Sunday, January 27, 2013

Last night (January 26) i had what i would call a Robert Ellis Dunn moment.

For the past week (well, since Wednesday) i've been holed-up with gout. It's going away, but i haven't really been going out. Last Sunday, i looked at the NY Times to see if Yvonne Rainer's rescheduled concert was happening this week at St. Mark's Church. I didn't see it listed, so i figured that's that. But then, on Thursday,  looking through Time Out New York, there it was: listed as happening Thursday through Saturday. But i wasn't feeling good, so i thought i'd see how i felt. And then, on Friday night, it started snowing, and i was in no mood to brave the cold and snow with gout. But now it was Saturday, and the weather was a little better (it was inching towards breaking the freezing barrier) and around 6 PM i took a short nap, and when i woke up, i decided, i'll go!

So i'm on the subway station at 7 PM, and it takes a while, but the R train comes. But then, there are announcements. But i decide i'll get off at 36th Street and take the N (which runs express, over the Manhattan bridge) to Manhattan. But when i get on the N, more annoucements: in Manhattan, the N will run express from Canal Street to 34th Street, skipping the Prince Street, 8th Street, 23rd Street and 28th Street stations. So i stay on, and at 14th Street-Union Square, i run from the uptown platform to the downtown platform, where a train is just pulling in. I get on, and get off at 8th Street. Looking around, i see a clock around Astor Place, telling me it's now 7:55. I made it!

But then i got to the church, and there was a small group waiting outside, waiting to be let in, and there were people with reservations... which was a surprise to me, because the times i've gone to other Judson at 50 events, who needed reservations? They were just happy you showed up. Not this time. And then i saw people rushing in with their reservations, and when Douglas Crimp did that, that was it, i'm outta here!

And that's why i felt like Robert Ellis Dunn, who felt abandoned by many of his former students. Two in particular. Far be it for me to name them, but what happened was that the Festival d'Automne was going to do a big thing with these two, and they were going to have a "historical" component, and they wanted to bring over someone to give a lecture about the Judson Dance Theater. And Dunn had been approached, and he was expecting to get this gig (and this when before he had gotten his teaching job at the University of Maryland; he was really having a tough time), but then he found out that the two choreographers had told the organizers to get someone else. (And i happen to know who that person was.) He was crushed!

When i went to the other Judson at 50 events, i saw people i knew, people who had been part of that downtown dance scene since the 1970s and after; this crowd, however, was an "art" crowd which had come to see a legend that they'd never seen in performance. But i'd seen Yvonne Rainer since the 1960s, so i've seen her at her prime. And it would have been nice to see her now, but it was about 20 degrees, and i was getting over my gout, and i just felt... de trop! So i turned around, and went back home.

Friday, January 04, 2013

There's been the usual glut of end-of-the-year reflections, etc. One new movie which just opened was the documentary "56 Up". But then i read Manohla Dargis's review, and i was perplexed: she seemed to see a different film. She saw a film which simply reinforced the class system in England, and i saw a film which was a little more complicated than that. What i was surprised about was the emotion that the documentary engendered: there is the feeling that you know these people, when (of course) you really don't. You're seeing this selected sliver of their lives, and the artifice (in terms of the craft of the editing, the recording, etc. which remains thoroughly professional) is in giving you the impression of a "real" view of these people over a period of 49 (yes) years. The film is done so well that the necessary gaps (the people who refused to participate again, etc.) are elided. It's still one of the most fascinating experiments in documentary filmmaking.

One documentary that i watched this week was "Project Nim"; i'm sorry that i missed it last year, but i'm glad i caught it on HBO. It raised so many issues, especially about human interaction with animals. The arrogance of some of the people involved was shocking: what's funny is that the people who think they can treat animals so horrendously also treated the other people (who trained and cared for Nim) horrendously. So it seems to be across-the-board: if you can treat an animal in such a cavalier and high-handed way, chances are you're a person with little compassion or sensitivity in general.

TCM's Star of the Month is Loretta Young. Watched a bunch of her pre-Code movies: "Platinum Blonde", "Taxi!", "Life Begins", "Road to Paradise" and "The Truth About Youth". Loretta Young is an example of someone with no actual training in acting, who started appearing in movies as a child, and in her youth (when she was between the ages of 14 and 24), it didn't matter. She was so lovely, and her emotions seemed fresh, so who cared if she could actually act? But after 1935, she's still beautiful, but she's more guarded, and her emotional range seems to have constricted. But that early Loretta Young remains one of the great stars of the  pre-Code period, and in 1933 she gave some of her best performances ("Man's Castle", "Midnight Mary", "Zoo in Budapest"). And she was only 21 years old.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A month has passed. A lot has happened. It's already the new year: January 1, 2013. In terms of movies: this year, i was invited to participate in the Village Voice/LA weekly poll, the IndieWire poll, and the Film Comment poll. I've never participated in the Film Comment poll before. As usual, i tried to choose movies that i felt were definitely worthwhile but that might be overlooked in favor of more commercial fare. And i also tried to list each film only once, so if i chose a director/screenplay/performance i liked, that would not duplicate the films in my Top Ten. Anyway, my Top Ten were: 1) "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"; 2) "Almayer's Folly"; 3) "5 Broken Cameras"; 4) "Abendland"; 5) "Keep the Lights On"; 6) "The Turin Horse"; 7) "The Kid With a Bike"; 8) "I Wish"; 9) "Ginger and Rosa"; 10) "United In Anger". My Best Documentary was "The Gatekeepers"; my Best Director was Kathyrn Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty"; my Best First Feature was "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; my Best Screenplay was "Goodbye, First Love" by Mia Hansen-Love; my Best Animated Feature was "Consuming Spirits".

This year, i had a great time at the BAM CinemaFest and the New York Film Festival. One film which i missed (it opened in February, during the time of my radiation therapy, and i was in no condition to go to screenings) was "Neighboring Sounds", which i hope to catch. That was a film recommended by many friends in terms of their Top Ten lists. Another film which i saw in 2012 but which was a 2011 release was "In the Family", but that film would have made my list if it weren't for that technicality. For those people (like Patrick Wang, who wrote, directed and produced "In the Family") who decide to self-distribute: try to get as much press as possible, and not just target the usual (print) media outlets. Yes, it wound up getting an excellent review in the New York Times in December of 2011, but there wasn't much coverage in IndieWire (and it's the kind of movie which, supposedly, IndieWire is set up to cover).

But the whole issue of theatrical release is starting to get very amorphous. There are so many platforms now, and, because of digital technology, there are so many "films" being made, that this idea of a standard commercial release is proving more and more elusive, especially for what used to be called "art" films. And all these polls want Best Undistributed, a category which is getting more and more difficult. The reason: if a film seems to have some merit, chances are it will eventually find some sort of distribution. For example: i tried to file one of my poll ballots on a Friday, but by Monday, i found out on IndieWire that three of the films i had listed as Undistributed had found distributors! Back to the drawing board, and so i listed a bunch of avantgarde films. Why not? Why shouldn't James Benning be given a theatrical run as much as (say) Paul Thomas Anderson or David O. Russell?

So much for that. But i'll be posting more on a regular basis, now that the whole holiday season has come and gone!