Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hal Hartley's back

Hal Hartley (pictured) has been named juror for Independent Exposure 2007, Microcinema International's touring short film and video festival, which enters its 12th Season. Says Hartley: "Independent Exposure is one of those cool and vital efforts at curatorship which helps new films get seen by audiences who seek out new forms of entertainment. Microcinema does a great job of pulling together exciting new work and I look forward to being the judge for the 2007 season."

Having lived in New York a great part of his film career, Hartley recently relocated to Berlin in Germany. And those who have been waiting for a new Hartley film for ages, here is the good news: he has just completed shooting his newest feature, Fay Grim , throughout Europe and Southern Asia with Parker Posey, Tom Ryan, Jeff Goldblum, James Urbaniak and others.

Hartley won the Young Filmmakers Award at the 1994 Tokyo International Film Festival for his film Amateur (1994), which was also premiered at the Cannes Director's Fortnight of that year. Retrospectives of his work have been presented at The Rotterdam Festival in 1992 and Gijon, Spain, in 2003. He won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes in 1998 for his film Henry Fool (1997) (see clip here +) and best screenplay at Sundance in 1991 for Trust (1990).

The director was made a Chevalier of arts and letters by the Republic of France in 1997 and taught filmmakingat Harvard University from September 2001 until May 2004. Shortly after that, he was awarded a fellowship by the American Academy in Berlin.

More about Hartley +

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mike Leigh's Sarajevo honour

British director Mike Leigh has been honoured at the Sarajevo Film Festival with the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award for his "outstanding contribution to the art of cinema and the support to the development of the Sarajevo Film Festival."

Read full story +

Monday, August 28, 2006

Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma clip

It was with much excitement that I came across Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma for quite while I was doing one of my archive-vulturing on Youtube.The clip is just over nine minutes long but it's well worth it and gives an idea of the complete piece's form.

Interview: Craig Chester

Is it still possible to put the words 'good' and 'film' together when it comes to contemporary gay cinema, or at least the films that get filed under the label anyway? In all honesty, a quick look at the world's main gay-themed film festivals and the occasional theatrical release and we are stared back by a tawdry collection of cheesy films about hustlers, fag hags and dykes in tight T-shirts trying to look edgy and sexy like that Trinity from the Matrix series.

'Some people seem to think that just because it's gay, therefore it's interesting', says actor, film writer and now also director Craig Chester (pictured), whose film Adam & Steve is a welcome break from the tacky norm described above. And that's no mean feat for a film that could be best described as a 'comedy about relationships', an indication that themes are irrelevant when the dressing is right and the director treats the material intelligently, without underestimating the targeted audience.

Adam & Steve gets off to a very funny start during a fateful night in a club in 1987. A couple of young goths, Adam (Chester himself, looking like a cross between The Cure's Robert Smith and Visage's Steve Strange) and Rhonda (the wonderful Parker Posey in a fat suit and a helmet hair cut), realise with disgust that the club they walked in is more 80s pop than 80s indie, a realisation clearly confirmed by a cheesy lycra-clad and baby-oiled dance troupe performing on stage. But still, when the lead dancer, Steve (played by Malcolm Gets) gives some attention – and drugs – to the clumsy, nervy goth after the show, Adam takes him back home and ends up having one of the most embarrassing situations of his life (let's just say it involves incontinence). Cut, or better, fade to a grey 2004 and the two older, more neatly dressed men cross each other's paths again, blissfully oblivious of their first encounter seventeen years before. Romance blooms, friends get distressed and jealous, but when one day a casual conversation hauls back the forgotten incident to the lit-up side Steve's memory, he freaks out and the couple battle it out in a line-dancing saloon. Yes, things do get deliciously silly and referential in Adam and Steve, but underneath the veneer of artifice, there is a real heart pulsing.

The 1980s, I say to Craig, seem to have had a strong impact on the imagination of queer filmmakers. Greg Araki, for instance, also used the eighties in his Mysterious Skin (2004). Is it because of all the gay sensitivity expressed by pop music during that period or because filmmakers in activity now were teenagers then and it's only natural that they hark back to that phase in their lives? "The 1980s were the last moment of individuality before the uniformity of the 1990s. Back then there was a real sense of rebellion. I moved to New York in 1985 and I remember how everything was more political," says Chester, who was born in California 41 years ago.

The film carries a pro-relationship message without being preachy. Why did he decide to tackle the topic? "I had been an actor in a lot of queer films during the 1990s. I had travelled with those movies and I saw a lot of gay couples in the audiences. I started to think, 'When are they going to make films about us? I've had boyfriends and relationships and I think these couples are not there on the screen," he says.

And why did he choose to make a comedy? "I love John Waters and Woody Allen and a certain type of comedy that somewhere along the line stopped being made. Comedies are great because they are anarchic and you can get away with a lot more. Besides, I didn't want to make the film too precious."

How about directing and acting in the same film? "The hardest part really was doing the musical numbers. But the stamina element of acting and directing was also difficult. At the end of the shooting everyone would go home and I had to stay back, rewriting scenes. I guess I didn't get more than three hours' sleep during the shooting, which lasted 22 days." But then Craig was working with a good friend (Posey), which must be nice... "Yes, we are really good friends, almost family. Our friendship goes back 15 years, like in Adam & Steve. She's a great source of inspiration, we're always exchanging ideas and we understand each other really well." Which is what the characters in Adam & Steve do: they understand, and accept, each other really, really well.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Tom Cruise's fall from grace

Like a lot of independent and arthouse film lovers, it's with a strong sense of Schadenfreude (and pride for finally being able to use this word in the correct context!) that I have been watching the tacky exchanges between the Cruise and the Viacom money people. Is this perhaps the end of the era when A List stars can demand half of the budget of a film and leave the rest of the world gaping at the surrealness of their situation? It's time someone put a stop to the Hanks, Roberts and Cruises of the world and rechannel those astronomic salaries to the production of thousands of small-budget masterpieces! Ann Magnuson, of the LA Woman blog and someone who always tells it like it is, has published some interesting thoughts on the whole story. You can read them here +

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Jonas Mekas year-long film marathon

Jonas Mekas (pictured), that 83-year-old indefatigable veteran of art cinema activism who founded the New York Anthology Film Archives in 1970, has been hired by Apple’s video iPod to produce 365 short videos, releasing one a day, beginning September 15. Plus, he’ll be curating a downloadable series of classic shorts by experimental filmmakers and videos by the likes of Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, and Abel Ferrara. You can sign up to receive updates about Mekas's Small Apple adventure on +

São Paulo International Short Film Festival

Those of you who can't make it to the 17th São Paulo International Short Film Festival, one of the biggest showcases of short films in the world, fret not. The excellent online exhibition platform, Porta Curtas, has teamed up with the festival to show part of the programme.

Enjoy it...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Kirsten Dunst's makeover

I know that make-up can do wonders for a Hollywood starlet, but this shot of Kirsten Dunst for the September cover of Interview magazine really takes the biscuit. It's a good job they have her name written really big on the page otherwise, who would have guessed? Anyway, she looks great...whoever she is...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Harmony Korine's video for Sonic Youth

Fans of Harmony Korine must be wondering what the Kids writer has been up to. Teaming up once again with his friend Macaulay Culkin, he made this quite sweet video for the band Sonic Youth. You can watch here.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Oliver Stone's World Trade Center

"In his new film, 'World Trade Center,' the director turns the events of 9/11 into an easily digestible myth of American heroism, with an almost happy ending. Huh?"

Anthony Kaufman,

Full story +

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

London's crumbling former cinema sites

The site dedicated to all things derelict in London called, you guessed it, Derelict London, is an internet idea that promises boundless material to work with. It includes a section on former cinema theatre sites. Pass the handkerchief...
(Pic: Walthamstow's Dominion)

Crumbling London film houses +

DVD review: Mysterious Skin

American queer cinema pioneer Greg Araki reaches artistic maturity (well, kind of) with MYSTERIOUS SKIN, based on the eponymous book by Scott Heim. Brian Lackey (Brady Corbett) believes he had been abducted by aliens when he was a child because he can’t remember what happened to him on two occasions when he was eight. Parallel to Brian’s story runs the story of Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hustler who is brought up by a single mother (superbly played by Elisabeth Shue) and who follows his best friend to New York in an attempt to get out of the provincial hellhole they were born in. The film is beautifully photographed, sometimes stage-y like one of Cindy Sherman’s ‘film stills’ and the atmosphere eerie a la David Lynch.

The film presents two different outcomes of the experience of paedophilia from the point of view of the victims, without, however, succumbing to the medieval hysteria that often clouds the issue. Araki is no Todd Haynes – another pioneer of the New Queer Cinema that gained momentum in the early 1990s– and there are moments when he slips on his tendency towards indie clichés and bad writing. But he does show here that he’s come a long way since The Living End (1992), his overwrought Aids road-movie that put him on the film world map.

Monday, August 07, 2006

DVD Release: Fassbinder collection

Rainer Wainer Fassbinder

In 1997, the New York MoMa ran a retrospective of the oeuvre of Rainer Wainer Fassbinder, the notorious maverick of the New German cinema in the 1970s, who had died during his sleep 15 years before the retrospective at the untimely age of 37. It was the institution's most successful retrospective ever. As we approach the 25th anniversary of Fassbinder's death, a UK DVD distribution company called Arrow Films is releasing on 07 August four of his most famous films (Fear Eats the Soul(1974), The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972), The Marriage of Maria Braun(1979) and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant(1972)), including short films and documentaries as extra features. From February 2007 the company will be releasing 17 of his features in special edition boxes.

Considering the surprising success of Fasbinder's retrospective in America, where allegedly knowledge of German film history is bigger than in Germany itself, probably thanks to the 1,500 film studies departments across the country, is a symptom of a need for the type of direct, Brechtian, bold cinema that Fassbinder created. An original inventor of images, his name can be evoked to describe a type of filmic microcosm, the Fassbinderian film, since he represented a one-man movement who worked with a core group of people, mainly women, during his entire career, probably one of the reasons that he was so prolific. Although he died at 37, he nonetheless bequeathed the world over 40 films by an age when most film directors are only just getting started. His stamina, creative drive and imagination were astonishing.

Fassinder understood the human heart, says the film curator at the Moma, Laurence Kardish, in the documentary Love, Life and Celluloid which accompanies The Merchant of Four Seasons. People wanted to see his films and be provoked by them because they knew they were in safe hands, says Kardish. When you see a film like Fear Eats the Soul, where a middle-aged cleaner falls in love with a much younger Moroccan garage mechanic and has to face the ire of the racist and petty society where she exists, Fassbinder lifts a mirror at the audience who is forced to face their own fears and prejudices. Hugely inspired by Douglas Sirk, under whom he worked and who, in an ironic twist of fate, wrote Fassbinder's obituary in the German press when Sirk himself was pushing 90, Fassbinder used frames within frames and mirrors to create a sense of claustrophobia and entrapment. Such artifices have the effect of forcing the audience to feel the pressure of the architecture of their own preconceptions or the life they have chosen to live, the result being an exhilarating feeling of being freed from calcified ideas.

Todd Haynes, a famous Fassbinder fan whose film Far From Heaven was inspired by Fear Eats the Soul, is featured in an interview where he talks mostly about Fassbinder's adoption of melodrama as a strategy to dissect German society in a way that was not didactic like, for example, the films of Jean Luc Godard from the late 1960s onwards or the so-called 'radical cinema'. The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972) is a perfect illustration of that. Fassbinder's first commercial success and probably his most Sirkian film, it tells the story of Hans, a former foreign legionnaire who is outcast by his family for abandoning the idea of becoming an engineer to peddle fruit and vegetable from a cart. After a few initial hiccups with his wife (over boozing and philandering), the business starts to prosper (and the wife starts to cheat on him) but Hans becomes increasingly depressed and sullen. A masterpiece of mise-en-scène, this film is a perfect encapsulation of Fassbinder's vision: minutely calculated shot lengths, uniform lighting, dramatic use of customs, exaggerated acting and a bitter sense of humour that often denounces the corruption and exploitation that propels the dynamics of human relations.

It is said that all his films end tragically. It's true that there is a great deal of death and a sense that the human experience is a losing battle. But perhaps this appears to be so because we are so used to idea of happy endings and that art should serve our collective narcissistic project that tends to gloss over human flaws and weaknesses. An artist that questions those naturalised ideas of how humanity should be portrayed will undoubtedly be seen as 'radical' and negative. But there is a feeling of tenderness and compassion in Fassbinder that neutralises any accusations that he was nihilistic or misanthropic. In one of the interviews with Fassbinder himself, he says that his goal was to free people, a statement which comes across as surprisingly tender and earnest from a director with a reputation of being cruel and tempestuous. Seeing the director speak about himself puts him in a completely different light, quite different from the mythic haze that precedes him.

Despite the deeply German ethos of Fasbinder films, his understanding of emotions and motivations for action, whether clear or not, is completely universal, hence his popular appeal. Someone says in one of the documentaries that Fassbinder wanted to be as effective as Hollywood but not as hypocritical. This makes complete sense. His films are narrative pieces with a focus on storytelling but, whereas Hollywood turns stories into fake concoctions that never go under the skin, Fassinder's films pierce as deep as needles. His early death was an irreplaceable loss to cinema. As his friend and counterpart Wim Wenders puts it, you can only imagine what other films he would have made, especially considering the steady progression of his work throughout the 1970s and the very early 80s, culminating in the glossy, internationally starred Querelle. Still, what Fassbinder achieved in his short-lived career remains one of the most outstanding bodies of work any director has ever produced.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Watch it: Ciao Manhattan

Filmmaker David Weisman recently discovered over 30 hours of pristine 35mm outtake footage from CIAO! MANHATTAN, the film that has become better known as as a document of the final drugged-out days of famed heiress and Andy Warhol Factory muse Edie Sedgwick (pictured left).

Watch it +

Friday, August 04, 2006

Page girl

As the summer takes a break from the heat and converts, temporarily I hope, to an early autumn, warm up with the lovely Bettie Page, whose biopic, the Notorious Bettie Page, is out in the UK this weekend.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Yes, I'm back

I know I have been a bit absent from my blogging desk, but, hey, there's a summer to be enjoyed and the Mediterranean coast loves me and I love it back. Heaven, and blogging, can wait, as it were. But look... I found this lovely link to a fashion video featuring my beloved fashion icon and indieva Chloe Sevigny. When I make a comeback, I do it in Style...

Chloe Sevigny +