Showing posts from February, 2007

Fair Use or No Use at All

It should come as no surprise that the multinational corporations that run the film industry are very eager to prevent ordinary shmoes like you and me from having permanent access to their properties. That is understandable and even, to a certain extent, acceptable.

But in recent years, they have taken their obsession with control a little too far. When a high-ranking officer of NBC can say, with a straight face, that people with TIVO or VCRs who fast-forward past commercials are "stealing" from the network, things are a little out of hand. (It might be nice if someone pointed out to the whoremasters -- excuse me, the gentlemen -- from the networks that the airwaves are, in fact, a publicly held commons and their access is based on a license from the government on behalf of the people.)

As you probably know, in the name of fighting piracy the studios and their minions in Washington would like to make it impossible for you to copy movies and television programs for your own pr…

Yet Another Excellent New Website

I don't think I'll ever forget my one and only (to date) interview with Jacques Rivette. It took place around the time of Duelle and Noroit, two brilliant, unfairly forgotten films. We were having coffee on the upper level of The Ginger Man, which my wife informs me was owned by Preminger stalwart Patrick O'Neal (!); it was the sort of place that a grad student like me could hardly afford, but the Film Festival people were footing the bill, if I recall correctly. Rivette spoke heavily accented faltering English and my French was worse, so the young woman who was translating for us was kept pretty busy. At one point I asked him about the apparent alternation between improvised and scripted films that he had been doing over his last several projects. He said something in French then, before the translator could say a word, waved his hands and said, "No, no, no. I'll show you." He leapt up from the table and proceeded to hop on one foot around us, saying, "…

Difficult? Moi?

I'd like to draw your attention to the excellent comment by "Steve" reacting to my posting on These Encounters of Theirs, the Straub-Huillet film. He raises the fascinating question of what makes a filmmaker "difficult," a label that I placed on Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub without a moment of hesitation. Indeed, I suspect that when you ask film people to name a difficult filmmaker, they would be one of the first names to come to mind.

(Let me state immediately that I mean filmmakers whose works are difficult to understand, assimilate, respond to, rather than filmmakers whose work is so loathesome that they are nearly impossible to tolerate. I mean Straub-Huillet, not Tony Scott. Clear?)

But what is it about their work that is difficult? What is a difficult film? If I read him correctly, I would agree with Steve that Brakhage and Snow are not inherently difficult; if you go to one of their films expecting a conventional narrative, yeah, you'll be dis…

Under the Eiffel Tower

Avenue Montaigne unfolds and concludes under the sign of the EiffelTower. What more perfect visual metonym for Paris, an ideal blend of austere modernity and a certain baroque passion, of lacy tracery constructed out of tempered steel. Yet Daniéle Thompson’s film, which opens today, is about the difficulties of accommodating oneself to the ultimate urban reality, the relentless forward motion of time that drives modern cities.
The film itself has a certain clockwork inevitability, from its opening montage of the city moving from night to the workday but, to Thompson’s credit, that inevitability never becomes predictability and she never yields to the temptations of melodrama or – for the most part – broad farce. The latter is rather surprising, given the presence of Valerie Lemercier in one of the central roles, a TV soap star playing in a Feydeau farce while desperately trying to get cast in an American megaproduction on the lives of Sartre and de Beauvoir.
That is one of four major pl…

A Must-See: The Last Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub

If I were asked to name the most difficult great filmmaker(s) in the world, the team of the late Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub would undoubtedly top my list. (In fact, that might make in interesting exercise, so you can probably expect to see such a list posted here soon.) At the beginning of their shared career, the husband-wife team were making severe, austere black-and-white films with dark, brooding political content. The best of these early films, Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules, boiled down Heinrich Böll’s novel Billiards at Half Past Nine, to a jagged 45 minutes in which the book’s multiple plot lines were jumbled and its chronology obliterated. It is a stunning film that rewards multiple viewings. It is a film that requires multiple viewings.
Only their second film, Not Reconciled was made 42 years ago. Sixteen films later, Huillet is dead from cancer and their penultimate film together, These Encounters of Theirs, is playing in the “Film Comm…


Three quick things.

The Decomposition of the Soul, which opens today at Film Forum, is an exceptionally intelligent documentary about the East German secret police, the Stasi, and their nasty little habits. It's one of those documentaries that eschews some of the conventions of the talking-heads doc for something a bit more formally adventurous, a concentration on the interior landscape of the infamous Stasi headquarters at Hohenshouhausen.

The film focuses on two former prisoners, who recount their own horrific experiences at the hands of the Stasi. But the real protagonist of “Decomposition” is the building itself, an Alphaville-like succession of door-lined corridors through which passed both prisoners and keepers. Fuchs invokes Franz Kafka and it’s an astute choice; at once dreamlike and yet terribly ordinary, Hohenschauhausen is the perfect Kafkaesque world, a compound consisting of equal parts bureaucratic insensitivity, vicious cruelty and a certain dogged stupidity. Toussain…

Line of the day

Too good not to share.

"Steig, you may be a crackpot, but you're also a genius."
--Michael Granger in The Creature with the Atom Brain

Why in the name of all that is holy am I watching this massive hunk of spoiled limburger?
Because the crackpot-genius in question is supposed to be a runaway Nazi, so I need to see it for my next book, Wounded Images: How Hollywood Failed the Holocaust. I decided that to do the book properly, I would see anything and everything that touched upon the Shoah. I want this book to be the most inclusive one on this topic, even if I don't ever talk about films like this (and what can one say?!).

I would add, though, that even by the standards of Edward L. Cahn, a director of such unsurpassing lousiness that he makes Ed Wood Jr. look positively Bressonian, this film is a monumental piece of crap. Hey, it stars Richard Denning -- what did you expect, art?

How Does He Do It?

I mean, my colleague and friend Michael Giltz. On his excellent blog, Popsurfing, Michael today has listed each of the 126 new releases he saw last year with a star rating. That is scary. I have been looking at my own list of (115, so far) 2006 releases and am dismayed (but not surprised) to discover that there are films on the list of which I have no recollection whatsoever. I keep confusing Pam Yates's State of Fear with Ellen Perry's The Fall of Fujimori. (What's more embarrassing is that I went to a press screening of one of them last winter only realize after 15 minutes that I had seen it in the previous summer's Human Rights Watch festival. I ended up staying to the end, I still can't recall which film it was.) I know I saw Toi et Moi, Julie Lpes-Curval's second film because I remember that I was disappointed that her follow-up the charming Seaside was so weak. But I can't recall anything else about it.

Of course, there are also those films you try …

If you have any interest at all in avant-garde film

Just thought I'd pull your coat to a fantastic website, UbuWeb;
they have a huge library of avant-garde film on-line and have now made it available in streaming format, so if you don't want to wait around to download stuff you can watch it on the computer, a la YouTube. They have over 300 films on the site, including some real rarities -- films from Group Medvedkine, the '70s workers film group that Chris Marker helped found, a huge selection of Shuji Terayama, Haroun Farocki, Jack Smith, Marcel Duchamp ( I didn't know he had made films).
Also a great collection of poets and music that is downloadable.

The Long, Long Fortnight

This year's documentary fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art has been supersized. It's a month long. Sort of a two-for-one sale, I guess. No problem there. There are plenty of documentary films out there worth seeing, and this may be your only chance to see some of them. Given the dilemma of the 65-minute film -- where can I show this? It's too long for TV and too short for theaters -- don't expect many of these titles to show up in theaters or on PBS. I have only seen two of the films being shown in the series, but one of those two is well worth a visit.

In the past 25 years or so, there has developed an entire approach to filmmaking that some critics are calling, for want of a better label, “contemplative cinema.” (In the past month this group of films has been the subject of an absolutely terrific blog-a-thon, which can be found here.) It is sort of an outgrowth of the austere and rigorous style of Robert Bresson and Carl Dreyer, among others, and is characterized b…

Straight Into Darkness

(Yeah, I'm listening to Tom Petty while I write this, but it seems to fit this film).

There is a wonderfully poignant moment in Studs Terkel's Working when a construction worker says that he wishes they would put the names of guys like him on the buildings they worked on. Then, he explains, he could show it to his son someday and say, "See, I built this." (The musical version of the show turns this moment into a powerfully resonating climax, thanks in no small part to the music and lyrics of the painfully underrated Craig Carnelia.) Someone must have been listening, because there is a large plaque in the lobby of the Citicorp Center that lists the names of all the men and women who worked on the building. Whenever I see that list of names, it moves me as much as the display on the Vietnam War Memorial.

It is impossible not to think of that plaque while watching Into the Pit, a new documentary by Juan Carlos Rulfo. Rulfo, whose father Juan Rulfo was one of Mexico's …