Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday, August 25, and the NY Times had an obit on the art critic John Russell. Last week's announcement on Manny Farber was a sure sign of the passing of time. When i think of Manny Farber, i think of NYC in the 1950s, the post-Abstract Expressionist generation, when people were struggling to figure out where painting was going next. Some people (including Robert De Niro - the painter, not the actor) figured on a return to figuration, which De Niro tried in a heavily Fauve-inspired style. But then Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns came up with another approach, one which was proto-Pop. I think of Farber as someone drinking with James Agee (on the one hand) and Jackson Pollock (on the other).

William E. Jones (the filmmaker) is in town, tomorrow he's presenting Fred Halsted's "L.A. Plays Itself" at Light Industry. We've been talking about: gay porn, the current state of the artworld, the shift into "installation" for a lot of experimental media artists, etc.

What are the options for filmmakers now?

Last week, i went to screenings every day, starting with "Puzzle of a Downfall Child" on Monday (watching it, my immediate thoughts were of Joan Didion and her books like "Play It As It Lays" and "Book of Common Prayer"; looking up Pauline's original review, i was amused to see her response was exactly the same, but she saw it as a minus, the walking-wounded-fashionplate sensibility, and i see it as a plus), then Claude Miller's "A Secret" on Tuesday (it's one of the films i missed at this year's Rendezvous With French Cinema; i remember the next day when i got to that day's screenings, i said, don't tell me i missed a good one yesterday... and George Robinson and Ira Hozinsky said that the Claude Miller was really worth seeing), then the Chilean film "The Sky, the Earth and the Rain" (one of the very best movies i've seen from Latin America in a long time, and one of the most formally rigorous movies from Latin America that i've seen since "The Paraguayan Hammock", a real beauty) on Wednesday, then Chris Smith's "The Pool" and Robert Downey's "Babo 73" on Thursday, and finally "The Pope's Toilet" from Uraguay on Friday, which was more like what i expect from Latin America cinema, i.e., a neo-realist "take" on a small-scale story (in this case, what happens to a small Uraguay village on the border near Brazil when Pope John Paul II visited in 1983; the focus not on the trip, but on the peasants hoping for this visit as a signal of something miraculous).

I've also been watching a lot of the TCM Summer Under the Stars. The Barbara Stanwyck day brought some of her early films ("Ten Cents a Dance", "Shopworn") which were amusing t0 see. Those early sound films were so creaky, and in terms of directorial style, they were abysmal, but Stanwyck has an amazing directness in spite of the circumstances, and when the filmmaking circumstances are good (as in the case of her early Frank Capra films, such as "the Miracle Woman" or "The Bitter Tea of General Yen"), the results are great. The next day was Edward G. Robinson day, and i watched "Mr. Winkle Goes to War" as well as part of "Destroyer", two of the patriotic movies Robinson made during World War II, rather sweet films about the situation of middleaged men who found themselves called up (or called back) into active service.

There are many movies opening or playing now that i've seen. Some of these movies: Azazel Jacobs's "Momma's Man", the French thriller "Tell No One", Chabrol's "A Girl Cut in Two", Courtney Hunt's "Frozen River", the documentaries "Trouble the Water" and "Man on Wire". Certainly all films of interest. "August Evening" will be opening soon.

The day is turning out to be rather humid, it was supposed to rain but so far nothing. We'll see.... i do feel that i'm really removed from so much that's happening in film, because i haven't seen the so-called tentpole movies. I did catch up with "Iron Man", but i haven't yet seen "The Dark Knight" or "Tropic Thunder".

But there it is: the movies i've seen are the small independent or foreign ones, or the oddball revivals. (Am i interested in seeing the restored prints of "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II"? No....)

Michael Giltz had a good point: he asked why i felt it was so difficult to write about films if i knew the filmmaker. But my point is that some movie like "Momma's Man" is dificult for me to judge, because i've known Ken and Flo Jacobs since 1970 and so my feelings about the film are mixed up with my feelings about them.

Last week, at the screening of "A Secret", the people sitting behind me got into a discussion of upcoming press screenings, and they mentioned "Moving Midway" and one of the women said she knew it was a documentary about World War II, and i heard myself explaining that it was Godfrey Chesire's documentary about his family plantation (which is called Midway) and the plans to (literally) move the building. And then they asked if i would recommend the film, and i said, yes, i would.

Well, today is the first day of the Democratic Convention, and Barack Obama has got to learn to fight, because the McCain campaign has started to pull all sorts of negative ads and dirty tricks (which is par for the course for Republicans) and Obama's attempt to rise above the mud is starting to seem like wuzziness. And Obama's poll numbers are starting to dip. We'll see what happens after the convention.


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