly rigorous and beautiful, but rather (dare i say it) sentimental, because the "gimmick" of shooting the same places (now changed) more than a quarter of a century later has a built-in pathos.

Ran into John Matturi in between screenings, also had time to go to the Strand, where i picked up a copy of Horace McCoy's "I Should Have Stayed Home".

It's been a week or so since i've blogged, but it's been a busy week. A lot has happened, both personally and (semi)professionally. There have been a lot of press screenings.

Monday was Memorial Day, and so there were no screenings. But Tuesday made up for it, the first group of screenings for the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The films were Lynn Hershman Leeson's "Strange Culture" (a "hybrid" about the case against Steve Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble), James Longley's "Sari's Mother", Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem's "Enemies of Happiness", and Steve Okazaki's "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki". That proved to be quite a provocative group of works.

On Wednesday, went to see James Benning's "13 Lakes"; Thursday, went to Aki Kaurimaki's "Lights in the Dusk", then Benning's "Ten Skies"; today, went to the Czech doc by Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda, "Czech Dream".

On Tuesday, ran into Ira Hozinsky at the Human Rights Watch press screenings. I had planned on seeing the other three screenings, but instead i decided to see the films which would have theatrical runs, i.e., "Lights in the Dusk" and "Czech Dream". Ran into Jim Hoberman at the James Benning screenings, i asked him if congratulations are in order, he asked if i meant huis (continued) tenure at The Village Voice, i said, no, that's a given, i'm talking about being on the Selection Committee for the New York Film Festival. Then we started joking about it. It's a very different period than when he was last on the committee, which was one of the last times Richard Roud was there. And it's a different time for me as well: the last time, i was able to recommend things to Jim which were coming through the Asian-American Film Festival, such as Trinh Minh-ha's "Reassemblage" and Mira Nair's "So Far from India"; now, everybody's so hip to the way the system works, there are very few "discoveries" to be made from smaller festivals, etc.

But those are the films i've seen this week. Next week will be a lot less hectic, and i have to take care of business, such as the meeting with some of the ACV staff about the upcoming 30th Anniversary of the Asian-American Film Festival, and maybe a few screenings at the NewFest. But it was a very good week, i enjoyed the films.... it was actually rather funny, i didn't actually look at the entire press release for the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, i simply noted the press screening schedule and RSVP'd. So imagine my surprise when i realized that some of the films were by people i knew: Lynn Hershman Leeson and Steve Okazaki. And then i saw the three Benning films. ("13 Lakes" and "Ten Skies" are quite phenomenal, "enforced contemplation" as the films consist of full-length ten-minute takes on, yes, 13 lakes and ten shots of the sky. Reminded me of the period when Larry Gottheim was making those one-shot films, like "Blues" and "Corn". Of course, i would remember that because reviewing Larry Gottheim was one of the first things i did when i got to the Soho Weekly News... though the very first review was about Ed Emshwiller. Which i was reminded of by Bob Haller when i saw him while waiting for the screening of "13 Lakes" to begin. The reason Haller brought it up is that Anthology is planning on doing another retrospective/tribute to Ed in the near future.)