When I spoke to Olson after the screening, she told me how overwhelming it was to visit the set, to listen to Milk’s voice, and to know that it was here — right here — that he contemplated his imminent murder. She’s translated that experience well to her film, which is ghostly and deeply moving. But, of course, it wasn’t right here that Milk made his tape. This is a meticulously dressed set.
American “regional” cinema (again with the ironic scare quotes), especially that of the indie variety, has an unfortunate tendency to come off like tourism, in the sense that the camera is too often set up in front of objects that only reinforce our preexisting sense of the place. “The South,” for example, is often reduced to a now-vacant and picturesque block of what was once a small town’s main street before the interstate and Wal-Mart moved in.
Heartbeat Detector is a tricky one. Immediately after my first viewing a couple weeks ago, I went searching for decent writing about it but found slim pickings. Judging by the responses of most critics I’ve found online, it’s little more than a too-long and “oh so European” corporate thriller. Unflattering comparisons to Michael Clayton are the norm, and there’s a not-so-subtle (and strangely patronizing) animosity running through the reviews: that a film would seriously compare the workings of modern capital to the Holocaust is just too much, apparently.
What fascinates me about Los Muertos is that it explores the connection between form and content by taking all of the tropes of “transcendental cinema” and staining them, by narrative means, with dread and violence. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s answer (apocryphal, perhaps) when he was asked if he was the father of New Age music: “No, my music has evil in it.”
With so many directors now throwing in their cameras with the “single-shot scenes from a fixed position” school of filmmaking, there’s a growing problem for those of us who believe that a fundamental job of critics is to accurately describe what we see. Films built almost entirely from images that would have been described traditionally as “establishing shots” beg the question: How does one describe and evaluate this kind of montage (if that’s even the right word)?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had two main goals with this mix. First, I decided to divide it evenly between older and newer music. There’s always a jump of at least 15 years from tune to tune. But I also wanted the mix to be coherent, so I was looking for a tone that could maybe be described as “Songs that might actually sound better if they were played on an old, hissing record player.”
But the emotional effect of the music — on me, at least — is anything but ironic. In true Melvillian fashion, this is an epic battle of Drama and Meaning, the most epic battle, in fact, if we recall our fuzzy memories of the Christian symbolism that permeates Billy Budd. Granted, Denis strips away most of those symbols, but the central conflict of the film remains mostly unchanged.
In the opening shot, Zahedi addresses the camera directly, introduces himself as Caveh, and tells us that for many years he was a sex addict. His film is a frank, neatly-plotted, and curiously moving recreation of those years. It’s also incredibly transgressive and very, very funny. Quite a balancing act.
In celebration of its 15th anniversary, the IMDb has invited its editorial staff to submit their Top 15 Lists: 1990-2005. Never one to pass up an opportunity to obsess for a few days over such a challenge, I’ve put together a list of my own — a list joyfully free of editorial imposition, meaning that I can stretch and/or ignore even the most basic criteria/rules.
In a relatively short time Beauty Pill has gone through a few members, and with a couple singers and songwriters in the band there is a surprising amount of variety on display. The Song of the Moment, “Goodnight For Real” is representative only in that it features clever lyrics, solid playing (including some fun synth parts), and a really catchy chorus.
How would the tone of the film change, for example, had she included reports from the crime scene or interviews with his wife’s surviving family? Instead, we are offered only one quick glance at a photo of the woman who later would be brutally murdered, and a few fond remembrances of her from Harvey’s friends.
Joanna tells me — and she’s told me this many times over the years — that she fell in love the first time we held hands. I couldn’t imagine what she meant. Men, in my experience at least, seldom consider hands. Or, we consider them only when they’re noticeable — scarred, chewed, ornamented by loudly painted nails. Even then, though, we offer only a passing glance and a quick, rarely-conscious judgment. To really consider a hand demands a certain intimacy, I think. We’re allowed to stare at faces, encouraged even to maintain eye contact during public conversations, but to really look at a hand (or the place where a neck meets a shoulder or the back of a knee) is taboo outside of a bedroom (metaphorically speaking).
Sembene introduced his film by reminding his mostly white, mostly Western audience that Africa — the entire continent, its nations, its governments, and its people — is experiencing a period of unprecedented transition. There was no moralizing or condemnation in his tone, not even a suggestion of the catastrophic crises and genocides that fill the back pages of our newspapers. Africa is in transition, he told us, and this film is about that transition.