Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Next Five Links

Okay, I'm picking up a little momentum here and am ready to profile my next five linkages.

LIGHT SLEEPER: Saul Symonds publishes an e-zine named Light Sleeper wherein he houses his "late night writings on cinema." He's got two issues so far and is working on his third while he relocates to Hong Kong. What draws me to Saul's site is his healthy blend of "high" and "low" cinema. Bernardo Bertolucci and Herschell Gordon Lewis might seem like strange bedfellows at first glance, but, when you love film so much, who cares as long as everyone's comfortable watching the "frenzy on the wall"? Saul categorizes his articles between Recent Cinema and Past, Classic, Cult and Obscure Cinema, throws in theatrical and dvd reviews, and has a cool section on "lost" reviews and articles. With so much being written about film online, I respect that he digs up "widely scattered reviews, essays, journalistic pieces, interviews, etc., which, somewhere between writing and publication, are consigned to the boneyard of criticism." He reminds me that the future of a bone is its capacity to blossom. He watches grindhouse with Jungian respect:


CINEMA STRIKES BACK: And speaking of diversity and slumming high art with low, Blake, Charlie, David and Pete do a fine job of titillating a wide range of interests with up-to-date newsflashes, reviews, interviews, etc. I like the layout of their site; it's very user-friendly. You can get a lot out of it very quickly, whether your interest is current buzz, commentary, profiles, or nationality. And I've a lot to learn about their use of graphics! Blake, who's been my liaison to Cinema Strikes Back, has been encouraging and friendly, which is most appreciated:


INDIEWIRE—ANTHONY KAUFFMAN: Though I tend to feel most comfortable with film commentary and—once in a blue moon—film theory, Kauffman is keen to industry buzz. He writes well on films and everything it takes to get films to the screen so folks like me can even comment! But he's taken to anchoring this to a "weekend must see" film review, which I think is a great service to New Yorkers. I really should do the same here in San Francisco:


SERGIO LEONE AND THE INFIELD FLY RULE: For the longest time I kept thinking that was the "Infidel" Fly Rule. Obviously, I've been studying Islam a little too earnestly. Thank God for baseball to bring me back to my Murrican basics!! And that's exactly what you get over at Dennis Cozzalio's site: "Essays, Commentary and Random Thoughts on Film, DVD, Baseball and Other Essential Building Blocks of Life." His Bertrand Russell profile quote—"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."—is something I keep in mind when blogging!! Cozzalio's writing is lean and intelligent. His ongoing co-hostship for the Altman blogathon is welcome:


ELUSIVE LUCIDITY: Zach Campbell is a daily treat because, well, I never know quite what he's going to write about on his Elusive Lucidity blogsite and that, after all, is the main reason I read blogs. Just to find out what's on the minds of others and to get my own stuff out there. I'm enjoying becoming familiar with Zach's online presence and his well-written, unique articulations:


Monday, February 27, 2006

2006 SFIAAFF—Citizen Dog (Mah Nakorn)

Special thanks to Chris Wiggum of Larsen Associates for allowing me to report from the second week of press screenings for the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

Like many others I first heard of Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng when his feature Tears of the Black Tiger was bought and infamously shelved by Miramax. Thanks to Todd at Twitch I caught a glimpse of the trailer:


That glimpse tickled my imagination and I've been waiting for Sasanatieng's follow-up on the big screen ever since. Citizen Dog (Mah Nakorn) has wooed the festival circuit (some predict it will be "chained" to it) and has finally arrived in the Bay Area to amuse, seduce, confuse and delight with its quirky, color-saturated love fable. Its SFIAAFF screening will be in San Francisco on Friday, March 17, 7:00 p.m. at the Castro Theater, and the following evening at 9:15 at the Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley. It will surely be one of the hot tickets to catch.

Citizen Dog has been called surreal, but not so much because it follows dream logic as some have suggested, but more because of its distinct comic alterity. It's a preposterous sometimes ridiculous universe Sasanatieng has created. The Bangkok in Citizen Dog is not really Bangkok. The characters are not really people. For that matter, the chainsmoking teddy bear is not really a teddy bear! This is a fantasy that does not pretend its elements are not exaggerated stylizations to suit an extravagant visual design. It's too self-conscious to be dream-like. It is purposely and creatively artificial. But that's precisely why it's seductive, beautiful and entertaining. Citizen Dog's omniscent narrator (Pen Ek Ratanaruang—Last Life In The Universe) describes with wry precision just how incredibly Sasanatieng's universe unfolds and how one exaggeration inflates the next. You are asked to suspend disbelief and be a child and are rewarded with a handful of pink and blue balloons. The pink is hot and the blue is borrowed (plotwise from the bluebird of happiness).

Though some reviewers complain that the balloons pop too readily or escape too soon, that the love story never really develops and no one visibly sports the frequently-mentioned dog tails (a symbol of conformity in the workplace?), such dissatisfactions are unfairly literal. Citizen Dog is an alternate universe with its own rules and it warns us of such at the get-go: "When we are too busy searching for something; often it eludes us. But the moment we stop; it reveals itself to us."

Others have synopsized Citizen Dog down to its most bizarre details so I feel no need to do so here. Suffice it to say that, through intertitled segments the characters of Citizen Dog and their distinct eccentricities are first introduced to us one by one, then to each other, interacting and influencing each other whimsically and fatefully. Look for a cameo by Chuck Stephens (who has taught me tons about Thai and Malaysian cinema). Fine first-time performances from Mahashmut Bunyaraksh (country bumpkin Pod who has a fantastic t-shirt collection) and Sanftong Ket-U-Tong (his love interest Jin who competes with Audrey Hepburn for the longest neck in the world). You'll walk out of the theater humming Thai pop tunes, ready and hoping for anything wonderful to happen.

Todd at Twitch has consistently championed the work of Sasanatieng and has written a glowing review from last fall's Toronto International Film Festival on Citizen Dog, wherein he boasts that Sasanatieng "has a gift for color, design, and shee[r] unadulterated whimsy that few—if any—can match anywhere in the world":


In his report for Senses of Cinema from the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival, Brandon Wee describes Citizen Dog as "infused" with "copious iridescence":


Jonathan Marlow reports to Greencine from Rotterdam:


Phatarawadee Phataranawik provides a detailed synopsis for The Nation:


And Variety reviewer Russell Edwards provides his own reservations and appreciations:


The Dark Room--Tura Satana and Astro Zombies

Continuing my exploration of alternate film venues in San Francisco, I decided to check out Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, located at 2263 Mission Street. Bad Movie Night is held every Sunday evening; here's the upcoming schedule:


The Dark Room is basically a black box theater space. For Bad Movie Night a screen is dropped and dvds are projected. I'm not usually one for dvd projection, but, the popcorn is free and deliciously artificially flavored, you can bring your own booze, and there's just such a genuine sense of wanting to have fun that I was won over. Bad Movie Night is hosted by Jim who starts the evening out by singing the Bad Movie Night theme song on his banjo. He is quick to explain that it would be illegal for them to charge to watch a dvd so the $5 cover is for the banjo playing. Once the song is done, everything else is free: the popcorn, the plastic whistles, the dvd, the rude comments! Jim was quickly upstaged by his pet boxer driven mad chasing after a red laser light. A clip of Jim crooning the theme song is available at the above url.

Bad Movie Night is like Mystery Science 2000 live. Guest comedians satirize the movie in process. For Ted V. Mikels' Astro Zombies the wisecrackers were Geek Boy, John Harrison and Mikl-Em and, I have to admit, they were pretty funny. As for Astro Zombies, it is atrocious. But I'm a Tura Satana fan and this is the one where she puts her cigarette out on a German's cheek. How could I resist?! Sure, the dvd started sticking ten minutes towards the end and we never really got to see the ending but by then who cared? I didn't! In fact I'd damn well had enough. I'd thrown my usual pet peeves to the wind and was smartmouthing anyone who would listen. No one was. They were too busy being rude themselves. Lots of fun for the occasional Sunday.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth!

I wonder how long it will take before Robert Taicher's Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth will be included in the Balboa Theater's annual "Reel San Francisco" program? Afterall, this "weird gem" (as Melissa Levine terms it) is lifted from the lives of two men who lived near Haight and Steiner during the 1980s. Their drunken battles pitched to a state of absurdity became notorious among neighbors and, eventually—through clandestine taping—to the rest of the world as well. "Locked in a bald and ugly battle for survival," Levine explains, "they invite nothing so much as cheer."

Michael Hawley first exposed me to the infamous "Shut up, little man!" tapes, and the film adaptation Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth (which, Michael advises, first screened at IndieFEST 2002) has returned to SF for its official World Theatrical Premiere. I caught it Saturday evening at the Little Roxie. The film is basically structured as a series of skits parallel to the taped fights. Glenn Shadix, as the effete and obese Pete, and Gill Gayle as the blinddrunk Ray do an admirable job of adding some meat to a skeletal script through intonation, inflection, facial expressions, and comic repetition. But just like the tapes, the movie begins to wear thin towards the end and what is at first novel humor deteriorates into something sad, uncomfortable, tiresome and embarrassing.

Perhaps the exaggerated relations between Pete and Ray allow each of us to consider the compromises we make to craft relationship and to cohabit space. Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth is not as cruel as Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, the badgering and the shouting come off as a functional co-dependency. And when Ray finally dies while having a fantasy of strangling Pete, Pete survives to begrudge Ray his solitude. It isn't fun to drink alone.

Here's the official website with trailers:


And Melissa Levine's favorable review for the S.F. Weekly:


Jonathan Marlow interviews director Robert Taicher for Greencine:



Peter Stein, the Executive Director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, introduced an advance Embarcadero Cinema screening of Lajos Koltai's Fateless, applauding its unique perspective on the holocaust experience. Although many films have been made regarding this tragic phase of human history, no other has committed itself so thoroughly to the vantage point of adolescence.

In a collection of his autobiographical writings, Hermit in Paris, Italian author Italo Calvino cautions when writing about his own childhood under fascism: "The danger for those writing autobiographical memoirs in a political key is that excessive weight is given to politics compared to the weight it really has in childhood and adolescence…. One's perspectives in childhood and adolescence are different; disparate impressions and judgments are placed alongside each other without any logic; even for those who grow up in an environment which is open to opinion and information a line of judgment is formed only with the passage of time." (2003:130-131.)

Director Koltai strives for and achieves a depiction of an adolescent sensibility before this "line of judgment" has been drawn by presenting a plethora of images, vignettes if you will, that are often so brief you are allowed entrance into the interior beauty of the scene before becoming distracted by its horrific environment or its historical context. Just as Calvino prescribes: Koltai places disparate impressions and judgments alongside each other without any clearly-delineated logic connecting them. The quality of this montage—this placing alongside—is the weave and texture of Fateless. Continuing with his description of his experience as a child under fascism, Calvino writes: "The ideas regarding the political struggle already taking place in the world did not reach me, only its external images, which simply lay beside one another as in a mosaic." (2003:135.) And later: "[T]he world seemed to me to have a range of different gradations of morality and behavior, not opposites but placed alongside each other." (2003:136.)

Doe-eyed Marcell Nagy as 14-year-old Gyorgy Koves (nicknamed Gyuri) watches the world unfold before him, no less powerful or cruel for not being understood. He watches a world in crisis veined with sensual and comic reprieve that allows him to call certain moments beautiful even in the face of death, hatred, genocide! The ambiguity of this is fascinating. Gyuri befriends a fellow prisoner who teaches him self-esteem and the impulse to survive by reserving a ball of bread in his pocket. After work and before bedtime roll call Gyuri lives his few free hours fully, finds laughter to mollify pain, finds pleasure in an unexpected piece of meat or carrot in his soup. That this can be sifted from such misery is his remarkable resiliency. Or as A.O. Scott states it for The New York Times: "The ability to wring such satisfactions from nearly absolute deprivation is one of the ways the prisoners hold on to their humanity."

To match the unfolding of this boy's life, that is to say the laying down of the images of his life alongside each other, cinematographer Gyula Pados exquisitely captures the unique light of interior, life-affirming moments through a somber palette that still harbors a hint of pigment, grey only on the surface, pulsing faintly underneath with color. It is the beauty of survival through innocent moments that moves this story right to the brink of death where, as with the rest of life, one fateless fortuitous moment determines everything and draws a clear line.

The film's sequential montage of brief images guarantees that you do not overly invest emotions into the images, they do not get too "hot" (as Carlos Reygadas would say), they are beautiful and evocative in and of themselves. At first this troubled me. Precisely because the movie seemed so cool and detached. I felt that I should be more emotional about what I was seeing but remained dry-eyed and rapt, witnessing. I didn't even realize that I was identifying with the protagonist, as writer Imre Kertesz intended, witnessing, not yet judging, not yet knowing what to feel, what to think. Forming emotions only as certain experiences lay alongside each together.

Fateless is probably too subtle to be satisfying but it certainly intrigues with its philosophical intent and it is, surprisingly, beautiful to look at. My only complaint about the film would be the mistimed casting of Daniel Craig as the American soldier who emancipates Gyuri. Already identified with James Bond, Craig's presence weakens the weave of this film by throwing us out of its time and place.

Lajos Koltai, already a renowned cinematographer (Being Julia; Malèna), has made an impressive directorial debut adapting Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész's semi-autobiographical novel to the screen. In his essay for Landmark Theater's Movienet Koltai asks: "What is the first thing a child sees, having been brought back from death?" and understands that the answer must be formulated by an image:


"Mr. Kertesz's rendering of his childhood experience, on the page and now on screen, is by no means an attempt to aestheticize an unredeemable chapter of history," A.O. Scott writes for The New York Times. "It represents something stranger and, to those of us with only a secondhand or thirdhand knowledge of that history, more disturbing: a survivor's conviction that there were aspects of the experience itself that can only be described as beautiful."


CATCHBASIN No. 2—The Devil and Daniel Johnston; Unknown White Male; Night Watch

The Devil and Daniel Johnston: Randy Kennedy's piece on Daniel Johnston for the New York Times continues the legend from where the documentary concludes. The piece includes a fantastic audio slide show ("Art Of A Confessional Identity") that succinctly synopsizes Johnston's career while offering up several images of Johnston's drawings.

Image No. 7, the portrait of his father, pierces my heart. I would own it in a second if I could afford it. I feel so much for what Johnston's father has had to bear (not the least of which is Johnston causing his father to crash his plane). Johnston's portrait of his father holding a model plane with annotations of his father's military service is heart-brilliant!


Unknown White Male: This last week a dear friend of mind suffered a third stroke that has affected his memory and his ability to speak. As I've sat bedside with him at the hospital, I've thought about Unknown White Male many times, especially with regard to the respectful tenderness Doug Bruce (the subject of Unknown White Male) exhibited towards old friends who he no longer truly remembered. In a certain way Bruce knew they suffered more than him, mourning the loss of shared memories. They also worried that, since he was starting from square one and was not obligated to old allegiances, he might elect to let go of their friendship. Shared memories are a commitment to which an amnesiac is not tethered.

I was also thinking about Bruce's pursuit of photography. Before his fugue state Doug Bruce had given up a stockbroking career to become a photographer. When he returned to the classes he had previously been taking, his instructor guided him through something of a "crash course." He noted that it was interesting to observe that Bruce picked things up again swiftly and effortlessly, the knowledge was still stored somewhere deep within him; but, his sensibility had changed. Most artists, the instructor explained, are the culmination of their experiences which they express through developed sensibilities. Bruce had lost all that. What he brought to his new work was an earnest search for identity, characterized by frontal portraits of friends, as if he was staring into their eyes to see himself. The instructor mentioned that this new work was more compelling and honest than what Bruce had been doing before. One can only imagine what kind of dissonance Doug Bruce will experience should his memory return.

Night Watch: Caught a second screening with my friend Gustavo Hernandez, knowing he would particularly enjoy it, which he did, acknowledging its homage to Star Wars, The Omen, the Batmobile and The Matrix, all swirled together in a Russian cocktail of vodka and blood. The second screening held up just as well as the first. I caught more detail (that lovely yellow rose stickshift!)—details that really have no reason for being there but are lovely because they are.

It will be interesting when the dvd comes out to see how many languages will be available under the subtitles option and if they will be as inventive as the theatrical release?

Michael Hawley advises: "[I]t appears that Fox Searchlight delayed the film's US release for so long so that it could release the second part of the trilogy later this year, while the buzz is hot."

Edmund Yeo, "The Great Swifty", concurs that the subtitles in Night Watch might be the film's highlight. He writes: "The subtitles usage in this film is VERY creative, the text are faint and transparent when a character whispers, then it flares red when someone's screaming in anger, or it floats around the screen when it was a vampire's seductive call to lure her victims."


Further, IndieWIRE reports: "Not only were subtitles not a hindrance to the record-setting debut of the Russian fantasy-horror film Night Watch, they actually may have helped its box-office performance. The Fox Searchlight release, which features innovative digitalized subtitles that move around the screen, finished first on the indieWIRE Box Office Tracker (iWBOT) of per-screen averages over the four-day Presidents' Day weekend. It also had the highest three-day per-screen average—$28,995 on three screens in New York and L.A.—of any film so far this year. Its four-day average was $35,475."


Timur Bekmambetov's Moscow travel booklet for the Landmark Theatres Movienet is full of clever, tasty information perfect for the discriminating tourist:


I want a Mashen'ka!! I want a Mashen'ka!! Especially one that squeaks when squeezed AND has eight legs!

Here's the official Russian website for Day Watch, the sequel. You can view two trailers (sans subtitles) by clicking on the bottom link on the leftside navigation, the Russian word трейлерbl. The bottom link on each trailer has it in the highest quality in Quicktime (via Blake at Cinema Strikes Back).


Also via Cinema Strikes Back, Nick Holdsworth's Fangoria interview with Sergei Lukyanenko, the author of the 1998 cult fantasy novel Night Watch upon which the film is based. Lukyanenko discusses the differences between his novel and the film adaptation and jokes that "his university training as a psychiatrist helps him 'cope with critics'."


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Oddball Films--Sex in the Cinema: The Love Goddesses

Tsai Ming-Liang reminded us in Goodbye, Dragon Inn of how sad it is to lose our movie palaces as, one by one, they close their doors. This is certainly the case in San Francisco where only a handful of art houses remain. But what Tsai didn't address (perhaps he will in a future film?) is what steps in to fill the vacuum left behind by these dying movie palaces? What becomes the alternate venue for the filmgoer? I mean, the show must go on, right?

I decided to start exploring the new crop of alternate film venues in San Francisco and began this evening with Oddball Films, a nonprofit film archive located in the heart of the Mission at 275 Capp Street, between Mission and South Van Ness and 17th and 18th Streets. Every now and then archivist Steve Parr opens up his space to share choice selections. I was drawn tonight to the first in a "Sex In Cinema" series to view the 1965 Graeme Ferguson and Saul J. Turrell documentary—The Love Goddesses: A History of Sex in the Cinema. After climbing a first set of steep stairs, I arrived at the front door to Oddball Films. As I rang the doorbell, I noticed the door was covered entirely in soft, fake black fur. I knew I was in for a unique experience!

Walking up another flight of stairs brought me into a huge space where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of film cans are stacked away. To be in the physical presence of so much celluloid is, quite frankly, a little intoxicating and, despite the fact that Steve was late getting the program started, and had a few initial technical difficulties, I was totally into the experience warts and all and chose one of a batch of viewing sofas set up before a large screen to enjoy The Love Goddesses, preceded first by a close-to-kiddie-porn piece starring Shirley Temple, followed by a Union Oil commercial where a very young Marilyn Monroe suggested how wonderful it would be to get oil in her tank!

The Love Goddesses is an informative piece with great clips from many many movies from the turn of the (last) century up to the sixties, highlighting careers as diverse as the "It" girl Clara Bow and a frolicking Bridget Bardot. From the vamps to the modern woman, representations of sex on the screen gesture towards social climates and concerns, respond to world wars and political mores. I was especially impressed with Lya de Putti, Nita Naldi and Pola Negri, actresses I have heard about, read about, but never seen on film. And although the documentary focused on actresses, I was fascinated with the footage of Asian villain Sessue Hayakawa who I'm hoping will be profiled in The Slanted Screen at the upcoming San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival.

Afterwards Steve admitted his screenings are infrequent and totally based upon his moods, whether he feels like writing press releases, what he's found that he wants to share, etc. The archives are filled with home movies of the 30s and 40s and earlier in the day he had been looking at footage of a horse swimming beneath the Golden Gate!! Here is Oddball Films' website. I recommend a look at the demo in their archives; it's clever and indicates the wealth of material in the archives. Whenever Steve is in the mood to share more stuff, I'll probably be back.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Blogathon No. 3: Robert Altman—An Appreciation

In light of Robert Altman's receiving an honorary Oscar this coming March 5th, Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door is hosting a spur-of-the-moment Altman blogathon. These online events call for quick thinking or for much-needed reworking of old notes.


At the 46th San Francisco International Film Festival in April 2003, I attended the Robert Altman tribute at the Castro Theater, consisting of an onstage interview and screening of Nashville.

Almost the entire center section of the orchestra was blocked off for "Altman's party" except for about five rows in the front and the same in the back. Since I was one of the first into the theater, I got one of the few good available seats but felt sorry for those forced into the balcony who paid $20 for their ticket. That just didn't strike me right at all and I felt it was excessive and offensive for the San Francisco Film Society to have allowed such blatant favoritism.

The interview was interesting enough, though the event began to border on the hagiographic. Further, I had no idea they were going to talk for two hours before even beginning Nashville (which is almost three hours long as it is). Still, I thought I'd stick it out. Which I did. At least until the film burned up right before our eyes at about 11:00!! There was a collective gasp and then the audience buzz of genuine concern. Altman had just bemoaned earlier how some of his first films have literally fallen into dust because of the film stock they were using at the time and how difficult and expensive it has been to reconstruct some of that early work. In such situations I assume the projectionist would have to splice and continue; but, from past experience I've learned to leave; the magic having been marred. Besides, it was late. Regretfully, I walked out.

My favorite response of Altman's was when someone mentioned how it appeared at the Academy Awards broadcast that he wanted to win the Oscar for Gosford Park and that he looked incredibly disappointed when he didn't win. Altman grimaced and then said, "I had mixed reactions. Like watching your mother-in-law drive your new car off a cliff."

Also liked when someone asked how he was able to convince Julianne Moore to be naked from the waist down for five minutes. He praised the actress, said the role was originally for Madeline Stowe who chickened out by saying she would be happy to be naked for him in some other movie, but not that one. He'd seen Moore on Broadway in "Uncle Vanya" and was impressed. Phoned her to say he was going to offer her a film role but that first she needed to know right off that she would have to appear naked from the waist down for at least five minutes. Moore paused and then said, "I can do that." Altman was delighted, said he'd send over the script right away, and then Moore added, "Oh Robert, there's an extra treat." "Yes?" Altman inquired. "I'm a real redhead," Moore cooed. Moore's agent has asked Altman not to repeat that story so he asked all 2,000 of us in the audience to keep it to ourselves.

I ask the same of all of you.

When asked how he had been able to keep on doing the projects he wanted to do, without unnecessarily compromising his vision, Altman stated it was due to failure. The failure of several of his projects to earn the return the studios wanted convinced those studios to drop him, leaving him free to go elsewhere, to work with who he wanted. And when all is said and done, he couldn't complain about his life, not a year has gone by that he hasn't been working on a film that he has wanted to work on.

It intrigued me that Altman's start as a writer began as a WWII bomber pilot writing letters home. One of his relatives found Altman's correspondence amusing and suggested he become a screenwriter. So Altman began thinking of himself that way. He did some industrial films. Did some t.v., including half hour episodes for Hitchcock, then "Whirlybirds", then "Combat." Recently, he had the opportunity to look at some of those old "Combat" episodes and felt that his work was as good then as it is now and suggested that you don't get better at what you do, you simply become more facile, which in itself can be dangerous because you can then lose the art of what you do.

He was reluctant to offer advice to audience members requesting same. Said he could only say what he says to his children: never accept advice. Keep alive. Look both ways before you cross the street.

With regard to his political views, it was refreshing (if not sad) to hear Altman say that he believes some of his earlier projects, like the one on Nixon, would stand up well today precisely because nothing has changed in our country, not really. Lots of progress, he smiled, no change.

Altman did mention, however, that the most difficult aspect of directing Gosford Park was getting all the actors onto the set for filming. That is one thing for which I must commend Altman: his alleged respect for his actors (Louise Fletcher aside). He insists that all that is great in his films derives from what the actors bring to it. His art, he insists, is in doing nothing, being a figurehead, that sort of thing.

Altman added that, though Ryan Phillipe's agents were the only ones who showed up on the Gosford Park set, they left promptly after someone spilled tea on them. He claimed his Gosford Park cast were flawless; "not a single hair in the butter."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The First Five Links

I'm so new to all this that it's taking me forever to catch up. But someday ... or, if I'm lucky, never. There's a certain sinuous frustration to the learning curve. Out on the net it's so easy to start moving really fast. Information overload can set in as quick as you can pop up new windows and freeze your system. I'd like to move a little slower—if no one minds—and make a point of profiling the relationships, however virtual and disembodied they might be, I'm making "out there".

GREENCINE. The Greencine Daily Blog has to be the first link I make because it has singlehandedly changed the way I read and think about film, let alone rent it. When I became a member of Greencine, I was impressed with something I had only recently learned during a month in Paris: that movies are wonderful things to learn from and about! Though some movies might just be what you're doing until you finish your popcorn, many satisfy a much deeper hunger and, in rare cases, create new hungers. Being in Paris—where going out to watch movies has not yet been taken over by staying home and watching t.v. (French television is the pits for the American tourist)—was a cinematic revelation for me. There are cinema houses everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, screening all sorts of retrospectives as well as first-runs. The very new might be just on the other side of the wall from the very old. It's fantastic and inspiring. And when I came home to San Francisco, becoming a member of Greencine was like still being in Paris. With their up-to-date festival savvy and their primers to get a handle on specific genres of film, they are my number one link!! The Greencine Daily is the first blog I log into with my morning joe. Thanks, Dave Hudson, for your enterprising vision and for being so friendly when I appeared on the scene!

The WELL. The Movies Conference on The WELL is best approached with a fully-functioning asbestos suit, but, here and there where netiquette prevails, it's a great place to shoot from the hip among others quick to draw. You certainly get your ten bucks worth to be reminded that there's just not enough room in Dodge. Host Andy Klein and frequent posters like Frances Loden, Michael Hawley, and Robert Rossney, among others, have helped to shape the way I talk about films and have certainly reminded me that it is much more difficult to talk about a film you love than one you hate. It is much more difficult to write something constructive about a film than to tear it to shreds out of easy spite. The Roman mentality of the WELL Movie Conference—it's thumbs-up thumbs-down approach—serves as a constant impetus to avoid mob criticism and to try to come up with something personal and interesting to say. It's adversarial but one of my favorites.

GIRISH. Girish Shambu's blogsite is my third link because it's the best blog forum among them all and there's a good reason for this. He's an impeccable host with kickstart ideas that get the rest of us conversing. He's not afraid to use the comment button. He is also thoroughly welcoming and friendly. I will always remember his including me into the 2nd blogathon within my first few days of joining the blog community. That was a shot in the arm for me!! As I've explored various film commentary blogsites, Girish stands out because of the visible presence of so many other bloggers there. He has made it easy for them to be there. His site feels like a clubhouse where we can all come and chitchat. This is no accident. This is his work and I admire him for it.

LONG PAUSES. By contrast I am often stunned by how little comment there is in response to Darren Hughes pellucid and poetic treatment of auteur films at his Long Pauses site. I took one look at his list and added them all to my Greencine queue (where available). There is something undeniably intimidating about Darren's writing and even I, who have made a career of hazarding the fool, pause at the comment button and retreat. But there is no denying that Darren has provided a quintessentially literate space that I feel privileged to wander around in, learning, feeling, sensing, intuiting, mythologizing, poeticizing. I look forward to adding some of the first comments to his film essays (one can hardly call them reviews).

FILM JOURNEY. Doug Cumming's website, along with Long Pauses, has helped set the bar in terms of online film commentary. The diversity of Doug's film topics, the depth to which he has examined them, the way he has set up his site for discussion, all of it is very inspiring to someone new like myself who is aspiring to join this wave of online film commentarians. Long Pauses and Film Journey absolutely motivated me to take a stab at my own blogsite, which has rapidly become a whole new way for me to enjoy film.

So there you have it!! The First Five. With more to follow (but at a slow pace).

Monday, February 20, 2006

CATCHBASIN No. 1—2006 SFKAFF & Night Watch

The word is never final when it comes to film. Impressions settle into new articulations. Reviews amplify previous considerations. In order to gather such disparate commentary, I'll every now and then have a "catchbasin" for films previously commented upon here at The Evening Class.

2006 SFKAFF: Although Variety's David Stratton finds it "problematic" that director Kwang-Mo Lee and cinematographer Hyung-Koo Kim elect to stage key scenes in long shot in Spring In My Hometown, Cinemaya's Kim Ji-Seok argues that this purposely keeps viewers at some distance from the events. "While viewing the tragedy of war," he writes, "they are, at the same time, stopped from getting closer to the faces of the past and their memories. This deepens the effect of tragedy. The director seems to be following the saying 'if you can grab memories in your hands, they are not memories anymore.' He manages to skillfully realize this paradoxical saying by reminding you of the tragedy of war without getting too close to it." Further, he argues that the distanced images that Kim Hyung-Koo captures presents the indifference of Nature to the tragedy of war.

Night Watch: J. Hoberman enjoys Timur Bekmambetov's "shamanistic filmmaking" for the Village Voice. He grants the film its humor:

Which reminded me that Night Watch does have some delightful chuckles. I enjoyed watching Sarah Gellar's Buffy, the Vampire Killer telecast on Russian t.v., particularly the episode where she meets Dracula. The intertextuality was amusing.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor)

I was drooling to take a bite out of the first installment of Russian director Timur Bekmambetov's Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) Trilogy when it premiered in Paris this last September; but, I didn't think it would be respectful to Sergei Lukyanenko's writing to collapse Russian into French into English. Leave Babel alone, I told myself, and be patient, wait, wait, all good things come to those who wait. Though in the case of Night Watch, all good things come as well as the bad.

Here is the official website with synopsis, trailer and—for those of you who just don't have the time—the entire movie in two and a half minutes, which (I might add) is unusually enjoyable after you've seen the film:


Subtitles—once tethered to translation—have been emancipated!!! Timur Bekmambetov has raised the bar and now asks subtitles to evoke as much as they translate. In Night Watch, subtitles vanish into blood-red smoke, duck in and out from behind walls, and even grow visibly larger when someone shouts. As fresh as all this is in Night Watch, it seductively invites imitation and Bekmambetov will be fortunate, indeed, to be as innovative by the final installment of this trilogy as he has been with its first. I anticipate a rash of rip-offs that will drain all life out of the original veins.

Thoroughly entertaining with a minimum of gore, the concepts in Night Watch provoke fear. Creepy concepts about gloom and doom. And, sure, there are some inexcusable gaps in script continuity (how can the lights come back on when the light company has been blown up?), but all in all, Night Watch is a fascinating take on vampiric lore with subtle, political commentary on the right of good to license evil. Most folks have already marked their calendars and will be lining up to catch the 06/06/06 remake of The Omen; but, Night Watch is the tale with a fresher twist.

San Francisco Performances: Koyaanisqatsi / Life Out of Balance

It seems petulant to complain of the embarrassment of cinematic riches on any given weekend in San Francisco; but, how can one not complain when you are given choices between a Carlos Reygadas residency at Yerba Buena's Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Performances exclusive West Coast engagement of The Qatsi Trilogy performed by Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble (conducted by Michael Riesman)? Hmmmmmm? Borrowing somewhat from Solomon, I swallowed Reygadas whole and split Qatsi three ways. I figured a third was better than nothing so I showed up for the opening night screening of Koyaanisqatsi / Life Out of Balance at Davies Symphony Hall. Despite a rush on will call that stalled the performance for a half an hour, the evening was an exciting blend of cinema and music.

It's hard to consider I first saw Koyaanisqatsi in 1983 when it screened (I believe, if I dare remember back that far!) at the Castro Theater some 27 years ago!! Lord. Time flies when you're havin' fun, eh?

Decades later, Koyaanisqatsi still holds up and the music is just as thrilling and energetic. The images prove to be something of a time capsule. The timelapse photography capturing the mutability of clouds and the corpuscular flow of traffic still sweeps me up and I was particularly struck by the speeded-up sequence of entering San Francisco via the now-demolished freeway. That freeway entrance had a curve to it that remains in my body to this day. It felt neat to be reminded that film and memory are brethren afterall.

The Agony of Ecstasy—Two Nights With Carlos Reygadas: Battle In Heaven (Batalla en el cielo, 2005)

This entry is not for the spoiler-wary!

Most of the recent press on Reygadas has concerned
Battle in Heaven. I offer my favorites: Jonathan Marlow's insightful Sundance interview with Reygadas for Dave Hudson's Greencine Daily. This interview was instrumental in my enjoying and learning from the Reygadas residency at Yerba Buena. Kudos, Jonathan!!

Michael Atkinson for the Village Voice: "Battle in Heaven, as ambitious as its title, is a living mystery, already notorious for hardcore-osity but so serious about its formal intelligence and so deep-dish in its evocations of inexpressible desolation, personal and social, that it occupies your skull like a siege of Huns."

Karin Badt, Cannes 2005,
Bright Lights Film Journal: "The important thing is these two human beings. Just watch them and be patient. Cinema is a means of expression, not communication. I don't want to say anything. When you kiss someone, are you trying to communicate anything?"

Bryant Frazer, Deep Focus: "The film's explicitness is crucial to its meaning. By dwelling on both types of bodies—the trim and conventionally beautiful versus the flabby and utterly ordinary—Reygadas emphasizes both physical closeness and economic distance. He seems less interested in bodies in the erotic sense than in the way that they can be indicators of class—in the sense that body shapes are influenced by economics, because the folks without the money to dine well end up feasting on junk instead, which sticks to their figures."

Antonio Pasolini, europeanfilms.net: "Of course, there is love in this film as well as manipulation. There's also injustice regarding the bad distribution of tools. Injustices from the system, not just from nature itself."

Nick Roddick /
FIPRESCI 2005: "[I]t's easier to connect the fact that you have breakfast in the morning and then you go to work afterwards than to connect that you dream one night about fire in the sky and that you go to work the next day."

Aquarello at Strictly Film School: "Reygadas' bracing portrait of Mexico's profoundly fractured and polarized--and perhaps irredeemable--society, human connection occurs not through the opacity of the soul but through the characters' disembodied rituals that serve as communion for unarticulated desire."

Here's a good
video clip interview with Reygadas at Cannes:

* * *
Delighted with Japón, I was hyped for Battle In Heaven. All in all, Battle was not as satisfying for me as Japón, though it has certainly hovered around me like some unresolved thought. What truly bothered me about Battle was the idea that this young woman Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz) could confess her shadow to Marcos (Marcos Hernández), her chauffeur since childhood, and even make him complicit through secrecy and sexual favors, but when he confesses his shadow to her, a line gets crossed. An equality is denied. Ana encourages Marcos to turn himself in knowing full well that he will be put away, possibly even executed. She wants to dispense with the distasteful. This betrayal adds weight to an already almost unbearable burden and, Marcos, terrified in the face of truth, pees his pants and murders her. If ever someone has been swept up by the horrors of circumstance into ignoble death it is Marcos in Battle in Heaven.

The sound design in this movie accomplishes what the narrative shifting did in Japón. In one particularly stunning sequence Marcos is at a gas station where loud music is being played. A procession of chanting penitents winds by and the sound shifts from the loud music to the chanting, builds, then recedes back to the loud music. A moment where you hear as well as see two realities.

In another notorious scene where Marcos and Ana are having sex, the camera moves out of the room and circles the courtyard before coming back in. When asked about which directors had influenced him, Reygadas did not mention Hitchcock so this is undoubtedly my complete projection; but, this scene reminded me of the one in Frenzy where just as the necktie murderer is about to rape and kill another victim, the camera pulls away from the scene of the crime, backs down the hallway and stairwell through the front landing, down the front steps, and across the street. In Frenzy, however, if the camera had returned, the crime would have been evident. Not so in Battle, where the camera does return, and the crime is obscured. Notwithstanding, the punishment remains severe.

02/20/06 UPDATE: What goes around, comes around. After convincing me that non-actors should embody their roles and not represent them, Carlos Reygadas reminded himself as well as those present that this is not as easily done as it sounds. In Battle In Heaven Magdalena Flores—Ascen in his first film Japón—makes a cameo appearance. Reygadas was excited at first about including Magdalena in his second film, but, realized afterwards that it was a mistake as the taint of recognized celebrity had already taken. I had to agree and told him that, as pleased as I was to see her again, it distracted from the film. Amazing how quickly this happens!!

02/26/06 UPDATE: At the L.A. Weekly Scott Foundas interprets the opening blowjob of Battle In Heaven to be a dream sequence. I didn't see it that way at all and wonder if Reygadas intended it as such? Unfortunately Reygadas's residency at Yerba Buena has come and gone and he's not around to ask. I always regret the unvoiced unanswered questions! Foundas ventures: "If Japón was Reygadas' objet d'art, then Battle is his objet de scandale, his elephant-dung Jesus . . . ."

01/27/07 UPDATE: A shout out to Rob Davis who recently interviewed (or should I say recently posted his interview with) Carlos Reygadas for
Errata. Not only does this fascinating interview delve into the director's filmmaking subjectivity of sound and image, his use of non-actors, and some of his favorite filmmakers, but provides an up-to-date compendium of recent online commentary on Reygadas sophomore feature Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el Cielo, 2005).

The Agony of Ecstasy--Two Nights With Carlos Reygadas: Japon

Thursday and Saturday evenings I had the welcome opportunity to attend a program entitled "The Agony of Ecstasy: Two Nights With Carlos Reygadas" wherein his two films—Japón and Battle in Heaven—were screened at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The program, co-sponsored by San Francisco's Mexican Museum and the Galería de la Raza, featured Reygadas in person to discuss his work. "Some people kill themselves and some people live in ecstasy," Reygadas asserts, "and the world is exactly the same."

My comments are not for the spoiler-wary, so please beware!

First, Carlos Reygadas reminds me there is life after law. He says he gave up a successful legal career to do something "more physical." I find that completely inspiring having just left behind the world of litigation and the judiciary myself.

His first film Japón concerns a man obsessed with suicidal ideation who travels from Mexico City to the rim of the Sierra Tarahumara canyon to end his life. The Man (Alejandro Ferretis), who remains nameless, commences his existential pursuit by catching a ride into the canyon with a truck full of hunters (Reygadas appears in a Hitchcockian cameo). The hunters drop him off in a small village where he seeks out temporary lodging in the barn of a viejita named Ascen (short for Ascención, not Assunción), "performed" to saintly perfection by Magdalena Flores.

Reygadas frames images of sublime horror. A decapitated bird's head gasps one or two last breaths as it forgets all flight. Pig blood is spilled on sun-baked dirt. A stallion mounts a mare much to the amusement of the local children. A black beetle flees a sudden rainfall. Funereal white flowers bloom beside dark railroad tracks. The viscerality is hypnotic. The heat that hazes the canyon and bleaches all color is hypnotic.

It's extremely difficult not to project symbolism into Japón and to allow it to exist on its own terms, but, I will venture out on a limb to say, that in my mind, The Man's instincts were twice identified with a horse. First, as a disembowled animal on a canyon's ledge; secondly, as a rutting stud. Were these emotional cues to The Man's state of mind? First he is a man who wants to end his life but seems unable to muster the courage, ineffectual at the abyss, and then he is a man who is somehow restored to life by the animality of the countryside. Reygadas is not here to say. He has created a universe and we watch it, no more, no less, sometimes enlightened, frequently amused, often unsure. Sometimes it is enough not to know what is going on and simply to watch his scenes in sequence, like the xylophone parade of children, the smallest first, up to the oldest smoking their cigarettes as an approximation of adulthood.

The narrative eye of Reygadas' camera shifts as in the best of Latino literature; similar to the narrative calisthenics of Julio Cortazar. (Coincidentally, I was reading Cortazar's short story "Axolotl" on my way to the Center for the Arts for the Reygadas screening; it alerted me to the shifts.) In Japón, Reygadas persuades you to look out the eye of the camera as if you are in the body of The Man meeting the village mayor and exchanging IDs. Then it shifts and you are walking uphill as the mayor announces the arrival of Ascen so that you think you are looking through the eyes of Ascen approaching the mayor. But then the camera pans to watch Ascen come up the trail. There was something so confusingly beautiful in this narrative shifting or what Reverse Shot's Nick Pinkerton describes as "the drifting symbiotic camera . . . looking for a host body." You are pulled into the cinematic moment and implicated as witness, much like Caravaggio does with his paintings.

Which leads me to another impression. Just as Caravaggio implicates the viewer into his paintings, and Reygadas does the same with his roving camera in search of a host, Reygadas also shows how inanimate objects draw our attentions into them, pulling us into their "orbit" as described by poet Mark Doty. Particularly pictures on a wall. He accomplishes this in both films. In short, images pull us into their orbit. With that in mind, I loved that one of the cues to The Man's character is that he was a painter and that Ascen, when given a chance to choose her favorite from a book of paintings, settles on Mondrian. At any rate, I'm assuming it's a Mondrian she points to. I meant to confirm this with Reygadas but forgot to.

He said he returned with Japón to the canyon village where it was filmed and it was projected onto a large outdoor screen. The locals didn't much care for the story but were greatly amused by any scene where there was cruelty to animals—the slaughtering of the pig, for example—because this is what was close to them, what they knew. What was, Reygadas explained, natural for them; something everyday.

Invariably the first question anyone asks Reygadas of his first feature is, "Why the title—Japón?" One possible explanation might be, Reygadas himself suggests, that this canyon village—a couple hundred kilometers from Mexico City—might just as well be on the other side of the earth.

One fellow criticized Reygadas for making too much of an Andrei Tarkovsky movie instead of his own. Reygadas objected. Without question he paid homage to Tarkovsky, particularly in one of the final scenes where Ascen rides atop a tractor through the valley. The camera films over her shoulder as she takes in the scenery in a sequence of disjointed clips. Pure, intentional Tarkovsky. And Tarkovsky's influence could certainly be seen where The Man is shown walking through the fields at dawn, the camera pans across piled logs, and then suddenly it is midday. Reygadas didn't intend that scene to be a Tarkovsky moment but it ended up as one. Otherwise, the film is his. Any other semblances to Tarkovsky are being projected into the film.

The scene Reygadas mentions—the shift from dawn to midday as the camera pans over a pile of logs—registered on my skin. I could feel the environment. I could feel the temperature shift from cool dawn to midday heat. Temporally, yes, that temperature shift was like one of the timeleaps of Solyaris, admittedly the only Tarkovsky movie I've seen.

One woman asked how, as a director, Reygadas persuaded Magdalena Flores to have sex on screen with a stranger? Reygadas objected. By the time it came to filming this scene the actors had been working on the movie for a couple of months. The ensemble had become a family; they were no longer strangers. Magdalena, who has maybe only seen 10 movies in her life, believed in Reygadas' filmic intent. When an actor believes in what a director is trying to do, he or she is more willing to do something that they wouldn't do in and of themselves.

Reygadas seems to be on a one-man crusade to break the cinematic hold beauty has on sex scenes. The bodies in his sex scenes startle, shock or revolt precisely because they are not the expected gym bodies usually attached to such scenes. "So accustomed are we to seeing only one body type in movies," Kristi Mitsuda writes for Reverse Shot, "that any other represented provides a startling amount of texture." Reygadas reminds us sex—such a common event between people—happens to all people regardless of their body types. It's just that we are not accustomed cinematically to seeing sex between truly ordinary bodies. I noticed this especially with Japón where The Man eventually beds Ascen, a woman who looks like my grandmother!! I was dreading the event! And yet, as it happened, as it becomes clear how Ascen gives herself to The Man to help him return to life, something I would have not expected out of such an experience, I couldn't help considering how many reasons there are for individuals to have sex with each other, the least of which is to satisfy our prurience as American audiences. Reygadas lambasts this particular hypocrisy. In Mexico audiences didn't make a big deal out of The Man's sex with Ascen in Japón, nor did they get all bent out of shape because of the sex depicted in Battle In Heaven between the chauffeur and his employer's daughter and the chauffeur and his obese wife. For Reygadas, the scandalized critical response to the blowjobs in Battle in Heaven feels ingenuine. That particular critique seems to be an Anglo-Saxon liability. How can such criticisms be taken seriously when Americans, one might remember, have the highest production of porno in the world?

One person repeated an accusation that Reygadas is anti-Mexican. Reygadas scoffed the notion. How could he be anti-Mexican? He loves Mexico. He loves it and he hates it, just like most people really do with anything they care about. If they didn't, it would be sloughed off indifferently.

Reygadas criticizes how music "decorates" film. He wants music in his films to be part of the film's cinematic language. For example, in the final scene he could have presented the accident literally as it happened so that the audience would have a head-on grasp of the event. But instead, he allowed the circling music to become the feeling of the film and the circling camera work to evidence the accident. In that final scene the camera uses the music to circle the devastation much like hawks rise on thermal columns. I asked him how he accomplished this shot and he explained that a revolving camera was set up on a cart on the railroad tracks. He did not film this shot himself but directed the cameraman to where the camera should go next, so that it would see this first, then that, a body here, a wristwatch there, another body, sometimes slower, sometimes faster. Suddenly sweeping down the rails until it hovers over the dead Ascen. The circling camerawork rode the shoulders of the music and evoked what it must be like for a soul to leave a body.

This final scene recalled me to the writings of Eduardo Galeaño who, in an essay on automobiles, suggested that the term "accident" is inappropriate and that "consequence" would be more accurate. My roommate, Gustavo Hernandez, agitated that notion when he suggested that the devastation of the final scene was not an accident at all, that Ascen had shot the men, having put on The Man's jacket, wherein his gun rested. This haunted me. Had The Man inspired Ascen to take vengeance? Had he provided her the means to kill these men who had robbed her and then, afterwards, herself? I couldn't believe that would be the case, especially in light of Ascen's earlier comment that she was not a greedy person, and that even though her arms were arthritic, she would not cut them off. But how to ask this of Reygadas without coming off the fool?

Hazarding the fool, I phrased my question: was The Man's gun in the jacket Ascen wore on the tractor ride through the valley? Yes, Reygadas smiled, as if he were pleased that I was puzzling the mystery. I leapt: "Was it really an accident then? Did she shoot them and then herself?" No, Reygadas assured me, it was an accident on the tracks. Maybe I was not clear enough, he grimaced, but she took the gun to keep The Man from hurting himself. This made me love and respect Ascen all the more. And underscored how resigned she was to her fate. Even when her nephew dismantled her home with his sledgehammer, she was never as frightened as The Man.

I praised Reygadas for the borracho's canto—the most direct example of Lorca's duende that I have ever seen in a film—where the drunken singer's voice cracks, and something ancient and timeless breaks through. Reygadas admits if he had his way, however, the song would have been shorter. The man sang longer than Reygadas thought he should but Reygadas decided to leave it as is in the film. This kind of serendipitous inclusion into the film aligns with notions Reygadas has about art and artifice. He allows the proscenium to be broken in the scene with the workers when they arrive to remove the stones from Ascen's barn. A comment is made by one of the workers that the makers of the film give them nothing; a sentence that Reygadas' audio engineer advised him could be easily removed. But Reygadas liked it, liked its reality, how it was more true than the reality he was creating, and allowed it to remain in the film. Reygadas suffers no artificial dichotomies. Truth and Reality are not necessarily the same thing, which borrows some credence from the adage that some things are more beautiful than true, though in his case some things are more true than real. Fellow film aficionado Michael Hawley complained that this was exactly what made him break with Japón. He was with the film up until the breaking of the illusion. But Reygadas doesn't want an illusion. He doesn't want actors performing roles. He doesn't want representation. He wants people appropriate for the story. Casting is everything, as he himself admits. Without proper casting, all is lost.

One woman noted how the passion between The Man and Ascen is downplayed and that the true passion is invested in the environment, the landscape. Reygadas confirmed this intention. He prefers downplayed performances because he believes they linger longer in the mind than the "hot" performances in such films as Clint Eastwood's Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby, which—while compelling during performance—evaporate as soon as one leaves the theater.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cowboy del Amor

Caught an advance screening of Cowboy del Amor at the Shattuck Theater in Berkeley. Here's the film's official website:


As the website announces: "Cowboy Del Amor is a documentary comedy about a cowboy-turned-matchmaker who can't manage his own love life. It follows self-proclaimed 'Cowboy Cupid' Ivan Thompson, as he finds Mexican brides for disillusioned American men searching for the perfect wife."

The website includes a treasure trove of reviews so I won't belabor them here, but, suffice it to say that I, too, was greatly amused by Michèle Ohayon's pleasant portrayal of Thompson, whose charm resides squarely in his colloquial manner. I love colloquial speech; I believe it reflects the heart of America. Cowboy del Amor has to be commended for walking a fine line. In its unflinching look at American men with Mexican women it is bound to estrange if not downright offend American women and Mexican men. Past the obvious polarized politicizations, however, Cowboy del Amor is essentially a look at the loneliness within us all and our longing for partnership. It is fueled by a buoyant musical score and more situational humor than you can shake a stick at. However politically incorrect it might be, it nonetheless provides a great evening's entertainment.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Attended last night's Landmark Theatres calendar preview at the Shattuck in Berkeley. Trailers for the new calendar were shown for the first time. Among them was The Devil and Daniel Johnston and producer Henry S. Rosenthal provided the intro. The cool official website for the doc is at:


Rosenthal relayed that he produced the documentary simply because he really wanted to see it. And since no one else was making this movie, he paid for it out of pocket. It's been a rewarding experience for him to see it do so well and that it has helped many folks become aware of Daniel Johnston's artistry. I told him I got to see the film at last year's Indiefest and thanked him for exposing me to Daniel, who I had never heard of before. It was a pleasure to see Daniel's exhibition this last September in Paris and I was delighted that my friend Michael Hawley actually acquired one of Daniel's drawings for his collection. Since then, I've included Daniel in my cd collection.

Rosenthal was interested in knowing if the trailer intrigued people to see the documentary. It was the first time he himself had seen the trailer. Unfortunately, most folks said no. And I could understand why. The trailer is extremely grainy and nowhere approximates the visual clarity of the film. Rosenthal apologized for that and explained that these days trailers often are shot on video and then transferred to film and the fact that much of the documentary includes ravaged footage does not bode well for the trailer. But that Sony Pictures has taken up the gauntlet to promote the film is good news and he hopes folks will forgive the trailer and catch the film.

Some folks (naturally) were upset that he would film a documentary about a mentally ill subject, and one woman adamantly asserted she would not see the film precisely because of that, but Rosenthal calmly responded that there is no question Daniel is troubled. Part of his sickness is his obsession with his own notoriety, yes, but the most important thing for Rosenthal was that folks could see how incredibly gifted Daniel is as a musician and illustrator. He is a great fan of Daniel's artistry and his mental illness is a sad sidebar as well as a source of creativity.

Reaction to the documentary has been good so far and has helped engender interest in Daniel's drawings. Daniel has been selected to show his visual art at the 2006 Whitney Biennial in New York City!! Such belated recognition is timely since Daniel has also taken a turn for the worse health-wise. Apparently shortly after Thanksgiving he went into a coma for three weeks and is only now recovering.

When The Devil and Daniel Johnston first unspooled at Sundance, David Poland reported to Movie City News, boldly stating: "If there is a masterpiece at Sundance this year, it's Jeff Feuerzeig's The Devil and Daniel Johnston."

"Not only is this a great doc," Poland praised, "but it is fully capable of becoming one of the great college cult films of all time. Daniel Johnston is, after all, a kid from a small town who never gave up on his dreams and overcame not only his parents' disapproval, but the revolt of his own body and mind. Not only do you come to really respect his work in this film, you find a form of love for this damaged soul."

Though truth is Johnston didn't win me over as much as he did others. His illness was megalomaniacal and what he put his parents through, especially his father, vertiginously resembles karmic retribution. My heart leapt to my throat whenever his father spoke, because you could feel his concern, his fear, his pain. I guess to be honest I have a little trouble with outsider art. First there was the Darger doc (In the Realm of the Unreal) and now this one, adulating artists who were either reclusive and now deceased, or artists (like Daniel) who purposely go off their meds just to add an "edge" to their music; even when doing so meant he would be burdensome to his folks. Johnston has either achieved a pact with the devil, as he admits, or is graced by God, because despite himself, he seems to always be in the right place at the right time recognizing the right opportunity. There's a seductive charm to that but it concerns me that it's romanticized. In gist his lust for fame cut through his impairments and one has to somehow respect him for what he has accomplished, maybe not so much for being as great a musician as so many seem to think he is (I think he writes great music but I prefer others recording it), but, for being able to create his own legend in his own time. That's something I have to applaud him for. He lives his broken dreams.

My personal issues with Johnston aside, however, there is no question but that this is one of the most compelling documentaries ever. Largely due, I think, because of the opportunity Jeff Feuerzeig had to use Johnston's audio diaries so that filmviewers could cut through all of Johnston's mugging to hear who he was inside. Feuerzeig said that when the documentary premiered at Sundance, Daniel and his parents attended and were invited up to the stage afterwards for a Q&A. When asked what he thought about the documentary, Daniel complained that the film was heavy on the comic side, showing Daniel doing all his "funny" things. Oh there's Daniel crashing a plane. Oh there's Daniel going into a mental asylum. Ha ha.

Ha ha indeed. When his father was asked what advice he might give to a parent of an artistic but mentally challenged child, he responded, "You're on your own."


Here's Daniel Johnston's "Worried Shoes" website where you can sample his artwork:


Wednesday, February 15, 2006



Megan Abbot
Lotfi Abdelli
Sean Abley
Jeff Adachi / The Slanted Screen
Jeff Adachi / You Don't Know Jack (The Jack Soo Story)
Lisandro Alonso / Liverpool
Lisandro Alonso / NWFF
Tavo Amador
Brecht Andersch
Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman & Roman Coppola
Milena Andonova
Dominic Angerame
John Arellano
Michael Arndt (SF360)
Darren Aronofsky / The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky / The Wrestler
Guillermo Arriaga
Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain & Tahar Rahim


Jamie Babbit (Greencine)
Don Bachardy
Jennifer Baichwal & Edward Burtynsky
Alison Bailes
Andrew Bailey
Steve Barretto
Richard Barrios
Juan Antonio Bayona & Sergio Sánchez (Greencine)
Robert Beavers, Pt. 1
Robert Beavers, Pt. 2
Mark Becker, Pt. 1
Mark Becker, Pt. 2
Adrian Belic, Pt. 1
Adrian Belic, Pt. 2
Jed Rosenthal Bell
James Benning
Amy Berg
Aurora Bergere
Matías Bize
Jeffrey Blitz & Reece Thompson (SF360)
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Carlos Bolado
Richard Bolisay
Uwe Boll
Icíar Bollaín
Ernest Borgnine
Scott Boswell
Caroline Bottaro
Danny Boyle
Alice Braga
Catherine Breillat (Greencine)
Kerem Bürsin
The Butcher Brothers
Eric Byler


Juan José Campanella
Bruce Campbell & Joshua Grannell
John Canemaker
John Carney, Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (SF360)
Michael Cerenzie
Park Chan-wook
Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Hye Seung Chung
Larry Clark
Bonni Cohen & Richard Berge
Jeffrey Cohlman
Peter Conheim
Francis Ford Coppola
Pedro Costa (Greencine)
Susan Weeks Coulter
David Cronenberg & Viggo Mortensen (Greencine)
Phil Cousineau
Francis "Oggs" Cruz
Alan Cumming
Elisha Cuthbert


Olivier Dahan
Viola Davis
Dodo Dayao
Thomas Dekker
Guillermo Del Toro
Arnaud Desplechin
Kirby Dick
Chris DiVecchio
Jack Donner
Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck
Samuel Douek
Bruno Dumont (MUBI)
Mark & Jay Duplass


A.J. Eaton
Atom Egoyan
Thomas Elsaesser (MUBI)
Thomas Elsaesser (on photogénie)
Thomas Elsaesser (on the "painterly" in films)
Matthias Emcke & Til Schweiger
Heinz Emigholz, Pt. 1
Heinz Emigholz, Pt. 2
Carlton Evans


Jamaa Fanaka
Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton
Peter X. Feng
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks (on "Mothers & Movies")
Nancy Fishman & Joshua Moore
Ari Folman
Isabel Fondevila & Shae Green
Etyan Fox
Javier Fuentes-León
Chris Fujiwara


Diamanda Galás
Patrick Galloway
Colin Geddes
Bahman Ghobadi
Em Gift & Liz Franczak
Tony Gilroy (Greencine)
Amos Gitaï
Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
Danny Glover
Amos Goldbaum
Michel Gondry
R.W. Goodwin
Joshua Grannell / All About Evil
Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), Pt. 1
Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), Pt. 2
Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ), Midnight Mass 2009
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders & Elvis Mitchell
David Gregory
Dylan Griffith, Collin Armstrong, & Samantha Simon
Daniel Gruener
José Luis Guerín
Tom Gunning (on photogénie
Patricio Guzmán (MUBI)