Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oh, no! Just over the wires: the news that Michelangelo Antonioni has died!

I can't even begin to process this. With Bergman, his passing was (vaguely) anticipated. Hell, he anticipated it! But Antonioni had been plagued with such bad health over the past two decades, yet he continued... he never said that this was going to be his last movie, he kept trying to work...

But it's hard. There are some movies which you love the minute you see them, and there are other movies which you may admire, but you don't just love....

I remember this because in the summer of 1964, when i was 10 years old, we didn't go to Bradley Beach, we just stayed in the city. I think one of the reasons is that we had just moved into Chatham Green; it was a coop, we'd been there for about a year, and my grandparents moved in with us for a few months, because my grandfather had gotten sick (cancer) and died. So anyway, the summer of 1964 was the first one where we didn't go to Bradley Beach, we were just in the city....

And i was so happy! Going to the Jersey shore for the summer wasn't exactly the most exciting thing to do, and being in the city... there was just so much to see and do!

That was the summer i discovered the Thalia, and the Elgin, and the New Yorker, and on and on. Janus Films did something a little unusual that summer: they rented out the APA Phoenix Theater in the Times Square area (now, i can't remember exactly where it was, but i have a suspicion that it was where the Marriott is now) and showed their collection. The program changed every day, and you could buy a booklet. I remember getting two booklets so i could see something like 20 films.

This brings me to the films you love (immediately, no questions asked) and the films you admire. Among the films i admired (but didn't love immediately): "The Seventh Seal", "Wild Strawberries", "Nights of Cabiria", "Rashomon", "Jules and Jim", "Grand Illusion". Among the films i loved immediately: "Breathless", "Ugetsu", "Day of Wrath", "Rules of the Game" ... and "L'Avventura". (I also went to the Thalia: if you got there for the first show of the day, which was usually at 1 PM, it was a quarter! 25 cents for a double bill! What better way to spend an afternoon?) From the Thalia, my favorite double bills that summer included: Resnais's "Muriel" and Demy's "Bay of Angels"; Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" and Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest"... i remember the two days i spent watching two trilogies: Pagnol's "Fanny" trilogy, and Ray's "Apu" trilogy.

But i just loved "L'Avventura" from the first time i saw it, and every time i've seen it since, i've had the same feeling. What was it? It was the mood of desolation mixed with the swank of the high life depicted, the glamorous way people seemed lost in their own problems. I loved it!

And Antonioni didn't disappoint. I loved his early films, "Cronaca di un amore", "La Signora senza camille", "Le Amiche" (i really love "Le Amiche"), "Il Grido"... and the films which followed "L'Avventura", "La Notte", "L'Eclisse", "Red Desert", "Blow Up"... i think "Zabriskie Point" is often visually stunning, even if it's dramatically incoherent.

Even when his movies got flossy and even silly (like his section of "Eros"), there were still moments of incredible visual beauty.

When Bergman died, i was trying to think of movies of his which i really wanted to see again. (Actually, one is "The Devil's Wanton", which i remember seeing in the 1960s, and haven't seen since.) But Antonioni... i could watch his movies again and again, especially "L'Avventura" and "La Notte" and "L'Eclisse".

Monday, July 30, 2007

The other day, i was rearranging my DVDs, because when i put them "in order" two years ago, there have been a lot of additions. When i first set out half a shelf for my "Scandinavian" DVDs, there were a few Bergman titles, a few Dreyer titles, Christensen's "Haxan", Gabriel Axel's "Babette's Feast".... since then, there have been things like the DVDs of Stiller's work put out by Kino ("Erotikon", "Sir Arne's Treasure" and "The Saga of Gosta Berling")... putting them all together, i found out that i had nineteen Ingmar Bergman titles. (Admittedly, i have four boxsets: the MGM boxset with "Persona", "Hour of the Wolf", "Shame", "The Passion of Anna" and "The Serpent's Egg"; the Criterion boxset of his "trilogy"; the boxset of "Fanny and Alexander"; and the Eclipse boxset of "Early Bergman" which also includes Alf Ajoberg's "Torment" with its Bergman script.) Bergman isn't one of my favorite directors; he isn't even one of my favorite Scandinavian directors (that would be Dreyer, Sjostrom, Stiller, Troell, Christensen, in that order). Yet there are a lot of titles which i have to admit are genuinely impressive and important works. Some of the Bergman titles of note: "Summer Interlude", "Summer With Monika", "Smiles of a Summer Night", "The Seventh Seal", "Wild Strawberries", "Through a Glass Darkly", "Winter Light", "The Silence", "Persona", "Shame", "A Passion", "The Magic Flute", "Fanny and Alexander".

But Ingmar Bergman is an acid test of the artistic fallacy: as a human being, he was one of the most miserable people who ever lived. Totally self-absorbed, utterly self-involved, and unconcerned about other people to a degree that is breathtaking! In that recent documentary "Faro Island", every time he opens his mouth, i wanted to knock his teeth out. An utterly detestable man. Some examples: he believes that in order to have a "relationship" with an actress (so that he can understand her "essence"), he has to sleep with her. There is a term for what Bergman has done (over decades) and that term is "sexual harrassment". Ingmar Bergman has gone on and on about how miserable his childhood was, how his father was distant and stern and forbidding... but the fact that he has been an utterly neglectful and distant father himself, his attitude is, why should it bother him? He has no responsibility for his children!

In short: the man is an utter monster, and (really) there's no excuse for his behavior. None at all. And it's a joke: he's an even worse father (and he admits it; that's also supposed to be cute, that he's so "honest") than his own father ever was, but his excuse is that he's a genius. Yet Bergman has no irony (which is one of his most interesting traits: he's one of the only major artists of the second half of the 20th Century, the "Age of Irony" if ever there was one, who is utterly, dogmatically "serious" in a lugubrious, torpid way).

Yet the intensity of his work, at its best ("Persona", "Shame", "A Passion"), is quite unique.

Though it rained over the weekend, the humidity is really exhausting. One note: we have no idea where the three kittens are. This morning, the kittens were in their new "nest" under the double fig trees... at least, they were there when Larry and Gary were sitting on the back porch in the morning. But sometime before noon, the mother cat came and moved them, we have no idea where. Well, we miss those kittens.

But now, it's out of our hands, we were trying to find out what to do, find homes for the kittens, call the animal shelter to come and get the cat and kittens, give them shots, etc.

Watched an English movie this afternoon, "A Place of One's Own", a 1945 film in which James Mason plays a man in his 60s! Today must be a James Mason day, because my order from Amazon UK came of the James Mason boxset (Region 2) which includes "5 Fingers", "Odd Man Out" and "The Man Between".

There is an old superstition: death comes in threes. Today, the news of three deaths: Ingmar Bergman; Michel Serrault; Tom Snyder. Snyder's death reminds me of the era when talk shows weren't just publicity fodder, and when talk show hosts weren't just show biz stand-up comics. When Snyder had his talk show, he was always talked about as if he was "combative", but he wasn't, not if you consider what people like Bill O'Reilly do now. Snyder (at least) was really interested in debate, not in simply haranguing his guests. But Snyder really tried to have a show that didn't pander and insult his audience.

Michel Serrault was one of those character actors who seemed to pop up in so many French films from the 1950s on, but he wound up getting his greatest fame when he was middle-aged, and played the drag queen in "La Cage aux Folles".

Of course, Ingmar Bergman is one of the most important figures in world cinema. It's funny: his career went through so many phases. It's surprising to come across people who still debate his merits. (Dave Kehr recently remarked, on his blog, that Bergman is someone he considers to be really lacking in any cinematic talent.) But his career can be divided into his early phase, which started with the screenplay for "Torment" and ends with "Summer Interlude" and "Summer With Monika"; then there's the period when he gained his international reputation, which includes "The Naked Night" (a movie which, indeed, was a favorite of the collegiate set of the 1950s - prior to "Persona", it was Susan Sontag's favorite Bergman film, and it was also one of John Simon's favorites), and the three films which really established him: "Smiles of a Summer Night", "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries"; then there's the middle period, which is dominated by his "trilogy", "Through a Glass Darkly", "Winter Light" and "The Silence"; then there's the "modernist" period, which really starts with "Persona" and includes "Shame", "A Passion", "Cries and Whispers" and "Autumn Sonata", plus that TV staple "Scenes from a Marriage". Not to make light of someone's death, but Bergman was one of those patriarchs who seemed to have a protracted farewell. He was always making his last movie. From "Fanny and Alexander" on, every damned thing he did was his "last". In some ways, he even made dying tedious. Enough, already, just drop dead and leave us alone. Well, he (finally) did it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The rain has finally started. We've been told that there would be thunder showers since Thursday, but nothing happened except more humidity. This morning it was oppressive: you could practically walk through the air.

An oddity: got a message from Maja Kluver (daughter of Billy Kluver and Olga Adorno) because she read an item on this blog about Olga's inclusion as one of the Ten Most Beautiful Women in the Warhol portraits. I remember her running around the loft at 537 Broadway while Jean Dupuy (her stepfather) was doing his Grommet Theater. So many of these children (Hannah and Jessica Higgins, Ain Gordon, Oona Mekas) are now adults. It was inevitable.

Well: the grey mother cat has had her latest litter of kittens. Three. They used to be under the fig tree next to the back fence, but last night, she moved them to the two fig trees closer to that wall that Darrin and Lydia put up. The three kittens are so cute! One (the all-grey one) loves to come out and explore! That kitten will go right up to you. The other two (one grey with white markings, the other white with grey markings) tend to be more cautious and stick together, but the all-grey one is very adventurous.

Because we've allowed all these vines and weeds to grow (we've got chamomile, jasmine, dill, and who knows what else), the fig trees have all this vegetation growing around... and there's so much stuff around the two fig trees that there is a lot of shelter for the kittens, as long as they don't try to come out into the yard. There's a real canopy under the trees.

Last night, Larry and i watched "Finding Neverland". This isn't one of those Brit films like "Calendar Girls" or "Driving Lessons" (which we watched earlier this week), that is, a true British film with a British cast and crew. This was more a pseudo-British film, an American production with a mostly-Brit cast. And it was initially rather twee and precious. And it stayed twee and precious, but we enjoyed it all the same, and Julie Christie and Kate Winslet were very moving.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The humidity is getting to me: i always get so enervated when it's humid. But this afternoon went to the Asia Society so that i could introduce the program of shorts which i selected, culled from festivals past. This is the 30th Asian-American International Film Festival, i can't believe it. Anyway, it was funny because the program kept changing: at the last minute, one film which was programmed didn't arrive, but another film was located, etc. Shows you how difficult it is to coordinate some of these programs. So the program wound up consisting of: "New Freedom" by Camera Obscura (nee Esther Koohan Paik); "Soybean Milk" by Justin Lin; "PoMo Knock Knock" by Greg Pak; "Bubblehead" by Julia Cho; "East Broadway" by Karin Chien and Kevin Lee; "United Nations of Hip Hop" by Christina Choe; and "Penis Envy" by Mina Park. Because of the problems, some films dropped out ("Punky Junky Girlz" by Nisha Ganatra), other films were added at the alst minute ("New Freedom"), and the order of the program was set to emphasize a certain feminist logic (begin with "New Freedom" and end with "Penis Envy"). It was fun, it went smoothly, some of the filmmakers were there (Karin Chien and Kevin Lee; Mina Park) and there was a nice q&a after.

But while there, ran into Corky Lee, who told me some distressing news about Tom Tam. Brain cancer, it's inoperable, he's in a very bad way. Very depressing news, especially since the Asian-American International Film Festival wouldn't have been started without him. It was his idea to start the festival in the first place.

And Larry ran into Trika yesterday: on Monday she starts her chemotherapy treatments. And Trika said that Annette Michelson has leukemeia.

So bad news. But yesterday i had my follow-up doctor's appointment. My cholesterol has dropped, so taking the pills has worked for me, my cholesterol went from 180 to 101.

But glad that ACV seems to be able to continue.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Some art news of note.

On July 10, Theresa Duncan killed herself; her boyfriend, Jeremy Blake, was distraught when he found the body. A week later, it was reported that he swam into the ocean, and his body has not been found.

Today in the NY Times, there's an article about problems with Elizabeth Streb's dance company, because the associate artistic director, Terry Dean Bartlett, has been fired. According to the Times, this stems from an in-performance accident which caused deeAnn Nelson to undergo surgery to place a rod in her back. The article talks about the fact that Streb Extreme Action is now in negotiations to buy the building in Brooklyn where their studio is located; in addition, an off-Broadway show is in the works. The fact that the first serious accident happened while these two ventures are in the works is cited as a factor in Bartlett's dismissal. (Evidently, he alerted the media about the accident, and arranged a benefit at Dance Theater Workshop which highlighted the accident.)

It's strange to read about people you know. Elizabeth was one of my best friends... but you never know what has happened since that time. The other week, there was an article about Gary Garrels and Annie Philbin, and their aims in terms of acquisition for the Hammer Museum. Of course, Annie and Elizabeth had been really good friends... but that was 25 yaers ago!

A lot has happened in the last few days... but Larry and i watched the latest Marple on PBS, "Nemesis", and we have to say it was really amusing. The ending really was a shock!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Well, since Monday have seen seven (that's right: seven) new movies. On Tuesday, saw Majid Majidi's "The Willow Tree"; Majidi is (of all the major Iranian directors) the one who can most often skirt into sentimentality. (That certainly happened in "Children of Heaven".) Yet he is also one of the great visualists of the Iranian cinema, sometimes creating works of breathtaking beauty. "The Willow Tree" is certainly one of his most sensual works, amazingly textured and vibrant. And it should be: it's the story of a middle-aged man, a professor, who has been blind his whole life, and he receives a cornea implant, and suddenly he can see! Yes, there were some sticky moments, but overall it was a powerful film.

Saw the doc "The Devil Came on Horseback" about the crisis in Darfur.... more on it later.

Well, spent hours (almost eight in all) seeing three films by the young Portuguese director Pedro Costa. Can understand what the praise for his work is about: he is one of the few trying to deal with the underclass, with the abjections of poverty. Saw his trilogy "Bones" (from 1997), "In Vanda's Room" (2000), and "Colossal Youth" from 2006. (The reason it's a trilogy is that he uses the same performers - who are not "actors" - in all three.)

Watched Linas Phillips's doc "Walking To Werner"... alternately irritating and touching. But i was also curious because there is a hero-worship about Werner Herzog, coming at a time when there is some very intriguing critiques of Herzog coming out, specifically in regards to "Rescue Dawn" and his Teutonic worldview and its imperialist implications. And "Walking To Werner" seems innocent of all that, of any philosophical viewpoint that might constitute any sort of critique of Herzog. (Kevin Lee has been very cogent about the implications of "Recsue Dawn".)

With "Marigold", that's seven movies this week....

Monday, July 16, 2007

Well, today we got a new router; we'll see how it goes.

Went to see an imitation Bollywood musical today, "Marigold". It was written and directed by Willard Carroll. The name was so familiar, but i couldn't place how or why i would know the name. Turns out he is the friend of Meredith B.'s who wrote and directed "Playing By Heart" (which had originally been called "Dancing With Architecture"), which was one of the first movies with Angelina Jolie. Can't say i thought "Marigold" was a success.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On Ovation this afternoon, i watched Chuck Workman's "The Source" (a documentary about the Beats... one of the funniest moments was Gregory Corso getting bent all out of shape and ranting because on "Jeopardy" the answer was "Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and William Burroughs were the writers..." i can't remember the exact wording, but basically it was that those three were the writers of this particular literary movement, and the answer was "Who were the Beats?" and Corso is going ballistic because his name isn't one of the ones on "Jeopardy"; my question was: what the hell was Gregory Corso doing watching "Jeopardy" in the first place?) and "Old, Weird America: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music". It was so... nostalgic!

There's an Ozu movie called "Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?" In my case, all i have to do is turn on the TV, and there it is: people i knew when i was growing up, and now they're history. (Literally!)

Today, i saw something very sad: the gray alleycat that was the mother was in the front yard next door (where her little baby died) and was sniffing around. I haven't seen the mother cat in about two weeks, but there she was, looking for her baby.

Well, Christine and i went to the screening of Danny Boyle's "Sunshine". I have to say i enjoyed it. In a way, it was so... comforting, because it was such a... i shouldn't say derivative, but it's like it was made from parts of "Alien" and "Forbidden Planet" and all sorts of other sci-fi movies. But it was very well-paced, and it was entertaining and the actors were obviously having a good time.

Yesterday, i watched "The Chatterley Affair", a very enjoyable movie about the obscenity trial in 1960. I can't believe that it took so long for that book to be cleared of the charge of obscenity. But one thing: if the film was made in the last year or so, then i have to say that Claire Bloom looks absolutely fantastic!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Zheng Xiaoyu was the name of the Chinese official who was executed. Yesterday, Bush gave a press conference. I couldn't watch! The minute it started (he was justifying his policies, and acting as if we're all so stupid for not realizing how geat he is), i couldn't watch! The fatuity of the man! The arrogance!

Ok, so i hate him. But does he have to be so hateful?

Some quick notes.

Our little grey kitten has died. Mike (our neighbor) found him two days ago. "Our"! He was a little alley cat that was always so sick, and so many people (in the six months since he was born) kept trying to take him home, but he was a real feral creature! But he loved being here (the three houses that adjourn, ours and the ones on the right and the left) and everyone was feeding him, trying to take care of him... he had an eye infection, but that had finally started to clear up. But it was only a matter of time, it was hard to see how he could make it through this summer. Still, it's sad.

We had to get the plumbers: yesterday, when i was taking a shower, it started to leak into the basement. Turns out that the cap on the pipe was shot: a hole had been developing. So the cap was replaced. It could have been much, much worse. But the plmbers came and they've just left.

Last night, went to see Shane Meadow's "This Is England": the first press screening i've been to in a while. I must say i enjoyed the movie. It's set in the 1980s, during the Falkland War. It really does give you a sense of how the skinheads came into being... and you really got into the mindset of the characters. An impressive movie.

Yesterday, tried to watch two more of the Randolph Scott Westerns on TCM when i got back from the screening, but was distracted because we were nervous about the leak. (What is it was really severe? Would they have to take out the whole bathtub, and then would we have to replace the entire first floor bathroom?) We're always worried, every time something happens.

Kim Ki-Duk's "Time" opened. The idea of the movie (a girl getting plastic surgery so that she can become more beautiful for her boyfriend) has a creepy fascination, but it wasn't quite as gripping as it should have been. In a way, the reviews that the film got (not so much mostly negative, but mostly dismissive) are more interesting than the film. The film was (ultimately) rather flat, but the reviews had such invective.

I think that what's happened is that a lot of the J-horror and K-horror films that have come over here have actually been rather overpraised. And this is starting to ahve an effect. And the idea that a lot of these genre films from Asia might not be as good as people wnt them to be has started to sink in, but no one wants to say it. So Kim Ki-Duk is being used as a scapegoat: an "arty" poseur who is finally being seen for the phoney he is. But i think it's overkill.

Tonight: a screening of Danny Boyle's "Sunshine". Plus the season premieres of "Monk" and "Psych". Larry and i love "Psych".

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ohmigod, the People's Republic of China just executed its former Food-and-Drug chief, for his corruption and his allowing tainted foods to be exported!

Boy, people like Christy Todd Whitman should thank their lucky stars they're not in China! But (of course) George Bush would still be the head of the government, so he would blithely go about his business....

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Imperial Presidency marches on. Bush has issued an edict (basically) that White House aides are "off limits" to any Congressional investigation! And he will continue his troop "surge". (After a certain point, where will he find the troops?) Bush is saying: the White House is above the law.

Thank god Bill Maher is trying to take over as "The Decider"!

It's been a frantic day. Larry's tried to get this new Linksys router to work. We've been having problems since we installed it two weeks ago. Once again, he was on the phone for about an hour with the Linksys people. Hopefully, it'll work this time.

One thought is that "musicals" have made a comeback. It brought to mind a comment that someone made on Carrie Rickey's blog, when this kid tries to knock "Singin' in the Rain" (and all musicals; his argument is ad infinitum) because it mad ethe Top Ten on the AFI list. He believes NO musical should be on the list, because musicals are just dated garbage. The kid's arguments aren't even worth considering, because they show a homophobic panic response that i don't even want to get into.

But "musicals" used to be the way that people (around this country) experienced popular music. It was a way that people could see and hear the new pop songs. Now kids have music videos and concert films. What do they think those things are, if not outgrowths of what used to be called "the musical"? But "boys" don't want to admit it.

The ignorance is bliss.

But there have been several really fascinating "musicals" in the past few months: "Once", "The Wayward Cloud", "Colma"... John Cameron Mitchell tried to do something in "Shortbus" but it didn't quite work. But "Once" and "The Wayward Cloud" and "Colma" show that there are ways of trying to use music in movies, so that the music becomes part of the narrative. And i'm not just talking about the old-fashioned "book musical", the attempts at transferring Broadway to the movies as in "Dreamgirls" or "Chicago". (One of the best musicals since the 1960s was Alan Rudolph's "Choose Me", where the songs by Teddy Pendergast were used so evocatively.)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Anyway, last night watched some of the Hal Roach movies on TCM. "There Goes My Heart" had one real quirk: in a secondary part was Nancy Carroll. This was in 1937... a few years before (1930-34), Nancy Carroll was a big star, and she made several films co-starring with Fredric March. Here he was, playing the lead (a newspaper reporter, a gloss on his part in "Nothing Sacred"), opposite Virginia Bruce, and there was Nancy Carroll, who had been his leading lady on movies like "Laughter", reduced to a supporting part. (And not even the second lead, which went to Patsy Kelly.)

That's typical of Hollywood, rather than this hideous continue-to-be-a-star-until-you-croak syndrome that was really defined by Joan Crawford.

I had to get rid of some of the files on the disc i used to save the CineVue obit on Edward Yang: it was getting too crowded. So i looked through a number of the files, and erased some of them. (The ones i erased were articles which are "in print".) I also came across several articles-in-progress, and i do want to finish them....

I also came across a short item that i had hoped to use on this blog. It was from last summer, and was about the MIT List Visual Art Center's exhibition on "9 Evenings Reconsidered: Art, Theatre, and Engineering, 1966". According to the press release we received, Catherine Morris was the curator, and she is putting together a book, going through the files of E.A.T. (Initially, the person who was the archivist for "9 Evenings" was (i believe) Simone Forti.) I noted that it's another example (as are the docs "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis" and "Notes on Marie Menken" and Callie Angell's book on Andy Warhol) of this... Memorializing of the 1960s? Fetishizing of the 1960s? In most cases, the people who are doing the "recreation" weren't around to have experienced the events/people firsthand. Of course, why should it matter? Did Leon Edel ever meet Henry James? But the problem is that the period of New York City and the arts in the 1950s and 1960s has become historical, yet it's still so recent and so near-present, and we have learned so much about the distortions of history, about what gets remembered and what is not, and how the victors write the history....

And i mention this because the "point" of "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis" and "Notes on Marie Menken" is that these are artists who have been "forgotten" while the victor (historically) has been Andy Warhol. He has come to be the artist who has defined success in the 1960s, and Jack and Marie (both of whom were very influential on Warhol, and both of whom started their careers in the 1950s, well before Warhol decided to try his hand at "art") have been regulated to the "background" of the period.

Of course, this is not fair because Jack and Marie were important artists in their own right. Yet Jack and Marie are finding defenders (actually, Jack always had defenders, all his life; i know, i was one of the many), but there remain other artists who are forgotten. Jerry Jofen, whose strange hermitic presence complemented Jack's in the work of Ken Jacobs's, and whose own films were exceptionally delicate. Or Storm De Hirsch, another vital woman filmmaker of the 1950s and 1960s.

And i bring up Carolyn Brown's discussion of "9 Evenings" in her book "Chance and Circumstance": as a witness, what she saw was basically a disaster. And as a spectator, what i saw was basically a disaster! So i can't understand what people are doing, pumping up this event as a watershed, when it was really a low point for almost everyone. (And Yvonne Rainer, in her memoir, "Feelings Are Facts", describes her event as a monumental disaster.) So it makes me crazy: i was there, and i can tell you, it wasn't good. And people who aren't enamoured of the "glamour" of all those "names" (Rauschenberg, Rainer, Paxton, Childs, et al), including many of the participants themselves, if they're honest, also will tell you it was NG (not good).

There's so much that i remember, and yet... it's like with a lot of the dance i saw in the 1960s and 1970s: was it good? Or was it just different? And because it was different, since i was (from the earliest time i can remember) always someone with an "avantgarde" sensibility, did i like the difference simply for its own sake? It's hard for me to say.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What a week! The Fourth of July really cut into the week, because it made the week superfluous. Unless i missed something, i didn't have any screenings (but now i have to look at my e.mails and figure out the screenings in the coming weeks). As usual, a lot of films which are opening (in terms of foreign/independent releases) are films i've seen. One such film is "Dans Paris".

I told the kids at Asian Cinevision that i would come up with a short piece about Edward Yang... but instead of two days, it took me four days to write. It was going to be short, but then i read Manohla Dargis's obit in The New York Times on Monday, and i went ballistic. It made me so angry. I couldn't help it. The reason it made me angry was, it wasn't what she wrote, but at one point she quotes Pierre Rissient. And what Pierre Rissient said is so condescending and superior... it just made me furious. And what Manohla may not have realized (but Godfrey Chesire knew, and alluded to in his obit in The Village Voice) was that it was Pierre who was responsible, in that first decade of Edward's career (1984-1994), for the fact that the Cannes Film Festival refused to show his work. (Pierre decided that Hou Hsaio-Hsien was the one he wanted to promote.) So that would have been like asking Howard Hughes (who humiliated and fired Max Ophuls during Ophuls's Hollywood sojourn) what he thought about "La Ronde" or "Madame De..." I don't think he's the person to ask....

And i noticed that few (if any) Asians or Asian-Americans were asked to make a comment about Edward Yang. Anywhere! Not Norman Wang (Edward's widow asked Norman to be the spokesman, and to issue the press release announcing the death; after that, nobody talked to Norman), not Vivian Huang, not Danny Yung, none of the people who, in that first decade, did a lot to promote Yang in the West. Kevin Lee, in his AlsoLikeLife website, posted a very touching piece about what Edward Yang's work meant to him....

Anyway, that's done. So it should be up on the CineVue website once that's done (in time for the Asian-Ameriacn International Film Festival's opening).

On Thursday, TCM started its Randolph Scott "Star of the Month" fest; the first three films were three of the Westerns Scott did with Budd Boetticher: "Seven Men From Now", "Decision at Sundown" and "Comanche Station". I hadn't seen them in decades, and they looked so bright and clean... "Seven Men From Now" has been out on DVD for aboyt a year, but i hope the other six Boetticher Westerns are being readied, Boetticher's work really should be out on DVD. "Decision at Sundown" and "Comanche Station" were almost abstract in the way that the characters are set against the landscapes.

Larry and i watched "The White Countess" (another Netflix choice). Of course, i was curious to see the Redgrave sisters together... but it was a hopeless movie. It's the kind of movie where you're thinking, what were they thinking? Natasha Richardson is lovely, and her deep voice has echoes of her mother, but Ralph Fiennes is hopeless, he can't seem to find a chaarcter to play so he tries to float through. It's a film that needs to be done fast, with some style (as opposed to simply decor) and a dose of wit. But this was humorless, with heavy decoration, and it was slow. Really slow.

Watched "David and Lisa" on TCM this week; the awkwardness and the semi-amateurishness were very touching, because they were so much a part of "independent" filmmaking in the 1960s. But Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin were very good. Keir Dullea was someone who often gave terrific performances ("David and Lisa", "The Hoodlum Priest") but the thing that made him good (his ability to project the range of his character's damaged psyches) was what prevented him from being a star.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Fourth of July. Trying to collect my thoughts and finish the obit on Edward Yang for CineVue, but it's tough. My feelings are beyond sadness, because there's a feeling of desolation. I remember some of the interviews he gave after "Yi Yi" was making the festival circuit. He mentioned that there was no longer an audience for his films in Taiwan. (And, in fact, "Yi Yi" never received a theatrical release in Taiwan.) He said that "Yi Yi" would be his last film, and he was right. But in the last year, there had been signs that he might be making a new film. And so that's why this is doubly sad. But it's also a sign of the continued marginalization of "art" in the contemporary context.

Another reason it's hard for me to write is that the situation of Edward Yang was so curious. In 1984, when the AAIFF showed his first feature film (at that time, it was called "On That Day On The Beach", a rather cumbersome title which was reduced to "That Day On The Beach"), it seemed to be so... unusual. The films coming out of China were "exotic" (movies like "Yellow Earth", "Red Sorghum", "Old Well"), they were often set in the past, and they were highly pictorial. "On That Day On The Beach" wasn't like that. It was paced very languidly, and it seemed to stretch out its anecdote (about the tenuous demise of an affair) into a kind of stasis. Of course, this was the tenet of a certain stylistic modernism, and Yang's film seemed to exemplify that.

But after the AAIFF showed his second feature, "Taipei Story", it began to seem curious: why wwere his films not being taken up by other film organizations? What was wrong? I thought the films were exceptionally well-done, but what was the problem?

But none of the films from Taiwan seemed to be catching people's interest. That was ok... but the Taiwanese government opened that Taiwan Cultural Center in the Rockefeller Center area, and they were aggressively trying to promote Taiwanese culture, including films. And yet it was as if the film organizations in New York City had a block against these films, especially Yang's.

I don't know. But that changed after "A Brighter Summer Day"....

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beverly Sills has died. Many thoughts, but specifically she represented the era (1950s) of a quite indigenous American art. She was the first American opera singer to develop a major career by performing in this country: she didn't look to Europe for her validation.

On Friday, i read Carolyn Brown's "Chance and Circumstance", her memoir of her life as one of the premiere dancers with Merce Cunningham. Here, again, is the idea of American artists, trying to forge unique styles and forms. There were some funny segments in the book. It was hilarious to read Carolyn Brown's description of "Nine Evenings", because she felt the whole thing was a debacle, with things not working, all sorts of technical problems, etc. I read Larry some of her comments; Larry noted that Carolyn Brown made a mistake: she quotes the patron of the event, "Mrs. Albert Last"; Larry said it should be "Mrs. Albert List" because it was Vera List who was the patron. I also read him the passage about Toshi Ichiyangi, and Carolyn Brown's comment about Toshi's then-wife, Yoko Ono. Hilarious! As Larry said, it's 40 years, but these people are still keeping these in-fights alive.

While i was at the gym, breaking news came over the TV: Bush commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby. Of course: we knew it was going to happen. This president does not believe in any laws... he's like Richard Widmark in the Preminger film of "Saint Joan", he's a giggling idiot who believes in his god-given power. We really are in Dodge City, a place of total lawlessness, and the biggest lawbreaker is our president.

TCM showed the full-length version of Joseph Losey's "The Damned" last night, which ran 95 minutes as opposed to the American cut of 87 minutes. Of course, that meant their schedule was screwed up for a while. But it was great to see it. It's still one of my favorite Losey films.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Went to my cousin Sandra's wedding; it was held at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, over 2 hours from NYC. The place was quite spectacular; the evening ended with an amazing display of fireworks (pre-Fourth of July festivities).

But when i got home, a message from Norman Wang was waiting for me: Edward Yang has died. Really devastating news. Of all the major Chinese-language filmmakers, Edward Yang was the one most closely associated with the Asian-American International Film Festival. We showed "That Day on the Beach", "Taipei Story", "The Terrorizers" and "A Brighter Summer Day". In fact, we were the only people to show those films! But he had said that "Yi Yi" would be his last film, and he was right. Very sad.