Nearly all of the press coverage of Colossal Youth has been accompanied by the same low-angle shot of Ventura, the film’s protagonist. He’s an elderly man, tall and thin. In this particular image, we see little of his face — just one eye peering over his right shoulder. The photo is dominated, instead, by the stark lines and sharp angles of a newly-constructed, State-funded tenement high-rise that blots out the sky behind him.
This will be my second trip to SFIFF, and I’m really excited about my lineup. I’ll get a second shot at a few TIFF favorites (Colossal Youth and Private Fears in Public Places), I’ll get to see a couple that I missed the first time around (Daratt, Opera Jawa, and The Island), and, of course, there will be several new discoveries. I’m especially excited about Forever, the latest from Heddy Honigmann, who will be in town to receive the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award.
Eye tracking technology now allows us to create “heat maps” of visual spaces. It’s of particular use to those of us with an interest in website layout and navigation. The image above is from a recent study that compares the markedly different ways that psychologists (left) and artists (right) look at photographs.
I find that I now approach the film blog-o-sphere in much the same way that I would behave if we all gathered face-to-face for a massive cocktail party. I grab my drink and find a quiet table over in the corner where I chat with the folks I’ve known the longest and the best and whose tastes are most similar to my own.
In the foreground sits Harry Becker (Vincent Sherman), a young radical who only the night before was beaten and arrested by the police for, as his mother explains it, “making Communist speeches.” He sits here with George Simon (John Barrymore), a high-powered attorney whose office overlooks Manhattan from atop the Empire State Building.
It’s rare these days when I find myself identifying with a character in the same way that, say, the 7-year-old version of me identified with Charlie Bucket or the 15-year-old version of me identified with Holden Caulfield. But Dan Dunne, the crack-addicted, idealistic History teacher played by Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, is more like me than any other character I’ve met in quite some time.
The Toronto International Film Festival is exactly the right length. After seeing thirty or forty film programs in nine-and-a-half days, I’m always ready for it to end. I hate that it’ll be another year before I get to walk down Yonge Street again, discuss movies over sushi with friends again, and discover so many great new films again, but, for the time being at least, I’m glad to be home.
Perhaps it’s simply the inevitable result of paring down my schedule from 44 films in 2005 (only 35 of which I actually saw) to “only” 33 this year, but my sense while researching and planning over the past weeks was that TIFF’s lineup is stronger, top to bottom, this time around than in previous years.
Late last night I received a confirmation email from the Toronto International Film Festival box office, notifying me that I would be seeing all thirty of my first choice films. Given that so many of my friends are still awaiting similar confirmation, mine appears to have been one of the first orders processed — just lucky in the lottery draw this year, I guess.
What most interests me — and what I lack a vocabulary to properly describe — is the direct connection between the form and political content in both of these films. That brief frisson that occurs when the pose drops — when a person who lives in an image-marketed and -mediated culture suddenly finds herself set adrift in the semiological flux — that moment, I think, is an instance of political resistance.
In a couple hours I’ll be joining some friends for a lunch-time discussion of Eyes Wide Shut. A month or so ago, we happened upon the theme of “the philosophy of sex” for our film group, and in the weeks since we’ve watched the remake of Solaris (we did the Tarkovsky last fall), Sex, Lies & Videotape, and, now, the Kubrick film.
Anna so quickly and so easily falls in love with the young Sean not because he’s a manifestation of her dead husband but because he so effortlessly performs a role that is wholly the work of Anna’s imagination. She has conjured an idealized version of Sean through the magical incantation of her love letters.
To watch the body of Abel Ferrara’s films, as I’ve tried my best to do over the last month and a half, is to see a man wrestling obsessively — sadomasochistically, even — with the Irrational. The stylized violence, the scenery-chewing performances, the gratuitous and exploitative female nudity — all are window dressing. What’s at stake here is nothing less than the very possibility of grace.
But the adaptation of a written text to film also necessarily foregrounds the authority of images, imposing specificity on what an author might have chosen to describe more generally. I was surprised, for example, to find myself suddenly moved by an image of the small boxes in which Faunia stores the ashes of her dead children. In the novel, surprisingly little emphasis is placed on the ashes; Roth does not make of them an excuse for one of his patented ten-page diversions.
Having already proven his deftness with coming-of-age stories, Cuaron (along with screenwriter Steven Kloves) understands that all the sound and fury of big budget spectacle signifies little unless it’s in the service of character, and so, here, the novel’s 400+ pages are neatly trimmed to show a single but significant stage of Harry’s development.
Of the ten best new films I saw this year, eight were festival screenings, and, of those, only two have a reasonable chance of making it to a theater here in Knoxville. I mention that in passing as a reminder of how these year-end best lists are shaped by distribution and by the brand of popular American film criticism that still ghettoizes the vast majority of world cinema into a single, convenient category, “Foreign Language Film.”