Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today (thursday) the Tribeca Film Festival was in full swing. There's a press office and a Target-Tribeca Lounge: all these are located around The New School on Fifth Avenue just below 14th Street. Larry and i went to see Tom Kalin's "Savage Grace"; we went to the First Filmmakers reception at the Target-Tribeca Lounge; i went to see the English film "Boy A", then Julian Schnabel's "Lou Reed's Berlin". Immediately, must say that Schnabel continues with his appropriations of the styles of Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, other experimentalists of the 1960s... this works quite well in the context of the Lou Reed concert. Perhaps not a perfect match, but close enough not to be jarring.

Tuesday went to the press screening for Harmony Korine's "Mister Lonely". Wednesday, the press screening for Amos Poe's "Empire II". Perplexing, paradoxical experiences.

Ran into Amy Taubin between tonight, between "Boy A" and "Lou Reed's Berlin". A discussion of blogging culture. Can one simply opt out of what is now such a dominant cultural discourse? Amy believes that one can counter the diary jottings which make up so much of blog culture. I'm not so sure.

Must admit that without Michael Giltz wouldn't have any idea what's happening on American Idol. Which remainds me: must check Michael's blog (with its link to his Huffington Post coverage of American Idol) to see what he thought of the results show. (

Want to write more, but need to get some sleep if i'm going to try to make it to more movies tomorrow vis-a-vis the Tribeca Film Festival. If i'm not mistaken, hope to catch the movie about David Hockney and the movie about Cindy Sherman. This year, that seems to be a big thing: movies about artists (just as in other years, it's been docs about rock-and-roll).

Monday, April 21, 2008

It's been about a week since i've blogged; has it been a busy week? Well, judging from my screening calendar, it has.

Monday (April 14), i missed the screening of Godard's "Weekend"; not that i haven't seen that film. I saw it upon its first screening at the New York Film Festival, i saw it several times in the next decade... i have the DVD from New Yorker Films. How many times can i see that film? Actually, a lot. But what happened was my brother stopped by and we did my taxes. So that's why i missed "Weekend", because after we did the taxes i copied everything and then mailed my taxes off. Suffice it to say that "Weekend" is Godard's masterwork, possibly his most galvanizing film. Perhaps i love some of his other films more (certainly, i love "Band of Outsiders", "Masculine Feminine" and "La Chinoise" more, films which are so close to me that they seem like pictures from my own childhood... or adolescence), but i think "Weekend" is... if i remember correctly, Renata Adler (in the New York Times) ended her review by saying that "Weekend" was like nothing else, it was hard to take. (And she meant that as a compliment.)

But i went to the evening screening of "Then She Found Me", about which i wrote about. I also watched "Becoming Jane" (a Netflix choice; ok, sue me, i figured i'd see it because i watched a number of the new BBC productions of Jane Austen that were on PBS). I don't want to be mean, but wow was it slow, sloggy, sodden. Where were the wit, irony and razor-sharp perception which are hallmarks of Jane Austen's style? The acting was ok, Anne Hathaway does have some sort of star presence, and James McAvoy is dashing (even he has admitted that he's amazed at his career, considering that he's such a short - 5' 7" - fellow, but he does pull it off, as he does in "Atonement"), Julie Walters was so in-character as the nagging mother i wanted to smack her, but this really was a letdown.

Tuesday, the Argentinean "XXY"; it was surprising, certainly, there was little sensationalism in this story of a transgendered teenager. A good film, certainly, and well deserving of its prizes at various festivals. However, one problem: the tone of the film wavered, and the perspective was at times confusing. That is: was the film supposed to be objective or subjective? By that i mean: the parents, at times, they seemed to be reasonably presented, then at other times, almost caricatures, with suddenly exaggerated emotions, which would be logical if you're trying to present the point of view of the teenager. In a way, it showed that it was the work of a young filmmaker, and there was that uncertainty from a novice.

Wednesday, the press screening of "Mickey One" which is being revived for a week as the introductory film in the "Jazz Score" series at MoMA. I remember seeing it on its first release. It seemed unnecessarily obscure, very flashy and arty; not much has changed, though the print was great. After the screening, i talked about the film with Ira Hozinsky. It reminds me that the entire generation of television-derived directors (Lumet, Frankenheimer, Penn, Mulligan, Ritt) remains problematic in terms of the politique des auteurs. Yet most of these directors have themes that are pretty recognizable, and were often very much involving in setting up and producing their own films. "Mickey One", though, is a classic example of what a director shouldn't do: Arthur Penn seems not to know what he can do and what he can't do. And one thing: he should stay out of symbolic junkyards! The climax of "Mickey One", just like the climax of "The Chase", is one big mess. But it's made with great craft (it looks terrific, and the soundtrack is fantastic), and it's certainly indicative of the mid-1960s.

On TV, watched the new TV version of "A Room With a View"; not bad, the Spalls (Timothy and Rafe) were amusing, Elaine Cassidy continues to be odd (she doesn't quite seem to be a period character, but she doesn't quite seem to be modern either), and the insistence on making the homoerotic subtext in E.M. Forster overt is rather trying. Merchant-Ivory may not be the most exciting filmmakers imaginable, but if you're going to like them, then their E.M. Forster trilogy ("A Room With a View", "Maurice" and "Howards End") represents their work at its peak, and this version of "A Room With a View" didn't come close.

Thursday was (inadvertently) my all-Asian day. First i started with the press screening of the new Kim Ki-Duk film, "Breath". MoMA will be having a retrospective. Now; Kim Ki-Duk is a director who seems to excite a great deal of passion (actually, it's often great animosity, great disdain). A lot of critics, specifically those who devote a lot of their time to Asian cinema (Tony Rayns, as an example), really hate Kim Ki-Duk, declaring him someone who is spurious, duplicitous, inauthentic. I'm not a partisan, but i'm not an antagonist, either. "The Isle" was the first film of his i saw, i remember going to a screening where no one knew what to expect, and initially it was very beautiful (i remember the color of the sky, and the textures of that houseboat), and then it was jolting. Everyone at the screening seemed to have the same visceral response. I've liked some of his film ("3-Iron"), but too often, his films don't quite work. It was funny seeing "Breath" a day after "Mickey One", because "Breath" is another film that's an "art" film: an utterly improbable premise, and then it goes on from there. Things like the four men in the bare prison cell: it started to turn ridiculous. One of his last films, "Time", had this whole plot involving plastic surgery, people trying to turn into other people, etc. It's like the ideas of his films aren't touching anything resembling reality... and "Breath" (unfortunately) was no exception.

The evening, went to the screening of "Up the Yangtze". Went with my friend Christine, i figured it was about China's ecological changes (the Three Gorges Dam) and Christine works at E.P.A. We enjoyed the film, it's a very entertaining, if rather low-key, documentary... low-key in that the people who were in the film have a certain guarded relation to being filmed. But as it ended, Christine turned to me and whispered that it should be on PBS... and as the end credits rolled, the P.O.V. logo came up! So this is going to make it on PBS, where it should do well.

In the mail, i got the screener for Arthur Dong's "Hollywood Chinese", his new doc. This one on how Chinese have been portrayed in Hollywood... there were some very surprising things, such as the discovery of "The Curse of Quon Gwon", which was made in 1916 by Marion Wong in Oakland, California, and information on James Leong, who set up a production company and produced a feature film, "Lotus Blossom", in 1921. Only fragments of these films remain, but it's still interesting that there was "Chinese-American" filmmaking in the silent period (just as Sessue Hayakawa would set up his production company, and would spearhead Japanese-American filmmaking in that period). Then it becomes a highly entertaining interview/clipshow, with some really amusing interviews (such as Luise Rainer talking about "The Good Earth")... but, though Stephen Gong is there to provide some sort of perspective, a lot of the interviews start to get contradictory, i.e., Nancy Kwan getting all defensive about playing Suzie Wong, but then getting highhanded about Keye Luke playing Charlie Chan's Number One Son.

But what was really funny was that right after i watched "Hollywood Chinese", i turned on the Tonight Show... and there were Kal Penn and John Cho out promoting "Harold and Kumar Escape From Quantanamo Bay"! When Dave Kehr reviewed the new DVD set that Milestone has put out of Sessue Hayakawa's silent films ("The Dragon Painter" and "The Wrath of the Gods"), he noted that, for all the historical importance of "The Dragon Painter" in terms of Hayakawa's position as producer, "The Wrath of the Gods" was the better film, because Thomas Ince (director of "Gods") happens to be a better director than William Worthington, who directed "Painter". Worthington's work tends to be pictorial and static, Ince is a real filmmaker who finds movement and a real sense of flow. But then, Thomas Ince is one of the most important American directors of the early silent period (after Griffith). (I have to put in a plug for the Milestone set: it's really amazing to see these works in excellent restorations, and Sessue Hayakawa is an amazing actor, so the films should be seen just to see his star power.)

One day i'm going to have to have a long talk with Stephen Gong about these issues of "political correctness" and talent. By the way, if i hear another damn Asian-American actress complain about the Suzie Wong stereotype of the Asian woman as prostitute, i'm going to knock her teeth out. Really: if actresses (in general) didn't play prostitutes, what would they play? Melina Mercouri in "Never on Sunday", Elizabeth Shue in "Leaving Las Vegas", Jane Fonda in "Klute", Shirley MacLaine in "Irma La Douce", Bette Davis in "Marked Woman", Jeanne Moreau in "Eve", Julie Christie in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller", Stella Stevens in "The Ballad of Cable Hogue", Susan Hayward in "I Want to Live!", Barbara Stanwyck in "Ladies of Leisure", Loretta Young in "Midnight Mary"... the list goes on and on. It's not the role per se, but the quality of the role, the writing and the acting and the directing. Lisa Lu complains about playing bar maids... well: has she ever seen Naruse's "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs"? Hideko Takamine's performance (as a bar maid) is one of the great performances, not because she sees the role as a cliche, but because she sees the role as a person!

So that was my Asian day.

Friday: on TV, two movies. "Folies Bergere", the Fox musical from 1934 starring Maurice Chevalier, Merle Oberon and Ann Southern. As was Fox's wont, this was the first version of a plot used again and again (in this case, remade in 1941 as "That Night in Rio" with Don Ameche, Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda, and in 1951 as "On the Riviera" with Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvet), and it's the shortest, the snappiest, and has some terrific numbers in the elaborate 1930s style (including one set in the rain that's so obviously an inspiration for Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain" number; the Valentina number that opens the movie is well-nigh infectious). Then "Lilly Turner" on TCM, a fast and very tawdry melodrama directed by William Wellman, starring Ruth Chatterton.

Friday evening, went to two press screenings for the Tribeca Film Festival. The first was a Danish film, "Worlds Apart", a studied and scrupulous movie about a teenage girl raised as a Jehovah's Witness who eventually leaves the faith (which means cutting herself off from her family, friends, community). Then the French film "57,000 Kilometers Between Us", which was a first feature by a French video artist, Delphine Kreuter... in some ways, it reminded me of "Me and You and Everyone We Know" (maybe the female video artist connection?), but i quite liked it.

Saturday, went to three more Tribeca press screenings: a new print of Fellini's "Toby Dammit", Guy Maddin's "My Winnipeg" and Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues". Well: i loved it, it was a great day at the movies, what more can i say? Ok, well... Fellini's theatrical-baroque-surreal style that he developed in "8 1/2" is often hard to take in long stretches, but in "Toby Dammit" it's at its most pointed and succinct. In terms of "My Winnipeg"... Guy Maddin is a curiosity. Larry and i went to the very first screening in NYC of his first film, "Tales from the Gimli Hospital", and we couldn't believe it: it was like someone had found some old, moldy film, and decided to show it. His next few features were of the sort where it was hard to decide what was intentional and what was unintentional: he seemed like an amateur who didn't want to develop his skills as a professional filmmaker. But around the time of his "Ice Nymphs" movie, something started happening... he had a style, but he was becoming professional about it. And he has developed in movies like "The Saddest Music in the World", "Brand Upon the Brain" and this one. He's still obsessed with the look of old, moldy films, but it's harnessed to some sort of "real" story. Regarding Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues": this is a film which i've seen in progress, because in the last five years, almost every time i've been on a grant panel, this movie's come in. (Unless i'm mistaken, each time, it was a grantee.) It's bright, incredibly well-designed, exceedingly clever (the usage of Annette Hanshaw's recording from the 1920s, with songs like "Moaning Low"), and quite touching, as Nina Paley mixes autobiography with an interpretation of the myth of Sita and Rama.

On Sunday, Larry and i went to pick up our press kits from the Tribeca Film Festival, then we came home. I spent the rest of the day on the computer, using Facebook and trolling the web for various items to put on my Funwall. Quite frankly: i feel quite pleased that i've learned how to upload/download (whatever you call it) photos and videos. Some of the videos i found on the web: 2/3 of the Alain Resnais-Chris Marker-Ghislain Cloquet documentary on African art, "Les Statues Meurent Aussi"; that wonderful short directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet, based on a Margeurite Duras story, "En Rachachant"; a section of Chantal Akerman's documentary "D'Est"; Antonioni's first short, "Gente Del Po" (unfortunately with glitches); the dance-of-the-shadows sequence from Dreyer's "Vampyr"; the original Japanese trailer for Ozu's "Early Summer"; a trailer for Godard's "Band of Outsiders"; Godard's amazing one-minute trailer for "Alphaville". And i've been sending them out to friends who are on Facebook, like Trond Trondsen, Anne Thompson, Robert Withers, Robin Winters, B. Ruby Rich, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Gary Tooze, Derek Yip... it's a lot of fun, but it's also fun because it's instantaneous: you can find something, and you can share it immediately. But also seen on Sunday: "My Boy Jack" on PBS (very Masterpiece Theater, but not bad) and then Dreyer's "Michael" on TCM (a lot of cable interference, with the image often decomposing.... of course, i've seen the movie many times before, but it's still disconcerting to see the digital equivalent of burning celluloid).

That takes us to today, and the one thing i did was watch "Dan in Real Life"... the reviews were mostly bad, but i liked it more than Peter Hedges's first film, "Pieces of April", and i was interested in seeing Emily Blunt. There are (at any given time) always a lot of people who have loads of talent, but whether or not they find the right roles to really make it as stars is another matter altogether. Not only that, but there are people with little or no talent who (through careful choice of parts, incredible calculation, or sheer luck) become stars. But Emily Blunt showed her talent in "My Summer of Love" and whether or not she'll ever get another part as good is the question. Up next on Netflix (Larry and i decided on the one-at-a-time plan, because when we started with the three-at-a-time plan, it would take weeks before we actually watched and sent the DVDs back; this way, it still takes time, but we don't feel overwhelmed): "Enchanted".

But one of the strange things about Facebook: it's reconnected me with a lot of people who no longer live in NYC. Once i added Bill Brand as a friend, Joe Gibbons's name came up (he's now in Massachusetts) and because Joe's name came up, Diane Torr's name came up (she's now in Scotland!)... my question is: does anyone still live in lower Manhattan? I thought of that today while i was at the gym, because i used to run into Joe and Emily Breer at the gym on Broadway and Houston... but that was when i was living on Wooster Street!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Doug Cummings is one of those friends made through the Internet: he lives in LA, i'm here in NYC, but there is a steady exchange of information via e.mails. However, last weekend, he was in NYC (though we didn't get a chance to meet) attending the Museum of the Moving Image's critical institute, a five-day seminar in which people who write about film from around the country converge to discuss the state of film criticism at this time. To read about Doug's New York adventure, check out his blog: It's fascinating and instructive, since this happened just as everyone has been on edge about the recent firings/layoffs/buyouts across the country, with 28 (last count) film critics losing jobs.

George Robinson has a point: the masking might have been off for the screening of "Then She Found Me"; still, it's a fascinating movie in many ways, and i think it was also unusual because the Jewish themes were handled with surprising empathy. (I should also point out that, on George's blog, he has insightful comments on two recent movies, Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor" and Rafael Nadjari's "Tehilim"; his blog can be found at

Dave Kehr reviewed new Chris Marker DVDs that are currently available through the Wexner Center website last week; this week, he reviews "Blast of Silence", the low-budget NYC indie from 1961 which has just been put on DVD from Criterion. That's the wonder of cinema: from high to low, there's something for everybody (almost). But Dave always has some interesting discussions on his website:

Tonight, Mark McElhatten has a program at Light Industry, the space in Sunset Park run by Thomas Beard and Ed Halter. Had planned to go, but then got a screening notice about the Argentine film "XXY" which was an award-winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival and was shown at New Directors/New Films (but i missed that screening). So i'll be seeing "XXY" tonight.

Last night, Larry and i went to the screening of "Then She Found Me": after the first few minutes, the technical ineptitude became fixating (microphones, in all shapes and sizes, keep jutting into the frame, and there are times when the microphone becomes a third character in certain two-shots), and Helen Hunt's performance and appearance are strained. It's one thing for an actress not to have any vanity, it's totally another when the actress (who's also directing) allows herself to be shown in the most unflattering way possible: it's a form of masochism. But Bette Midler's in it, and once she appears, even rather subdued, she brings her distinctive bounce to the movie.

A lot of political happenings. Will Barack Obama's speech over the weekend (the statement about "bitterness" being a motivating factor for political views) finally prove to be the factor in derailing his campaign? The situation in Iraq is even more horrendous, but is there a real exit strategy out there? In terms of bitterness: why isn't there any outrage over George W. Bush? The man has destroyed the country, he has devastated the country, he has allowed disasters to happen without federal help (cf. Hurricane Katrina, the effects of which remain), he has decimated the economy, he has weakened the country beyond repair. Why is there no anger towards him? There's disapproval, but no anger....

On "Real Time", Bill Maher ended his program with a series of ever-more outrageously funny "new rules": when he compared the current cult situation with the Roman Catholic Church... some of the lines were just so outrageous, as when he contrasts polygamist cults and the Catholic Church by saying that if you get dozens of adolescent girls pregnant, you're a cult, but you're a religion because thousands of altar boys can't get pregnant.... Larry and i were amazed.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Quick jottings.

Am appalled by the hideous crackdowns by the Chinese government, especially in relation to Tibet. The idea of the Olympics in Beijing was always suspect: it's so obviously a ploy by a lot of companies that have deals with the Olympics to get their brands into what is hoped is one of the largest markets in the world. But the human rights violations so prevalent in China aren't just some liberal smokescreen: China really has an inhuman government, with no consideration for people. And why should China care for people: they're so crowded that if a million people died, it would barely scratch the surface? So people are treated like so much garbage to be thrown out, and for capitalists, it's hoped that the garbage can be trained to be consumers to buy more garbage. It's just hideous, and China does have the upper hand, because it owns so much in terms of the American economy.

I'm amazed that in all the years i'd never seen "You Can't Have Everything": it was one of the better Fox musicals of the 1930s, with a clever backstage plot, some really good songs, and Alice Faye looking quite lovely (and in terrific voice). And Louise Hovick is funny. There was one of those vaudeville acts that i'd never heard of: Tip, Tap and Toe, who did an amazing tap dance routine. Plus all sorts of people show up to perform... like Louis Prima!

An article in the Style section of the NY Times about Lifetime trying to change its brand. It's adding "Project Runway" to its roster (after the Carson Kressley show "How To Look Better Naked"), and trying to move away from its image (the phrase "Lifetime movie" instantly connotes a particular type of woman-in-distress movie starring various TV personalities, such as Valerie Bertinelli, Heather Locklear, or Donna Mills). Funny article, especially since i spent last night watching "The Memory Keeper's Daughter".

It seems as if Nigella Lawson's shows (she had three: "Nigella Bites", "Nigella Feasts" and "Nigella Express") are being phased out on the Food Network. This after they've gotten rid of/downsized people like Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali. As Martha Stewart might say, not a good thing.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A busy week, and strangely nostalgic. The Film Society of Lincoln Center will be having a series titled "1968: An International Perspective"; the title is a misnomer, it's not about films that were made and/or released in 1968, but it's about films which reflect the revolutionary aspirations of the late 1960s. On Monday, the films screened were Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool", and Jean-Marie Straub's "The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp" with Rosa Von Praunheim's "It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society In Which He Lives". Tuesday: Alain Tanner's "Jonah Who Will Be 25 In the Year 2000" and the Brian De Palma-Robert Fiore split-screen transcription of the Performance Group's "Dionysius in 69". (The print of "The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp" was terrible, all faded and fuzzy; i haven't seen the Rosa Von Praunheim in decades, and my question about the print is: was the film always shown here in that English-dubbed version? I have a feeling it was, and that was how i first saw it during "Das Neue Kino" at MoMA.) Seeing "Dionysius in 69" was freaky, and not just because the attempted Artaudian theatrics are so particularly of that period. What was freaky was that i had seen that production, and it was strange to see it filmed from several angles at once: when you were sitting there (in one spot), you could only see the action from one perspective. Other freaky things: the first audience member that is shown entering the theater is... Tovah Feldshuh! Priscilla Smith (who would go on to work with Andrei Serban on his "Fragments of a Trilogy") is listed as "Ciel Smith". The attempted anachronisms (mixing the William Arrowsmith translation of "The Bacchae" with modern slang; having the actors play themselves and the characters, so that William Finley introduces himself as Dionysius and as William Finley) are sometimes effective, sometimes "quaint".

Wednesday, watched "Loss of Innocence" (UK title: "The Greengage Summer") on TCM; still a charming film. I was surprised because i hadn't remembered that Jane Asher's role was as large as it was (and she was utterly beguiling as a teenager). But that's a movie i remember seeing at the Thalia, i think on a double bill with "Black Narcissus" (the Thalia always had themes for their double bills, and that was "films based on Rumer Godden novels"); the strange thing was that the theme for TCM on Wednesday morning was "rape" and the other movies included Ida Lupino's "The Outrage" and Jack Garfein's "Something Wild".

Thursday Larry and i first went to the reception for the Noho artwalk: a number of the stores around Broadway above Houston Street were showing art. Then we went to the reception for the NewFest (a major-donor pitch for the 20th Anniversary). The board has changed (a lot) and i think that's good, but i didn't know the people there... finally, Terry Lawler, Rose Troche and Irene Sosa showed up. But those were people who were on the board when i was there.

Later that night, on TCM, King Vidor's "H.M. Pulham, Esq." was on (part of the Star-of-the-Month Hedy Lamarr lineup every Thursday). I remember that King Vidor once saying that he felt it was one of the better films he had to make under his MGM contract: he actually liked the material (John P. Marquand's novel). It has one of the livelier performances by Hedy Lamarr: she actually seems to be trying to act, and not just pose. But her accent is something that the film can't work around: she's supposed to be a mid-Western American girl, a "New Woman" (the film is set during the 1920s), the all-American career girl. But it's still a fairly good film... i'd say that it's more personal to Vidor than "The Citadel", but "The Citadel" doesn't suffer from a fatal central miscasting.

Friday: watched Edward Yang's "The Terrorizers" on CUNY-TV. One of my favorite Yang films... i still think his masterpiece is "A Brighter Summer Day" but this film is very close. John Anderson (late of Newsday) was the guest speaker, and had some good points to make about the film.

Saturday: finally saw "You Can't Have Everything", a Fox musical starring Alice Faye, the Ritz Brothers, Don Ameche, and... Louise Hovick! It's actually quite pleasant. And stayed around to watch "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" on Lifetime. Was surprised to see the name of John Pielmeier as the teleplay writer. I wanted to see it because of Emily Watson, and i must say she didn't disappoint. Gretchen Mol was pretty good, but Dermot Mulroney was ok, but somehow was a little bemused.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Some fast notes. (It's always fast notes.)

A few weeks ago, got an e.mail from Peter Hargrove, he's finally going to try to get a release for that animated Spanish movie he acquired after the first Tribeca Film Festival; the title is "A Dog Called Pain". Turns out Larry and i were just about the only people who actually wrote about the damned films that were shown at the festival. But the strange thing was that in looking up the article (which was in PAJ 73 in 2003), i realized that a lot of what we had written (about the situation of downtown film, nonprofits, etc.) turned out to have happened. Many of the organizations that we had cited (such as the Association of Independent Film and Video, and Film/Video Arts) have, in fact, proven unable to weather the financial crunch of the last few years. (For some reason, the "recession" seemed to hit nonprofits before it hit the general economy.) So we've been very serious about writing about the Tribeca Film Festival, and always trying to determine the context of what Tribeca is doing (how does it affect the other film organizations around the city? what effect does Tribeca have on distribution?). Anyway, we suddenly got a phone call, telling us that our applications for press accreditation were approved. So more films....

(And i was prepared to spend the time seeing other things.)

On April Fool's Day, when i was getting ready to go to the screening of "My Blueberry Nights", Larry insisted that i leave my umbrella, that it wouldn't rain. Imagine my surprise when i notice that it's starting to sprinkle as i get into the subway after the screening.... and when i get out of the subway here in Bay Ridge, the rain is light, but the streets are flooded! It turns out that a near-tornado suddenly rolled through New York City. Another April Fool's surprise.

Charlton Heston died. A very strange, contradictory person. But as Cahiers du Cinema once declared, Charlton Heston is an axiom. (What was so funny about him was that he was one leading man who never had to be ingratiating: the more obstinate and grimly determined he was, the more magnetic he was. Just as Richard Widmark was always at his best when he was playing mean or sleazy, so Heston was at his best when he was the angry solitary American eagle, yet, in real life, Widmark was a modest and educated man, and Heston was very much a family man. That's why it's called acting. Early in his career, Heston did have some interesting romantic leads: Jennifer Jones's lover in "Ruby Gentry" and opposite Susan Hayward in "The President's Lady", but even then, those were rare, and rarely ingratiating.)

A lot of the work from the 1960s is resurfacing: Film Forum is doing a retrospective of 1960s Godard films (complete: they're even showing "Made in USA") and the Walter Reade Theater will be having a series they're calling "1969: An International Perspective". One film that is central to both series is Godard's "La Chinoise" (one of my favorites).

Ok: last night, did watch "La Mome" (or, in its US title, "La Vie en Rose"), and i don't know what to say, Marion Cotillard's performance is some sort of feat, it's reminiscent of Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull" in that, yes, she goes all the way and there's a total transformation. But i just wanted to get the hell out of there (and i was sitting at home watching this).

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Once again, a busy week. On Monday evening, i checked my Facebook page, and saw that Norman Wang had a note saying he was in New York City. So i e.mailed him to ask what he was doing, and if there'd be time to meet up while he was here. (I haven't seen Norman in person in maybe five years.) Then Tuesday afternoon, i head to Anthology Film Archives for the press screening of the newly restored Robert Breer prints. Only the screening doesn't happen: the prints have not arrived. But i'm not the only person to show up, so i don't feel such a fool. I come home, it's April Fool's Day, so i feel rightly fooled, Turner Classic Movies is showing a bunch of films with "fool" in the title, including "My Foolish Heart" and "I Thank a Fool". I get an e.mail from Norman, asking if i'm free that night, because he is in town with Wong Kar Wai, and there is a special screening for some of the cast and crew of "My Blueberry Nights". I haven't seen it, so i figure i'll go.

Through Facebook, i got in touch with Kip Fulbeck, who's recently published a book about tattoos. I met Kip through Roddy Bogawa and Rico Martinez, because Kip was a fellow classmate of theirs at UCSD. So i sent Kip a Facebook message, and when i get to the "My Blueberry Nights" screening, who should be there but Roddy? (I admit i expected a real disaster from the responses after the Cannes Film Festival premiere, but... i liked it. My response was more rather akin to Andrew Sarris's review in The New York Observer: Interestingly, "My Blueberry Nights" opened here in NYC on the same day as Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon". And i liked "Flight of the Red Balloon" as well.

But this week, Anne Thompson had items on the state of film criticism on her blog (, and it also became a subject of discussion on Dave Kehr's blog (, with so many people making the claim that the Internet has become the site for film criticism. And i thought about all this, reading what people had to say (Claudia Puig, from USA Today, was quoted in Anne's blog about her belief in the Web as the place where people seek out information about films), but it prompted me to consider the differences.

I'll take myself as an example: when i'm blogging, it's usually a mixture of diaristic entries with immediate reactions to certain events or objects, in most cases, film. Though i'd like to really write at length on certain films, once i've made my immediate comments, it's time to move on.

An extended article (for print) used to take me anywhere from a few days to (say) a month to write, and i would do a lot of research. Just as an example: my immediate reaction to "My Blueberry Nights" was positive, and one of my first thoughts was of the similarities to Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point", in that both films showed two foreign directors responding to the American landscape, particularly the desert. In both cases, the immediate critical response was one of derision, with both directors being castigated for their (seemingly) ridiculous and inauthentic depiction of American life. In both cases, Andrew Sarris's response was one of a considered contemplation of both directors in terms of their worldview, and the imposition/revelation of that worldview in the Amerian context (pop romanticism in the case of Wong Kar Wai, modernist alienation in the case of Antonioni). People initially wanted something different ("My Blueberry Nights" had to contend with its status as the official Opening Night film at last year's Cannes Film Festival): "My Blueberry Nights" is not a "grand" statement in any way (and particularly disappointing after the largesse of "In the Mood for Love" and "2046"), and its relative modesty and its looseness can seem... well, decidedly underwhelming. (It reminds me of the initial response to "Chungking Express" at the Toronto Film Festival; that year, "Ashes of Time" was also shown, and many people were dismissing "Chungking Express" as simply some tossed-off little jeux d'esprit, with no substance. But Wong Kar Wai's movies have never had "substance", they've always been totally superficial, and the question is whether or not you get the touch, the taste, the shape of things, to paraphrase the title of Joan Jonas's installation at the Yvon Lambert Gallery last year.)

Mentioning Joan Jonas's installation reminds me of the fact that, at the AICA Award Ceremony at the Guggenheim Museum on March 17, 2008, Joan was there, because her exhibition at the Yvon Lambert Gallery won the award for the Best Time-based Art (video/audio/installation). So i talked to Joan for a while, but i also talked to Mary Lucier, which brings me back to Anne Thompson. (The connection? Mary Lucier was one of my best friends, but Mary introduced me to Elizabeth Streb, and my friendship with Elizabeth Streb brought about my Fire Island summer, and Anne Thompson was part of that Fire Island summer.) And the thing about just giving your opinion: after she retired, Pauline would give interviews, and she would always talk about movies, but when she was asked why she didn't do that on a regular basis, she replied that it was fun, but it was hardly the true giving-over-of-yourself that a good critical piece entailed, that total immersion in the creative process.

In Anne Thompson's blog entry about Claudia Puig, Puig mentions Rotten Tomatoes, and how people look at it to get a consensus of critical opinions. And that's it: a consensus. Not one seriously considered piece about one particular film. And until that happens ("that" being the piece that goes against the tide, and that helps other people to find and/or take seriously a particular movie), that is the big distinction between Internet reviewing and "print" criticism. (Examples that explain what i mean: Andrew Sarris's first review of "Psycho", which took the movie seriously, as opposed to all the other reviews, which treated the movie as an effective, grisly horror movie, but no more; Pauline's famous analysis of "Bonnie and Clyde", which helped to turn a flop - and a movie that was critically lambasted - into an object of discussion, at the very least; Renata Adler's considerations of Godard, particularly "Les Carabiniers", "La Chinoise" and "Weekend", in the New York Times, which helped to turn the tide of disapproval of Godard into an acknowledgement of his artistic importance - she didn't just review those movies, but she spent time in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section to expand on her views about Godard.) So far, there is a lot of consensus building (and there are all the end-of-year polls and awards... with the IRAs being the last), but it's not the same as that kind of careful critical analysis.

But this week i also saw three films that are part of the Roumanian Cinema series which will be at the Walter Reade Theater. The three films i saw were Dan Pita's "Contest" from 1982; Cristian Mungiu's "Occident" from 2002; and "Sunday at Six" by Lucian Pintilie from 1965. The Roumanian cinema is the cinema-du-jour on the festival circuit, so it was interesting to see where this cinema (which is noted for a kind of hyper-realism, as in the case of "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days") came from, especially since the few previous examples of Roumanian cinema which have been known seem to be very related to the kind of allegorical cinema that was also part of the Czech cinema of the 1960s. (And "Contest" is another example of that kind of Eastern European allegory.) "Sunday at Six" was a gorgeous film, in very lustrous black-and-white (the prints have all been new), and the editing was the kind of tricky, post-New Wave editing that could be found in so much European cinema of the 1960s (i was especially reminded of Skolimowski's Polish films from that period, such as "Barrier").

But i can say i like/dislike a film, but the statement is one thing, the "why" is another. And that's the difference which is not being addressed through the Internet.