Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pasolini´s La Ricotta (excerpt)

Pasolini meets Orson Welles...
Enjoy it...

Short is short

Via "In the early days of cinema, all films were short films. This is a banal acknowledgement and really nothing remarkable as such. But what is interesting is that, after over one hundred years of technical and aesthetic advances, some of the characteristics and criteria that identified short film back then are still valid today: short film is defined by its length. The short form is also a medium for innovation, as versatile as cinema itself. Looking at things from this historical perspective, we can perhaps succeed at circumventing some of the difficulties we face in defining what exactly short film is."

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

DVD Review: Ellie Parker and Faust

Watts on the job: Ellie Parker

It's common knowledge that Los Angeles is full of actor wannabes and all sorts of other hopefuls flickering about the Hollywood limelight like moths around a lamp until they get burnt-out. As a narrative, the losing side of the game seems to have an everlasting appeal. Stories of the industry's nefarious ways has fascinated audiences since Sunset Boulevard (Dir: Billie Wilder, 1950) inaugurated the genre (see Robert Altman's The Player (1992) or, if you can get hold of, the DV tour de force Ivansxtc by Bernard Rose). Hollywood and the search for fame are the modern-day, silicon-enhanced equivalents of Faust.

Cashing in on Naomi Watt's post-King Kong fame and on her own stories about her many years on the edge of Hollywood fame before Mulholland Drivechanged everything for her, TLA is releasing her struggling-actress-in-distress indie 2001 incursion Ellie Parker, a hand-held DV feature that doesn't exactly add to the behind-the-scenes-in-Hollywood genre since it's more of a personal awakening type of story than an industry satire, but it does provide unflinching poignancy that sometimes verges on the unbearable. It taps into LA's transience and automobile-ridden lifestyle to create the background for a woman in freefall. Watts is on top form. Her comic timing and the way she manages to sustain a consistent performance through the film are quite something to watch.

Watts' Parker is a chronically insecure woman, unsuccessfully doing rounds of auditions and getting her own identity mixed up with the characters she is asked to play for a few minutes, all the while rehearsing them in her car on Los Angeles's highways. Her aspiring musician boyfriend (Mark Pellegrino) provides yet another disappointment when she catches him in bed with another woman (one of the most hilarious sequences in the film). She finds solace in her best friend (Rebecca Riggs), a British aspiring actress who works in an art gallery. A harmless car accident brings Chris (Scott Coffrey, the film's writer/director), a closeted shop assistant, into the fray. At this point the film gets slightly messy, a bit like Ellie, and even Keanu Reaves gets a little cameo with a rock band. Chevy Chase also rings in as Ellie's agent.

Ellie Parker is a Generation X-ish look at the 'struggling actor' archetype. Although at points predictable and contrived, it has a real heart. It really is a story about letting go of impossible dreams in order to find oneself and move on with life. Ellie Parker is an honest, sincere person who is obviously not cut out for the backstabbing, cruel milieu of the film industry and the only way for her to get back on track is to turn her back on it. Which she may or may not do, but in the end you really wish she could find happiness. Honestly.


Now to the real Faust: Here's a DVD release that fans of UFA-produced films should not miss. F. W. Murnau's 1926 Faust has just been re-released as part of Eureka's The Masters of Cinema series. The main attraction of this DVD release is the fact that it contains the original domestic cut that was recently restored. The international version, which used discarded takes, errors, less impressive special effects and human stand-ins for real animals, is the one that has been circulating throughout the world, so now audiences get the chance to see what the Germans saw. The DVD includes a split-screen documentary comparing sequences and this surely will delight people with an interest in montage. The original, domestic cut is often described as more dramatic and tightly cut, which becomes apparent when you can actually see the two versions playing side by side. The package also includes an informative documentary with Tony Rayns, who says that UFA's internationally-casted, special effects-ridden Faust (as well as Fritz Lang's Metropolis) are silent cinema's embryonic versions of what we nowadays call the blockbuster.
Faust was Murnau's last German film, a triumph of visuals over narrative. UFA wanted an international cast and the title role went to Swedish actor Gosta Ekman. Emil Jannings plays Mephisto and Camilla Horn plays Gretchen. But not everyone liked it back then. Frederick Kracauer, in his famous 1947 book From Caligari to Hitler – A Psychological History of German Cinema, a pioneer study whereby films were used as a window on the German collective psyche, did not wrote, "Faust was not so much a cultural monument as a monumental display of artifices capitalising on the prestige of national culture." It´s useful to point out, though, that Kracauer wrote his book right after WWII in an attempt to understand the rise of Nazism with the help of the big screen, therefore his analysis is very focused on a specific goal.

The legend of Faust goes back to the sixteenth century when a doctor called Faust seems to have been a wandering scholar and conjuror who went through Germany claiming to cure the sick and practice magic. His efficiency led many to believe that he was empowered by the devil. These rumours were circulated in so-called 'Faust books' and with the passing of time the doctor transmuted into a noble old scientist who had sold his soul to the devil because he believed it would enable him to alleviate the suffering of the plague victims and enjoy some of the pleasures of youth he had neglected. No wonder early cinema was fascinated with the story.

Murnau's Faust will always remain the definitive cinematic rendering of this symbolic story full of references to Teutonic folklore. The film is a rich tapestry of fantastic costumes, natural elements, fire and wind that fill the screen like a medieval carnival parade for nearly two hours. It is a bewildering display set design and art direction skills and should definitely have a place of prominence on UFA's richly populated mantelpiece of film treasures.

Ellie Parker and Faust are out on DVD now.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Review: The Death of Mr Lazarescu

The Death of Mr Lazarescu (Moartea domnului Lazarescu, Romania, 2005) has been attracting praise wherever it is shown. The good news is that here we have a case of genuinely deserved adulation. Directed by Cristi Puiu, whose short film Cigarettes and Coffee won the best short award in Berlin in 2004, it is Puiu's second feature film, the first being Stuff and Dough.

In his new, buzzed-about film, the story follows Dante Remus Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu), a 62-year-old retired engineer in Bucharest, a widower who's been living on his own for the past eight years. He has a sister who lives in a nearby town and a daughter who lives in Canada. He shares his house with three cats and the empty bottles of alcoholic beverages he tends to consume in excess.
One day he starts to feel strong head and stomach aches. The ambulance service he calls never comes and after medicating himself he seeks help from his neighbours, a couple called Sandu and Miki Sterian (Doru Ana and Dana Dogaru). When they notice the strong smell of alcohol they give him medicine for the stomach, but when Lazarescu shows signs he's actually getting worse, they decide to appeal to an emergency service.

After 33 minutes shot in real time, the emergency service finally arrives to find the patient in a critical situation. When the paramedic becomes aware of the gravity of the situation (maybe colon cancer?), she decides to take him to hospital and his steep journey up the Romanian public health system calvary starts. For two real-time hours, Lazarescu is shuttled from hospital to hospital in Bucharest, receiving evasive diagnoses and being ignored by a bevy of doctors and nurses. The viewer watches his fast deteriorating health while the driver tries to find someone willing to offer him some help.

The film extrapolates Lazarescu's drama to lay bare the tensions of the society in which it is set: each doctor, paramedic, nurse and patient paraded throughout the narrative are firmly steeped on their individualist stationing, but are part of a drama that is essentially collective. Puiu's realist, documentary style gives the film its power. Sequence shots, fluid and mobile camerawork are redolent of Frederick Wiseman's work (who tackled state institutions in some of his films) and may remind some of Cassavetes and the Dardenne brothers. The Death of Mr Lazarescu is a raw film about indifference, whose inevitable end symbolises the blurring of fiction and reality.

The Death of Mr Lazarescu is out now.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Patricia Field meets Susie Menkes

I've always loved designer Patricia Field's super-clubby style - I made a trip to her shop a part of my New York itinerary the first time I visited the city! - and she was the woman who partially made Sex and the City the hit that it was for dressing STJ (see how close I am to my favourite Jewish actress...) in such beautiful clothes. And it seems that SATC has led La Field to bigger movie projects, her latest incursion being dressing Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. The International Herald Tribune's fashion scribe SUSIE MENKES met Field for a chat as she opened her new shop in the Bowery. The iconic newspaper is now officially renamed International Hair-ald Tribeca!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Review: Atomised

Adapting Michel's Houllebecq's philosophic and misanthropic Atomised novel is as difficult a task for a film director as it was inevitable considering how relevant a picture of contemporary life Houllebecq succeeded in creating with his 'controversial' book. But maverick German producer Bernd Eichinger, the man who has given the world a truly eclectic selection of films, including Christiane F, The Never Ending Story and The Name of the Rose, took up the challenge with the help of director Oskar Roehler. The result: an odd but effective mixture of European arthouse and trash cinema that suits the original material quite well.

Atomised is the story of two half brothers, Michael (Christian Ulmen) and Bruno (Moritz Bleibtreu) living in Europe in the second part of the twentieth century. Their mother was a jet-setting hippie who neglected the two brothers, leaving them in the care of different grandparents. Michael becomes a successful genetic researcher while Bruno is a desperately lonely, sexually frustrated teacher who masturbates over pictures of his students. Their lives change when they find love in their thirties, which is the moment we arrive at their lives (childhood memories are shown in fuzzy, rainbow-coloured flashbacks). Michael finds love with childhood sweetheart Annabelle (Franka Potente of Run Lola Run fame). Bruno, in his turn, meets Christiane (Martina Gedeck) at a naturist camp when the pair have anonymous sex in a hot bath. But since this is no Hollywood romantic comedy, happiness is out of reach in sad, materialistic fien de siecle Europe; the relationships do not solve the brothers' existential problems.

The film succeeds in packing in some of the key ideas of Houllebecq's book, which, at points, reads almost like a rant or an essay against a world that has neglected philosophy, destroyed family life etc, ideas that may have a deceptively neo-conservative ring to them, but which are often just shockers employed by the author to defy naturalised concepts that inform late capitalist Western societies. At points, Roehler puts them across via dialogues and in those instances they seem forced and contrived, like a second-rate solution to a difficult narrative challenge. But, like the book, the film alternates between moments of parodic stupidity and fierce intelligence. In such instances it translates the form of the book more accurately. Bleibtreu as Bruno was a casting coup with his bee-stung lips, baby butch looks and unclear ethnic appearance (he is German of Austrian descent but he comes across as perhaps Mediterranean or even Middle Eastern). He is also a very good actor who is not afraid of being ridiculous and pathetic, a real prerequisite for this demanding role.

The film also successfully replaced the France of the book for Germany as its setting. Perhaps it's the image of Germany as a technologically advanced, futuristic country with a strong counter-cultural tradition that helps, an epitome of post-industrial, secular Europe. Besides, it's hard to beat German cinema when it comes to emotional despair, the theme that sums up Atomised. As Christine says to Bruno after they first meet: "I used to enjoy life. When did it all go wrong?"

Atomised is out in the UK today.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Underground chic

Today on Kamera's screening room are clips of some classics of American Underground chic: Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls and Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising. Plus a documentary on the Velvet Underground. Now say thank you.

Chelsea Girls

Scorpio Rising

Velvet Underground

Richard Linklater: "The Dostoyevsky of movie dialogue"

I'm going through a Richard Linklater phase right now. So here's yet another link to an article on the Texan auteur, penned by Gary Indiana.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Oh no!

Via the International Herald Tribune: "When Variety reported last month that New Line Cinema had purchased rights to remake the director Kinji Fukasaku's "Battle Royale," the reaction on fan sites and Asian film blogs was, well, heartfelt. "I hate Hollywood," wrote one fan. "Is nothing sacred?" asked another."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Beastie Boys's new concert video

The Beastie Boys are officially the 'coolest band in the world' (who am I to disagree with that?) and the one that has aged most gracefully in the public eye - the boys are all in their early 40s now but have managed to keep their street cred intact along the years. Their mixture of old-school rap music, urban street wear and good taste in their visual presentation is a combination that has kept the NEW YORK band safely on their iconic pedestal since they rose to fame in the 1980s. The Beastie Boys don't seem to ever put a foot wrong.

The documentary of their Madison Square Garden concert on 09 October 2004, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That , will further consolidate the Boys' status and probably raise the coolness stakes for them. You can't not like this celebration of digital do-it-yourself ethos here employed to give the audience an omnipresent point of view. Director Nathanial Hörnblowér (an alias for Beastie Boy Adam Yauch) gave 50 members of the audience small digital cameras to shoot the concert from where they were. Three days before the concert, the band posted a notice on their website inviting fans to sign up as shooters. These were selected according to the locations of their seats in the venue. The instructions they were given were very simple: start shooting when the band steps on stage.

The edited result of the vast footage material collected by the amateur camera-people is a paean to spontaneity and music fandom. Long shots, zoom-ins, shots of friends dancing in the aisles, singing along etc... create a feeling of realism and immediacy that conventional live concert films often fail to capture for focusing too much on the band and reducing the audience to a sea of heads shown in sweeping tracking shots.

It's true that the energy that you get on balance is not quite there at the beginning of the concert: it takes a quarter of an hour for the film to rev up; but that is also a reflection of the way the Boys build up the excitement slowly. They come across as a very generous act that gives a lot to the audience: beautifully designed stage pieces, guest appearances, lots of bantering with the crowd and superb musical craftsmanship. Their concert feels like a celebration of music and youthful energy, delivered with the high-spirited irreverence that characterises the Beastie Boys universe.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of editing and effects application went into the final film to create, as one of the shooters said, "something greater than the parts we filmed." Some of the effects are charmingly old-fashioned, caricatures of crude effects from the early 1980s. Special attention went into the sound, which is as polished as you would expect from a superstar band. Whether a fan or not of the Beastie Boys, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That is as a worthwhile piece of filmmaking, not just a record of a performance.

Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That is released theatrically in the UK on 07/07/06. A DVD release follows on 24/07/06.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Notes on camp - 2006 Remix

My collaborator at the Kamera website Deborah Allison has published this article about camp in relation to George Kuchar's film Hold While I'm Naked. So, like an illustrated lecture, here are a couple of clips from the film to give you folks an idea of what she means.

Interview with Herzog

Via "In Werner Herzog’s films, the main characters tend to be ambitious explorers who find themselves crashing in spectacular failure."
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Thursday, July 06, 2006

One little indie...

World Entertainment News Network wrote on IMDB that "Kevin Spacey has pledged his allegiance to independent movies, despite starring in blockbuster Superman Returns. Spacey is quoted saying: "I'll never be a leading man in the traditional Hollywood sense, I'm a character actor, but as a result of that I think I get a lot more interesting parts."
Memo to Mr Spacey: the independent film scene is very happy to put him on a permanent loan to braindraining Hollywood considering his indie credentials so far, which amount to, well, nil.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Meryl Streep wears me out with her talent...

Is Meryl Street ever going to get any negative criticism in her blessed professional life? Her reputation has to be the most stainless steel one in the whole of the universe. I never really loved her tapering, Waspy face (I agree with Camille Paglia on the Streep issue) and sometimes her virtuosity is a bit too much, although I'm aware she's a really nice person. But for bitch fests like The Devil Wears Prada (which opened in the US last Friday) it seems like that her super talent fits the material. Even the New Yorker is lapping it up, so it must be good then...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Parker Posey: she's Super indie

Indie icon Parker Posey (pictured with Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns), who is currently doing a bit of bread-earning in Hollywood's superhero land, gave an interview to New York Magazine about her status as the most hard-working indie-queen. Posey's New York neighbour Chloe Sevigny happened to pass by during the interview... it's the independent world's equivalent of Sex and the City.